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Many items you will buy and store for emergencies come with expiration dates printed on them. But what do they mean?

  • Are they no longer functional?
  • Are they not safe to use?
  • Will they not last as long?

Making sure you have the right equipment when you need it is important during a disaster, but replacing everything just because a date has passed can be an expensive proposition.

As I was going through my Bug Out Bag (BOB) making sure I had everything I needed, I discovered a few things.

  1. Several things that I thought were in my bag, had been taken out and put away somewhere else.
  2. Several items of clothing were no longer the proper size (thank you COVID).
  3. Some of my supplies had passed the expiration date! Did I need to replace them?

One of the main reasons people give me for not wanting to prepare, store food, or put together an Emergency Kit is they feel stuff will go bad before they’ll ever use it.

Being the frugal person I am and not wanting to spend money unnecessarily on replacing items that were still perfectly good, I decided to do an experiment on the Hand Warmers that were in my kit. My back pockets (and what’s next to them) volunteered to take one for the team.

Hot Hands makes a variety of warmer products and I just happened to have them all. A couple of years ago I found them on clearance for a ridiculously low price (.10 to .25 each) so I bought a ton. This gives me lots to work with for this experiment.

I decided to stick to the Body & Hand Super Warmer as I had a package with a January 2018 expiration date in my BOB. That’s 3 years past the expiration date! I guess it’s been a little while since I bought some of these.

I also opened another package with a September 2021 expiration date. How did they compare?

Both packages were around 60 degrees before being opened. They had been stored in my cool garage before being brought into the house for this test.

HotHands® says that their “warmers, depending on the individual product, produce heat anywhere from 100°F to 180°F for duration of 1 to 20+ hours.” That’s a fairly broad range of temperatures as well as time. The package for these particular warmers says “Up to 18 hours of heat,” so it would be hard to fail to meet those specifications.

I placed one warmer in each of my back pockets and left them there for the day. I was in and out of the house with outside temperatures ranging from 32 – 50 degrees. I set alarms and measured the temp every 10 – 15 minutes for the first hour. I used an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of each warmer.

The expired warmer struggled to reach a temperature of at least 100 degrees throughout the entire test. I felt like most of the warmth was reflected from my own body heat. The newer warmer, however, reached 100 degrees within 20 minutes (a 40 degree change in temperature) and continued to climb to 111 degrees by the 1 hour mark. It then stayed at that temperature for almost 12 hours. It is still over 105 degrees after more than 12 hours and still feels nice and warm to the touch.

Even though the expired warmer didn’t generate as much heat, when placed in my pocket, the small amount of warmth combined with my own body heat made me feel a slight improvement over nothing at all. The pocket with the newer warmer kept me nice and toasty all day.

The verdict?

You should take expired hand warmers out of your emergency pack; There’s no sense in lugging around all of the extra weight for something that isn’t going to keep you warm. This is one item where the performance drastically drops off as the expiration date passes. If my expired warmer had been my only heat source, I would have been quite cold.

It’s good to have a few non-expired warmers in your BOB as well as a couple of these available in your stay-at-home kit. When wondering how many you should have, remember the saying, “Two is One; One is None.” If you only have one, and it breaks or doesn’t work, then you have NONE.

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