Burchfield: Warmth to ward off cold winter weather

In the foreground is a vintage hand warmer purchased decades ago from the David T. Abercrombie Co. New York, N.Y., no doubt its design with cutting edge in its day.

Winter brings a wide range of weather conditions, from being bright, sunny and mild one day, to driving winds that carry with them snow and cold temperatures.

Thank goodness for top-quality outdoor clothing that can keep winter at bay.

Yet, even the best outdoor gear has its limitations when harsh weather conditions set in. So, if you’re looking for some reinforcements when it comes to keeping warm, incorporating hand warmers into your outdoor ensemble can provide extra warmth and comfort that can last all day long.

The first commercially produced hand warmer was created by Japanese inventor Niichi Matoba. He applied the principle of an oxidation reaction that produced heat by means of a platinum catalyst. In 1912, he received a patent on the technology. However, change was inevitable.

In 1923, Matoba developed a prototype of his device. Now after nearly a century, the basic concept and variations of the same remain in production today.

Then in 1951, John Smith introduced the Jon-E hand warmer, and in December of that same year, he was granted a patent for his innovative product.

The Jon-E hand warmer was manufactured by Aladdin Laboratories in Minneapolis. At the height of production during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Aladdin was producing 10,000 hand warmers a day.

The Jon-E like other lighter fuel style hand warmers was designed to draw fuel from a cotton filled reservoir.

The Jon-E was rated to provide a maximum temperature of about 110 degrees. Today, this type of unit is perceived to require “extra work” to maintain it, and others of similar design. But those who use this type of device feel the extra attention needed is well worth the effort.

In February 2010, Zippo, located in Bradford, acquired the Ronson brand of lighters and Ronsonol brand of fuel. Shortly thereafter, the company introduced an all-metal hand warmer as part of its line of Zippo Outdoor products.

Zippo redesigned their version of a fuel-based hand warmer. The unit was thinner compared to the Jon-E making it less bulky and easier to slip into a pocket. Zippo’s hand warmer came with a warming bag, similar to the Jon-E.

The Zippo’s were upgraded to include a fill cup, designed to pre-measuring fuel. The size of the cup was calibrated to provide the proper amount of fuel to charge its 6 and 12-hour rated devices.

The downside to the Jon-E, Zippo along with most other refillable hand warmers, there is no mechanism for extinguishing these types of hand warmers. However, there is a possible solution.

While using caution and while the hand warmer is enclosed in the warming bag, the unit can be placed in a zip lock bag then sealed and placed on a fireproof surface. The unit will then consume the oxygen contained within the Ziplock bag and the burner will be extinguished.

Again, the process described should be carried out with extreme caution. Or the unit can be placed on a fireproof surface and allow it to run until the remaining fuel is gone.

When it comes to refillable lighter fuel hand warmers, the “new kid on the block” is the S-Boston. The unit incorporates a number of additional design changes and upgrades when compared to the Jon-E and Zippo hand warmers.

The S-Boston features a platinum-coated glass fiber burner ignited by an ignition device requiring two AAA batteries. The feature is innovative, however, if the batteries fail, re-ignition of the unit could present challenges.

Unlike other refillable type hand warmers, the S-Boston incorporates a design feature allowing the unit to be extinguished at any time. To do so, the top half of the unit is removed, turned 180 degrees, then re-inserted into the base. The burner and fuel access areas are offset. When the top half of the unit is rotated and reinserted, the fuel access area is covered with a rubber seal so the burner does not have fuel to operate, effectively turning the unit off.

Another style of hand warmer is the charcoal type hand warmer, which can be traced back to and used during World Waw I in Europe. This type of hand warmer is in a word, basic.

The device is powered by using a stick of compressed charcoal to produce heat. Both ends of a charcoal stick are lit, and when the flame dies down, it is placed in a special felt-covered case that resembles a case to store your glasses.

The run time for this style hand warmer is about six hours.

Today, the single-use air-activated hand warmer hit the market in 1981.

Invented by the MyCoal Corporation of Japan, this type of hand warmer is offered in configurations that include: foot and toe warmers, along with peel and stick body warmers and individual hand warmers. So how do they work?

Once the individual packing is opened, oxygen enters the packet and heat begins to be generated.

The heat generated is the result of a chemical reaction. The ingredients in the packet include a combination of iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and vermiculite.

The iron inside the packet mixes with oxygen in the air and oxides. The process is termed exothermic oxidation.

This type of hand warmer(s) can provide warmth from one to 10 hours, depending on the type of warmer.

Today, technology and innovation have advanced hand warmers to new heights.

Now the name of the game is, rechargeable. Currently, Zippo offers three rechargeable hand warmers. However, the HeatBank 9s Rechargeable is the top of the line. When fully charged, it provides heat for nine hours.

In addition to offering warmth, the unit can be used to charge compatible USB devices including mobile phones, MP3 players, tablets and cameras.

The unit provides single or dual-sided heat with six heat settings and powered by a rechargeable 5200 mAh lithium-ion battery (included) for lasting reliable warmth.

Rounding out the hand warmers available today, the Zippo Heatbank 9 is impressive and the most advanced hand warmer yet. It is well suited for hunters, anglers and those who enjoy trekking the outdoors when it is cold outside.

(Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net.)

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