How Hand and Foot Warmers Can Save Your Dactyls or Even Your Life!

We’ve all been there: Coming home from an enjoyable outdoorsy trip in the subzero-degree weather, having our car slip off a mountain, overturning and landing in a frozen river… After you’ve scrambled out from your car (which is now sinking to the bottom of the freezing cold water), you realize you’re alone in the snow, ice cold, and may have to wait in that condition for a long time.

All right, so maybe that hasn’t happened to all of us. But the point is: it could. Or any number of other horrible situations could leave you stranded and alone in the cold. It’s a fantastically good idea to be prepared for these possible, very scary, scenarios; and one of the things that you should always make sure you pack is hand and/or foot warmers.

Frostbite is a serious issue. At the very least, being cold is uncomfortable; and at the worst, amputation of your digits may become involved! An easy way to increase your chances of this never happening to you is to be prepared with ways to keep yourself warm. We all know about jackets, head wraps, and thick socks, but so many of us forget that hand and foot warmers are easily available and these little “miracles” are fairly inexpensive to purchase.

Heat Factory, the original hand warmer company, started producing their portable warmers in 1980 and I’ve never looked back. Their hand warmers, and so many companies that followed their example such as Grabber and even the much-publicized ThermaCare, can last between eight and 24 hours once exposed to air. Foot and toe warmers, which are designed to work with a limited air supply (there isn’t much airflow between your foot & your shoe), work in much the same fashion. They are safe for children and a must-have on any trip where you think you or your family will run into cold weather conditions. Not necessarily even extreme cold, either. We all have that one friend or family member (or maybe it’s you!) that feels cold all the time no matter what. With hand and/or feet warmers, they won’t have to fret about the chill anymore!

Most air-activated hand and foot warmers can have their “lives” extended by sealing them in an airtight container. I’ve found that sealing them in a Ziplock baggie works extremely well. This is a good trick if you’re in a situation where you have a hand warmer that’s supposed to last 24 hours, but you only want to use it for six. It would be a waste to throw it out while it’s still technically “good.” By cutting off its air supply you’re essentially “freezing” it at that point in time and when you re-open the bag, as long as it’s within the same week, and expose it to air once more, the warmer should just pick up where it left off and continue to provide you with heat.

Zippo has also come out with a hand warmer that they recommend keeping in your car. With one filling of their odorless lighter fluid, it’s supposed to give up to 24 hours of warmth.

In an extreme emergency, you can also make your own “do it yourself” hand warmer using a battery and some aluminum foil. Simply wrap the tinfoil around a battery, covering both nodes, and leaving two sides exposed. Keep the foil wrap fairly thin, for maximum heat. From there, you squeeze both ends of the battery (where the nodes are). The harder you squeeze on the nodes, the more heat you will get. Keep in mind, this will drain your battery—which could be used for other things like powering your flashlight—and this technique is only for extreme emergencies where horrible frostbitten death of your digits is imminent unless you find some way to provide warmth to them immediately and you have no other means of doing so.

Last, if you find yourself in an emergency situation, even with hand and foot warmers, there are a few other things to keep in mind: For instance, creek bottoms and natural hollows are cold-air magnets. Hot air rises. If at all possible, seek a higher plane. Unless, of course, this means you’ll be exposed to wind chill. Being caught in a cold wind will make you colder and drain your energy much more quickly than just cold air alone.

So go out, have fun, be safe, and don’t forget those warmers!