The gloves we reviewed, from left: Oakley SI Tactical GR gloves, Viking Tactics Assault Glove, CamelBak Cold Weather Gloves, Arc'teryx Alpha SV gloves. (Rob Curtis / Staff photo illustration)
Cold is an enemy as deadly as any foe on the battlefield. Aside from the nip on your ears and the sting in your fingertips, exposure saps strength and compromises your critical decision-making process, insidiously promoting immediate comfort over long-term survival considerations.
"The coldest I've ever jumped was from 30,000 feet in Australia in the wintertime, when it was 150 degrees below zero for a 30-minute canopy ride," says Magpul Dynamics CEO and former force recon Marine Travis Haley. "It's miserable stuff they don't show in the recruiting posters. Everything is frozen, nothing works and you don't want to do anything."
Seventy and sunny on the ground? Add windchill and altitude to a summer HAHO and feel your fingers turn to wood on the ride down.
You don't need to be exposed to Himalayan cold to go hypothermic, either. Forty-five degrees isn't snowshoeing weather, but crawling out of the water to perform a hydrographic survey on a windy beach will make your core body temp drop quickly.
Staying focused in those situations is a lot easier with warm hands so gloves are one of the most important items in your cold-weather gear locker.
Your hands are your primary tool for manipulating your environment. Keeping your digits warm and protected in cold temperatures will stave off the frustration that leads to "going internal." So whether your next mission is on a beach or in the mountains, here are a few gloves that will protect your hands and keep you in the fight.
Expedition weather: Arc'teryx Alpha SV
The Lamborghini of gloves looks more like a Humvee at first glance. But the magic is in the details. Three-seamed fingers with seamless fingertips instead of a boxed construction give you incredible feel. The glove is also patterned to mimic the shape of a partially flexed hand. These innovations mean there are no seams squeezing your fingertip when you grab something or squeeze a trigger. We were able to pick up a dime laying flat on the deck. Aside from their incredible dexterity, the gloves are made from three-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell waterproof material usually reserved for rain jackets. The insulation is a high-loft fleece, at home in a ski glove. ITW Cyberian CordLocs get the glove on and off fast with one hand. The Alpha SV is a long-gauntlet, deep-winter glove that fits in a standard trigger guard with unparalleled dexterity for weapon operation.
Cold weather: CamelBak Cold Weather Gloves
Most insulation is thick and heavy, but Thinsulate isn't. For its thickness, it's surprisingly warm. Combine Thinsulate with some neoprene and you end up with an insulated glove with decent feel. These don't have the supple feel of shooter's mitts, but they will keep you warmer than a plain Nomex glove or liner when you need to grab your risers at 10,000 feet. The stitching is a bit thick, but still quite thin for an insulated glove. The exception is the trigger finger: CamelBak trades a little protection for feel above the first knuckle to keep some trigger feel. The gloves are wind- and rain-resistant, and the textured leather palm provides some grip when wet.
Cool weather: Viking Tactics Assault Glove
Taking the temp up a notch, look for a slightly thinner glove. The Assault Glove is a little heavier and uses padding called Zoombang that is soft until it's exposed to sudden impact then it becomes hard for a second and protects what's beneath. We punched drywall, plywood and even steel without feeling the report on our knuckles. The flexible pads are also on the finger backs, where hard carbon fiber can get in the way during a trigger pull. In cooler weather, the pads act as dense insulation and seem to retain their impact-resistant qualities. Kevlar construction, terrycloth wipe and a supportive wrist wrap round out the features of a capable glove. Be aware that the gloves run big.
Price: Regularly $100, available for $60 "special introductory price."
Moderate weather: Oakley SI Tactical FR Gloves
Oakley's latest glove is a flame-retardant wonder: two layers of 108-gram Nomex to protect your hands from fire, plus carbon-fiber knuckles to keep accidental contact from tearing open a knuckle. The palms are supple Pittards goat leather, offering protection and excellent feel when the temperatures are moderate. Trigger feel is good. If you need to grab something hot, cold or just plain uncomfortable, the protection in the Oakley package will keep you from worrying about your hands and let you concentrate on the job at hand.