Gloves or Mitts: The trouble with fingers is that they're like thin pipes; hard to insulate efficiently. Stick them in a mitt and they're more like a plate with less surface area to radiate heat. The bottom line is that mitts tend to be warmer, but against that, you have to weigh an increase in clumsiness.
That means big, warm mitts are great for, say, trudging across the moors - until you need to fold a map of course - but not so clever if you're trying to tie a knot or place an ice screw while your legs are vibrating with fear.
One compromise is to wear overmitts, which you can slip off either to briefly reveal bare fingers or an underglove with a grippy finger and palm grip. Once you've done the fiddly bit, slip them back on again. Sorted.
Layering Systems: You can treat gloves like clothing systems and use layers, or you can opt for a single, insulated layer that's either on or off.
One plus of a layering system is that you can use the same shell mitt or glove with a number of liners to give different properties. Maybe a thin baselayer glove on mild days, a sticky midweight fleece glove for ice-climbing or mountaineering or a thick insulated fleece glove for really cold days.
If you're going to do that, at least for climbing, it makes sense to tether your gloves to your jacket or wrists. A loop of shock cord around the wrist works well and allows your gloves to hang safely while you mess around with knots or climbing hardware.
A single insulated glove, like a ski glove, can also work well and, with practice, you can do most fiddly things wearing them and keep your hands warmer at the same time. One disadvantage with many of these gloves is that they take ages to dry out. Using a removable fleece liner might help for this reason; it's simply hard for moisture to evaporate through the shell of the glove.
Liner Gloves: Liner and mid-weight fleece and similar gloves work a bit like other parts of a layering system, wicking moisture away from the hands and adding insulation.
Some can be used alone in milder conditions; however, if you're going to use them for more technical stuff, or with trekking poles and / or ice axes, it's worth using one with some sort of grippy pattern on the palm.
The latest silicone sticky grip is ideal for technical work. Leather palms work well for rope-handling in cold, dry environments like the Alps, but are not so good in damp or wet conditions.
Windproof or wind-resistant fabrics will make the gloves more versatile.
Waterproof Liners: Most winter gloves these days come with a waterproof / breathable liner. In really wet conditions they always seem to leak and eventually your hands will get damp from either perspiration or simply wetness, but they will keep the worst of it out for a while.
The pay-off seems to be increased drying times as moisture struggles to escape from the sodden glove. Bear in mind too that waterproof liners can't be sewn into the inside of the finger, so you need to hold the ends of the fingers as you remove your gloves or the entire inner can just invert and be almost impossible to replace.
Insulation: Primary choices for insulation would be either removable fleece, which is simple and easy to dry, or a synthetic insulator that works well in damp conditions. Remember that a removable liner will always dry faster, which is a major consideration if you are planning to be out in cold, wet conditions.
The other option, for the traditionally minded, is matted, shrunken wool. These are incredibly warm, stick comfortingly to snow when climbing and, once covered with a crust of ice, no kidding, are virtually windproof too. Surprisingly effective.
Finally, pile mitts dry fast and are windproof, though not great for dexterity. They make ideal spares and work well as something to throw on at the top of a winter route. They stay warm when they are wet and dry out reasonably fast, too.
Other things to consider: Fit is important, some gloves have short fingers, some long; you want ones that are right for your hands.
As far as construction goes, gloves with contoured, box-cut fingers, which are pre-curved for easy grip on axes and the like are good, and less insulation in the palm area for the same reason. When you're buying, try gripping an ice axe or a trekking pole and make sure you can hold it comfortably. Over time, the insulation may pack down a little, but don't rely on it.
If you're planning on tethering your gloves with shock cord or a straight loop, then make sure there are fixing points on the glove.
Finally, if you're in the market for something different, flip-topped gloves, are available from a few manufacturers. They work brilliantly in alpine summer conditions and allow you to combine finger-tip dexterity with insulation when needed. They look silly, but work brilliantly in the right situation!
Why?: Without them you'll fall over on hard snow or ice, possibly to your death or at least an early appointment with the local accident department. A relationship with a pair of crampons opens up terrain and whole ranges you couldn't otherwise hope to come into contact with. They're surrounded by technical mystique, but the reality is that they're fairly easy to use and a major safety investment.
When to put them on?: If it's easier and safer to walk with crampons than without is the short answer. Try not to wear them unnecessarily as cramponing is reckoned to be 10 per-cent less efficient than walking without them. If there's hard snow or ice underfoot, chances are that it's worth the effort. Snow doesn't automatically mean you need to crampon up; in softer conditions, it's quite feasible and more effective to simply kick steps with your boots.
When to take them off?: When you can walk easily and safely without them. Using crampons on rocky ground unnecessarily will blunt the points and be less stable, not to mention leave nasty scratches for all to see on the rocks after the thaw. Stiff winter boot soles can kick into surprisingly firm snow. If in doubt though, leave them in place.
For an overview of the crampon/boot compatibility guidelines see below. Bear in mind that these guidelines, put together by mountain guide Brian Hall are just that - guidelines - not gospel. Just because the boot and crampon grades match, it doesn't mean the two will definitely work together. Moreover, most boots will take a flexible trekking crampon for short periods of time if really necessary. That doesn't mean it's a good idea, but it can be done. For sustained use though, a boot designed to work with crampons will always be a better option.
Instep Crampons - Crampon Grade - none. Mini crampons that fit on your instep are okay for ski station workers and lumberjacks, but a dead loss for mountain walking. Ignore these near useless wall flowers.
Walking Crampons - Crampon Grade C1: Attachment: usually straps or a combination of straps and nylon cradles. Generally use a strip of steel running under the boot that will flex with the sole as you walk. Officially they will match up with any boot with a B1 grading or higher, but in reality, most 3-season boots will take a flexible crampon for short periods. Some C1 crampons come without front points - the ones that stick out horizontally in front of the toe - but they're worth having for the extra security when kicking steps into slopes, even if you're not technically front-pointing like climbers on ice.
Articulated Crampons - Crampon Grade C2: Attachment: Either as C1 or a combination of straps or nylon toe cradle with a clip-on heel. These are designed to work with stiffer boots - B2 and above - and are usually designed for more technical use than C1s. Most are 'articulated' which means they have a hinge-type joint. However it's not designed to flex with the sole, which will be close to rigid anyway, but to prevent the stress that would result if they were fully rigid.
Fully Rigid Climbing Crampons - Crampon Grade C3: Attachment: usually full clip-on front and rear with safety strap, which is non-structural. Fully rigid climbing crampons are designed, you guessed it, for climbing and can only be used with fully stiffened B3 boots - either plastic mountaineering ones or leather. The sole needs to have suitable recesses front and rear to accommodate the bindings.
Fitting: Fit is the most crucial factor with crampons - different crampons suit different boots and the best model in the world is useless if it doesn't match the profile of your boots' soles for example. Take your boots with you when you buy and get help. You're looking for a fit where the crampon can be adjusted to sit on your boot without being physically attached and without any big gaps between the crampon and the sole. If the ones you like don't fit, try others. Some specialist climbing boots are very fussy about which crampons will fit them, so be prepared for some trial and error.
If you have a small foot, take a look at the ten-point models available. Often women, in particular, simply don't have a big enough foot to provide space for twelve points and the more widely spaced points of a ten-pointer provide a better fit.
For the larger foot, some offer an optional extension bar if the standard crampon is too short.
Crampon Fittings: The nylon cradle-type fittings are actually quicker to fit than step-in systems because you don't have to mess around cleaning snow out of grooves. Because they don't need to locate in the groove at the toe end of the boot, they work better with well-worn soles and are less likely to mis-locate.
Step-ins are also excellent, again because you minimise the time spent messing around with freezing fingers, though be very, very careful that toe bails and heel clips are properly located with these. Scrape snow and ice out with an ice axe pick so the clips are properly seated.
If you're using strap-on crampons with soft-uppered boots, be aware that the straps can cut into your feet and impair circulation; which is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Finally, always make sure any buckles or loose ends are on the outside of your boot and tucked away where possible to minimise the dangers of snagging and tripping. You can shorten webbing straps by cutting but don't overdo it. Seal the ends with a hot blade.
Anti-Balling Plates: Rigid crampons and particularly those with 'cookie cutter' frames, are prone to balling up when wet snow collects on the underside of the crampon and forms a big ball of solid snow that eventually stops your points biting into the snow. One answer is to regularly tap the underside of the crampon with your axe shaft, however a neater answer is an anti-balling plate.
Some manufacturers now supply these as standard. Basically they're plates that sit between the points of the crampon and stop the snow collecting in the first place. They're very effective and well worth having particularly on glaciers when the snow melts in the sun.
Articulated and flexible crampons are less prone to balling because the flexing of the crampon tends to dislodge the snow unless things get very bad.
Adjustment: Get them adjusted to fit in the shop. Tool-less adjustment is a nice touch, but really only crucial if you move your crampon from boot to boot on a regular basis. If your crampon does use bolts, check them for tightness regularly and consider using Nylock nuts if they aren't already fitted as standard.
With some clip-ons, you may need to bend the bails or heel clip wire slightly for the best fit, you can also stagger location holes to tailor the crampon for a particular boot. If in doubt, get professional help.
Maintenance: Use a file, follow the manufacturer's instructions and remember that unless you are climbing hard ice, they don't need to be razor sharp - the concentration of weight over small points is enough in most conditions and you'll just wear your points out prematurely.
Carry a minimal crampon first aid kit. Some wire and zip-ties could be enough to hold a broken crampon together long enough to see you off the hill.
Using Crampons - Top Tips