Should I bother with a space blanket?
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David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F - M

Locale: North Idaho
Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 00:22:31 MDT Print View

I'm going thru my gear, trying to trim out a bit more fat, and I'm realizing that I've never used my emergency space blanket--it just sits in my pack and probably has holes worn in it by now. But it's for emergencies, right?

Except that, I'm already carrying shelter, raingear, sleeping bag, etc, and with a light pack am unlikely to drop the pack for a quick hike down a side trail (and thus get lost without shelter, etc). For dayhiking, I'm thinking the space blanket *is* good to have "just in case" but for planned overnights or more it seems redundant.

Am I being stupid here? Will I wind up freezing to death someday regretting the 1.7 oz savings? (I've actually tried to sleep with just a space blanket before--I survived, but it wasn't fun).

Does anyone have a story of a backpacking emergency which turned out alright because of a space blanket? Or better yet, of an emergency which turned out alright with no space blanket needed?

Edited by DavidDrake on 08/04/2009 00:31:22 MDT.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 00:33:07 MDT Print View

Luckily, I only have stories that turned out ok. Only once did we use a space blanket. In that situation it was nice to have (if not a life saver??) Met a very cold, totally worn out physically big wall climber on top of a wall. Wrapped him, fed him, hydrated and rested. It was very nice to stop and reverse his deterioration with the help of a space blanket. Luckily, he had one!~

Like all emergency gear, it's not very useful until you need it. I doubt that many people here carry space blankets. I don't. And I think that ultralight hikers (especially those on the fringe) walk a fine line when it comes of safety.

I'd imagine that it's the best 1.5 ounces of warmth that you can carry though.

EDIT: now that I think of it. I've actually used space blankets multiple other times. All while boating. Nothing like many hours in cold water to push people to the edge.

My personal strategy for getting warm? uhhhh.... If my sleeping bag is wet, my insulation layers are virtually guaranteed to be wet. Generally my clothes are the first thing to get wet. So, I'm in a situation where everything is wet, it's likely still raining or snowing, I'm alone. I have lots of experience with making fires from wet wood. That's be my plan. It's a tenuous idea knowing that I might have hands that aren't responsive due to cold and general lack of functioning. I could see a space blanket being a life saving device in a this not so far fetched scenario. Yet, I still don't carry one. If I'm going to die, I'm going to die. (there's a blog somewhere from a pcter this year that got in a similar situation and used her SPOT for a rescue).

Edited by Found on 08/04/2009 00:40:01 MDT.

Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
Don't bother on 08/04/2009 01:01:31 MDT Print View

With other normal overnight gear, a space blanket is not needed, in my opinion.

Then again, I haven't had a real emergency to deal with. In cold weather, I do carry a couple of handwarmers. I once loaned a friend an extra Gossamer Gear thinlight pad, which I think kept her from hypothermia. I think the very thin Gossamer Gear pad might be a better weight for warmth investment than a space blanket.

Durs Koenig
(durski) - F
Backpackers choice on 08/04/2009 07:31:37 MDT Print View

Hello,

I used a space blanket twice in my forty years of hiking. Once in a snow cave in Colorado my fiends sleeping bag zipper failed. Gave him my space blanket to cover the mildly exposed opening. The second time was in the 90's when I looked at the weather and decided there was no way it was going to rain. Sure enough, it started raining in the middle of the night. I opened the space blanket and used it to cover me and it worked fairly well. Glad to have had a space blanket in those two instances.

Life is interesting, these days I would not even consider carrying a space blanket. Going light is the game I am playing and I have enough experience to pull it off.

My answer, it is the backpackers choice to carry it or not.

Edited by durski on 08/04/2009 07:37:57 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 08:30:45 MDT Print View

I've read numerous times that the space blanket doesn't actually work on people...as it is supposed to. Meaning that it does no more then say, a piece of plastic. I think I saw R.Caffin say that we don't produce enough heat to have it reflected back to us...so using a space blanket is the same as just wrapping yourself in a poncho or tarp or a big windbreaker.
That's just what I heard. :)

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 09:09:43 MDT Print View

If you always have the rest of your gear with you... I would drop the emergency blanket from your gear. You have better shelter and insulation. The only time I consider bringing one is on a day activity when I am not bringing shelter. I have used my emergency blanket twice. Once on a kayaking trip where we wrapper someone starting to experience hypothermia with a second person (space heater) while waiting for a van pickup, and once as an poncho when I discovered that the rain jacket I "brought" was still in the car.

--Mark

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 09:50:59 MDT Print View

I'd bother.

The reflectivity as related to personal warmth isn't the most important factor. The biggest factors are that the space blanket stops both evaporative and convective heat loss. It offers this function in the smallest, lightest, most "durable" package available. If you are truly in a survival situation, then the small amount of IR reflected back to you just might make a difference... but there are other benefits to the metallized surface.

Ever seen a reflector oven? Aside from personal protection, a space blanket can be rigged as a mini-lean-to in front of a fire, reflecting that heat back on you. Shoot, the reflective surface could even be used for a bit of signaling. The space blanket is the smallest, lightest... and cheapest!... emergency shelter you can find.

Having been a W-EMT, ski patroller, and SAR member, I have wrapped people in space blankets. They have reported feeling noticeably warmer. (In case you're wondering, I have no great life-or-death stories involving space blankets... the wonders of ATVs, ambulances and other fun.) If you're hung up on the efficacy of the IR reflection, just think of it as a really handy, versatile VBL. (And we know VBLs can add 10 or 15*F of warmth. If you're hypothermic, every extra degree of warmth can help!)

Over the years I usually just carried one (or two!) in my pack. Then I realized that every time I've been remotely close to getting myself into a survival, lost in the woods type situation I'm away from my pack. I went down a trail spur, or "just over to that clearing," or some such nonsense. Now my survival kit, including a flat-folded emergency blanket, has permanent residence in a pant pocket.

In short, I think space blankets are remarkably light, compact, cheap insurance policies. They do make a difference! Especially when you've got nothing else. And they're small enough and light enough that you can easily have one on your person.

joseph baragon
(toejam) - F
what would it hurt? on 08/04/2009 10:15:51 MDT Print View

for less than 2oz you could at minimum make you or someone else more comfortable.

Never used one while hiking but, i have used one a multiple times during multi day races. the nights only get down to 85 degrees or so, but when after exerting 100% engery for 40+ hours and you stop to rest for a couple hours, you become very cold. i was amazed at how well they preformed. never used them in cold weather.

i have to agree with an earlier post. I feel many attempt to gear themselves reading forum posts and chasing ounces, often based on the skill level of more experienced hikers often placing themselves on that fine line (whether you agree or not, or even realize it) even on improved trails with regular human presence accidents still happen. Know your skill level and be responsible for yourself.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Should I bother with a space blanket? on 08/04/2009 10:26:42 MDT Print View

If you need a placebo effect when in a difficult situation then take the space blanket. Other than that, use the gear you have or should have taken. You should spend your time worrying about taking the correct gear and not on what to take (that doesn't work) to make up for you lack of planning.
For an overnighter or longer you should have the proper gear and taking the space blanket is redundant. They do not work as they are sold! (heavy emergency blankets are different they have some substance to work with). Here is the thread that was mentioned above (read the whole thing to get the appropriate information):
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/xdpy/forum_thread/18048/index.html?skip_to_post=138995#138995

Space blankets get old- I knew someone who had been carrying one around for years- he got a little cold one night and thought he would augment his sleeping bag by laying it out on top of the bag- when he tried to open it up he had about 80- 2”x3” pieces of mylar (kind of hard to have it work in that condition, we where laughing about how it was now going to work.
Up until that time and reading more about them and after the above experience, I decided to use mine before it got to old. I used it for one whole season as a ground cloth- it was the lightest one I’ve ever used. They are a little fragile so you have to be careful, but it lasted the whole summer and fall (now I just use a bivy so no need to carry a ground cloth). I did get my monies worth- but I haven't bought any new ones.

Leave it home, unless maybe for a day hike, where you wouldn’t carry a shelter.

Edited by bestbuilder on 08/04/2009 10:44:10 MDT.

Zack Karas
(iwillchopyou@hotmail.com) - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
space blankets on 08/04/2009 10:49:53 MDT Print View

I carry one when hiking solo if the weather will be freezing at night. When solo and it won't get below freezing, it doesn't come along.

When hiking with my wife, whoever isn't carrying the shelter carries the space blanket.

EDIT--it is of more concern for us to have it with us when we are hiking in areas of heavy rainfall, lots of river fording, or on hikes along shorelines when you are dealing with high tides. We've been completely submerged (don't ask) before and luckily our pack liners did their job, but if they didn't we'd definitely have had to use the space blanket. Ours is 2 oz.

Edited by iwillchopyou@hotmail.com on 08/04/2009 11:00:27 MDT.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
space blanket on 08/04/2009 12:02:38 MDT Print View

I would say no.

If you are well prepared with your gears and skills, you should never need one.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
No, but who am I to say? on 08/04/2009 12:35:34 MDT Print View

The one time I actually opened a space blanket was during a storm. I was with a group of scouts and we left our gear at a base camp to hike up to Mt. Baden Powell and back. On the way down the conditions deteriorated quickly and began to hail and rain. I had taken my pack with water, food and a Gore-Tex jacket, along with a trash bag that was still in my pack and an emergency blanket.

Good, I thought. The plastic bag worked well for one kid and I gave the other the blanket. In about 5 minutes the rain/hail turned into rain/hail/thunder/lightning. How do you think I felt with a kid walking down the hill with a sign to the god's saying "Hit me, I'm right here". I got it off of him as fast as I could. It scared me to death. I have never taken a space blanket since that incident.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: space blanket on 08/04/2009 13:00:54 MDT Print View

I'm hesitant to espouse the "well-prepared" and skills argument against them, simply because of the "shouldn't need" aspect... (implying the possibility does exist). Personally I've never found myself in a situation where I needed it, but I could envision the day.

A few years ago I went for a short mountain bike ride on a two-track I know very well. I started off without my helmet; my skills were high, I was pedaling a great bike, and I was going into familiar and easy territory. I re-thought my decision, turned around and got my helmet. About a mile back down the trail I went over the handlebars at a decent clip and landed on my head. I stumbled away with a minor concussion. I shouldn't have needed the helmet for that ride... but I'm glad I wore it.

Sometimes being prepared includes being prepared for the unexpected. In this example that meant wearing a helmet. In this thread, I don't think it's unreasonable to find that carrying a couple ounces of protection is part of being well-prepared. Even experienced wilderness guides can suffer snafus. (I'm reminded of that book "Lost in the Wild," where a guide fell while route-finding, hit his head, and ended up lost. I'm also cognizant of the whole "most accidents happen close to home" phenom...)

Bottom line, it's another one of those little, personal opinion things... Chances are, you'll never need to use one. But would it be worth the couple ounces the one time they could really make a difference? That's for each of us to decide.

Edited by 4quietwoods on 08/04/2009 13:03:46 MDT.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F - M

Locale: North Idaho
Thanks... on 08/04/2009 13:19:13 MDT Print View

...For all the thoughtful responses so far. To clarify, it's not so much much a weight savings I'm thinking about (I'm more lightweight than UL), but the philosophical notion of eliminating layers of redundancy and complication in favor of knowledge.

I do think a space blanket is important for dayhiking, when no other shelter is carried (and the point about carrying it in a pocket rather than pack is well taken). And in the past, when I usually dropped my less-than-lightweight pack for side trips, a space blanket went with me, along with the other essentials. And for tough stream crossings, when a pack might get swept away (or gear soaked) I can see how an emergency blanket in the pocket would be good practice and peace of mind. When sharing a tent, I can see how it would be a good backup for the person without the tent. Carrying a double wall tent, I always make sure one of us has the tent body (with waterproof floor) and one has the fly.

A long time ago, I used a space blanket during an overnight for a wilderness survival merit badge. We were supposed to camp overnight with nothing but a survival kit, by a lake in the Wallowas (on the grounds of a BSA camp, so not exactly wilderness). Our pre-camp instruction had been sketchy at best--by midnight I had acquired a working knowledge of the difference between conductive and reflective heat loss, but didn't know enough to make a debris hut for insulation. A very cold night, tho' not life-threatening.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: "space blanket" no, but... on 08/04/2009 14:02:54 MDT Print View

Although we don't carry space blankets, we each carry a 3oz bivy bag (cuben/momentum) which would serve the same function. But a mylar blanket or plastic or cuben sheet (space or otherwise) is much cheaper if it's for emergencies only and you don't otherwise have adequate raingear, shelter or bivy bag with you. A mylar blanket is also, theoretically, handy if you or someone else suffers an injury where you are afraid to move them enough to get tem into a bivy bag, but I have yet to encounter this scenario. Also as mentioned, a sheet of *something* can also make a useful lean-to if you don't have a shelter on you.

Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
mylar not worth it on 08/04/2009 15:13:35 MDT Print View

The mylar ones are not really worth the weight as they fall apart fairly rapidly and deteriorate in storage. I'm a fan of the AMK heatsheets which are polyethylene iirc.

I don't bother with it if backpacking as I will have all the other gear, but i take it or a trashbag when dayhiking.

dennis davitt
(dennyinsequim) - F

Locale: Olympic Peninsula
space blanket on 08/04/2009 20:09:11 MDT Print View

We had an injured boater and very little going for us down in a deep canyon, we climbed up to get reception and a hiker opened his pack and handed me his space blanket. It was a wet, cold and long deal and the CG guy's did a heck of a job picking him out of there. I have no idea who the loaner was and wish I could thank him and buy him a replacement, I don't expect any ultralight packer to carry extra gear but that loan really helped a bad situation.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Space blanket? on 08/04/2009 22:49:47 MDT Print View

I carry an Adventure Medical Heatsheets Bivy for backup shelter when day hiking, along with a GoLite poncho. With a bed of leaves or boughs for ground insulation and my extra clothing, I could take on some nasty conditions. The AMK material will take a lot more abuse than the mylar sheets. For winter day hiking, one of the heavier Thermo-lite bivvies is a knotch up.

As with my first aid kit, it has as much use for others as it does for me.

Space Blankets are compact, light, and inexpensive. IMHO, much of the heat retention value is in cutting convection losses-- it's another layer.

Thay can be used for solar stills, waterproofing an improvised shelter roof, a ground sheet, signaling, wrapping a wounded limb, or protection from the sun.

If you have your regular multi-day kit, the value is reduced, but it could make up for a soaked sleeping bag, a damaged shelter, recovering from a glacial stream-crossing gone bad, etc, etc, etc.

Todd Forbes
(TF) - F
Space Blankets are like a gun - you don't need one until you REALLY need one! on 08/05/2009 10:39:18 MDT Print View

I have used them before, although I carry the “Space Bag”, not the blanket. A few years back a friend and I were climbing the North Face of Longs Peak in early spring and we spent a night in the boulder field. Winds coming off the peak all night totally shredded a 3.5 season 4-pole Sierra Designs Sphinx tent. The poles were bent and the rain fly was ripped to pieces, we used our Space Bags to cover our sleeping bags and sleep inside them with the tent body & shredded fly on top of us. That was not a pleasant night; I would say the wind gust were at least 80 miles an hour as it actually blew me off my feet.

I see them as an emergency “vapor barrier” blanket, and carry one with me when I go out climbing and am away from camp. Once on a winter climb in Rocky Mountain National Park we lost our campsite on the way back when it got dark – I was starting to build a snow trench shelter using the space blanket as its roof when my friend finally found our camp so I would have to say they do serve a useful purpose but if you are the type that is never away from your pack I can see not bothering to carry one.

I also used one during Tropical Storm Alicia when I was trapped on a flooded out highway and was rescued by a Fire Department boat the next morning, they handed out space blankets as we were all shivering from being wet and cold all night even though it was summer in Houston.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: space blanket on 08/05/2009 14:28:44 MDT Print View

Next summer I intend to trial an AMK heatsheet as a solar shelter. Maybe throw it over the tent or poles with the reflective surface facing the sun...it should help us to keep cool on those scorchers when there's no natural shade around. So maybe they have survival uses in hot desert conditions too??? Shade or solar still by day and warmth at night?