Comparison: Warm Gloves

Every cold weather snap finds me digging through the box of gloves in the closet, pulling out the bulky, super-warm ones. Of all the types of gloves I have, and use, these are the hardest to fit: creating maximum warmth with minimum bulk is not an easy task, and maintaining enough dexterity to place gear just adds to the design difficulty. In my seemingly endless search for the perfect glove, I have acquired three different gloves in this class, from three different manufacturers, each with similar features but with drastically different results in the final execution.

REV_H_Gloves_001L to R: Arcteryx Zenta AR, Black Diamond Enforcer, Outdoor Research Alpine Alibi II

The contenders are Arcteryx Zenta AR, Black Diamond Enforcer and Outdoor Research Alpine Alibi II. All three gloves have leather palms, a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, Primaloft One insulation and a long over-the-jacket cuff. But that’s about it for similarities, as I’ve found each model to perform better at vastly differing tasks.

REV_H_Gloves_007The Zenta is simply designed, with no padding and Arcteryx’s typical clean, modern lines.

The $200 Arcteryx Zenta AR is the bulkiest of the three gloves, and the heaviest at 286g per pair in a size Medium. It features Primaloft One 200g insulation, and a Polartec Thermal Pro Mid-Loft fleece lining. The long cuff is insulated, and closes tight with a quick pull of the tab. The release is fixed to the glove, so all that’s required to uncinch the cuff is a quick pull on a short nylon tab – both closing and opening the cuff is a one-handed operation. The palm and fingers are beautifully stitched leather, with a carabiner loop on the back of the middle finger. There is no nose-wipe per se, however the whole back of the glove is a soft, stretchy softshell that does the job admirably. Waterproofing is handled by Gore-Tex XCR, however as the lining is not fixed, it is possible to pull the the lining out when your hands are damp.

Fit of the Zenta AR is actually rather excellent – palm isn’t too wide, the fingers are just the right length and the cuff is roomy enough to easily slide over even my biggest parka. Due to the amount of insulation, especially throughout the fingers, dexterity is compromised enough so that placing smallish gear or fiddling with carabiners is a bit awkward. The gloves are incredibly warm, keeping my fingers warm and toasty even while inactive at -25.

REV_H_Gloves_006The Enforcer has padding across the back of the hand and along each finger.

Black Diamond’s $136 Enforcer underwent a redesign a couple of years ago, losing a lot of bulk in the process. Weighing in at 240g, the Enforcers feature a removable liner of Gore-Tex XCR and Primaloft One 133g insulation. The insulation is heavier across the back of the hand, thinning out across the palm and fingers for a better grip. The outer glove has a leather palm and fingers, with an extra layer of leather across the palm, forefinger and thumb. The backs of the fingers and hand have padded sections, something I don’t think is necessary on a glove with this much padding to begin with. The cuff cinches tight with stretchy cord running through the same release tab as found on the other gloves, though it is not as effective or easy to use as that found on the Zenta. The Enforcer has no nose-wipe, and the outer softshell is too rough to use as a substitute. As with the Zenta, the XCR insert, though waterproof and wind-blocking, isn’t bonded to the other parts of the glove, and can be pulled out when damp.

The Enforcer also fits quite well, with fingers of just the right length, though it is a bit too roomy across the palm for my hands. The cuff opening is narrower than that of the other gloves’ so it doesn’t fit over my big jackets’ sleeves as well, though I don’t have any issues fitting these over my usual layers. Of note, the cuff of the Enforcer is uninsulated. Finger dexterity is the worst of the three gloves, with the liner sliding around inside the shell – I’ve had the outer glove get caught in more carabiners or slings than I can remember. The Enforcers are surprisingly warm given their lowest-in-the-bunch insulation rating, and do admirably well at keeping my hands warm into the low teens.

REV_H_Gloves_008The Alpine Alibi II’s padding is limited to the outer edge along the pinky finger and palm.

The newest arrival into my glove box is Outdoor Research’s $210 Alpine Alibi II. One look tells you these are gloves designed for climbers. The fingers are long and slim, the long cuff is insulated throughout, the palm has an extra layer of leather, there is a hang loop on the middle finger, a generous pull-tab inside the cuff, an attached idiot-cord and the bottom edge of the glove has slight padding where I always seem to whack my pinky finger on the ice. On top of all this, the gloves feature Primaloft One 170g insulation across the back of the hand and fingers, as well as Gore-Tex X-TRAFIT, which bonds the insulation to the outside shell. Another really cool feature are two hand-warmer sleeves, one across the back of the hand, and one in the cuff on the inside of the wrist. The cuff closure uses the same pull-tab system as the Arcteryx, quick, effective and easy to operate with one-hand.

The Alpine Alibi II fits, again, like a glove designed for climbing. The fingers are just the right length, and of all three gloves, this is the best fitting one across the palm. The cuff opening is wide, and because it is insulated throughout it’s length, provides exceptional warmth to the wrist. Dexterity is a stand-out, providing even better feel and handling than some of my lighter, less-insulated gloves. Despite 170g insulation, the Alpine Alibi II feels no warmer than the 130g-insulated Enforcer, though the two heat-pack pockets greatly add to its usable temperature range, however it is nowhere near as warm as the Zenta.

REV_H_Gloves_002The Zenta feels noticeably larger than the other gloves, the Alpine Alibi II is the most nimble, while the Enforcer slots nicely in between.

So here we have three similar gloves that all excel at slightly different applications…

The Alpine Alibi II is the standout climbing glove, with excellent dexterity and admirable warmth with minimal bulk. Adding heat-packs extends its usable temperature range into the -20s. They are excellent when climbing, and suitably warm on cold belays. The double-leather palm feels like it will survive many, many rappels. With these gloves now residing in my closet, I find myself waiting for a cold day to use them on. At $210, the highest retail price among these three gloves, the Alpine Alibi II’s are a cold-weather climbing investment. They will keep your hands warm, dry, and allow you to fiddle with small cams or pins without fear of dropping them.

The Zenta is by far the warmest of these three gloves, but as the bulkiest, is also least suitable for climbing. They make an excellent belay glove, however, offering a lot of warmth for their weight while still maintaining usable dexterity. Where they really excel is as a ski glove, wonderfully warm and windproof, with a cuff large enough that it easily covers even multiple layers of large insulated jackets. Surprisingly not the most expensive glove here, the $200 Arcteryx is exceptionally warm for those frigid belays, or those with perpetually cold hands.

The Enforcer has been my go-to belay glove for the past season and a bit. It is tough, durable and warm. It is dextrous enough to use on belays, and for climbing if need be, but I do find them a bit loose in the fingers when messing around with gear. Because the Gore-Tex membrane is in the liner, the outer shell gets soaked through more easily than that of the other gloves, though they dry out quicker as a result as well. At $136 the Enforcers are a great value, having survived countless rappels and even stray crampons with barely a scratch. Highly recommended as an all-around, very warm glove.

REV_H_Gloves_004The Zenta almost fills out the whole handle, though it is manageable. The BD and OR gloves seem tiny in comparison.

REV_H_Gloves_002The well-worn Enforcer is a tough, simple glove. The Zenta could be displayed in a fit-and-finish museum. The Alpine Alibi II has clearly been designed with climbing in mind.

REV_H_Gloves_005While all three gloves use the same cuff-closure system, the Zenta’s is easiest to use, while both the Enforcer and Alpine Alibi II require a bit more attention, though still retain one-handed operation.

8 thoughts on “Comparison: Warm Gloves

  1. Sarah says:

    Just wondering, what is the actual purpose of that loop that’s always on the middle finger of gloves?

    • Raf says:

      The loop is there so you can clip the gloves to your harness with a carabiner, and keep them orientated opening down so they don’t fill with snow. I’ll often carry my belay gloves like this instead of bringing a lead pack.

      I also find it useful when hanging gloves to dry – they seem to dry faster than just lying them down.

  2. Chris says:

    Very nice comparison. How true to the sizing guides did you find the gloves? I’m 7.5″ hand width and hand length, which makes me a small for the OR and BD gloves. But I have never worn anything smaller than a medium and don’t have a local store to fit these in person.

    • Raf says:

      That is the hardest thing about all this: sizing is inconsistent between brands and even within brands. The only advice I can give is to make sure to buy from somewhere that allows returns! (For reference, my hand circumference is about 9″ and hand length is 7.75″.)

      Of note, OR has redesigned the Alpine Alibi for 2013/2014, and it is now a completely different glove from the one reviewed above. You can differentiate the new glove as it is all-black except for lime-green OR logo. I’ll have a post up about it shortly.

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