While many hand warmer products are reusable, few are truly environmentally-friendly
Every year, the United States produces approximately 290 million tons of municipal solid waste, and as consumers, it is easy to feel powerless in the fight against climate change. However, our purchasing decisions matter, and by "voting with our wallets" for products that minimize our carbon footprint, we are making a tangible difference.
The hand warmer industry is an excellent example of how we can transition to more sustainable and better-performing products. Like other consumer products, single-use, chemical-based and battery-operated options are quickly being replaced with reusable and biodegradable versions that do not cause harm.
As growing variations enter the market, we have analyzed the current options to determine the best reusable hand warmers with respect to their impact on the environment, affordability, effectiveness, durability, safety, and comfort. The best warmers for you, and for the environment, will allow you to comfortably explore the great outdoors with warm hands while causing no harm to the planet.
There are four main types of reusable hand warmers: sheared beaver fur, battery-operated, lighter-fueled, and reusable gel packs. Each option has distinct characteristics and benefits. What follows is a thorough review that analyzes and rates the best types of reusable hand warmers on the market.
Sheared beaver fur warmers were first used by Indigenous Peoples in Northern Canada due to the fur’s effectiveness and durability as the warmest furs around. With 10,000 fur filaments per square inch, your body heat is stored within the fur to maintain a comfortable temperature once the warmers are inserted into mittens, pockets or boots. Since sheared beaver fur is 100% non-toxic and biodegradable, these warmers will not harm the environment and will provide a safe and comfortable experience for all users. In addition, with a lifespan of upwards of five years, these warmers are extremely durable. Overall, the passive warming system of beaver fur is highly effective at preserving heat.
Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars
- Environmental Impact 5/5: When made with sustainably-sourced wild beaver fur like Aurora Heat™, this product's entire life cycle is environmentally friendly. Initiatives such as the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program™ also guarantee furs are 100% wild and preserve Indigenous cultural heritage.
- Effectiveness 4/5: Sheared beaver fur is very effective at maintaining and circulating one’s own body heat. This fur is what enables beavers in Northern Canada to stay warm while swimming in freezing temperatures.
- Comfort 5/5: With its soft, dense, and velvety texture, it will be difficult to find hand warmers that are more comfortable than those made from sheared beaver fur! The malleability of the fur makes them almost unnoticeable in mitts, boots, pockets. Great for even tight-fitting ski boots or skates.
- ROI 5/5: Fur warmers like Aurora Heat provide an excellent return on investment. An initial purchase of approximately $50 will provide consumers with high-quality, effective and comfortable warmers that will last for years.
- Durability 5/5: With simple care, these warmers are extremely durable and will not break or malfunction during their lifespan of upwards of five years.
Safety 5/5: Sheared beaver fur poses no safety concerns for consumers of all ages. They are hypoallergenic for even the most sensitive skin.
- Child Safe? Yes
Battery-Operated Hand Warmers
Battery-operated hand warmers produce heat through the internal heating plate of lithium batteries. This type of warmer generates heat for 4 to 8 hours and requires 2 to 3 hours to recharge. Although these warmers can be reused, they will eventually create toxic waste when discarded, and they are not safe for young children as their skin can be sensitive to this form of heat. Battery-operated hand warmers are typically durable and will be effective when using them in milder temperatures; however, comfort levels will vary and it is difficult to perform certain activities when using them.
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
- Environmental Impact 2/5: Although they are reusable, battery-operated hand warmers eventually need to be replaced when the battery dies or malfunctions. They are a harmful alternative that will eventually end up in the landfill creating toxic waste.
Effectiveness 3/5: The effectiveness of these warmers will greatly vary based on exterior temperatures, and they must be recharged after a short or medium length of use. They best at offering heat when idle.
- Comfort 2/5: When using this type of hand warmer, they will not be comfortable for high performance activities and will limit the use of your hand if placed inside a mitten.
- ROI 3/5: With an approximate cost of $40 per device, these warmers provide a decent return on investment when considering their average effectiveness and ability to generate heat for 4 to 8 hours.
- Durability 4/5: If used correctly, these are a durable option for hand warmers; however, there is a high risk of malfunctions or damages throughout their lifespan.
- Safety 4/5: Battery-operated hand warmers are generally safe for older consumers but they are not recommended for children.
- Child Safe? No
Lighter Fuel Hand Warmers
Lighter fuel warmers generate heat through filling a reservoir with lighter fluid and igniting a catalytic burner with a match or lighter. Once the internal combustion reaction occurs, the warmer can provide heat for up to 12 hours before needing to be refueled. Similar to the battery-operated warmer, the ability to reuse this product helps the environment; however, it will eventually create waste when discarded and the lighter fuel will have to be purchased somewhat regularly. Although this type of warmer is durable and effective at generating heat when used correctly, it is not safe for children as users will have to handle flammable liquids which may result in a fire if the reservoir is overfilled. Since this product is heavy and designed to be held in pockets, it may not be comfortable nor adaptable for different uses.
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
- Environmental Impact 2/5: Although lighter-fueled warmers can be reused, they will generate waste when disposed of, and the regular use of lighter fuel will also have an impact on the environment.
- Effectiveness 4/5: This warmer is effective at producing and maintaining heat for a long period of time due to its ignition process and design.
- Comfort 2/5: Although it is effective at generating heat, these warmers will not be comfortable for most occasions, and users may have to adapt their activities based on where they place them.
- ROI 3/5: With a minimum upfront cost of $40 in addition to semi-regular lighter fuel purchases of approximately $16 (for a 12oz bottle), these warmers provide a decent return on investment due as they are effective at generating heat for longer periods of time.
- Durability 4/5: If used and cared for properly, this product is designed to be durable and have a long lifespan.
- Safety 2/5: Safety is a significant concern with these warmers due to the possibility of explosions, and those who are uncomfortable with flammable liquids are advised to not use this product.
- Child Safe? No
Gel Pack Warmers
Gel packs are another form of reusable hand warmers that generate heat through a thermodynamic reaction involving water, sodium acetate, and a metal disc. Upon activation, these warmers generate heat for a maximum of 90 minutes. Once the heat expires, the gel packs need to be boiled before their next use. Despite these reusable gel packs being able to withstand between 200 to 300 uses, they will create plastic waste when discarded and they are not effective for generating heat over long periods of time. These warmers will also require supervision when being used by young children as the gel material can cause allergic if exposed to skin or sickness if ingested. They are also not suitable with mittens or socks as users will have limited mobility.
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
- Environmental Impact 3/5: Similar to the battery-operated and lighter-fueled warmers, gel pack warmers will minimize waste as they can be reused. However, it is important to note that they will create plastic waste when discarded.
- Effectiveness 2/5: Gel pack warmers are not effective at generating heat for longer than 90 minutes and will need to be reactivated before their next use.
- Comfort 2/5: Depending on their placement, gel pack warmers may restrict users’ movement and participation in activities.
- ROI 4/5: With an average cost of $20 per package, these warmers provide a decent return on investment as the price reflects their ability to both generate and maintain heat.
- Durability 4/5: The durability of gel pack warmers will depend on how many reactivation processes they undergo; however, their ability to sustain 200 to 300 uses will make them durable for most consumers.
- Safety 3/5: If handled correctly, gel pack warmers are safe for most consumers and do not use toxic materials.
- Child Safe? Yes, but requires adult supervision.
Overall, this analysis reveals that sheared beaver fur is the superior form of reusable hand warmers when considering environmental impact, return on investment, effectiveness, durability, safety, and comfort. It's truly a beautiful thing to keep warm while enjoying the great outdoors and simultaneously caring for the planet. There is no better time than now to vote with our wallets and purchasing power for a safer future for all.