When the temperatures start to drop and the snow starts to fall, there’s only one thing to do: get out and ice climb.
In a gear intensive pursuit like ice climbing, however, it’s imperative that you have the right equipment to keep you warm and comfortable in harsh conditions. That being said, choosing the right pair of gloves can be particularly challenging since ice climbing gloves need to be warm, dexterous, and waterproof all at the same time.
We understand how difficult it can be to find the best ice climbing gloves, so we’ve created this guide to do just that. Up next, we’ll discuss the finer points of our top 5 favorite pairs of ice climbing mitts and offer some tips to help you make your decision.
Ice climbing gloves are one of the most notoriously difficult pieces of gear to shop for, simply because they have to be versatile enough to handle rapidly changing conditions and demands. So, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind as you shop for your own pair of ice climbing gloves.
This may come as a surprise, but not all ice climbing gloves are waterproof. While winter is, indeed, a cold and snowy time, some ice climbing gloves are purposefully designed not to be waterproof so that they are more breathable and functional for use in warm weather or during high-octane climbs.
Unfortunately, each year, ice climbers fall into the trap of purchasing ice climbing gloves that aren’t waterproof, only to be disappointed and frustrated when their hands get wet during the middle of a climb.
There’s, of course, nothing wrong with these gloves (that’s how they were designed), but if you’re looking for a pair of waterproof gloves, you’ll need to be very conscientious when you shop.
Most truly waterproof ice climbing gloves will be made with a robust Gore-Tex, eVent, or other type of waterproof-breathable membrane to help keep you dry in wet conditions.
If waterproofing is a priority for your climbing adventures, you’ll also want to look for a pair of gloves with a reliable cinch or velcro closure system to keep snow and moisture away from your hands at all costs.
In addition to waterproofing, one other aspect of ice climbing gloves that often gets people into trouble is their warmth and insulation.
Although many might expect that ice climbing gloves are chock-full of insulation to protect you from the cold, ice climbing gloves are usually decidedly light on warmth so that they don’t impede your dexterity as you climb.
Indeed, most ice climbing gloves have just a moderate amount of synthetic or fleece insulation to keep the back of your hand warm as you swing your tools into the ice. On the other hand, some models which are designed more for warmer weather climbing or mixed climbing may have little, if any insulation.
Therefore, it’s usually best to pack multiple pairs of gloves for any ice climbing outing. You’ll need at least 1 pair, like the models we’ve reviewed in this article, for the actual climbing, and 2 to 3 other pairs for hiking, belaying, and standing around at the crag.
Grip and dexterity are chief concerns while ice climbing due to the importance of maintaining a solid grip on your ice tools and the need for reliable use of your fingers for placing screws and other protection.
With ice climbing gloves, grip is generally a factor of the stickiness of the leather used to create the palm of the glove. As a result, many high-end models now use treated leather that’s specifically designed to provide ample grip on your ice tools as you make your way up a route.
Dexterity, however, is always at odds with insulation, which is why most ice climbing gloves aren’t as warm as gloves you might wear for skiing or other snowsports.
That’s why we recommend wearing your ice climbing gloves only while you’re actually climbing and swapping into insulated mittens or gloves while belaying or hanging out in the mountains.
One of the more unique features you’ll see on ice climbing gloves that differentiates them from other gloves you might see on the market is hand protection.
While ice climbing, your hands often get a bit banged up on the ice, particularly around your knuckles. To combat this issue, many glove manufacturers now insert foam or TPU padding around the knuckles to minimize bruising, pain, and injuries as you climb, so this is an important feature to look out for as you shop.
Ice climbing is a rough and tumble pursuit, therefore, it’s critical that your gloves are able to withstand the rigors of the mountain environment.
Durability in ice climbing gloves generally comes down to the quality of the materials used in the gloves’ outer shell in the distribution of reinforcement patches in high-wear areas.
Hard-shell fabrics like nylon tend to be more durable than softshell alternatives, so bear this in mind when selecting your gloves.
Moreover, many glove manufacturers now insert extra leather or TPU plates in strategic locations around high-wear areas, such as the knuckles and outside of the pinky for increased durability in the mountains.
As with any pair of gloves, comfort and fit are of the utmost importance. Since both comfort and fit are subjective, we can’t tell you precisely which gloves will work best for your hands.
However, one important piece of advice we can give you is that you should always measure your hands before purchasing gloves online. Most manufacturers have sizing guides freely available on their websites, which are indispensable tools for ensuring that you get the right size gloves the first time around.
Once you know the precise dimensions of your hands, you can start to narrow down your options. Keep in mind that ice climbing gloves should fit fairly snugly to ensure a good grip on your tools but that they shouldn’t be so tight that you restrict blood flow to your hands.
Since ice climbing gloves are primarily designed to be worn while climbing and not while belaying or hanging out at the crag, it’s important that they’re packable enough for easy transport to and from your climbing area.
For ease of transport, many ice climbing gloves now come with large loops that hang off the cuff or a small loop on the backside of the pointer finger which can be used to clip the gloves to your harness when you’re not actively climbing.
Others have built-in carabiner holes in the cuff which provide a durable, reliable method for securely clipping your ice climbing gloves to your harness whether you’re taking a break from climbing or you’re at a hanging belay.
Fully featured for ample protection in the worst possible conditions, the Rab Pivot GTX glove is a do-anything ice climbing glove for mountain use.
These gloves are made with a layer of Gore-Tex Active, which provides unparalleled waterproofing and breathability, all at the same time. Meanwhile, they have a generous, yet not bulky, layer of 170g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold Insulation and a Bemberg lining, which provides plenty of warmth on frigid winter days.
Durability-wise, the Pivot GTX is built with a Pittards Armortan leather palm for extra grip and ruggedness. Additionally, these gloves have padded knuckle protection and digital leather reinforcement technology to prevent wear in tear in high-impact areas.
When it comes to dexterity, the Pivot GTX doesn’t disappoint. They are pre-curved for better tool gripping and they have a mapped 3D construction for increased suppleness for intricate rope handling.
For ease of use, these gloves have a single handed adjustable cuff for a secure fit. Moreover, they have a set of integrated pull on tabs so it’s easier to put on and take off your gloves, even when the conditions won’t cooperate.
For technical ice climbing in mild conditions where performance is key, the Arc’teryx Alpha SL Gloves are hard to be.
These super lightweight gloves were designed specifically with fast missions into the alpine in mind, so they’re a solid choice for ice climbing, mixed climbing, and other high-octane pursuits.
Featuring a highly breathable, yet water-resistant Gore Windstopper outer fabric, the Alpha SL are a versatile set of gloves that excels in mild winter conditions. At the same time, this fabric allows for great range of motion and dexterity, making it easier to place ice screws, belay, and to do general rope handling.
For insulation, the Alpha SL Gloves even feature a brushed fleece lining and a low-volume layer of polyester fleece to help keep your hands warm mid-climb.
Additionally, these gloves have a unique laminated construction which prevents the various fabric layers of the gloves from sliding back and forth. When combined with the Alpha SL’s stick leather palm, this innovative construction helps to improve your grip and security as you climb.
Providing impeccable performance without sacrificing affordability, the Rab M14 Gloves are a budget-friendly option for ice and mixed climbing as well as dry tooling.
Crafted with warmer weather conditions at the forefront of the design process, the M14 Gloves feature a low-profile distribution of fleece insulation to provide ample dexterity and grip while you climb.
They also have padded reinforcements around sensitive and high-wear areas to prevent discomfort as well as unnecessary wear and tear in the mountains. Meanwhile, the M14 Gloves are made with Rab’s proprietary Matrix fabric, which offers maximum soundproofing and plenty of water-resistance without sacrificing breathability.
To ensure a quality grip on your ice tools and while placing screws, Rab engineered these gloves to have super sticky Pittards Oiltac leather throughout key areas of the palm and fingers.
Finally, in keeping with the theme of weight savings and packability, the M14 Gloves come with a low-bulk cuff that has a simple to use closure for added convenience on your adventures.
If bluebird skies and mixed climbing sound like your cup of tea, then the Black Diamond Torque Gloves should be high on your list of must-haves.
These highly technical gloves are made primarily with an extra-burly softshell fabric, which provides plenty of range of motion and comfort on your climbs. The Torque Gloves are even pre-curved and they have articulated fingers to allow for a more ergonomic fit with your ice tools.
For added comfort, Black Diamond crafted these gloves with their seamless pinky technology, which removes seams along the pinky to prevent pressure points along the pommel of your ice tool.
Moreover, they thoughtfully placed TPU padding around the gloves to protect your hands from ice and other hazards while climbing.
Thanks to their grippy Slip-Stop leather palm construction, the Torque Gloves offer superb traction, even in icy, wet conditions. Their hypalon hook and loop closure system also functions even when fully iced up while the large carabiner clip loop built into the cuff allows for easier transport to and from the crag.
Cold conditions and wet weather are no match for the über-dexterous CAMP USA Ice Pro Gloves.
Designed by ice climbers, for ice climbers, these gloves feature CAMP USA’s DRYZONE waterproof/breathable membrane that keeps wind and moisture at bay. To battle the cold, however, the Ice Pro Gloves have a hefty layer of PrimaLoft Gold 60g/m2 synthetic insulation that can still keep you warm when wet.
As far as grip and dexterity goes, the Ice Pro Gloves are no slouches. They’re made with Pittards Armortan leather throughout the palm and fingers to optimize your grip, even in icy environments.
However, the palm of these gloves is insulation free, to prevent anything from getting in the way of your dexterity. The Ice Pro Gloves also have a set of shaped and gusseted fingers to provide you with remarkable dexterity in the mountains.
If that wasn’t enough, CAMP USA crafted these gloves with a set of conductor pads on the thumb and index finger for touch-screen compatibility as well as large clipping loops for easier transport on your harness.
Gloves are one of the most important pieces of gear you have with you while ice climbing, so it’s imperative that you get a pair that’s appropriate for your needs.
If we had to choose just 1 of the 5 great pairs of ice climbing gloves that we’ve reviewed, we’d opt for the Rab Pivot GTX Gloves. These gloves win our top pick award thanks to their great all-around performance in the mountains.
In particular, their excellent mix of features, including full waterproofing, enhanced grip and dexterity, and plenty of built-in padding makes them a solid choice for ice climbing adventures.
The key, however, is finding the best pair of ice climbing gloves for your winter escapades. Remember that choosing the right ice climbing gloves all comes down to the conditions you’ll face, so you’ll need to balance weatherproofing, dexterity, and warmth when making your selection.