For most cyclists and many runners (especially in winter conditions), a good pair of gloves is essential for optimum comfort as well as protection from wind, rain, cold and possible accidents.
Cyclists will benefit from the additional grip and protection offered by gloves – keeping sweaty hands from slipping from the bar grips, or offering palm protection in the event of a crash – while all athletes need to keep their extremities warm when exercising in cold conditions.
Gloves vary in price and application, ranging from lightweight summer mitts offering basic cushioning and crash protection to highly-technical and fully weatherproof winter gloves for polar conditions.
Your choice will depend on your chosen athletic discipline, the weather conditions you are likely to encounter, and of course your budget. Many athletes are likely to have different pairs of gloves to suit the season.
If you don’t want to read our in-depth guide on gloves, you can go directly to the relevant product pages via the links below:
The kind of gloves you choose will depend on the type of sport you enjoy (gloves for MTB and road riding, for example, will have features that are not necessary for runners) and the weather conditions you are out in (winter gloves will be optimised for warmth and weatherproof, summer gloves will be lighter and more breathable).
Assess your priorities based on what kind of riding/running you do, and in what kind of weather, and choose your gloves accordingly. Some of the main factors that designers take into account when making different types of glove are breathability, wicking, protection, waterproofing, grip and warmth.
• Breathability: This is the ability of the glove’s fabric (or different fabrics, as the case may be) to allow water vapour escape. Non-breathable fabrics mean condensed moisture gets trapped next to the skin where it becomes clammy and cold (or warm and uncomfortable on hot days). Breathable fabrics keep your skin dry and at optimum temperature.
• Wicking: This is the ability of the fabric to draw sweat away from the skin and to the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate.
• Protection: Different gloves will offer different levels of protection – summer cycling mitts and running gloves can protect the palms in the event of a fall, while many full-finger MTB gloves for gravity disciplines will feature additional reinforcement or even rigid panels for impact protection in the (inevitable) event of a crash.
• Waterproofing: Waterproof membranes on gloves help to keep your hands dry in inclement weather. However they may also impact on the breathability of the fabric so are not ideal for all weathers (e.g. hot conditions).
• Grip: Most cycling gloves will feature leather or synthetic palms to improve handlebar grip, while some also have additional silicone grippers on the fingers for brake levers, gear shifters etc.
• Warmth: While all gloves will provide some additional degree of warmth, winter cycling gloves are designed with maximum insulation to keep your fingers toasty when the temperatures drop. However this level of insulation is overkill for the summer months, as well as winter gloves being too heavy and restrictive for year-round riding. Meanwhile for many runners, winter gloves will be the only gloves they own or need, just to keep their extremities warm in colder weather or to wear until they have warmed up.
Whichever glove you opt for, bear in mind that the most important thing is fit. Gloves must be snug enough to feel like a second skin but not too tight as to be restrictive. Gloves that are too big will be cumbersome, while those that are too small will limit movement and cut off circulation.
Parts of a glove
Gloves are made from a number of constituent parts, these being the upper, palm, fingers and cuffs.
• Uppers: This is the ‘back’ of the glove. The material is often thicker here to provide extra protection from wind and weather, and may have a waterproof coating membrane.
• Palm: Cycling gloves have thicker palms made from leather or a synthetic leather for grip on the handlebars (running gloves don’t need this, for obvious reasons).
• Fingers: ‘Full-finger’ gloves cover the entire finger while fingerless gloves are often described as ‘mitts’. The former offer more warmth and protection for winter running or trail/gravity riding, the latter are a popular summer choice for cyclists that still want the grip and palm protection of a glove.
• Cuffs: This is the part of the glove that goes around your wrist. It needs to be snug and comfortable – too tight and it will restrict circulation, too loose and the glove won’t feel like a snug fit. Cuffs should ideally be adjustable (by means of a Velcro fastener) so they don’t flap or chafe.
Running and cycling gloves are generally made from synthetic materials including polyester, acrylic, fleece and polypropylene, or a blend of different ones (gloves may be constructed of individual panels, with the material in each one dependent on location and desired properties).
• Polyester: High breathability and sweat-wicking ability but little wind- or waterproofing.
• Acrylic: Breathable, stretchy and warm but again without much in the way of weather resistance.
• Fleece: Used in winter running and biking gloves, fleece (microfibre) is warm and insulated but not so breathable. Many gloves have a microfibre or towelling panel on the upper for wiping away sweat.
• Polypropylene: Better wind- and weather-resistance but this material is not so effective at moisture management
• Cycling mitts: A light, fingerless option for the summer months that offers enhanced bar grip and palm protection in the event of a fall (see Road/XC Gloves for more)
• Full-finger gloves: Ranging from lightweight and breathable summer gloves to reinforced options for gravity riders (see MTB Gloves for more).
• Winter gloves: More insulation for warmth in cold conditions, but heavy and restrictive for year-round riding.
• Running gloves: Warm enough to keep you comfortable on cold winter runs, light enough to stuff into a pocket when not needed.
Learn more about:
While many gloves are ideally suited to XC and trail riding as well as road use, some models are available to cope with the extra demands of All-Mountain (AM), Enduro, Freeride (FR) and Downhill (DH) mountain biking.
These gloves typically offer a greater level of impact protection with tougher materials and construction and external armouring in the form of moulded plastic or carbon fibre panels. Some models even make use of hi-tech materials which are flexible in normal use but become solid on impact.
These gloves offer optimum crash protection for gravity riders to expect to come into frequent contact with the ground, but some of the more reinforced ones are likely to be overkill for road, XC or casual trail riders whose chief aim is spending long hours in the saddle and for whom a pair of lighter and more breathable gloves is a better choice.
Many MTBers will opt for the level of protection from thorns and trailside vegetation that is afforded by a pair of lightweight full-finger gloves, which can also be used on milder autumn and winter days.
Gloves for road and cross-country (XC) MTB riding are primarily designed with comfort in mind, bearing in mind the long hours in the saddle that each discipline demands.
The three main types are summer mitts, lightweight full-finger gloves and winter gloves.
For summer wear, the traditional roadie-style fingerless mitt provides an extra level of cushioning between hands and bars by means of extra palm padding, or ergonomic gel inserts on more expensive models. These mitts also protect the hands from being shredded by road rash in the event of a spill.
Classic summer mitts feature a leather palm pad and mesh back, while more modern versions can use a synthetic leather on the palm, backed with a lightweight but breathable and moisture-wicking material to increase comfort while maintaining coolness. Velcro or elasticated cuff closure is largely a matter of rider preference, while another common feature is a toweling or microfibre pad on the back of the glove for wiping away sweat or other bodily fluids.
Lightweight full-finger gloves
While mitts will suffice for road riders in warm conditions, most MTBers will prefer the extra level of protection from thorns and trailside vegetation that is afforded by a pair of lightweight full-finger gloves, which can also be used on milder autumn and winter days.
Features to look out for include silicone finger grippers to improve control on brake and gear levers, as well as reflective piping for commuting duties.
Many riders both on and off-road find such a pair of gloves the best “all-round” choice – light and flexible enough to remain cool and comfortable, but offering enough protection against the elements for most riding situations.
Only a proper pair of winter gloves is guaranteed to keep hands warm and dry and real cold-weather conditions, and is essential kit for epic days in sub-zero temperatures.
Simpler versions made of lightweight neoprene will keep hands warm on milder rainy days or short spins, but for real arctic conditions you will need a windproof, waterproof and thermal glove. These will typically be constructed using a variety of layers, one or more of which is a microporous membrane – designed to keep water and cold out but allow your hands to breathe.
Winter gloves by their nature are heavier and bulkier than summer mitts so there is a tradeoff in terms of dexterity and flexibility, which can prove a disadvantage on technical rides. The more expensive the glove however, the thinner and more technical the material, so if you are prepared to invest you can buy some of that control back.
The very best modern hi tech materials will keep also their thermal abilities, shape and performance even after repeated wash cycles, while it is worth noting that glove fit tends to improve at the upper ends of the price range, with finger length being more accurate.
Protect young riders’ hands and fingers with youth-sized versions of adult MTB gloves.
Kids’ MTB gloves have all of the great features of grown-up gloves (breathability, wicking, protection, warmth, etc) and are available in full-finger or mitt options.