Mylar Blankets – Unwrapped and how to use them! My top tips!

A mylar rescue blanket is a cheap emergency heat reflective blanket to help protect from the sun, cold, wind, rain, or snow, and hopefully help lessen a bad situation.  It can buy you time in a situation where you were completely caught off guard by unforeseen weather changes and can greatly help an injured person from loosing precious body heat while being tended to or awaiting rescue.  It does not replace good planning and proper clothing!  Below are my top tips.

What is a foil mylar rescue blanket?

This item has many names, but the popular ones are a mylar blanket, thermal blanket, foil blanket, rescue blanket, or space blanket.  I’ll call it a mylar blanket for this article.  In short, it’s a very thin reflective rectangle shape of blanket, almost like a plastic version of shiny aluminium foil.  From the factory, it’s packed in a small plastic pouch (about the size of a deck of cards) to protect it a big more from being torn.

Why am I a big fan of mylar blankets?

As an emergency management specialist, an avid outdoors person, and a former fire fighter assist vehicle accident victims, I have used mylar rescue blankets and seen their benefits.

If you’ve ever run a marathon, the organizers might have handed you a mylar blanket after the race to stay warm.  Did it work and keep you warmer and better protected from the wind?  I’ve found them pretty useful in that context, too.

How big is an unfolded mylar blanket?

While some makers might produce other sizes, when unfolded, it’s usually a rectangle about 132cm by 213cm (52inches by 84 inches).  If you need something bigger, ensure you check the size when purchasing.

How big is a standard mylar blanket in its pouch as purchased?

Folded up as it comes when purchased, you’re looking at about 8cm by 12cm (3 inches by 4.5 inches)

How much does a mylar rescue blanket weigh?

As seen here, in its protective pouch and with the company name insert, I weighed it as 48grams (1.7ounces).  I do a lot of travel and sure, you could remove the plastic baggy or the company insert but it won’t change the weight by much.

About 1.7ounces

How much does a mylar blanket cost?

Please, please, buy them in bulk.  It’s easy and cheaper to buy them in a pack of 10 or more.  If you buy just one of them at the pharmacy, it’ll probably cost you a few dollars.  You are better off buying them in bulk which can be maybe 10 for $10 or $14.  Probably even cheaper if you buy in even larger quantities.

They are one of the most useful items for emergencies of different types and you can only use a mylar blanket if you have it where and when you need it.  They are so compact that you can store ones all over the place and in different bags and locations.  And at roughly $1 per blanket, I make an effort to have one for each likely person in my company.  I’ll link them here on my website.

What weather conditions will it help you in?

Remember, a mylar blanket is not a replacement for everyone in your group being equipped with the necessary clothing for if the outing goes well or doesn’t.  In an emergency, the mylar blanket will provide a degree of protection from the sun, cold, wind, rain, snow, … You should really ensure you have what clothing and gear you will need for the anticipated conditions and the potential conditions.

Keep in mind that winter conditions will be even harder on you and your activity partners should things go wrong while hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, or downhill skiing.  If your clothing and spare clothing are not enough to keep you warm and you find yourself getting cold while getting to your destination or if you are lost or if you are injured and awaiting help, a mylar blanket for each person will be handy.  Consider buddying up with others and wrapping yourselves together in the mylar blanket for better warming.  You can tape two blankets together if you need too, and are equipped.

Emergency ponchos are also a good idea

If the emergency application is really in the event of unforeseen rain, you can also buy an emergency poncho.  Remember, no single-use product like an emergency poncho replaces proper rain gear and layering!  These ponchos are about the same size and weight as a folded up mylar blanket.  Just remember that an emergency poncho has no heat reflection capacities so you will probably also want to still have a mylar blanket with you.

Having both can make a lot of sense. It depends on your environments and risks.

Pack an extra one or two to help others in need!

As a former fire fighter and since I have often assisted accident victims awaiting arrival by emergency crews, I also keep a couple of extra mylar blankets in my vehicle to hand out to people.  For example, a few years ago, I came upon a seriously injured motorcyclist lying on the ground and being assisted by his riding buddies.  Given the possibility of a serious neck injury, they were already ensuring he didn’t move by holding his head in place.  Well done to these riding buddies for having taken first aid and knowing how to protect the neck if there is a concern of a neck injury!  It was going to be a little while until the ambulance would arrive given the rural location, so I gave them the mylar blanket in my driver’s door pocket to help protect the victim from the cool breeze and delay the possibility of going into shock.  Trust me, these blankets will help and also help the victim be more comfortable.

I’ve also given my mylar blanket to friends when they’ve been stranded after a cycling fall or bike breakdown, and waiting for one of the other riders to collect a vehicle.

Test one before you need to use one!

Since you hopefully bought them in bulk, plan to take one and open it up.  Ensure you understand its size, thickness (or should I say thin-ness), and strength.  As with anything, always test the item for how you expect to use it and how you might have to use it in different situations and scenarios.  Is it big enough to wrap around you?  To wrap around two of you?  To lie down folded over like a sleeping bag?  Testing it like that might remind you to have some tape handy if you want to prevent the wind from blowing in.

Another reason to test one in the outdoors is to see how it best works for you.  See how much warmer it makes you feel (or doesn’t make you feel!).  Understand how it feels with clothing layered underneath?  Some survivalists will even recommend wrapping yourself underneath your top layer of clothing but that bring me to the next point.

Beware of sweating or perspiration

If your clothing is dry, and hopefully it is, you always want to strive to stay dry and free of moisture such as from sweating or perspiration.  Remember, you produce moisture through your skin and that needs to vent a bit to avoid moisture build-up.  If you wrap yourself up in a mylar blanket for the night and tape the sides together thus preventing venting, your skin’s natural moisture production will result in you getting damp clothing and then chilled or hypothermic.  Ensure there is some venting.

If your clothing is already wet, a mylar blanket will still help a bit

If you fell into a lake and your clothing is soaking wet or you were caught in a cold rain or wet snow fall, a mylar blanket will not resolve your problems but it’s better than nothing!  It will help you retain more body heat, block some of the heat loss than without it, and provide some shelter against the wind.  While it won’t stop your descent into hypothermia, it should slow your descent into hypothermia.  One of your priorities should be changing into a dry set of clothing as soon as possible.  In terms of your mylar blankets effectiveness, you may be better off without most of that wet clothing.

Can you use a mylar blanket to make a tent?

Yes, but consider it an emergency tent!  Keep in mind its strength and test using one of your bulk purchase mylar blankets in your back yard to see how you would make a shelter out of one.  What materials such as tape or rope would you need to also have with you? Do you need to find some smooth branches to provide shape?  Will some rocks hold down the corners if there is a breeze or strong wind?  Remember to find some smooth branches free of thorns or sharp bits that could rip the mylar blanket.

If you only have one blanket per person or fewer or more than that, you’ll have to decide how best to use that blanket such as as a tent or shelter.

Mylar blankets are not a substitute for good clothing preparation!

One of these blankets will not replace warm layers of clothing, a warm and waterproof jacket, or a tent and warm sleeping, but it will help.

Where to keep mylar blankets?

Remember, you can only benefit from a mylar rescue blanket if you have it with you and when you need it.  What use is it if it is back at your home, in your car, or wherever and you are out and about somewhere getting chilled or hypothermic?

Important places to keep them include in your:

  1. Home emergency kit (add at least one per person!)
  2. First aid kits (add one or more to all your first aid kits!)
  3. Daypacks / backpacks / purses / suitcases
  4. Vehicles (add at least one per person!)
  5. Commuter bag
  6. Hydration pack or running belt
  7. Be creative, mylar blankets are so small that you can fit them into all kinds of places so that you’ll have them when you need them!

Various options in real survival mode: Hello McGyver!

I like to make a distinction between anticipated change of weather situation, an emergency situation like a car breakdown or severe weather change, and finally to a life or death survival situation.  Hopefully your planning paid off and you had at least one mylar blanket per person.  If you have sufficient mylar blankets and feel able to put one of them to other uses, yes, tap into your inner McGyver!  Just remember that cutting up your mylar blankets limits their application in other ways.  Sorry to point out the obvious but once you start cutting up a mylar blanket, you can’t put it back together, and if that blanket is part of your means of last resort to help shelter you from the elements it would be a pity to look at your pile of mylar strips on the ground when all you want is some protection from the wind, rain, snow, or sun.

With that aside, here are some other uses:

  1. Emergency signalling: It works well to reflect light and can be used for emergency signalling.
  2. Water collection: Collecting or transporting water (don’t overload it!)
  3. Wind blocking: Creating a windblock with some smooth branches.
  4. Emergency shelter: Creating a tent or shelter.
  5. Heat reflection: To reflect the heat from a campfire so that not just the side facing the emergency fire gets warmed. Have you noticed that when facing a campfire, the side of you facing the fire gets nicely warmed but then the other side can be quite chilled?  Again, try to avoid sweating.
  6. Inside a vehicle: Lining the ceiling of your vehicle to decrease heat loss but ensure sufficient fresh air can come in.
  7. Sleeping bag: Using it as a primitive sleeping bag (and remember to vent your moisture).
  8. Transporting things: Carrying certain items (I wouldn’t try carrying a person).
  9. You could line your shoes either with whole pieces of mylar blanket or strips. Just keep in mind your feet and socks may get damp or wet from the perspiration.
  10. First Aid: As a sling or for other first aid applications.

Are mylar blankets flammable or dangerous around open flames?

Yes, mylar blankets could burn or melt if too close to open flames or high heat sources.  The fumes produced by burning mylar are also going to be toxic.  You need to be careful and decide how to use your mylar blanket.  If you have a campfire in breezy or windy conditions, or if the fire is popping a lot due to sap in the firewood, be even more careful if you are wrapped up in your mylar blanket.

Add a copy of your emergency contacts list

If you are in an emergency situation, you may have lost your phone, had it stolen, or perhaps the battery died.  For many of my mylar blankets stashed here and there, I have added a copy of my emergency contacts phone list and made sure to label that mylar blanket pouch so that I know it has the phone list in it should I wish to give the mylar blanket to someone I know to remove my phone list.  The plastic baggy for your mylar blanket is pretty waterproof so you can also add a bit of money or other small emergency papers.

In vehicles, yes, for sure

I advocate having some spare clothing in your vehicle for each person to help keep warm in the event of a prolonged roadside breakdown.  A mylar blanket can help retain some body heat while you wait but you really need some clothing, as well.  Perhaps you’ll have to wait through the night if in a remote area of Canada, South Africa or wherever.  While a mylar blanket won’t replace having proper clothing or a compact sleeping bag, having a mylar blanket for each person in your vehicle could help lessen the hardship of a long wait for help.

Should you be packing an emergency poncho, as well?

If you are more concerned about getting wet (and therefore cold) because of completely unforeseen rain, perhaps you need an emergency rain poncho?  These are made of thin non-reflective plastic and are cut and shaped for a person to wear over your clothes.  Keep in mind that it’s like wearing a plastic bag and is vulnerable to being torn but maybe that’s what you need.  You can still bring both an emergency rain poncho and a mylar rescue blanket since they serve different purposes.

So, what is the verdict on mylar rescue blankets?

They are one of the many incredibly useful products to have in so many emergency or survival situations.  A mylar blanket does not replace good planning and preparation!  Mylar blankets are so compact and cheap so please, please, please, buy them in bulk and have one wherever and whenever and for whomever you might need one.  Pack them in sufficient number in a variety of places so you will have them.

Open one up and see how it will work for you and how it won’t work for you.  Do not wait until your crisis to open one of these and then see how it can or can’t help you.  A mylar blanket may not save your life if the demand or assumption placed on it is too severe.

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