Space Blanket Survival Hacks
50 Clever Survival Uses For Mylar Emergency Blankets
How can an invisibly thin, crinkly, metallic-looking sheet of plastic save your life?
As it turns out, a whole lot of ways, actually.
What Is An Emergency Blanket?
You may have seen space blankets used at the end of long endurance races such as marathons. After running long distances, athletes sometimes use space blankets to prevent shock from cooling down too rapidly.
Or more recently on the TV show, "Better Call Saul" - Jimmy's older brother covers the walls of his house (and his suit jacket) with space blankets to protect himself from electrical radiation.
From NASA to National Parks
An emergency blanket (also called a space blanket, mylar blanket, first aid blanket, thermal blanket, and more) is made of an ultra-thin, heat-reflective, metallized plastic sheeting called mylar.
Mylar was first developed by NASA to be used on the exterior surfaces of spacecraft for thermal control. Now, however, people have found an almost unending variety of uses as a vitally important piece of survival gear.
Why is there a space blanket in my survival kit?
The many survival applications of mylar come from its unique physical characteristics:
- Heat-reflective: Mylar can reflect up to 95% of radiated heat. Depending on how you use it, this can keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, as well as coming in handy for fire building, cooking, signaling, and food preservation.
- Waterproof: Essentially a large plastic sheet, mylar can be fashioned into various types of shelter, protective clothing, water collection and transportation devices, and other creative uses.
- Lightweight: Mylar is incredibly thin. Like, you can see through it. Most standard mylar is around 12 microns thick, while our HeatFlex mylar is around double that (which is still incredibly thin). This makes mylar really small and light so you can take it anywhere.
- High tensile strength: While a space blanket out of the package can be easily cut or torn, it is surprisingly strong when twisted or braided into cordage for use in first aid, shelter building, or other survival needs.
If you get lost in the woods, shelter should be your first priority. While you may think you should look for food or water before anything else... think again.
It's the survival rule of 3's: you can survive 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water, but as little as 3 hours without shelter in cold or wet weather. So instead of looking first for food and water, make creating a shelter your first priority in an emergency.
1. Tarp shelter
You can use an emergency blanket to create a tarp shelter with just a few feet of cordage and well-placed trees.
Mylar is water and windproof, so this shelter will keep you dry and warm. You can also purchase a pre-made mylar emergency shelter.
2. Keep heat in the shelter
If you already have a shelter, you can use a mylar blanket to insulate your temporary home. Just put the mylar along the inside of your shelter wall or roof to radiate your body heat back towards you inside the shelter.
3. Keep the heat out of the shelter
While you may already know that mylar blankets can insulate your shelter to keep you warm, did you know they can also keep you cool? Use an emergency blanket as a sunshade in hot weather to radiate the sun’s rays away from you and create shade. This will keep you cooler in hot temperatures.
4. Sleeping pad
A mylar blanket can’t insulate you from the cold ground or provide additional cushion, but it can create a waterproof barrier underneath you when used as a sleeping pad.
5. Shelter entrance
If you built yourself a shelter you can use an emergency blanket in the entrance. The wind and waterproof material can provide an adequate door to keep the elements out of your sleeping space.
6. Small rain shelter
If you aren’t lost, but just caught in a rainstorm during a hike, a mylar blanket can create a quick, easy rain shelter for a couple of people until the storm has passed.
Stuff an emergency blanket with clothing to create a workable pillow for a more comfortable night’s sleep. Sleep is essential to being cognitively able to make good decisions in an emergency situation.
In addition to uses in and around a shelter, mylar blankets are incredibly useful when it comes to keeping warm. After all, thermoregulation was the reason NASA created mylar.
Though a blanket may be the simplest use for mylar, it also might be the most essential and potentially life-saving as well. The shiny material radiates your body heat back towards you, keeping you warm even in low temperatures.
9. Insulation in boots or gloves
Use pieces of mylar in your boots or gloves to provide an extra layer of insulation from the cold. Even if your boots or gloves get wet, the mylar material will provide your skin some protection from the cold and damp.
10. Sleeping bag
You can use an emergency blanket as a sleeping bag to spend a night outside in colder temperatures. Or, you can pack a mylar emergency sleeping bag instead.
11. Increase the rating of a sleeping bag
In addition to using a mylar blanket as a sleeping bag, you can also use it in conjunction with your own sleeping bag to raise the temperature rating. All sleeping bags have a temperature rating; the temperature at which they are still comfortable to sleep in. If you’re facing a night with temperatures lower than the comfortability rating of your sleeping bag, line your sleep system with an emergency blanket to help retain your body heat.
After finding shelter, lighting a fire is probably the most important task to complete if you’re facing an emergency wilderness situation.
12. Fire reflector
Set the mylar blanket up across the fire from your sleeping place. The foil blanket will reflect the fire’s heat back towards you, optimizing the warmth you receive from the flames.
13. Reflect the sun onto tinder to build a fire
You can use the sun’s rays to start a fire, but you need to magnify their power to spark a flame. The reflective surface of a mylar blanket can be used to focus the sun onto a pile of tinder. While it isn’t very efficient, it can work in a pinch.
14. Create a bow drill
A bow drill is an effective way to start a fire if you can find the materials to put it together. An emergency blanket can be braided into cordage that can be used as the bow in the bow drill.
When it comes to a survival situation in cold weather or climates, every layer of covering counts. Even in hot temperatures, mylar worn loosely can protect you from the heat and sun. Knowing how to make impromptu clothing could save your life. Here are a few examples of clothing items made from mylar blankets.
15. Hooded poncho
Place the center of a long side of the blanket over your head. Secure the blanket under your chin with a piece of cordage or a clip to form a hood. Allow the rest of the blanket to drape across your shoulders. Secure the blanket at additional points along the front for even better heat retention. The hooded poncho will keep your body heat from escaping and form a waterproof barrier between you and the elements.
16. Belt for pants
If you’re caught without a belt or have to use your belt for another purpose, you can use a strip of mylar blanket to hold up your pants.
Use an emergency blanket and duct tape to create a pair of gaiters. Gaiters can keep your legs dry or prevent ticks from jumping onto you.
As your body sends warmth from your core to your brain, quite a bit of heat can be lost through your neck. Use a piece of mylar to create a scarf, lessening heat loss via your neck.
If you have a jacket and just need to lessen the heat lost through the top of your head, fasten yourself a hood. A mylar hood can keep you warm as well as dry.
20. Dry clothes quicker
Though not technically a clothing item, you can also use mylar to dry your clothes quicker. Place the mylar, shiny side up, on the ground in a sunny location. Place your wet clothes on top of the mylar and they will dry faster than if they were on a clothesline.
When using this fishing hook to catch fish, do not try to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. Instead, let the fish swallow it hole. Due to the weaker aluminum material, allowing the fish to swallow your bait and hook gives you a better chance of catching your dinner.
A mylar blanket can’t provide food for you, but it can be shaped into food storage and cooking items.
21. Solar oven
With just an emergency blanket and a little ingenuity, you can create a solar oven, harnessing the sun’s rays to cook food. This is a "low and slow" cooking style that depends heavily on the weather cooperating to provide hours of bright sunshine. But we've actually tried this and it works!
22. Cook your food faster
Use a piece of mylar to reflect heat from your fire onto your food, either on top or side of your food to catch heat. While you cannot place mylar directly into flames, as it will melt, you can place food wrapped in mylar in a solar oven to cook quicker. This is especially useful in cold and wet conditions when building a raging fire is just not possible.
23. Outdoor refrigerator
To keep food cool, wrap your food item in mylar, tie it to seal, and place it in a creek. Tie it to a rock to keep it from floating away.
24. Food Storage
Cut the mylar into 10-inch squares, place food items like berries, nuts, and other forage materials in the center, then fold and tie off. You can use these food storage bags to transport food or hang them in trees out of the reach of bears and other animals.
If you have a flat surface, such as a large stump, you can use for a table, you can lay a mylar blanket across it as a tablecloth. This gives you a clean surface on which to prepare food and eat.
Mylar can keep food hot or cold longer. If you have a cooler, wrap it in mylar to keep the inside cooler, longer.
27. Fishing weights and lures
Wrap 3-inch squares of mylar foil around small stones to create weights for fishing. The weights help keep the lure down and the flashy foil attracts fish. You can also use a fews strips of mylar to create a lure as well. To learn how to make a fishing hook from a beer can, check out this article.
Water is one of your most important resources in a survival situation. Mylar blankets can come in handy here too.
28. Solar still
Solar stills can be used to collect water if you’re unable to locate a water source. If the ground is dry, dig a hole and line it with vegetation. Put a cup or other container in the center. Cover the hole with a mylar blanket and place a rock in the middle to weigh it down. Water will transpirate from the vegetation and condense down into the center, dropping into the central container. If the ground itself is moist, you can likely skip the vegetation and collect the condensation that evaporates out of the ground.
29. Water storage
If you take a piece of mylar and bring the corners together with cordage, you form a container. You can use these containers to hold water. Once you gather your water and tie off the corners, you can carry more water and hang them in your campsite. This means fewer trips to your water source.
30. Rainwater collection
Set up a mylar blanket at an angle, tied to 4 trees. Place a container under the tarp to collect rainwater. If you don’t have a container, you can dig a hole and line it with another mylar blanket.
31. Melt snow
Use a mylar blanket to melt snow at a quicker rate. Place the snow on the mylar blanket in the sun and funnel the runoff into a container.
32. Create a cup to boil water
If you need water in the wild, it’s best to purify it. The easiest way to purify water is to boil it. To create a cup to boil water, use a mylar blanket and sticks to provide structure. Set the “cup” high enough over the fire that the flames do not melt the mylar. Water boils at 212°F and mylar melts at nearly 500°F.
Use an emergency blanket to create a funnel. Tie the 4 sides together and place a receptacle underneath. This can be useful when filling water containers or creating a solar still.
When you’re stuck in a survival situation, one of the first things you should do is take stock of what you have. If you have an emergency blanket with you, you’re in luck, you can use this versatile piece of gear to create several other pieces of equipment.
Use strips of mylar as cordage. Braid together several strands for even higher tensile strength. Cordage is incredibly useful in a survival situation for tasks like making tools and erecting a shelter.
35. Write on it
You can use mylar as a surface to write on, as long as you have a writing implement. You can send or leave messages as well as keep track of time.
36. Blanket roll
If you need to travel and have no pack to carry items, create a blanket roll. Use an emergency blanket to roll up your items and keep them together. You will need cordage to tie the pack together. Instructions are provided in the video below.
37. Flotation device
You can use an emergency blanket as a flotation device. Tie off the ends and use your breath to fill the blanket with air.
38. Pack liner
Use a mylar blanket to line your pack and keep your gear dry. Use the pack liner inside or outside of your pack (or both) to protect your gear from the elements.
Use a crumpled up piece of mylar to scrape clean food containers like pots and pans.
Mylar blankets aren’t just for temperature control, insulation, or storage. This versatile material can also be used for first aid.
Use strips of mylar to create a tourniquet. A tourniquet staunches the flow of blood if you endure a serious wound. To effectively create an improvised tourniquet, you need 3 things: a band of some kind (in this case an emergency blanket), a windlass (a rigid object like a wide stick), and something to secure it. Wrap the piece of mylar above the wound to put pressure on the artery. Tie the stick into the mylar and twist it, creating more pressure on the wound. Tie another strip of mylar around the stick to keep it from unraveling.
Use a piece of mylar to fashion a sling if you injure your arm or shoulder.
42. Compression bandage
Mylar can be used as a compression bandage to alleviate swelling to an injured appendage. The bandage can offer support for strains, sprains, and other injuries.
43. Tie a splint
In the event of a broken bone, use strips of mylar to secure the bone to a splint in order to reset it.
Signaling and Navigation
If you’re lost in the woods one of your best hopes is a rescue. Your best chance at a rescue is likely visibility.
44. Signal mirror
You can use a mylar blanket as a signal mirror to alert rescuers to your location. Hang the mylar in a tree to flash and move in a breeze or pin it to the ground to be seen from above.
45. Mark a trail
Hang pieces of mylar from trees to mark your trail and keep you from walking in circles.
46. Block heat signature
If you desire not to be found instead, use a mylar blanket to block your heat signature from thermal imaging sensors.
Never Leave Home Without Mylar
From obvious uses like shelter and warmth, to more creative implements such as rescue and first aid, emergency blankets are an absolute necessity in any pack.
Whether you’re going for a day hike or a longer excursion into the backcountry, sparing 2 ounces to carry a space blanket that could potentially save your life is easily worth the weight.