Hand warmers – Ultimate Guide

I do tend to get very cold hands – especially when out on the kayak in the winter. Last year I took the day off in February (for my Birthday) and decided it would be a good idea to go fishing in a blizzard. It was –6 degrees, and even now, I don’t know why I did it !

Anyhow, I’ve been fishing for far longer than I care to remember – and after a few experiences like the one above, I learned years ago, that hand warmers can definitely make things more bearable in the winter in the UK. If they allow you to carry on fishing and you catch that fish of a lifetime, then its money well spent (although having said that, many people reading this will just think fishermen are mad, and maybe they are right !).

There are several different types of hand warmers which are readlily available in the UK. I will be comparing the most popular 3 types…

  • Chemical one use hand warmers
  • Re-useable chemical hand warmers
  • Zippo hand warmer

Single use chemical hand warmer

The first hand warmer I used, many years ago, was a disposable one. They come in a sealed plastic bag.


They are quite expensive – especially given you can only use them once. One thing to check very carefully, is the “use by” date on the side of the package. Once downside with this type of hand warmer, is that they do not store well over time – I have had quite a few which I have found in the garage which are a few years old – none of them worked – so be warned.


Once opened, you simply shake the pad inside, and it will heat up quite rapidly.


The advantages of this type of hand warmer are :-

  • Quick – instant heat
  • Simple – easy to start – no lighting necessary
  • Stays warm for quite along time (5 hours +)
  • Clean – No messing around with lighter fuel/charcoal sticks
  • Quite hot
  • No odour

The disadvantages are :-

  • Relatively expensive
  • Can only use once
  • Limited shelf life

Re-useable chemical hand warmers

The second type of hand warmer is the re-useable chemical type. They usually come in a Gel form with a flexible plastic outer container. Inside the Gel is a small metal clicker (you can see it in the bottom of the picture below)…


In order to activate the hand warmer, you simply click or press the metal button. A chemical reaction starts to take place and the Gel starts to go solid and change its appearance…




This all happens in a few seconds… it always impresses me ! The Gel also gets very warm – I have several different makes of these Gel warmers; and some are better than others in terms of heat, and how long they last. It is definitely worth paying extra for a good quality one.

They can also be re-used. Simply put them in a saucepan of boiling water and boil them until all of the crystal disappear and the gel goes back to a clear coloured liquid.  Simples !

Advantages of re-useable chemical hand warmers :-

  • Quick
  • Simple
  • Re-useable
  • Odourless
  • Clean
  • Unlimited shelf life
  • Cheap

Disadvantages :-

  • They do not get very hot
  • The heat does not last very long
  • Having to boil them to re-use is a bit of a pain

Zippo hand warmer

Lastly, the Zippo hand warmer. Zippo are well known for their popular range of lighters – but recently, they have come up with a hand warmer. It is bigger than their lighters, but still uses the same lighter fuel to power it. Martin Hurst (Eggbert)  told me about them and, and gave me a tip on where to buy them cheaper through the Angling Trust (Thanks Martin !).

The box contains the hand warmer, instructions, a cloth bag and a small plastic gizmo for filling the Zippo with fuel.


On the subject of fuel, I bought some off eBay (the type recomended in the instructions)…


Lifting off the cover of the hand warmer reveals the burner on top…


The burner contains a catalyst which burns without a flame. This is what keeps the reaction going.  The material in the burner can be re-used 70 or 80 times – new ones can be bought for about £5.


In order to work, the Zippo needs to be filled with fuel. First take off the burner (above), then you will see the area where the fuel needs to be poured (on top of the Zippo)…


Filling the Zippo is a messy operation. The filler gizmo has two levels – the first (about halfway) provides enough fuel for about 6 hours. The highest level on the filler provides enough fuel for 12 hours. Be careful not to overfill the Zippo (I did, and flames came out of the top !!!). The filler gizmo has to be tipped at a steep angle in order to get the lighter fuel to run out – there is a definite art to filling the thing – most of the lighter fuel ended up outside the Zippo on my first attempt. After you have filled the Zippo, wipe any excess fuel away and make sure the fuel is safely out of the way. Place the burner back on top of the Zippo and then ignite the burner. The first time I tried this, I used matches – it didn’t work very well, and I would recommend the use of a proper lighter (I used a turbo lighter). You have to play the flame on the burner for a good 5 to 10 seconds to get everything started. The material in the burner does not burn with a flame – but it does glow (very faintly) when it is started. Once started, put the lid back on and put the Zippo inside the cloth bag (it needs to be in the bag, because it does get very hot). Once the Zippo has been lit, it is best to leave it running. It is also not possible to fill the Zippo with fuel and store it (the fuel will evaporate) – so it has to be filled and lit just before using.

Advantages of the Zippo….

  • Lasts a very long time (up to 12 hours)
  • Very hot
  • Re-useable
  • Tough
  • It looks cool… Well, it does !


  • Tricky/Messy process of fuelling and lighting
  • It does produce an odour whilst in use