By Joshua Cohen
Here in North Carolina, winters don’t give you too much to complain about. On cold days the temperature may be 40-50F degrees (4-10C). If I run at dawn I may have to deal with 25F (-4C).
However, my hands get cold quickly in cool temps, so gloves are important. That’s why I keep an eye out for those that offer something special. When SealSkinz (a British company that makes gloves, hats and socks) claimed that their Ultra Grip gloves are waterproof and windproof yet breathable, it got my attention. I also read some rave reviews online from U.K. randonneurs.
The SealSkinz Ultra Grip looks like a simple, flat-pattern glove. However, it is more technical than that, having no-seam construction and an impermeable Porelle P540 membrane sandwiched between the inner and outer layers. The result is a snug-fitting glove that is waterproof and windproof but somewhat breathable.
Sounds perfect for chilly, wet spring and autumn rides, yes? Let’s see.
Sizing runs small, so I bought one size larger than the company suggested. A generous fit has the advantage of allowing enough room around the fingers to ensure full blood flow and some accumulation of warm air. The long cuff did a good job of preventing cold-air leaks. The material isn’t thick or stiff so dexterity is good for things you need to do while riding. The gloves also fold and store easily in a jersey pocket.
The Ultra Grip glove is not pre-curved, so it can bunch up slightly in hands wrapping around a handlebar. The silicon dots on the palm and fingers provide a secure, non-slip grip that’s also helpful on brake/shift levers. These gloves are designed for general outdoor activities, so there is no cycling-specific padding. This didn’t bother me, but if you prefer cushioning on the handlebar you’ll need to buy Ultra Grip gloves big enough to allow your short-finger cycling gloves to be worn inside.
Ultra Gripgloves rely on their laminated Porelle P540 membrane to fend off cold. There is no traditional insulation and very little loft created by the glove materials. I found the gloves to work well only down to 40F (4C) degrees for cycling and running. But my hands may be more sensitive to cold than yours. The Merino wool liner is comfortably soft and the outer glove material works great for nose wiping.
During my rides, the gloves kept rain from entering even during a downpour. In another test, my hands remained dry when wearing the gloves under a running faucet for 2 minutes. Although the gloves seem somewhat breathable, the inside palm can become damp with sweat during activity. This wetnesstends to make the liner slippery but in my experience it doesn’t make the gloves feel colder.
During my 82 hours of testing, the gloves held up well with no visible signs of deterioration. They have survived numerous machine washings in cold water and all the little silicon dots have held fast. Online reviews suggest that the laminated membrane can break down when UltraGrips are used as work gloves, but for cycling and running this shouldn’t be an issue. Some people have also suggested that the gloves dry slowly. To avoid this problem, I put a tube from the center of a paper towel roll into the gloves after wearing them. They were always dry the next day.
If you are looking for a close-fitting, windproof/waterproof glove for cool- and sometimes wet-weather sports such as cycling and running, the SealSkinz Ultra Grip gloves have several effective features. If you prefer padded palms and insulation for freezing temperatures, or you want gloves that can also hold up for manual work, you may want to look elsewhere.
Joshua Cohen is a physical therapist and designer of the Kontact Saddle. He wrote his graduate thesis on male ergonomic bicycle seat design. Then, distilling his voluminous scholarly research, he wrote Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat and, more recently, The Illustrated Guide to Bicycle Seats. Both eBooks are available in the RBR eBookstore.