The Humble Hand Warmer: How to Stay Warm While Running in Winter

I’ll take a winter run over a hot summer run any day. “Brisk,” “freezing,” and “snow” are all words I welcome in a pre-run forecast, and I’ll welcome just about any chance to get outside at the time of year when it feels like Vitamin D is evaporating from my skin. My body, often sluggish and swollen and sweaty in the summer, thrives in the cold.

This “thriving,” though, does not carry over to my fingers, which sometimes feel like they’re going to slowly freeze then snap off in my otherwise-beloved subzero winter temps. I struggle, Goldilocks-like, with gloves. Some are too thin and don’t offer real protection. Some are too thick and quickly feel swampy inside. But over time I’ve landed on a combo that works without fail: thin gloves and my secret weapon of winter, a single hand warmer.

Thanks to my generous mom, who lives near Seattle and for whom my family’s daily warmth in the Inland Northwest often seems questionable, I receive with some regularity a box of hand and foot warmers. When the temperature is very low, say 25 degrees or less, I get out one of the HotHands hand warmers from this thoughtfully-provided stockpile, squeeze it to activate the stuff inside, and I’m off, holding it in my gloved palm.

The single hand warmer is key to the operation’s success. At first I tried double fisting it, one hand warmer per paw, but I found that uncomfortably warm. The single hand warmer, on the other hand (ha ha), is the perfect solution. I hold it in one glove until those fingers are almost uncomfortably toasty, then switch to the other side. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The hand warmer also solves another problem: my phone’s finicky battery life, which is even more unreliable in cold weather. While playing one of my favorite podcasts such as Hidden Brain, OnBeing, Serial, the Liturgists, and Armchair Expert, I nervously anticipate the moment it will abruptly be silenced, with nothing on my phone’s screen except the dreaded “zero battery” symbol. Once again, a hand warmer comes to the rescue. On a very cold day, I’ll wrap my phone in a spare glove or mitten and toss the hand warmer in there occasionally to keep things at a sustainable temperature.

My only concern with this otherwise perfect solution is the waste. HotHands are lightweight and unobtrusive, the ideal size for carrying on even a long run. They’ve never done me wrong, but after a single use these little guys get tossed in the garbage. My goal for this winter is to thoroughly research and then purchase something reusable. A few on my list to investigate: Zippo brand hand warmers, which are fueled with lighter fluid and have mostly good reviews online, but are bulkier than I’m used to; HotSnapZ, which are recharged between uses by boiling in water, which will take more prep time than I’m accustomed to, but are supposed to be easy to carry; and Osunlin Portable Pebbles, a rechargeable electric-powered option with three heat settings. They’re also designed to work as a power banks for charging phones.

Until I’ve found a comparable option, I’ll keep working my way through my stash of HotHands. Thankfully, I’ve got a box full. //

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