One Mitt sytem image

One Mitt sytem

February 10, 2011

Reading Time: 17 minutes.

I know this website is pretty glove heavy, with thousands of words explaining different systems on how to keep your digits working.  The reason for this is not that have some glove fetish, but that getting this aspect of your gear correct is paramount.  Well here are a few more!

One glove to rule them all (Well a mitt actually)

When you climb with a lot of people in winter the number one thing you notice is that the ones with lots of experience tend not to make a big fuss about their hands, while those with less - or those who just don’t learn from experience - do.  Getting cold hands and hot aches isn’t nice, but if they’re not my hands then I don’t really care.  What I hate is having to wait around while my partners winge on about their hands, wasting my time.  To make matters worse they also tend to waste time messing around with their bloody gloves and mitts, dropping them, getting them tangled, swapping for dry pairs, things that make my hands cold with all the standing around.

To solve this problem you have three choices; you either spent many seasons, and a lot of money, and get a system that works; you can just go on getting cold hands and thinking that it’s all part of winter climbing, or you can sidestep both by, or just sidestep the whole business and use the one-stop mitt system.

The one mitt system is really not a system at all, in fact, it’s the absence of a system, and it’s what climbers around the world did until the introduction of fancy climbing gloves over the last two decades.

The idea is simple; you use a big pair of mitts that will keep your hands warm in all conditions, and when it comes to doing anything fiddly you just whip them off, do the job, then whip them on again.  To stop them from being dropped you connect them to your sleeve with a length of bungee.

With this system you get the following benefits:

a.You have total dexterity when it comes to placing pro.  You’d think you had with gloves, but even with the best you only get this about 80% of the time (meaning they have to be taken on and off) and with the worst about 20% (about the same as mitts).

b.You can pull off free moves with your bare hands, then shove your hands back into your mitts.  This can make a very big difference on some routes, where a gloveless crimp or jam can eliminate a very hard move with an axe.

c.From the summit of Everest to the Norries your hands will never get cold.

d.You only need to buy and look after one pair of mitts (and maybe a spare).

For very cold conditions (winter expeditions) I’d probably recommend wearing a pair of very thin wool liners to protect your skin, but for everything else having your bare skin means your hands will warm the mitts quicker, and the mitts warm your hands in return.

As for what mitts to use for this system, well for day routes I don’t think you can beat Dachstein mitts, as they are cheap, warm and tough.  Just make sure when buying them that they are a little oversized so that your hands slip in and out easily (vital when it comes to getting your mitts on one-handed on steep ground).

For alpine climbing wet Dachstein can be a bit grim (what a wimp) as they don’t dry out easily, and having a pair of wet mitts shoved down your pants at night isn’t that nice (I guess I’m getting old!).  Pile and membrane mitts solve this problem, with some added cost.  Make sure you get mitts that have a good grip on them, and not too much play between the inner and outer, as this isn’t good for leashless climbing. 

Perhaps the best system would be a pair of membrane mitts and a pair of Dachstein; one being a frontline mitt, the other held in reserve, as the membrane mitt liner can be removed and the outer can be used with the Dachstein, or even by itself (giving quite a fair bit of warmth and good grip).

I’m not advocating everyone stop using gloves (great article here by Kelly Cordes on glove systems, only that for some climbers it may be more effective - and comfortable - and cheaper - to go old school for a while.