Mittens vs Gloves: The Great Winter Running Debate

Everyone enjoys a good popsicle (strawberry is my personal favorite), but not when the popsicles are your fingers during a cold winter run! Gloves vs mittens? Which one keeps your hands warmer, which should you choose? In this article, Team RunRun explores why your fingers get so cold when running and the solutions for keeping fingers warm! 

The Reason for Frozen Fingers

Everyone who has run (or played) outside on a cold winter day has experienced the pain and anguish of fingers that get so cold that you can’t wrap your fingers around the door knob to go back inside to warm up. During cold exposure, our bodies divert blood flow from our extremities towards our core to ensure that the temperature for optimal function of our internal organs is maintained. Additionally, one of the body’s natural mechanisms for releasing heat is convection (this is why we get cold when it’s windy), so this further cools areas of exposed skin. With our blood flow leaving our hands and the cold air whipping across our skin as we run, it’s no wonder our fingers quickly become indistinguishable from icicles in January!

Mittens are Warmer

Because your fingers are next to each other without a layer of cloth between when wearing mittens, the heat released from your hands through conduction helps to keep your fingers warm since they are in contact with each other. Mittens also have a greater thermal efficiency than gloves because they do not have as much surface area exposed to the cold. With the quality of materials being the same, mittens are going to keep your hands warmer than gloves. 

bend running coach
Coach Ashley Nordell making it look too easy to run in the snow

Who Needs Fingers?

Although the physics makes it clear that mittens are warmer than gloves, warmth is not the only factor to consider. With all of your digits contained in one pocket of fabric, you are giving up finger dexterity. Need to make a phone call? Good luck dialing the correct number. Want to make a gesture at the car that just splashed you with dirty slush water? Better settle for a fist shake. If you want to keep your fingers as warm as possible, a mitten is the way to go. If you want to be able to use your warm fingers to do anything while running, maybe you should consider another option. While separating your fingers and increasing the garment surface area makes gloves a less warm option, having the ability to use your fingers to start and stop your watch or take off a layer if you get too hot can make the heat trade off worth it. 

The Verdict

There are multiple factors to consider when choosing to run in a mitten, a glove, or a hybrid option (yes, there is such a thing!). Ultimately, the choice of mittens vs gloves is an individual decision that will be based on your priorities of warmth and dexterity. Running specific gloves and mittens have many cool features, like windproof liners or touchscreen fabrics on the finger tip, that make them a worthwhile piece of winter running gear. The most important feature however, is that they will keep your hands warm enough to write how awesome your run was in your training log!

Maxx Antush is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Maxx, check out his coaching page.