When I was young what is today most often called an Emergency Blanket, was invented and it changed the world of survival and preparedness. NASA developed the material in 1964 for use in the space program. The plastic film is PET, the same material used in water bottles, aluminum vapor is bonded to the film in a vacuum process. This material is valuable when used correctly, it is dangerous when relied upon without knowing its properties. I always get a kick out of the many advertisements showing people with the blanket wrapped around them, big smiles on their faces, I think to myself, I’ll bet they’ve never used the blanket in the cold.
What it is and what it is not
- It is not insulation nor is it an insulator. The material itself quickly becomes the same temperature as the environment
- It is not actually a blanket, it is more a sheet or film, although I’ll refer to it that way due to common convention
- It is PET film coated with a thin layer of aluminum
- It is compact and light in weight
- It is not breathable at all
- It is somewhat fragile
- It does not generate any heat
- It is a reflector, like a mirror
- It can be used as a large signal mirror
- It can reflect as much as 90% of infrared radiation
- It is in our Core Survival Kit at right, (formerly Off-Road Survival Kit)
Many years ago shortly after graduating from High School, I was a guide on Deer Hunt when we got trapped in the tops of some mountains by a sudden snow storm. The day had been warm and nice, we were in shirts and had some thin windbreakers with us. The storm seemed to appear out of nowhere, as can be common in the mountains. We were not able to get back to camp till morning. I remember pulling out my space blanket and wrapping it around me expecting to soon feel the warmth. I was sorely disappointed as anywhere I had direct contact with the blanket it was freezing cold, and the wind did not help as it pressed the blanket against me. I did find that if there was a space between me and the blanket I could feel the warmth, I soon abandoned it however, as it seemed useless to me at the time. We got through the storm very well, by making a tall circular windbreak of sage brush and building a fire in the middle. We slept through the night, awaking to a nice layer of snow everywhere except our little alcove shelter.
Today I still carry the Space Blanket and I love it, I love it for what it does so well. After that first experience I learned more about the material, it’s nature and what it could realistically do for me.
In a survival situation use the Space or Emergency Blanket as a mirror. It functions much the same as a solar oven or a reflector oven, changing the direction of travel of IR radiation. My favorite way to use the blanket is as a lean-to or incorporated in the wall or roof of a shelter that uses fire for heating, see picture at right. It can be used alone in cold but not too windy weather, here’s a link to a video on this application. Duct tape can be used to reinforce stress points.
Using duct tape alone or with pins the Space Blanket can be attached to a tarp. This makes it much more durable and versatile. If you can set up a shelter facing South with a clear view of the sun, the blanket can even be laid on the ground to reflect energy from the sun up into your shelter.
Medically it has been used in a mild environment next to the skin to reflect body heat back and to humidify the air around the body of a patient. In hot weather the blanket can be used to reflect heat away. In short just think of it as a mirror to reflect heat and it will simplify things for you. Since it is waterproof, it can shed rain water, either wrapped around a person, or incorporated in a shelter roof. It can also be used as a catch basin for rain water, when supplies are short.
So there’s the short story on using the Emergency Space Blanket, be sure to watch our YouTube Channel for upcoming additional videos showing various uses.
Until next time, this is Perry Peacock, “Simplifying Survival.”