Toasty Warm Hands!

After a two day bike hiatus while waiting out the snow storm, I was back with Oma today for a perfectly energizing commute in the bright, crisp air. The best winter cycling is a full day after a snow storm, when the skies are blue, the snow is clean and the trails are plowed (at least in Chicago – thanks again Parks Department!). The temperature was 12 F, but as I’ve said before, I prefer a super freezing sunny day over a marginally freezing gray day.

As if the sunny morning could not get any better, I made a major breakthrough: Toasty! Warm! Fingers! Usually at 12 degrees my fingers would be burning; today they were toasty warm. The combo was mittens, glove liners and chemical warming packs. In the past I’ve tried and been disappointed by this combo. Today I wore better liners (Smartwool) and removed the warming packs from their package about 45 minutes before leaving. The packs get much warmer after being exposed to the air for a while. Finally, I put the warming packs inside the mitts, outside the glove liners, against the inside of my fingers. The result was TOASTY! I could feel the heat gently radiating the whole, long ride (1.5 hours this morning while I meandered along the Lakefront Trail enjoying the fresh air and taking pictures). Even on the ride home the packs were still warm.

I’m very excited by this development. I had resigned myself to a lifetime of freezing fingers. I think the complete lack of wind helped my fingers today, but I’m hopeful that even with wind this setup would work well. My biggest worry is that this could be an expensive and wasteful habit, as the packs last only one day each.

Does anyone else regularly use chemical warming packs? Or have any other tips and tricks to share for warm hands?

Also, I keep forgetting to post this video about Chicago’s Winter Bike to Work Day last month by Camille Doty, a student at Northwestern’s journalism school, which includes a short interview with me. Nice to meet you, Camille.

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26 thoughts on “Toasty Warm Hands!

  1. Mag says:

    The hand and toe warmers rock! We get them often at Home Depot because they would have them for less than other places and the construction workers must use them. You are exactly right about allowing them to heat up before using them. I love the fit of shimano road shoes but they always have that vent hole thing under the toes, on the sole of the shoe. Add one toe warmer and voila! Warm at last!

    Great site, btw.

  2. Ann says:

    Our temps went sub-zero in October and I quickly found out I couldn’t keep my hands warm with multiple layers of gloves. I bought pogies (under $18.00 at Amazon with free shipping if you get your order over $25). I absolutely love them and will always put them on my bike in winter. I can comfortably ride with 1 pair of gloves and my hands aren’t cold. Here’s what mine look like.

    If you’re interested in them, this is the link to the product on Amazon.

  3. Dottie says:

    @Mag – Thanks for the tip! I think there is a Home Depot not too far from where I live. If I could buy in bulk at a discount, I’d be in business :)

    Interested to hear about your shoes. I am sad that I my fashion boots don’t keep my feet warm enough in the winter and I’m forced to wear snow boots constantly. Maybe if I put, like, three warming packs into each boot, my feet would not freeze to death.

  4. Dottie says:

    @Ann – Thanks for posting your pogie pic – it’s very helpful for me to get a good idea of how they are set up. Someone mentioned pogies before, was that you? But not with a link to purchase them, thanks for including the Amazon listing. They are much more affordable that I thought they’d be. Less expensive than my mitts. Someone mentioned that it is difficult to signal and then get your hands back in the pogies to press the brakes. Have you had any problems with that? I feel like signaling is essential, given how much traffic I cycle in.

  5. Coreen says:

    Though I don’t often use them, I always carry disposable hand warmers in the winter in case of emergency (though they are also nice in case of photography), as well as a zip lock bag. When I get to work, or whatever other warm place I’m going, I seal the hand warmer in the bag to cut off the oxygen and slow or stop the chemical reaction until I need it again. This has allowed me to use them for 2 or 3 days in a row.
    I also often carry the reusable kind that are filled with gel and you have to boil to recharge. They are too big to put in my mitts, so I put them in my sleeves (geeky but effective) or pockets. They only put out heat for about 30 minutes but are great for when you need a little extra warmth while you stop and enjoy the scenery.

  6. dukiebiddle says:

    What Coreen said. I’ve read that people can make them last as much as a week by sealing them in zip-lock bags between uses, although I’m sure that depends on the distance of commute.

  7. Cherilyn says:

    CONGRATULATIONS! So glad you found something that works for your hands, at least for now. You have to catch up to the biker with the bunny and streamers on her helmet and see what she uses.

    Ditto on the ziplocs and the hand warmers. I’ve heard the same thing.

    I wear Bogs for winter biking footwear and as my snow boots, which aren’t perfect, but at least they come in fun colors now. As long as my feet are moving, my feet are warm. They might not meet your fashion standards, though.

  8. Doug says:

    I just cracked open a pair right now and dropped them in my winter cycling boots. I have 40 minutes before I leave for work. My hands do fine without them, but my feet are my weak spot. My boots are two sizes larger than what I normally wear to allow air space. The chemical heat thingies won’t work without some air.

    I also use the ziplock bag trick to get more uses out of mine. Freezer bags seem to work the best. The thinner sandwich bags breath a little bit more.

  9. Jessica says:

    I live in Winnipeg, and people sell reusable hot packs around here. They’re more durable than the small ones, and then you just boil them after you use them and they’re good as new. I’m not sure if they can be found online but it might be worth a look.

  10. Dottie says:

    @Cherilyn – The bunny cyclist is still a mystery, but I am keeping a lookout :)

    Those Bogs are cute. I think I need the fuzzy liner that both of my snow boots have, but the Bogs look like a good choice for spring. I don’t have a good inbetween season shoe.

  11. Dottie says:

    @Doug – My predicament is the opposite – my feet are usually fine and my hands are always freezing.

    To everyone who mentioned the ziplock bag trick – I will try that. Mr. Dottie tried it before and it did not work (our sandwich bags are really thin recycled ones) so I will use a freezer bag. Thanks!

  12. Dottie says:

    @Coreen and @Jessica – I’m interested in these reusable warmers. Coreen, 30 minutes is about how long my commute takes (unless I take the scenic route) so that would be perfect. Jessica, are the warmers you’ve seen small enough to fit inside mitts or are they too big, as Coreen has seen? Thanks!

  13. E A says:

    @Dottie – I just bought a pair of Bogs on sale from REI. With pink polkadots! :-) They work well down to the 20s for me (only slightly chilly toes) but I Iike that they’re waterproof, so we’ll see how they do for the not so cold, but often wet spring/fall seasons.

    I’m also a fan of the thicker plastic bags for preserving the warmers — or you can try an airtight reusable small plastic container. I put the warm packs in a small Ziploc container once and it worked.

    You could also try Menards for the handwarmers – they sometimes have 10-packs on a deep discount. But it’s late in the season – so either the discount could be huge or the inventory could be low.

  14. E A says:

    I can’t believe you had a 1.5 hour commute! Must have captured lots of good shots. :-)

  15. Trisha says:

    I love the pictures of Oma when she’s “rearing” up due to the weight of the lock on the rack. It makes her look all happy and ready to ride!

    My hands have been really cold this winter too but my commute is so short I have just been suffering through it. I think getting some big mittens to wear over my glove liners and light gloves would be fine, but winter is usually so short here that in the past I haven’t bothered. This year it seems like we’re going to have a lot more below freezing days, so it might be time to invest.

  16. jamimaria says:

    Ditto on the ziplock bags and hand warmers. It was such a revelation to me. They’ll keep in the bags a long time too. I reopened a bag after over a week and it warmed right up.

  17. Wild Bill says:

    I’ve used the toe-warmers before. They are fine with cycling shoes and booties for cool temps, but once it dropped below freezing I had to buy real winter cycling shoes. I got the Sidi GTX winter MTB shoes, and I’m happy with them. Don’t try to walk on ice without the toe spikes installed.

    I found some bulk bags of the chemical warmers for sale at Marshalls for US$4 for a bag of 20. I bring some along with me in the cold in case I have to fix a flat or whatever.

  18. Doug D says:

    Pogies are quite variable as far as signalling and then re-inserting hands. I have a home made pair that work really well as well as a store bought pair that work not at all.
    As long as they are reasonably stiff, they are usually fine.
    I really like the epic designs pogies (similar to my home made ones).
    I don’t know if Eric still makes pogies but it would be worth asking.

  19. Ann says:


    I have mentioned pogies in the past. I don’t have a problem getting my hands in an out quickly. They’re wide enough that it’s easy to move your hands in and out quickly as well as operate the brakes and shifters. My bike now has electric assist; the thumb throttle is also covered by the pogies but I have no problems operating it, either. I understand about signaling. I got concerned enough that many younger drivers here, who are calm and polite, seem not to understand hand signals and thought I was waiving when signaling a right turn that I added turn signals to my bike using super bright, large, amber LED strobes. They weren’t hard to make or install and cost under $30. It’s a DIY project I’d recommend to anyone. Drivers give me much more space at stops, lights and intersections, especially when it’s dark. The strobes came from Hong Kong and are only around $7.00 USD per set (with free shipping–got to me in less than 14 days). I used a center-off toggle from Radio Shack to operate them. The LEDs consume so little power that the front and rear signals operate off 1 9V battery. Here are a couple of links with photos showing them mounted and a video showing their brightness (before I installed them on the bike) for anyone who’s interested in tackling such a project. (For those who don’t want to undertake a DIY and don’t mind the price tag, there’s a new self-contained turn signal/mirror combo called Winkkus that you can order from the UK.)

  20. Emma J says:

    Unfortunately (though probably fortunately for me) I have nothing useful to say about keeping hands warm in the kind of temps you bike in. So I will just applaud – quietly in my simple woolen gloves which are sufficient for the Pacific Northwest.

    I am curious about your pretty pannier though-?

  21. Jessica says:

    I have seen the reusable ones palm-sized!

  22. meligrosa says:

    come visit us in SF already :DDDDD
    55° is waiting for ya ;D

    ill go visit the midwest and its radiant summer one day he hee

  23. Dottie says:

    @Ann – That is such a cool set up. I’ve often thought that turning signals would be helpful, but have never seen it done until now. Thanks for sharing that with us!

  24. Dottie says:

    @meligrosa – San Fran is on my short list!

  25. Dottie says:

    @Emma J – I would say that’s fortunate for you. My pannier is a Basil Rosa-Mirte, a Danish company. I bought it at Copenhagen Cyclery, but there are other places to buy online.

  26. Cool interview, Dottie!

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