Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent


The mylar emergency blankets you love SUCK – but there’s hope

Mylar Emergency Blankets SuckI see a lot of people suggesting that you get one of these so-called “emergency blankets.” I’m here to tell you that they suck for their purported use – but there is an alternative and they still have their uses.

This is a super-simple article that I could have just posted as a single sentence but I thought I’d reach back into my memory banks and tell you a story about the first time I actually used one of these – and found out they were crap for what you might think of as a survival blanket.

Then I’ll tell you how they can still be a useful addition to your survival gear and what you should get as a real emergency blanket.

This isn’t a survival story; just a typical night in the life of Scott years ago. If you’d rather skip the story; I’m basically saying instead of these, get these and/or these.

First night in Africa with mylar blankets

When I first read the hype about these space blankets, I thought they were hot stuff. Super light, super-cheap, reflect 90% of body heat (supposedly), and developed by NASA. I went out and bought a dozen for my year-plus long tour in Africa in case I needed it.

I was working as a security advisor for one if the embassies and had been in country for a few months. It was the rainy season. We were far away from anywhere resembling a town. We decided to stay next to of one of the IDP camps in case we had any trouble from the rebels or people acting like rebels (long story). The camp didn’t have a hotel of any sort and we didn’t feel like leaving the vehicle and our equipment unattended so we slept in the little Mitsubishi Montero-looking SUV that we’d become accustomed to. It was a POS but it was ours.

It wasn’t super cold that night per se but it was definitely chilly, and right in that in-between temperature; too warm to keep the engine running but too cold to be comfortable just sitting there. I was wearing shorts and a thin shirt and was too cold to be comfortable.

I reached back into my pack for something to keep me warm. At that time, I carried the older version of the Camelbak BFM. It was big enough to carry some clothes, my survival gear, some food and water, a few weapons accessories, and my sleeping bag. I grabbed my Army PT pants and a couple of those space blankets.

Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the sleeping bag on this particular mission because we had packed extra ammo and water since we were heading out so far and I made one of those last-minute decisions to leave it instead of doing the smart thing and just toss it into the vehicle. Dumbass.

I crinkled the blankets out of the bag and tried to wrap them around me. Surprisingly, they were a combination of warm and cold. Anywhere I touched with bare skin had the heat pulled right out at the same time it eventually started to sweat. I wasn’t lying flat so I had to wrap them around me as well as I could.

I took one of the blankets and wrapped it around my legs and feet and used the other one for the rest of me. The first one didn’t last an hour. It ripped almost like aluminum foil and was pretty much useless at that point. I grabbed another one out of the pack and fell back to sleep – sort of.

I woke up to the sound of a morning rainstorm and took a look at the blankets. The two I fell asleep with had lasted the night but I definitely wasn’t very satisfied with how they performed.

I learned two things that night: mylar space blankets suck as blankets and my interpreter snores like a freight train.

The best way to use a mylar space blanket

Now don’t get me wrong; you shouldn’t completely write these things off. They do reflect heat very well and they take up very little space and weigh next to nothing. You just can’t use them as you would a normal blanket and they’re crap for quality because they’re so thin, but I still have a couple in my pack and motorcycle.

The best way to use one of these cheapo “emergency blankets” is a reflector. They’re surprisingly good for that. Here are a few ideas:

If you’re sleeping in a shelter and need some extra warmth, line your back wall and/or above you with one of these to reflect your body heat and/or the heat from your fire back down on you. As long as you don’t tear them, they’ll keep out rain quite well and keep you from losing some of the heat you’d normally use.

In a survival situation, they can be used as a ground sheet to keep the wetness from ground out and reflect heat back up to you. Just put some kind of padding underneath you or the metal sheet will pull the heat right out of you through conduction. Pine needles or anything similar that hold a lot of air pockets work well for this.

If you’re sleeping in a tent, you can also slide one of these between your inner tent and the rainfly. This works surprisingly well.

If at all possible, put some kind of small air buffer that won’t move between you and the blanket. This will start heating that air and work as a nice insulator to the outside cold.

There are a few other things they can be used for such as for signaling (shiny moving things are good to catch a rescuer’s attention) or for catching rainwater. Just don’t expect to use one of these like you would what you’d consider any sort of traditional blanket.

Real survival blankets

As I mentioned, I do carry a couple of these, but not to be used as blankets. For those, I have two solutions.

The first, is one of my all-time most beloved things I got from the Army: my woobie. If you ask anyone who’s ever deployed about their woobie, you’ll see their eyes light up like a kid talking about their favorite stuffed unicorn. They’re pretty damn awesome.

Now technically, a woobie isn’t an emergency blanket – just a nice, comfortable liner that doubles as a blanket that can take a LOT of abuse.

For a REAL emergency blanket, I carry one of these heavy duty all-weather emergency blankets. I keep one slid down inside the back of my bug out bag and one on my Harley, right behind the passenger seat.

Not only are these very sturdy and like a real lightweight blanket, you can use them for everything that one of those mylar space blankets can. The only trade-off is they’re not a buck and won’t fit in your pocket.

Here’s one of my emergency blankets that I used on a recent moto-camping trip this spring. It was about 40 degrees and my sleeping bag was too warm for that temperature (and made me sweat) but not having it was uncomfortably cold until I put this blanket above me. It was pretty comfortable after that:

emergency blanket between inner tent and ranflySo like I said, don’t discount these cheapo emergency mylar space blankets completely, but don’t expect they’re gonna be able to really keep you warm like any sort of blanket will at all and they won’t stand up to any kind of abuse at all. Get yourself a real emergency blanket and a poncho liner/woobie for that and keep the cheap ones for other uses or as a crappy backup.

So how do you use your emergency blankets?

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About graywolfsurvival.com

I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.

Comments

  1. What is your opinion on the Adventure Medical SOL Blankets and Bivy?

    • I have the bivvy. Way too constricting for me to sleep in. It’s like a straightjacket.

    • The SOL Utility blanket isnt bad, its a bit thicker than the other models and for what it is, I was quite amazed at how it help up. I thought for sure my hiking pole would have gone through it especially since we had a few inches of snow on the tarp adding extra weight. It does have a funny chemical smell to it though, hard to describe. It’s certainly thinner and lighter than the SPACE brand heavy duty, but the SPACE Brand Heavy Duty is truly heavy duty and you will get plenty of uses out of it without any worries of gear failure.

  2. My experience with these Mylar blankets is very different from yours. I used one in 1973 on a 10 day survival training trip as my sole cover and was very happy with its performance. Location was the Sierra Nevada range in late spring at elevations about 7,000 ft. Temps were in the high 30’s. By the tenth day some of the silver had worn off to the point I could see thru it in spots. It should be noted I used the SPACE brand of blanket, and wore long pants and shirt with a knit cap. Sometimes a fire was used, sometimes there was no fuel for a fire.
    I also used one in 1985, same SPACE brand, for an unplanned overnight bivy on the foot of Palisade Glacier with a low temp of 35 degrees and was warm enough to sleep. I was wearing appropriate clothing for daytime temps, and no fire was used.

  3. I bought a pack of 50 for various uses in an emergency. I have also taken them to use around the house. I made curtains out of some putting up to the windows to reflect the heat back out, they keep the house a lot cooler. In the winter time I will hang some from walls and lay them on the floor that the Sun reflects on, bouncing the heat back into the room instead of having the wall and/or floor absorb it.

  4. In ’08 I worked at a very quiet apartment complex pool. It was just out of sight of the harbor and super windy. Even with layers, I frequently froze while waiting for any swimmers to arrive. I spent days sitting under an overhang tucked up in th windproof space blanket. It worked slightly better than the contracts trash bag I had used in the past, but was useless if moving or in heavy rain.
    Now, we keep a 30 pack of blankets at work at an indoor pool in New England. We hand them out to swimmers and gym members during fire alarms. A space blanket around my shoulders and head over a towel and wet swim suit is DRAMATICALLY better than a towel alone in mid-winter.

  5. 41 years of service and I have never heard it called a “woobie.” Poncho-liner yes, but a “woobie”?
    Anyway, my experience with these is, they work best with something on the outside. a real blanket or even, imagine this, a poncho. In an emergency they CAN be used alone, but provide little insulation on their own.

  6. Edward Huguenin says:

    I was in Guinea with State (EOD) in 02 and had similar experience with the ultra light weight space blankets. My blanket lasted approx 2 hrs.

  7. Brian Bruckner says:

    #1 If you pay less than $5 for the blanket it will not be of good enough quality mylar or coating. Never put it next to your skin. Always try to have at lease a blanket or some kind of thicker clothing between you and the blanket. You may also have a problem with body moisture collecting on the blanket or clothing you are wearing. Make sure you dry it out before re-using. I have used these blankets for years. I once tried some that cost about $3 and the reflective coating wore off and they tore quite easily. The brand I use Grabber Outdoors.

  8. I usually agree with nearly everything from you dude, but I must say something here.. it isnt supposed to be a replacement for proper equipment. But then if you have the chance to plan for something, it isnt a survival situation. Article like this may keep someone from having these stuck in there pack or pocket or emergency kit etc. And could get someone in trouble. It is what it is, And it will save your life..
    Its like saying you shouldnt carry a flint because a blowtorch works much better!

    • People need to know what their equipment will do and what it will not do. I was pretty clear that these could be used and even went into how they could be used. I can’t write a book for every item, personalized for every person.

  9. I perfer the poncho liner for my emergency blanket, I carry one when I was in the Army because it was liteweight and and can pack very easley into any bag.

  10. Sean D. McGuire says:

    Back in March I was on a camping trip with a couple friends and after I was half way to our site, I realized that I forgot my wool blanket. ‘No problem’, I thought, ‘I have my mylar emergency blanket.’ I will not be making that mistake again. It got down to the low 40’s and it got real chilly in my tent, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I have used them successfully as window covering when I worked a grave shift. They kept out enough light to where I could sleep soundly and they did keep the bedroom cooler during the summer. I have also heard that they work well on the inside wall of a tarp when used as a shelter. I have yet to try that, since so far, I have only done tarp shelters in the summer.

  11. Ever tried Jervenduken? http://jerven.mediabook.no/5/
    The downside is of course the price tag, but after testing it I still had the feeling that I actually got what I payed for.

  12. this is another one of those things that are useful as hell but not what they are made for. Everyone should have several of the unbacked ( the type in the pic at the head of this article) style in their kits not for warmth but as a super strong plastic sheet replacement, ground cloth, shelter cover, solar still, so on and so forth, but other than blocking the wind, as a blanket they are worthless.

  13. Thank you for such insight. We operate a nonprofit for homeless veterans and are researching “useful” items for our veteran survival pack. Your review helped, but now we need to dig deeper to find something that we can buy in bulk and less costly. We welcome any additional suggestions. Thanks again.

    • Sandy Patterson says:

      If you want something cheap that will keep folks warm through cold nights I would suggest some of the Reflectix insulation Graywolf mentions in his post about his BOB. It’s not the Ritz, but if you combine that with a movers blanket and a plastic “painters drop cloth” (3 for $5 roughly) you should be able to keep folks warm and dry for under $10. Additionally, I bet if you went to the salvation army or goodwill and told them why, they would probably donate blankets. Church sales, Overnight outdoor events (talk to the promoter and ask if you guys can come in after the crowd leaves and salvage camping gear. People in large numbers are extremely wasteful, especially if they have the disposable income to attend a concert), and a notice on the board at the VFW, or Legion Hall would probably be good ways to get free blankets. Also check out the closest Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) facility. There may be one on a base near you, you can do an internet search for contact info, or go to ( http://www.drms.dla.mil/ ). They may have surplus, or out of spec gear they could donate or sell cheaply. As close as we are to veterans day I hope folks will read this and make a contribution to a veterans organization. Make sure to read how much of your contribution goes where, and pick a good one. Thanks to all who served.

  14. When it comes to bare bones survival gear like “space blankets” I always look at them very critically. I would never expect a thin piece of metallized mylar to perform anywhere close to a regular blanket or sleeping bag. If it performed like a blanket then we would not need blankets or sleeping bags! This is an excellent article and has helped to remind people to put this in perspective, survival items are exactly that – survival items. A space blanket will extend your survival time in an extreme situation. It is not designed for comfort and it is not a woobie. To expect anything more will lead to disappointment. 🙂

  15. Hi, we gave away 8500 warm weather items last year to the homeless, of which were 550 emergency space blankets. We gave those blankets to the homeless, or to the Sheriff/Police for work with the homeless. The homeless have no home but usually have clothing to wear under the blanket. We had good sucess with their emergency use, people cover their goods to keep them dry, or the pets, or themselves and pets under the worst case. But they can keep you dry (like a poncho?) and warm like a blanket when used correctly.

  16. I’ve found the Adventure Medical Kit brand Heatsheets emergency blankets to be far superior to other Mylar reflective blankets. They are well under $10 and only slightly bulkier than other brands. It’s worth getting the -person sized version. I’ve used Mylar reflective blankets for decades in emergency medicine and in disaster response, as well a personally in various outdoor adventures, with sometimes mixed results. But they are meant only to keep you alive, not comfortably warm.

  17. Mark Lance says:

    They’re used a lot in adventure racing since they’re part of the required gear, but never as designed. They’re cut into pieces and used to wrap arms and legs with electrical tape as closures for windproofing and added warmth. I’ve used them over my wool leg warmers this way a couple times when I didn’t have rain pants (only q lightweight rain jacket) and tucked the tops and bottoms into the leg warmers. Not ideal, but far better than nothing!

  18. It’s been a couple decades since I’ve used one of these. It was raining so no fire. I was in a pup tent and I toss around in my sleep. It lasted maybe an hour before it was nearly ripped in half. It was the cheapest one available though.

  19. Trapper says:

    Stitch a mylar space blanket between two Woobies and place it above your sleeping spot like a tarp.
    This methodology…If utilized correctly will greatly reduce your chance of detection from above from “FLIR.”
    Don’t let em see you at night !

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