Episode 76 | Vapor Barrier Gloves and Socks

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Episode 76 | Vapor Barrier Gloves and Socks

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    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 76 | Vapor Barrier Gloves and Socks

    In today’s episode of the Backpacking Light podcast, we are going to explore vapor barrier systems for the hands and feet.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Curious to know how others are incorporating VB layers in their hand and footwear. It’s been a cold winter in the Rockies this year, and I’ve been living in my RBH Vapor Mitts!

    Josh J
    BPL Member


    Having secondary raynaud’s , may have to try this, if our winter ever returns…..

    Wonder about tyvex for a vapor barrier liner?

    Paul S
    BPL Member


    My wife and I use vapor barrier socks between our liner socks and heavy wool socks. That way, our heavy wool socks and boot linings stay dry (since perspirations is blocked from getting to them). For winter backpacking (i.e., over nights in winter) that’s how we roll. It keeps our boot linings from freezing, and keeps our heavy socks from freezing (Because they can only freeze if they get wet). But it does mean that our liner socks get more damp than they would in the summer. So, before bed we take off the vapor barriers, and the liner socks, and put on dry socks that we only use for sleeping. Our damp liner socks get hung to dry in our tent..but they typically don’t dry much, if at all. So, in the AM, when we wake-up we put the liner socks in a jacket pocket, and by the time we have breakfast, coffee, and more coffee(!), and pack-up our camp the liner socks are dry and ready to wear.

    Our vapor  barrier liners are actually just 18′ long plastic bags that our multi-grain english muffins are packaged in!  :-)


    A drawback is that our feet smell very badly (way worse than normal) when we take off the VBL’s and liner socks before bed.

    Albert N
    BPL Member


    For hands, instead of oversized medical gloves, I’ve heard of people using oversized dishwashing gloves. They have a looser fit and are definitely water-/vapor-proof.

    For my feet, I do use plastic bags in-between a synthetic, toe-sock, liner, and a mid-cushion wool sock in my insulated winter boots. I’ve found the long, tubular, bagel or English muffin bags to work the best. They only last a couple of days but I don’t mind it since I would have thrown them out anyway.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    I am not doing extreme cold anymore, but when I was I found what Ryan advocated highly effective. Originally used polypro or coolmax liners, mylar bags, and then insulation. for hands, liners, dishwashing gloves, insulated gloves. Later switched to RBH mitts and socks which were awesome. My only differences is that they triggers sweating at freezing.  I didn’t switch to vapor barriers until it was <20f.

    BPL Member


    Right now for my gloves system I’m rocking a midweight powerstretch for a base layer, then the OR Mt. Baker II mittens which is an insulated glove and a burly Gortex shell.  So if I want to incorporate a VBL in my system, do I put the VBL over my mid weight glove liner or VBL next to skin and then the mid weight liner?

    I would like to take my hands out of the insulated layers and take photographs/videos during winter hikes and extreme cold (negative F).

    I’d like to give the VBL a shot before fulling committing to something like the rbh mitten.

    Thanks for all your help.

    Iago Vazquez
    BPL Member


    Locale: Boston & Galicia, Spain

    For hands, I use Harbor Freight 9mil Nitrile gloves. They come in different sizes and it’s easy to achieve a loose fit. They are rather durable compared to thinner options, inexpensive and lighter than dishwashing gloves.

    For the feet, someone in the forums years ago suggested oven roast bags, and I have been very happy with those.

    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    Highly recommend the RBH Vapor Mitts with or with out liners as I have worn them for many years in the cold winter season in Michigan.

    The following type of glove/ mitten that that I have that can be used in a MEDIUM, Ultralight Mitt  in the layering mode COMFORTABLY are:

    I wouldn’t use any INSULATION under an RBH mitt!


    Paul D
    BPL Member


    FWIW,  I use a pair of gore tex infinium stretch gloves and an over glove. If I need more, I’ll use a pair of merino liners in between

    Bill in Roswell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Roswell, GA, USA

    I got my first Stephenson Warmlite catalog in 1980!. It was way ahead of its time in many ways…..He promoted vapor barriers amongst leading designs in tents, sleeping pads, etc. Why most don’t practice VB I’ve no idea. The southeastern US may not be the best test ground for VB where I live. But I did try VB once when record lows of  ~0° gripped the area for a while. All we had were wool Army Surplus and plastic food server gloves. I want to think VB helped but no basis of comparison. My palms and feet pass a lot of moisture. Best to keep the insulation dry via VB.


    Stephen Seeber
    BPL Member


    I have worn vapor barrier gloves for years to prevent insulation degradation of mittens and gloves.  What I have found work best for me are 2mm neoprene gloves .  I wear these as liners beneath RBH vapor barrier mittens.  My hands are sensitive to cold temperatures, so although the RBH mittens are the warmest practical solution I have found, I still benefit from the additional warmth of the neoprene liner gloves.  RBH does make several liners with different levels of insulation.  I use their Altitude liners for most of the winter but will substitute their fleece liners at warmer temperatures.

    Any vapor barrier glove or mitten will get wet on the interior from perspiration.    When neoprene gets wet, it retains its warmth.  Without the underlying vapor barrier, my RBH mittens will start to stink in short order, and although the RBH liners can be washed, drying them takes some time.  My neoprene gloves are easily washed daily.

    Wearing neoprene liner gloves permits me to remove the RBH mittens for short periods to perform tasks that require dexterity.

    Before this combination, I wore electric gloves all winter. I had to carry extra batteries and shell mittens for high wind periods.  Fortunately, the electric gloves are now retired.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Once Again With Feeling: For years here on BPL I’ve advocated using 3 mm thick closed cell neoprene divers’ socks over thin poly socks as a VBL to prevent boot insulation from becoming “sweat wet” and useless.

    I find US Divers brand the best – factory seam sealed with left and right shaped socks for no bunching at the toes.

    Josh J
    BPL Member


    anyone with experience using tyvek for gloves as a VBL?

    Justin W


    Tyvek doesn’t make a good VBL for two reasons.  One, it has somewhat high thermal conductivity (close to water’s) and many iterations pass moisture. The point of a vbl is to block moisture from getting into the insulation of a glove etc.

    I recommend butyl rubber for two reasons, it has a low thermal conductivity of .09 W/mK (significantly lower than most materials used for clothing/fabrics) and you can readily find gloves already made out of it.

    I use them to get water out of cold creeks etc.  (And at home for doing chemistry stuff like working with sulfuric acid etc)


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