What’s the Difference Between Warm Gloves and Mittens?

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Many people are wondering what the difference between gloves and mittens is. This text is aimed at answering the question so that everyone who’s interested in knowing more about these two types of handwear will be able to differentiate between the distinguishing features of both a warm glove and a mitten.

Gloves have separate finger openings that cover each finger independently in order to protect or keep your hand and fingers warm. They may also cover part of the forearm. Gloves allow wearers to accomplish some tasks that require fine finger dexterity. Generally, the development of warm gloves has been focused mainly on utility and protection. That’s why, since their invention, they have been the most popular and common type of cold weather handwear.

Mittens look very much like gloves but they have only a separate thumb and (just like gloves) may cover part of the forearm. The user locates the other four fingers in the mitten compartment. The development of mittens has been concentrated on cold weather protection. This means that insulated mittens are more cumbersome than gloves, which has (a marked) adverse effect on finger dexterity. For example, you won’t be able to do all the zippers on your gear or to make fine adjustments on your boots.

Still not entirely clear what’s the difference between these two (other than the way they look)? Don’t worry, this question confuses many people but we’ll clear this up by answering a small number of closely related questions.

Let’s jump in.

What is warmer – gloves or mittens?

This is an important question especially for those who live in cold regions, those who are preparing for snow travel or are keen to do winter sports and activities.

Let’s get straight to the point. Mittens are warmer than gloves. This is true when all the important factors that may affect the performance of both are equal, i.e. fabrics, thickness, and insulation as well as the weather conditions.

Mittens keep your hands warm by placing your fingers close to each other. This facilitates heat exchange and reduces heat loss. In addition, it complements the effect of mitten thermal insulation.

In gloves, on the other hand, each finger is isolated from the rest of the fingers. This means that you should rely only on the insulation for warmth.

In addition, many glove and mitten constructions for severe cold weather have zip stash pockets for hand warmer heat packs. Generally, the hand warmers can add a few more degrees.

Girl wearing winter mittensWearing warm gloves or mittens will help you focus on the experience, not on the cold

What are winter gloves made of?

Manufacturers use various man-made and natural materials for crafting warm gloves. The latter include leather, wool, and cotton, whereas the former include polyester, nylon, neoprene, polyurethane, spandex, and polypropylene. Waterproof gloves have waterproof breathable inserts for better protection from wind, snow, ice, and water. Heavy-duty constructions have reinforced palms and fingers for better grip and increased durability and abrasion resistance. Leather, as well as cheaper materials like faux leather, rubber, PVC, polyurethane, and silicones, are typically used for reinforcement.

The warm insulation usually comes in the form of high-tech fabric such as PrimaLoft, Thinsulate, Thermacore, Thermal R, Kevlar, and polyester hollow fibers or not so high-tech but much cheaper fleece, acrylic, tricot or microfiber. Wool is also commonly used because of its great insulative abilities.

What are mittens made of?

The most common materials used for manufacturing mittens coincide with those used for making gloves – synthetics such as polyester, nylon, polyurethane, neoprene; natural fibers – wool, leather, cotton, and various blends. Leather and a range of man-made materials are used to reinforce the most vulnerable parts of the mitten. This reinforcement on the palm and the thumb allows for a tight grip on ski poles, snow shovels, and ice climbing tools.

More expensive models utilize lightweight fibers with excellent insulative abilities (synthetics -PrimaLoft, Thinsulate, Thermacore, Thermal R, Kevlar, etc.; natural fibers – down and Merino wool) for enhanced dexterity and for added warmth in cold weather. Cheaper designs rely more on quantity rather than quality. Typical textiles used for insulation include polyester fleece, tricot, acrylic, and synthetic fur.

How should winter gloves fit?

The most important rule for fitting gloves is that they need to fit properly. They should also be easy to put on and off. Gloves shouldn’t be tight or loose. Why is that? It is because tighter gloves reduce hand dexterity. Moreover, they may restrict blood circulation reducing the feeling of warmth. Gloves that are too loose do not perform well in situations when fine motor skills are required as these gloves are less flexible.

How should mittens fit?

You need comfortable mitts that are not too tight or too loose and are easy to on and off. Tighter mittens are too uncomfortable and just as with tight gloves, you lose dexterity. Loose mitts don’t grip things well and are easier to lose. Losing a mitt can be costly especially when traveling through mountainous regions. Hence, attaching wrist straps to mittens and outer mitts for security is a good idea.

What are gloves used for?

You can use gloves in many different instances for optimum comfort and better protection on cold days. Most models are good for various cold-weather sports and pursuits including backcountry adventures, backpacking, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, driving, etc. Gloves intended for extreme winter conditions are bulkier and might not be a good choice for activities that require extra dexterity. It’s one of the reasons why heavyweight gloves are combined with lightweight liners.

Wear gloves with high-friction material on the palms if you want to increase your grip strength and to protect your hands from friction burns when climbing or belaying. Never use damp and soft gloves for rock climbing.

Girl with gloves practicing snow sportsWinter gloves are great for sports and activities that require dexterity

Photo by Martina Fuksová

What are mittens used for?

Mittens are great for activities below zero like winter hiking, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, skiing, and climbing. On the other hand, mitts intended for extreme winter conditions are bulkier and not meant for dexterity. So, they might not be a good choice for cycling or skiing.


Gloves and mittens are different not only in the way they look but also in the way they function. Mittens have a distinctive appearance, which helps them keep your hand warmer when the temperature is below freezing. Gloves may not be as warm as mittens but they have a distinct advantage over their opponent with regard to dexterity.

Nevertheless, gloves and mittens have many things in common. For example, most commonly used materials for both types of handwear are pretty much the same. Also, their main function is to prevent direct skin contact to cold, snow, and water in order to protect hands and to reduce the harmful effects of exposure to low temperatures. Without adequate handwear, your hands will freeze in severe weather. So, put on your gloves or mittens and enjoy your winter activities without exposing your hands to the cold.


Related Articles

Best Gloves for Backpacking

Snow Gloves & Mittens

Best Wool Gloves and Mittens

Smartwool Merino Headband Review

Best Liners

Waterproof Apparel

Hiking Clothing Guide


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4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Warm Gloves and Mittens?”

  1. For me, mittens are warmer than gloves on a cold day because, since gloves are longer than mittens, there is a higher chance that heat might not be contained or trapped inside the gloves. This makes mittens warmer than gloves. Seams for hand clothing gear translate to insulation. With mittens having fewer seams, there is less chance that heat can escape from the fabric. The last, fingers occupying the same space, is warmer than using gloves. 

  2. Thank you for explaining that mittens should neither be too loose or too tight. My sister is thinking about getting some mittens for next winter and has been wondering how she should expect them to fit. I’ll share your advice with her so that she can start looking for the right size.

  3. Gloves vs mittens, the differences between them are pretty obvious. It is common knowledge that mittens are made by grouping four fingers and separating the thumb for maneuvering. Thus, their purposes are to limit heat loss through multiple openings. That explains why many athletes use them as snowboard gloves. Meanwhile, our standard gloves separate all fingers, valuing dexterity a bit over retaining warmth.

  4. Thank you for explaining that mittens shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. My sister is thinking about getting some mittens for next winter and was wondering how to expect them to fit. I’ll share your tips with her so she can start finding the right size.


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