In freezing temperatures we field-tested 12 pairs of cold-weather gloves from different sports to see which ones keep hands warmest, yet still offer a bit of dexterity.
For sailors, gloves can serve two purposes—keeping the hands from getting chewed up, and keeping the hands warm. Usually in the summer, or in year-round warmer climes, the first type of glove will suffice. But in colder places the other three seasons offer plenty of opportunities for the hands to get really cold, really painful, and eventually numb and useless. At best, this takes the fun out of the sailing, or, more often, the work project, like changing a winter stick for a mooring or rigging a pulley line for a tender. At worst, it's dangerous. Ever try buckling on a PFD with nearly senseless hands?
The last time we looked at sailing gloves was way back in another century, in the December 1995 issue. On that occasion we tried on all of the conventional types from three-finger and full-finger styles to a few winter gloves. The usual suspects included Gill, Ronstan, Harken, West Marine, Davis Instruments, Black Diamond, Thunderwear, and a couple of outdoor/mountain outfitters: Outdoor Research and Patagonia. Of the lot, only two were what you might call true cold-weather gloves: the Douglas Gill Winter and the Davis Cold-Weather. The Douglas Gill was faulted for a tight fit that could inhibit circulation and an inside seam that rubbed the wrist. The Davis glove, the most expensive of the group at $37, was deemed the worst in terms of both design and craftsmanship.
For this examination, we decided to restrict our search to cold-weather models. For the most part, this means the glove must be insulated, though a few exceptions are included because either we ordered them online and weren't clear as to their construction, or they seemed like they might be warm enough during spring and fall sailing. As a general rule, however, more layers mean extra warmth and less dexterity, the term we'll use for the ability to perform fine sensory tasks. Latex surgeon gloves would be best in this regard, but cold. Big fat shell mittens over fleece liners might be warmest, but you'd be hard-pressed to pick up a hammer, let alone a pen to fill in the hourly log.
A dozen pairs of gloves were tested. Because there aren't many dedicated cold-weather sailing gloves, gloves from other disciplines were selected: kayaking, commercial fishing, scuba diving, water skiing, skiing, mountain climbing, and just plain old outdoor work. Only gloves were tested, though mittens are warmer because the fingers share warmth. The one winter sailing mitten found in discount catalogs—Musto's HPX Breathable Ocean Mitten—wasn't included because a) it's a mitten, and b) it costs $115, more than we thought most people would want to pay.
Common sailing glove materials are leather and neoprene rubber bodies; nylon and Gore-Tex shells; Spandex and Lycra mesh for ventilation; fleece and pile liners; and hook-and-loop fasteners, such as Velcro. Palms often are made of Amara synthetic leather. Real leather, we were told by one company's technical representative, is superior.
To rate each glove, several factors were considered. First, the glove must keep the hand and fingers warm, otherwise, why bother? Tight-fitting gloves tend to restrict blood circulation and are therefore not as desirable as looser-fitting gloves. Of course, there is a trade-off in dexterity. Second, the glove must allow for some dexterity in handling smaller objects; you can hold a tiller or a wheel with just about anything, including fat wool mittens, but what do you do when you need to pick a line up off the deck? Take the mitten off? So we tried picking up a half-inch line with each glove. Third, the glove must be comfortable to wear; fit is important, and that includes how the cuff integrates with your jacket— inside or out? Last, we examined the materials and workmanship and compared them to each glove's price tag.
Our individual evaluations follow.
This is the one dedicated cold weather sailing glove found in the major discount catalogs of BoatU.S., Defender, and West Marine (Davis' glove just ain't there). At roughly $50, it's also the most expensive of the test group.
The label says the shell is Kevlar, the lining polyester, and the palm Amara.
The Helmsman is dark blue with gray palms. The cuffs are long and flared, designed to fit over your jacket cuff. It can be cinched up tight with a hook-and-loop strap. The seams are stitched but did not leak.
This glove isn't heavily insulated; we found it warm enough in mild weather, but if the temperature drops below freezing, you'll want something heavier.
Bottom Line. A good-quality glove that is reasonably well-made and comfortable to wear. It's suitable for spring and fall weather, but not sufficiently insulated for winter sailing—frostbiting or iceboating.
Scuba Max Sea Grip (Aqua Wing)
This scuba diver's glove was ordered from West Marine, item #2000511, priced at $19.95. In the catalog it's listed as the Scuba Max Sea Grip Glove. The glove that arrived in the mail bears the name Aqua Wing; otherwise it looks the same.
In any case, the Sea Grip is made of 3-mm nylon neoprene with polyurethane palms, printed with a spiral pattern to enhance grip. There's also a nylon hook-and-loop wrist band closure.
The whole idea between neoprene divers' gloves (meant to be worn with wetsuits) is to admit a thin layer of water that can be warmed by body heat. Over the years, these gloves have been designed to let in less and less water, because of course the more water you let in, the more heat your body has to expend in warming it.
Bottom Line. These SeaGrip gloves let water in where the polyurethane palm is stitched to the neoprene. In relatively warm climates this would be OK, but for cold climates, especially in below-freezing weather, they let in too much water and don't have the insulating properties to be a top choice.
Straight Line Tournament
Moving on to the sport of water skiing, we tried the form-fitting Tournament glove with Amara palms and neoprene back and fingers. The fingers are pre-curved, which looks odd until you look at your hand and see that they're the same. Well, almost. The wrist closure is heavy nylon webbing with hook-and-loop. The Tournament is also available in a three-finger style.
All gloves tested were ordered in the large size. The Tournament glove was noticeably tighter than most others. This may support the hands better for skiing, but it makes the fingers colder.
Like the Aqua Wing diver's glove, the Tournament admits water easily. Again, we understand the method here, but what works for water skiers in this case won't work for sailors on deck in a frigid wind. For us, the idea is to keep the water out as long as possible, and when it gets in, then warm it.
Bottom Line. A nice form-fitting glove, but not for sailors. It's expensive at $39.95.
Stanley Winter Work Gloves
These gloves come from the well-known maker of tools—hammers, tape measures, hack saws, utility knives, etc.
This particular Stanley glove is made of vinyl that has a lot of dimples in it for grip. Its off-orange color conjures up only unpleasant associations—it's not, perhaps, the glove to wear to the Commodore's Ball at the yacht club, but it might be just the thing if you need to wave from the water. The liner is polyester and the wrist cuff is knit. One size fits all, so most people will find their hands swimming inside. The large size also made it a bit difficult to pick up the test rope. The vinyl is, however, quite flexible, so your hands have good movement.
Bottom Line. The Stanley gloves are indeed waterproof, and fairly warm. Though ugly as sin, they're resistant to chemicals and abrasion, and repel chemicals. At $10.99, these gloves are also cheap.
Some people would keep these aboard as primary cold-weather gloves, and we wouldn't argue. However, we'd keep a pair as a back-up (especially for pumping gas or diesel in the cold), and look for something better insulated for our standard glove.
Atlas Therma Fit
We found this glove in the local Ace hardware store. There's not a lot of information to be found on the label or inside tags, not even a country of origin—but what are the chances it's made in the US?
The glove appears to be a cotton weave, with an extra thickness inside, and the outside dipped in neoprene. The fit is very tight and comfortable. Picking up the rope was easy.
Unfortunately, the cotton is hardly waterproof and when it gets wet it stays wet, and your hand gets cold.
Bottom Line. At $5.99, the Atlas Therma Fit was worth a try, and it might be OK if it stays dry.
This ski glove was picked up at an outdoor store. The shell is SoFlex, which appears to be nylon. The liner is Sympatex, which is supposed to be waterproof and breathable. The palm is leather-treated with Scotchguard to make it water-resistant if not waterproof. Insulation is Hollofil II and Thermolite. These are all trademarked brands, but a tag deep inside the glove says it's all nylon and polyester.
The cuff is knit. The wrist band has a hook-and-loop closure. The cuff is designed to fit inside your jacket cuff. The glove body is red and the palm is black.
This Grandoe model is waterproof and by far the warmest of the group.
Bottom Line. The Grandoe is a warm, waterproof and comfortable glove that's priced on the high side ($50, discounted to $30 at our store) and our pick of the group for really cold weather. We bought ours at an outdoor and ski store; we imagine there are many other similar ski gloves that will perform just as well.
Gul Cold Water Gloves
These $30 gloves seem to originate in the United Kingdom, but are made in Thailand. Gul gloves are designed for sailors and are available in three-finger and full-finger styles. The Cold Water Gloves are made of "3-mm titanium-lined neoprene with hook and loop wrist straps. Precurved fingers mean less fatigue." Less fatigue unless you want your fingers straight, which is a struggle with this glove. If you anticipate spending all your time clutching a tiller or similar size shaft, fine, otherwise you'll feel like the phantom of the opera with a bad case of arthritis.
Like some (but not all) other neoprene gloves tested, this Gul glove is not waterproof, leaking where the Amara palms are stitched to the neoprene.
Because the fit is tight, dexterity is pretty good. We had no trouble picking up the half-inch line.
Gul gloves are available from Murrays, a supplier of performance gear mostly for catamaran and sailboard sailors but also some other extreme sports.
Bottom Line. Well-made sailor's glove, best suited to small boat racing. Reasonably warm, but not for sub-freezing temperatures.
This glove from Northwest River Supplies is made for river sports—paddling, kayaking, rafting—in cold water. Like the Gul glove, it's made in Thailand and is very similar. One difference is that it didn't leak.
The NRS Radiator is made of 3-mm neoprene sandwiched between nylon on the outside and a fleece lining inside. There's an elastic wrist closure with hook and loop. It's glued and blind stitched to prevent leaking. The fingers are precurved, but not as much as some other gloves. (You may beg to differ, but we found radical precurving hard to get used to.)
Dexterity is fairly good, despite the three-layer construction. These gloves are a bit thicker than neoprene-only gloves, but not much. Picking up the half-inch line was easy.
Bottom Line. We think these $30 gloves are definitely the best of the neoprene group. Dexterity is much better than thick, insulated ski gloves, and they were second warmest after the ski glove, and much warmer than single-layer neoprene water ski, scuba, and other watersports gloves.
We found these two pairs of China-made gloves on the Internet at The Fisherman's Store. Priced at $11.29 for the 55% neoprene/45% polyester fleece glove and $15.89 for the 10% nylon/90% neoprene glove, they are certainly inexpensive.
The neoprene glove has sealed seams to make it waterproof, and, as expected, it has excellent dexterity. But like other tight-fitting neoprene gloves, circulation will be inhibited, and in cold weather this spells cold fingers. Still, if all you’re looking for is a basic neoprene glove for moderate temperatures, the Kenai #712GY is a good deal.
The fleece model is warmer but not waterproof. For $15.89, the #016BK model would perform good service on chilly autumn days or nights where you won't be getting your hands wet.
Bottom Line. The Kenai gloves are good buys. We'd wear them in moderate temperatures. Neither, however, is close to being the ultimate cold-weather sailing glove.
Davis Polar Grip Cold Weather Boating Glove
This glove didn't rate well seven years ago, and didn't impress us much this time around either. It still has the same thick seams that can irritate your skin. The cuff has an elastic band, and there's an inch-wide elastic wrist closure with hook and loop. This set-up seems slightly redundant, and while it might help keep the glove on, it also makes it extra-hard to get it off. The back of the Davis glove is blue neoprene/nylon and the palm is gray leather. It's not waterproof.
Bottom Line. At $36.95, this is one of the more expensive gloves. And while its construction is fairly complicated, involving several materials, it's still only for moderate weather. We think there are more effective gloves for less money.
North Face Pamir Windstopper
A mountain-climbing friend suggested we try this glove from the well-known outfitter The North Face. It's made of Gore Windstopper fleece, a three-layer fabric that's supposed to let moisture through but not wind. W.L. Gore & Associates claim that it's 2-1/2 times warmer than "ordinary fleece." We found it very soft and warm. There is a sewn-in elastic band at the wrist and short gauntlets.
Like other fleece gloves the fit is looser than skintight neoprene gloves. Dexterity still is good. The Pamir Windstopper is coated with a water-resistant spray, but is not waterproof.
Bottom Line. At $50, the North Face is tied for the most expensive glove in the group, but also probably the highest quality. We found it the most comfortable to wear for extended periods. It'll do the job on deck until the green water comes over; then you'll want a waterproof glove.
After wearing gloves from many different sports—sailing, scuba diving, windsurfing, skiing, water skiing, and paddling—we began to see the same materials over and over—neoprene, Amara fake leather, fleece.
These gloves are all made overseas. The Scuba Max gloves come from Thailand; the Straight Lines and Stanleys are made in China. Grandoe: China. Gul: Thailand. NRS: Thailand. Kenai: China (both pair); North Face: China. Davis: China. The Gills are made in Pakistan. We don't know about Atlas, but we could guess. Something's not right here, folks. What, we can't even make a glove for a decent price and profit around here?
While most of the gloves will be satisfactory in mild to moderate temperatures, in the end we favored those that will keep hands warm in colder conditions, say, below freezing. That eliminated a lot of gloves, leaving us with just the Grandoe ski glove, the Gill Helmsman, the NRS Radiator, and The North Face Pamir Windstopper. These are essentially the only ones with more than one layer (not counting nylon-backed neoprene). Of these three, the Gill and North Face are the only ones with gauntlets to pull over your foul-weather jacket cuffs. This can be an important feature in keeping water out of your sleeve, but you must be able to cinch down your jacket cuffs for a good fit.
Of the many neoprene gloves, we definitely favored the NRS Radiator, because its fingers weren't excessively precurved, and it has a fleece lining. The Grandoe ski glove is in many ways just another ski glove, but it's superior to many so-called watersports gloves: it's waterproof and warmer.
Contacts - Aqua Wing, Maxx Sports, available from West Marine, PO Box 50070, Watsonville, CA 95077-0070; 800/262-8464. Atlas Therma Fit, Yellowstone Leather Products, Inc., Idaho Falls, ID 83402. Davis Instruments, 3465 Diablo Ave., Hayward, CA 94545; 510/732-9229; www.davisnet.com. Grandoe, 74 Bleecker St., Gloversville, NY 12078; 518/725-8641; www.grandoe.com. Gul, Murrays, 6389-B Rose Lane, Carpinteria, CA 93013; 800/786-7245; www.murrays.com. Helmsman, Gill North America, PO Box 422, Buford, GA 30518; 770/945-0564; www.gillna.com. Kenai, Glacier Glove, 4890 Aircenter Circle, Suite 210, Reno, NV 89502; 702/825-8225; www.thefishermansstore.com. The North Face, Northwest River Supplies, Inc., 2009 S. Main St., Moscow, ID 83843; 800/635-5202; www.thenorthface.com, www.nrsweb.com. Maine Sport, Rt. 1, Main St., Rockport, ME 04856; 207/236-7120; www.mainesport.com. Stanley Winter Work Gloves, Magla Products, Inc., Morristown, NJ 07962-1934; 800/247-5282; www.magla.com. Straight Line Tournament, A Sport, Inc., 11966 Westar Lane, Burlington, WA 98233; available from West Marine, PO Box 50070, Watsonville, CA 95077-0070; 800/262-8464; www.westmarine.com.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "Value Guide: Cold Weather Gloves."