How to choose walking or hiking gloves

By: Andrew Forrest - December 2022

Walking gloves

Walking and hiking gloves vary greatly in the warmth, protection and dexterity they offer, so you do need to consider first what you'll be using them for.

Table of contents 

There are really two main choices when it comes to protection or warmth for your hands - gloves or mittens.

A glove covers the hand and has a separate compartment for each finger, whereas mittens don't have separate spaces for each finger. In the main, if made of the same amount of the same material, mittens will provide more warmth than gloves, as the fingers maintain warmth more when they are in contact with each other and there is less outside surface area for heat to escape. Whereas gloves provide more dexterity.

My preference has always been gloves, but that is just it, it all comes down to your own preference.

There is a third hybrid type called a 'lobster' where your thumb and index finger have individual compartments and then your other three fingers sit in the main compartment - often used by snowboarders.

Lightweight fleece glove

Lightweight fleece glove

Gore-Tex glove with synthetic PU palm

Gore-Tex glove with synthetic PU palm

What to consider when buying your hiking or walking gloves

The outer shell of hiking gloves comes in a wide variety of materials (leather, synthetic, neoprene etc.) with Gore-Tex or similar waterproofing built into some. These serve a variety of different functions depending upon your needs (waterproof, breathable, windproof), and varying grips for walking with poles or scrambling.

This shell protects the insulation/lining of the glove which provides warmth.

There are also summer sun gloves, lightweight material that has built-in UV protection from the sun, and heat pads that can be bought to keep hands warm inside the gloves for those cold winter days.

You do need to remember though that warmer isn't always better, although some people disagree with me on that! In the main, you need to keep your hands comfortable, not hot. If you are too hot, your hands can sweat, which makes for damp/wet glove insides, which can then affect the insulation and warmth. That is why I generally have a couple of pairs in winter, using a thinner and thicker pair combination and then leaving the thinner pair in my rucksack all year round.

All that said, the main things you need to consider when buying your hiking or walking gloves are:

  • Where and when you'll be walking or hiking - match the glove to your needs.
  • Gloves or Mittens.
  • Fit - the sizing is critical for your hands to stay warm, and comfortable and for maintaining dexterity. Many manufacturers' sizing slightly differs. Therefore, you must measure your hand and use the manufacturers' sizing charts. A piece of string is useful for measuring around the hand and then putting that against a ruler.
  • Waterproof.
  • Breathable.
  • How durable - this is more important if scrambling or using walking poles.
  • Insulated - warmth provided. Need enough to keep you warm, but you don't want your hands getting sweaty when you are exercising.
  • Touchscreen compatible - some gloves have one or more fingers that allow you to use your mobile phone without taking them off.
  • Ease of access - Zips or Velcro etc. to ease getting the gloves on and off.
  • Hooks or loops.

Gore-Tex glove

Gore-Tex glove

Key features to look for when choosing hiking or walking gloves

There are many features you need to take into account when you are choosing your walking gloves and we have listed the key ones below:

Dexterity of the glove

Gloves ideally need to provide good dexterity, so that it reduces the number of times you need to remove them to access your rucksack, pockets, use zips or just re-tie bootlaces! Some gloves come with pre-formed fingers, which are designed to imitate the shape of the hand to allow for easier movement.

Lining and insulation of the glove

The lining is an important part of the glove, as it is the material directly in contact with your skin. It should be a wicking material so that it wicks moisture away from your skin to reduce heat loss and keep the glove dry.

Certain winter gloves have the liner integrated into the glove, whilst others have a removable liner - this does make the glove more adaptable but generally adds weight and bulk to the glove. I've always just used the integrated liners.

Winter gloves generally have synthetic fill insulation, whereas lighter gloves are typically fleece or wool. The fill insulation fibres create loft and trap warmed body air. As synthetic, even if they get wet, they still retain their warmth.

Always remember though, that warmer generally means bulkier less dextrous gloves, so there may be a trade-off to be made, which brings us back to matching your gloves to your needs.

Seams of the glove

If the glove has bulky seams, especially around the fingers, this can impede dexterity and make accessing rucksacks or pockets or even using equipment difficult. Inside the glove, seams should be at a minimum.

Grip or palm of the glove

How important this is really comes down to your use of the gloves. If you do mainly flat walks and don't use walking poles, then the grip isn't that important. But, if you use your hands for scrambling, use walking poles etc. then you need palms to provide excellent grip and also be durable.

Leather or synthetic polyurethane (PU) palms and fingers on gloves give a good non-slip grip when scrambling or using walking poles.

PU is often called synthetic leather and is added as a thin pliable coating to the shell, which gives good dexterity, good grip in both dry and wet and is flexible at low temperatures.

Leather also provides this and generally is harder wearing than a synthetic palm. Goat leather is a thinner leather, a good option when higher dexterity is required, being soft and pliable, but it still is quite durable.

Lightweight dotted palm waterproof glove

Lightweight dotted palm waterproof glove

Leather-palmed Gore-Tex glove

Leather-palmed Gore-Tex glove

Outer shell of the glove

If you want your hands to stay dry as well as warm, you need a waterproof outer shell. Many outer glove shells are made of or impregnated with waterproof yet breathable materials, such as Gore-Tex, or the manufacturers' own in-house waterproofing. The shell should also be durable.

Gore-Tex glove with PU palm

Gore-Tex glove with PU palm

Wrist closure and coverage of a glove

Ease of access helps get the gloves on and off. Most gloves have an elasticated wrist and accompanying drawcord, that are used to provide a weatherproof seal. Some are further sealed by zips, Velcro or adjustable webbing and buckle closures.

A glove normally ends at your wrist or just a little way past it. For more severe days and winter conditions, you can get gloves with longer 'gauntlet' cuffs. These can extend over the sleeve of your jacket and are designed to keep snow and cold air out. They are normally heavier and bulkier though.

Glove with longer gauntlet cuff

Glove with longer gauntlet cuff

Wrist leash and clips on a glove

Glove leashes or wrist cords, secure your gloves to your wrists, so you don't have to worry about losing them or blowing away in windy conditions.

Having a clip on the gloves is also useful to clip them together, so you don't end up in the 'only being able to find one glove' scenario. You can also then hang them over any strappings on your rucksack. If your glove didn't come with a leash, they are available to buy separately, so you could clip that to your glove clip.

Touchscreen compatibility of the glove

If you are one of those people who needs to be constantly checking your phone, even when you're on a walk and surrounded by beautiful scenery, then this is a feature that you'll probably want. That said, I do have a thin compatible pair that is useful for checking the OS mapping app on my phone from time to time.

Touchscreen devices (most of your smartphones etc.) need the conductive touch of your bare finger for them to work, so they won't work with most normal gloves. To get around that, certain gloves (generally thin ones) include a small patch of conductive material, which then acts as your bare finger.

Do remember though that smartphones don't work very well below certain temperatures, so keep in an inside pocket, close to your body for that extra bit of warmth.

Lightweight glove with touchscreen conductive pads on finger and thumb

Lightweight glove with touchscreen conductive pads on finger and thumb

Nose wipe on the back of the glove

It's amazing when you are out on the hills just how much your nose runs in the fresher, cooler air than when you are sitting warm at home in front of your TV, so a soft nose wipe on the back of a glove is the solution to that one. Many winter gloves feature soft nose wipes with many different materials being used for them.

Zippered pockets

Certain gloves offer zippered pockets, generally on the back of the hand, usually promoted by the fact that they could be used to store hand warmers or act as vents on warmer days. I've never really seen the use for them, and add unnecessary (for me) zips that could go wrong. I'll store items I need in jacket or rucksack pockets and if my hands are getting too warm, I'll take them off or swap to my thin pair - again one of those preference things!

Now you know what to look for when buying a hiking glove, for our current best choices, check out our best hiking gloves of 2024.

December 2022