emergency preparedness

Do Emergency Blankets Work?

Nadia TamaraA Little Bit of Everything, Camping, Emergency Preparedness, Wilderness Survival 8 Comments

emergency preparedness space blanket

Space blankets, also known as emergency blankets, have become a very popular item to put in emergency preparedness or outdoor survival kits. They are not only lightweight and easy to store, but are also extremely cheap if bought in bulk.

What many people expect when purchasing one of these blankets is that in the event of being caught outdoors in a cold winter storm, they’ll benefit from a comfortable warm experience by covering themselves up with this shiny aluminum foil type material.

The name “emergency blanket” can be a little misleading, however there is a science to them. They are much more useful and versatile than you would expect! When we learn how they are made, we will be able to understand their true purpose and how to use them adequately in different situations.

Brief history of the space blanket

The space blanket was originally designed in 1964 by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for the US Space Program. NASA and National Metallizing used the space blanket in 1973 as a way to protect the Skylab from overheating by reflecting heat away from the rocket. The success of this lightweight aluminum sheet was remarkable and it continues to be used today as a sunshield for all space missions!

This advancement in technology quickly made other companies aware of the amazing benefits that these blankets could have on society. They have since been used a number of ways. It is very common to see them being used after marathons to help runners maintain their body temperature. In October 2005 they were used throughout Pakistan, India and Afghanistan to help a large number of earthquake victims receive cover throughout the day and keep them warm at night.

Just as they have proven their effectiveness in the past, they will continue to be used in the future for mass-emergencies and even in smaller scale survival situations.

What are emergency thermal blankets made of?

The thermal blanket was built to be very lightweight yet insulating. According to NASA, “The material is created by depositing vaporized aluminum onto thin plastic substrates. The result is a thin, flexible material that provides superior thermal-reflective properties. The highly pure aluminum coatings are carefully matched to their substrates to efficiently redirect infrared energy…to create either first- or second-surface reflecting. In some instances, the material is intended to deflect the infrared rays and in other cases, it is meant to conserve them as a passive warming system.”

In other words, the materials used to make an emergency blanket are designed for the blanket to be used in two ways: it can either bounce off heat, or preserve the existing heat. It is said to reflect between 80 to 90% of radiant heat. In space it is a vital tool in maintaining the inside temperature of the space crafts because of the ever-changing atmospheric temperatures.

In survival situations they can be life-saving if used properly, but the opposite is also true if used improperly.

Are all emergency blankets the same?

There are several types of emergency blankets but essentially they work the same. Their primary goal is to prevent heat-loss by retaining up to 90% of your current body heat. They’re not designed to produce more warmth.

Most blankets have two sides to them: one side will be very shiny/ metallic and the other will be dull or of an entirely different color, typically orange, olive green, or camouflage. Sometimes the shiny side is gold, but oftentimes it’s silver. As with all products you’re unfamiliar with, make sure to thoroughly read the instructions that come with your blanket because every manufacturer is different.

Why are emergency blankets shiny?

They shiny part of the blanket is vital in reflecting heat off of the object its facing, whether it be a body, a fire, or the sun. It works not only to keep heat out but also to insulate and keep heat in, thereby stabilizing body temperatures.

How do you properly use an emergency blanket?

This is a multipurpose item that can be used in a variety of ways. The following options are the most clever ways to use an emergency blanket.


The shiny side reflects heat. In a situation where you’re suffering from hypothermia, you will want to have the shiny side facing you (inward) so that your body heat will be maintained and reflected back to you.

Note that your clothes need to be as dry as possible because in order for you to reflect warmth inside the blanket, your body will need to be generating some heat. Most people expect that the blanket will magically warm them up, but in reality, it works to slow down the process of heat loss.

Some people use emergency sleeping bags in place of emergency blankets. Keep in mind the potential risk of hypothermia and asphyxiation when doing this.

Never put your head inside the sleeping bag!! For one, you can become asphyxiated by having your head covered, but also your breathing will cause condensation and may lead to hypothermia.

  • NOTE: If you’re looking for an emergency blanket for the sole purpose of warming you up (not retaining heat alone), then we recommend using a Bivvy instead. They’re more expensive but especially effective in warming you up when exposed to cold temperatures and they will last you much longer than any mylar emergency blanket.

Many people use emergency blankets as a lining of insulation for their boots, gloves, pants, jackets, and even sleeping bags.

This works as a very effective way to keep you warm so long that there is a layer of clothing between your skin and the metallic blanket. 


If you’re stuck inside your vehicle during a snowstorm, the blanket can be used to cover the windows (shiny side facing inward) to help maintain your car warm.

If you’re camping, the blanket can be used to cool down the inside of your tent or your blazing-hot vehicle by using the shiny side facing away from your tent/ car (outwards), so that the sun’s heat will be reflected in the opposite direction.


If you don’t have a tent, the blanket can be used sort of like an awning or tarp covering. With four sticks, a few feet of paracord, and a little creativity, you can set up a basic shelter or create shade from sun protection.

You can also purchase tents made from the same material as emergency blankets. These are great for temporary shelter but are especially practical for using inside your home to create a warm space when the power is out.


Emergency blankets are waterproof and can help keep you and your gear stay dry.

Cutting a slit in the center of the blanket large enough for your head to fit through and use it as a poncho.


Rainwater can easily be gathered by attaching two ends of the blanket (length-wise) to sticks about 2 or 3 feet above the ground. The other two ends can be tied to sticks about one foot above the ground.

Setting this up lower to the ground is better when it’s windy. Keep tension on all sides and create a valley in the middle to catch the water as it rains. Pour this water inside a bucket or container that can easily be used to transport it into water bottles.

Another option is to create a lip at the edge of the blanket where water can directly be poured into the container.


If you need to set up camp and the ground is wet or cold, use your emergency blanket as a base layer between the ground and your tent. It will keep your tent and sleeping bag dry while reflecting your body heat back to you from the ground up.


There are two ways you can use a blanket to start a fire. One way is to create a parabolic mirror with the blanket.

A parabolic reflector is a concave mirror that reflects light, sound, and radio waves and has the capacity to concentrate light in one spot- it works almost like a magnifying glass but is much more powerful. This is a great video if you want guidance on how to make your own.

If you’re in the woods and it’s a sunny day, you can try to make one with fewer tools. All you need to do is dig a hole in a place where there is direct sunlight, put the blanket on top of the hole with the shiny side facing up, and put dry leaves or pine needles on top to create some tinder that the flame can eventually ignite.

Try to stretch the blanket so there are as few creases as possible and leave a little air pocket between the blanket and the tinder. You will need to be patient for a while but if you get it right, it will be worth the wait. 

Another way to use an emergency blanket as a fire starter is to crumble it up, put it under your tinder, and light it. Space blankets are extremely flammable and will catch in flames in a matter of seconds…all it takes is a small flame. Use this as a last resort because it will produce black noxious fumes and it can be potentially toxic!


If you have set up a bonfire, you can reflect the heat from the fire by making an emergency blanket backdrop around a section of the fire (shiny side facing the fire).

Another way to reflect the heat from the fire is to cover your back with the blanket (shiny side facing you). You can also put the blanket behind your camp chair for the same heating effect. These options are likely more effective than covering yourself completely with the blanket.

Make sure to keep the blanket away from any direct flames at all times. The blanket itself can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit but is extremely flammable and one spark can light it up immediately, potentially causing severe burns to the body. 


One of the most effective ways to use an emergency blanket is for ground signaling. The orange blankets make it very obvious to be discovered by rescue teams but the shiny metallic side can be equally beneficial.


One of the best ways to protect your crops during cold winter months is to use an emergency blanket as a backdrop to your plants. This allows light to reflect off the blanket and onto your plants, even on cloudy days!

The metallic material can be cut and mixed in with your gardening mulch to confuse and deter pests trying to eat your veggies.

During high summer temperatures, you can cover/ shield your plants with an emergency blanket so that the moisture doesn’t evaporate. Secure the ends so it doesn’t blow away.

You can protect your crops from birds by cutting the emergency blanket into strips and attaching them to a pole or stick. Bids are deterred by shiny objects and the blanket material is noisy too.


Emergency blankets can be the best windbreakers and shield you from the chilly air.


In case of a sprained or broken arm, you can use the blanket as a sling.

If you have suffered from a wound that involves blood loss, you can make a compression bandage. First, use a piece of clothing to cover the area and then cover that with the blanket by forming a bandage.

13. ROPE:

Cut the blanket into strips and twist them clockwise until it forms a tight rope-like string.


Fish are attracted to shiny things. You can make a fish lure by cutting the blanket into thin strips and attaching it to the fish hook.

Well, there you have it! Those are several ways you can maximize the use of your emergency blanket.

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Does size matter when it comes to emergency blankets?

Emergency blankets come in different sizes and yes, size does matter. We narrowed down and explained the most popular sizes (width x length).

79” x 39” - This blanket is below the standard size. Beware of some backpack kits or bulk packages that come with emergency bags included. They may contain a smaller than normal blanket which will be disappointing if only a child can fit into it. (I know this from experience).

82” x 52” - This is a standard size blanket but some people complain that it barely covers people over 5 feet tall.

82” x 62” -This size is considered extra-large. It is ten inches longer than the standard size.

59” x 87” - These are larger than most emergency blankets on the market. They are ideal for people over 6 feet tall.

71” x 142” - This is an oversized blanket that is can warm up two or three people. It can also be used in building a makeshift shelter.

Can you reuse an emergency blanket?

In theory yes, they can definitely be reused so long that you are gentle with them. A cheap blanket has the tendency to tear easily. This can become very problematic in emergency situations, so it’s recommended to keep duct tape on hand as part of your survival kit (to repair those tears). As with most products, it’s nearly impossible to re-fold and store the blanket in the package it came in, but can easily be re-packaged in a resealable sandwich ziplock bag.

How long does an emergency blanket last?

An unopened mylar emergency blanket should last between 1 to 2 years. The short shelf life is possibly due to moisture, oxidation, and UV exposure, among other factors. Over time, you may notice your blankets deteriorating and fading as a result of the aluminum delaminating from the mylar sheet. We recommend replacing (or at least checking) them once a year. The climate you live in and the way they’re stored could have a lot to do with their shelf life.

A used blanket, on the other hand, can be reused but its longevity really depends on how it was previously used, and how much wear and tear it received. The silver lining may come off after being exposed to water.

An unused emergency blanket made out of mylar can last anywhere from three to five years. This is assuming it is stored in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. If the blanket is exposed to high levels of humidity or moisture, its lifespan will be significantly shortened.

If the blanket is used, it can become worn down or town quickly because it’s essentially a thin plastic sheet of material. When not in use, be sure to store the blanket in its original packaging or tightly wrapped and sealed to keep it away from moisture and ensure maximum longevity.

How effective are emergency thermal blankets?

Emergency blankets are highly effective at trapping and reflecting body heat when used correctly. However, they cannot create warmth from nothing; if the environment is too cold they will not be effective. They are made of a variety of materials, including polyester and mylar, and their purpose is to reflect thermal radiation. In other words, they’re intended to reflect up to 90% of your body heat back at you. 

They may be used in cold environments or for medical emergencies such as shock or hypothermia. In a cold weather emergency, the reflective surface of the blanket can help to keep you warm in an otherwise chilly environment. 

In a medical emergency, it can help prevent further heat loss due to shock or hypothermia. In both cases, it is important to ensure that you are dressed appropriately for the weather and use a mylar blanket as a way to supplement your clothing’s insulation.

Though emergency blankets are best known for their insulating qualities in cold weather, they can also be used to shade the human body from strong sunlight during warm weather. The reflective surface of emergency blankets helps reflect the sun’s rays away from the body, providing an effective shield against heat and dehydration. 

Emergency blankets are also waterproof and windproof, making them useful for use in a variety of different weather conditions. 

They come in both quilted and non-quilted designs, so you can choose the one that works best for you. The quilted blankets have extra insulation to keep more heat in and provide an extra layer of warmth during colder temperatures. Non-quilted blankets are lighter and easier to store, which makes them great if you’re going on a long hike or camping trip.

They can also be used as ground cover for insulation when camping and hiking, providing an extra layer of protection from the cold, wet ground. They can also be used as a sunshade when outdoors, providing additional shade and protection from the sun’s rays. Finally, they are great for use in emergency situations such as natural disasters or accidents, providing warmth and shelter until help arrives. 

Having an emergency blanket can mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Consider bringing an emergency blanket on any outdoor adventure you take, even if it’s just for a few hours in good weather. It’s best to be prepared for any unexpected turns of weather.

Can you sleep with an emergency blanket?

Yes, you can sleep with an emergency blanket. Emergency blankets are not heated and therefore pose no fire hazard.

These blankets are made from a lightweight material that reflects up to 90% of your body heat, helping to keep you warm during inclement weather. They have a layer of metalized mylar which helps to insulate your body from the outside environment. 

What are the common names for emergency blankets?

These blankets go by a variety of names. If you’re looking for them online or at a sporting goods store, you may find them by the following names: 

  • Emergency space blanket
  • Emergency survival blanket
  • Thermal blanket
  • Mylar blanket
  • Weather blanket
  • First aid blanket
  • Safety blanket
  • Reflective blankets
  • Mylar space blankets 
  • Emergency solar blanket 

How do emergency space blankets work?

Emergency space blankets are designed to help regulate body temperature, particularly in cold weather. They are made from a thin layer of reflective material which helps block heat loss by reflecting the user’s own body heat back toward them. 

They are also effective in blocking out wind and rain, as well as keeping in body warmth. They can also be used to provide additional insulation under clothing or sleeping bags when needed. 

In addition to providing insulation and preventing heat loss, emergency space blankets are also great for reflecting light which can be useful during the night time or when looking for a way out of an area. Reflective material on an emergency blanket can be used as an emergency signal for rescuers or to draw attention to oneself.

Emergency space blankets are an incredibly useful tool in any survival situation and are a must-have for any emergency kit. When used properly, they can help individuals remain warm and safe in harsh environments.

Can an emergency blanket replace a sleeping bag?

No. An emergency blanket is not a substitute for a sleeping bag. While an emergency blanket can be used to insulate against the cold, it will not provide nearly as much warmth as a fully insulated sleeping bag would. Additionally, since they are made of thin, lightweight materials, they may get torn or punctured and could leave you exposed. 

A sleeping bag is the better option for extended outdoor use, providing superior insulation and protection from the elements. While an emergency blanket may be a quick fix in an emergency situation, it should not replace a proper sleeping bag when camping or hiking.

For best results, bring both items with you when spending time outdoors for any length of time.  That way, if needed, you can use the emergency blanket while still having the extra protection and warmth of a sleeping bag in case conditions take a turn for the worse.  This combination will ensure that you have the best possible chance of staying comfortable and safe out in the elements.

Do emergency blankets tear easily?

The answer depends largely on the material and construction of the emergency blanket that you are using.

Most emergency blankets are made of a sturdy polyester or Mylar material, which is designed to be durable and tear-resistant. Some products may also have reinforced seams, grommets, or plasticized edge strips to help prevent tears or rips. 

While most emergency blankets are built to withstand outdoor conditions, they may be more prone to tears or punctures if exposed to sharp objects or extreme weather conditions. If you plan on using your blanket in a harsh environment, look for a product that is advertised as “tear-resistant” or “reinforced edges”.

What do space blankets feel like?

Emergency blankets, also known as space blankets, are made from a thin sheet of polypropylene material that is coated with a metallic layer. 

When touched, emergency blankets have a paper-like crispness to them and are not as smooth or silky as many sheets and blankets made of cotton or other fabrics. The metallic layer has a slightly slippery texture that can be felt when running one's fingers across the surface.

Most space blankets emit a faint crinkling noise as the metallic layer moves and crinkles, even when lightly handled.

Emergency blankets are lightweight and compact for easy storage yet able to provide warmth during extreme conditions.

Are space blankets warmer than regular blankets?

Space blankets, also known as emergency blankets, do not provide warmth like a regular blanket does. Instead, they are designed to retain the user’s body heat and block out cold air and wind. They are made from a reflective material that reflects the user's own body heat back towards them; this helps keep the user warm even in extreme temperatures. 

Space blankets can be used to supplement regular blankets or clothing, but cannot completely replace them. In some cases, they can be used on their own in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Space blankets are most effective when they are used with other insulation layers such as fleece and down jackets. 


Emergency blankets provide an inexpensive and lightweight way to stay safe and warm in extreme temperatures, making them an invaluable item for any outdoor enthusiast. 

Whether camping, hiking or facing a natural disaster, having an emergency blanket on hand can be the difference between staying safe and comfortable or succumbing to the elements.

An emergency blanket can be a life-saving asset when used correctly and in the right conditions.

If you’re putting all your life dependency into a one-dollar blanket, then I sincerely wish you all the best but your chances of survival are slim. However, if you’re using it as a tool, among other tools, to keep you warm and/or help you survive an uncomfortable situation, then you will quickly find it to be one of the most practical objects in your survival kit!

Surely, your creativity may take you to explore a variety of other uses than the ones discussed above. What has been your experience using emergency blankets?

We would love to hear about those in the comments below!

This article was originally published on May 2, 2018 and has since been updated and improved.

Sources used: 
Reflecting on Space Benefits: A Shining Example

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  1. Thank you so much. Your article was so helpful. I am making and I’m lining them with this emergency blanket material. It’s going to be in single digits and I’m trying to keep warm. Thank you for your terrific article.

  2. Pingback: How Do Emergency Blankets Work?

  3. Pingback: How Do Emergency Blankets Work | Survive After End

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