Hiking and gear reviews from the Redwoods!

Review: Black Rock Gear Undermitts

In the world of hiking keeping your feet and your hands warm are a vital key in having a successful hike. While not as vital as keeping your head and your chest warm for pure survival in harsh conditions - a situations the vast majority of us will never face - the necessity of keeping ones feet and hands warm play a major role in the overall well-being, pleasure, and adventure, of being outdoors. The Black Rock Gear Undermitts go a long way to helping your hands stay as warm as possible throughout most of the climates and conditions that most of us, all but those who go into the most extreme environments, face each and every time we go out.

For many years a lot of people have been using gear made by Black Rock Gear to keep their core temperatures as stable as possible. They have been the manufacture of the highly popular - and always in demand -  Black Rock Hat which has been used pretty much around the world by those going out for a day hike to those hiking the highest mountains in the world. The Black Rock Hat ounce for ounce (0.67 - 0.88 ounces) [19-25 grams] is very likely the best down hat on the market. While Black Rock Gear does not manufacture a balaclava such as the Nunatak 'Down Balaclava' or the Katabatic Gear 'Windom' or the ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava - their Black Rock Hat fits a niche of the market that they have been able to dominate.

Early in 2011 Black Rock Gear released their first product outside of hats with the introduction of their 'Black Rock Undermitts' and I was lucky enough to get one from their initial production.

Now before I go any further I need to make it clear that these are *undermitts* and that should not be mistaken for full time outer wear - that is what gloves are for, these are undermitts, not gloves. If you want a pair of truly amazing and seriously ultralight weight *outer-wear* gloves the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts' are exactly what you should be buying. And if you are looking for next-to-skin gloves you should be buying the PossumDown gloves (in the usa) In fact, I say buy all three and you will have yourself one amazing setup for hand protection for exactly 4 ounces. Even when I am out with my XUL backpack (usually around 3.8 lbs) I am more than willing to have all three of these items within my backpack.

So allow me to talk some specifics about the Black Rock Undermitts and my overall thought on these as a piece of gear worthy of being within my backpack.

How I review products:

As with all of my gear reviews I use a 4-point-system to judge how to overall rate my gear. They are: (1) does the product perform the job that is has been designed to do, (2) does the product have any real world durability, (3) how light weight is the product, and (4) is the  price-point of the product justifiable. For each of those four factors I give a 0-100% rating, on a tenth meter scale. So that means that a total score for a product has anywhere between a 0% rating (horrible product) and a 400 rating (a truly exceptional product).

(1) Does the product perform the job that is has been designed to do?

Yes! I firmly believe that the Black Rock Undermitts performs exactly that which it has been designed to do.

"Black Rock Undermitt is a pure and simple insulation layer for your hands that weighs next to nothing and packs ultra small." - source: Black Rock Gear website.

There is no doubt that the Black Rock Undermitts provide an insulation layer - and a very good one - for their weight ratio.

This is, of course, the most important part so I will expand on this some more.

At a weight of only 1.3 ounces (38 grams) for the large size, it is hard to know exactly how much goose down is inside of the undermitts - and Black Rock Gear does not list the amount of down on their website. We do know from their website that they use 900+ goose down but we are given no indication as too how much is used. We also do not know exactly what kind of material they use - their website simply indicates 'ultra-light DWR coated fabric.' These two facts (900+ down and material type) are important because they would normally allow us to deduct with a bit of math how much down is actually being used, based on the weight of the material and the cubic inches of mass inside. But alas, we are just not able to determine that because I have no idea of exactly what type of material is being used and thus I cannot calculate how much the material weights and from there deduct how much down is actually being used. Why is all of this important? For the most part it is not. For most people it is simply a matter of "does it work" or "does it not work" - however some of us who are serious gear guys care a great deal about such details. I think it would be safe to say that the material of the undermitts probably falls into the rhelm of 0.3 - 0.7 ounces, which would put the amount of goose down right around the 0.7 - 0.9 range. If you just want to call it one ounces that works for me. Now lets take a look real quick at my favorite down jacket, the MontBell UL Down Inner Parka. This Parka has the ability to take me down to around 10 degrees before I start getting really cold. The Parka is filled with 2.5 ounces of 800+ goose down. It is the product by which I measure all other goose down products. So you have an entire Parka that has 2.5 ounces of goose down, and within these Black Rock Undermitts you have around 0.7 - 1.0 ounce worth of goose down. I do not care how you put it, that is an amazing amount of down for something 1/8th (probably less) the size of my MontBell Parka in regards to total cubic inches of material and coverage.

Rating: So how does the Black Rock Undermitts score on its job performance? A perfect 100%! If I could knock off 10% I would because it would be nice to know from their website exactly how much fill these gloves actually have - but I would not do that because that is not fair to the product itself.

(2) Does the product have any real world durability?

Remember when I made the statement above that it is important to remember that these are undermitts and not outer gloves? Hopefully you do and this is where it begins to get really important.

We have the following three statements from the Black Rock Gear website which is important to read:

"They are great for cold weather camping as part of your sleep system and designed for use with trekking poles while hiking in cold weather."

"Worn alone or layered with an overmitt these gloves will keep you warmer than any fleece liner for less weight and pack down to nothing."

"Whether you are on a month long thru-hike or out for a day in the snow take a pair of these and eliminate cold hands for good."
The first statement gives us a clear understanding that they can be used while hiking with trekking poles. It would be hard to know any true long-term durability because they have not been out long enough for thru-hikers to really put them under serious use - in fact the first thru-hikers of the 2011 season just started hitting the trail a few weeks ago for the AT and in a week or two for the PCT.

Because we are not told exactly what kind of material is used we have no idea on how well - or poorly - the material wears out. We can only hope that they will be able to hold up to the same level of durability that the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts' have been able to withstand - which includes multiple triple crown thru-hikes.

I suppose at this point I should also point out that what I would really love to see is a merger of the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts' and the Black Rock Undermitts - that is: I want a goose down glove with a water proof material. That is outside the scope of this review for the most part, but it is what I would like to see as the next logical evolution of these undermitts by Black Rock Gear.

In my own testing the Black Rock Undermitts were able to handle light rain very well, but as soon as I started using them as outer gloves while hiking with my GossamerGear LT4 trekking poles I started having issues with water working their way into the material of the Undermitts. It is very important to understand that I live in the middle of the Redwoods of Northern California where we get rain, rain, rain and more rain. There is very little dry ground anywhere within 50 miles of where I live because it rarely stops raining here. I cannot remember the last time I camped on dry ground and I never hike without rain gear - and that is where the MLD eVent Rain mitts come into play. I use them over the top of the Black Rock Undermitts and in that way I am able to have a seriously warm and totally dry combination of hand wear.

So back to the durability factor. When I got my gloves I gave them a serious look-over. The design was rock solid, the stiching was perfect, the manufacturing quality was beyond evident as top-notch and I was beyond impressed. I see no reason why somebody would have to conscientiously have in the back of their mind whether or not their gloves are going to fall apart on them - so long as they are not wearing them as they go walking through blackberry bushes.

Rating: I would give the overall durability of these gloves a 100% rating. The fact that they are not water proof does not factor into my rating because I knew when I bought them they would not be water proof. If I could, however, I would knock off 10% of a rating because they are not an "all in one: waterproof + down glove" but I would not do that because it would not be fair to the product as that is not what they are sold as.

3) How light weight is the product?

As indicated above the weight of the Black Rock Undermitts 1.34 ounces for the large size and 1.12 ounces for the regular/small size.

For me anything that is over three ounces is heavy - again remembering that my standard Base Pack Weight is under 5 pounds - so believe me when I say that for the warmth that these things give me, even at 1.34 ounces, those are some grams worth having in your backpack.

If you are somebody who has not made it into the Ultralight weight backpack world yet, you should think nothing at all of having a pair of these Undermitts in your pack. Chances are your extra pair of socks weigh more than these undermitts do. For that fact, the one pair of socks in my backpack weigh 0.1 ounces less than these undermitts do, so there you have it. For further comparison, the large size of the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts' hit the scale at 1.2oz per pair and my PossumDown Gloves hit the scale at 1.5 ounce per pair.

Rating: I would the overall weight factor of these undermitts a solid 100% rating. There is not a single factor to this product that would even remotely consider me not giving it a 100% rating for their weight.

(4) Is the  price-point of the product justifiable.

Sadly I am going to have to say no. That said I am a massive supporter of cottage manufacturers so even though I feel the price-point of the product is not justifiable, I am going to buy them none the less (and fully recommend you do too!), and because every other factor about the products are as high of a rating as I give a product.

Here is how I view things: Going back to my MontBell UL Down Inner Parka which has 2.5 ounces of goose down (twice as much as the undermitts) and well over four times more faboric, it is hard to justify how the Parka retails for $175 and these gloves retail for $65. That is a 35% difference in price between a product that has around 50% less/more goose down within it and a whole lot more material. So from a strictly "cost of product material" the price-point of the Undermitts just do not make sense. It all has to do with manufacturing costs associated with cottage manufacturers (which I will continue to say, all of us need to be supporting cottage manufacturers, even if it means a slightly higher percentage markup!!) However when one considers that Black Rock Gear is a cottage company and MontBell is, well, MontBell, the prices become understandable - and something that I think all of us should keep in mind. Again let me just be clear and say that I have zero issues paying a higher percentage mark-up if I am buying from a cottage manufacture - and I think most of those out there who follow my reviews agree with me on this. None the less, for the folks out there who are not like me, I have to be fair and say that in some perspectives, the price-point is just not going to feel right to some folks.

I think a further notch in the score takes me back to the material used. If Black Rock Gear had made these in some type of water proof material (I would personally prefer either Cuben Fiber or eVent) than I would have no problem with the $65 price point because it would allow me to stop having to carry an additional 1.2 ounces for my MLD mitts - and for that fact, I might even be willing to pay upwards of $80 for them - and so should you if you consider the price of both the Black Rock Undermits and the MLD Mitts put together - which would be $105.

I would just like to once again say that I have zero problem with me paying $60 bucks for these undermitts, but I know that a lot of folks out there, when you start factoring in all of the factors I have presented throughout this review will agree with me that $60 bucks for these undermitts is something you are going to be more than willing to pay - and the fact that these sold out of stock as quickly as they did further emphasizes this fact. As somebody who always says what I feel should be said, it does pain me to have to knock off a couple of tenths of a rating - simply because I so love these gloves and love the guys at Black Rock Gear - none the less, to be fair and honest with my readers, I do think these Undermitts are a small percentage above the price-point that I think they should for the average hiker, when considering the material used - and more importantly, considering what these could be with a different type of material.

Rating: 80%. Sadly because the math just does not work out for price-point when you consider the differences between amount of material in these gloves verses other products at different percentage prices, I have to deduct 10% from the rating for this section - and another 10% because I have to buy other products in order to make these all-weather-viable result in me having to spend another $45 bucks.

Overall Rating:

Out of a potential 400 rating I rate the Black Rock Gear Undermitts at an amazingly high score of 380 points!

I am 100% convinced that the Black Rock Gear Undermitts are the best goose down undermitts on the market. I am 100% convinced that they have enough durability to handle multiple thru-hikes for those who are thru-hikers and probably a life-time of use for the weekend hikers out there. I am 100% convinced that gram for gram the 38 grams that these weigh are worthy of being in your backpack. And I am not far from 100% in my feeling that the price-point for the Black Rock Gear Undermitts is exactly where it should be.

Final Thoughts:

If you are looking for something to be able to go below the 28-32 degree mark which the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts can handle than you need to keep an eye out on the Black Rock Gear website for when these awesome Black Rock Undermitts become available again!

If you are somebody who almost never encounters rain, skip right over the MLD mitts and pick up just these Black Rock Undermitts!

If you need to be able to get below negative temps, I would recommend going with the PossumDown gloves (for next to skin layer) the Black Rock Undermitts (for warmth layer) and the Mountain Laurel Designs 'eVENT Rain Mitts (for hard shell weather layer) - I do not think a better layering system could be found anywhere.