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The Best Hand Warmer

The Best Hand Warmer
The Best Hand Warmer

Includes easy fill technology Improved fill cup helps reduce spills

🏆The Zippo Hand Warmer is available online from Amazon for around $17 to $25, but you can also find it at national chains like Cabela’s and many places where Zippo lighters are sold for around the same price. Each Zippo Hand Warmer comes with a fuel compartment filled with cotton wadding that’s used for absorbing white gas, a replaceable platinum filament burner that’s good for roughly 70 to 80 uses before it needs to be replaced, and stainless steel cap to cover the burner and a flame resistant pouch to slip the Hand Warmer into when its in use. The pouch serves two purposes: to protect your skin from the heat given off by the Hand Warmer and to control the amount of oxygen that feeds the burner. By regulating the amount of oxygen that reaches the burner, the hand warmer is able to maintain a slow, safe catalytic reaction that’ll provide users with flameless heat for hours.

The Zippo Hand Warmer also comes with a small plastic refilling cup that’s marked with two lines. The first marks how much fuel you’ll need to power it through six hours of use. The second shows how much white gas you should dump into it in order to make it last for 12 hours. Let me tell you: both these runtimes are bullshit. I tested this thing twice over three days, and found that the amount of fuel suggested for 12 hours of use by Zippo lasted me 22 hours during my first test and just over 20 hours on my second test. I can’t remember the last time a piece of hardware I tested actually outperformed the specs put forward by the company, but there you go. It’s not an isolated incident either. There are tons of testimonials online from other users experiencing similar runtimes. That said, long runtimes are a hallmark of catalytic hand warmers, and those made by other brands are capable of similar feats.

Using the Zippo Hand Warmer isn’t as easy as ripping open an air-activated hand warmer and starting an exothermic reaction, but it’s not a big deal, either. First, remove the burner from the top of the hand warmer. Next, take a can of lighter fluid, top off the hand warmer’s included refilling cup and pour a measure of fluid into the Zippo’s reservoir. Then, replace the burner. Finally, hold a lit match or lighter to the burner’s exposed platinum filaments for five to 10 seconds, place the hand warmer’s metal cover over top of the burner and slip the lot of it in the fire resistant pouch. You’re in business. You should begin to feel the heat generated by the catalytic reaction almost instantly, and in about five minutes, the hand warmer will be giving off enough heat that you’ll be able to feel it through an insulated set of winter gloves.

After maybe 60 to 70 uses, you’ll have to replace the hand warmer’s burner. They cost under $10 a pop, and given the hours of warmth you get out of each burner, it’s hard to complain about the price, especially when you consider that your average air activated hand warmer, which sells for fifty cents to a buck a piece, only five or six hours after which, it’s fit for the landfill.

Chris Owen of Gadling called the Zippo Hand Warmer a better deal than disposable air activated hand warmers, and said that he’d recommend it to “hunters, outdoor sports people of all kinds. People who find themselves waiting around in the cold, maybe to catch a bus, would like this too. Someone wintering in Russia? Must have one.” Jim Martin of Expert Reviews said that the Zippo Hand Warmer “…remained hot in our tests for exactly the claimed time and, at 45 degrees C, was miles hotter than other hand warmers we’ve tried. The metal is too hot to touch, of course, but inside the included pouch it’s just about perfect.” And even though he had problems lighting it the second time he used it,  About.com’s hunting expert Russ Chastain liked it too.

There’s also a lot of praise for this thing from non-expert users. ’Stvcheung,’ a Mountain Equipment Co-Op customer from Calgary, Canada said “I’m not a hunter or an winter hiker type person or even a outdoor survivalist. However, I’m a customer of a unreliable transit system during the winters and I really enjoy this product. Hope this review helps others in my situation.” And over on Amazon.com, the hand warmer garnered 170 five star reviews and 80 that awarded it four stars, out of a total of 339 reviews. Not too bad at all.

As for me, I like it just fine. I broke three of the fingers on my right hand a few years back. After a few hours of typing, they typically end up screaming in protest. The Zippo’s proven to not only be a long lasting source of heat in cold conditions, it also helps to keep my joint pain in check while I work. I find that five minutes of holding on to the hand warmer while I work’s just as effective as ten or fifteen minutes of cradling my fingers in a microwave heated buckwheat bag.

That said, there are some things that keep the Zippo Hand Warmer from being perfect. For starters, it’s a pain in the ass to refill. Even with the measuring cup that it comes with, it’s easy to spill lighter fluid, or overfill the hand warmer’s reservoir, which can result in you getting it all over your hands and desk. It also smells—not a lot, but a little—like lighter fluid when it’s running. But it’s full of lighter fluid, so duh. Finally, there’s no way to turn the hand warmer off when you’re not using it. You either have to wait for the fuel to peter out or take the burner off of the hand warmer, which can be dangerous, as it gets quite hot. But since lighter fluid is cheap, and the worst that can happen if you leave it running is that you might have to buy a replacement burner a little sooner than you would if you snuffed it out, it’s hard to really gripe about this.

It’s worth mentioning that an Amazon user mentioned that he was able to snuff out his Zippo Hand Warmer by putting it in a ziplock bag and snuffing out all of the air. I haven’t tried it myself, but there you go. A lot of people who bought the Zippo Hand Warmer complained that it was difficult to light. Well, sometimes it is. But I’ve found that much of this has to do with the fact that you need to give the fuel you’ve poured into the device’s reservoir a chance to start creating fumes, say ten seconds. Then, five to ten seconds worth of flame on each side of the burner head should be enough to get it going.

A cheaper, disposable alternative

If you just want a cheap disposable hand warmer, you could still go with the air activated kind like those made by Grabber, which cost between 50 cents and $1 a piece. They’re way more portable than the Zippo Hand Warmer. My testing proved that compared to Little Hotties or Heat Factory branded warmers, the Grabbers ran for the longest, at just over six hours and thirty minutes. But none of the air activated warmers I tried came close to being as hot as the Zippo was, so the Zippo is my  main choice even if a little more complicated to set up and use.

The competition

I tested electric heaters, too. They kind of suck.

The Sunpenton Portable Handheld Electric Heater costs $40, and ran for five hours on the highest of its two settings, and takes just as long to recharge. Human Creation’s SnugBug Portable Rechargeable Hand Warmer ran for 30 minutes less and couldn’t manage the same amount of heat as the Sunpenton hardware. Sanyo’s Enloop Kairo Rechargeable Portable Electric Hand Warmer proved to be the the hottest of the electrics I tested, but it stopped cranking out the heat after four hours. Given that it takes almost three hours to charge, that’s kind of sad. The Zippo Hand Warmer on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, provided a significantly larger amount of heat for 22 hours before giving up the ghost. When it came time to refill its reservoir again, I was able to take it apart, refuel it and light it up again all in under five minutes.

Despite reading about their short runtimes and the fact that you have to dunk them in boiling water to recharge them, I ordered a set of Sodium Acetate heaters called  HotSnapz and a ProHeat Reusable Hand Warmer to test. They put out the smallest amount of heat of any of the hand warmers I tested for this review, and also, predictably, provided heat for the shortest amount of time–about 15 minutes. Maybe they might be OK to keep in a first aid kit in case you need to apply heat to a muscle injury with, but they’re less than ideal when used as hand warmers. The Zippo Hand Warmer is way out of the HotSnapZ and ProHeat hand warmer’s league. The same can be said for the AA battery powered hand warmer I tested. The heat it generated was as weak the sodium acetate warmers could manage.  But at least the AA battery powered unit lasted close to four hours, so that’s something I guess.

While I tested out a Celsius Solid Fuel Hand Warmer that I found on Amazon, I can’t recommend it for a couple of reasons. While it felt almost as hot as the Zippo Hand warmer did, the solid fuel stick it came with only lasted for five hours, and it stunk while it was lit. Badly. That might not be a serious issue if you’re out camping, but if you want to keep your hands warm on your morning commute, it’s something to consider. It’s also worth mentioning that I couldn’t find replacement fuel sticks for it locally, and neither BassPro or Cablea’s stocks them either. I found them on Amazon, but it costs $7 for 12 sticks. That’s pretty steep.

It’s worth noting that Zippo’s not the only catalytic hand warmer out there.

Hakukin has been making the Peacock hand warmer since 1923. The fact that it’s still in production is a testament to it’s excellent quality, value and popularity amongst users. Looking at it, it’s fair to say that Zippo’s borrowed heavily from the Peacock’s 89 year old design. I bought one online from a site in the UK for $54 Canadian (that’s more than it would have cost me on Amazon, but they were out at the time that I checked) and waited for three weeks and it still hasn’t arrived. That’s three times the price of a Zippo hand warmer. According to a number of forum posts I’ve read on the topic of Peacock versus Zippo hand warmers, the Peacock units burn about as long, and get as hot as the the cheaper Zippo hardware does. What’s more, the Zippo comes with a two year limited warranty. I wasn’t able to find any reference to a warranty for the Peacock unit on the Hakukin home page or through the UK distributer site. Amazon doesn’t mention one either. Finally, at close to $20 each, the Peacock burners cost almost twice as much as a replacement Zippo burner does, and that’s before you factor in the shipping cost for the peacock hardware. With the Zippo burner, shipping costs are moot, as you can find them in smoke shops and outdoor stores across North America.

I also spotted a no name knock-off of the Zippo hand warmer on Amazon for $15. It claims to burn just as long as the Zippo made iteration from, and it says that it can use the Zippo’s replacement burners, which is cool. But being as you can often find the Zippo for a few bucks more and have the hardware backed up by a warranty, I don’t think the knock-off price is worth it. To get an idea of what the no-name brand hand warmer might be like, I picked up a $18 hand warmer in downtown Victoria that riffed the Zippo’s hardware right down to the holes drilled in the lid.  The first thing that I noticed was that it didn’t feel as heavy as the Zippo, and that the metal body that holds the cotton wadding and fuel could be easily bent using a minimal amount of pressure. It also didn’t burn for as long. After filling it with white gas, I found the knock off only burnt for 18 hours. That’s still more than any of the electrics, chemical reaction based or solid fuel heaters I tested, but it wasn’t as long as the Zippo, so there you go.

So yeah: if you want to keep your hands warm this winter get a Zippo hand warmer. Or buy two. You know, one for each pocket.

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Last update was on: August 23, 2019 9:50 pm

5 Comments
  1. Mike
    Seamus,
    I appreciate your response to my comment. I have not yet given up on the Zippo hand warmer and continue to experiment with it. What I have learned is that when full of fuel and lit properly, the device does get hot , however once in the bag the heat output diminishes considerably. It appears as if the bag stifles the heat and when out in single digit temps it does not generate enough heat to make a noticeable difference.once out of the bag the heat is impressive. Thanks again for your response,
    Mike

    Sent from my iPad

    Seamus Bellamy
    My pleasure Mike!

  2. You could go the cheaper route and buy disposable hand warmers. Heatmax Hand Warmers last for 10 hours and are extremely cheap compared to electronic warmers. They are also more versatile and comfortable.

  3. For my XC skiing in upstate NY (where it is rarely below 0 deg F), I try to get my hands really toasty warm in the car BEFORE I begin. Then, I wear good quality gloves or mittens, sometimes with an over-mitt. If my hands get cold anyway, I just take off the gloves and stick them (my hands, not my gloves!) down my pants. Skin-on-skin contact is very effective.

  4. I want something for inside my mittens while xc skiing. I’ve used the hot hands type and they work but landfill cuz I use 2-4 each time I go out skiing (3 x a week). I’ve tried hot snaps, but bulky in my mittens and only hot for 20 min. The zippo was very hard to light. It only worked half the time and is too big for inside mittens. I would like to find a reusable method about the size of the hot hands air activated kind. Any ideas? Btw, I too have Reynauds and live in WI. I’ve tried taking cayenne and cq10, and tried embrocation creams too.

  5. I used the solid fuel (burner stick) hand warmers 25 years ago in the Boy Scouts. I don’t know if they’ve improved, but the one in the photo above looks identical to the one I used. It was horrible. Dirty, unreliable and dangerous. The stick often went out prematurely. When it was successfully burning, however, it was hot enough to burn through anything it touched if it had to be handled (to be extinguished or checked), and the case was prone to accidentally opening–in spite of the protective rubber band that came with the kit. It was a fire hazard and serious burn risk, especially if you were handling it with cold fingers. I can’t ever remember coming across a product that seemed so recklessly dangerous while performing so poorly.

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