After years of comparing and testing gardening gloves, we recommend choosing the Atlas Nitrile Garden Gloves ($23 for six-pack).
*At the time of publishing, the price was $23.
Atlas Nitrile Garden Gloves cost only $4 a pair, and are comfortable and able to fit most hands. They’re also thin and grippy enough to give you protection and dexterity for most garden tasks. They’re not the top performer in any one area (except price!), but they were second best in every test we put them through. Unlike many cheap cotton gloves, they go through washing machines with nary a pulled thread. And at this price, if one disappears you’ll be able to replace it easily. For people who need a different size, the small and large versions are just as affordable. And if you can’t find our pick—or the pastel colors are off-putting—get Atlas Nitrile Gloves (Black) ($17 for a pack of four).
In any color, these are gloves for generalists, and we picked them because they were the best overall performers for the best price. They’re not perfect—the grips could be grippier and thorns go straight through the nitrile coating on the palm and fingers—but as long as you aren’t yanking fields of raspberry canes or pressing olives from your backyard tree, they’re up for the job. These were our pick in a test against 10 gloves in 2014, and after considering 40 more pairs this year, they’re still clearly the best value.
For garden work around brambles and other plants with stubby thorns, consider upgrading to the StoneBreaker Everyday Gardening Gloves ($23). These goatskin-palm gloves will keep your hands safe from most scratches, and the long cuffs will keep out most of the dirt. They won’t keep you safe from teddy bear cholla or other long-spined cactuses, but for rougher work around most home gardens, they’re an excellent combination of price, protection, and finesse. Tougher gloves we’ve seen don’t give you this much dexterity; thinner gloves don’t shield your hands as well. That said, they’re not widely available, and at this price, you’ll regret losing them under a bush.
I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, and for the past 11 years I’ve been digging through yards while wearing gloves to protect my hands from black raspberries, blackberries, barberries, buckthorn, and poison ivy in my home yard, in community gardens, and on work days on our local community farm and Audubon sanctuary. I’ve worn cotton gloves, leather gloves, latex gloves, gloves with palms made of cowhide and goatskin, or with nitrile coatings, elbow-length rose gauntlets, and little white wristlets that matched my pearls. I am one of the pillars of the Menotomy Gardeners e-group. I earned a certificate in field botany from the New England Wild Flower Society in 2007, and I cofounded the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, which is devoted to preserving working agricultural land. In 2010, I published Boston Gardens and Green Spaces, a Boston Globe Local Bestseller, and I am the co-creator of the GREEN SPACES: Boston app. I have appeared on NPR’s Radio Boston and WCVB’s Chronicle discussing Boston’s open space, and my work has been featured in the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, Boston Magazine, and the Time Out Boston guide. I’m the executive director of the Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design, and I give frequent talks to historical societies, garden clubs, and book groups about New England landscape history and agriculture. My blog about Boston’s plants and landscaping appears at Green Space Boston.
Sooner or later, most gardeners start using gloves, and there are three good reasons to get new ones. First, on a serious note, gardeners who handle dirt have a risk of a toxoplasmosis infection, which can be a serious danger for women who are pregnant or people who are immunocompromised. Second, gloves can prevent splinters and scratches from thorns (which occasionally lead to Staphylococcus infections). Last, you might just be tired of scrubbing dirt from under your fingernails. Gloves can help.
Ideal gardening gloves should be sturdy enough to keep thorns at bay but flexible enough to get work done. They need to come in different sizes, because a 6-foot-5 topiary trimmer has larger hands than a 4-foot-11 seedling assistant. They should allow you to pick up and hold slippery, small things and grasp raspberry canes with impunity. They should have secure wrist closures to keep dirt and small stones from falling into the glove while digging. There shouldn’t be any stiff, rubbing seams or too-tight spots that provoke blisters. And you should be able to throw them in the washing machine if you’ve been pulling poison ivy or using some kind of chemical you’d prefer not to spread to every plant in your yard.
When researching gloves, I eliminated any gloves that did not come in varied sizes or that were made for a single sex. I wanted to make sure that everyone reading this guide could try the gloves I recommended. I kept unisex gloves in the running if they came in a large enough range of sizes to accommodate most men and women. (Specifically: unisex XS-XL and glove size 6-10½; in general, women’s gloves have narrower palms and proportionally longer fingers than men’s gloves to accommodate longer fingernails.) I also dispensed with the plain woven cotton gloves that get torn on every branch and thorn; even if they’re cool in the hot sun, they’re simply not worth having because they’re so fragile. They’re worse than having no hand protection at all because of the false confidence they inspire.
When scanning what limited editorial reviews there are on gloves, we found plenty out there with no comparisons or testing. Some of the research was useful, though, and we compiled recommendations from gardening and lifestyle magazines, professional landscapers, garden bloggers, newspaper columns, and gardening discussion forums. This left us with a long list of gloves to investigate, and we ended up testing 10 pairs.
For the 2015 update, we looked at 40 types of glove, and eliminated the models that were obvious knockoffs of the Atlas and Mud gloves, gloves that were minor variations of gloves we had reviewed (different colors), gloves that had obvious flaws for gardeners (such as becoming slippery when wet!), gloves that had little or no feedback about their durability, and gloves that did not come in sizes. Once we narrowed down our candidates, we were left with two new pairs, made by StoneBreaker and Pallina, to test. StoneBreaker’s goatskin gloves have been praised for the feel of their supple leather, while Pallina’s comfortable goatskin gloves and vegan leather-free work gloves have been lauded.
Most glove reviews don’t mention testing the products—they mostly talk about feel and appearance. Our plan was to compare the gloves on a few protection, dexterity, and grip challenges to confirm that the recommended gloves really were the best.
To test how gloves would perform in a garden, I conducted a series of tests on gloves rated to fit a women’s medium hand (7¼-inch size). Loose cuffs let dirt fall into gloves, so I rated the tightness of the cuff on a scale from 1 to 3. I also rated the overall fit of the glove on a scale from 1 to 3, paying particular attention to whether they seemed tight or binding. To test the gloves’ sensitivity, I peeled grapes while wearing the gloves. I rolled marbles in a pool of olive oil and then tried to pick them up to see how the gloves performed in slippery conditions, and I repeatedly grabbed black raspberry canes in my yard to see if the gloves could, well, protect my hands from raspberry canes. Finally, I wore the gloves while digging holes with trowels to see how the gloves felt in use.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $23.
For around $4 a pair when bought as a six-pack, Atlas Nitrile Garden Gloves are cheap. They’re also widely available and will perform admirably in most garden tasks. They aren’t the best in show at any particular task—goatskin gloves will protect your hands better, some of the extreme sports gloves will give you a better grip—but they’re better all around than gloves that cost four times as much. In fact, out of the 15 gloves I tested, they outperformed many more expensive brands.
The gloves stand out, first of all, because they’re thin enough that you can still control your fingers and feel what you’re doing. The business end of the gloves, which are nylon on the back and wrists, is a few millimeters-thick nitrile coating on the palm, fingers, and thumb. The rubbery, textured synthetic polymer isn’t the thickest or the toughest material in the world, but that’s an advantage when you need a lot of control. That’s especially key when working with smaller plants, or doing our dexterity test—peeling a grape. As landscape designer Gina Foglia said, “They come in small enough sizes for me. … I can pull them off easily and they are thin enough that I feel the plants with which I am working.” Green Thummy on HubPages calls them “thin enough to fit like a second skin and allow my fingers to feel.”
Beyond that, they’re comfortable to wear. After a few minutes, you don’t notice that you’re wearing them, so you can concentrate on gardening, not your hands. We found them to be cool, light, and with a pleasant fit that will accommodate most people. (If you need a size other than medium, the small and large versions are just as affordable.) At Western Gardeners, Jodi Torpey wrote, “I put them on each morning when I walk into the garden and I don’t take them off until I’m ready to quit for the day.” Green Thummy also finds them comfortable: “The open mesh also allows my hands to breathe so this adds more comfort compared to rubber gloves that are inconvenient when my hands start to get sweaty.”
Nitrile is a synthetic rubber coating that feels a little like latex, but it doesn’t contain any latex proteins—which is good news for people with latex allergies. The nitrile used here is a thin, grippy coating that didn’t offer much protection against sharp thorns in our testing, but other owners had better luck. Another comment from Green Thummy: “They’re thick enough to protect my hand against sharp plant parts.” This poster on GardenWeb commented: “A major advantage they have over leather is that the slivers in shredded bark mulch don’t penetrate the latex. I used to hate working around bark mulch with leather gloves because I’d spend days pulling the tiny wood splinters out of my fingers.”
Cleaning them is easy enough. All-cotton gloves, the other common cheap-glove alternative, tend to unravel in the wash. Not these. “You can just throw them in the washing machine when they need a good cleaning,” said a (self-proclaimed) Master Gardener at Milkweed Gardens. After two years of use, mine look pretty much the same as they did when I got them (when I get around to washing them).
If you’re the sort of gardener who misplaces things, you can confidently purchase 12 medium pairs for just over $40 on Amazon and lose a pair a month all year for the price of four pairs of Tough Mud Gloves or two pairs of StoneBreaker Everyday Gardening Gloves. Alternately, you can wash one pair while you’re using another. You can even buy a version in black if you find the typical Atlas gardening pastels embarrassing. Or, if you’d rather just try one pair and don’t care what color you get, you can buy a single pair of Atlas Nitrile Garden Gloves for $6.
Pretty much everyone else that writes about the gloves likes them as well. “BEST GARDEN GLOVES EVER!” wrote blogger Mr. Brown Thumb. As gardening style entrepreneur Dianne Best puts it, “[after using many pairs that I didn”t like,] finally Atlas gloves found their way to me and they are perfect.”
If you spend a lot of time pruning roses, blackberries, raspberries, or cacti, you probably need our upgrade pick. We still think the Atlas gloves are usually the right product because those plants won’t be a constant issue for most gardeners. That said, the Atlas gloves failed our thorn test miserably (or, rather, I was miserable after they failed the thorn test). On the other hand, they were unnoticeable when I wore them while digging with a trowel—a far more common task in most gardens. If your weeding routine doesn’t involve yanking out raspberry canes on a regular basis, by all means buy a pair of Atlas gloves. Or a dozen.
Our previous thorny-garden pick, the Bionic Women’s Classic Gardening Gloves, are no longer in production. Bionic does manufacture a different gardening glove, the ReliefGrip Gardening Glove for women or men—but surpassing 30 bucks a pair, the ReliefGrip gloves cost 50 percent more than the Classic Gardening Gloves did.
If your garden routine involves grubbing out wayward raspberry canes or barberry seedlings, try the StoneBreaker Everyday Gardening Gloves ($23). These gloves are made of goatskin on the palm side of the glove, including the fingers and fingertips, which offers decent protection from puncture wounds. The StoneBreaker gloves offered the best combination of dexterity and protection of any gloves in our sample. The glove’s back is synthetic fabric, which makes the gloves a little more breathable on sweaty days (and cheaper to buy). The middle, ring, and little fingers have articulations to make it easier to move and curl your fingers. The cuffs are plenty long enough to keep dirt out.
Compared to other gloves, StoneBreaker’s felt a little tight when I first put them on, especially around the knuckles and in the spaces between the bases of my fingers. They softened with use and after a quick trip through the washing machine, though, and I didn’t notice the issue by the end of testing. The cuff was medium length for gardening gloves, reaching about 1½ inch past the beginning of my wrist.
Women and men with shorter fingers may find that there is extra fabric at the end of the glove fingers; I certainly did. However, the goatskin is thin and grippy enough that these gloves have excellent control, even with an imperfect fit on the fingertip. I could easily peel grapes and pick up oiled marbles while wearing them.
If you want even more protection for your hand than our StoneBreaker pick provides, the StoneBreaker Garden Pro ($28) is made entirely of goatskin, front and back (except for two fashionable rivets.) In my testing, I found that the extra bulk of the goatskin seams at the index finger made it slightly harder to do fine-motor work (like peeling grapes) while wearing these gloves. Compared to the StoneBreaker Gardener glove, it isn’t quite as flexible for everyday tasks—but if you need more hand protection, and you’re willing to sacrifice some feeling at your fingertips, this glove will serve you well.
The Pallina Glove ($40-$45, depending on options) is billed as a “women’s glove,” but it comes in both a slim and standard fit that could accommodate many men. Made of goatskin, these gloves have fingers that are shorter than the StoneBreaker gloves, and a bit tighter around. The cuff is adjustable with velcro to fit a variety of arms snugly. It provides decent protection against thorns, although the seams at finger tips are a little bulky and interfere with fine detail work (a common problem for goatskin gloves.) If you’re a person with short fingers, and you’re tired of gloves with long fingers the flop over at the ends, this could be the glove for you. Other gardeners will do just as well with the StoneBreaker Gardener glove, which costs $20 less.
The Pallina Vegan Glove ($30) comes in women’s and men’s sizes. Goatskin-free, their synthetic fabric allows for “one-piece finger construction with no annoying seam at fingertips which allows better sensitivity for pulling weeds,” according to the Pallina web site, and it’s certainly true that the fingertips are seamless. However, there are seams between the red spandex back and the thick synthetic palm/fingertip material, and they rubbed and scratched my hand as I was testing these glove, even after they’d gone through the wash. They also didn’t hold up well to thorns, which penetrated right through the glove in my testing. If you are willing to endure some pain for your beliefs, these might soften up over extended use—or you could wear a liner with them. However, the Atlas Touch Gloves are also vegan, cost less than $5, and won’t scratch you.
If you spend your Saturdays swinging on oiled ropes over mud pits, you’ve probably heard of Mad Grip Pro Palm Gloves ($16.50), beloved of adventure racers—and you should learn about Carhartt C-Grip Pro Palm Gloves, which have almost the same name, look and feel almost the same, but cost $5 less ($11.50 plus shipping). Both gloves are made of stretchy, thick fabric, have a thick thermoplastic rubber coating on their palms and fingertips, and are made in Taiwan. (Someone should be suing someone for patent and copyright infringement, but who? And whom?) In any case, these gloves performed identically in tests; they’re stretchy, with no bulky seams at the fingertips to interfere with dexterity. Long thorns go through them, although the palms stop thorns short. They turn into butterfingers when they get oily; it was challenging to pick up a marble, and confounding to try to remove from my hands once they got slicked up. They’re fine all-around gloves, but the Atlas gloves have the same features for $8, and the Bionic gloves beat them for hand protection. However, Amazon reviewers seem to think that Pro Palm gloves are excellent for bounding over berms and sawhorses; if you’re gardening with Jackie Chan this weekend, this is your pick.
We reviewed Garden Girl Working Gloves ($25) in a previous version of this story; they have since been discontinued by the manufacturer.
The Womanswork Stretch Gardening Glove with Micro Suede Palm ($19) has a certain charm. The cuff is adjustable and flexible, and long enough to keep dirt off your wrists, and the flexible fabric and leather palms are comfortable; the seams aren’t too obtrusive while digging. Unfortunately, the fingertip seams are quite obtrusive during fine motor work (the grape-peeling test); it would be hard to thin seedlings or plant petunia seeds with these gloves on. Also, the palm leather isn’t quite tough enough to stop black raspberry thorns from poking through. It’s a decent glove for most gardening chores, but not outstanding in terms of price or performance. The fingers are a bit short relative to the palm, as seems to be true for most gloves that are “designed for women” (but not for this particular woman). Longer-limbed customers will need to size up.
The Tough Mud Glove ($13), designed for all kinds of wet work, performed just as well as the Bionic Glove… except on those pesky thorns. Raspberry thorns went straight through the nitrile coating into my skin. But for any other garden task—picking up slippery things, precisely peeling off leaves or bark, digging with trowels—the Tough Mud Glove was a superior performer. Its stretchy 3 inch long cuffs stayed tight throughout testing, keeping wrists safe from dirt, at least. As a GardenWeb commentator writes, Mud Gloves “are great for transplanting because you really CAN feel what you are doing.”
Flexible yet protective, the Original Mud Gloves feature a waterproof nitrile coating that covers the glove’s entire palm and the thumb and fingers down to the knuckles. As a commenter on the Garden of Aaron blog put it, “The waterproof coating is thick and heavy but flexible enough to use your fingers but still protect from rough stuff in the dirt. They really are waterproof, no leaking.” Southern Living praises Mud Gloves as “incredibly comfortable.” Garden Rant qualifies her affection for Mud Gloves, writing “ I like the Mudd ones[sic]—easy to slip on and off—but they get holes in the fingers pretty quickly.” If you need to muck out a bird bath filled with unidentifiable slime masses, these are the gloves to get.
The Original Mud Glove also excelled in every test except stopping raspberry thorns from piercing my fingers. (I stopped testing early.) However, the Original Mud Gloves’s 2½ inch cuffs stretched out of shape during testing, something that no other glove did. While the Original Mud Gloves’s cuffs are long enough to keep most dirt out of the glove, they won’t keep it all out as they loosen up.
The Mechanix Original Glove ($20) had much the same performance pattern as the Mud Glove—great for dexterity and sensitivity, not so great for thorns—which was surprising, given that the palms are coated with a hearty-feeling synthetic leather. It performed well overall in my testing. However, the main reason the Mechanix Original Glove and its sister Women’s Original Glove did not reach the apex of gardening glory was their cuffs. Although the articulated plastic band on the closure is easy to bend and the velcro attaches with ease, the closure leaves a slug-sized gap open at the bottom of the glove. Combine that with a cuff that’s barely 1 inch long, and you have a recipe for filthy wrists and rocks in the finger ends.
That said, the reason the Mechanix gloves rate near the top is the sheer range of their sizing. You can get these pretty-good gloves in glove sizes ranging from 5 inches (XXXS) to 13 inches (XXXL). The biggest and smallest gloves don’t come in the range of calm-to-shocking colors as the mediums, and all the gloves are printed with the word MECHANIX in screaming huge letters, but for gardeners who have a tough time finding gloves, the Mechanix are worth considering.
A previous version of this story reviewed Ethel garden gloves; those have also been discontinued by the manufacturer.
West County gloves will protect your hands, but they’re too thick and inflexible to perform smaller tasks. Garden Rant praised them as being as “rugged as advertised. The velcro on the wrists helps keep poison ivy from sneaking in, and the little pull tab thingies that hold them together are convenient for helping pull them on,” and the Trusty Gardener calls them “wonderful.” The West County Terrain Gloves are certainly rugged—not a single thorn penetrated its palm—but it didn’t take top honors because these gloves have stiff seams that press against your fingers and a short cuff (1¼ inch) that has a problematic gapping closure problem similar to the Mechanix gloves. The stiff seams extend to the fingertips, making fine work slightly more challenging than other gloves. The West County Classic Glove, by contrast, looks like a traditional loose-fitting garden glove, but with reinforced palm and fingertip areas and a velcro tightening strap across the back of the wrist. That stiff reinforcement on the finger tips made it impossible to do fine motor work like peel a grape; in fact, the West County Classic Glove was the only glove that completely failed that task in my testing.
The most expensive gloves I tested, the Gold Leaf Soft Touch gloves ($43), also had bulky seams at the fingertips. Although they’re endorsed by Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society, their thick fingertip seams made it significantly more difficult to do fine motor work (peeling grapes) or pick up slippery marbles than most other gloves I tested. A forty-dollar glove from the Royal Horticultural Society should be fit for a queen; this one isn’t.
Youngstown Women’s Gardening Gloves (similar to the Youngstown Mechanics Plus Performance Glove for men) are, well, okay. Garden blogger Green Thummy praises Youngstown gloves for “versatility, durability and comfort.” But the short cuff doesn’t adjust well to narrow wrists, leaving room for dirt to get in, and it was mediocre at grape-peeling and resisting raspberry thorns. The fingertip seams aren’t as bulky and meddlesome as some other gloves, though, and it was easy to pick up slippery marbles with this glove. Their price is as mediocre as the gloves themselves ($14).
Fox Gloves inspired a GardenWeb commentator to write, “They are so form-fitting that you can pick out the smallest seedling when weeding.” However, the Fox Gloves Original Glove is better suited to a ladies’ luncheon than the nasty, brutish outdoor world. These nylon/elastane gloves would make dandy liners for thicker gloves. They’re stretchy, and, yes, form-fitting, and soft enough that you’ll stop noticing you’re wearing them. Their snug 3½ inch cuffs will keep all dirt away from your fingernails. But their colorful fabric is no match for thorns. I suspect that I could bite through them with a little effort.
The next logical step in glove evolution from Fox Gloves is the Mud Gloves Sunflower Glove ($21), thin lime-green elbow-length gloves for, well, something. You can’t possibly dig or use pruners while you sport these delicate wisps of Arcadian gentility. They’ll protect your forearms from the sun, and they have mesh bottoms to allow air circulation about your limbs while you perambulate the Grand Garden fête. As Southern Living put it, “Aside from making you feel like a princess, these silky, beyond-the-elbow gauntlets offer UV protection and help keep forearms scratch-free.” If that’s what you’re after, Garden Princess, go for it.
Originally published: August 11, 2015
Should we open another bottle of wine?