Rain mitts are an essential piece of hiking gear, especially for backpackers and thru-hikers who spend a lot of time in wet and cold conditions. They help keep your hands dry and can be worn alone or layered over an insulating glove or mitten to improve comfort and warmth.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a pair of rain mitts, including fabric weight and patterning/thumb articulation. These factors impact your ability to perform fine-motor tasks like operating a stove, using your phone or camera, zipping a small zipper, and tying your shoe.
A lightweight ripstop-nylon sandwich with an internal waterproof-breathable membrane is the basic body fabric for most rain mitts. Heavier fabrics add warmth, water resistance, and durability, but may also compromise articulation and fine motor use.
The palms of rain mitts are typically made with a thermally fused patch of grippy material or with an additional layer of textured polyurethane (referred to hereafter as TPU). These features may add a little weight and compromise articulation, but they also provide water resistance, warmth, and durability and improve the handling of tools like trekking poles.
A longer gauntlet length is a common feature of many rain mitts. It adds weight but improves the seal between the rain jacket cuff and the rain mitt cuff by creating more overlap. It’s a useful feature if you are scrambling or reaching while wearing your rain mitts.
A drawcord hem (secured by an adjustable toggle) is the most secure cuff closure for rain mitts. An elastic-bound gauntlet hem is generally less durable and may be more likely to tear and snag.
Most rain mitts feature a wrist adjustment mechanism, which allows you to snugly fit your hand inside the mitt. This feature is more secure than an adjustable strap, which can slip and snag in heavy weather, but not as secure as a hem with a toggle.
Articulated patterns that mimic warmth and weather the natural, relaxed curvature of the hand and thumb are more comfortable and provide better motor control. Less sophisticated patterning is often found among cottage industry rain mitts.
A good rain mitt should withstand repeated abuse from long backpacking and thru-hiking trips in wet and cold weather. They should be able to handle frequent handling of ice axes, trekking poles, firewood, and tent set-up.
Some people argue that conventional rain mitt systems are compromised when subjected to abrasion and body oils, and they should not be used for backpacking or thru-hiking. While this is a valid concern, for most backpackers and thru-hikers these concerns are overstated.
Other options for wrist closures include a strap or adjustable drawcord and a single-hand use toggle. These options can be particularly helpful for those with shorter arms and for people who have difficulty adjusting the wrist of their rain mitt to keep them securely in place.
Durability – All of the rain mitts we tested were subjected to long-term use, and all were used in a wide range of situations, including trekking pole usage, firewood collection, talus scrambling, bushwhacking, and for setting up tents.
Abrasion & Body Oils
Some criticize conventional rain mitt systems based on the belief that abrasion and body oils impact waterproofing and breathability. While this is a legitimate concern for some users, it’s not an issue for the vast majority of backpackers or thru-hikers. Abrasion is a minor problem for those who regularly use their rain mitts in rough or wet terrain, and body oils are easily washed out with regular laundering.