Gloves 101

How to take care of your gloves

Published in the October 2011 Issue October 2011 Feature Pete Ostwinkle
"These gloves are the same size. Guess which one was exposed to heat.
"A customer returned these gloves, claiming spontaneous shrinkage.

Well, it's about that time. We're about to start blaming pets, kids, spouses (who am I kidding?) and just about anyone else for the disappearance of our favorite pair of gloves.

I often get asked how to help prolong the life of snowmobile gloves. So I've put together some helpful dos and don'ts concerning protective gloves-those we use to keep us dry, warm and protect us from abrasion.


Glove Construction

Gloves are generally composed of 2-3 main parts: a shell (usually a combination of leather and cloth), an insulation layer and a possible third layer, usually a waterproof barrier of some type.

Let's look at the shell. First we'll look at the most commonly used types of leather. The most common leather by far is cowhide. Attributes are that it's relatively inexpensive, durable, strong, and supple and takes leather treatments well. Cowhide's major drawback is weight and thickness.

The second most popular shell used is probably deerskin. Attributes include that it's super soft and flexible and it's naturally warm due to its spongy/porous nature. Major drawbacks: doesn't respond well to leather treatments, abrades easily, gets wet very easily and then becomes very heavy and can lose shape.

And now No. 3, goatskin. Of the readily available leathers, probably the best strength-to-weight ratio is goatskin. It's lightweight, thin, takes leather treatments well, and because of its thinness, doesn't soak up much water.

My advice is that you look for cowhide or goatskin. Cowhide is okay in heavier gloves, but has to be shaved to equal the thinness of goat and thus loses strength.

Now on to fabrics. Many types are used, from regular pack cloth, ribbed nylon twills (Mechanix-style gloves) to high-tech nylons, polyesters and blends. Even if you have a waterproof /breathable membrane to protect your hands, a soaked shell will negatively affect your glove performance by wicking away heat and freezing or becoming stiff. So chose a glove with a good water-resistant breathable fabric.

As for insulation, while there are lots of insulators out there, from naturals like wool and down to synthetics, for our use, look for the high-tech synthetics such as Thinsulate, Primaloft, Thermolite, etc. These manage moisture well, dry out quickly and can be made super thin. Remember though, all things being equal, thicker is generally always warmer: 100 gram Thinsulate is warmer than 40 gram and not as warm as 150 gram and thickness is directly correlated to weight.

A glove's membranes insure your hands don't get wet from the outside. But if you're working hard enough, you can most always get wet hands from sweat. Choose from known brands such as Gore Tex, eVent, Hypora or Sympatex. My best advice is for you to check with someone who has experience with several different kinds and ask their opinion. Not everyone's hands are the same, so one membrane may work better for you than another.

Fit. Most gloves should be snug without you having to strain to make a fist. You should be able to pull the glove on reasonably easily. Having to force gloves on is not good for the gloves, even if they feel good when you get them on. Take gloves off by loosening all the fingers and thumb first. This is better on the glove liner and helps maintain glove shape. Look for gloves with hang tags or descriptive material attached that really tell you something about the glove's components. This helps you comparison shop.

When it comes to the cost of gloves, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 or more for quality gloves. In general you pretty much get what you pay for. Hang tags or product cards may explain expensive materials/features that justify a glove's price.


Care And Feeding

Not all gloves are the same, but these are some good generalizations. Again, read the info that came with your gloves and the care tags on the inside.

Leather is animal skin that, when tanned, is 60-65 percent water, 25-30 percent protein and 5-10 percent fat. These combine as collagen and elastin protein fibers which form bundles that are interwoven for strength. Excessive heat causes these structures to break down, causing the leather to shrink, become brittle and crack. Exposing gloves to excessive heat when they are wet just speeds up the destruction of these interwoven bundles.

The most important thing to remember is avoid heat. Yeah, we've all known someone who one time had a pair of gloves they just couldn't hurt, no matter what was done to them. This is truly an exception, trust me. There are some gloves specifically made to be heat-resistant with carefully treated and tempered leather. But these resist temps to only between 200-400 degrees F. Gloves made for truly high temps don't involve leather. They are made of Kevlar or SpecTra high temp silicon compositions that can resist temps from 650 degrees F and up. They are bulky and stiff. Trust me, you don't want to ride in these.

Remember, that exhaust you just want to rest your cold, wet gloves on for a second reaches temps of more than 1,200 degrees F. We all place our gloves under the hood. But this illustrates how careful you have to be with any heat.

So, what do you do when your gloves are wet? Never wring out your gloves. Wringing out is extremely hard on them. It ruins the liners and can tear out stitching. The best care scenario is to roll gloves lengthwise and squeeze or press water out. Rolling them up in an old towel works well to remove excess water. Try to hang fingers up, away from direct heat or heater fans. The heat used should never be hotter than you can comfortably place and hold your bare hands on.

I have never had my soaked gloves fail to dry overnight when hung over the back of a chair placed hear a motel floor or wall heater. If your gloves ever develop hard spots, become very stiff or shrink, they have been subjected to too much heat. Quality gloves will never shrink when dried at normal room temperatures.

Always dry your gloves after a ride. Don't leave them wadded up in the bottom of your gear bag or on the truck floor. This will cause them to mildew and lose their effectiveness.

Washing. Always follow manufacturer's recommendations, and again, avoid heat when drying.

Treat the glove shells-fabric and leather-with any good light spray silicon or liquid like Nikwax Glove Proof made for leather and fabric. Never use heavy oils such as Neatsfoot Oil. It over treats leather and causes gloves to lose their shape and it can penetrate into the insulation and membrane.

Don't use heavy boot-wax-type waterproofing either, as it can clog the glove leather and fabric pores and inhibit the performance of the gloves' waterproof/breathable insert and breathability of the fabric and leather.

You want to nourish the glove and fabric fibers, not clog them. You are trying to increase the water resistance, but not make the outside of the gloves totally waterproof. If you waterproof the glove, it reduces breathability and the effectiveness of the waterproof/breathable membrane. 

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