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Keep Your Hands Warm

Avoid Cold Hands When You’re Climbing

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Doug Hatfield on North Star Mountain on the Continental Divide in Colorado.

Wear a couple layers of warm gloves to keep your hands warm and free from frostbite.

Photograph © Susan Joy Paul
A climber on the summit ridge of Denali or Mount McKinley in Alaska.

If you climb Denali, you better make sure you have the right glove system to keep your hands warm.

Photograph © Mike Powell/Getty Images
Keep Your Hands Warm

Susan Joy Paul on the summit of La Plata Peak, a Colorado Fourteener, in winter.

Photograph courtesy Doug Hatfield

Most mountaineers and climbers thrive during the warm summer months. It’s easy to head outside with a minimum of warm clothes and a light pack. But the lure of snow, ice, and frigid temperatures in winter provides a perfect setting for exciting backcountry adventures for many climbers. Winter outings promise solitude, heightened challenges, and frosty beauty for the mountaineer, hiker, backcountry skier, and ice climber prepared for cold weather.

Cold Weather is Dangerous

Winter outings, however, also offer danger. The most prevalent and greatest danger is cold. Exposure to cold temperatures and severe weather can result in hypothermia, frostbite, and even death. Every climber who ventures into the winter wilderness needs to understand the dangers of cold and take proper precautions to avoid them.

Your Hands Get Cold

Your hands and fingers are the most susceptible part of your body to winter cold and freezing temperatures. If you wear layers of clothing, especially made to protect you from wind, snow, and icy temperatures, your body’s core temperature will keep you warm and toasty. It’s a challenge, however, to keep your hands and fingers warm and safe from frostbite.

Hands Get Cold While Climbing

Your hands, with a lot of surface area, little mass, and located far from your torso, get cold fast. Unlike feet, which can be warmly bundled inside wool socks and leather boots, your hands get cold if you have meticulous work to do—zipping and unzipping jackets, opening your pack, tying bootlaces, opening food baggies, and twisting open a thermos of hot cocoa. Your hands also get cold if you’re putting on crampons or belaying a lead ice climber.

Always Keep Hands Covered

How do you keep your hands and fingers warm and safe from frostbite, while maintaining a certain amount of dexterity to accomplish all the tasks of winter climbing and mountaineering? It’s simple. To keep your hands warm during winter activities, follow this cardinal rule: Always keep your hands and fingers covered.

Use a Proper Glove System

If your hands are always covered, it’s easier to keep them warm than if you have to warm them up after exposure to cold air. Avoid taking off mittens or gloves to do climbing tasks. If temperatures are below zero, you risk frostbite, even after just a few minutes of exposure. To keep warm and save your fingers from frostbite, use a proper glove system, which, coupled with good cold weather practices for managing gear, will keep your hands and fingers flexible, warm, and frost free.

What Should You Wear?

What then is a proper climbing glove system? If it's freezing cold and you're high in the mountains in winter, what should you wear on your hands to keep them warm and protect them from frostbite? Go to The Best Mountaineering Glove System to find out the best glove system to wear on your hands and fingers when you're climbing.

Buy a Glove System for Climbing

Glove Liners
Outdoor Research PL 400 Gloves
Black Diamond Glove Liners
Seirus Superliner Gloves

Mountaineering Gloves and Mittens
Outdoor Research Insulated Gloves and Mittens
Black Diamond Gloves and Mittens
Marmot Genesis Glove

Taped Mittens
Outdoor Research Endeavor Taped Mittens
REI Taped Mittens
Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Mittens

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