Until about 40 years ago, hands were protected with shell materials like heavy weight deerskin or bison and lined with fur or hand knit wool.

Now we have a wide variety of technologies that make the outdoors a better experience in all weather conditions.

Great materials exist. The glove designer’s real challenge is to develop gloves with the right performance features for weather conditions WITHIN your budget.

Here’s a 2-Part series on the materials and technologies we use to design gloves for cold weather..

The Science of Cold Weather Hand Protection

Leading material suppliers like 3M, Gore, DuPont, Albany International, and Downtek have developed a wide range of advanced materials for cold weather.

Let’s start with some basic principles for winter warmth:

  • The secret to insulation is trapped air — the more trapped air, the warmer you be. That’s why big thick mittens work so well.
  • There are 4 ways hands lose heat: Conduction, convection, evaporation, and radiation …

Conduction: For example from a warm hand in contact with cold object such as a ski pole or shovel.

Convection: In gloves this means the exchange of the warm air inside with the cold air outside by way of an uncoated shell, glove seams or a loose fitting cuff.

Evaporation: The hand’s perspiration from a liquid to a gas. This is driven by our own body heat – pretty difficult to control.

Radiation: Heat transfer in the form of infrared emissions from our body … what you see on all those multicolor thermal images shown on hangtags and James Bond movies.

Making Gloves Warmer: Keep Cold Air Out, and Warm Air In

There are many choices a glove manufacturer can use to trap warm air:

Down: Down is one of the best materials to trap warm air.

Down is measured with what is known as fill power which is the measurement of the down’s resiliency. The greater the resiliency, the higher the fill power (and cost). 800 fill power is the highest on the scale. 650-fill power is the most widely used.

  • One innovation are the newer waterproof down products, which eliminate the problem of clumping when wet.  Read more about this innovation here.
  • Another down innovation: conventional down linings are typically mixed with fiberfill, with down concentrated on the back of the hand.We’ve developed an innovative down glove construction that adds needed warmth to the back of the hand, the palm and between the fingers.

High loft/ fiberfill: Synthetic fiberfill is a close second to down.  Branded materials are best; lower cost gloves will use generic brands, which are effective to a lesser extent.

  • Albany International’s Primaloft is renowned for its soft hand, great resilience and water repellency.
  • 3M’s Thinsulate Supreme is also a strong contender in this category.

Fleece and Pile:  Fleece linings are generally suitable for moderately cold temperatures. They can be laminated with fiberfill or Thinsulate for added insulation.

  • A thick/heavy weight pile (sometimes called “Sherpa”) is a very good insulation. The advantage with pile is that it traps warm air next to your skin. With other insulations, air is trapped in intermediate layers.

Battery and carbon heat: When extreme measures are required, the last line of protection is the introduction of external heat sources.

  • The most common and least expensive are the carbon and iron based heater packs such as Heat Factory and Hot Hands. Farther up the food chain are battery-heated gloves or electric gloves.

Cold Weather Glove Solutions Beyond Insulation

To prevent heat loss, cold weather performance gloves can also use some of these technologies:

Radiant Heat barriers: Radiant barriers are Mylar films or aluminized materials that were originally developed by NASA to insulate spacecraft and astronauts. The most commonly seen on terra firma are space blankets.

  • In gloves, radiant barriers claim to block and reflect infrared (also called IR) emissions back to the hand. It is important to position the barrier close to (but not in contact with the hand.
  • Radiant heat technology was developed for the Space Shuttle, for ceramic tiles to absorb and reflect heat.A new entry in the radiant barrier market called Trizar uses quartz and other natural elements infused in a waterproof and highly breathable film.

Phase Change materials (PCM’s): A common example of Phase change is when you put ice in a drink. As ice melts, it absorbs heat and cools the drink.

  • The best-known PCM in the glove world is also a Space Certified material called Outlast. The PCM in Outlast products are small cells that absorb heat when you are warm, and then releases the heat when you get cold.

In Part 2 of our series on glove weatherization, we’ll cover windproof and waterproof materials we can use to protect hands from the elements, keeping hands warm AND dry.

Working With a Glove Company: Setting Priorities

There are many ways to add warmth to a glove – but the bottom line is to satisfy your customer’s needs, within your cost allowance.

As an analogy, think about eyeglasses – you can correct vision with “Coke bottle” thick lenses that will do the trick, or offer the wearer a more attractive, thinner solution – but not at the same price!

  • To develop the right solution for your glove project, customer “must haves” trump all else.  When you do your glove design brief, ask:  What is most important … warmth in extreme cold weather conditions?  … waterproof?  … other needs?Once priorities are defined, a good glove designer can find the right materials to do the job.

What’s your toughest cold weather gear challenge?

Got a cold weather glove challenge? Bring it on!

And if a second opinion from an experienced glove design team would be helpful, fill out the form below or give us a shout.

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