The smartphone is here to stay on the slopes. Just look at all the apps designed specifically for snowsports. For skiers and riders, the one barrier to all of this neat technology is literally a glove.
Most smartphone touch screens, including the iPhone, use capacitive sensing. For those of us without a penchant for electrical engineering, all you really need to know is a slight electrical charge is involved that can transfer to your finger, but not a normal glove. The inventive wheels of capitalism, however, have addressed this problem with a selection of special touch-screen sensitive gloves.
“Over the last two seasons, the popularity of touch-screen capable gloves has grown exponentially,” Backcountry.com Accessories Buyer Rob Wykoff said. “Within the next 5 to 10 years, I see touch-screen capability becoming relatively ubiquitous in gloves and mittens. The popularity of touch-screen devices shows no signs of slowing down, and the technology is already available to glove makers. The continuation of this tech trend in gloves only makes sense.”
Different brands use an array of approaches in this quickly expanding niche of the glove market. All the solutions work, but each one has its pros and cons.
Image Courtesy of Earl Harper
The Ambit Gloves by Outdoor Research use Touch-Tec leather that does not seem any different than regular leather, but it is touch-screen sensitive. Jerry Leto, who was working at Stanford with touch-screen technology for people with disabilities, invented the tanning and treatment process that makes this technology possible. The Touch-Tec leather is manufactured by Broleco Worldwide, then distributed to various glove makers.
The Ambit glove, itself, is a typical good-quality Outdoor Research ski glove. With a fairly sizeable gauntlet cuff and plenty of insulation, the glove can easily handle storm days. Although the Touch-Tec leather works perfectly, the glove has the usual bulk of a bombproof ski glove, so smartphone functions that require particularly precise dexterity, like web surfing, can be challenging.
The fashion-conscious do not have many options with the Ambit, because it only comes in an olive and grey color combination.
The Pinnacle by Burton also uses Touch-Tec leather for its touch-screen functionality. The glove is similar to the Outdoor Research Ambit in that both are technical gloves with gauntlet cuffs. Unlike the Ambit, the Pinnacle glove has a Gore-Tex XCR membrane and a zippered pouch on the back of the hand for hand warmers. The Pinnacle also comes with a separate pair of basic liner gloves that do not have touch-screen sensitivity. The unisex Pinnacle is available in all black or a green plaid with black Touch-Tec leather.
The Seirus SoundTouch XTreme All Weather Edge model uses small pads of conductive metallic thread on the thumb and index finger of each glove for touch-screen sensitivity. The gloves overall are a combination of leather and stretch softshell material. The Seirus gloves are not bulky, but they are surprisingly warm.
The lack of bulk helps in terms of finger and thumb dexterity when using a smartphone. Although the two pads on each glove are the only sensitive areas, even more complicated tasks such as expanding or contracting an iPhone screen with a thumb and forefinger are easily mastered.
The downside of the metallic thread versus the Touch-Tec leather is a matter of durability. Even though the Serius gloves fare better than others with similar patches of metallic fabric, the pads do tend to fray slightly after some use.
For those who prefer the warmth of a mitten, the TS-30 mitten in Swany’s 2012 line— available in the fall—has a zippered opening along the index finger. You can slip your fingers or entire hand through the opening and use the glove liner with touch-screen sensitive metallic material on the thumb and forefinger. The TS-29 Hit 3N1 ($105) and TS-28 Jetter ($64) are other touch-screen sensitive options in the 2012 Swany line of mittens.
Originally designed for surveyors on arctic expeditions, the system is handiest for tasks, such as a simple phone call, that require just your index finger. Slipping a finger or two through the opening is easy, but negotiating your thumb and entire hand through it takes a bit of practice. The liner’s metallic fabric is protected inside the mitten, but it potentially could also suffer the durability issues described above.
The POW Transfilmer is another mitten that takes a different design approach. The Gore Windstopper softshell mitten has a flap that flips over the four fingers. After pulling back the flap, the underlying glove covers the full fingers, except for the index finger that only goes up to the knuckle.
As you might guess by the name, the exposed index-finger design initially had photographers in mind. Of course, the concept also works for simple smartphone operation. Obviously, any smartphone tasks that require more than one finger are not possible with these mittens.
The mid-weight gloves are fairly warm, but the flap design and short cuff makes them best-suited for inbounds locations such as a terrain park, rather than deep backcountry powder turns. The Transfilmer’s sizing tends to be slightly on the small side, so if in doubt, go for one size up.
Made of Polartec Wind Pro lightweight fleece, the REI All-Season Gloves may be used as a glove liner on the slopes. With conductive material on the thumb and forefinger, the REI liner would make sense as a companion to an outer glove such as the Outdoor Research Ambit. While the Ambit could stay on for basic smartphone functions, the liner could still provide some warmth for more delicate tasks.
“Having the touch-screen capability on both the liner and the outer glove would be optimal,” Wykoff said. “Assuming the cost of this technology decreases over time, deploying touch-screen capability in both the liner and outer of a 3-in-1 glove should become much more realistic for both the glove maker as well as the customer.”