Zippo is famous for their quality metal lighters. Their refillable metal hand warmers are less well known. Read on to find out how you can keep your hands toasty warm in the winter.
Based in the small town of Bradford, PA, the folks at the Zippo Manufacturing Company have been making lighters since 1933. In 2012, Zippo produced its 500-millionth lighter.
In more recent years, Zippo introduced a line of all-metal refillable hand warmers.
Rugged and reliable, Zippo hand warmers are commonly used by backpackers, outdoorsmen, and people who work outside in the cold.
The Zippo hand warmer is a great way to maintain finger dexterity and comfort when outdoors in frigid weather. While not as convenient as disposable hand warmers, the Zippo is a quality reusable product.
- Looks great
- Lasts a long time on one fill
- Difficult to fill properly
- Potential fire hazard
- Emits small amounts of carbon monoxide
- Can smell like lighter fluid
While it may seem like those are some pretty big cons, they’re consistent with other lighter fluid-fueled products. It’s not hard to learn how to safely fill, light, and carry a Zippo hand warmer.
How Does it Work?
Zippo hand warmers use a Catalytic burner to convert energy stored in lighter fluid into heat. Once lit, there is no flame (it runs on lighter fluid fumes), and the hand warmer is safe to use.
Zippo recommends that their hand warmer always be placed inside its pouch after lighting to avoid burning your hands.
In practice, I’ve found that’s only necessary when it gets really hot because when the hand warmer is at lower temperatures, it can be hard to feel its heat through the pouch.
I still haven’t quite figured out how to keep my Zippo at a consistent temperature throughout the day. Sometimes I notice it’s cooled off quite a bit, and then a few minutes later it’s almost too hot to touch. I think it mostly depends on how much oxygen reaches the burner.
How to Fill a Zippo Hand Warmer?
- Remove the top of the hand warmer.
- Take off the burner.
- Pour lighter fluid into the hand warmer through the small hole in the top. You can use the small plastic filing container included with your hand warmer or use an eyedropper. Be careful. It can be dangerous to overfill the hand warmer.
- Replace the burner.
- Once filled and before lighting, be sure to keep the hand warmer upright. Getting lighter fluid on the fiber filament in the burner can cause a fire when lit.
How to Light a Zippo Hand Warmer?
Once filled with lighter fluid and the burner is back in place, put a flame from a lighter or match up to the burner for about 10 seconds.
Since you won’t see a flame or spark from the Zippo, be aware that it may be difficult to tell when the hand warmer is activated. If you wait 2-3 minutes you should be able to feel the Zippo starting to warm up.
Once you’ve verified that the Catalytic process has begun, you no longer have to keep it upright. You can safely lay it down on a flat surface or even turn it upside down.
How to Extinguish a Zippo Hand Warmer?
If you want to extinguish the hand warmer before it runs out of fuel, first put it in its protective pouch. Then, place the pouched hand warmer into a Ziploc bag. Seal the bag. You’ll notice the hand warmer gradually cooling down.
Once it’s cool, it’s safe to take out of the pouch, but be aware that it may be possible for residual lighter fluid to leak through the burner. Consider removing the burner and emptying the Zippo before storage (or better yet, just store it in the Ziploc bag).
How Does the Zippo Compare to Other Hand Warmers?
Even considering the competition, Zippo refillable hand warmers are a great buy.
Disposable Hand Warmers
Disposable hand warmers are much more convenient to use than Zippos. Disposable hand warmers are activated once they’re removed from their plastic packaging and exposed to air.
A mixture of iron powder, salt, water, and activated carbon creates an exothermic reaction in the presence of oxygen.
In my experience, waiting for the chemical reaction to occur can be inconvenient. I’ve had disposables take well over 20 minutes to heat up.
Unlike the Zippo, disposable hand warmers are small and flexible enough to put inside gloves or mittens. Also, while you can use disposables as toe warmers (or you can simply buy throw-away toe warmers), good luck trying to stuff the Zippo into the toe of your boot.
The main advantage of the Zippo is that it’s zero waste. With the Zippo, you don’t have to throw anything out. After you’re done with disposable hand warmers, you have to get rid of plastic packaging and a “science experiment in a teabag.”
Although splurging for a Zippo hand warmer and some lighter fluid will cost more upfront, the cost per use is very low once you’ve made the initial purchase. So, if you intend on using a hand warmer on a regular basis it makes sense to get a quality product that lasts.
Boilable Hand Warmers
Several companies sell reusable hand warmers that you boil to recharge. I’ve tried these before, and to be honest, they seem kind of gimmicky to me. They don’t stay hot for very long — they’re piping hot for about ten minutes and warm for about another twenty.
The only practical use I can think of for these is that they might be good to keep around for emergencies. I can imagine a scenario in which you’re hiking and get caught out in the cold, and your hands get numb.
You might be able to activate one of these to get enough feeling back into your fingers to light a match. Outside of this kind of unlikely scenario, I don’t really see the point of boilable hand warmers.
Other Metal-Bodied Reusable Hand Warmers
I haven’t tried any other metal-bodied hand warmers, so I can’t personally vouch for how this Zippo compares.
Many brands, including Zippo, offer rechargeable electronic hand warmers. Since they don’t emit carbon monoxide, these are probably better than fuel-based hand warmers for indoor use.
Electronic warmers are quite a bit more expensive; however, they might be a better option for those that don’t want to monkey around with lighter fluid.
Old-Fashioned Potato Handwarmers
If it’s cold outside and you don’t have store-bought hand warmers, you can use potatoes.
Simply warm up two potatoes in tin foil in the oven until they’re hot (but not cooked). After letting them cool for a few minutes you can put them in your coat pockets to keep your hands warm for hours.
In my experience, potato hand warmers can be reheated 2-3 times before becoming soft. I’ve used this trick to help me get through long winters working in the streets of Northwestern Russia.
Besides being edible 😉, the advantage of homemade potato hand warmers over Zippos is that they are practically free (and they definitely smell better). However, the Zippo is a much more classy option.
Common Questions About Zippo Hand Warmers
There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to Zippo handwarmers. Here are some answers to help clear things up:
What Kind of Fuel Can You Use in the Zippo Hand Warmer?
Zippo recommends using either Zippo or Ronsonol lighter fluid. However, I’ve used Coleman camping fuel without any problems (although I think Coleman fuel may have a slightly stronger smell when burned than Zippo brand fuel).
How Often Do You Have To Replace the Burner of Zippo Hand Warmers?
Zippo recommends that hand warmer burners be replaced after about 70 uses.
Can I Use Zippo Hand Warmers in a Sleeping Bag?
Another reason it’s not safe to sleep next to a Zippo is because there’s a small possibility that it could overheat and burn you.
How Long Do Zippo Hand Warmers Stay Hot?
Zippo refillable hand warmers come in 6 and 12-hour versions. I should mention that “6 or 12 hours” are estimates — how long they stay warm depends on how much fuel you put in and whether they’re out in the open or tucked inside the pouch.
Where Are Zippo Hand Warmers Made?
While many Zippo products are made in the USA, it seems as though some new Zippo hand warmers are made in Taiwan.
Time To Warm Up
Zippo refillable hand warmers are relatively inexpensive, durable, and can keep your hands warm for hours at a time. The Zippo would be a great asset for anyone that lives in a cold climate — especially for people that spend a lot of time outdoors.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!