I have wrapped up my testing of various mittens and gloves to keep my hands warm during very cold photography sessions. I’ve been trying out different combinations in winter in arctic Alaska, the Colorado backcountry and winter in Japan. Before I get to what I wear in the coldest conditions, here is what I use most of the time when conditions are in the teens and warmer. I wear a medium weight fleece glove (many brands work…North Face, Mountain Hardware, Black Diamond), and keep my hands in my nice warm pockets in my down coat. If it is getting colder, I add hand warmers in my pockets. This works great much of the time.
But a few winters ago on the Chandalar Shelf in the Brooks Range of Alaska the temps were around -35. That is a different kind of cold, and frostbite is a real concern. Even on winter Yellowstone trips the temps can drop to -20 and colder. I have two mitten/glove systems I use to photograph in this kind of weather. Each setup has pros and cons.
North Face Himalayan Mitts. The North Face Summit Series gear is just plain industry leading. I’ve relied on their gear as a climbing guide on Denali and in the Himalayas, and now I rely on it as a photographer. Their Himalayan Mitts are the warmest mittens I’ve used. Constructed of down and Primaloft, these mittens instantly warm up when put your hands in them. I sized my pair a little large so I can use a lightweight liner glove inside. For subzero northern lights photography they are awesome. I always use a cable release in the winter so I don’t bump my camera during exposure, and I can easily trigger the shutter while using huge down mittens. These mittens have keeper straps so you can take them off and use your liner gloves for operating small controls on your camera. Cost is $165 for mitts plus about $40 for liners…total $205.
The Heat Company Glove System. Designed to keep special forces warm in winter, this glove system is comprised of multiple layers. First is a liner glove. I use the Durable Liner Pro, the warmest liner the company offers. Next, I use the Shell Full Leather Pro as my mittens. These are the warmest mittens they offer. The Heat Company also offers mitten shells to further warm things up in extreme conditions, but I didn’t use those during my testing. What really sets this system apart are the numerous pockets for hand warmers, and the ability to unzip the palm and exposure your fingers while still using the mitten. I tried this system out, and the liner/mitten was pretty warm, but if it got below zero I definitely needed the hand warmers to keep my hands warm. But that said, the dexterity was incredible. If I was shooting winter wildlife and other subjects where I really needed to change the controls on my camera, these mittens with hand warmers would be my choice. There are pockets on the liner glove and mitten to add two hand warmers, which really added heat to the entire back of my hand and kept things toasty. Cost for liners and mittens $260.
The bottom line…if I am standing around in super cold conditions I am going to use my North Face mittens with liners…I don’t have to worry about adding hand warmers here. If I am actively shooting and needing a lot of dexterity in extreme cold I will use my Heat Company mittens. We didn’t get to travel to Fairbanks this week due to Covid19, but I am ready for next winter.