This is the second part of my GSMNP Post Hike Gear Talk (PHGT) series. As I mentioned in Part 1, I have decided to split this PHGT post up into 3 separate posts so that a little more attention can be focused on each individual item. I have decided to do this because some of my cold weather gear doesn’t get as much talk time here on my blog since I don’t get to use them as much as most of my other gear, but now they will. So, in this second part I have decided to highlight my Enlightened Equipment Stronghold mittens.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I like to look at my gear as a system. Sure, each part has to hold their own within that system, but in the end, if it doesn’t work with everything else, then it won’t work and I won’t use it. And these mittens fall into a system, the same as everything else. In particular, it’s a layering system for my hands.
Since the first time I went backpacking in the cold, I knew I needed something to keep my hands and fingers warm. So, over the last few years I have picked up a few different items to cover my hands. The one piece that has been in that system since day 1 has been my OR PL150 gloves. I love those things, but they are just a starting point. When the temperatures drop, these won’t keep my digits warm on their own, so I knew I needed to use even more layers over these gloves (hence, the “system”). So the search began…
Last year I set out to try to find a lightweight, slightly thicker mid layer, which I could layer over the OR gloves. I also decided that I wanted a mitten rather than another pair of gloves since mittens are said to keep hands and fingers warmer than gloves. So I began looking around… That’s when I happened upon the Stronghold Mittens from Enlightened Equipment.
To begin with, based on my past interactions with Enlightened Equipment, I was already very impressed with them. In the past I had purchased two different Prodigy quilts from Enlightened Equipment, but what really spoke volumes to me was the way that Tim Marshall (the owner) went above and beyond to help me out with a quilt that I tried to DIY… I jacked that thing up, and if it wasn’t for him, all the materials I purchased for the quilt would have been thrown in the garbage. Instead though, he personally salvaged what could be salvaged, and ended up making me a quilt from the left overs that is now my favorite 50F quilt, the carrot quilt!
So, when I came across these mittens I was pretty excited, and I knew right away that I had to pick up a pair to try. They were lightweight, made with either 2.1 or 4 oz/sqyd Climashield Apex, priced very fairly and I could even pick what colors I wanted them to be! Between this and the fact that I was already a pretty happy Enlightened Equipment customer, these mittens were a no brainer! So, I let my daughter pick the colors out, added them to my cart, and hit submit!
When they showed up in my mailbox I was pretty excited. I grabbed my OR gloves and tried both, the gloves and the mittens on together, and they worked great. I was happy with them and felt that I was one step closer to completing the layering system for my hands! Next I just had to work on finding an overmitt that I was just as happy with…
In the following weeks though, when talking with Tim, I realized that he had pulled the mittens from his site. When talking with him he informed me that he wasn’t 100% happy with the final product and felt that he could make them even better. Here again though, he went above and beyond… he told me that once he settled on his final design and began making them, that he wanted to send everyone that had already purchased a pair of mittens, another pair of his updated mittens, at no extra cost!
Fast-forward to a couple of months ago and I got another package in the mail from Enlightened Equipment. When I opened the package I found a pair of the updated Stronghold Mittens inside… and wow, he really did make some improvements to the design!
This pair that he sent me was to the same specifications as the first pair I originally ordered in that they are a size large, stuffed with 4 oz/sqyd Climashield Apex and are black on orange. But that is where the similarities stopped. The updated pair of Stronghold Mittens are much better in every other way than the original pair…
First off, the fit is better; it was like I traced my hand on a piece of paper, sent that to Tim and said “Make me some this size.” The circumference of the cuff loosely fits over my forearm and my wrist, but not so tight that I can’t layer a fleece shirt and a wind jacket under it (as seen in the photo above), and not so loose that any wind is going to easily blow inside. The “thumb gussets” are not tight or restrictive, which has been the most common problem I have found with other various mittens. My thumb and fingers fall just short of the edges, or tips of the mittens. The palm area is a little wider so there is adequate room for my fingers to move around freely, even with a pair of gloves on, but not so wide that my fingers are swimming inside them.
Tim also decided to use 3 different materials in the updated design, each one with a specific purpose:
- Inside he decided to use his Phantom 10D material, which is light weight and has a very nice hand (see what I did there?!) so it is very comfortable next to skin. As a side note, Climashield Apex is a solid sheet of insulation which only needs to be sewn around the perimeters, so all the material in the middle is left free and loose. So when I slide these mittens on without any gloves, the loose material seems to wrap around, and even coddle my fingers. Maybe it’s just me, but this gives me the perception that they are warmer… and who knows, maybe they actually are. Either way, the Phantom 10D inside these mittens is very comfy!!
- Outside, he chose to use his Phantom 20D material on the back of the mittens, around the cuffs and on the back of the thumbs. The purpose of this material is that it is a bit more durable and it provides a more substantial DWR treatment which helps resist water, but at a (slightly) heavier weight.
- For the palms and the inside of the thumb, Tim has started using a much more durable, new 70D reinforced material. This is one of the biggest changes that Tim has made to these mittens, and this is the material that really puts the emphasis on STRONGhold! Being that the palm area of the mittens will naturally take the most amount of abuse, he decided to use this heavier weight, 70D reinforced material that can stand up to the abuse better than the lighter weight, 10 & 20D materials. This material will allow me to snatch up a log for the fire, shove a tent stake in the ground, or even tote a rock over to anchor said stake in the ground, without fear of completely shredding the mittens to pieces!
One other important feature that Tim decided to change on the updated design is to extend the cuff out farther than before. On the first pair of mittens that I received, the mittens were more of a standard length, extending just past my wrist. On the new, updated version he has actually extended the cuffs out quite a bit farther. The cuff on the new Stronghold Mittens don’t actually stop until midway up my forearm! This was one of the first things I actually noticed when sliding them on… It’s crazy (but in a good way) how far up my arm they go!
As I mentioned above, I can easily pull these mittens over thin layers such as my Patagonia Capilene 4 EW Fleece Hoody and a wind jacket, but since they are the same diameter the entire length, they can be a little tough to slide over something thicker, such as a down jacket. What I have found when wearing them on my recent GSMNP hike is that if I am going to be taking them on and off frequently, then I just slide them on and let the end of the cuff butt up to the end of my jacket sleeve. This creates a good seal so that cold air and wind can’t sneak inside. However, if I am going to be sitting around and not need to pull them off and on, say I’m just sitting around and watching the sun set, then I would rather slide the jacket sleeves over the mitten cuffs. This creates a more comfortable, less bulky and smoother fit.
Saying this, I have thought about a cuff that flared out, but to be honest, I think I like the slimmer, constant profile of these better. I remember back in the day as a kid wearing gloves that flared out at the wrist, these always seemed to catch on things and let cold air and wind sneak in… I didn’t like that so much, so I am happier with the closer fit of these Stronghold Mittens.
As I mentioned above, the longer cuffs on these mittens do a great job at keeping cold air and wind from sneaking in, however, the Stronghold Mittens also feature a cinch around the wrist to completely shut off the hands from the outside world. There are thin pieces of shock cord that encircle the outside of the mittens and ties together at a small, anchored cord lock on the inside, or thumb side of the cuff. The anchored cord lock allows me to simply grab the end of the shock cord with one hand and pull it tight. It’s so easy to do, I can do it while actually wearing these mittens!
And as I also mentioned above, another feature that drew me to these mittens (besides all the awesome one’s I just went over) is that they are also lightweight. Keeping in mind that I opted for the heavier, 4 oz/sqyd insulation fill, and even had to go with a size large, these mittens come in at a very impressive 2.25 oz on my scale… well, it actually rocks back and forth between 2.2 and 2.3 oz… so yeah, they are 2.25 oz! At just over 1.1 oz per mitt, I am very happy with this weight, especially when considering fit, fill, overall durability and cost! In my opinion, the Stronghold Mittens really knock this one out of the park!
So, that cover’s all the details, but how about warmth? Well, unfortunately, that is one question that I still have to work on… On this hike I spent a lot of my time unpacking, cooking, cleaning, making beds, and packing again. A majority of my time was spent even without gloves on my hands because I was so busy. My kids however, wore both the original mittens and the updated mittens quite a bit. From their reports, as long as their hands and fingers were already warm, these mittens kept them that way… however, if their fingers were already cold, it took more than just sliding them into the mittens to warm them up. To be fair though, I have found that once fingers (or toes) get cold, it takes some good solid body heat to get them warm again. I have found that it is easier to keep them warm, than it is to get them warm…
The most time I got to spend in the mittens was on top of Cliff Tops the second night waiting for the sun to set (picture above). I wore my OR PL150 gloves beneath them and my hands and fingers were indeed toasty warm the whole time. I started with my down anorak sleeves pulled over the mittens (as mentioned above), but once the sun got close to setting I pulled them out as I was also taking pictures. With my limited use so far, I really am very happy with these mittens and feel like I now have the first 2 layers of my hand layering system nailed down… Now I just gotta work on an over mitt!
So, in my opinion, these mittens easily get 2 thumbs up!!
Thanks for stopping by!
Disclaimer: I paid the full price for the initial pair of mittens from Enlightened Equipment, however, the updated pair was sent to me free of charge, the same as everyone else that also bought them. I am under no obligation to write this review, nor am I receiving any compensation for doing so. The statements above are my own, which I formed after personally handling and using these mittens.