Given my childhood raised on farms and on horseback in the backcountry, you would think I’m pretty adaptable to sleeping outside, but I’m not. In reality, I’m a huge wimp about being cold. I have a sleeping bag rated to -20 degrees, and I use it year round even in the summer time. I tend to sleep really cold. I really hate it when my hands and feet are too cold to sleep, and they get that cold easily. I also hate the wastefulness of using disposable handwarmers. There have been two huge adaptations I’ve discovered that have made my overnight MicroAdventures way more pleasant. The first was some advice that a fellow instructor gave me on a rock-climbing trip with some teens, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But the second one was these amazing little things.


It’s a reusable handwarmer. The picture shows it in its solid/warming state. When it’s not activated, the liquid is clear, and there’s a little metal tab inside the packet that you click in order to trigger the reaction that turns the liquid to a solid, which releases heat. The packaging says that it stays warm for up to 3 hours, but that seems pretty optimistic in my experience. More like an hour if well insulated. But that is plenty of time for it to warm up the foot of my sleeping bag so that my feet are toasty warm and I sleep like a baby.

Then in the morning, you just toss it in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes while you’re making breakfast and it resets itself back to its liquid state, ready for the next round.

I often use them as a pre-warmer. I get one started and tuck it into the foot of my bag while I deploy the first trick I promised to tell you. This secret, given to me by one of the most hardcore rock climbing women I know: Add butter to everything when you’re sleeping outside. Literally everything, but her special favorite trick was to add a big dallop of butter to your hot chocolate at the end of the night. So I toss one of these handwarmers in my bag, sit by the campfire with a mug of hot cocoa and butter, and then climb into my warm bag. I’ve never slept better.

You can grab yourself a set from Amazon for just a few bucks. It’s worth at least 100 times more than that.

(Note: I do not recommend the hot cocoa and butter trick at home. Much like corned beef hash and Tang, it’s only good when you’re camping.)