Does your survival gear include a “mylar blanket” as an emergency shelter item? Get rid of it now!
by Leon Pantenburg
I stopped at the wilderness survival seminar at the Deschutes County (OR) Expo Center a few years back, more out of curiosity than anything else. The presenter was Peter Kummerfeldt, and he has the wilderness survival credentials. A retired Air Force survival instructor with 30 years service, Peter had taught wilderness survival all over the world in such diverse places as the military’s arctic survival school in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the jungle school in the Philippines.
A survival mindset requires always being open to learning new things and I figured I could pick up a few tips. It took Peter about five minutes to point out my ignorance.
It was almost a born-again experience. I went to every seminar Peter taught that day, then followed him back to his booth and plied him with more questions.
That night, I went home and reviewed all my survival gear. My setup was well-traveled, but unused and I had carried it in my backpack while hunting in the Idaho back country for years.
That night I threw away several items that had been in the pack for a long time. Among these were two mylar blankets. The outer plastic packaging showed wear and they were really old. Today, I buy lots of mylar blankets to show people what NOT to use.
I do, however, recommend the the quilted, reinforced ‘space blankets’ or the Heat Sheets Survival Blankets. My friend Blake Miller, a navigation expert and survival instructor, and I shamelessly duplicate Peter’s mylar blanket demonstration at classes and seminars. But, we do give Pete the credit. In summary, we all believe, based on experience and field testing, that mylar blankets are downright dangerous.
Here’s why you should not rely on a mylar blanket for emergency shelter.
The blankets were designed by NASA and use space age technology. The idea is that the shiny surface reflects heat back to the body.
Cheap: I buy the blankets in bulk for less than a buck each.
Widely available: True. There is some variation at every Walmart or box store.
Compact: Again true – the packages are about the size of a fat cigarette pack.
Signaling: The mylar’s shiny surface can reflect sunlight and allow a search aircraft to find a lost person.
Why you SHOULDN’T rely on mylar blankets:
NASA designed: Not all space age technology is necessarily good, or the best choice, in every situation. Equipment designed for a space station, weightlessness and outer space, or the interior of a climate-controlled hospital, may fail miserably in a thicket full of stickery thorns and brambles of the deciduous woods.
Cheap: Because these blankets are so cheap, people stock up on them.
Signaling: In bright sunlight, water, rocks, ice, snow tin cans or any shiny surface will reflect light to searching aircraft. So the cheap mylar blanket is not that helpful. In the dark, you may be able to shine a flashlight on the shiny surface to attract aircraft. But I’ve also read the Taliban uses mylar blankets to hide their heat signatures from NATO aircraft. It would not be a good thing to be wrapped in one of these blankets if you are lost in the wilderness and hoping to be found.
Compact: The blankets were designed for a space craft, where room is at a premium. The sizes of two different brands I currently have are 52 inches by 82.5 inches, and 84 inches by 54 inches. This is too small to provide much shelter.
False confidence: If you think your emergency shelter needs will be met by a couple of mylar blankets, you may not think to search out a better solution. That’s what I used to think.
Fragile: Mylar is easily torn or ripped. This can happen from a gust of wind or by leaning up against a tree branch. I’ve managed to tear the blankets just taking them out of the package in a controlled environment. It would be a real mistake to cut a head hole in the center of one to make a poncho. The material easily rips in half.
Unwrapping: The sealed packages are hard to rip open with your fingers. You may need a knife, and then you risk cutting the blanket. If you have one, try opening the package with one hand to simulate being injured. You can’t.
Unfolding: Once you get the blanket out, try unfolding it. Typically, this is difficult anyway, but this could be disastrous if you need to get out of bad weather quickly.
Quick shelter: Forget it. The corners don’t have grommets. You might wrap a rock in each corner, but that adds several more steps to the survival shelter process. Besides, the blankets are so small their sheltering ability is minimal.
Noisy: Mylar is really loud. If you manage to cover your head with the blanket, and the wind is blowing, the noise may cover up the sound of rescuers. If you’re in cold and deep snow, for example, the searcher may not be able to hear your cries for help through his insulated helmet and engine noise of the snowmobile. You may also not be able to hear the snowmobile.
One shot application: Most lost people are found and rescued within 24 hours. But what if you aren’t and have to move because of a flood or fire? Assuming your blanket is intact, good luck trying to re-fold it into the package or a compact size.
Any survival gear – or advice – should be suspect. So take this for what its worth. Several knowledgeable, real survival experts warn against using the mylar blankets.
And I’m sure there are folks out there who will send me stories of how a friend of an acquaintance, distant cousin or somebody used a mylar blanket to save their bacon. And maybe somebody on a survival show demonstrated how to make a shelter, and a mylar blanket was part of it.
So here’s what you do: Go buy several of these blankets, and try them out in your backyard before venturing off the pavement. I think you’ll find they are inadequate for wilderness survival use.
Wilderness survival gear isn’t complicated. But it does have to work. Don’t stake your life on gear you haven’t personally tested.
“It needs to work for you.” – Blake Miller.
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