When I worked in the construction field, I constantly caught hell for wearing work gloves. (“You gonna get a pair of those to match your purse?” Etc., etc.) But I never understood it. A huge shard of wood embedded in my palm or a smashed finger would slow me down and make me less effective. My hands were how I made my living, so it made sense to me to protect them.
In the world of bushcraft and survival, there’s sometimes a similar attitude afoot - that somehow you’re tougher because you intentionally abuse your hands. I personally think that much like building houses, if you’re carving out a comfortable living in the howling wilderness with only your knowledge and a few tools, that’s damn tough enough. I’ve got nothing to prove, so I’m wearing gloves. Here’s why.
If you’re bushcrafting for your own enjoyment, your hands are important. They wield your knife, swing your axe, pull your saw, strike your fires. But in a true wilderness survival situation, one where your own life or those of others are quite literally in those hands, you’d better protect them. They’re your lifeline, and if they’re compromised, your chances of making it out alive go downhill in a hurry. If you have an injured hand or hands, or if they’re too cold to feel, you can’t render first aid, set up a shelter, filter water, or build a fire. You can’t help carry someone else out, or effectively wield a gun to put down an animal that you want to eat – or wants to eat you.
So it’s in your best interest to protect them. Your biggest concerns are burns, cuts, splinters, and frostbite. All are painful, can cause tissue damage, and lead to infection. Here’s what we recommend to counter those problems, at least this time of year:
- Fingerless wool gloves (Pictured). These are great on their own in cool weather, and work well as a base layer under heavy gloves or mittens when it’s really cold. They strike the balance between providing a layer of warmth and protection and being too bulky. The lack of fingertips means you have plenty of dexterity for tying knots, manipulating a firearm, or processing fine tinder. Even if you’re wearing big heavy gloves or mittens you need to take off in order to do those things, these at least keep your hand from completely freezing while you work. And since they’re wool, they keep you warm when wet and don’t burn or melt when exposed to heat.
- Heavy winter gloves. These are primarily to keep you warm, although they definitely offer a layer of protection as well. Wear them on your own if you’re doing an activity that doesn’t require you to take them off (like running a piece of machinery), or use them in tandem with the fingerless wool gloves above. Frostbite is no joke, and can happen in a matter of minutes with the right combination of temperature and wind chill.
- Thick leather work gloves. These deserve a place in your pack 365 days a year, because they keep your hands safe from sharp things and fire. I use mine primarily for cooking over coals, they make handling a hot cast iron skillet a lot easier. They’re also good to have when processing large firewood, for multiple reasons. They’re hard to cut through if you get careless with your blade, and they keep splinters away much better than your own skin.
So while some may ridicule you for your glove use, you’ll have the last laugh when they’re bandaging a cut, nursing a burn, or picking splinters out of their fingers. Remember, your hands are your lifeline – take good care of them, and they’ll take good care of you.