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How do I Choose the Best Instant Hot Pack?

By Angela Crout-Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many people use instant hot packs for a variety of purposes. Uses can be as varied as thermotherapy for sore muscles, tendons, and ligaments, or as a portable way of staying warm in emergency circumstances and during outdoor winter activities. To choose the best instant hot pack, it is important to consider the intended use of the hot pack, whether it requires a protective wrap or provides one, and what features a particular instant hot pack provides. Some instant hot packs are used only once, while other types of hot packs are reusable. In either case, it is also useful to understand the science behind the function of hot packs.

It is common for instant hot packs to be used for a wide selection of purposes. Some of the most popular are sports-related. Athletes — whether professional or those of the weekend variety — often use hot packs to help relieve the symptoms of pulled or strained muscles and to help provide some pain relief without the use of over-the-counter pain relievers. For this intended purpose, reusable instant hot packs are considered useful, because they can easily be reset to provide heat relief almost indefinitely. Many people who choose the reusable option do so because it is usually the more economical choice.

Having an instant hot pack on hand in the car or camper is also common, especially in regions that experience severely cold winters and other serious weather conditions. Hot packs are used to provide much needed heat in the event a person is stranded in the cold by vehicle trouble or stuck in the snow and ice. Most weather and car experts recommend keeping items such as instant hot packs and blankets in the trunk of the vehicle for situations such as these. Many drivers and campers consider a one-time-use instant hot pack to be the best choice in such circumstances, because there may not be a readily available way to reheat a reusable hot pack and they aren't expected to be needed for long.

An instant hot pack is designed to be able to heat and reheat within its own environment, known as a closed system or reaction. Most hot packs contain a metal disk that, when manipulated, starts the chemical reaction of sodium acetate gel inside the pack. At room temperature, sodium acetate is in a clear gel state. By applying pressure to the metal disk, the movement is enough to prompt salt in the compound to crystallize, resulting in the production of heat. This heat is then used for warmth, pain relief, muscle relaxation, or for whatever purpose heat is needed.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Dec 29, 2013

@SarahGen-- I've used instant hot packs before and I never had this problem. I don't think it's a danger if it's handled properly. The plastic is very thick and it won't be damaged easily. But you shouldn't allow kids to use them by themselves.

You could get hot gel packs but those are not instant. They have to be boiled or warmed up in the microwave. Instant hot packs all contain chemicals. Lots of people use them without any issues.

By SarahGen — On Dec 28, 2013

@literally45-- I'm scared to use instant hot packs. I heard that if the package is damaged and if the chemicals come out, it will burn skin. It seems dangerous.

By literally45 — On Dec 28, 2013

I buy instant hot packs to use in winter. I buy the small ones that can be used as hand warmers, as well as those that can be applied on top of socks, to warm feet. I have circulation problems and I can't bear being in the cold for long. So if I have to be outdoors for whatever reason, I carry some instant hot packs with me to get through the event. They work great and I haven't had any problems being in the cold for a long time thanks to them. I recommend it to everyone.

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