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Advice and Tips for Kitting-out the Budding Ecologist - Week #3: Gloves vs. Mittens

For the newly qualified ecologist, the prospect of getting yourself 'kitted-out' is daunting. Not only does a lack of field experience and contact with other seasoned professionals, present a major barrier to getting access to the right kit, but other factors, such as available budget and shear variety of choice, help to add further confusion and hinder getting the right kit for the right job!! However, help is at hand! Over the years I've tried the lot, sometimes I made good decisions and sometimes I didn't. Over the course of the next four blogs, I'm going to share with you the sum of my 20+ years of survey experience, with an emphasis on getting kitted-out on a budget!

This week examines the ages old choice between gloves and mittens… For me, the decision boils down to one important consideration, are you going to be on the move or will you be sitting around for extended periods of time? Now, you might think this is a bit of an odd question to ask, but unless you're on the move, gloves are going to be cold, even insulated ones. The reason gloves are cold is down to the fact that each finger is isolated from the rest of the hand and therefore isn’t benefiting from shared warmth. If you’re planning in sitting around for extended periods of time in cold weather, then gloves simply won’t keep you hands warm. Mittens work in exactly the opposite way to gloves - because all of the figures are contained in a single open space, the heat from each finger helps to keep it neighbour nice and warm.

One important factor to weigh up between gloves and mittens, is whether you’re hands are likely to get wet. Again, you might think this an odd thing to say, but have you ever tried to put a wet hand into a dry glove and then take it out again, in particular, a glove with an inside lining that isn't fixed to the outside layer. Basically your hand will pull out and invert the lining, which will start to annoy you in a very short period of time, especially if you're taking the gloves off with any regularity – trust me…

I personally use both gloves and mittens, but for different tasks. I use a light pair of merino wool gloves for when I’m likely to be on the move and might need to make notes, for example, when I’m doing spring/autumn walkover surveys or a similar task. Don’t spend anymore than £20, because anything in excess of this is just a waste of your hard-earned cash, especially if you manage to loose one of them in the middle of no-where and have no idea where you dropped it! For any field task where I'm likely to be sitting around or where the wind-chill is going to be significant, then I use mittens. It's as simple as that!

If you couldn't tell already, I’m a huge fan of mittens… I’ve tried many different types over the years, from high specification man-made ones right though to Icelandic boiled wool. However, there’s only one brand that’s ever cut the mustard as far as I’m concerned. Buffalo Systems ( mittens (mitts) are amazing, and I don't tire of telling people this fact! If you go to their web site you can read all about the product and the innovation behind their simple, yet effective construction. I’ve been using Buffalo System Mitts in the field for the last five years and can testify to how good these really are. My field test stands at two back-to-back 3-hour ornithology vantage point surveys in the Scottish uplands in January – that’s eight cold hours in the field (including rest periods), with very little opportunity for movement!! The biggest selling feature about Buffalo's mitts is the fact they stay warm even when wet and maintain their insulating properties right up to wind speeds of 50mph. In addition, you can double glove them for extra warm, which is a feature you don't commonly come across. In addition, their durable construction means they are going to last you seasons, which is great value for £30!

If you've decided to buy a more expensive glove, then don’t make the mistake of buying a glove that's too small, as you will need air around each finger to help retain warmth. As a general rule of thumb (sorry for the pun), you should be able to pinch the ends of each gloved finger and thumb and not come into contact with your digits. Most people buy a glove that's too small and only realise this after the item has been worn and can't be returned to the store, so please take this advice into consideration.

Regardless of whether you opt for a glove or for a mitten, there are occasions when even I need some extra warmth - usually when I'm tired and cold, so on these occasions I use a pair of pocket warmers. I use Hothands ( as they are reasonably priced and last for 10 hours! I always make sure I carry a spare pair in the top of my rucksack, just in case they're needed!

If you liked the above blog, then stay tuned for more!! Over the course of the remaining two blogs I'll provide you with advice and tips on thermal layers and for those aspiring ornithologists out there, buying the right optics.

Image Credit: TETRIX Ecology, Buffalo Systems & Hothands

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