When you're coming down the mountain on skis or snowshoeing through deep powder, the last thing you'll want to deal with is numb toes and fingers. You may have the best extreme-cold-weather gear, but it never hurts to take along hand and toe warmers that will bring your extremities back to life once you feel them stiffening up.
These little pouches are great for cold-weather sports. They give you a portable, one-time-use way to make sure your fingers and toes are toasty under your winter gear. To help you understand how to use hand and toe warmers, we’ve compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions about them.
How do you activate a chemical heat pack?
When you buy your hand and toe warmers, they’ll come in a plastic wrapper, most likely with two pouches in each package. Making sure to keep the cloth pouches sealed, shake each one so that all the contents mix together. This usually takes only a few seconds.
There are a few different kinds of hand and toe warmers, but the most common ones contain tiny pieces of iron, water, activated carbon, salt, a water reservoir, and a mineral called “vermiculite.” When iron is exposed to oxygen, it begins to oxidize and produce heat. The other natural ingredients perform a number of different tasks: the salt works to spur the chemical reaction, the carbon is used to distribute the heat, and the vermiculite is used to insulate the warmth that’s generated.
How long do they last?
That depends on the kind you get, but most commonly, warmers last between five and eight hours. Basically, one pair should last through one day of outdoor winter activity.
How long do they take to heat up?
The oxidation process begins immediately, and you'll notice a gradual increase in heat for about 20 minutes. However, you'll feel the warmth much sooner than that, and you should put each pouch inside your gloves or winter boots soon after you shake it.
How hot do they get?
Because warmers are activated by exposure to oxygen, the more time they spend in open air, the hotter they get. Toe and feet warmers can reach temperatures of 165 degrees Fahrenheit if left out. Make sure to use your warmers in enclosed spaces only, such as gloves, mittens. and boots, and avoid using them in shoes or gloves that have ventilation.
Will they burn me if I use them directly against my skin?
In short, yes. You should never place warmers into direct contact with skin. The chemical process in the pouches is designed to keep your fingers and toes warm in extremely cold conditions, so direct skin contact can cause burns. Place them inside your boots while wearing socks, and outside the inner lining of your winter gloves to protect yourself from burns.
Will they fry my phone if they’re in the same pocket?
Similar to skin, it probably isn't a good idea for your phone to be in direct contact with a hand warmer. What you can try, however, is putting your phone into a small sock, then putting it in your pocket with a warmer. This should keep your electronics safe and keep the battery from dying too soon in the cold.
Will they fit inside my shoes?
Yes, toe warmers are designed specifically for use in winter boots. These warmers feature an adhesive side that fits snugly into place either at the top or bottom of the toe portion of your shoe and won't move around.
Before heading out into the cold, make sure hand and toe warmers are a part of your outdoor gear—it never hurts to hit the trails prepared.
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