Thursday, December 20, 2018

Winter Gloves

David brought up the subject of gloves in a chat with me the other day, wondering what gloves were appropriate in areas with actual climate instead of weather. He lives in an area that doesn't see much change from summer to winter, whereas a few of us live in the northern states and have to deal with things like snow and below zero temperatures. Since I work outside a lot, doing pretty much the same things year-round, I thought I'd give my two cent's worth.

Gloves are designed to protect your hands. I like the German word for gloves, Handschuh, literally a shoe for your hands. That gives you a good idea of the utility of gloves as well as an idea of how varied they can be. From spike heels to steel-toed boots, gloves and shoes both come in an amazing variety of forms. I wear different gloves for different hazards, but the question was about cold weather so I'll emphasize that as a criteria for selection.

Chemical Gloves
I work with industrial quantities of agricultural chemicals. Some of them are corrosive, others are flammable, and they're all poisonous. Normal weather lets me get by with vinyl or rubber gloves for most of them, but I keep cheapcotton gloves around to wear as a liner inside them when the temperatures drop. I specify cheap cotton gloves, because they are disposable if they become contaminated and some of the chemicals I work with are too nasty to risk washing gloves. Working with cryogenic materials like anhydrous ammonia and LP gas, which will freeze skin on contact, requires special gloves but I still wear liners under them in the winter.

Work Gloves
Normally I'll have on a pair of leather gloves. Work provides us with cow or pigskin leather gloves, whichever is in stock at the time, and they keep me from picking up a lot of minor nicks and scrapes. Once October rolls around, we break out the insulated leather gloves. The brand we stock is insulated with Thinsulate*, which does a good job of keeping fingers warm without too much bulk. These work until the temperature drops below 20°F, which is when I break out the real winter gloves. I prefer a heavier leather shell and thicker liner, windproof and waterproof if I can get it. I avoid plastic gloves because they melt or burn more easily than leather and in the winter they get brittle and crack.

*Thinsulate is a branded polymer insulation rated by “grams”, with the higher numbers providing more insulating value. Light weather will call for 40-60 gram lining, from freezing to about zero you'll want 100 grams, and below that I tend to rely on layers and it gets hard to quantify.

Extreme Conditions
Once in a while I get called to do really stupid things, like dragging idiots out of ditches in the middle of the night during a snow storm. This requires handling chains that are cold enough to stick to bare skin and usually a lot of time next to or underneath a vehicle in the snow. This requires a heavy glove with a thick layer of insulation, but I've made do with plain leather and frequent breaks to warm up my fingers.

It's been a few years since we've had ice on the lakes thick enough to allow ice fishing, but that's another extreme. We don't do it often enough to justify building the ice fishing cabins you'll find further north, so we just bundle up and stand on the ice for a few hours at a time. If you ever need to get away from people, ice fishing is a good choice.; there aren't many idiots dedicated enough to follow you out onto a frozen lake just to annoy you.

Both of these situations call for a heavily insulated glove that is waterproof. I have a couple to choose from, depending on how bad it really is. The first is a heavy leather glove with Thinsulate liner and a layer of Mylar between them. Any pair of quality ski gloves will do as well, and will be easier to find. They're great for keeping the fingers warm, but they limit the mobility of the fingers.

My other option is a pair of arcticmittens that I got from a Army surplus store years ago. Made of soft deer leather with a piece of fur on the back of the hand for wiping your nose on, they come with thick wool liners to provide insulation. They also come with a cord that is long enough to run up your sleeve, over your shoulder and down the other sleeve. You then attach the mittens to the cord so you can't lose them if you have to remove one for some reason. It may sound like something you'd do for children, but in extreme weather losing your gloves can mean losing your hands to frostbite. The newerversion comes with a quilted liner and camouflage fabric cuff, but should work the same. Mittens keep your fingers in the same space to preserve heat, but that also limits all of your finger motion. For truly Arctic conditions, I'd look for a set of mittens made of animal skin with the fur on the inside.

I've mentioned finger mobility several times for a reason. If you're not used to wearing gloves, it'll take some adjustments in your routines to get used to the loss of fine finger control. All of our valves and cranks at work are over-sized to provide a bit more leverage, and this also comes in handy when you're trying to work them wearing heavy gloves. If you've ever seen a piece of industrial equipment and wondered why the buttons and controls are so large, it's to allow their use while wearing gloves.

With a bit of practice, you'll be able to do most manual labor without noticing the gloves, but finer work that requires dexterity will call for either removing your gloves or finding/making a compromise. If you look around the hunting supply stores, you'll find “shooting” gloves and mittens which have an extra finger or a hole that you can poke your trigger finger out of when you need to fire a weapon. Another option is the old standby of “fingerless”gloves that are missing the tips of the fingers to allow finer motion while still keeping most of your hand warm. There are also a lot of hybrid gloves that blend gloves and mittens, like these or these.

I'm also seeing a lot of new gloves with conductive rubber tips on the fingers for use with touch-screen technology. Trying to use a cell phone or tablet while wearing gloves is not something I've ever done; I use a bluetooth headset under my hat for the phone in cold weather, but the younger employees will chance frostbite in order to play with their phones. I have rubber tips on my pens for if I have to text or punch in data while wearing gloves, so I've not yet bought a pair of the new style gloves.

If you carry a weapon as part of your EDC and you live where it gets cold enough to need gloves, you need to practice with your weapon while wearing gloves. Drawing a weapon from a holster or pocket is difficult when you can't feel it; the bulk of a pair of gloves will change your grip, and thus your sight picture; loading a magazine gets to be comical and revolvers are even worse; and if you're wearing insulated gloves you may not be able to get your finger inside the trigger guard. You may never have noticed it, but military pattern AR-style rifles have a trap-door style bottom plate on the trigger guard, and pressing in the detent with the tip of a bullet or other pointy object will let the plate swing down and out of the way, opening up the trigger guard so you can get a gloved finger in there.

If all else fails, learn how to get the glove off of your shooting hand in a hurry.

Gloves are an important part of my daily gear, so I keep several options around. If you're an office worker, you'll probably need gloves more than I do in order to avoid the nicks and cuts that my callouses would prevent. I'm not going to knock anybody's lifestyle, but a soft manicured hand is not going be able to take the damage as well as a calloused one.

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