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An emergency blanket is an essential item for your emergency survival kit. With more than a dozen potential uses, it’s also one of the most versatile supplies you can include. Learn why you need to add one to your bug out bag and some of the many ways you can use your emergency blanket.
What Is an Emergency Blanket? What are they made of?
An emergency blanket (also known as a mylar blanket or space blanket) is a thin blanket made of reflective plastic sheeting. Although they look like metal, they’re typically manufactured out of polyethylene, an especially durable plastic. While they vary in size, most are large enough to wrap around an average-sized adult.
The Origin of Emergency Blankets
There’s a good reason emergency blankets are often referred to as space blankets. First developed by NASA in 1964, they’re often used as part of the Thermal Protection System that shields space shuttles from the extreme temperatures they experience during flight.
According to Mike Weiss, technical deputy program manager of the Hubble Telescope, “Thermal blankets are to spacecraft as clothes are to people.” Almost everything that’s gone into space has been created or repaired using survival space blankets. In 1973, critical patches were placed on the Skylab Space Station using emergency blankets, and they have been used to mend the Hubble Telescope numerous times.
Hubble Space Telescope as seen above Earth. Photo by NASA on Unsplash
What Are The Benefits of an Emergency Blanket?
Emergency blankets are lightweight, compact, waterproof, windproof, durable, and reusable, making them a valuable resource in your bug out bag.
Lightweight and compact. The typical emergency mylar blanket weighs in at just a few ounces and can fold to the size of a deck of cards. You can expect a fleece or wool blanket to weigh a few pounds and fold to a much larger size. When space is limited, you definitely don’t want to waste any.
Waterproof and windproof. The waterproof and windproof capabilities of emergency blankets ensure that they’re prepared to withstand the elements, keeping you warm and dry through rainstorms and extreme temperature fluctuations.
Durable and reusable. Most readiness supplies need to be replaced once they’re used or as time passes. Nonperishable food should be rotated. Flashlight batteries need to be changed when they reach their expiration date. Matches must be replenished after being used. An emergency blanket, however, can last for multiple uses over a long period of time. That’s one less resource you need to remember to replenish periodically.
How do Emergency Blankets Work?
Firstly, they not only reflect back visible light, like a mirror, but also the infrared radiation that any warm body emits. The infrared radiation carries heat and is responsible, for instance, of the greenhouse effect in gardening. Secondly, they reduce convection by being wind and waterproof.
The bright regions shown in the FLIR image show where radiative heat is lost without the mylar layer (first image) and with the mylar layer. It is surprising how you quickly feel the heat when you get under an emergency blanket.
Infrared view of the heat loss by person with and without an emergency blanket
Heat loss is also prevented when the blanket limits the airflow of the thin layer of heated air that surrounds your body. That precious layer is mixed with cold air whenever there is movement. Creating a windshield and reducing the heat loss by convection.
What are Emergency Blankets Used for?
Video showing uses of space blankets other than preserving heat
While emergency blankets are known for their heat preserving qualities, they have a myriad of uses. Let’s look at just a few of them.
Let’s start with the obvious. How do emergency blankets work? Emergency blankets are designed to stop heat transfer through natural radiation and convection. Your body loses 65% of its heat through radiation when the temperature drops below 68℉. However, when you wrap an emergency thermal blanket around you with the reflective side inward, the foil reflects your body heat back at you, preserving up to 90% of the heat.
Remember how space blankets have been used by NASA for decades? This isn’t due to their warming properties but their cooling properties. With the shiny side outward, the blanket will reflect heat back to its source— a valuable feature if you’re battling against extreme heat.
Emergency heating blankets are often provided to refugees, marathoners, and people who survive natural disasters. Their heat-reflective properties help people maintain their body temperature when it’s at risk of dropping dangerously low. An average of 1,320 people die of hypothermia each year in the U.S.; don’t risk you or your family being a part of that statistic.
Another target of using an emergency blanket is to provide first aid when your supplies are limited. Cut one into strips to be used as a tourniquet, or tie it in place to act as a sling.
When SHTF, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have time to grab a tent or other outdoor shelter if you need to leave your home. You might also need shelter for less extreme but still serious scenarios, like getting lost on a hike and having to spend the night outside.
With an emergency blanket in your bag of supplies, you’ve got the ability to make a shelter no matter where you are. You can also enjoy peace of mind knowing that you’ll be completely protected from the elements and resting comfortably inside your makeshift tent.
An emergency blanket’s plastic (mylar) material means that it's the perfect resource for waterproofing. Use it to protect your backpack during a rainy hike or stay dry if your tent begins leaking during camping.
A backpack protected from the rain with a space blanket - The Atomic Bear
The ability to keep water out also means that an emergency blanket is well-designed to keep water in. Use it to collect rainwater or to transport water from a freshwater source.
Whether you need to remember your way back to where you started or you want to help search and rescue follow you as you continue through the woods, an emergency blanket can help you mark your path. Just cut it up into small strips and place a knot every few branches.
If you need to signal for help or rescue, the shiny side of your emergency blanket can function as a mirror alternative. Lay the blanket on the ground to catch the eye of a search helicopter, or hold it to reflect light and signal your location to rescue teams. A signal mirror can reflect light up to 10 miles away, so while your emergency blanket may not cast light quite as far, it’ll go a long way in helping people pinpoint where you are.
To be safe, we always recommend having a few other signaling supplies on hand, including a flare gun and fire starter. It’s always better to have too many options than too few!
How Do You Choose The Best Emergency Blanket?
There’s no shortage of emergency blanket options available online, so how do you decide which one is right for you?
While you may be tempted to choose the cheapest option for your budget’s sake, don’t sacrifice quality to save a few bucks. An emergency blanket can’t serve you well if it’s torn, ripped, or disintegrating. You also want to be sure you choose a model that’s large enough to comfortably fit around your entire body.
Of course, we recommend The Atomic Bear’s Emergency Space Blanket. With dimensions of 82” by 52”, it’s large enough to accommodate adults up to 6’ 5”. It’s made out of 12-micron aluminized polyethylene mylar, so it reflects back up to 90% of your body heat. Best of all, our emergency blanket comes in a four pack, so you’ll have plenty to store in all the places you need it the most, including your glovebox, bug out bag, first aid kit, or camping gear. After all, there’s no such thing as being “too prepared.”
The Atomic Bear emergency space blankets come in a set of four
If you’re ready to go all out, we also carry The Bear Bivvy: an oversized emergency blanket that comes preformed as a sleeping bag. It’s the ideal solution when you need to stay as warm as possible during a chilly night. Use it on its own or as an insert in your sleeping bag for ultimate comfort.
Example of a bug-out bag
One of the most important things you can do for your family is to make sure you’re prepared for whatever life throws your way. It could be as simple as a water line break that floods your house or as extreme as an apocalyptic event. With the right supplies and plan in place, you can protect your home and your family. You can find some of our top tips for urban preparedness right here.
There’s no way to predict what the future holds. Stay alert and stay prepared so you can stay alive.