In recent years, dedicated ice climbers have discovered that the best glove for ice climbing may not be an ice climbing glove at all, but surprisingly, a work glove used by fishermen.
These gloves go by several names, including “Japanese Fisherman Gloves”, “Alaskan Fisherman Gloves”, “Showa Gloves” and “Smurf Gloves”, to name a few. The “smurf” nickname comes from the distinctive blue color of these gloves, when they first came to popularity. Today, they are also available in a black, gauntleted version which many ice climbers prefer.
Why Are The Fisherman Gloves Good For Ice Climbing?
Reason #1: Price
Climbing companies charge a premium for their gear. A pair of gloves from Black Diamond or Ortovox will often cost you $100 or more. The Showa fisherman gloves cost around $20 per pair. You can buy several pairs of the Showas for less than half the cost of one pair of Arcteryx Venta gloves, for example.
Reason #2: Completely waterproof
Many climbing gloves are only “water-resistant,” which necessitates carrying multiple pairs on a day of climbing in case one gets wet. The fisherman gloves are designed for keeping your hands warm while working all-day, handling items in and out of water. Imagine a rubber dishwashing glove with a thin fleece lining – the vinyl coating keeps water out, while the lining keeps your hand warm.
Reason #3: Dexterity
Most ice climbers prefer the fisherman gloves for lead climbing. Lead climbing requires a thin, dextrous glove in order to manipulate ice screws and quickdraws. The fisherman gloves are ideal for this, with a width of only a few centimeters, while still maintaining acceptable warmth. The rubberized outer coating of the fisherman gloves is extremely grippy, another bonus. One issue our testers experienced, though, is specific to using these gloves in combination with Black Diamond Express ice screws. The handle on Black Diamond’s steel ice screws is *too* grippy when combined with the Showa gloves, resulting in the material sticking and getting caught between the spinning handle and the steel body of the screw. This could throw off your screw placement on lead, and should be considered if you use steel Black Diamond ice screws. (The BD Ultralight screws perform fine)
Reason #4: Warmth
All of the above is great, but the most important factor for a glove is insulating warmth. And these gloves do a great job down to temperatures of around -10 degrees Celsius (~15 F). Below that it’s not gonna be too fun to go ice climbing, anyways.
Downsides to the Showa Gloves for ice climbing
Because these gloves are fully waterproof, they do not breathe very well (at all). This can result in the inner fleece lining becoming wet and swampy. If not managed properly, this can lead to cold hands.
They also make you look a bit ridiculous.
How Do the Japanese Fisherman Gloves Fit?
In general, these gloves fit a little small. Many people complain the fingers are a bit too short, so if you have a choice, it’s probably better to up-size. Or just buy pairs in a few sizes, since they’re so cheap!
Difference between the blue and black fisherman gloves?
The blue Showa 282 blues, the beloved “smurfs”, were the original model. In recent years, Showa has come out with the black Showa Temres 282-02, which has an integrated cinch gauntlet. Both versions are equally waterproof and come with the same fleece lining. Sizing *should* be consistent across models.
Where Can I Buy Japanese Fisherman Gloves?
Since these are fishing gear, you won’t find them at most outdoor retailers. The best bet instead is to order these things online. You can buy the blue “smurf gloves” on Amazon, or you can buy the black, gauntleted version on Go2Marine.