Are Zippo Hand Warmers Worth the Investment? - ITS Tactical

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Are Zippo Hand Warmers Worth the Investment?

By Bryan Black


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.


Zippo Hand Warmers 13

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.

Ignition Sequence

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.


My Thoughts

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!


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  • GumbyDammit

    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?

    • @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.

    • Tom the Piper’s Son

      I never had a bag for mine but I did have children who were always losing socks… I’d take one of their orphaned socks and throw it in there. Nestled it down in the bottom and folded the top over. Even in the inside chest pocket of my coat I never had one snuff out. They don’t need a lot of air and it’s not like we’re hermetically sealed in our clothing, there’s always air moving around.

      I supposed my experience might be different if I had to layer up more that might make a difference. We don’t often have the -20 weather some of the folks here are talking about.

    • Tom the Piper’s Son

      My first blush with these types of warmers was the old jon-e-warmer. I got it a gun show or swap meet. I just liked the shiny-ness of it (the raccoon or a crow might be my spirit animal) and had a fiver in my pocket…

      I hadn’t had a problem keeping them lit. I fill the reservoir with “some fluid” (nothing as exact as the gizmo zippo sends out with theirs) and drop a couple of drops on the burner and light it to get it up to temperature. It sounds like that might not be a best practice, but the burner has to be hot for the catalytic process to work.

      That might be while the Jon-E is putzing out on you. It might not be warming up enough. You might carefully try that – I should note that when I light mine I set it on my glass cutting board or woodstove pad in case it tips.

  • Armitage12

    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.

    • Live2explore

      I took a pair of of wire crips and made 4 “divits” around my top. Now i have to put some force to remove it.

  • LarryNicholas5

    ITStactical Zippo
    I think they work very good

  • NoahRiot

    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.

  • RadTac

    im not trying to be an a$$ or anything, but the zippo hand warmers are made in Taiwan.

    • RadTac  I couldn’t find anything to say they weren’t made in the US, I’ll keep researching that tough.

    • SharpInk

      bryanpblack RadTac I actually contacted Zippo via their Twitter account and via email. Both reps that answered my question said they’re made in Taiwan to Zippo’s standards. I don’t guess you still have the packaging after so long, but if you ever happen to spot them in a store, take a look at the back. It does state that they’re made in Taiwan. That was what prompted me to contact Zippo with my question. 

      I noticed they’re using the same kind of date coding on these warmers that they use on their lighters. Just an observation I found amusing.

  • Zachary Reed

    I see those Columbia pants….

  • sam

    I must assume you can’t get into a stadium event with these.

    • @sam  I’m sure there wouldn’t be an issue depending on the venue.

  • westyler

    I received one for Christmas and will soon buy a second. I’d like one for each pocket.

  • Doc Hewett

    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.

  • TommyRuss

    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?

    • Armitage12

      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.

    • 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.

    • Tom the Piper’s Son

      Luckily just about any grocery store or stop and rob that sells cigarettes will have either zippo fluid or ronsonol or some other brand on hand. So sourcing it is pretty easy.

  • Davis_45

    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!

    • Davis_45  Thanks brother, it’s honestly what I carry 🙂

    • Tom the Piper’s Son

      I love a zippo they’re nostalgic and a little sexy and feel good in the hand – but unless you’re a smoker and use it often I find that every time I go to use mine the fuel’s evaporated. I keep a bic in my camping gear and it’s been in there for years. Works every time I’ve needed it to. Can’t be a cheap bic for reliability. Just wish they weren’t a throw away product.

  • lensgrabber

    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.

  • Murray B

    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.

  • Nice, I wish I had this while I was deployed…  or maybe now in this crappy Maryland weather.

  • Murray B

    I still have the package for my old Zippo hand warmer and it is marked,”Made to Zippo quality standards in Japan”. They do not specify the manufacuter but the flat burner looks identical to the one used on later model Peacock brand warmers. The newer “made in Taiwan” warmers have a completely different looking burner.

  • TravisHarshaw

    Picked up one of these for my wife this Christmas. It seemed to be working well for the first 3 uses. We used it everyday for 3 days straight. I fired it up as soon as I woke up this weekend and it didn’t seem to get very hot. Previously I had filled it up for 12 hours of use, but this morning I chose to only go for 6. It didn’t seem to get very warm over the first 15 minutes, so I just let it sit there for a while. After about 30 minutes I went to pick it up and it was basically cold to the touch. The burner still burning, the cotton fill inside fluffed enough to reach the burner, and with more fuel added it was still not warm to the touch. I tried it again yesterday and it doesn’t seem to get warm to the touch, even out of the bag provided. This morning I gave it another go, and even after 2 hours, it is still lit, but even when taken out of the bag, it is only so warm, but still mostly cold to the touch on the bottom. It says the burners have around 70 uses, but for some reason I think this is the culprit.

  • talon7825

    My son bought me one for Christmas, even had my name engraved on it… i use it for hunting, never seemed to spook the deer, great gift, easy to use.

    Todd in KY

  • DaveO

    I’ve used one for many years – 2 points that are frequently overlooked.
    1) The temperature (and the burn time) can be altered by the way the unit is placed in the fabric bag. 
      a) it burns *hottest* when out of the fabric bag.
        b) it burns hot when placed in the fabric bag ( top side of the unit – facing the open side of the bag)
             – it burns a bit cooler if you close the draw string of the fabric bag.
        c) it burns coolest when the top side of the unit – is placed into the *bottom* of the fabric bag. In other words the bottom of the unit is seen from the opening of the bag.  ( this “throttled back” position produces the longest burn time, which I use during the fall & spring). As its starts to cool down in the evenings – I pull the unit out of the fabric bag, and reverse its position leaving the top side of the unit closest to the opening of the bag.
    2) If I want to extinguish the unit – I drop it into a *PLASTIC* bag (within its protective fabric bag), roll the plastic bag up squeezing out most of the air, and in about 10 minutes… its out & cold. A zip-lock bag works nice too – if you have one handy.

    Happy hand warming … Dave

  • springer

    I use naptha from the hardware store in mine.  Turns out that lighter fluid is naptha.  I use these hand warmers in a softside cooler to keep my 12 volt SLA radio batteries warm in the winter.  I can keep the inside of the cooler at least 60 degrees all the way down to 10 below.

    • JimSanders

      @springer What about Coleman Lantern fuel.  Isn’t that the same thing?

    • kernow24

      JimSanders yes, pretty much the same thing, also you can use ‘panel wipe’ from auto parts stores, and other things from hardware stores like paint stripper, you just have to check the labels to see if its naptha

  • Irishboy1985

    I just wanted to add a quick FYI. I have an older unit that I must’ve had for around 15 years. I don’t recall the brand, but I see everywhere that you “can’t turn them off” . I don’t know if Zippo et al have decided to leave this out on purpose (due to our current litigious society) but the easiest way to extinguish a liquid fuel hand warmer used to be as follows:
    1. Remove warmer from protective bag.
    2. Remove cap from warmer.
    3. Find a non combustible and heat proof surface. For example; a rock, metal sheet… the ground. Anything that won’t melt or burn.
    4. Very carefully use a knife blade, key, etc. to pop the catalytic burner from the top of the warmer.
    After a few minutes the burner should be cool enough to handle. Re-assemble and go.
    Like I said, I’m not sure why this procedure is no longer part of the standard instructions for these things, as it was definitely in mine when I first got my unit. Now, if anyone gets burned or melts their counter top, etc. I’m not taking responsibility. Just sharing the instructions as they used to be.
    Anyone else have an older unit that told them to operate it in this way? It has me curious now.

    • Mouse

      I find simply closing the “bag” tight will extinguish the burner. 
      They’re always in danger of being smothered just from putting them deep in a chest pocket.

    • Les Daniell

      Simple isn’t it? I always do mine like that, oh and as far as smothering it out ? LOL not gonna happen. I

  • AHugs

    I’m heading on a month-long backpacking trip this summer and will be hiking at altitudes where something like this could be handy. I’m not so much interested in it as a hand warmer, but instead I want something small and portable that I can put in the bottom of my sleeping bag at night for my feet. I have a circulatory condition that makes them extremely cold, even in mild temperatures, and I usually put a hot water bottle at the bottom of my bed each night even at home. I’m wondering if anyone who owns one thinks this would work? I know it requires oxygen, so I’m thinking maybe the bottom of a sleeping bag would be enough to smother it? The carbon monoxide emissions might also become an issue if it’s left down there all night? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

  • D

    It’s interesting that you managed to get around 6 hours out of a half-fill. I haven’t had much luck half-filling my 12 hour hand warmer (read about it here ) and I’ve found that it keeps going out unless I fill it entirely. I may replace the burner and see if that helps. For now though I’ll stick to my 6 hour one for shorter trips out.

  • HughJeinus

    I put a Coleman fuel powered Zippo in a 2 gallon Ziplock with a First Alert CO detector. It took 13 minutes but the detector finally sounded. Lesson: don’t sleep in a Ziplock with a running Zippo.

  • HenryKing1

    I filled mine up to the 12h mark and I only get about 6 hours out of the warmer…. wuth the bag close with only the top vents showing. .. help

  • g squires

    my zippo hand warmer has been warming for going on 27 hours straight with a nickle’s work of fuel. is this a bad thing

  • Sue Noddy

    I have 2 of these, they are 34 years old and still going strong. I use them at sporting events and outside activities but they really come into play when camping. We each have one in a ROLLED sleeping bag for several hours before bed, it warms thru all the layers and we can hop into a nicely warmed bed, kick it to the bottom to keep our feet warm or put it into one of the centrally located pockets I sewed inside the sleeping bag, keeps the core warm. Mine will stay hot enough for up to 12 hours.

    • Tom the Piper’s Son

      I was always keep the burner right side up because I was afraid of the fuel catching fire so I never laid them over. T

      This is good to know!

  • Tom the Piper’s Son

    These guys work great on sore muscles too.

    I don’t use them for hand warmers – I tuck one into my inside chest pocket and it keeps my core warm. I’ll take it out and hold it if I need to warm my hands.

    Riding it high in your pants pocket works well to keep groin warm and the femoral artery helps to distribute the heat around your body.

  • Brian Trudeau

    Can anyone speak to the safety factor? Specifically, I’m considering getting these for my boys (8 & 9) to use while they’re out in the snow this winter. I’m assuming if they’re in a pocket while they’re sledding, they’ll get tipped upside-down and every which way. Is there a risk of fluid leaking or their clothes catching fire? (I know the second question is kind-of stupid but gotta ask anyways)

    • Ellis Harris

      No l

    • Ellis Harris

      No leaking possibility, since the canister is filled with absorbent cotton, which holds the fuel (as long as it’s not overfilled). There is no actual flame either – so the ability of the device to ignite a fire is tantamount to zero. There is a heating element which can potentially get very hot – it’s inside a metal shield which in turn is inside the removable cover of the canister. You have to remove the heating element in order to fuel the canister (when it’s cold). The you replace the heating element, light the device with a match, and replace the top of the canister. Then the entire warmer goes inside a felt bag, which insulates the device – preventing any possibility of burns. It’s best to keep the top of the bag closed with the included tie strings – so that the heat is a gentle insulated heat. My first experience with a hand warmer was as a nine year old.

      My advice to you is to let both the boys use the warmers. I would say you should not let the eight year old light the warmer himself, and you should only let the nine year old light the warmer once you, yourself are totally familiar with how the things work. I’ll warn you there is a bit of a trick getting the heating element to ignite at first, and also they kind of have to “break in” when you first start using them. It is difficult / nigh impossible to tell by sight if they’re lit or not. You can only tell by warmth most of the time. It is possible to visually see a reddish glow on the catalyst if you’re in a darkened area. They take at least a few minutes to warm up, as well, so it’s very hard to tell if they’re lit at first. Sometimes you think they’re lit, and they just stay cold.

      Also, how they work: they produce no “flame.” There is a catalyst in the heating element, which can be used up, but since they normally will last for decades, they rarely need to be replaced. The catalyst contains platinum – just like the catalytic converter in the exhaust of a car. The platinum, when it’s hot enough will cause the fuel in the cotton reservoir, to combine with oxygen to produce heat, a flameless heat. The catalyst uses up the platinum, but only a few molecules at a time, which is why the thing will last decades with proper care. Even so, new ones are available, I think because they’re a lot easier to lose than to burn up.

      By regulating the exposure to the air, you can regulate the heat produced. If the warmer is hit by a breeze, it will begin to use the fuel at a higher rate, and get hotter. This works out if there is a chilly wind hitting you, since it’s just going to make the warmer heat up even more. Keeping the felt bag away from air will help the fuel last longer.

      Hope this helped. Have fun with the warmers and with your boys. B’H

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