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Winter’s here, so people are looking for ways to stay toasty in the cold. And our extremities, like our hands, get especially cold in the winter, according to experts we spoke to.
Shoppers have been searching for products to help warm their hands. Understandably, we’ve seen increased reader interest in heated gloves, winter gloves with an added battery-powered heat component. Essentially, these work by using wires to flow electrical current through the glove, which, in addition to gloves’ pre-existing insulation, can provide extra warmth to hands.
We spoke to experts about heated gloves, their applications and the technology, as well as related topics like how gloves insulate and how heat transfers in the body when we’re cold. Then, using their advice, we rounded up highly rated heated gloves to help jump-start your search.
How to shop for heated gloves
First off, heated gloves are still gloves, and there are some things to always look for in gloves that apply here, too. Gloves need insulation to keep your hands warm, and that usually comes in the form of air pockets. According to Preeti Gopinath, associate professor of textiles at The New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York City, air is a poor conductor of heat, so any material that traps air will prevent heat from escaping the glove.
Gopinath said that the materials that have those pockets “tend to be fluffy materials.” Think wool or flannel. So you want a fluffy, fuzzy material close to the skin to provide heat retention.
But when it’s windy, as many of you know, that material won’t stand up on its own. So you need another layer on top that, according to Gopinath, is “the opposite of air pockets. You need very fine yarns, tightly woven, that prevent air from passing through.” This material should be wind-resistant, protecting the insulating layer from the elements. Gopinath said that you may also want a hydrophobic outer layer, like nylon or polyester, if you do winter sports.
Heated gloves go a step further. These gloves warm hands using heat from electrical wires inside the glove. So instead of just trapping and insulating body heat, there’s an active warming element in these gloves.
Kenneth Diller, professor of engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said that while heated gloves are “primarily comfort” devices, in certain environments — especially if you’re in a “very, very cold environment for an extended period of time” — they can be an important safety tool.
Rajiv Malhotra, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Rutgers University, said that these gloves can be “lifesaving” for people stuck in bitter cold situations. He also said that people who use their hands on the job, like construction workers and writers, might find the gloves helpful in performing tasks and maintaining comfort.
Malhotra said to look for gloves that allow good dexterity (mittens may be warmer, if you don’t need precise movements in your fingers) and to be aware of their power consumption. He also advised against gloves with long wires to external power sources and instead recommended gloves with built-in battery packs.
As with any electrical device, there’s always the risk of electrocution under certain circumstances. But Malhotra said the risk of electrocution is minimal when you’re wearing heated gloves.
“I would tell anybody: Getting electrocuted or anything like that, from this kind of thing, even with snow or water, I haven't heard of anything like that,” he said.
In addition, the electrical wires in these gloves are hidden underneath a layer that reduces the risk of shock, according to Malhotra.
“There is a good strong insulating layer between the current carrying element and your hand,” Malhotra said.
Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure your heated gloves are water-resistant or waterproof, as well — which many of them already are because they’re intended for use in snowy or rainy winter conditions.
Highly rated heated gloves in 2022
We don’t test heated gloves ourselves at Select, so we rely on expert guidance to make recommendations. Using our experts’ advice, we’ve rounded up these highly rated heated gloves to help make your winter more toasty.
These heated gloves are water- and wind-resistant and come with rechargeable batteries, according to the company, with one charge lasting up to seven hours. The external layer is made from lambskin and polyester and there are heating wires on the back of each hand. The gloves have three temperature settings, as well as a power button on each glove. They’ve garnered an average rating of 4.5 stars from over 1,600 Amazon reviews.
If you don’t need your fingers free for work, or if you just want the maximum warmth possible, heated mittens might be a solid choice. These gloves are made from sheep leather and, according to the company, water-resistant polyester on the exterior, and have a fleece interior. The heating element is on the back of the hands and has three temperature settings, with an on/off button on each glove. One charge of the battery lasts about three or four hours, according to the company. They’ve been rated an average of 4.5 stars from over 400 Amazon reviews.
These gloves have 3M Thinsulate on the inside, which the company says is 50 percent more insulating than down and has double the insulation “of other highly soft insulation materials.” The gloves are waterproof, according to the company, there are three heating modes and the gloves are powered by two rechargeable batteries. You can get up to eight hours of use on one charge, according to the company. These gloves carry an average rating of 4.2 stars from over 250 Amazon reviews.
These thin gloves can be used both as standalone gloves or as liners for larger gloves depending on the weather and conditions. Their thinness and stretchy Lycra make it easier to move your fingers when wearing them, according to day wolf. These gloves have a 4.1-star average rating from over 700 Amazon reviews.
These gloves have six layers, including a waterproof outside layer, according to the company. The gloves also contain faux sheepskin leather made of polyurethane and waterproof material on the outside and 3M Thinsulate on the inside. The gloves have five different heat settings, which you can adjust on each glove. According to the company, the gloves can heat between six and 11 hours and are windproof. They carry a 4.5-star average rating from over 300 Amazon reviews.
Why our hands feel colder than our bodies in winter
Cold hands are a fact of life in wintertime for many. My family always told me that hands are where you “lose a lot of heat,” but no one explained the mechanism. And it did seem intuitive that gloves could prevent heat from escaping, keeping the rest of our bodies warmer.
But the truth about heat exchange in our bodies is somewhat different.
“When you have cold hands, that's because your body is cold,” said Thomas Diller, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. (He’s Kenneth Diller’s brother.)
Blood is what circulates heat throughout your body. When you’re exposed to cold, you have lower blood flow to your extremities because the blood vessels in them constrict — “to maintain the core body temperature constant it will sacrifice the limbs to maintain the core and your head,” Thomas Diller said.
That’s all to say that warming your core, wearing enough layers on your body and keeping your head warm, will help keep your hands warm. Ultimately, it’s more important for your body to keep your head and torso warm, so wearing proper clothing can lessen the burden on your body to transfer heat, preventing your hands from getting cold.
Kenneth Diller told us that his research showed that the tissue that regulates our body temperature is primarily along the spinal cord. He conducted an experiment on a student in his lab with chronically cold hands where he warmed the subject’s neck and had an infrared thermal camera pointed at their hands. From just the heat applied to the subject’s neck, their hands heated up considerably.
Both Thomas Diller and Kenneth Diller emphasized that heated gloves aren’t going to make you immune from the cold on their own and are not a substitute for proper clothing.
“If your blood vessels are constricted, you can be very warm on the surface and feel cold inside,” Kenneth Diller said.
“They're fixing something that can be easily remedied otherwise” with proper dress, Thomas Diller said.
In other words, if you’re wearing a T-shirt and shorts in 30-degree weather, heated gloves are no saving grace. But, as experts previously noted, there are still useful applications for these devices. Just as cereal is just a part of a balanced breakfast (and not the whole breakfast itself), heated gloves can be useful and comfortable — as long as you also dress appropriately for the weather.