The lowdown on materials, design differences, warmth, and more to help you decide on your next pair of gloves
Some articles of hunting gear are harder to nail down than others.
We can all probably name our favorite pants or jackets. We could talk for hours about our favorite boots. There is little doubt in my mind that we could debate endlessly the best shotgun for the quarry in question down to the gauge, make, choke, and perhaps even year of manufacture. Some are matters of preference: brush pants versus chaps, side-by-side versus over-under, style of gamebag, etc. Some items in our toolkit, however, are perhaps less considered or even neglected.
Hunting gloves are, perhaps, one of the less considered items in our kits. I’ve personally been on a quest to find a solid, all-around glove and have been met with mixed results. They all work for some applications, but I have struggled to find a general-purpose glove that checks all of the boxes. The boxes I look to check are fit (including any break-in period), which is affected by material, insulation/warmth, dexterity/tactility, and protection. For example, there are typically trade-offs in tactility where insulation is concerned. The more insulated the glove, the less tactility there tends to be, especially as it relates to operating finer mechanisms or buttons on your gear. There are other considerations that we will unravel as well.
Hunting glove materials round-up
At its most basic, a glove is an article of clothing that offers protection from the environment. If the environment is prickly, a glove should protect the hand. If the weather is cold, then the glove should preserve the body’s heat at the extremity.
Gloves, unsurprisingly, come in all sorts of materials. Some of those materials are more modern than others. We’ll start at some of the more basic and, coincidentally, older materials, and explore synthetics from there. We’ll also consider how these materials affect our ability to feel. Are we more or less able to feel buttons on our gear (e.g., safeties and remote buttons)?
Leather is an incredibly affordable and versatile option. In some ways, it checks all the right boxes with the most vigor. They provide great protection from natural annoyances, specifically all manner of thorns and briars. What leather provides in protection, it can lack flexibility, at least until it has stretched out. Leather also is not particularly breathable unless combined with a synthetic. Warmer days might mean wet but protected hands. While it is certainly classic, leather’s protection comes at the cost of tactility. Small buttons, zippers, or even your gun’s safety might be less obvious with a pair of leather gloves on. If you have practiced or done a lot of work with leather gloves, this might not be an issue for you, but it may be a worthy consideration for others.
Synthetic materials are also an option and tend to provide more breathability and stretch than their leather counterparts. These materials tend to be more evident in more technical leaning offerings. Whatever the material, these gloves are often not pure synthetics but may be a synthetic backing on a leather palmed glove. This combination of protection with flexibility and breathability opens the door for more robust features that the modern upland hunter may demand, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Their thickness may also lend them to being more sensitive to the finer features of our equipment.
Glove design matters
Whatever your preference of material, there are tons of designs out there from just as many brands. Your ultimate choice is a matter of your preference, which will take into account how, when, and where you hunt. You may only want a good old-fashioned leather glove. Some may be drawn to more technical options. Regardless of your route, the design will come into play.
A glove’s most basic function is to protect your hand. Leather gloves, as has been discussed, provide robust protection for gnarly cover. Synthetic gloves may have leather palms to offer that same protection or have reinforced areas across the back of the hand to protect the knuckles. The right level of protection is a matter of preference. With increased protection, it is worth considering how that will affect flexibility and tactility.
When looking at any material, it is worth considering the overall fit. While the material may certainly play into this, there are other aspects to consider. Many gloves come with a velcro cuff to keep the glove securely on your hand. Many others do not. Is that a feature you are looking for or are you willing to sacrifice it for something else that is more preferred?
Speaking of that more preferred feature, is the glove in which you’re interested touchscreen compatible? Do you want it to be? Being able to access your dog’s GPS or your hunting application of choice on your phone without removing a glove is hugely convenient. It is one less step between you and locating your dog or yourself.
The question of warmth
Full disclosure here. I’ve gone through a handful of gloves, no pun intended. They have all had their pros and cons. Some were good enough but were of such poor quality that they broke down after a season. Leather would be sufficient for me, but I find it to be too warm for early season hunting and too cold for everything else. I even chose a wool-leather combo but found the wool to be a magnet for burrs and a gateway for thorns. Ultimately, my goal has been to find a sufficiently warm glove that preserved tactility and wasn’t super bulky. That, after all, is the trade-off. Where bulk increases, tactility decreases, which can be an obstacle in effectively operating your equipment.
The acceptable amount of bulk is, again, going to be a personal preference. Our pursuit is not necessarily one that is done in beautiful or, at least, warm weather. We battle the elements; heck, we may wish for a battle with the elements. You may not have any complaints about the insulation power of an unlined leather glove. On the flip side, you may find an insulated glove to be far too bulky. The same can be true of synthetic offerings as well. I find synthetic materials to provide more flexibility and to be slightly less bulky, but I must consider how much tactility is lost even at that point.
Putting it all together
I have personally settled on a glove that is a mix of the above materials and in the middle of the road when it comes to insulation.
The leather palm provides good control of my gun, but the synthetic backing provides flexibility while maintaining a good amount of protection. It is lightly insulated, which, while not perfect, is sufficient. Bird hunting, after all, is typically walking-intensive so this amount of insulation serves me just fine once I’ve gotten warmed up. It is more technical, which, while not super traditional, affords me some of the features to engage with the more modern tools of our pursuit.
Our hands connect us to our pursuits, whether to our guns or directly (or indirectly) to our dogs. Being comfortable, while also maintaining both safety and responsiveness is a critical balancing act. The solution to that equation is likely to be unique to each hunter’s preferences.
Johnathan Sliski is an educator by trade, Appalachian by upbringing, and bird hunter by sheer dumb luck. Born and raised in East Tennessee, he has long been enthusiastic about the outdoors. Moving to Central Pennsylvania allowed that passion to find a new outlet in hunting and fishing, but specifically in bird hunting with flushing dogs. Johnathan lives with his wife, Emily, and their two Springer Spaniels, Dixie and Timber.