The best hand warmers can turn a potentially miserable outing into one of warm joy, because winter activities are so much more enjoyable when you’re prepared for the cold. Among the key items for staying warm while taking part in activities such as hiking, running, climbing and skiing include an insulated jacket, good-quality base layers and winter hats and a pair of the best hiking gloves. But even with the best preparation, still your hands can end up cold. If you suffer with Raynaud’s Syndrome, it’s even more of a challenge to prevent your fingers feeling frostbitten.
The best hand warmers are so small and light that you don’t notice you have them in your hiking pack, but when they’re in your hands – or, better still, snug inside your gloves – they bring a lovely warming relief to freezing digits.
This guide brings you the lowdown on a range of different hand warmers, with the pros and cons of each.
The best rechargeable hand warmers
Lifesystems Rechargeable Hand Warmer XT
A rechargeable hand warmer that warms up quickly – and stays hot for a long time
List price: $34.99 (US) / £29.99 (UK) | Weight: 193g / 6.8oz | Dimensions: 58mm x 117mm x 32mm / 2.3in x 4.6in x 1.3in | Max temperature: Up to 50°C / 122°F | Max heat time: 14 hours | Power source: 10,000mAh lithium-ion battery | Heat settings: Four, with dual heat plates for 360° heat | Features: Unit doubles as a power bank, with a USB cable | Colors: Black
From fully charged, this hand warmer offers an impressive level of heat for up to 14 hours on the lowest of four settings; on the highest setting you still benefit from about six hours of heat.
The warmer heats up within seconds of being switched on and there’s a choice of four heat settings. The highest setting is very hot – a bit too hot at times – so for comfortable warmth that lasts longer, setting one or two is ideal.
Recharging is done via a USB cable overnight. The hand warmer feels smooth and comfortable in the palm of the hand, but one drawback is that it heats only one hand at a time, so you’ll need two to keep both hands warm. An added bonus is that you can use the gadget as an emergency power bank, but not when in hard warmer mode.
Zippo HeatBank 9s Rechargeable Hand Warmer
A rechargeable hand warmer with six heat settings and plenty of warmth
List price: $54.95 (US) / £39.90 (UK) | Weight: 167g / 5.9oz | Dimensions: 124mm x 60mm x 24mm / 5in x 2.4in x 0.9in | Max temperature: 50°C / 122°F | Max heat time: Nine hours | Power source: 5200mAh lithium-ion battery | Heat settings: Six | Features: One or dual-sided heat; also functions as a power bank, with a USB cable | Colors: Black / Silver / Gold
This Zippo rechargeable hand warmer offers lots of temperature versatility, with six heat settings, although the hottest one doesn’t feel as hot as the Lifesystems rechargeable hand warmer and the heat duration is shorter, too.
You can expect up to nine hours of heat on the lowest setting, but it will last less time on higher settings. The device has a nice shape for holding in the hand. However, you’ll need two devices if you want to keep both hands warm at the same time.
When not in use as a hand warmer, the gadget doubles as a power bank for USB compatible devices. It does not have an IP rating, which means it’s not waterproof but water-resistant.
The best reusable hand warmers
Lifesystems Reusable Hand Warmers
Simple gel-filled hand warmers that can be re-used (but with limited heat duration)
List price: $6.49 / £4.99 (UK) / €5.99 (EU) | Weight (each): 118g / 4.2oz | Dimensions: 90mm x 90mm x 15mm / 3.5in x 3.5in x 0.6in | Max temperature: 54°C / 129°F | Max heat time: 45 minutes | Power source: Chemical reaction | Heat settings: One | Features: Reusable | Colors: Orange
To activate these gel-filled hand warmers, you simply “click” a small metal disc inside and the gel crystallizes and emits heat. One of the best things about the hand warmers is watching the liquid magically become solid – and then feeling the heat instantly emitted.
The liquid gel is a highly concentrated solution of sodium acetate, which is a colorless salt dissolved in distilled water. The heat is a nice level of warmth but I’m doubtful it reaches 50C. Sadly, the hand warmer starts go cold after 45 minutes and isn’t much use past an hour. However, the warmers are a nice size to hold in the hand.
To keep hands warm for longer, you would need to carry several pairs of these products. But they are cheap and reusable so if you don’t mind the extra weight in your pack you could take several out and about. To reset the crystallized gel to liquid again, you simmer the hand warmers in boiling water for eight minutes.
Highlander Reusable Hand Warmers Gel Pads
Reuseable gel-filled hand warmers that offer up to an hour’s heat
List price (for two): $10 (US) / £5.99 (UK) | Weight (each): 105g / 3.7oz | Dimensions: 95mm x 95mm x 10mm / 3.7in x 3.7in x 0.4in | Max temperature: 55°C / 131°F | Max heat time: Three hours | Power source: Chemical reaction | Heat settings: One | Colors: White
Like the Lifesystems gel hand warmers, the heat here is instant once a small metal disc inside hand warmer is “clicked” to activate it. The warmth rating is claimed to be up to 55C but when compared to the heat of the rechargeable hand warmers, I doubt the temperature is that high. Even so, the heat that each hand warmer gives out is perfectly pleasant and useful.
The issue is that the heat dissipates to cold within about an hour. The gel can be reset by placing the hand warmer in simmering hot water for about 10 minutes, although you need to be at home or somewhere with a cooker to do this. The hand warmers are a nice round shape, although quite large to hold in the palm of your hand unless you have big hands. These gel warmers receive a slightly lower star rating compared to the Lifesystems version because of price and size.
Clara Microwavable Hand Warmers
Reusable and useful but with limited heat duration
List price (per pair): $16.29 / £14 (UK) | Weight (each): 118g / 4.2oz | Dimensions: 115mm x 75mm x 30mm / 4.5in x 1.18in | Max heat time: One hour | Power source: Microwaved wheat | Heat settings: One | Features: Reusable, washable and wheat-filled | Colors: Soft Gray / Teal Blue / Heather Pink
These microwavable hand warmers are filled with British, chemical-free, unscented wheat and they are made from 100% pre-washed linen. They have an attractive rustic-style design and quickly heat up in the microwave.
The warmth lasts about an hour but starts to reduce from about 30 minutes. It’s a great warmth, however, even if it’s not that long lasting. The issue for outdoors enthusiasts is that we don’t take a microwaves with us, so this product has limited usefulness. You need to heat up the warmers at home and take them out with you, perhaps useful if you were going for a dog walk on a cold day, sledging with the kids or if you’re lucky enough to be in walking or running distance of some trails.
We found them most useful when we got back home after exercise. The products can be used as a cold pack, too, by popping them in the freezer. The inner cotton pouch holding the wheat can be removed so you can wash the linen outer. The eco credentials are good because the wheat is naturally biodegradable, as is the packaging.
The best disposable hand warmers
Wedze Hand Warmers
Small, single-use hand warmers that provide surprisingly long-lasting heat
List price (for 10): £6.99 (UK) / €7 (EU) | Weight (each): 21g / 0.7oz | Dimensions: 90mm x 50mm / 3.5in x 2in | Max heat time: Six hours | Power source: Chemical reaction | Heat settings: One | Features: Small and lightweight | Colors: White
To activate these small hand warmers, you need to shake each pouch, which stimulates a reaction in a powder that includes activated carbon. It takes quite a bit of shaking and a wait of about 10 minutes before the heat starts to permeate.
But when the heat comes, it’s a lovely glowing warmth that lasts for up to five hours if you keep them inside your gloves. In fact, there was still a bit of heat left in these hand warmers after leaving them in a pocket overnight.
They are easily small enough to fit in your palm inside a glove. Some gloves, especially ski gloves, have a small zipped pocket at the rear and these are perfect for this sort of hand warmer. Each hand warmer is very lightweight so there is no reason why you wouldn’t always keep a couple in a rucksack or jacket pocket just in case.
However, a big negative of this product is that anything that is disposable is both wasteful and also unkind to the planet.
The best fuel-burning hand warmers
Highlander Solid Fuel Hand Warmer
An old-fashioned hand warmer that provides great heat
List price: £5.49 (UK), plus refill charcoals £2.99 | Weight (with one charcoal): 126g / 4.4oz | Dimensions: 115mm x 70mm x 20mm / 4.5in x 2.8in x 0.8in | Max heat time: Seven hours | Power source: Burning charcoal | Heat settings: One | Features: Pocket-sized with a felt cover and fiberglass insulated inner | Colors: Green
Curiously, this is the most old-fashioned style of hand warmer on test but it is also one of the best. It takes a bit of coaxing to get the charcoal stick to work in the first place, but once it’s alight and snug inside the slim, insulated and felt-covered metal box, the heat is superb.
The warmth goes on and on and lasts some seven hours, giving out a constant heat. If you plan to use this when outdoors, it’s probably a good idea to find a wind-free place – such as your car before you set off, a mountain restaurant if skiing, or a bothy in the mountains – to light the charcoal.
Don’t forget to take a lighter with you, too!
I love this hand warmer for its retro look and its reliable heat, although there is no control on the temperature.
|Hand warmer||Price||Dimensions||Weight||Max heat time (hours)||Power source|
|Lifesystems Rechargeable Hand Warmer XT||$34.99 (US) / £29.99 (UK)||58 x 117 x 32mm / 2.3 x 4.6 x 1.3in||193g / 6.8oz||14||10,000mAh lithium-ion battery|
|Zippo HeatBank 9s Rechargeable Hand Warmer||$54.95 (US) / £39.90 (UK)||124 x 60 x 24mm / 5 x 2.4 x 0.9in||167g / 5.9oz||9||5200mAh lithium-ion battery|
|Lifesystems Reusable Hand Warmers||$6.49 / £4.99 (UK) / €5.99 (EU)||90 x 90 x 15mm / 3.5 x 3.5 x 0.6in||118g / 4.2oz||0.75||Chemical reaction|
|Highlander Reusable Hand Warmers Gel Pads||$10 (US) / £5.99 (UK)||95 x 95 x 10mm / 3.7 x 3.7 x 0.4in||105g / 3.7oz||3||Chemical reaction|
|Clara Microwavable Hand Warmers||$16.29 / £14 (UK)||115 x 75 x 30mm / 4.5 x 1.18||118g / 4.2oz||1||Microwaved wheat|
|Wedze Hand Warmers||£6.99 (UK) / €7 (EU)||90 x 50mm / 3.5 x 2in||21g / 0.7oz||6||Chemical reaction|
|Highlander Solid Fuel Hand Warmer||£5.49 (UK)||115 x 70 x 20mm||126g / 4.4oz||7||Burning charcoal|
How we tested the best hand warmers
Our tester lives in Scotland and spends a lot of time running trails and hills, as well as hiking in the mountains. She also has Raynaud’s Syndrome, which means that even in summer her hands can become cold and numb without gloves.
All the hand warmers were tested outdoors in cold conditions. The hand warmers were only used when our tester’s hands were cold. They were placed inside gloves, or in the palm of a gloved or bare hand, as well as inside a jacket pocket. The devices were tested until they ran out of heat. The hand warmers were also utilized after exercise, when Raynaud’s can be at its worse. This meant the hand warmers were also used indoors in a bid to prevent the all-too-familiar white fingers of someone with Raynaud’s.
It was not possible check the claimed temperature / warmth being emitted from the products (the manufacturer’s figures are quoted in the specs) so the heat in the review is based on the tester’s judgment of temperature. The tester weighed the items on digital scales.
What to look for when buying the best hand warmers
For a seemingly simple piece of kit, there are many things to consider before purchasing a hand warmer, including the following…
Price and impact
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While cost is an obvious factor when buying any product, so is the environment – and if you can re-use the device again and again, this is good news and better for the climate. Disposable one-use hand warmers might be cheap and easy to use, but they are also wasteful and unkind to the planet. It’s worth considering what the hand warmers are made of. For example, the production of charcoal on a large scale accelerates biodiversity loss through deforestation and it releases planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Heat and longevity
It’s a good idea to consider the top temperature rating and, more importantly, how long the heat will last. Controllable heat means you can decide on the level of heat, plus the lower the setting, the longer the heat will last. Only the rechargeable devices have controllable heat.
If you know that you will want heat at times and then not at other times, a hand warmer that you can switch on and off is the best idea. Again, this means a rechargeable model or a hand warmer that has a flame that can be lit, or unlit.
Size, weight and convenience
Think about the size of the hand warmer. If you have small hands, you’ll want a product that fits neatly in your palm, or inside your gloves. Weight will also be a consideration if you are carrying you pack long distances. However, most of the hard warmers are small and compact, and therefore do not add much weight to a pack or jacket pocket.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).
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