My tips to keep your hands warm during cold weather photography

by Mar 11, 2023Photography

Therese Iknoian Antarctica Jumpsta

 As a travel photographer, and someone with Reynaud’s, I must be able to keep my hands warm no matter how cold the weather. Here are my DIY tips for keeping hands warm for cold weather photography from my years of experience.

Photography is not just a fair-weather passion. As an avid travel photographer, I may end up in the Swiss Alps, Antarctica, or Scandinavia in the winter. And I don’t want to put away my camera. I have tried many dozens of gloves and methods to keep my hands warm in the cold while still being able to access tiny camera buttons, dials and rings. Finally, I came up with my own personally developed system for cold weather photography – one that nobody as far as I can find has ever talked about before. Get ready for DIY toasty hands for cold weather.

Let’s be honest: I have not yet been out taking photographs when temperatures head down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Most photographers won’t normally end up in Arctic temperatures like that. I am talking about temperatures into the 20s or even teens. Here is the system I’ve developed for cold weather photography to keep warm.

Therese Iknoian With Her Special Photo Gloves In Dresden

This was a recent pretty chilly winter day in Dresden, Germany. Add to that wind chill since we had climbed a church tower for views with quite a breeze up there. In this case, I just pulled out my lighter fleece gloves with the two fingers trimmed off for camera-button access. I describe the system, below. Yes, there are handwarmers in my pockets, too!

Admittedly, I suffer perhaps more than others with something called Reynaud’s Disease. This phenomenon stems from what I’ll call an overprotective nervous system, prompting the body to shunt blood away from extremities if cold is perceived. This can happen quickly and in situations most would never imagine: sitting in a cold theater in the summer, reaching into a freezer compartment at the store, or wearing wet gloves that allows for evaporative cooling even if the temperatures are in the 60s. Your fingers turn white and hurt. Reynaud’s is indeed a strange disease that remains without answers as to its cause.

For decades, therefore, I have been known as the “glove queen,” so once I got back into photography, I had experience with gloves and keeping my hands warm – and a drawer full to experiment with. Now I just had to apply that knowledge to the fine touch needed when photographing in the cold.

Specialty cold weather photography gloves

You could buy every glove in the world touted to keep your hands warm, but most of them won’t allow you to manage all those tiny buttons and dials on a camera. Honestly, even so-called photography gloves often fall short — and I can show you a pile of gloves to prove my tests over recent years. I have researched, and tried, gloves for the outdoors, hunting, and workwear, too.

Keep Hands Warm Glove Collection

Here are just a few gloves in my collection. These are the ones that have ended up in my arsenal. I mix-and-match and layer, depending on the weather. Not on the lower bottom a couple of liners with my trick of trimming off the two fingertips on just the dominant hand. You can also see a couple of hatchback types that will layer over those. Ah, those surgical gloves on the right? Those were added when I did some light painting with a flashlight one night that involved dipping my hand in water in temps into the teens! I begged them off a local restaurant!

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There are several problems with many of these gloves and systems and why you may want to avoid certain types:

>> Many turn to an easy solution of a flip-top that is mitten-like. Problem here, is that for photography you really only need access to one hand – your dominant one – and then you only need your thumb and index finger. Baring all your fingers means more exposure to cold. And who wants that draft on your other hand anyway? So these don’t work so well.

>> Some have little hatchback fingertips that can be flipped back to uncover the fingers of choice – maybe even only the two mentioned above. Problem here is, I have yet to find one that fits right. The little flip-tops are mostly too tight and hard to get on and off, which you may need to do quickly. If the temperatures are in the teens, you can’t leave even a couple of fingertips uncovered.

>> Other gloves seem to cater just to larger hands or men’s hands. I have perused so many gloves – even at photography specialty stores and on websites – and most are made for large hands. Some don’t even seem to come in smaller sizes. If you have smaller hands or, as women do, a thinner hand with longer fingers, the fit can be awkward and just not comfortable.

Some photographers have advocated very thin liners worn inside mitts, which they claim allow you to access and adjust all the little dials and buttons on a camera. Problem there is, if I keep more than my necessary fingertips so lightly covered for very long at all, I will have a Reynaud’s attack – or fingers can just get very cold and uncomfortable.

Creating my perfect cold weather photography system with gloves

Idea #1: One of my first times out into very cold weather, I opted for a multi-layered system that included a well-insulated mitt – more like a ski or snowboard mitt – which I bought a size too large. That roominess allowed me to insert a regular fingered glove inside it. Plus, I then could power up a hand warmer and put it inside the mitt between the two layers. That way when I was NOT photographing, I could re-insert my hand into the mitt for a toasty warm environment.

Therese Iknoian Shoots Photos In Paradise Bay Antarctica

This was earlier in the game on a Polar Latitudes ship in Antarctica. See the outdoor mitt hanging from my wrist? That had a handwarmer in it for tucking into. The over-the-hand base layer served as glove-like protection — but that would only work for short shoots where you have quick access to someplace warm.

That didn’t work too badly, BUT I found re-inserting my hand into the cozy warm mitt wasn’t possible as often as I needed since I’d get wrapped up taking a lot of photos. Meaning my hands would get pretty freezing cold. But you may want to try something like this if you aren’t as sensitive as I am or it’s not quite as cold. This mitt remains in my glove arsenal!

Kyiv Ukraine Cold Weather Photography

Here I am in Ukraine in January 2020. Those around me are all participating in the Epiphany ritual of dipping into the icy river (not for me!). Look closely at my hand — Here, I am wearing my system with a liner with just the two fingers trimmed off under a fingerless glove with a flip-top. (Photo copyright (c) Dustin Main / Lightmoves Creative)

Idea #2: Another time I opted for a bulkier heated mitt, this time in Eastern Europe in the winter, with the inner glove I used having flip-top fingers. This system was something like the one described above, except this time I turned on the heated mitt and tucked them in my pockets. I could then warm my hands in them or wear them between shots or when transitioning between locations. That, too, wasn’t bad but still made a lot of shooting all at once more difficult. Still, I do love this heated mitt.

Ravean Handwarmer Gloves

Although Ravean doesn’t make these mitts anymore, there are others to be had. A size larger allows you to put a glove-lined hand inside and oooooo does it feel nice!

Final solution: Here’s what I finally came up with that works like a charm for me. This took some tweaking and experimenting with many more variations on the above – and a few fails where I had to bail from a shoot, find someplace warm, or just seek out a hot beverage to wrap my fingers around.

From my arsenal of gloves and warmers, I select several and then mix-and-match as needed. Whichever I choose, my personally developed DIY system for cold weather photography remains the same:

Wear mismatched gloves. You don’t need both hands, just your dominant one. Since I’m not out shooting to be a fashion plate, I wear TWO different gloves – a regular full-fingered one on my left hand (often with a liner under it) and one where I can reveal the two fingers needed on my right.

Cut off the tips of two fingers on one liner glove. For my dominant hand, I search out inexpensive thinner liner gloves or lighter-weight fleece gloves, then – here’s the DIY coup – I cut off the tips of the two fingers I need. Since the gloves will be a bit stretchy, you will need to cut LESS than you think – literally just the tip – and I often try to JUST cut the area on the front, leaving the back for a little extra protection.

Layer the liner insider a thicker outer glove or shell. I layer the above-mentioned thinner glove inside another mitt or glove, for example one of those flip-top types that would normally bare all your fingers. With an inner liner, you can flip back a hatchback to manipulate controls and still keep the rest of your fingers warm. Make sure your outer glove is roomy enough to slip your gloved hands in and out easily. See. How that looks in the photo, above, of me in the Ukraine in January 2020.

Add handwarmers in your pockets: I have a rechargeable set from Ravean that I ADORE. I turn those on and keep one in each pocket. That way, between camera adjusting, I can always tuck my hands into my pocket for an infusion of warmth. These have a soft-to-the-touch bamboo exterior AND they double as a powerbank if you need to power up a smartphone.

Hand Warmers In Pocket

These handwarmers by Ravean are rechargeable and with a rounded bamboo exterior so they feel really nice. I can power them up on low or medium and they last for a very long time in my pockets.

Add handwarmers inside your gloves: For this I use the oxygen-powered handwarmers, stuffing one into the palm of each hand so I can curl my fingers around them. I do know some people who prefer them on the back of their hand. Try each position to see what you like. Of note is that the contents of these inexpensive little packs are compostable; just tear open and dump the powder onto the ground when done. The packet should be put in the garbage.

Be sure to have extras, both gloves and handwarmers. Gloves can get wet, or you can drop one, so a spare set is always good. Handwarmers can die, and if they get wet, they also go out. Once, I inadvertently tucked into my bag an older set of handwarmers; after about an hour outdoors in below-freezing temperatures, they died. I ended up having a Reynaud’s attack, turning my fingers white, and I had to escape to a warm place. Don’t make my mistake.

Therese's glove selection for staying warm in Antarctica.

This was my arsenal for my Antarctica adventure. I hadn’t yet figured out the fingerless liner so the hatchback gloves on the lower right were my go-to, leaving other fingers bared (not good). In addition, I learned that a fleecy glove like this didn’t work in snowy or icy situations since it would stick to the glove!

HITT Tip: Most of these handwarmers last for 8-10 hours; yet the length of time you need them won’t often be that long. Hate to waste them? Then don’t! Once you are done with one use, just cut off the handwarmers’ supply of oxygen to “power them down” and save them for another use. I do this by tucking them into a strong zipper bag such as those from LokSak. For double indemnity, you can then seal that in a tiny rubber food storage container with a tight lid. In doing this, I have had these handwarmers last for a week or 10 days, opening them up to re-use, then packing them back up again.

To keep your hands warm for cold weather photography, this is the bottom line:

  • Layer up, just like with your clothing.
  • Cut the tips off the inner glove layer of the two fingers you will need.
  • Buy your outer glove a size larger so you can fit a thinner pair inside the outer while still being able to slip in and out well.
  • Have extras of both gloves and handwarmers.
  • Don’t worry about looking stupid with mismatched gloves, just be warm!

Now just get out there and shoot photos in cold weather while staying warm, too.

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