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Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers

28 Nov

Learning to ride my bike in the winter was a “trial and error” experience for me (mainly error). Over the years as I bought better winter gear I wanted to spend more time riding in the snow—which usually meant buying more gear. Some winter gear can be very expensive, but one of the most useful products I’ve ever bought for winter cycling is also the cheapest—chemical hand, foot and body warmers.

Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers for winter cycling

Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers

Chemical warmers are made by several companies, such as HotHands and Grabber. Though the exact ingredients in these warmers vary depending on the manufacturer, they all basically have the same ingredients: Iron powder, salt, water, activated charcoal and vermiculite (or cellulose). To activate these chemical warmers all you have to do is expose them to air by removing them for their packaging (sometimes you have to shake the packs for a few seconds). Once out of the package these products warm up in 15 to 30 minutes and can stay warm for four or five hours. These products are almost always advertised as being good for seven or eight hours, and under ideal circumstances they might, but that has not been my experience with most of them.

In this article we will discuss the three main types of chemical warmers available and give a few suggestions for uses that you might not have thought about before.

Chemical hand warmers are the most common type of warmer you will see at Walmart, Target and sporting good stores. They come in packages of two and each warmer measures about 2″x3″. The easiest way to use them is to just put one in the palm of your hand and make a fist. However, you won’t get very far on your bike like this! Some winter gloves, such as the North Face Montana HyVent Gloves, have a zippered stash pocket on the back of the glove where you can insert a chemical hand warmer. These gloves are designed with snow skiers in mind, but mountain bikers and commuters could also benefit from them. During the winter I always put a pair of these chemical hand warmers inside my Revelate Designs Gas Tank (a top tube bag) to get my energy bars and gels warm (a frozen Cliff Bar is pretty hard to eat).

Chemical toe warmers stick to the bottom of your socks with self-adhesive tape and they are so thin that you will probably never even know they are there (but you will benefit from them). A decent alternative to chemical toe warmers is a pair of Neoprene Tip Toe Covers by the Gator Sports—these toe covers go inside of your socks and work extremely well (are they only cost about $10 a pair). To keep the bottom of my feet warm I put 3M Thinsulate Thermal Insoles inside of all my winter cycling shoes and boots.

Chemical body warmers are larger than hand warmers—they measure 4″x5.5″, and the Super HotHands Body Warmer keeps working for up to 18 hours! During the winter I layer the clothing on my upper body—I start with a simple Under Armour compression shirt, then a lightweight fleece layer, followed by a thin outer shell, like the Showers Pass Touring Jacket. Since this jacket has two side pockets I can put the larger chemical body warmers in them when the temperature is really cold, and as an added benefit they keep my energy gels and bars warm at the same time!

Once you find a chemical hand, foot or body warmer you like you will find the best way to buy them is from Amazon.com. I buy (and use) large quantities of these warmers and Amazon.com sells them for about half the price you will find at your local store.

 

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37 responses to “Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers

  1. Megan

    November 28, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    Have you ever tried running in the toe warmers? My feet / toes have a tendency to get very cold and feel numb when its cold out and never even thought to look into something like this.

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 1:12 PM

      I’ve never tried running with the chemical toe warmers in my shoes, but they might cause a problem (even though some of them are VERY thin). I would try the Neoprene Tip Toe Covers I mentioned — they are so thin I don’t think you would even notice that you have them on, but they will certainly keep your toes warm.

       
  2. fiftylimited

    November 28, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Thanks for sharing this, I’ve half-invested in some winter running gear but still find it quite expensive, and still unbearable.. but I might try these warmers…!

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      We all just have to keep experimenting until we find the right combination of gear that works for us. Good luck!

       
  3. elisariva

    November 28, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    For winter running Hothands are the best! The only problem I had was putting one in my pocket with GU and lip balm. The GU was nice and warm but my lip balm melted!

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      That is so funny — I melted a tube of Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm yesterday with one of the chemical warmers I had in my pocket! I do this about once a year, so I hope this will be the last time for this season.

       
      • elisariva

        November 28, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        Mine was Burt’s Bees too!

         
  4. Joboo

    November 28, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Two big thumbs up for the hand warmers!!!
    Not so much for the toe warmers!!
    Think warm boots!! ;)
    Pedal On!!
    Peace

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 3:43 PM

      Joboo, I try to put off wearing my winter cycling boots as long as possible because the extra weight slows me down (like I really need help doing that).

       
      • st sahm

        November 28, 2012 at 8:06 PM

        Best line — “Frozen cliff bar is pretty hard to eat” — this blog makes me appreciate our mild winters. How can I complain about running in our climate when you’re out there ‘ice’cycling and using chemical warmers?!

         
        • All Seasons Cyclist

          November 28, 2012 at 9:53 PM

          Just wait till I start talking about how to keep your water bottles from freezing when it is -20 degrees (F).

           
  5. Rachel Elizabeth

    November 28, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    I use those for my hands in the winter… they really do work wonders lol I’ve never worked out with them though

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 9:56 PM

      Sounds like you need to spend a little more time out in the snow! Let your inner “Snowman” (Snowwoman) out.

       
  6. lampenj

    November 28, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    I found full foot warmers at Walmart that work fantastic as well. They also stick to the bottom of your sock, but cover more of your foot. They’re still the same thickness as the toe warmers. I wear wool socks, insulated booties, and chemical warmers still JUST keep my feet from freezing off.

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 28, 2012 at 10:05 PM

      I’ve not tried the full length foot warmers yet — the 3M Thinsulate Thermal Insoles keep the bottom of my feet toasty warm, but the toes need a little extra help (since they are facing the wind).

       
  7. AndrewGills

    November 29, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    I saw your blog post on my mobile phone earlier today. Then I stopped at the motorbike shop to pick up parts (I’m servicing my motorbike for the first time on Saturday with the help of YouTube). Anyway, what should I see on the counter but these chemical warmers that you wrote about. They cost about $1.19 – $1.45 each here in Australia.

    We are currently right in the middle of our long hot summer so I won’t be needing any but come winter I’m going to give them a try. Apparently they last for up to 16 hours here in Brisbane because our winters are so mild (we only really need these things at night for a few weeks a year if it’s raining because for the rest of the time the temperatures stay about 5′C overnight). I am definitely going to throw a set in my motorbike kit next year though. And I might even grab some to try in my cycling shoes (my toes always freeze because I have poor circulation).

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 5:19 PM

      Andrew — You forced me to look it up — 5 degrees Celsius equals 41 degrees Fahrenheit. I am not sure if you would ever need these warmers — I don’t use them until the temperature drops to at least 25 degrees (-4 Celsius).

       
      • AndrewGills

        November 29, 2012 at 7:23 PM

        But I’m soft … And when I’m on my motorbike at night in the rain it gets really cold at 100kph (60mph) with the wind chill.

        I think cold is relative to what you’re used to. For example, I don’t own any long sleeves or long pants for cycling. I wear short sleeves and no socks all year round (because it’s not that cold). But if I lived somewhere that actually got cold, I might have an intermediate level of warm clothing suitable for the 40′F range. It’s perfect here in Brisbane right now. We have days hovering between the 86′F to 95′F and our nights are around 80′F to 90′F. In many places (including where I live), people stop exercising during these temperatures out of fear of heat exhaustion but this is how it’s going to be for us for the next six months. So when it drops suddenly to 40′F in the mornings, it’s a shock to the system (because it only lasts about 5-8 weeks).

        I would be absolutely lost in a place where it gets to 25′F … Think you’d never get me away from my hot water bottle … LOL :)

        Long story short … I’m a bit soft with cold and reckon these hand and toe warmers will be good for the few days I need them in winter.

         
  8. RayLuoma

    November 29, 2012 at 5:00 AM

    A quick note on reusing the chemical warmers. I use the toe warmers on cold morning rides to work. At work, I pop the warmers into the small, waterproof bag I use for my smartphone. With no air, the warmers stop heating, and I can use them again on the ride home. Also, I use the toe warmers in my gloves, since they’re thinner, and don’t get as hot. I often find the hand warmers too hot when I’m working hard on the bike.

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      I have never tried putting them into an airtight bag to stop the heating process, but I can see that it would work for many of these warmers. In fact, most brands of chemical warmers tell you that if they stop working (before the normal time) just blow on them or fan them in the air to restart the process.

       
  9. Emilee Jane Tombs

    November 29, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    Reblogged this on BikeBelles and commented:
    Wow, as someone who suffers from Reynolds syndrome (bad circulation in the extremities of your bod) this is an absolute godsend! Thanks to All Seasons Cyclist for letting on!

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 30, 2012 at 11:15 AM

      Glad I could help!

       
    • Biker

      June 7, 2013 at 8:58 PM

      Raynaud’s – I’ve got it too. Gotta watch fingers, toes, nose and ears.

       
  10. mtbtokyogirl

    November 29, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    we also have this kind of stuff for winter and we can get them for pretty good deal like 10 sheets for about $3 or so. every winter we use them but usually for waist or back to warm entire body up.
    Guess I should bring it when I get to ride too!

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 5:20 PM

      So just how cold does it get in Tokyo?

       
      • mtbtokyogirl

        November 30, 2012 at 4:37 AM

        well, it was around 0C~3C entire day last weekend. not sure how it was like up in the mountain though.
        going to be colder for sure. I just bought ultralight down jacket for winter ride.

         
  11. tinatimebomb

    November 29, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Oh yes I know them well, theres a case of them in the kitchen cabinent

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 5:20 PM

      I buy mine by the case from Amazon.com — If I don’t use them all one year they will keep till the next.

       
  12. Sheslosingit.net

    November 29, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    These things are great! I used to buy the hand warmers when I was an actress in NYC and we had to wait outside in the cold for filming.

    Lisa
    http://sheslosingit.net

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 5:23 PM

      Now that is neat! I almost forget that you can use hand warmers for something other than cycling! The real question is: What were you in? I remember reading it on your blog before, but it has obviously slipped my mind.

       
  13. womencyclists

    November 29, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    “I don’t use them until the temperature drops to at least 25 degrees (-4 Celsius).” For real?! Oh my goodness, I start using them once it hits 50 degrees! I’m such a wimp, I know, and I grew up in Chicago so it’s not like I’m from a warm climate or anything, I don’t have an excuse besides I hate the cold!

    But I have a question…and I have accepted that this might open me up to all types of ridicule if it’s a really stupid one, but here goes:

    I recently when for a bike ride and had these in my pants pockets. They helped keep me warm and all was well until I came home and saw that my skin was bright red and was warm. It wasn’t actually a burn, as it went away after a couple hours. But it looked like a burn. I was surprised because I have held them with bare hands before and never had anything like that. I was wondering if I just had sensitive skin, or if it’s because it was some type of a chemical burn/heat rash because I had them in my pants pocket. Thoughts?

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 29, 2012 at 6:25 PM

      We all have different temperature preferences. I’ve seen people cycling in short pants when the temp was below freezing (a terrible idea since the Synovial fluid in the knees will never warm up).

      I have no doubt that you could get a real burn from the heat these packages put off, but probably not a “chemical burn” (considering the chemicals involved). Some brands of chemical warmers heat up to over 165 degrees Fahrenheit. And, if I remember correctly, the skin on the palm of your hands is thicker than in most other areas of the body. Also, I think every package of chemical warmer I’ve ever seen has suggested (requested) that you not use the package directly against the skin.

      Also, if you start using chemical warmers at 50 degrees, what do you do when it gets cold?

       
      • womencyclists

        November 30, 2012 at 1:24 PM

        Oh that makes sense. Hands are thicker as compared to other parts of the body. And what do I do when it gets cold? Walk briskly from one indoor place (or car) to another… =)

         
  14. Colleen Lerro

    November 30, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Foot warmers and hand warmers are the best! I used to teach two outdoor boot camps a day before and after work, and these seriously were a life saver during some of those winter classes!

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 30, 2012 at 4:42 PM

      Outdoor boot camp in the winter? Now we are talking about fun!

       
  15. Jeff Kosbie

    December 5, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    I put one of these in my camelback in winter when I’m outside running to keep my water from freezing. As long as I make sure to take a drink every ten minutes or so to keep the water in the drink hose from freezing, I’m fine.

     
    • All Seasons Cyclist

      December 5, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      Great idea! I have an insulated tube that works fairly well, but like you said, you have to take a drink every 10 minutes or so to keep it from freezing.

       

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