MITTENS AND GLOVES, II — Arctic-Ready Mitts

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In a sense, I got lucky. A mere nine shopping days separated my landing the berth on Arctic Tern and my expected arrival in Nuuk. Time was short, investigations rushed. I just happened to be passing through Seattle on the way home from a Vancouver delivery and took that opportunity to visit the world’s largest REI and the Outdoor Research factory store. In June, I found, only Outdoor Research had anything like a selection of Arctic-ready mittens.

I chose the Outdoor Research Alti Mitt for when needed warmth trumped that of dexterity. According to the manufacturer this mitt is “built for 8,000 meter peaks and Arctic expeditions,” and though I wouldn’t know about the former, it served well in the latter.

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Outdoor Research Alti Mitt–Shell and Liner

The Alti Mitt is actually two in one, an outer shell with an inner liner. The shell is made of a waterproof Gore-Tex with a leather palm. It has Prima Loft One insulation on top with fleece on the underside. Large, long cuffs allow easy fit over the sleeves of foul weather gear and gaskets can be cinched to reduce the intrusion of wet stuff. The liner mitt employs the same insulation strategy as the shell, but there’s more of it. The two pieces can be worn separately or together.

Cost: $199.00

What Worked

  • I have a hand of average size but bought the large mitt to ensure ample room inside to trap warm air and reduce any pressure from material on the skin (pressure reduces circulation). I could comfortably put the thumb in with the other fingers and even make a fist of my hand, all within the mitt. This, combined with the insulation, made the mitt very warm under most circumstances.
  • The long, large cuff extended easily and without much fuss over the sleeve of my foul weather gear. The lengthy overlap between foulie cuff and that of the mitt ensured “seamless” warmth between hand and arm.
  • Even though the cuffs fit over the foul weather gear, I found that rain did not easily make its way inside. On two occasions I stood a rainy watch at the wheel in these mitts and in neither case did the liner get wet. (I can’t explain this.)
  • The leather palm remained waterproof, even in the wettest weather. (See below re Gore-Tex palms.)
  • A velcro tab attaches the liner to the shell, securing one to the other and making the mitt easy to get in and out of.
  • Even after weeks of use, the mitt had a plush, warm, luxurious feeling, and was a joy to put on.

What Didn’t

  • The fleece insulation on the palm-side of the mitt (both shell and liner) was insufficient to block the intrusion of cold when gripping cold surfaces for long periods. This is the Alti Mitt’s single biggest drawback.
  • With rough use, the liner slid around inside of the shell. The two Velcro tabs at the base of the liner were not enough to stop this.
  • Outdoor Research would not sell additional liners. This meant I had to be extra careful not to wet or lose the one pair I had. That liners are not sold separately seems a miss-step on the part of the company.
  • The liner felt too lightly built to be worn on its own, and because I had only the one pair, I chose never to do this.
  • With prolonged wetting, the grip of the leather palm became slick and slippery (though it remained waterproof). This result was not unexpected and was preferable to Gore-Tex (see below) while being far from ideal.

The Outdoor Research Alti Mitt is an excellent piece of kit for light duty work in cold temperatures but could do with extra insulation in the palms and a more secure connection between the shell and the liner. I intended to experiment with inserting another, light fleece mitten inside the liner for added warmth, but never found such an item for sale in the Arctic hamlets we visited.

What I Opted Against

  • Mitts with Gore-Tex palms. In my experience water can be forced through Gore-Tex given the right amount of pressure (after a few rainy sits, the seats of Gore-Tex foul weather bibs, for example, seem to leave me with a damp bum).
  • Mitts with a separated index finger. The reduction of space in the mitt’s main compartment make for cramped quarters when all four or five attempt to snuggle together and seemed a poor trade for minimal added dexterity.
  • Glove Liners. A few manufacturers and one salesperson recommended a glove liner to go inside the mitt shell. Such seemed to defeat the purpose of a mitt, which is to create a single warm compartment where naked fingers can warm themselves.
Mit with Index Finger

Outdoor Research mitt with Gore-Tex Palm and Free Index Finger

Looking back now I can’t imagine attacking the Arctic without a large, waterproof, well insulated, long-cuffed mitt and was amazed at the number of cruisers in the north who only had gloves.

Next, Fishermen’s “rubber” gloves vs a High Tech solution…

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