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I’ve seen quite a few different types of hand warmers on the market the past few years and have really never given them much consideration, until now. Like many of you, my only exposure to hand warmers has been the air-activated Hot Hands style warmers, which have never worked very well for me.
I recently decided to purchase two of the Zippo Outdoor Hand Warmers from Amazon to see if they lived up to the marketing. Being that I really like Zippo as a brand and that their products are made in Bradford, Pennsylvania, I had high expectations. I also can’t discount how much I love the smell of zippo fluid burning either.
Zippo Hand Warmers
Each Zippo Hand Warmer is much larger than I expected it to be, as the product photos I’d seen didn’t do a good job at showing the relative size. Each hand warmer measures roughly 4″ tall x 2 3/4″ wide and comes with a protective fabric bag to store it in during use and also a small plastic filling cup.
The concept behind the Zippo Hand Warmer is that through the combustion (ignition) of zippo fluid (light petroleum distillate) it becomes a catalytic heater, relying on a catalyzed chemical reaction to break down molecules and create heat. Being a device which burns fuel means that it also consumes oxygen and creates carbon monoxide. With adequate ventilation, this isn’t an issue, just something I wanted to mention so you’re aware of it.
Zippo isn’t the first manufacturer to make a catalytic hand warmer, but it’s the first one I’ve had exposure to. The process for ignition is pretty straight forward and easy, provided you follow directions. I haven’t managed to mess up the instructions thus far, but as you read on, it will be easy for you to also see how someone could.
The first step is determining how long you want these hand warmers to run, because once their ignited, there’s no safe way to stop the heating action according to Zippo. The small plastic filling cup has two markings on it, one for 1/2 full and one for full. 1/2 full will provide around 6 hours of heat and filling them all the way provides 12 hours. I have tested this for myself and found these times to be fairly right on. I’d say my results have been anywhere from 5 1/2 hours to six hours on 1/2 full and 11 1/2 to 12 hours filled all the way.
Once you’ve measured out your desired amount of fuel, ensure the catalytic burner unit cover is removed from the hand warmer body and pour in the fuel in from the small filler nozzle side of the filling cup. Next, pour the fuel into the cotton-like material at the top of the unit while keeping it upright, making sure you don’t mash down the material. If you do mash it down, the instructions say to come back with a toothpick after filling to fluff it back up.
The next thing is to keep the hand warmer upright for about two minutes before ignition, to allow the fuel to be fully distributed in the cotton-like material so it’s available to the catalytic burner. Don’t lay the hand warmer down after filling and before ignition. Once it’s lit, it’s ok to set it down, put it in a pocket (with the protective cover,) etc.
The big take home at this stage of the instruction is to REMOVE the catalytic burner unit cover BEFORE filling. If you dump the fuel through the catalytic burner, or don’t hold it upright you’ll wind up with a flame when you light it, rather than the nearly invisible burn. A flame means over filling or that fuel has leaked onto the catalytic burner.
Last thing is to affix the catalytic burner unit back in place and apply a flame for about 10 seconds, continuing to hold it upright. This can be from a lighter or even a match. I’ve found that I can tell it’s lit by simply waving my hand over it and feeling for that first bit of heat. When you toss the hand warmer lid back on, just keep in mind that it does take a good 10-15 minutes before it reaches maximum burn, so be sure to allow it to get plenty of air for awhile before dropping it in a pocket. Also note that it does need oxygen to function. If you smother the hand warmer and it can’t get air it will go out.
The protective fabric bag you drop the heater into is necessary to prevent burns, as they do get pretty hot and are made of metal. I haven’t found that they get so hot that they’d burn the skin, but the instructions state that a low temperature burn of the skin is possible if you don’t rotate position and allow it to remain on one part of your body. They also state not to use these while sleeping.
I’m pretty impressed overall with the Zippo Hand Warmers I purchased. I think they’ve lived up to my expectations and I’ve used them in jacket pockets during some pretty cold days we’ve had here lately in Texas. I also used them up in Chicago during some -15 degree weather. I think their usage is fairly limited though to situations where you’d actually have your hands in your pockets, such as walking or standing around. Any “work” you might be doing would render them useless as hand warmers unless your gloves had pockets on them for these. They could work for body warmers in a chest pocket or something like that, keeping in mind the oxygen requirement though.
The quality of the Zippo Hand Warmer is great overall and the only thing I’ve noticed is that one of my hand warmer lids doesn’t fit as tightly as I’d like and seems to come off easier than the other. I do like that the protective fabric bags seem to be made well and don’t feel like some cheap overseas bag. The small bead on the string for the bag does cinch it down well too. American made usually always gets my vote and in this case I feel that the price point is still very good being American made.
Other than the loose lid, I do worry a bit about the carbon monoxide it puts off. I’m sure it’s minor, but still something to consider with these and other catalytic hand warmers on the market. Just be safe and keep it in mind.
Zippo Hand Warmers are sold individually and available in a chrome, black or Realtree camo finish. You’ll also need Zippo Fluid to go along with these, or another brand of lighter fluid. The directions state that Ronsonol Lighter Fluid is the only other recommended type. Additionally, the catalytic burners are expendable and will wear out after repeated use. I’ve used mine probably 20 times now and they still work great, so I’m not quite sure how long they’ll last. I purchased two replacement burners when I bought these on Amazon too.
While Hand Warmers aren’t a necessity, it was an interesting creature comfort to try out for this review. I’m certainly going to remember them when I’m out Hog Hunting or during another outdoor activity where I’ll be stationary for long periods of time, they’re perfect for those occasions!
- Zippo Hand Warmer (Link to Purchase on Amazon)
- Zippo Fluid (Link to Purchase on Amazon)
- Zippo Replacement Burner (Link to Purchase on Amazon)
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As far as I know Zippo never made a hand warmer. They used to sell one that was made in Japan and was the same shape and used the same burner as a Peacock Brand warmer. The later ones were cheaper to buy but made by some company in Taiwan as far as I know. The old Jon-e warmers were made in Pennsylvania but the new ones are made in Taiwan too.
The Jon-e fuel was hard to get so I read on the Peacock site that "white gas" would work with their warmers. Found out that camp stove fuel was white gas so I have been using that for my warmers for the last couple of years and it has worked fine. It also works well in my Zippo lighters. Sadly, Coleman has brought out a new and "improved" pink fuel that stains the packing and seems to sputter more.
I got one of these in November from amazon and have used it a few times. When it gets below 20F outside our furnace can barely keep up to 69F inside. This thing did great keeping me warm just being around the house as long as there is good ventilation. Well worth the money.
Thanks for the write up Byan. I had one of these years ago and always liked it. I do have to comment though that I got a good chuckle out of you using a Bic to light a Zippo product!
I purchased one for a ski trip to Mont Tremblant. Worked great, would purchase again. Only issue: if you're flying, you'll have to source the lighter fluid locally, as it's prohibited on airplanes.
Also, @bryanpblack what hoody or jacket are you wearing in that picture?
Working on a range in NJ years ago we all got the charcoal handwarmers sold at sporting goods stores. They worked pretty well but the charcoal sticks had a tendency to go out or not put out enough heat if it was really cold. These look like a very viable alternative. If I ever decide to go farther North than Tallahassee in the winter I am going to pick up one or two of these. Thanks for the article.
I have a couple of the old Peacock brand warmers from japan circa 1940's. They still work great and are perfect for my position- usually standing in front of bars in the wind/cold while bouncing. I've been contemplating getting a zippo one so I can save the old antiques from more wear. Great product for sure.
My father picked one up two weeks ago at Cabelas, and has been using it nearly every other day as these successive snow waves have come across the Midwest. He loves it--it makes for the ideal device for him to use when he is out shoveling snow and his hands become cold. He pulls out the warmer, takes a break to warm his hands up, and then gets back to it. Easier, he says, than the disposable packs that go into his gloves, and reusable to boot. He says that cinching the bag retards the heating, so he can extend in a way the burn time--but he's not out there for six hours shoveling snow either. He also had the problem with the cover not being as tight as he'd like it to be. Barehanding it was not a problem--not too hot, he said.
I've wondered about these compared to the old "Johnny Heaters" I got years ago. The ones I have are very temperamental and always seemed especially sensitive to oxygen deprivation. Even in a jacket pocket & removing it frequently they still struggle to stay lit.
Anything like that with these?
@Davis_45 Thanks brother, it's honestly what I carry :)
@TommyRuss Good tip about sourcing lighter fluid locally on a trip. That's a ScotteVest Brad Thor Alpha Jacket I've been putting through its paces for a review on ITS.
@TommyRuss X2 on the warning about not transporting lighter fluid on aircraft. Local sourcing should not be too difficult. Hardware stores and likely (for a while anyway) pharmacy stores like CVS will carry Ronsonol. My local grocery store carries it too.
@Doc Hewett Thanks brother!
@Zachary Reed Mountain Hardware ;)
@RadTac I couldn't find anything to say they weren't made in the US, I'll keep researching that tough.
@NoahRiot Thanks for the comment!
@GumbyDammit It depends, if you cinch up the bags they will have trouble staying warm, but I haven't found that these go out in jacket pockets.