high performance gloves while maintaining dexterity
November 26, 2010 6:52 PM   Subscribe

What's the cutting edge in gloves that allow for high levels of dexterity in extreme conditions (e.g. north pole). A colleague and I have been thinking up creative ways to allow high levels of dexterity while keeping the insulation factor high. Say you're a worker that has to work outdoors in extreme conditions for periods of up to an hour, yet you need to be able to work with hand tools, press buttons, etc. Is there an industry standard for this sort of thing? Anyone have any info on state of the art (or near future) technology in this area?
posted by spacediver to Technology (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your question brought to mind this article from a few years back about a contest to design new space gloves for NASA.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:58 PM on November 26, 2010

I keep my eye out for this kind of stuff for mountaineering and cold weather rock climbing. I've yet to see a solution that can handle truly extreme conditions like you're describing for extended periods while maintaining lots of dexterity, but I'd think there would certainly be a market if you could accomplish it well. Even looking at photos of very cold places such as on top of Mount. Everest, you'll open see climbers who have removed their giant warm mitts temporarily to operate a camera.

Given that really warm insulation requires large amounts of trapped air between the user and the outside, it's pretty tricky to accomplish. Definitely an area worthy of some clever innovations in my opinion.

PS. Send me a message if you ever accomplish this, I'd probably buy some.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:20 PM on November 26, 2010

**Edit: Sorry, shouldn't have said that really warm insulation "requires" large amounts of trapped air. More like, really warm insulation is almost always accomplished with large amounts of trapped air.

Definitely room for innovation there.

I've heard of companies trying to make clothes filled with things like sealed-in gases that conduct heat more poorly than air, but I think the current technology is problematic.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:24 PM on November 26, 2010

I just ordered heated motorcycle gloves from Gerbing's. They have several Department of Defense contracts, and most of their products are used by the military. They have a full line of heated clothing (jacket liners, gloves, insoles, etc).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:27 PM on November 26, 2010

Whatever the glove, it'd have to be able to operate a touch screen. Some people make gloves specifically for touchscreen dexterity. Here's one kind.
posted by phunniemee at 7:38 PM on November 26, 2010

In my experience, there isn't much. For winter hiking / camping we'll often have a gore-tex shell, with a thick mitten (wool or fleece) and a polypro liner glove inside. The liner allows you to remove the mitten for a few minutes without exposing your skin to the elements. With it you can operate a camera or a stove without sticking to the metal or without freezing. But you'll always want to put your mitten back on pretty quickly.

Something like this is a pretty good option, allowing you to fold back the mitten when you need your fingers. I know a lot of ice climbers that use things like these. You can find them knitted or fleece and some even have a shell over them.

There are also three-finger mittens that give you a trigger finger to work with, but I haven't used or seen these much.
posted by bondcliff at 7:43 PM on November 26, 2010

How about gloves that sap warmth from your core somehow?
posted by ian1977 at 8:01 PM on November 26, 2010

The cutting edge in high-dexterity waterproof and insulated gloves is likely the Arc'teryx Sigma SV. You can watch a video about how they're made here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X-aMBc19Q4

As far as I'm aware there is not a glove on the market that is comparable to this one in terms of the flexibility, warmth-to-weight ratio, and waterproofness.
posted by drewgillson at 8:03 PM on November 26, 2010

There are a few textile products out there using "microencapsulated phase change materials" that store heat when you're warm and release it when you get colder; Outlast is one that I have tried. It definitely works to some extent, but I wouldn't call it a miracle.

Gloves or mittens that include pockets for air-activated chemical handwarmer packs are the best solution I've found. Lands End has some that look pretty reasonable. This winter I'm going to try combining the two: Outlast glove liners under gloves with built-in handwarmer pockets.
posted by Corvid at 8:04 PM on November 26, 2010

Thin gloves, and over the top, rather than fingerless gloves, tipless gloves - the very tips cut off or replaced with thin material so you can still use your digits. And then, maybe the mitten things with battery powered warmers suggested above over the top? (I haven't been in THAT cold temperatures).
posted by Elysum at 8:06 PM on November 26, 2010

Best answer: From what I've seen in industry SP is to put up a small shelter around the work site and heat that so that people can work inside without gloves. You're talking consistently below -20 C and most equipment isn't designed to run at those temps anyway so it's better to have a heated work area. The touch screen on my phone develops lag at 10 degrees C, batteries die quickly below 0, hydraulic fluids get awful sticky at -50 and the transmission in your truck seizes up and falls out shortly thereafter. Well not always, but sometimes and it's a real bummer when it does.

Folks that do not have the luxury of heated shelters wear mittens, gloves just don't cut it in extreme cold. Dog mushers, for example, wear thin or fingerless gloves inside big ass mittens and use hand warmers to rewarm every few minutes. They have to booty the dogs, which can take up to a half hour, in some pretty cold weather (it's regularly -20 to -50 C in races) so if there was better technology they'd likely be using it. I have seen them wear surgical gloves next to the skin to keep their skin from sticking to anything wet and to keep their mittens dry and therefore warmer. Foam insulated mittens are popular for the same reason, foam does better at dealing with sweat, dirt and body oil than down.

You might also be interested in this paper too.
posted by fshgrl at 8:13 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I currently live in Very Cold Land, in fact the same town as the authors of the paper fshgrl linked (it's -2F right now, with half a foot of snow on the ground) and I've explored my options in some depth. The issue, I've been told time and again, is that mittens keep your hand warmest but of course don't allow for any dexterity at all.

The kind of mittens that bondcliff mentions, the convertible ones, are really not all that warm. I own a pair very similar to the one in the link and they're just not warm enough when it's really cold out (so, say, below ten degrees Fahrenheit the tips of your fingers are quite cold in those mittens).

These (Cabela's GORE TEX Pinnacle Mittens) are what I'm thinking of getting for my next pair of mittens. They've got finger grooves for the tips of your fingers which make things slightly--though not profoundly--more dexterous and they're 150gram Thinsulate insulation. For more dexterity with a slight sacrifice in warmth, they also come in gloves (see here). Overall, Cabela's has some gloves and mittens you may want to look at for a sense of the competition for the consumer market (not so much industrial).

Thinsulate, Gore Tex, bamboo, Columbia's new patented Omni Heat [warning: auto play video], North Face's Hyvent to a lesser extent...these are some current innovations that I can think of. I'm sorry I don't know too much about upcoming ones (competitive advantage and all that).
posted by librarylis at 8:27 PM on November 26, 2010

Response by poster: wow fantastic replies. Thanks all - I look forward to digesting this info and responding tomorrow.
posted by spacediver at 10:10 PM on November 26, 2010

posted by greatgefilte at 10:37 PM on November 26, 2010

Argh, all the "C's in my post should be "F"s. Fahrenheit. My phone works fine at 10 Celsius.
posted by fshgrl at 10:44 PM on November 26, 2010

This comment from KathrynT discusses the gloves used by Simo Häyhä, a Finnish WWII sniper.

Main lesson seems to be to do as much as possible with your mittens on (make buttons larger, tool handles bigger, etc) and if you do need dexterity, keep your wrist's pulse point warm.
posted by spongeboy at 3:03 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was a Finnish sniper during the winter war who wore three pairs of gloves. One was a heavy pair of mittens for skiing. He wore another set of gloves under these for things like shooting. Under these he wore very finely woven knit wool gloves that were fine enough for his dexterity that he could reload in the extreme cold. I think his advantage was that he was the only person with enough dexterity to reload in the cold because he had the best gear. The point of the story is layering with really nice gloves closest to your hands.
posted by mearls at 4:56 AM on November 27, 2010

Next time I'll read all the comments first.
posted by mearls at 4:56 AM on November 27, 2010

This company makes neoprene gloves for harsh conditions. I haven't tried them but have heard good things.
posted by leslies at 6:53 AM on November 27, 2010

Response by poster: very interesting stuff.

As a winter cyclist in Southern Ontario, I've experimented with quite a few different gloves, and have found the Moutain Equipment Co-op Blast Gloves (with gortex technology) to suit my needs the best. These keep me warm and dry in deep winter for long periods of cycling. I owned another pair from MEC a few years back that were even better, but I lost them and I believe they were discontinued.

However, neither of the gloves offered sufficient dexterity for me to use my bike lock, or house keys.

So I started wondering whether it would be possible to have a super thin gloves, like surgical gloves, that were constructed in such a way that they'd offer supreme insulation. After discussing the idea with my colleague, we bandied around a few ideas, such as creating a super thin vacuum layer (to prevent loss of heat due to conduction), and reflective linings (to prevent loss of heat due to radiation).

The heated gloves seem like a useful approach, but I still fantasize about a time in our future where we can solve the problem without using external power.
posted by spacediver at 12:17 PM on November 27, 2010

I wonder if you could introduce enough external heat around the wrist and palm that, by circulation, you could leave the fingers very thinly covered.
posted by Anything at 3:27 AM on November 28, 2010

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