9 gadgets to keep your hands and feet warm
We trialled the heating, comfort and ease of use of nine products designed to keep your hands and feet warm this winter.
With colder weather upon us and a cost of living crisis, it can be hard to stay warm all the time. While a warm and healthy home is most important for health and wellbeing, heating our extremities can provide a great sense of comfort during cold weather as well as help with circulation and pain. Hand and foot warmers are a great option for keeping your hands warm and toes toasty.
Types of hand and foot warmers
Wired – gloves or socks with cables (USB) give you an uninterrupted power supply, meaning you get constant heat without worrying about battery life. The downside, you’re tethered to the nearest power point.
Rechargeable – electronic or chemical based warmers give you the freedom to move around while using them. Another bonus is that with a recharge or reactivation of the chemicals, you can use these warmers many times.
Single-use – disposable hand warmers are designed to be used once and thrown away. They are convenient - you can use them anywhere, however, they add to landfill waste and will be more expensive in the long term as you need to buy more.
Gadgets and how well they work
1. Unbranded gloves (from Light in the Box) $22.08
The unbranded gloves have heating elements fixed inside with Velcro, so you can easily remove the element for washing. However, that’s where the good points end. These gloves reached uncomfortably high temperatures of around 50°C, and without a temperature control, your only option for reducing the heat is turning them off or taking them off. They also weren’t very comfortable to wear because the cable got in the way of typing and other simple tasks. This particular pair of gloves also shed fibres all over my desk, which got only slightly better after washing. These are a common product sold by many different brands that all use a similar design.
Verdict: I wouldn’t bother with these gloves; they got too hot and weren’t comfortable to wear. If you want heated gloves, try combining regular gloves with one of the other hand-warming products we’ve reviewed.
2. Pebble rechargeable pocket hand warmers (from Marine Deals) $19.99
The Pebble hand warmer quickly heats up, with its highest setting reaching a frightening 61°C while sitting on my desk. In my hand, it reached a more comfortable 43°C (holding it helps to control the temperature as your body absorbs heat). However, don’t leave this warmer just sitting around, it doesn’t have an automatic cut off and if it gets too hot it could be dangerous as it contains a lithium-ion battery. The battery only lasted just over an hour on the lowest heat setting, well short of its claimed 3 hours of battery life.
Verdict: The Pebble’s temperature control is good, but it can get too hot on the highest mode, so I preferred it on the lowest two settings. It’s versatile - a reusable heater that doubles as a power bank, but the battery didn’t last long when heating, so if you need to boost your phone battery, don’t expect much charge out of it.
3. Kathmandu reusable hand warmers (from Kathmandu) $19.98
Kathmandu warmers (other retailers also sell this type) are easy to use, simply click the metal disc inside the warmer and watch the visual spectacle of it crystallising, then enjoy the warmth. They produced a consistent heat, not quite as warm as the 55oC claimed on the packaging, but very close. The only downside is the reactivation time and process, which involves boiling the warmers until all the crystals dissolve. I suggest submerging them in a cup of hot water (making sure to top up the water when it cools) instead of risking damage by boiling them in a pot. You also have to make sure there aren’t any crystals left or the warmers will crystallise and heat up again.
Verdict: I really liked this set of warmers. They kept my hands warm and were easy to use, reusable, cheap at just $20 for two, and can last a long time, according to some staff members who have had theirs for over a decade.
4. Fieldsheer Mobile Warming unisex thermal socks (from SXT NZ) $159.99
These lithium-ion battery-powered socks were very comfortable to wear. The heating element is only in the toe area but wearing them with shoes meant my whole foot warmed up. The battery packs were comfortable to wear, didn’t pull the socks down and I barely remembered they were there.
Verdict: These socks were the most expensive in our trial, but they didn’t disappoint in performance. They’re comfortable, have good temperature controls (there are also models available with a remote and Bluetooth) and, most importantly, keep my feet nice and warm.
5. Grabber toe warmers (from Mitre 10) $21.00
Grabber single-use warmers are designed to be stuck on the bottom of your socks (they have adhesive on them) and worn in shoes. They contain ingredients that heat up on exposure to air, so the more air they encounter, the hotter they’ll get. I found them quite comfortable to wear, like insoles. The temperatures were a comfortable average of 30°C and lasted for many hours.
Verdict: These quickly became one of my favourites as they produced consistent, comfortable heat. The only thing I don’t like about them is that they’re single-use and will ultimately add to landfill waste.
6. Unbranded electric heated insoles USB rechargeable (from Dick Smiths) $18.86
These insoles can be cut to size like standard insoles, but they have wires in the centre (away from the cut points) that heat your feet. I found the temperatures warm and consistent, and my shoes helped the warmth spread further than the wires. But the power cable was annoying and while you can wear these as normal insoles (unpowered), the cables are still there and in the way.
Verdict: These insoles met their claimed temperatures (40-50°C) and kept my feet warm, so not a bad option if you’re sitting for hours at your kid’s rugby game- take a power bank and you’ll have warm tootsies. But the wires were annoying so they wouldn’t be a great option if you plan to move around.
7. Unbranded heated socks (from Dick Smiths) $27.77
I don’t have many good things to say about these socks, they didn’t get particularly warm while in my shoes and I felt I would have had warmer feet with a standard thick pair of woollen socks. The battery packs were bulky and annoying, pulling the tops of the socks down. Even worse, I discovered one of the socks was smaller than the other in circumference, making it difficult to put on and uncomfortable to wear. The socks- had no temperature control and used batteries which is a hassle to change when they go flat. Being cheap and easy to wash were the socks only good points.
Verdict: A bad fit before the battery packs were even inserted, together with lacklustre temperatures, makes these socks my least favourite foot warmers. The batteries lasted around 3 hours, so to save costs I recommend using rechargeable batteries.
8. Unbranded gloves (from Geekstore) $9.50
Description automatically generatedVery similar to the other gloves in our trial, this Geekstore pair had elements that sit inside the gloves (but weren’t fixed to a specific spot). Like the other gloves, this pair got to high and uncomfortable temperatures. The elements can be removed for washing as well. Again, there was no temperature control either. I couldn’t wear them for more than a few minutes before I had to take them off. They were made of a soft wool material (the label didn’t state the fibre composition), which made them much more comfortable than the other gloves, and they didn’t shed fibres.
Verdict: I wouldn’t waste my money on these gloves. Without a temperature control you have to turn them on and off to achieve a comfortable heat, which is a hassle. But with the elements removed they’re a good pair of fingerless gloves.
9. Grabber hand warmers (from Mitre 10) $16.87
Grabber single-use disposable hand warmers are very easy to use; simply remove them from the packet, give them a light shake and feel them warm up. They contain ingredients that heat up on exposure to air, so the more air they’re exposed to, the hotter they’ll get. They took less than 15 minutes to warm up and the heat was consistent.
Verdict: These hand warmers are a great on-the-go option, though they didn’t reach their claimed average temperature of 57°C (thankfully, as that’s too hot). Still, a big downside is that they are disposable, adding to landfill waste.
Prices exclude shipping.
Are they safe?
Hand and foot warmers are designed to heat your extremities only, and they aren’t a safe option for everyone. They can be dangerous for certain groups of people, such as young children, the elderly, and those with temperature regulating medical conditions like diabetes or heart problems that affect their circulation and feeling in their extremities. Additionally, they shouldn't be used on areas with inflammation, wounds, fragile skin, or bony areas with little padding.
If in doubt, check with your doctor before use and read the instructions on the package. In many cases heating products can still be useful but it’s important to make sure the duration and temperature are controlled.
How hot these products feel can be subjective, everyone feels heat differently. Consumer spoke to Professor Simon Stebbings, from the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, who recommends a “nice sustained warmth, around 40°C”. Heating your extremities above this temperature for long periods can be bad.
Some medical conditions can also benefit from the use of hand and foot warming products, such as Raynaud’s phenomenon, where warmth can help improve circulation and prevent pain.
Don’t use hand or foot warmers while wearing metal jewellery, as they can heat the metal and increase the chances of a burn.
Chemical warmer dangers
The chemical and crystallisation warmers come with additional hazards. The chemical ones can reach high temperatures if exposed to oxygen rich environments or worn incorrectly. You should never puncture either type of warmer because the contents can be harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or they get on your skin or in your eyes.
The electrical warmers (cable and rechargeable) also have a risk of electrocution if the heating elements or wires become damaged or exposed. The ones with lithium-ion batteries are also a possible fire risk if they aren’t treated properly.
Make sure to read the instructions for how to operate them correctly, follow washing instructions and store them correctly. None of the powered products in our trial had an automatic shut off meaning you need to be careful and remember to turn them off when not in use.