Monday, October 29, 2018

Cheap Gear Review: Crack and Boil Hand Warmers

Last week I discussed hand warmers. I would argue that they are an essential piece of equipment for people who have to go into extreme cold environments on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, there is a fairly large gap, both price and convenience-wise, between most reusable hand warmers and disposables. Fortunately, there is a happy medium between those two types: "Crack and boil" type hand warmers that rely on a chemical reaction that is actually internal to the hand warmer itself.

These warmers have a small, convex metal disk held inside a gel pouch, and when use your thumb and fingers to invert the disk (making it concave), that inversion releases just enough heat to start a chemical reaction. The gel actually turns into a solid crystal that releases heat for some time.

Most crack and boil hand warmers claim that they only last for 30-45 minutes, which I find is an underestimation; in my experience about twice that length of time is reasonable to expect from them.

When these warmers have finished giving off heat, just boil them in water for a few minutes to reset them. I have accidentally left the hand warmers in for an hour with no ill effect, but it only takes a few minutes to desolidify the gel.

In addition to being reusable, these warmers come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. I have several that are 6+ inches across and are designed for use on muscle cramps, as well as 3 inch around hand warmers that I use during sporting events.

I haven't had one fail on me, either, despite things like teenage boys whacking them against brick walls. Abuse in excess of usual wear and tear doesn't seem to compromise them, but I have yet to cut into one, so don't go overboard. 

Recommendation: 5/5
Overall, I would definitely recommend these for your preps. They rate five out of five stars for things like sporting events, and being able to give them to children without worries about them being overly expensive, or the children breaking them. You don’t need a source of open flame or special storage for them; just boil a pot of water to reset them and don’t deliberately puncture the packaging.

The biggest drawback to these is that they require boiling water, meaning you cannot easily reset them in the field. These may not be your best option in the middle of a disaster or while evacuating; or the same space and weight you can carry a fair amount of fuel for a zippo style hand warmer. Three out of five stars for use in that situation, so keep them out of your 72 hour kits.

In a long-term SHTF situation, however, that disadvantage becomes minor since you will need to boil water anyway for cooking and sanitation. (I frequently reset my warmers after heating water to make hot cocoa.)

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

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