MITTENS AND GLOVES, III — Go High-tech or Low-tech?

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The breadth of selection is mind-boggling. Take, for example, the types of gloves available to cold-weather commercial fishermen. Even in this market subset, the sheer number of options and materials warrants its own junior college introductory course. Add to this the mountaineering brands, the sailing brands, and trying to find the best piece of kit can appear a futilely complex exercise.

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Glove Isle of Commercial Fishermen’s Store SEAMAR of Seattle

I chose to try two very different glove solutions for deck work in the Arctic, low-tech commercial fishermen’s “rubber” gloves and high-tech Sealskinz. Also noteworthy are the NRS Titanium kayaker’s gloves mentioned below.

Fishermen’s Rubber Gloves

For deck work I primarily used the orange “rubber” gloves so ubiquitous among commercial fishermen, specifically, the Atlas 465 gloves with separate liner. The Atlas outer glove is a double-dipped PVC material that is cut and puncture resistant and remains flexible down to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) and has a roughened grip for handling slippery objects. The yellow liner is made of a seamless, plush acrylic.

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The Atlas 465 Glove with Separate Liner

In preparation for very cold work, I bought the extra-large size in these gloves and then purchased two sets of liners, large and medium–one to go inside the other, with the intention of having three layers of protection.

Cost: $16.00 for the glove; $7.00 for the liner.

What Worked

  • Worry-free waterproof-ness: unlike my seamed, high-tech mitts or the below mentioned high-tech gloves, their ability to protect was not in question.
  • Easy-dry liner: though I only took one set of outer gloves, I brought multiples of inserts (5 sets), which meant I could quickly trade wet for dry, and wet liners dried quickly.
  • Active warmth: because I wore these only for active jobs like handling anchor chain, dock lines, tacking, reefing, etc., I never found I needed more than one insert. As long as I was using my hands, they stayed warm in this protection. (These were not warm gloves for low-exertion tasks like steering and just standing watch, nor did I wear them for that purpose.)

What Didn’t

  • Triple layer protection: the idea of putting on two sets of inserts inside the rubber shell never became reality. It was too time consuming, and because I reserved this glove for active work, unnecessary in the kind of cold I experienced on the Northwest Passage this year.
  • A size too big: because I was using only the one insert, the extra-large out glove size was too big for “fine” work. When reefing or tacking, the fingers frequently got caught in the line or made the work of finishing a knot or cleating a sheet too cumbersome.
  • Difficult to put on quickly: having two layers (shell and liner) made these gloves a fiddle to get on, especially if one’s hands were damp or sticky. I experimented with leaving the liner inside the glove (as with the Alti Mitt) but found fingers rarely made it in without bunching up the liner material. Typically the liner and glove had to be donned separately.
  • Cuff size: the cuff was of medium length but too short and narrow to fit over foul weather gear and too large to fit under. I suspect the cuff is designed to go under the large sleeve of a commercial fisherman’s “rubber” jacket, like those made by Grunden.

The Atlas 465 gloves are a low tech, no-nonsense, cheap, and nearly indestructible solution. Even if one opts for carrying a more cutting edge solution, having a pair or two of these gloves in the locker as backup is enthusiastically recommended.

What I Opted Against

  • Permanently insulated gloves, like the Atlas 460 series or the Atlas 282 Temres series. I’ve used the 460s on ocean passages and find that though this glove solves the problem caused by having separate pieces, it can be difficult to dry if the attached liner gets wet (and it will get wet) because it’s surprisingly tough to turn fully inside out.
  • Partially “rubberized” gloves, like the Atlas Fit series. I find they get wet too easily and are slow to dry.

Atlas Thermafit Glove


High-Tech Gloves

I also brought a pair of Sealskinz Ultra Grip. These are designed to be close-fitting and are advertised as waterproof, windproof and breathable. The out shell is mostly Nylon with a “hydrophilic” membrane and an inner liner of merino wool. Dotted palms assist with grip.

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Sealskinz–Waterproof, Windproof, Breathable

Cost: $50.00

What Worked

  • Great for fine work: because the Sealkinz were so close-fitting, they were excellent for jobs that required tying knots, cleating-off lines, handling tools, etc. With some practice, I found I could accomplish tasks in these gloves almost as quickly as if I were working with bare hands.
  • Delaying cold: these gloves slowed the invasion of cold that can come from handling cold objects, and in this way were far superior to working with bare hands. However, unlike my experience of Atlas gloves, hands in Sealskinz never felt warm. It could be that I bought a size too small and that there was simply too much pressure on my fingers to allow ample circulation. Delaying cold is not a bad trade for the ability to do fine work on deck.
  • Quick-drying: The glove dried rapidly when hung over the stove.

What Didn’t

  • Not entirely waterproof: either they weren’t waterproof or they weren’t breathable. Either way my hands often came out of these gloves feeling wet.
  • Not entirely warm: delaying the onset of real cold is a good thing, but not the same as having warm hands.

This high-tech solution bought me more time to do “fine” tasks on deck than bare hands, but did not effectively keep hands warm or dry.

What Didn’t Get Tested


NRS Titanium Neoprene Glove

I brought but failed to try the NRS Maverick Glove with Hydrocuff. This is a cold-water kayaker’s solution made of 2mm neoprene. It has liquid sealed seams and an arm-gripping cuff, so its warmth should compete with that of Sealskinz while being entirely waterproof (and non-breathable). The fingers aren’t as close-fitting, so dexterity may be minimally reduced. The pair I have (size: large) are very tight going on, especially with already-wet hands, and it’s this difficulty which left them in the bottom of my duffel bag for the year’s Northwest Passage.


Remembering the three basic criteria, that the item must be 1) waterproof; 2) easy to don; 3) easy to dry, the clear winner in this post is the simple and rugged Atlas 465. These have the additional advantage of allowing working hands to be feel warm in very cold conditions for about half the price of the competition.


My favorite solution is not always the most expensive. Someone please tell my wife.

2 Comments on “MITTENS AND GLOVES, III — Go High-tech or Low-tech?

  1. An easy doff is important, you say. Do any of the gloves have a handy pull-tab behind the fingertips for such purpose? Also have a combination question…is there a possibility of wearing a glove under a mitt? Shuck the mitt to bare glove when dexterity needed, don the mitt for warmth?

  2. Actually, it’s the donning rather than the doffing that’s often needed quickly. A dash on deck could last a moment or an hour, so why risk going up bare handed? But then again, a dash on deck often needs to happen…right now. So getting the glove on quickly is the main thing. And no, none have the tab you mention.

    To the second question, yes. The Mount Baker mitt by Outdoor Research, just to name one. There are many others, and other high-latitude sailors use this combo. I opted *not* to go for this solution based on my experience that separated digits have difficulty warming themselves. What I’m looking for in a mitt is, essentially, a pocket for bare fingers. A glove in a mitt would have the advantage of keeping fingers protected when the mitt had to be discarded for this or that deck work but questions: 1) is the glove tough enough to do that? (the OR Mount Baker glove liner is not); 2) would putting a cold (and likely wet) glove into a mitt warm fingers as quickly as a bare hand in a mitt? Don’t know, but I doubt it.

    The item needs to fit the use, and for me the instances on the NWP when I needed to shift between glove and mitt were rare, so the above solution was not needed. When I’m singlehanding in high latitudes, this relationship may change.

    Thanks for the questions.


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