It’s a face-off (hand-off?) between two winter options, with a quick review of the pros and cons of each, as well as my personal preferences and recommendations.
In This Corner: Gloves!
Gloves provide you with maximum dexterity, which is crucial if you’re doing anything that requires some degree of coordination. For day-to-day around-town winter handwear, they are the clear winner, especially since your digits are seldom exposed to biting cold for prolonged periods.
For winter outdoor adventures, they are good for activities that require a reasonable degree of dexterity, such as skiing and ice climbing, since they provide you with the best grip on poles and ice tools.
For other activities, especially those in significant cold, they have some significant drawbacks. They are not as warm as mittens. They can be maddening to take on and off repeatedly, especially once the inner liner gets damp. (If you’ve ever tried to fix an inverted glove finger, when the lining is pulled inside out like a soggy sausage, you know what I mean.) And a good fit is much more important than with mittens, which can be challenging given how much hand sizes, shapes, and finger lengths vary from person to person.
In This Corner: Mittens!
Mittens are significantly warmer than gloves, a huge advantage in serious and/or prolonged cold. Your fingers all get to snuggle with each other and share their body warmth, rather than being entombed individually in chilly finger coffins. Plus they are generally much easier to get on and off quickly.
But dexterity definitely suffers. There’s only so much you can do with a thumb and a four-finger flipper. Comfortably and securely grabbing trekking poles or a mountaineering axe is a challenge. Even simple tasks can become a fumble-fest.
The Winner! Gloves and Mittens
So what’s my personal solution and recommendation? For most winter backcountry adventures, I almost always opt for a set of Powerstretch liner gloves (the Black Diamond Midweight Gloves are by far my favorite) with a heavy-duty mitten over the top of it.
The liner glove provides me with essentially full dexterity when I need it, while the mitten provides me with maximum warmth, plus a quick-and-easy on-and-off as tasks warrant. I prefer mittens with a warm, removable liner and a waterproof shell, which gives you the flexibility to adjust its warmth as conditions warrant. (I have a well-used and trusted pair of old REI Switchback Mitts.)
If, however, I will be spending significant time handling an ice axe or holding trekking poles, I will generally opt for a pair of heavy-duty gloves instead (still keeping the liners underneath). The extra dexterity is worth the trade-off in warmth, unless conditions are absolutely Arctic. As with the mittens, I recommend gloves that feature a removable liner for maximum flexibility.
The last essential feature is a sufficiently long cuff, or gauntlet, on the gloves or mittens, which should easily extend over the end of your jacket sleeves to provide a complete and secure seal.