Keeping your hands warm on late-season hunts
Cold fingers, cold toes… you’ve got to love late season hunts! When the temperatures drop, it usually means the action is heating up, but if you’re not prepared to handle the cold, you won’t be fully in-tune with the task at hand — locating animals. If your hands are freezing... you might give up glassing sooner and in turn, give up on what could be a great glassing spot.
For me, the part of my body that gets cold the quickest are my hands and feet. Being extremely tall definitely has its advantages, but, for me, it also means long extremities that are away from the warmth of my body’s core, so I have to use specific gear to handle the cold.
First, let’s take a look at handwear for these awesome late season hunts. I like to break handwear into three different categories: gloves, mittens and hybrids (pretty standard, but stay with me). No matter what option you prefer, you want to use a solid handwear system that has a long draft cuff, a wind blocking layer, a draw cord, an insulation layer and the ability to add/remove a liner.
Gloves come in many shapes and sizes — so many, in fact, that it’s overwhelming. For a late-season hunt, I can’t live without a glove that has a wind blocking shell with insulation built into it and a removable liner. Having this combo creates a great deal of added warmth while also allowing the gloves to dry out quickly at the end of the day. Sometimes, I might sweat in them while hiking back to camp or accidentally drop them in the snow.
When looking for a glove—this should go without saying—but a late-season glove needs to have a long cuff that extends over your wrists with a pull cord to prevent cold air and snow from sneaking in. The past few years, my glove of choice for a late-season hunt has been SITKA’s Stormfront Insulated Glove.
I’ll also utilize the removable liner as the main glove if the temperatures warm up midday or if I need to use something with a little more dexterity. The only downside to a glove is your fingers could get cold because the gloves insulate each finger separately (and there is outside air between each finger), and due to your fingers being separated, they are not able to warm up your other fingers.
Chopper style mittens are the cream of the crop when it comes to late-season warmth! For maximum warmth, you can’t beat a quality pair of mittens. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that mittens keep your hands warmer because the heat given off by your fingers are all in one spot; whereas, with gloves, your fingers are separated, making them easier to get cold. One big plus to mittens is also the ability to add a handwarmer on the inside. This handwarmer will then be placed right across your fingers keeping them toasty hot!
Mittens come in many different forms, but, like gloves, a late-season mitten needs to have long cuff draft collars that extend over your wrists.
The only downfall with mittens is the loss of finger dexterity. I always notice this while running the focus wheel on my binoculars or spotting scope.
On my Colorado 3rd season hunt this year and in Montana recently on my annual Thanksgiving hunt, I used the SITKA Blizzard GTX Mitten. I really enjoyed the three-layer shell with the leather palm and, most importantly, the PrimaLoft-insulated liner, which was the bomb dot com on those really cold glassing mornings. If the weather wasn’t windy, I’d opt for using just the mitten liner and really enjoyed how packable the liner is (this mitten will get used more on earlier season hunts, too).
On a recent Wyoming hunt where we experienced below freezing temperatures the entire time, Chris Porter was always sporting his First Lite Brooks Down Glassing Mitt. These little gems weigh in at 3.5 oz, really pack some heat and are very packable. While I won't consider these mittens as a dedicated late-season option, they seemed to work very well for Porter.
Hybrids…what exactly am I talking about here? This category is very intriguing, especially for the hunter who loves to sit behind optics on a tripod when it’s cold. These are typically mittens that have your middle, ring and pinky fingers together, but allow for some maneuverability by keeping your pointer finger and thumb separate.
As the above section title mentions, this category is a hybrid of mittens and gloves. Each year, Chris Neville and I go on some crazy hunts together and, once the temperatures drop, Neville always has a pair of awesome hybrid mittens with him. What I’m specifically talking about are his First Lite Grizzly Mitt (I believe the current version is the Grizzly 2.0 Trigger Mitt).
Joking on the hunt, we call these llama mitts because of the shape of the finger area. These mittens are like your typical mittens, but they have a separate area for your pointer finger which gives him extra dexterity to run his spotting scope or binoculars.
Another great option is a pair of cheap fold-back style wool mittens. You can quickly go from mitten to gloves by flipping back the mitten cap. This will allow you to have the dexterity of your fingers. Also, it's a great idea to get the version with a fold-back thumb. Like other late-season options, if you need some added warmth, you could add a glove liner under this fold-back mitten.
There are a lot of great options out there to keep your hands warm!
Outside of the styles offered by hunting companies, there are other great options made by mountaineering companies. I've also had great success with Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. Think about your needs: if your hands get cold easily and often, don’t be afraid to combine an outer shell with a different inner liner. If you are on a true backpack hunt when the temperatures drop below freezing, you will need to pay closer attention to what you put on your hands compared to a hotel or truck-style camp. When looking at sizing options, cold weather handwear options should have enough room to move your hands and fingers. This will allow the glove to be warmed up by your hands and most importantly, not restrict your circulation.
Even on late-season hunts, I like to pack along a different pair of gloves to hike in so I won't sweat. If you wear your thick gloves or mittens and do a lot of heavy hiking, you greatly increase the chance to soak the inside with sweat, which is counterproductive during extremely cold temperatures. Then once I arrive at my glassing spot, I'll switch over to my insulation glove or mitten of choice. Best of luck on your next late-season hunt!