Are Zippo Hand Warmers Worth the Investment?


I’ve seen quite a few different types of hand warmers on the market the past few years and have really never given them much consideration, until now. Like many of you, my only exposure to hand warmers has been the air-activated Hot Hands style warmers, which have never worked very well for me.

I recently decided to purchase two of the Zippo Outdoor Hand Warmers from Amazon to see if they lived up to the marketing. Being that I really like Zippo as a brand and that their products are made in Bradford, Pennsylvania, I had high expectations. I also can’t discount how much I love the smell of zippo fluid burning either.

Zippo Hand Warmers

Each Zippo Hand Warmer is much larger than I expected it to be, as the product photos I’d seen didn’t do a good job at showing the relative size. Each hand warmer measures roughly 4″ tall x 2 3/4″ wide and comes with a protective fabric bag to store it in during use and also a small plastic filling cup.

Zippo Hand Warmers 13

The concept behind the Zippo Hand Warmer is that through the combustion (ignition) of zippo fluid (light petroleum distillate) it becomes a catalytic heater, relying on a catalyzed chemical reaction to break down molecules and create heat. Being a device which burns fuel means that it also consumes oxygen and creates carbon monoxide. With adequate ventilation, this isn’t an issue, just something I wanted to mention so you’re aware of it.


Zippo isn’t the first manufacturer to make a catalytic hand warmer, but it’s the first one I’ve had exposure to. The process for ignition is pretty straight forward and easy, provided you follow directions. I haven’t managed to mess up the instructions thus far, but as you read on, it will be easy for you to also see how someone could.

Ignition Sequence

The first step is determining how long you want these hand warmers to run, because once their ignited, there’s no safe way to stop the heating action according to Zippo. The small plastic filling cup has two markings on it, one for 1/2 full and one for full. 1/2 full will provide around 6 hours of heat and filling them all the way provides 12 hours. I have tested this for myself and found these times to be fairly right on. I’d say my results have been anywhere from 5 1/2 hours to six hours on 1/2 full and 11 1/2 to 12 hours filled all the way.


Once you’ve measured out your desired amount of fuel, ensure the catalytic burner unit cover is removed from the hand warmer body and pour in the fuel in from the small filler nozzle side of the filling cup. Next, pour the fuel into the cotton-like material at the top of the unit while keeping it upright, making sure you don’t mash down the material. If you do mash it down, the instructions say to come back with a toothpick after filling to fluff it back up.

The next thing is to keep the hand warmer upright for about two minutes before ignition, to allow the fuel to be fully distributed in the cotton-like material so it’s available to the catalytic burner. Don’t lay the hand warmer down after filling and before ignition. Once it’s lit, it’s ok to set it down, put it in a pocket (with the protective cover,) etc.


The big take home at this stage of the instruction is to REMOVE the catalytic burner unit cover BEFORE filling. If you dump the fuel through the catalytic burner, or don’t hold it upright  you’ll wind up with a flame when you light it, rather than the nearly invisible burn. A flame means over filling or that fuel has leaked onto the catalytic burner.

Last thing is to affix the catalytic burner unit back in place and apply a flame for about 10 seconds, continuing to hold it upright. This can be from a lighter or even a match. I’ve found that I can tell it’s lit by simply waving my hand over it and feeling for that first bit of heat. When you toss the hand warmer lid back on, just keep in mind that it does take a good 10-15 minutes before it reaches maximum burn, so be sure to allow it to get plenty of air for awhile before dropping it in a pocket. Also note that it does need oxygen to function. If you smother the hand warmer and it can’t get air it will go out.


The protective fabric bag you drop the heater into is necessary to prevent burns, as they do get pretty hot and are made of metal. I haven’t found that they get so hot that they’d burn the skin, but the instructions state that a low temperature burn of the skin is possible if you don’t rotate position and allow it to remain on one part of your body. They also state not to use these while sleeping.

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