There are few pieces of gear I own that see more wear and tear than my mountaineering gloves. In the North Cascades, where there’s snow on the ground until August and more could fall at any time, I never leave the trailhead without at least one pair of gloves—and in the winter, often two or three pairs of gloves.
That said, I’m extremely picky about my gloves and I’ve gone through more pairs than I can count over the years. In this guide, I’ll review my 8 favorite mountaineering gloves for climbing, skiing, and everything in between.
The Arc’teryx Alpha SL is, simply put, a glove I couldn’t live without. It’s on my hands or in my pack on virtually every trip I take into the alpine. It’s water resistant enough for spring skiing, dexterous enough for ice climbing, and ventilated enough to wear on cool summer mornings.
What really makes the Alpha SL work for me in so many situations is that it has just the right amount of insulation. The inner fleece lining and Gore Windstopper outer layer combine to keep my hands warm in below-freezing temps, but I rarely find myself sweating into them when heading uphill.
If I get too cold, it’s easy to throw a mitt on top of the Alpha SL and use them as a pair of glove liners. Just don’t expect to fit liners under these gloves, as they’re quite snug.
The Outdoor Research StormTracker is an all-around technical glove that lends itself to everything from climbing to ski touring. I’ve used the StormTracker for several years now, and I find they perform well in a wide variety of conditions. The glove is lightly insulated, but roomy enough to fit a liner and snug enough to fit under a pair of mitts.
These gloves are constructed with a leather palm and fingers and a nylon back panel. This design works well because you get range of motion and grip where you need it, and moisture-wicking and wind protection on the back of your hand. I also like the zippered wrist cuffs, which can fit either under or over most jackets.
The only complaint I have about the StormTracker is that the nylon soaks up water easily—so don’t plan on using these gloves in the rain.
Keeping my hands dry is a constant challenge in the North Cascades, where it’s frequently just cold enough to turn rain into an icy slush. At the same time, it’s too warm to want a heavy-duty pair of waterproof ski gloves.
Enter the Outdoor Research Waterproof Liners, which are exactly what their name suggests: 100% waterproof glove liners. They’re built with OR’s Ventia waterproof breathable fabric, plus have silicone on the fingertips to add grip and touchscreen-compatibility. These liners still hold a little more heat in than I’d like for spring ski touring, but there are very few lightweight mountaineering gloves that offer the same degree of waterproofing.
The other thing to keep in mind about these liners is that they’re not designed for durability. I found that they look pretty worn after just a single season of use, which is disappointing for the price of these gloves. Still, the unique design makes these gloves a must-have if you’re frequently mountaineering in wet snow conditions.
Camp is one of the most respected brands in ice climbing, and the company demonstrates why with the GeKO Ice gloves. These gloves are designed specifically for high altitude ice climbing in cold conditions—they’re an ideal choice for the types of conditions you’ll find in the Northern Rockies during the winter or in Alaska in the late fall and spring.
The GeKO Ice features a goat leather palm, a healthy dose of PrimaLoft One insulation, and a DRYZONE waterproof breathable membrane for weather resistance. The fingers are gusseted at the knuckles for better grip, and this delivers outstanding dexterity and freedom of movement when holding your ice tools.
Of course, Camp also paid attention to all the details that alpine climbers need. The GeKO Ice has a tight Velcro cuff that fits underneath your jacket, elastic wrist leashes, and fabric loops for attaching to your harness.
The Rab M14 is a technical glove that delivers impressive performance for the price. It’s designed specifically for ice and mixed alpine climbing, so you can expect a snug and dexterous fit. The articulated fingers are especially nice—I’ve found that I don’t need to grip my tools as hard with these gloves, which means my fingers end up staying warmer even with relatively little insulation.
The M14 is built with Rab’s Matrix fabric, which offers wind and water resistance similar to what you’d expect from Gore-Tex but at a fraction of the price. The main issue I have with the M14’s design is that they don’t have wrist leashes or carabiner loops, which are pretty essential for climbing. I ended up sewing on my own loops so I could clip these to my climbing harness.
For mid-winter backcountry skiing and mountaineering, I prefer the Black Diamond Guide glove. This is a tried and true glove that doesn’t disappoint in cold conditions. They’re packed with PrimaLoft One insulation for warmth, fleece lining along the palms, and a Gore-Tex insert that helps pull moisture away from your hands during high-output activities. If you tend to get cold fingers, the Guide gloves will keep you toasty.
The Guide is also incredibly durable—I once skied with a guy who bought his pair more than eight years ago. That’s thanks in large part to the thick goatskin leather palm and heavy-duty seams. High wear areas on the palm and forefinger are also reinforced with extra pieces of leather.
These aren’t the most dexterous gloves on the market, but they are extremely comfortable. The gauntlet cuff makes them easy to get on and off, and there’s a simple pull cord to lock out snow.
If you’re out in sub-zero temperatures, the Outdoor Research Alti mitts can keep your hands toasty. These mittens were designed with Himalayan expeditions in mind, so you can feel confident they’ll offer enough protection for anything in the Lower 48. By far, the Alti Mitts are the warmest glove on my list.
The Alti mitts use a two-part construction. On the inside of the mitts, liners combine PrimaLoft One insulation with a waterproof Gore-Tex insert to offer extra warmth and breathability. The liners are held in place with hooks and loops, so they’re easy to remove for occasional cleaning. The outer layer has more PrimaLoft plus a helping of fleece along the palm to trap in heat.
The exterior of the gloves is made from Pittards Armortan leather, which completely blocks out wind and rain. The leather construction is also extremely durable, so these gloves should last a lifetime.
Of course, all this protection isn’t featherlight. A pair of Alti gloves weighs in at 12.8 oz, or about the same weight as a hardshell jacket.
The Camp G Tech Dry is one of my favorite gloves for mountaineering in warmer conditions, like in the spring or early summer. The lightweight softshell design has a relatively low level of insulation, but a DryZone waterproof breathable membrane keeps your hands dry and comfortable.
These gloves are quite dexterous, making them ideal for everything from ice climbing to ski touring to scrambling. Silicone pads on the thumb, index finger, and palm add grippiness, and the snug fit adds to how secure the gloves feel. The only downside is that they’re too tight to put a liner underneath.
The G Tech Dry feature a Velcro hook-and-loop closure system and an under-the-cuff design. They’re also touchscreen compatible, which is a nice touch if you like to use your smartphone to take photos in the mountains.
How To Choose The Best Mountaineering Gloves
Deciding which pair of mountaineering gloves is right for you comes down to the type of conditions you expect. Here are a few of the key things to consider.
The first thing I look at when evaluating a pair of gloves is whether or not they’re insulated. Insulated gloves are terrific in the winter, but warmer gloves can cause your hands to sweat once temperatures start to climb above freezing. Typically, I keep a pair of insulated gloves in my pack in case my hands get cold, but rely on glove liners or a pair of lightly insulated softshell gloves for most spring mountaineering trips.
It’s also worth thinking about the type of insulation a pair of gloves is made with. Most modern gloves use synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft One, PrimaLoft Gold, or fleece since these materials stay warm even when they get wet. You can also find mittens insulated with down, but these are only suitable for extreme cold when there’s no chance they’ll get wet.
Depending on where you are, waterproofing is either essential or irrelevant in your gloves. In the North Cascades, where it’s constantly wet, I simply won’t use a pair of gloves that isn’t designed to be waterproof. In the Rockies or Alaska, where it’s much colder, waterproof materials might not be necessary.
Fit and Dexterity
Mountaineering gloves can fit in a variety of different ways. Some are loose-fitting so you can put a pair of liners under them and trap in plenty of hot air. Others are snug and give you as much dexterity as possible.
The style of fit that’s best for you depends on what you’re doing. Climbers need maximum dexterity to handle ropes and tools, so most alpine climbing gloves are tight-fitting and have articulated fingers. For non-technical mountaineering, a looser-fitting pair of gloves gives you more options for layering.
How To Build A Glove System
While getting the best pair of mountaineering gloves will go a long way towards keeping you comfortable, ultimately no single pair of gloves will be right for all conditions. That’s why I strongly suggest building a glove system, rather than relying on a single pair of gloves.
Think about whether a snug pair of climbing gloves can double as a set of liners under a heavily insulated mitt. Or, how you might use a pair of thin liners for the uphill and then switch to more insulated mountaineering gloves when you stop moving. The more flexibility you have in mixing and matching your gloves, the better you’ll be able to adapt to changing conditions in the alpine.
Getting the right pair of gloves for mountaineering can make a huge difference in how comfortable you are in the alpine. Whether you’re facing sub-zero temperatures or melting spring snow, there are plenty of options available to build a versatile glove system. I especially recommend the Arc’teryx Alpha SL, a high-performance mountaineering glove that works well for climbing, skiing, and everything in between.
For those also in need of a new tent, try my list of the best mountaineering tents next.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.