How Long Do Hand Warmers Last? Our Answer and Recommendations

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If you’re into winter sports, cold-weather camping or hiking, or other types of outdoor pursuits, you might be wondering: how long do hand warmers last?

Hand warmers are useful for many different reasons. Portable and lightweight, they can be used to heat your hands, warm up your boots, make your sleeping bag feel cozier, and more. Let’s look at how long they last and the different types of hand warmers you can buy.

How Long Can I Expect Hand Warmers to Last?

Woman breathing on her hands to keep them warm at cold winter day

There are 2 possible answers to this, depending on what you want to know.

In terms of keeping warm, you can expect hand warmers to last for around 5-8 hours. That’s long enough for a half-day hike and many other outdoor activities. They will gradually get cooler and cooler as the day goes on, so towards the end of the day, they probably won’t be doing much in terms of keeping you warm.

The second thing to consider is how long they will last and how many uses you will get out of them. This is harder to judge, but most should last for around 500 uses. Again, this answer is based on the most common type of reusable hand warmer, the gel-activated type (more on the different kinds a little later).

The Different Types of Hand Warmers

There are a few different types of hand warmers:


Hand warmers or Hot bag holds on hand asian women tourist for winter season , snow background

Air-activated hand warmers are filled with iron powder, activated charcoal, sodium chloride, and another chemical called vermiculite. When you open the packet, the iron powder starts to rust, creating heat. Water stored within the activated charcoal allows the heat to spread evenly.

The downside is that air-activated hand warmers can’t be reused, so they’re not the most environmentally-friendly choice.

If you’re looking for this type of hand warmer, we’d recommend the HotHands Pack of 40 Handwarmers. They work well, and buying a big box will save you time and money.

Lighter Fuel

Hand warmer for the pants pocket

Lighter fuel hand warmers are flame-free. The outer casing houses mesh and lighter fluid, and you will need a separate lighter to begin the heating process. It’s fairly safe, but it’s not completely risk-free. They tend to be slimline and fairly easy to refill, but they do require a separate lighter to make it work.

We like the Zippo Hand Warmer. It’s thin and sleek-looking, and it may produce up to 2.5x more heat than disposable ones.

Gel Activated

Hand warmers for use in pocket with clipping path

These are very similar to air-activated hand warmers in that they use a chemical reaction to produce heat. The gel inside can be activated by ‘popping’ a metal disc, which starts the chemical reaction, creates heat, and solidifies the gel.

The good thing about these is that they can be reused. All you have to do is turn the now-solid gel into liquid again by gently heating them in boiling water. In addition, these tend to be very slim, so you can fit them into your pockets, slide them into your socks, etc., without much trouble.

We like these Reusable Heat Packs. They come in different shapes and can be used as a cold compress.

Battery Powered

cold senior male hiker with a pocket electric hand warmer

Battery-powdered hand warmers work as expected: they use a rechargeable battery to heat a small device. You can get basic versions, which switch on and off, and more complex versions, which allow you to choose the level of heat you would like.

We would recommend the Zippo Silver HeatBank Rechargeable Hand Warmer. You can adjust the heat level, and it offers warmth for up to 9 hours, which is longer than the other types available.

Other Uses for Hand Warmers

Hand warmer in the form of a round gray-white cat on a red woolen scarf on a white background.

Hand warmers can be used for:

  • Drying out items on the go. For example, you can use them to speed up the drying of hiking shoes and socks.
  • Warming up sleeping bags. You can use hand warmers to make your sleeping bags feel nice and toasty before you get into bed.
  • Stomach cramps. Hand warmers can provide some instant relief from stomach cramps.
  • Aching muscles. Similarly, they can help with aching muscles, ideal for a post-hike rest in your tent if you need to treat sore calves.
  • Heating drinks. You can use hand warmers to keep your drinks warmer for longer.
  • Warming boots. You can even slip a hand warmer into your boots to keep your calves warm on a cold morning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before you go, here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about hand warmers:

How do I ‘reset’ a gel hand warmer?

Salt heating pad. Chemical children's hand warmer white on blue mohair gloves on a wooden stump in autumn.

To reset your gel hand warmers, you can place them in a pan of water and let the water come to a boiling point. This will cause the gel inside to melt, allowing it to be reused again.

That’s the basic idea behind reactivating gel hand warmers, but you should check the instructions beforehand to make sure!

How can I keep warm on a camping trip?

man trying to light a fire during a trip in mountains, keep warm after a long hike

Camping in cold weather can be challenging. There are a few things you can do to stay warm:

  • Layering. Wear lots of thin layers, which can be taken on and off as required. This will allow you to gradually add warmer layers as the night goes on, giving you warmth when you need it.
  • Warm your bed before you get into it. You will feel much cozier by heating your sleeping bag with a hot water bottle before you get inside (or by using one of your hand warmers!).
  • Heat key areas. Wearing a beanie hat and thermal socks can help to keep you warm.
  • Stay hydrated. You can fill a flask with tea and keep sipping to keep you feeling warm, as this reduces fatigue, making your body less effective at keeping you warm.
  • Eat plenty of food. You will need plenty of calories to burn to stay warm, so look for some comforting camping snacks to keep you going.

How can I stay warm on a cold-weather hike?

a woman pours tea from a thermos into a thermos cup for a man to drink and keep warm.

Hiking in cold weather can be a challenge, but there are some things you can do to stay safe.

  • Wearing layers is important. As you get moving, you can remove layers and then add them later if you start to cool down.
  • Go for moisture-wicking materials. If you start to get damp from sweat, the sweat will feel cold, bringing down your body temperature. Look for moisture-wicking materials to draw the sweat away from your skin.
  • Go for the best waterproof clothing you can get. A good lightweight rain jacket will keep you dry, which is important on cold, rainy days.
  • Pick the best hiking shoes. Go for warm, waterproof hiking shoes or hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry on the trail.

To Sum Up

Woman holding in hands portable electric hand warmer, winter gadget for keeping hands warm

We hope this has helped you to figure out how long hand warmers last and to find the best ones for you. Hand warmers are helpful for multiple reasons, so we’d recommend picking some up for any kind of outdoor pursuit.