I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I really like my fingers–they are quite handy for giving high fives, gripping ice tools and holding a cold beer. As an alpinist and backcountry skier based in Alaska, I’ve found that sub-zero temperatures are just part of the game. Miraculously, after nearly 15 years of screaming barfies and numb digits, I’ve never had any lasting tissue damage or frostbite. I would like to keep it that way.
When I’m packing for a technical route, I analyze each piece of gear and ask myself the following questions: Is it worth the weight? Can it serve multiple purposes? How likely am I to use it? Climbing technical terrain with mittens is like trying to sport climb using only your fists. Although I always bring mittens to base camp on Alaska trips, they usually don’t make the final cut when I’m deciding what to pack for a light and fast ascent.
Most mittens on the market are either bulky and heavy, or light but not durable. When I had the chance to test out the new Mountain Equipment Citadel Mitt, I was pleasantly surprised with their utilitarian design. At 280 grams (9.9 ounces), they weren’t the lightest expedition mitt on the market, but they were far from the heaviest. What really impressed me was the way they worked essentially as three mitts in one. Other comparable mittens such as the Black Diamond Mercury Mitt had a waterproof, abrasion-resistant Pertex shell, but most of the insulation came from the liner. The Citadel Mitt had insulation in not only the liner but the shell itself. Now I have the choice to take just the insulated shell, the liner or both. For an alpinist, having options in pieces of gear is a tremendous bonus.
I appreciated the feel of the liner. The lobster claw design gave me a sense of some dexterity. I even used it while Nordic skiing in Anchorage when the temperature was in the low-teens, and my fingers were still quite warm. The inner mitt features a DriLite Loft 20D insulation, which is hailed as being “exceptionally light, highly breathable and water resistant.” I could see myself using just the inner mitt while skinning up steep slopes on cold days. The soft pile lining felt almost like fur.
Next, I put my bare hand in just the Citadel’s shell. It felt as light as a surgical glove, but provided a surprising amount of warmth, thanks to lightweight microfiber Primaloft insulation. This really excited the gram-counting alpinist nerd in me. I can totally see myself bringing the whole mitt on a technical route, but now I have the option just to bring the shells if I really need to go light. I could simply slide these Citadel shells right over a technical glove and warm my hands while belaying or climbing easier ground. When not in use, I could put my Nalgene bottles in the shells to help keep my water from freezing. I’ve stopped bringing those standard water bottle parkas on routes for many reasons: they weigh about 4 ounces each, they only serve one purpose, and they don’t really work that well. Using a mitt is a multi-purpose solution. At night, I could use my Citadel shells as makeshift booties to keep my feet nice and toasty while I slept. Having options like this is crucial to me when it comes time to purchase niche items like mitts.
I was surprised how many minimal features were packed into these lightweight mitts. Tiny, low-profile loops near where the pinky finger would be allow you to clip these mitts to your harness. Small Velcro tabs keep spindrift and snow from sneaking in when you aren’t wearing them. Leather overlays the high wear zones of the palm on both the liner and the shell. Super lightweight leashes go around your wrist so you can quickly take off the mitt without fear of dropping it. I found that feature particularly nice, since I have dropped and lost countless gloves in the mountains.
The Citadel achieves its lightweight status by using sleek fabrics. Unlike the Black Diamond Mercury Mitt or the Outdoor Research Alti Mitts, the shell isn’t constructed of super durable materials like Pertex, though there is a water-resistant goatskin palm overlay. Instead, Mountain Equipment put all of their focus on making the Citadel Mitt an extremely warm mitt for its weight class. If I could add one feature to this mitt, it would be a cinch-cuff at the wrist, similar to that of the Black Diamond Mercury Mitt. That may make it feel slightly more technical, but it’s not really a big deal.
Now that I’m a little more mindful of being cold than I used to be, the Mountain Equipment Citadel Mitts will definitely have a place in my technical alpine kit. Their versatility makes them a no brainer. They excel at general winter activities, too, including backcountry skiing and belaying at the local ice crags. When I’m wearing the Citadel Mitts, I never miss a high five and my hands stay warm while I’m gripping the hell out of a cold beer!
Clint Helander made the first ascent of Mt. Huntington’s South Ridge (aka “Gauntlet Ridge,” Alaska Grade 6, M6 A0 95* snow, ca. 8,500′) with Jess Roskelley last spring. Their ascent is featured on the cover of Alpinist 59. Helander has been clapping obnoxiously loud and singing out of tune in Alaska’s wilderness for 14 years. He is a regular contributor to Alpinist. You can find more of his writing and photography at ClintHelander.com as well as Alpinist.com
Slightly cheaper than similar mitts
Loaded with handy features
Palm only has small bit of leather, so it may wear out quicker than other mitts if used for lots of belaying or rappelling.
Lack a cinch-cuff at the wrist to tighten and give the feel of a more technical fit