For most runners, the chill of an early morning or evening run, or any trail outing in winter, makes a pair of gloves or mitts a mandatory piece of kit in the colder months. Running gloves and mitts help to protect hands from cold air, wind and rain, and ensure fingers stay warm.
Some people are particularly prone to feeling the cold, and if you suffer with Raynaud’s syndrome, good gloves or mitts are even more essential.
But which should you choose: gloves or mitts, or a combination of both?
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What are running gloves?
There are many different types of gloves for different activities and it’s possible to wear walking, skiing or cycling gloves for running. However, running specific gloves have the advantage of being designed for the sport, using materials and including features that will improve your running experience.
Key features include the use of lightweight materials (from synthetics to natural fabrics) that are windproof and breathable, wick away moisture and provide some thermal insulation. You should also look for anti-slip or grip details (to help keep hold of things such as water bottles and poles), touchscreen friendly fingertips (for operating smartphones and other digital devices); and reflective logos so that nightrunners can be spotted by other people – especially those driving vehicles.
Gloves need to be durable but also easy to wear. A large or loose-fitting glove will be irritating when running, while a neat fitting glove will be hardly noticeable. Being able to get gloves on and off easily is important, especially if the gloves get wet from rain or sweat.
Dexterity is another consideration and many runners like to be able to access items in pockets or running packs, as well as use smart watches or phones without taking off gloves.
What are running mitts?
While mitts have long been common in the world of skiing or mountaineering, they are now also becoming popular among runners. There are an increasing number of brands selling mitts specifically for running.
Mitts allow all the fingers of each hand to stay together, rather than being separated by the finger material in gloves. This means your digits have a greater chance of remaining warm.
Some mitts are worn against the skin while others are worn over running gloves as an extra insulating layer.
Features to look our for include wrist attachments, so the mitts don’t fly away when you take them off; wind-proofing and breathability; waterproof fabric; anti-slip or grip details; touchscreen friendly thumbs; and reflective logos.
There are also glove-mitt combination products that allow you to wear the one pair as gloves or mitts, depending on how cold it is.
How do running gloves and running mitts compare?
Mitts are generally better at protecting fingers from the cold because the digits remain together rather than being separated by glove fingers. Fingers generate more heat collectively, and all that warmth will then stay in the body of the mitt.
However, the level of warmth does depend on the thickness and fabric of the gloves or mitts. Look for products made from natural fibres, such as merino wool, which usually offer greater warmth levels than synthetic materials.
A double layer of fabric on the outside of the glove or mitts, or an area of insulation, will also keep hands warmer against the elements.
Make sure the wrist section of the gloves or mitts are long enough to stop bare skin from being exposed at the top of the hands.
For belt-and-braces warmth, you could wear gloves and then an over-mitt that is made of a windproof and waterproof material.
When hands get warm they can become sweaty. This sweat needs to evaporate through the fabric otherwise you will end up with damp hands. Damp hands can end up cold hands.
In my experience, gloves offer greater breathability than mitts, but this is mainly because there is more fabric for sweat to escape from, plus the fact that hands do not become as warm in running gloves, compared to running mitts.
Look for fabrics in both gloves and mitts that are breathable.
It is obviously much easier to use your hands when wearing gloves, as compared to mitts, because you have the freedom to use all your fingers.
Extra dexterity in both gloves and mitts can come from features such as grippy palms and touchscreen–capable finger or thumb tips.
Getting them on and off
It is usually easier to get mitts on and off hands, even when sweaty, compared to gloves. This is because the wider style offers easier access for all the fingers, compared to pushing each finger into each glove finger.
Glove fingers can be prone to turning inside out when you take them off, too, which can be annoying when trying to put them back on again.
Look for details such as a small loop or tab to allow you to more easily get the gloves on and off.
While some running gloves have elements of weather proofing, such as water-resistant fabric treatments or materials, it appears to be far easier to make mitts weather-proofed.
The larger surface area of the mitts and fewer seams allows for the design to include fabrics that are water and wind proof.
It is different for gloves and mitts for other sports, such as skiing, where lightweight and breathability are not so much of an issue but for running gloves, the designs need to be lighter and more flexible.
Running gloves often have a lot of internal seams, especially along each finger and the thumb. Some seams can be irritating against the skin. Mitts usually have fewer seams.
Mitts are more likely to fit a greater range of hand sizes - and finger lengths – because they are generally more generous in shape. It’s important to buy the right size of gloves, and to try them on, to make sure the finger length is perfect.
Not everyone will like running in mitts, especially the over-mitts, because they can feel inhibiting, clumsy and flappy.
It’s a bit of a love it/hate it Marmite thing: some runners will love the look and shape of mitts, while others will not like the look of them at all. I have even heard people saying they look childish. Gloves are a more traditional and common sight for runners and therefore people might feel more comfortable wearing what most others already have.
Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.
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