My Favourite Mittens - Ever
Iam fiercely passionate about my favourite mittens. Why? Because they have never let me down even while guiding winter expeditions in the Yukon where temps can dip into the -40C's and I consider this nothing short of a miracle of mitten design and engineering! Interestingly, these same mitts are also working pretty well on the ski hills of balmy Vancouver Island (in other words, my hands only seem to overheat on the warmest of days - at or just above freezing temps). These mitts are no longer produced and that's a shame but, I'm here to show you how you can make your own version using your mitten pattern of choice, with perhaps a tweak or two, and of course, some Discovery Fabrics.
A long and wide gauntlet cuff. This feature is a key one for me because it allows the mitt to fit easily over my jacket sleeve (even the puffiest of coats) to provide an overlapping layer of weather protection over my forearms and wrists. Keeping wrists warm is critical as they have no insulation of their own and blood vessels are close to the surface. When our brains sense our wrists are getting cold, survival mode kicks in and less warm blood is circulated to our extremities, which contributes to cold hands. To keep cold air (or snow) from entering the end of the gauntlet, cord locks easily snug up the shock cord. I can also cinch up the wrist area with the webbing and slider.
A roomy hand section. The hand section is large enough that my hand and fingers are not constricted but not so large that I am trying to 'heat' extra space. The side band construction helps achieve this comfortable fit.
An anatomical curve. Love this. The biggest advantage of this to me is that it reduces hand fatigue that can occur when you have to work too hard against the loft of the insulation to let your hand curve naturally or when you are doing an activity that requires you to grip something for a period of time (handlebar, shovel, ski pole for example).
Extra insulation over the back of the hand. I love this feature as well. While there is some insulation on the palm side, it is thinner than on the back of the hand. The palm side insulation also feels denser. The benefit of this is that although it is thin, it blocks heat/cold transfer well. The lofty back side is created with batting-style insulation and there is a PrimaLoft® tag confirming the brand. Can’t say for sure the specific style of PrimaLoft, but my educated guess is there are multiple layers because of its thickness.
Soft, thin and fast-drying liner. In the hand area, there is a thin brushed fabric/fleece while the gauntlet section is lined with a light nylon (for ease in sliding over jacket sleeves). Our Polartec Fleece Lining is a good choice for the hand area (fleece side against your skin). Moisture-wicking and fast drying is important to keep dampness from sweat at bay, especially if you are camping or don't have a good method for drying out your mitts after wear.
A pliable outer fabric. As a disclaimer, I am an adult and I don't wear these mitts to dig around in gravely snow:) The outer fabric of my mitts is a very lightweight ripstop nylon and while I have not babied these mitts in the slightest, I have not used them for activities where they were subject to abrasive surfaces or conditions. The more pliable the fabric, the less hand fatigue. In other words, try to avoid very stiff shell fabrics as we are adding thickness/warmth with our insulation and too thick an outer fabric, will impact how easy it is to use your hands.
While there are likely hundreds of fabric combinations to try, here are a few to consider for making a VERY WARM pair of mitts:
OUTER FABRIC: This fabric provides protection from the elements so a technical shell is ideal. Options include:
Polartec Neoshell No Stretch or with Stretch/Ease. Stretch isn't required, but if you see a colour you prefer under the Neoshell's with stretch, go for it!
Polartec Power Shield Pro Lightweight. This is another category of shell fabrics produced by Polartec. The slight difference between the two styles of fabric is in the membrane between the inner and outer fabrics. Both Neoshell and PSP are excellent 3-layer laminates offering superior weather protection. Feel free to make your choice based on colour.
Nike Waterproof Breathable Shells. Another high quality 3-layer laminate.
Aluminum Back Shell. This is a 2-layer laminate (outer fabric plus membrane). A nice lightweight option.
Hyvent DT. Another 2-layer laminate option.
INSULATION: In mittens, warmth is created by creating a thick enough barrier between your hand and the elements as well as a barrier that traps and holds your body heat. Batting style insulation works well for this application. Our options include:
PrimaLoft Gold. PrimaLoft's most technical batting insulation that offers the highest warmth to weight ratio. PrimaLoft Gold requires quilting every 6". For maximum warmth, consider more than one layer of insulation.
PrimaLoft Silver. This style has a slightly lower warmth to weight ratio than Gold, but is still a great option for mittens. Quilting interval for Silver is 24". As with Gold, for maximum warmth, consider using more than one layer.
LINING FABRIC: Moisture wicking, fast drying with a cozy feel is ideal for comfort and performance. We mentioned Polartec Fleece Lining above and it's a great option. Some others include:
Polartec Microfleece. Polartec's lightest fleece.
Polartec Power Grid High Warmth. Another fabric with a high warmth to weight ratio.
Polartec Power Stretch Fleece Backed. Fleece on one side, smooth on the other.
Polartec Power Dry Midweight. An alternative to fleece. Fabric has a soft jersey feel.
A wide and long gauntlet goes a long way to keep hands warm!
A slight curve to the mitt is much more comfortable to
wear and reduces hand fatigue.
An inside that is soft and cozy for the hands and slides
easily over jacket sleeves
My Favourite Mittens - The Video
MY FINAL TIP
Wristlets! Known by many other names, wristlets are a fingerless glove designed to keep the wearer's wrist protected and warm and are a great addition if your hands are always cold. If your brain senses your wrists are getting cold, it reduces blood flow to your hands and your hands will be much harder to stay warm.
A couple of suggestions: Choose a cozy fabric with a smooth surface so your mitts and long-sleeves slide overtop easily. They should fit closely but should not constrict. Add a pocket on the inside of the wrist for a hand warmer - more convenient than bunched up in your palm!