While both mittens and gloves perform the same hand warming tasks, there are a number of differences between them. Perhaps the most obvious are style and design, but the differences go deeper than that. Those who must spend hours exposed to cold weather, such as skiers and forest rangers, do develop a preference between the two under various conditions and air temperatures. Some prefer the articulation provided by gloves, while others favor the warmer atmosphere inside a pair of insulated mittens.
There can be some trade-offs when comparing mittens and gloves. Mittens feature a pocket of warmth over the four fingers and a separate space for the thumb, but wearers often suffer from a lack of mobility. Gloves provide a covering for individual fingers, but wearers do not derive much benefit from natural body heat. If keeping all of the fingers warm during winter activities, mittens are usually considered preferable to gloves. If hand mobility is a priority, then gloves provide much more articulation.
One drawback with mittens is moisture. The wearer's fingers may begin to sweat as the day wears on, eventually creating a significant amount of moisture. This moisture build-up may not be noticeable during the day, but the mittens could become soaked with sweat by nightfall. The solution may be to wear glove-like liners to wick away the excess moisture and keep the main mitten material dry. Some mitten wearers notice their thumbs become much colder sooner than the fingers, which are nestled together.
Gloves can also be affected by moisture, but they are especially prone to losing body heat faster than mittens. Many glove wearers are willing to sacrifice insulation for improved mobility, which means gloves are often thinner and less insulated than mittens. The use of liners can improve the insulating level of gloves, but articulation is often affected. Those who must perform work outdoors may prefer gloves to mittens, but some learn to adapt to the confines of mittens in order to obtain more heat and insulation.
Both mittens and gloves offer protection from the winter elements, but many parents of younger children prefer the simpler design and improved insulation of mittens. Mittens are often designed to fit either hand, while gloves are designed with a definite right and left hand orientation. Gloves may be more difficult for younger children to put on, but older children may prefer the extra articulation of gloves to the restrictions of standard mittens.
In general, the decision between mittens and gloves comes down to personal preference. Some find that mittens provide more warmth at lower temperatures, but gloves perform just as well at warmer temperatures. Beginning skiers may find mittens to be preferable, while more advanced skiers may find gloves to be more useful for adjusting the grip on their ski poles during tricky maneuvers. There is no right answer when it comes to wearing one or the other, so consumers should feel free to experiment with various brands of both until they find an ideal combination of fit and protection.