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Guide to Choosing Cold Weather Sailing Gloves | Expert Advice

Frostbite Season: Gloves

As we hip up on November, you may have noticed that the temperatures outside are naturally starting to nose dive. Unfortunately, this means that those of you still planning on taking to the water are going to be making the painful transition from shorts, tech shirts and SPF 50 sunblock to warm base layers, hats, gloves and socks. And if you believe Accuweather.com or NOAA, we’re in for a colder than normal winter this year on most of the eastern seaboard. Thank you El Nino (which, of course, is Spanish for “The Nino“)!

When that transition starts happening, one of the items that we struggle to keep on the shelves during the late fall/winter/early spring are cold weather gloves. Cold weather sailing gloves have a rather unique mission — keep your hands warm while protecting them and gripping line like a regular sailing glove. And while each glove has strengths, none is perfect — the odds that someone will create a glove that is waterproof, warm, durable AND thin enough to retain dexterity are in the same stratosphere as world peace breaking out and James actually combing his hair before coming to work.

So if none of the gloves out there are perfect, which one should you choose? Well, APS currently carries eight different glove options/styles for true cold weather sailing. We decided to review those options in-depth, getting a sample of our employees (with a full array of hand sizes) to try on each pair of gloves and rate how well they fit, the amount of dexterity that they had left and how warm the gloves were on a scale of 1 (Bad) to 5 (Super-Duper). Some of you science-y people out there are probably blowing a collective brain stem/graphing calculator right now because this method is a wee bit subjective, but everyone’s independent evaluations ended up being relatively similar, so we feel pretty good about the results.

Now, before we jump into the results of the testing, we wanted to touch on sizing real quick, since it’s one of the biggest issues with cold weather gloves. Because of the extra material needed for insulation and the myriad of different materials and styles, sizing is kind of all over the place for each glove. When it comes to sizing a normal sailing glove, there’s a general rule of thumb that is used. Measure all the way around your palm (not including the thumb) at its widest part with a tape measure/ruler and use the chart below to figure out what size glove you should wear. Now, this rule of thumb sort of works on winter gloves, but it’s not great. We’ll do our best to represent the sizing differences that we found, but if you have any questions before ordering a winter glove, be sure to give us a call at 800/729.9767 or e-mail us at sail@apsltd.com.

Glove Size Inches Centimeters
XX-Small 5″ 12.7cm
X-Small 6″ 15.3cm
Small 7″ 17.8cm
Medium 8″ 20.3cm
Large 9″ 22.9cm
X-Large 10″ 25.4cm
XX-Large 11″ 28.0cm

Okay, away we go…

Chillblocker Glove by SealSkinz
ChillBlocker Glove by SealSkinz
Cost: $55.95
Waterproof: Yes

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 2 3 3 3 3 4 3.00
Dexterity: 3 2 3 4 2 4 3.00
Sizing: 1 1 2 4 2 2 2.00

The concept behind SealSkinz ChillBlocker Waterproof Gloves is pretty smart. They’re have a stretchy Nylon/Lycra outer layer with a waterproof membrane and Polartec fleece on the inside. Unfortunately, it’s not pulled off particularly well.

First off, these gloves are HUGE — at least one size bigger than you’d expect. In one instance, Steve (the 10″ hand guy — he’s single too ladies… you know what they say about big hands!) actually found that the medium was his best fit and commented that someone would have to have bear claws to use the extra large. Also, there’s a good bit of extra material in the palm when you go to grip something. It seems that the design is too 2D and not enough 3D; there were two testers that thought the glove was more comfortable when you put it on backwards (palm on the back of your hand).

When you take an average of averages, these gloves graded out 2nd to last. We’d recommend using them as a helmsman in other applications where handling line won’t be the main concern of the wearer. I think with some more refinement and constructional work, these gloves are on the right track towards being pretty stellar. We’re just not sure that they’re there yet…

Waterproof Glove by SealSkinz
Waterproof Glove by SealSkinz
Cost: $34.95
Waterproof: Yes

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 2 2 2 4 3 3 2.67
Dexterity: 3 4 4 1 3 4 3.17
Sizing: 2 3 3 1 3 4 2.67

The Waterproof Glove is another glove from SealSkinz that is conceptually strong. This one backs up the concept better though…

This glove actually graded out in a tie for third amongst our testers. These gloves came in a bit more true to size, although three of the testers went down a size — it’s a bit of a personal preference. If you like the gloves to be tight/form fitting for zero movement, then step down a size. If you want them to have a little room in them for comfort and circulation, stay true to the sizing chart.

One of the only consistent complaints was that the fingers might be a bit long — if you don’t have long fingers, you might find this to be a problem (and it explains why these gloves averaged 2.67 for sizing). The gloves did score well (3.17) in overall dexterity, meaning our testers felt that they could do a decent job of moving about the boat and performing their tasks with these gloves on.

We’d give them a recommendation for positions on the boat where you won’t have lines running through them — like the helmsmen or bowmen. They have gripper dots on the palm that are sticky, but I would think that repeated wear by line would eat through these gloves.

Winter Glove by Gill
Neoprene Winter Glove by Gill
Cost: $32.99
Waterproof: No (“Water Resistant”)

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 3 3 4 4 4 5 3.83
Dexterity: 3 2 3 3 3 4 3.00
Sizing: 3 3 3 4 4 3 3.33

This glove graded out in second place by our testers and earned solid marks across the board. The Neoprene Winter Glove from Gill is actually well thought out and built — it’s made with 3mm neoprene that also has an extended double sealable cuff system that integrates into dry/wetsuit tops.

Looking at the comments from our testers, the only downside seems to be that the fingers are just a little short. They weren’t short enough for any big knocks on dexterity or sizing, but it’s a warning for those of you with longer fingers.

We’re also pretty impressed with the construction in relation to durability. The palm is grippy and hard wearing and we’d recommend it for use anywhere on the boat and especially for use in dinghies.

Offshore Glove by Gill
Offshore Glove by Gill
Cost: $59.00
Waterproof: Yes

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 4 4 4 5 4 4 4.17
Dexterity: 2 1 1 1 1 2 1.33
Sizing: 2 3 5 2 3 2 2.83

Skiing anyone???

Gill’s Offshore Glove does look/feel a little like something you’d wear on the slopes (as per the comments of almost every tester), but there’s a number of sailor-y refinements that help set it apart. They do have a waterproof membrane and are designed with Gill’s hard-wearing Proton-Ultra material (the yellow stuff) and reinforcement on the palm.

Our testers gave these gloves the second highest mark for warmth but knocked them pretty hard when it came to dexterity, where it received the worst marks of any glove. As with the other Gill gloves, the one consistent comment was that the fingers might be a little short — some of this might have to do with the internal liner that you do have to work in a little. Again, these are a solid choice for helmsmen and would probably work for a main or jib trimmer who are dealing with larger lines.

Warm Glove by Atlas
Warm Glove by Atlas
Cost: $28.00
Waterproof: Yes

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 4 5 4 5 5 5 4.67
Dexterity: 2 2 2 1 3 3 2.17
Sizing: 3 4 3 4 4 3 3.50

Coming to the finish line in first place is a glove that is built by a company well outside the sailing industry: the Warm Glove by Atlas.

This glove graded out higher than all others when it came to both warmth and sizing; the only knock was that your dexterity is hindered a bit. These gloves has a super durable PVC shell on the exterior that is completely waterproof and with a rough grip on the palm for handling anything. The interior has a soft lining that is really, really warm — truly ideal for the coldest day on the race course. There is also a version with removable liner to aid the drying time of the glove if you catch some water down the wrist.

These gloves are popular with helmsmen, trimmers, mast guys and dinghy sailors. We really love them around the shop and it’s clear to see why.

Extreme Gloves by Gill
Extreme Glove by Gill
Cost: $39.99
Waterproof: No

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 4 4 4 3 2 4 3.50
Dexterity: 3 2 3 3 2 2 2.50
Sizing: 3 3 4 2 1 2 2.50

Grading out in a tie for third place overall, the Extreme Glove from Gill is a solid option that is more form fitting than the Offshore Glove or the Atlas Warm Glove. This makes it a better option for the trimmers, pit or mast positions.

Once again, the concerns with this glove were centered around the fingers; specifically, their length and some bulk at the end of the fingers. These gloves are also made with Gill’s Proton-Ultra material that is incredibly tough and durable, but it comes together with a little bulk at the fingertip. Our testers felt that while this bulk wasn’t the pinnacle of comfort, it also wasn’t a major hindrance to using the glove. There were also a couple of comments from our testers with wider hands that it was a little tight across the back of their hand and near the wrist. For a glove of lighter weight, it did score well on warmth, thanks in part to its Primaloft hydrophobic insulation — it’s a great insulator.

Because of its more form fitting design, this glove would be good for most positions on the boat. We’d be careful about using them if you’re dealing with really small line (3/16″ and under) that’s lying on the deck though.

Frostbiter Glove by Harken
Frostbiter Glove by Harken
Cost: $45.95
Waterproof: No (“Weather Resistant”)

7.5″ 8″ 8.5″ 9″ 9.5″ 10″ Average
Warmness: 2 2 2 3 2 2 2.17
Dexterity: 2 3 4 3 3 1 2.67
Sizing: 1 2 1 2 2 4 2.00

Last and, we’re sorry to say, least is the Harken Frostbiter Glove.

This glove pulled up in last place in both sizing and warmth, but did score mid-pack when it came to dexterity. Ultimately, the problem with this glove comes from two places:

First, it’s a relatively thin glove – barely thicker than the Reflex Glove, Harken’s traditional sailing glove. This really hurt it in the warmth category.

Second, the fingers are long… like, really long. All but one of our testers found the fingers to be too long, which hurt the sizing score AND dexterity score. There were also a couple of comments that indicated that the gloves have a bit of a narrow fit.

While these results hurt the glove’s scores with us, if you have longer fingers and struggle to find gloves that have the proper length, consider the Harken Frostbiter your answer.

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6 Responses

  1. I have the Gill Offshore and your review is spot on. The only thing I'll add is that durability is excellent. I've had mine for a while. They've probably done about 50 races now and except for a little fraying on a few edges they still look like they did when they were new.

  2. Most of the gloves shown do not provide adequate warmth for folks frostbiting in New England through Jan/Feb/Mar. The Atlas gloves are good, but the best as far as warmth/dexterity is concerned are Dakine neoprene mittens or Excel neoprene lobster claw style gloves with a wristlock seal. Both of these are made for winter surfing, but work well for frostbiting in very cold areas. All of the gloves shown, being gloves isolate the fingers from eachother, and with typical dinghy hand positions on the tiller and mainsheet, with mainsheet loads limiting blood circulation, a neoprene glove is not a good option in freezing conditions.

  3. The Atlas gloves are indeed very warm, but on a really wet day — and in the front of an Interclub dinghy this means anything over 15 knots — water seeps inside from the wrist and the plush lining wicks it down to your fingertips within minutes. Eventually the gloves weigh twice their weight with internal water and your fingers can be numb.

  4. I replaced my Harken Frostbite gloves with Atlas gloves based on this blog. You are right, they are warm and waterproof and fit my small hands pretty well (though the fingers are a bit short). The downside as Anonymous says is that if the fleece gets wet your fingers get cold.

    I didn't get water inside them, but my hands did perspire and the fleece did not dry out overnight. I tried to turn them inside out but never quite got them all the way. I finally resorted to a hair dryer.

    They are very slip resistant which means that easing a line take a bit of thought but the additional confidence is a plus.

    Now if I can just find some equally good boots. Galveston Bay in January is cold… honestly!


  5. I have realized there are a lot of other places to get good sailing gear. Now, maybe the gear isn't marketed under sailing or yachting and not carrying the logos — and I will admit I have allegiance to APSLTD. However, great gear, especially for ocean racing in cold conditions can be found at places that cater to other water sports, or extreme sports for that matter.

    My final at bat for waterproof gloves was at West Marine. The info tags stated the gloves were waterproof, windproof… yada yada. Figuring the gloves were manufactured by Henri Lloyd or Musto, as is typically the case with West Marine's gear, I went for them. These gloves failed in less than 20 minutes at sea in rainy conditions, as did their competition as listed in this review.

    The solution:

    NRS Waterproof gloves made for kayaking in low temperatures. Done… and done. Got them for around $38 out the door at REI.

  6. I own a pair and wore them on an offshore passage from Newport to Bermuda. Temp just above freezing and rain. Gloves were soaked and hands numb in minutes. Worst pair of gloves I've ever owned. Would have better luck buying kitchen gloves and fleece liners.

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