Hestra Gloves, Still Going Strong After 80-Plus Years
By Brian E. Clark
Woodsmen have been chopping down trees in southern Sweden during the winter for hundreds of years, wearing various types of mitts to protect their hands.
In 1936, Martin Magnusson perceived the need for a better kind of glove for lumberjacks, especially during his country’s sometimes bitter, cold-weather winter. The result was a rugged pair of gloves made from leather and wool, reinforced with rivets to stand up to hard work in the forest. All of the materials were sourced from near his hometown of Hestra in the province of Småland.
Those gloves – “handscar” in Swedish – didn’t have a specific name. But they caught on with lumberjacks, so the glove and mitten company that Magnusson founded thrived.
Fast forward 84 years and Hestra (hestragloves.com) is one of the globe’s top high-end producer of ski and snowboard gloves and mittens, to say nothing of a line of stylish driving and dress gloves. But excellence doesn’t come cheap. Many Hestra mitts cost $150 or more.
Company spokesman Drew Eakins said Hestra – which is now run by fourth-generation Magnussons – got into the sporting world in 1937, when the Isaberg Ski Resort opened outside of Hestra. A modest ski bowl, it has a vertical of around 500 feet, six lifts and continues to operate.
The company’s headquarters remain in Hestra, population 1,300. This year, workers in three factories around the globe will produce more than 40 individual kinds of gloves and mittens – including some for lumberjacks. But the vast majority are for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
“They were designed from the beginning to be durable, warm and have dexterity,” he said. “That’s still our mantra. And to this day, we continue to believe leather is the best material for making gloves.
“Our CEO is a master-certified glove cutter who spent years apprenticing to get that designation,” he said. “We truly are detail-oriented and firmly invested in the craft. We have the only two master glove cutters in Scandinavia.”
He said the most popular Hestra model of all is the Army Leather Heli Ski, which was designed in cooperation with the Canadian Mountain Holiday (CMH) outfit. Now in its 20th year, it is available in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes, it also comes in a glove, mitten, and three-fingered model.
“We think that heli-ski guides are some of the hardest ski glove users in the world,” he said. “They are loading and unloading skis and other equipment constantly, getting clients in an out of choppers, digging pits and doing all their safety checks.
“They really put their gloves through the paces, often 100-plus days a year. We think if we can build gloves that stand up to their grueling work, they’ll perform for anyone.”
The company began selling its gloves and mittens in the United States 15 years ago. Its U.S. headquarters is in Arvada, Colorado. Along with Helly Hansen, Fjällräven, Norrøna, Tretorn and 66°NORTH, Hestra is among a handful of Scandinavian outdoor clothing and gear companies popular in North America.
When I skied at Park City Mountain Resort this month, guide Stefan Gorsch – an Aussie who has been teaching skiing in the Wasatch Range for more than 15 years – said he has gotten more than 300 days of wear from his rugged Hestra gloves and mittens. For the average recreational skier or snowboarder that could be nearly a lifetime of wear if the mitts are oiled and maintained properly.
“They are expensive, but they’re some of the best and you see a lot of them in use here,” he told me over a tasty lunch at Park City’s “Mid-Mountain Lodge,” an erstwhile miner’s boarding house from the 1800s that was renovated last year and is home to the state’s only on-mountain cocktail bar: The Public House.
I own a pair of blue and yellow (the colors of the Swedish flag) Hestra gloves designed for the Swedish National Ski Team – that I got used for around $15 five years ago – and they’ve shown no signs of wear and tear over at least 80 days of use. If I care for them correctly (and I will) they may last me another 100-plus day.
Eakins said when the Hestra began selling its gloves in the U.S. a decade-and-one-half ago, people in the industry were skeptical that skiers and snowboarders would pay more than $100 for a pair of gloves or mittens.
“Our thinking was if we built good enough products that would last three or four times as long as the competition, people will buy them,” he said. “It took some education, but many skiers and snowboarders have recognized that it’s worth the investment because they not only look good, but they will last a long, long time.”
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.