Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining stuff. Email your biggest product-related problems to email@example.com.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with something similar to Raynaud’s—my fingers get red and swell up when I’m cold. I’ve been looking into heated gloves, but they seem to range widely in cost and efficacy. Can you help me figure out what to buy so I can keep warm?
I’m so glad you are on the path to managing your condition. Far too many people suffer for years without really knowing that what they are experiencing has a name and that millions of other people are going through it, too.
For those who haven’t heard of it: Raynaud’s is a condition that affects about 5% of the US population, mostly women. A Raynaud’s attack occurs when the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered, drawing blood away from the extremities (often the fingers and toes, but it could also be the nose, ears, or even nipples) to help the body maintain a steady core temperature of around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two forms: primary, where it’s an isolated condition, and secondary, where it’s commonly attached to an autoimmune disorder like lupus or scleroderma. The majority of people with Raynaud’s have the primary form, and an episode is generally uncomfortable but not dangerous.
If you notice your fingers or toes getting that weird prickly feeling and turning white or blue during a stressful moment or a temperature swing (say, going from a warm house to the cold outdoors or from a 90-degree day to air conditioning), you may have Raynaud’s. If you suspect that you do, your general practitioner or internist can confirm the diagnosis and refer you to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist, if necessary.
The experts we spoke to
Battery-operated clothing has become more popular in recent years, and I have many friends who swear by their heated vests. Wirecutter has never tested this category of clothing, so I turned to Dr. Fredrick M. Wigley, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Lynn Wunderman, the chair of the nonprofit Raynaud’s Association.
Wunderman, who has been living with Raynaud’s for over 30 years, tests all of the products included on the association’s product page. (The Raynaud’s Association does not collect affiliate revenue from their product selections, but if a product has passed Wunderman’s testing, the company will often pay a small annual sponsorship fee for inclusion.) She is detailed, creative, and service-obsessed in her testing. To wit: One of her make-or-breaks for determining glove functionality is the parking meter test. If you have to remove a glove or mitten to put a quarter in the parking meter or take a credit card out of your wallet, it’s not dexterous enough.
The key for those with Raynaud’s—and the general population—is to start off warm and stay warm. You can pop outerwear in the dryer or on a radiator before putting it on, layer up, keep your core warm (not just your extremities), and wear wind-resistant clothing. While heated gloves can be part of the solution, experts say there are other, more versatile alternatives. “I’ve tested a lot of battery-operated options,” Wunderman said. “But there are non-heated gloves that are beautiful and comfortable and will be enough for most people.”
Gear that will keep you warm
Wunderman’s preferred non-electric gloves, and the warmest she has found, are made by FibreHeat. “FibreHeat’s gloves contain high-tech fibers that are positioned as self-heating, but are better described as protecting you from the cold. The manufacturer partnered with Portolano, a high-end glove and accessory manufacturer, to create the outer layers of the gloves, so they look like ones you’d find in Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s, not a sporting goods store,” she said. Wunderman has written about FibreHeat and other glove options for the Raynaud’s Association site.
Wunderman has tested Glider Gloves Urban Style Touchscreen Gloves, Wirecutter’s also-great pick from our guide to the best touchscreen gloves. (Glider Gloves is also a Raynaud’s Association sponsor.) “The entire surface of the gloves is touchscreen sensitive, so they offer great dexterity. And while thinner than others [Wirecutter] tested, the triple layer of insulation and copper yarns help trap heat and maintain your body temperature, so they are a great option on their own for moderately cold conditions,” she said. “I can wear them alone on most fall days and they work as great liners for colder weather. The smooth, thin fabric makes it easy to slip them under warmer gloves and mitts.”
HotHands (40 pairs)
Inexpensive and small enough to be stashed in many places—from gloves to pockets—these disposable hand warmers reach temperatures as hot as our main reusable pick does and are more flexible.
HotHands, a pick in our guide to hand warmers, were universally praised by those with Raynaud’s on our staff, as well as the experts I consulted. These lightweight disposable heat pouches activate when exposed to air. I know that many people worry about the environmental consequences of single-use items, but HotHands are literally and figuratively more flexible than their reusable counterparts. HotHands come in a variety of sizes and can warm up your pockets or mold to fit inside a glove or a boot. You can also tape them in place to your lower back, though you should take care to prevent burns by using a liner or a cloth to keep them out of direct contact with your skin. In our tests, the hand-size disposable warmers stayed warm for nearly six hours, but if you use yours for a shorter time and it still has some life left, seal it in a zip-top bag, squeezing out as much air as possible—it will reactivate when you open the bag. You can do this once or twice before it loses all of its reheating ability.
One battery-operated item that experts recommend is the G-Tech Heated Handwarmer, an electric muff, used by professional athletes, that straps around your waist. “You hold a soft-fabric band, which is what gets warm, and it’s great for situations where you don’t need to use your hands, like watching a sporting event or sitting in a golf cart before you tee off,” said Wunderman. There’s also a low-tech version made by Tubes Canada intended for use with HotHands or other disposable hand warmers.
If you’re still interested in heated gloves
Unfortunately, no one I consulted said that there is a magic glove that ticks all the boxes: safe, long battery life, not too hot, not too cold, allows for dexterity. Heated gloves have a number of shortcomings:
- They’re often too warm, and then you have to deal with controlling the temperature to get it to a Goldilocks state of happiness.
- They’re bulky and not designed to give you much, if any, dexterity.
- They’re sometimes designed to be heated at the palms only, or to leave out the fingertips or the thumb.
- They’re uncomfortable. The battery packs can be large or oddly placed.
- They’re slow to warm up, which can make the difference between having a Raynaud’s attack and avoiding one.
- They’re battery-dependent. If the battery dies, you need to use a backup battery (which can be expensive) or get to a place where you can recharge yours.
- They’re sometimes splashed with logos or made to look too sporty, which isn’t appropriate for every situation.
But if you really still think heated gloves or mittens are for you, we have some advice. Because you’ll be putting a heated object against your fingers, go with a reputable brand only. Look for something from companies like Gerbing, Gobi Heat (which lists retail locations in 15 states where you can try things on before buying), Outdoor Research (which is sold at REI, among other places), or Volt. There are a lot of communities who need warm clothing—postal carriers, motorcyclists, construction workers, ski patrols—and if you can find a physical store that caters to them, it may have heated clothing in stock. Be sure to confirm that whatever seller you buy from has solid return and exchange policies, since these gloves tend to be pricey items. You should also be extra careful because they contain batteries.
“Any device that passes power through it has a slight risk of malfunctioning and melting, smoking, or even catching on fire. But devices that contain a lithium-ion battery—a group that includes most smartphones and other handheld electronics—are notoriously susceptible, especially if the manufacturer has cut corners,” said Wirecutter senior staff writer and battery expert Sarah Witman. Just as we advise against buying cheap charging cables or drone batteries, we can say in this case that saving a buck in the short term isn’t worth it if your electric hand warmer stops working (or worse) in a few months. So buying one from a brand you’ve never heard of from a third-party seller you’ve never heard of is not the move here. Battery University, an online resource maintained by the battery-testing company Cadex, has additional advice and guidance on how to safely use, store, and transport lithium-ion devices. Stay warm out there.