If you’ve ever traveled through northern parts of the country such as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, or even Maine, there’s a chance you’ve crossed paths with a very particular type of glove. If you have ever been struck by the design or the name of these gloves, you’re not the first to be curious.
These gloves, known as choppers, have been around since the 17th century, yet they are only known by mostly northern residents of the United States.
So what are choppers and why have most people never heard of them?
According to NativeTech, a resource center for Native American Technology and Arts, some of the first accounts of chopper mittens can be found in the journal entries of American settlers who noted the gloves while interacting with local Native Americans. Settlers soon realized the deerskin wrapped around their arms was an ingenious invention of protection against the winter wind and snow. The design of the animal skin gloves were adjusted and tested throughout progressing winter seasons until a more finished version of the design proved to be effective. With layered insulation, inner lining, and a winged thumb this style of glove became known as choppers. By the 1800s, the glove’s design had been perfected to assist workers in the colder, northern regions of the country. Their name is derived from their high usage and popularity from wood choppers and northern fishermen. They were also largely used and popularized by the U. S. Cavalry.
Put simply, choppers are gloves that specialize in keeping hands warm while giving your fingers enough freedom to work outdoors. While choppers may seem similar in shape to regular mittens, these gloves are unique in their moccasin-type construction. They provide durable protection in the outer and inner layers of the glove for better grip and heat insulation. The outer layer of a chopper glove is often made from deer or elk skin to provide a thick, water resistant surface for outdoor activities such as hunting, ice fishing, skiing, and other winter sports.
An appealing feature of choppers is the double-layer wool and nylon interior. This lining inside the glove gives individual fingers grip while also keeping fingers together. This inner lining expands past the wrist section and cinches about a half an inch past the palm to keep heat insulated and avoid any external elements like snow, water, or wind from intruding.
Another unique and noticeable feature of the chopper glove is the winged thumb. The wing design of the thumb offers more dexterity and sets choppers apart as an impressive working glove.
While your first instinct to working in colder weather may be to grab a set of regular gloves, the design used in choppers will prove to be a more efficient way to stay warm. For any advantage gloves may provide in dexterity, choppers make-up for in their insulation. You see, the design of the chopper focuses on keeping fingers together inside the trunk of the mit in order to allow the body heat from each individual finger to maintain warmth in the entire hand. The winged thumb ensures more dexterity and grip control compared to the average mitten. Despite its 17th century origin, the chopper glove has managed to maintain its design and is still lovingly used by most outdoors men and women today.
So why have most people never heard of the chopper glove before today? Similar to its birth, it relies upon word-of-mouth. Since the gloves are geared more towards harsh winter climates, it makes sense that choppers are almost completely utilized by northern states.
Choppers have evolved since their first simple design to become not only one of the most reliable winter gloves, but also a connection between northern communities that have always known its quiet history. So the next time you come across these gloves, try on a pair and see how they fit.
Remember they were once just deer skin!