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Modern hand warmers are a real game changer for cold-weather conditions. But keeping a pair in your pack is not just a nice bonus for a chilly morning; when things go wrong, they could aid in a survival situation (just think if the protagonist of To Build a Fire had had a pair of these on hand). To help you choose, we put eight of the leading models to the test to see which was the best hand warmer available today:
- Best Overall: Grabber Hand Warmers
- Best Reusable: HotSnapZ
- Best Compostable: Ignik Hand Warmers
- Best Electric: Ocoopa 5,200 mAH Rechargeable
- Best for Extreme Conditions: Zippo 12-Hour Refillable Hand Warmer
How I Tested the Best Hand Warmers
Hand warmers were tested in tandem, following manufacturer instructions and using a household thermometer. Temperatures were recorded at the following intervals: one minute, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, one hour, and then every hour until the temperature of the hand warmers fell below 100 degrees. Reusable hand warmers were then retested to confirm that they would work for multiple rounds. Weight, price, ease of use, and environmental impact were also taken into consideration.
The Best Hand Warmers: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Grabber Hand Warmers
- Weight: 1.6 ounces
- Only one use
- Maximum measured temperature: 118 degrees Fahrenheit
- Lasted for 11 hours
- Provides long-lasting warmth
- Can only be used once
Like most other hand warmers in this style, Grabbers begin to emit heat as soon as the package is opened up. That’s because the outside air, specifically the oxygen in the air, kickstarts the oxidation of the iron powder inside the wrapping, which produces heat as the iron begins to rust. The secret sauce for most of these packets is in how they control the heating process, so that the heat is released continuously and at comfortable temperatures.
During testing, I was impressed with how long the Grabbers emitted heat, especially given that it was one of the lightest hand warmers in my test, as well as the second cheapest. Whereas other hand warmers packed it in after half a day or less, I recorded these at 100 degrees Fahrenheit eleven hours after the package was initially opened. If you are looking for a low-cost, lightweight way to add a heat boost to your cold-weather adventure, then the Grabbers are an excellent choice.
Best Reusable: HotSnapZ
- Weight: 3.7 ounces
- Reusable hundreds of times
- Maximum measured temperature: 117 degrees Fahrenheit
- Lasted for 1 hour
- Heats up fast
- Reusable after boiling in water for 10 minutes
- Not as long lasting as others in my test
The HotSnapZ are a fast-acting hand warmer is perfect for people looking for an inexpensive and quick pick-me-up rather than an all-day hand warmer. Unlike traditional hand warmers, this one uses sodium acetate (basically baking soda and vinegar), which has an unusually high freezing point. When the metal disk is tweaked, it sends tiny metal particles into the sodium acetate solutions, which starts a chain reaction that releases all the heat in the solution as the crystals themselves freeze. This hand warmer style is so straightforward that you can make a DIY version.
Something else great about the HotSnapz compared to the traditional style in our best overall pick is that they can be reused many times by simply placing the packet in boiling water for 10 minutes and then allowing it to cool to room temperature.
Best Compostable: Ignik Hand Warmers
- Weight: 2.3 ounces
- Only one use
- Maximum measured temperature: 108 degrees Fahrenheit
- Lasted for 10 hours
- Able to compost the materials inside the packet (although the packet itself must go into the trash)
- Provides long-lasting warmth
- Can’t open the hand warmers individually
- Inconsistent heating between hand warmers
If you don’t use hand warmers consistently—perhaps you just want a pair to stash into one of the best hiking backpacks—then a battery-powered or lighter-fuel option may be more investment than you are looking for.
But single-use hand warmers that you toss in the trash at the end of the day aren’t environmentally sustainable.
While at first glance the Ignik Hand Warmer looked like the other disposable single-use hand warmers in my test, its contents can be composted, either in your home composting bin or your city’s composting program. Four of the ingredients in the hand warmer—vermiculite, activated carbon, cellulose, and salt—will break down anywhere between a couple of weeks and a couple of months depending on your home composting setup, while the fifth ingredient, iron shavings, provide essential minerals to the soil.
The Ignik’s 108-degree max temp was the lowest of the best hand warmers. But It should be noted that, for testing, I randomly picked one of the hand warmers out of the packet and measured its temperature. That hand warmer turned out to be significantly less warm than the other hand warmers in the packet.
Best Electric: Ocoopa 5,200 mAH Rechargeable
- Weight: 4.8 ounces
- Two-year warranty
- Maximum measured temperature: 135 degrees Fahrenheit
- Lasted for 5 hours
- Easy to use
- Heats up fast
- Can also be used as a power charger for other devices
- Multiple heat level options (plus the option to turn it off entirely)
- Takes a while to charge
Compared to the Zippo and two sodium acetate hand warmers, the Ocoopa was impressively easy to use, making it the best multiple-use hand warmer in my test. Upon opening the box, I plugged in the hand warmer using the supplied cable. Once all three lights next to the power button were a steady blue, I unplugged it and turned it on. It immediately started warming up; in fact, this was the fastest warming product I tried. Pressing the power button two more times set the hand warmer to high, which was what was used during testing—users can expect this hand warmer to last longer when set to a lower temperature setting. While this hand warmer is pricier than others I looked at, its simplicity and high performance make it one of the better values.
Best for Extreme Conditions: Zippo 12-Hour Refillable Hand Warmer
- Weight: 3.2 ounces
- 1-year warranty
- Maximum measured temperature: 189 degrees Fahrenheit (without pouch); 116 degrees Fahrenheit (with pouch)
- Lasted for fourteen hours (five hours in the initial use)
- Hottest hand warmer in my test
- Long lasting (after the initial first use)
- Complicated to use
- Noticeable smell
If all you care about is the hottest hand warmer—and I mean really hot—then the Zippo 12-Hour Refillable Hand Warmer is the right choice for you. Just don’t toss the small tote, which comes with this hand warmer, in the garbage: you’ll need it to keep it from burning your skin.
While the Zippo Hand Warmer emits an impressive amount of heat, I found it fairly complicated to use during testing, especially compared to the simplicity of the Ocoopa. First off, this hand warmer can’t be used straight out of the box—you need to first acquire lighter fuel, which is sold separately. The instructions for the Zippo warn you not to spill any of the lighter fluid while filling the tiny plastic filling cup, which sort of resembles a watering can, and then tipping the lighter fluid into the hand warmer itself. I was unsuccesful in that and spilled lighter fuel both times. The instructions then further state the hand warmer should be allowed to stand upright for at least two minutes prior to use, and that it is important that the warmer not lay flat before being ignited; however, the design of this hand warmer is not conducive to standing upright.
The Zippo Hand Warmer was tested straight out of the box without the provided pouch to assess maximum temperature. That initial round of testing demonstrated that users need to be exceptionally careful with this hand warmer, as the temperature of the metal could easily result in a contact burn on someone’s skin. The second round of testing, using the attached pouch, showed that users can safely use this hand warmer, assuming they are careful. That being said, this hand warmer is not an appropriate choice for children due to the amount of heat it generates.
It’s worth noting that the instructions for the hand warmer state that the hand warmer may not operate for as long as it can during its first use, which was what I measured during the initial testing.
Things to Consider Before Buying Hand Warmers
Hand warmers can be great after ungloving your hands for some fine motor work, but they are no substitute for appropriate clothing. If you find that you are regularly cold in the backcountry, consider upgrading your outdoor wardrobe, such as with a pair of the best hiking socks.
While most single-use hand warmers use iron powder to produce heat when exposed to the outside air, reusable hand warmers employ a number of mechanisms, including sodium acetate, lighter fluid, and internal batteries. The advantage of the single-use warmers is that they are the simplest to use: once the package is opened, they start warming up instantly. Reusable hand warmers require some foresight to ensure they are juiced up before you head outside and, in the case of those that use lighter fluid, an extra level of care.
The length of time that the hand warmers in my test provided heat for varied considerably. When choosing a hand warmer, consider how long you expect to be out of doors for, and whether your hand warmer will serve as a pick-me-up or an all-day source of heat.
A couple of the hand warmers in my test (the Zippo and the Ocoopa) are capable of reaching temperatures that would not only be uncomfortable to touch but could also cause burns if left exposed to the skin for too long. The Zippo’s 180 degrees and Ocoopa’s 135 degrees can cause second-degree burns in seconds, but both came with cloth sacks meant to prevent direct contact with the user’s skin.
Suppose you are planning an outdoor trek in an exceptionally cold environment. In that case, those high heats may be exactly what you need, but many individuals may find these temperatures to be excessive for typical outdoor activities.
Q: How much do hand warmers cost?
While single-use hand warmers can cost as little as a dollar (if bought in bulk), electric hand warmers can run up to $30.
Q: How long do hand warmers last?
Single-use hand warmers that use iron powder can last up to eleven hours, while sodium acetate hand warmers typically only last an hour or two.
Q: How warm do hand warmers get?
The maximum temperatures of the hand warmers I tested varied considerably, from a so-so high of 108 degrees up to a scorching 189 degrees.
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During testing, I found the Grabbers to provide the most impressive heat among the traditional, budget-style hand warmers, while the Ocoopa was an excellent reusable option for those willing to spend a bit more (and who aren’t watching the weight of their gear). Remember: while the best hand warmers can help take the edge of a frosty morning, they are no substitute for appropriate clothing, such as the best puffer jackets.