Do Emergency Thermal Blankets Actually Work?

You’re probably wondering if thermal blankets actually work. Given how common, flimsy, and cheap they appear, it’s almost strange how most campers consider them to be an emergency essential.

However, with the number of scientists, explorers, and medical responders endorsing these products—plus, the fact that NASA engineered the original space blanket to begin with—perhaps, there is a little more to these blankets than they let on. 

An emergency blanket folded neatly

So, do thermal blankets actually work?

Yes, thermal blankets have been scientifically proven to regulate temperatures in both your body and surroundings. Using its thin, reflective film, they function as a physical “barrier” that can help trap and/or deflect the heat around you!

Man wrapped in a thermal blanket

Thermal blankets—also known as space blankets, mylar blankets, or emergency blankets—are a type of outdoor equipment used for heat control. 

With aluminum integrated in its plastic sheets, the material is highly reflective as a result. In this sense, you can redirect infrared energy (or “heat”) through every use, be it towards or away from your body. Talk about handy!

Most space blankets come with a “shiny” side—often gold or silver in color—which can help trap or deflect temperatures. Following the thermodynamic principles of heat transfer, these coverings can effectively keep you safe and warm outdoors. 

With that, it’s no surprise that most travelers store warming blankets in their first-aid kits—but did you know that marathon runners, first responders, and even hospital surgeons keep these in store?

These come highly recommended, so should you want one for your next trip, check out the top thermal blankets in the market and take your pick!

How do thermal blankets work?

It’s perfectly natural for our bodies to lose heat, let alone when exploring the great outdoors.

However, your body has its limits. With excessive heat loss, you’re at greater risk of experiencing serious (and sometimes deadly) conditions like hypothermia.

Luckily, thermal blankets got you covered—literally. In fact, its material was specifically crafted to help you regulate heat transfer in three ways: Radiation, Convection, and Evaporation.

body heat radiating from male torso

Radiation

Radiation occurs when heat escapes a surface, like your skin. The warmer you get, the more infrared energy you’ll radiate—and the colder you’ll become eventually, unless you provide some form of thermal intervention.

With a mylar blanket, you can keep yourself warm by reflecting your own heat inward. In fact, studies show that up to 90% of your radiated body heat can be contained just from wrapping one around!

Convection

On the other hand, convection refers to the transfer of heat through movement. On an outdoor trip, you’ll likely encounter this in the form of strong, cold winds. 

While these might give off a pleasant, cooling sensation on hot, summer days, these winds are significantly more dangerous during the winter. The faster they travel, the more of your sweat gets carried off; reducing your body heat, in turn. 

However, with a reflective blanket, you can prevent moisture from escaping, as this can form a tough, aluminum “barrier” between you and the cold.

Evaporation

Evaporation, meanwhile, pertains to the change from liquid to gas. When liquids evaporate—from your sweat, for instance—your body uses a lot of energy. In effect, this lowers your body temperature and results in an awful, chilly feeling!

Fortunately, space blankets can slow this process. By simply keeping one against your skin, you can keep the surrounding air humid.

Woman wrapped in a space blanket in snowy landscape

How can you use a thermal blanket?

Now, to tell you the truth: Thermal blankets aren’t insulative, meaning that they don’t transfer heat by direct contact.

Unlike a jacket or heating pad, its material doesn’t conduct heat; rather, these regulate your body temperature via radiation, convection, and evaporation. 

But don’t get me wrong: Emergency blankets are still very useful! In fact, they come with a number of practical applications not limited to heat alone:

  • Warmth. The most obvious function, its material can be worn as a blanket, tucked into your sleeping bag, or wrapped-around your tent! Simply turn its shiny side inwards to keep warm, or outwards to keep cool. 
  • Shelter. Through rain or shine, foil blankets work effectively both ways. Since most are 100% waterproof and 80% heat-reflective, these versatile sheets can function as sun-shields, makeshift tents, ground tarps, and more!
  • Makeshift Material. While outside, you’ve always got to think on your feet—and luckily, thermal blankets do no less! With its lightweight material, you can easily create anything under the sun, be it an emergency sled, floats, ropes, pillows, or even trail markers.
  • Emergency Signal. With its silver-gold exterior, space blankets can help you send-out striking distress signals in case of an emergency.
Space blanket on the ground

How long does a thermal blanket last?

Thermal blankets can last for approximately two years (if unused), since factors like oxidation, moisture, and exposure to UV-rays tend to deteriorate its aluminum surface.

Rest assured, these blankets have been tried and tested to work in harsh, outdoor environments. It’s only natural that they wear out over time!

Moreover, these can be easily found and purchased at a low price, so getting a new replacement is no trouble. 

Conclusion

Despite their appearances, thermal blankets are emergency essentials scientifically proven to keep you safe and warm amid external temperatures.

With its numerous applications—and, not to mention, its many styles, brands, and features—these blankets are camping must-haves, and it’s about time you’ve got your own!

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