On frigid winter days, keeping yourself warm can be something of an art form. But why is it that even after you’ve bundled up in layers of thermals and sweaters under a heavy-duty coat, your hands are still freezing? That’s because your body prioritizes keeping your most important organs warm, sending more blood flow to your core and less to your extremities. It’s even tougher if you have a condition like Raynaud’s, which further limits blood flow to fingers and toes. “Once winter hits, I can’t get by with gloves; my frozen fingers just turn blue,” says Stacey Burns, a reproductive-rights advocate in Minneapolis who has Raynaud’s. Burns says even the bulkiest mittens won’t cut it, so she supplements them with hand warmers.
Perhaps most commonly marketed toward winter-sports enthusiasts, these palm-size heat packs can also come in handy when you’re sitting in the stands of an outdoor football stadium, working an outdoor job (or an indoor job in a chilly environment, like a poorly insulated building), or just commuting to and from work during a polar vortex. Hand warmers work in a few different ways, depending on the specific product. Most traditional hand warmers contain a mix of chemicals (like iron, salt, and activated carbon) that react when exposed to oxygen, though there are plenty of battery-operated options available as well.
To find the most effective and reliable options, I asked Burns and six other experts who have dealt extensively with cold hands in their careers and personal lives to share their recommendations.
With their telltale orange packaging, HotHands is arguably the most recognizable hand-warmer brand — and they’re the favorite of four of our experts. The single-use packets are inexpensive and simple to use: Just expose them to air and shake them. “They stay warm all day long,” Burns says. “I keep them inside my mittens after I’ve used them early in the morning, and usually by the end of the day when I have to go back outside, I can activate them again and cradle them as I shiver in the cold waiting for the bus rather than opening a new packet.” Andy Robledo, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Feeding People Through Plants, also relies on this brand to keep his hands and feet warm as he spends full days outside building insulated ice-fishing tents for Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. He says his neighbors living in the encampments consistently request these particular warmers, too.
For Strategist senior editor Chelsea Peng, these hand warmers were essential in her days of competitive piano. “I’d use HotHands after warming up to keep the blood in my fingers (a recommendation from my teacher),” she says. “Around this time, I also developed trigger finger so severely that I’d wake up with my hands rigor mortis–ed into claws, and these were the only thing that helped loosen them.”
One caveat: At their hottest, these can feel a bit too warm for some people. In that case, Strategist senior editor Winnie Yang, who regularly uses these in her ski gloves and boots, suggests keeping them in your pockets instead, “so you can thaw your fingers out while you’re on the lift.”
Like HotHands, Grabber is another widely available, popular, and convenient air-activated hand warmer. (Fun fact: They’re manufactured by the same company.) Lynn Wunderman, chairman of Raynaud’s Association, calls these disposable packets “a lifeline for many Raynaud’s sufferers.” “They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, offering portable warmth for hours and hours,” she says. “If you want warmers to use inside gloves or mittens, these are really the best choice, but they shouldn’t be used directly on the skin to avoid overheating and burning.” To extend the life of these single-use warmers, Wunderman suggests placing them in an airtight bag where “they’ll come back one or two more times, albeit not quite as warm.”
Disposable hand warmers may be the cheapest, but those packets add up over time. If you want a powerful electronic option, both Wunderman and Yang recommend this Ocoopa product. It charges via a USB-C port, has multiple temperature levels, and can last for up to ten hours — and doubles as a portable battery pack so you can juice up your phone on the go. “We like using this rechargeable hand warmer for all kinds of winter outdoor activity,” Yang says. “It’s a bit too bulky to fit into a boot or smaller gloves, but it stows in pockets and feels nice in your hands. We especially appreciate how you can choose among three heat levels.”
Wunderman also loves the Ocoopa’s comfortable design, with “a suede-like soft surface area and a curved shape that allows hands to easily fit around the warmer for double-sided warmth,” she says, comparing them favorably to other warmers she’s tried with metal surfaces that feel cold to the touch before they get going.
If you’re looking for reusable hand warmers but don’t want to deal with the weight or cords of an electronic version, HotSnapZ are a solid choice. They’re filled with water, sodium acetate, and a small metal disc that, when clicked, activates a chemical reaction that generates heat. Jon Stephens, director of operations at Snowshoe Vacation Rentals, says HotSnapz are the best reusable hand warmers after testing several different kinds while snowshoeing, skiing, and working with customers on and near West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain. “These heat up incredibly quickly through just a simple snap,” he says, “and they last for about an hour.” Admittedly, that’s not as long as the disposable ones that typically last several hours — but, as Stephens notes, HotSnapZ come in a pack of eight (four rectangular and four round), so you can get by for a while before you have to recharge them by putting them in boiling water for 15 minutes.
These Ignik warmers look and feel very similar to HotHands and other disposable warmers, with the advantage of being better for the planet. I discovered these last winter as someone who has Raynaud’s, lives in Chicago, and likes to spend time outdoors. I was a pretty loyal HotHands user when on the go (I always keep them in my everyday bags to keep my Raynaud’s symptoms at bay), but loved the idea of a compostable option. These air-activated warmers definitely keep my hands warm, and though they’re more expensive, I’m going to stick with them for when I need a long-lasting disposable option.
Like the HotHands and Grabbers, you can reuse these up to 72 hours after opening them, per the website. When you’re done, just cut the outer sack off and add the biodegradable filling to your compost bin or pile.
There are some heated gloves on the market if you’re not into hand warmers (or perhaps you need to double up). Wunderman’s favorites are Gerbing’s battery-powered Heated Fleece Gloves, because they’re less bulky and more maneuverable than most other options. “The gloves keep you warm with an intense amount of heat that surrounds the hand — including the thumb — with warmth down to the fingertips,” she says. “Some heated gloves miss the thumb and only warm the back of the hand; that’s not enough for those with Raynaud’s.”
The gloves have multiple temperature settings and are powered by batteries, which Wunderman notes are “small and flat, so they fit comfortably against the wrist.” Plus, she says the controls are easy to work without removing the gloves. They frequently sell out on the Gerbing website, Wunder warns, but if you can’t track down a pair, she says Volt’s 7V Fleece Heated Gloves are a good alternative given the similar materials and technical specs. Both run on 7V lithium-ion batteries, have four heat levels, and stay warm for anywhere from two to eight hours depending on the power setting.
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