The Heat Company Gloves
Gloves are something of a problem for photographers. We need to wear gloves thick enough to effectively keep our hands warm, it is after all hard to operate the camera with numb fingers, but not so thick that the gloves themselves reduce our dexterity. For years I’ve been using Sealskinz Dragoneye gloves which are suitably dextrous, waterproof and warm enough for most East Anglian winters but not warm enough for somewhere like Iceland in the winter and it was while searching for something that was, that I came across the Heat Company whose range of gloves looked to fit the bill perfectly.
Originally designed for the German and Austrian military, Heat layer system gloves aren’t a single pair of gloves but rather a system comprising 3 layers. The first layer is an inner liner glove, the second layer a shell mitten with fold back thumb and mitten parts through which you can poke your liner glove clad fingers and the third layer is a further polar mitten to offer additional protection in extreme conditions.
There is a choice of five different liner gloves, which come in four sizes and offer different levels of warmth, durability and dexterity. Then there are three different mittens to chose from again offering different levels of warmth and durability, these come in an impressive eight sizes and seven colours. Each layer is purchased seperately so you can mix and match to suit your needs or even get different liner gloves for different occasions. There is only one polar mitten so your only choice there is whether to buy it or not, I chose the latter option as I thought would be overkill for my needs. After much time spent weighing up the many options, I made my choices, following the instructions on the website to measure my hands, placed my order and waited in anticipation for my new gloves.
Layer 1 - Liner gloves
Basing my choice on the highest priority being the need to be able to easily operate the camera, I chose Merino liner gloves which are the highest in the range for tactility but not the warmest or most durable (I figured I’d leave the keeping warm part to the mittens). On first trying the gloves I was vey impressed with the quality and fit. Made form a mix of merino wool, nylon and elastane, they are soft, stretchy and comfortable and they fit like, well, a glove. There is no shortage of features for something as simple as an inner glove - the thumb and first two fingers of each glove have touch screen tips, there is a D-ring to attach them to the mittens so they don’t get accidentally dropped (I should have used these as you’ll find out) and there is even a hand warmer pocket.
In use the merino wool is breathable and keeps your hands comfortable and the cuff is nice and long to keep your wrists warm, but after having them for a year (which in real terms means wearing them for around a month in Iceland) I found that the touch screen pads didn’t stay shiny and effective for too long, but I suspect they just need a wash! The thumb has been badly plucked by the velcro on the fold back thumb of the mitten. The problem being the rough part of the velcro is above the thumb and the soft part is below, so the back of the thumb rubs on the rough velcro, if those were switched the plucking wouldn’t have occurred but it does give me concerns about the durability and if I were to choose again (which I will be as I lost one of the gloves in the dunes at Stoksnes beach) I may go for one of the more durable options. Perhaps the Durable liner which with a palm made from soft leather should also be more waterproof to avoid getting wet gloves when adjusting a tripod on the beach.
Layer 2 - Shell mittens
Selecting the outer gloves was somewhat easier, there are fewer choices but the main differences are simple - one has a leather palm, one is full leather and the third is full leather without the fold back thumb. The leather options offered some promised gains in warmth and durability but came at a hefty price increase so I opted for the standard Shell mitten (which at £115 isn’t exactly cheap itself).
I’m not going to lie, I fell in love with these the instant I put them on. The soft fleece lining felt wonderfully warm and snug and the host of features satisfied my inner geek.
The mittens are (very well) made from a windproof and water resistant polyester outer with a goatskin leather palm and are extra long, extending well past the wrist. Inside they are lined with soft microfibre fleece and insulated with lightweight synthetic insulation for warmth without bulk and being synthetic it continues to work even in the wet. There is a weather-sealed zip across the palm which opens to allow the mitten to be folded back and held in place by a magnet for quick access for your fingers. Similarly the thumb also folds back with a magnet to hold it in place but is held closed by velcro rather than a zip (the offending velcro mentioned earlier in the plucking incident).
Like the liner glove, the mitten has a handwarmer pocket, although this one is closed by a weather-sealed zip and a ring to attach the liner gloves to with the included mini carabiner. There is also an elasticated wrist strap to prevent you losing a mitten and to make sure no sneaky drafts get in there are elasticated drawstrings at the wrist and the base with a clever toggle so you can adjust these with one hand.
In short, you can see why these are expensive but the big question is would they be as effective in the face of the vicious windchill on Iceland’s beaches as they were when I first put them on in the comfort of my living room? Well, the website describes the primaloft gold insulation, as being the best there so they had a lot to live up to but in use they were quite simply worth every penny. Warm, windproof and most importantly it was very easy to use the camera at the same time. I generally left the palm zip undone and didn’t bother using the magnet to hold the mitten back so I could quickly slip my fingers out to operate the camera and the minute I popped my fingers back into the mittens they were instantly warm. My only criticism would be that the palm zip can be hard to close one handed while wearing the mittens, my initial thoughts were a tab to hold on to at the end of the zip would help, but that would only be effective if you took the mittens off first so that you had two hands free… not an ideal solution.
The hand warmer pocket was effective for added warmth while standing around in the middle of a cold night, waiting for the northern lights to show, although if it’s really cold (or you have lost a liner glove) it’s quicker to warm the fingers by holding onto a hand warmer inside the mitten.
I haven’t really kept much back for the big review finale and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that, minor quibbles aside, I was impressed with the Heat 3 system. I had two requirements - warm hands while still being able to use the camera, they score well on both fronts and pick up bonus points thanks to the flexibility the choice of liner gloves and mittens, sizes and colours offers.
The only downsides I can see are that, unless you feel the cold, gloves like this could be overkill for the winters in some parts of the UK and the price. The cheapest option is the Heat 3 Special Force, which has the liner gloves and mittens combined into a single glove (which is still over £100) but in my opinion this very much falls into the category of you get what you pay for.
So for me the search for gloves is at an end, although the search for my missing gloves goes on so if you find a blue/grey glove on the beach near Vestrahorn in Iceland, let me know!