I've lived near Minneapolis for just over 4 years now, and I've learned a few things:
- Thick wool socks (Smartwool is my favorite) and boiled wool slippers do an awfully good job of keeping my feet warm in my house, particularly in my basement, where my computer is. I find the boiled wool slippers warmer and more breathable than shearling-lined slippers.
- A foot-of-the-bed warmer (like a bedwarmer, but only across the foot of the bed) does a GREAT job of warming up my feet faster so I can go to sleep (so the wool socks aren't always perfect!). We have ours on a timer, so it comes on at 8:00pm, and goes off at 12:30pm. It only warms the bed to about 80 degrees, but it's great!
- Warm boots (sporting good stores have some that guarantee down to -20, and they work!)
- Layers. I now own Smart Wool glove liners and ordered a pair of their heaviest weight long-johns.
- Gloves or preferably mittens are REQUIRED for outdoors. And not just any ones will do. After awhile you learn to do nearly anything without removing them.
As I did my research, I found that most people urged me to get something with leather. Lots of people urged wool. As a vegetarian, I try to avoid leather, so I don't get leather purses, though I still wear leather shoes. But I try to care for them and extend their use as best I can (my Birkenstocks are on their way to be re-soled).
And mittens were UNIVERSALLY recommended over gloves. So I tried 3 different gloves in the $80-$100 range (you can find gloves that run well into the hundreds of dollars). I didn't want electric gloves - would rather avoid batteries or disposable chemical warmers.
All three mittens are available in both men's and women's versions, though I show the women's below. The shipping ranged from free to $10 to get them to me, and all three vendors were good to work with and were very nice and accept full returns. LLBean accepts returns forever, and Snowshack asks for them back within 30 days and Backcountry Gear asks for 60 day returns. I don't remember if they have requirements as to sellable condition, but I always expect to return them that way anyway, so any tests I did would not be rigorous, or mark them up at all. I didn't even cut them apart. I bought a women's size large in all three, and one fit, one was too big, and one was too small, yet all assigned my hands(7.5" long and 7.5" around the knuckles) to the same size (I bought up a size in all 3 cases). I have strong, squarish, capable looking hands, that are far from slender. I tend to prefer my gloves to be a little big, rather than small. I don't like gloves to feel constricting.
Now, here are the results and observations about each one. The links are to the vender's page that sold me the mitten.
1. Swany X-Cell II Mittens:
These are the ones I'm keeping. They were the most expensive, and were all leather. I had hoped to avoid leather, but these were hands down the best when all was taken into consideration. They are simply the most comfortable hand wear I've ever felt. They are soft and warm, very very supple, and not very bulky. They are in fact, shockingly NOT bulky, such that you wonder how they can possibly be warm. They are mittens on the outside, but the non-removable liners had separate slots for your fingers. They slide on and right into place. They also have shielded (so wind doesn't go through) zippers on the back to hold change or a key, or a chemical hand warmer. They were the only pair that had that. I CAN put them on over my Smart wool glove liners, but they are a bit tight. Because I couldn't find any reviews of these gloves (or of the previous model) I contacted the company. I saw lots of recommendations for a cheaper model (the "toaster") as being warm, and as these are supposed to be the warmest of their mittens, I wanted to double check that these would be warmer than the toasters. The lady listened to what I had to say about my circulation problems, and she was actually hesitant to recommend their gloves given my problems. I appreciated her honesty, and decided to test them out anyway. The size large was perfect. The gauntlets were a little more minimal on these, and could go either over or under my coat sleeves, depending on preference. I suspect that the glove version would also be delightful, but I wanted the added warmth of the mittens. Maybe I'll treat myself to the gloves in a few years. :-)
2. Black Diamond Mercury Mitts:
I saw LOTS of reviews that said these were some of the warmest mittens they had tried on. They are made of man-made materials, except for the leather palm. They are quite bulky, and were the least dexterous of the bunch, and in fact, I couldn't get my car door open (from the inside) while wearing them - I had to remove them to do it. They are DELIGHTFULLY soft on the inside and fuzzy, and have a "trigger finger" removable liner - the liner has a separate index finger AND thumb, and a third slot for your last three fingers. However, these gloves ran big, and I found myself sliding all 4 fingers into the 3 outer finger spot, AND there was plenty of room that way. My husband who has big hands could get them on pretty well, even. I suspect that over time, I'd get used to how to hold my hands to make my index finger go into the right spot, so I would NOT consider this a deal breaker or even a problem. The liner also velcros firmly into place so they act and feel like an integrated unit, making them easy to get on - no weird adjusting necessary. They also accommodated a Smart wool glove liner with ease and comfort. I suspect that these would have been the warmest, IF they had not been too big. But even if the size had been right, they still would have been bulkier than I wanted. So, I do give these a hearty thumbs up, even if they were not my ultimate choice. If your hands are like mine, I would get these in a medium. The gauntlet cuff was much longer on these, and I believe they are designed to go OVER your coat sleeves.
The test: I wore BOTH pairs of mittens - the Swanys on my right, with the extra mitten dangling, and the Black Diamonds on my left, with the extra one dangling (I didn't disconnect them to avoid making them less sellable). I walked (at a stroll) for 5 blocks to pick up my car. It was after dark, and a degree or two below zero. My hands never got cold under that very light activity, in either glove. Initially the Black diamonds seemed warmer, but as they were too big, cold pockets formed just beyond my finger tips, and to the side of my pinky, and if I shifted my hand a bit, it was like sticking them into a fridge. I really believe this would not have been a problem with a smaller mitten. Initially during the walk, the Swany's seemed ever so slightly cooler, but by the end of my walk, my hand - while not quite toasty, was not at all cold (an ENORMOUS improvement over my old, expensive, and supposedly high-tech gloves), and there were no cold pockets, and my hand was warmer. Then I tried to drive home, and discovered my problem with opening the car door in the bulkier mittens. I could open the car from the outside with either one - it's just that the inside latch was smaller. I also hit my turn signal once by accident due to the bulkiness. I suspect that would also be something you'd learn to work around. I also expect that I will always be doing light to moderate activity while wearing them. Main use: ice skating, and shoveling or snowblowing snow, or walking. Walking is the lightest of the 3 activities. So... Swanys were better when considering bulk AND warmth.
3. Ascent Mittens by L.L. Bean:
Finally, I also tried the LLBean Ascent mittens, which were the only ones to not have any leather at all. I've got lots of interesting things to say about these mittens. LLBEAN service is by far the best. I LOVE L.L. Bean. I buy lots of my clothes there. And I suspect that these gloves, had they fit properly would have been my choice. But, the removable gloves liners, which are made of power-stretch polartec fleece, are just too constricting. I also found it slightly hard to get my hand past the narrower wrist area. They were less bulky and much more dexterous than the Black Diamonds, and similarly bulky but less dexterous than the Swanys. I don't know how they would have rated in warmth with regard to the Swany's, but Bean is sold out of the bigger men's sizes until next fall, so I cannot order the next size up until then. The removeable liners are actually usable as gloves, and would even be pretty good that way - they have a grippy fabric sewn to the index finger, thumb and palm. They felt warm, but were so tight, they simply were not comfortable, and it's completely the fault of the liner (and from the reviews on their site of the men's version, I'm not the only one who found this to be true). I tried my wool liners with just the shells, and they were much more comfortable. I was also concerned that the men's medium, which was very slightly bigger, MIGHT have been too long, and I would have given them a try, but they just aren't available at the moment. Again, I would say that they are likely very good mittens, but definitely get a couple of different sizes or just order up a size. And maybe that's not necessary for your hand type if you have slimmer fingers or hands. Interestingly, I found a Good Housekeeping review of them, where the reviewers put temperature probes inside, and turned the temp down to 30 degrees, and it took 130 minutes for them to cool down to 30 degrees on the inside. So I suspect that these are fine, and quite warm mittens. They just didn't work for me.
Anyway, I hope folks find this useful.