Winter Gloves 101

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Introduction & Importance

As much as it pains me to say, winter and its icy low temps and frigid work conditions is right around the corner. For some of us, those that work in cold storage, the frigid conditions never even left. Working with cold hands is just plain uncomfortable, so choosing the level of insulation is critical.

Science of Heat Transfer

Before we get too far into gloves, it is important to understand the science behind heat transfer. Essentially, heat is always seeking to be in equilibrium with the environment, so hot air flows to cold air to create something in the middle. As such, the main purpose of insulation is to delay, slow, or eliminate this heat transfer, keeping the warm air close and the cooler air out. Luckily, air itself is a poor conductor of heat, so effective insulators work by trapping the warm air and keeping it close to the body, slowing the transfer of heat.

So what causes some gloves to be warmer than others?

Because effective insulators work by trapping warm air, there are a few different types of materials that are used in gloves to trap heat for insulation. The four main types of materials that are used are Fleece, Foams, Fills, and Heat Reflective Materials.

      Fleece – Probably the most popular insulation, Fleece is a lightweight, low pile synthetic fabric that insulates by trapping heat between its fibers. The main advantage of Fleece is that it is naturally wicking, so it keeps moisture off the skin. As a result, Fleece is common in the construction of glove liners and light duty gloves.
      Foams - Foams are a step up from Fleece. Foams come in 2 types, Open Cell and Closed cell. Open Cell foams have compressible, sponge like pockets that capture and hold the air. Closed Cell foams completely trap air inside the foam. As a result, they are inherently windproof and generally warmer than open cell foam. Neoprenes used in wetsuits are an example of a closed cell foam.
      Fills – Fills come in all kinds of varieties from fiber fills to downs. Fills work by increasing the amount of air that is trapped and increasing the size of the boundary layer between your hand and the cold weather. The disadvantage of fills is a loss of warmth and loft when wet. In wet conditions a synthetic, microdenier insulation will outperform a natural down by absorbing less water and drying out quicker.
      Heat Reflective Materials – All the materials that we have looked at so far work by trapping hot air in the material to slow the transfer of heat from the body. These materials are a bit different in that they work by reflecting the heat back toward the body, rather than letting it radiate away from the body. Foil “space” blankets are a common application for this type of material, which is used in our most thermal protective glove, the Industrial Impact Arctic Trigger Mitt (INDI-ATM).
So How Do You Choose the Right Glove for the Job?

When looking at which glove to wear, it is important to at other factors beyond just the type and amount of insulation that are used. Correctly choosing a cold weather work glove depends on the type of work that is being done, Waterproofing & Wind-proofing of the glove, and the overall construction of the glove.

      Type of work & working conditions – This is the most important factor to take into consideration when choosing a glove. If you are performing a task that is labor intensive or involves a lot of movement, having too much insulation is actually detrimental to the performance of the glove as it will cause your hands to sweat more, and in turn, get cold. Alternatively, if you are mostly supervising, that additional insulation will be needed to keeping your hands warm in the same conditions. Wet and windy environments also play a role, as adding protection measures for these to a glove will reduce breathability and increase the warmth of the glove as well.
      Water Proof Linings – Not only are wet hands uncomfortable, they can cause serious issues if not attended to. While not necessary in all situations, the addition of a waterproof membrane will help keep the water out and your hands dry when working in wet or snowy environments. When choosing a glove, it is important to take this into consideration, keeping in mind that the additional liner will also decrease the breathability of the glove, increase the heat retention, and decrease the overall dexterity of the glove.
      Water Repellant Treatments – An alternative to full waterproofing, is to treat fabrics with a water repellant chemical. This will cause the water to bead up rather than be absorbed by the fabric. While this helps to keep the gloves dexterous, it is not as effective - water will still be absorbed if pressure is applied.
      Wind-proofing – Wind can be detrimental to the insulating performance of winter work gloves. Wind increases the amount of air that passes over your hands, taking your warm air with it. By adding a windproof barrier between you and the air, you can ensure that your warm air stays where you want it – close to your hands.
      Construction – The construction of the glove can also play a major factor in the warmth of a winter glove. The biggest construction change that can be made to increase warmth is to move to a mitt style rather than a 5 fingered glove, eliminating the cold air between your fingers entirely. This comes at the cost of dexterity though, so this solution is not for everyone. Another popular construction change is to add a liner. By adding a separate liner, you are not just adding one layer of extra insulation, but rather two – one from the additional fabric and one from the air pocket that is created between the liner and the glove.
Ironclad Advantage

Ironclad offers a full range of Cold Condition gloves to suite your needs. From light duty fleece to heat reflective lined gloves, we have a glove to help you get the job done. Our gloves are designed with an industry leading 16-point measurement system to ensure a perfect fit, as well as the latest in material innovations to maximize durability, dexterity, and dependability. Your hands are important, so demand the best for them. Demand Ironclad.

You can shop our Cold Condition collection, along with the rest of our gloves, at www.ironclad.com.