23 Uses for Mylar / Space / Emergency Blankets

Everybody has seen movies and television shows where the victims of a tragedy are wrapped in shiny space blankets. In fact, many of you likely have one in your bug out bag or in the trunk of your car.

a Mylar space emergency blanket in Zipper bag
a Mylar space emergency blanket in Zipper bag

What exactly is a Mylar emergency blanket?

A Mylar blanket (also know as a space or emergency blanket) is a common type of emergency blanket made of a thin synthetic material that is generally waterproof and reflective on at least one side.

The more expensive blankets are typically a thicker fibrous material designed to be warmer than wool. They are generally a bit larger, have grommets in the corners, and are still waterproof and reflective on one side.

Mylar is thin and easy to tear or puncture. The thicker blankets are impossible to tear, tough to puncture, and are even somewhat resistant to melting. I know… I have tried.

Which Mylar Should You Get for Your Survival Kits?

So which option is right for you? It really comes down to cost. If you are only buying a few, I would definitely suggest the thicker version. As we go through the uses, it will begin to appear obvious why I feel this way.

However, if you are in a situation where you may need to keep a whole group of people warm then a package of the Mylar blankets may make more sense.

When you first start looking for this particular item, you will notice that there are dozens of options out there. There are packs where you can get a dozen or more. Let us look at the differences.

There are many uses for this vital tool, and I always have one with me when I head into the wilderness. However, there are varying styles and qualities to choose from.

Also, many of its uses are not so obvious. In this article I will cover what you should look for in an emergency blanket and the many ways you can use it.

Mylars Will Keep You Warm in an Emergency

In an emergency, keeping everybody warm and safe is always your first priority. If you have a family of seven, look at your budget and make sure you have seven blankets.

The obvious use for an emergency blanket is keeping warm. The primary reason these blankets help is that the reflective surface is designed to reflect up to 90% of your body heat back to you.

If stuck on the side of the road this function is quite helpful. It also is designed to break the wind. However, the thicker blankets do a much better job of staying tight with your body and keeping the wind out.

Also, the additional insulation from the thicker blankets makes a huge difference. In my very first survival challenge it was pouring rain and temperatures dropped into the 40s.

My shelter was only keeping out some of the rain as the 30 mph winds were blowing it in sideways. My fire was out and I finally broke down at 2 A.M. and pulled out my emergency blanket.

I was instantly warmer and was even able to get some sleep before the sun came up. Also, keep in mind that a Mylar blanket with a hole in it does not work very well. This is why I suggest the thicker version.

Shelter-Related Uses

As a Blanket

The default, and one of the best, ways to use your space blanket is as a blanket.

Talk about following instructions! although they rarely seem comfortable or comforting at first glance, if you have never used one of these ingenious devices you should know that they are incredibly effective.

That’s why they were sent into space in the first place and why you see them show up at the site of every accident and major disaster. First responders use them and you should too!

To Prevent Shock

Anytime you are dealing with a significant injury or someone who has just experienced profound emotional or mental trauma the possibility for shock exists.

Shock can greatly complicate what would otherwise be fairly routine and survivable injury, and will invariably make your efforts to survive even harder, whether it is happening to you or someone else.

One of the best ways to prevent shock in someone else is by warming them up.

a space blanket is just the ticket for the purpose, and since it relies on reflecting the person’s own body heat it will start warming them up pretty much immediately once you can wrap them up in it.

If someone is on the ground and cannot stand or sit up on their own, you can cover them up and then tuck in the edges beneath them to the same effect.

Make a Tent

So long as you aren’t dealing with any truly harsh weather conditions, particularly strong winds, a sturdy survival blanket can make a pretty good tent in a pinch.

You can use the survival blanket the same way you would use a tarp or any other sheet style material.

Grommets will definitely help to accomplish this objective in conjunction with some cordage, but if you don’t have a space blanket with grommets or other attachment points, there is still a solution for you.

Make a Lean To

This shelter is even simpler to make than a tent, and just as capable of keeping you protected in mild weather conditions.

If you have a survival blanket that is on the smaller side, or one lacking grommets, you’ll probably find this to be just the ticket. 

Remember that you can construct your lean-to with the shiny side of your survival blanket facing outward to give you better protection from the sun, or inward to help trap even more body heat or potentially reflect the heat from a campfire back on to you. More on that in a minute.

Shelter Insulation

No matter what kind of shelter you are taking advantage of, from a purpose designed tent or bivy to a natural formation such as a cave or a survival shelter created for natural materials, your emergency blanket can make it better.

The impermeable, reflective material of a space blanket will keep more heat inside your shelter while preventing air and moisture from seeping inside, so long as you are able to line the interior as required.

This is just another way that your space blanket can provide all around shelter improvement in any circumstances and any environment.

The type of material that space blankets are made from is exceedingly difficult to come up with in the wild, so make sure you take advantage of it.

To Build a Super Shelter

You can also use your survival blanket to build a super shelter. This design works with a clear plastic tarp to keep your shelter super warm even in sub-zero temperatures.

Build a simple lean-to shelter with a decent amount of insulation. You have to make sure that the angle of the roof is 45 degrees. Next hang your emergency blanket inside the roof at the same 45 degree angle with the shiny side down.

This will reflect heat back to your body. Build an insulated bed and then drape the whole shelter with the clear plastic tarp. Secure the edges to make sure no cold air can get in.

Build a body-length fire just outside the plastic and build a deflector wall on the other side to bounce heat back to you. As the heat enters through the clear plastic it is then trapped inside.

I have seen this structure raise the inside temperature by as much as 60 degrees F versus the outside temperature. This means that it can be 10 degrees F (-10 C) outside and you can be cozy in a 70 degree F (21 C) shelter.

Dual Survival - Cody's Super Shelter | Shipwrecked

As a Ground Cover

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. The moisture proof, insulating nature of a space blanket makes for a handy ground cover.

Moist soil or grasses can easily soak your clothing, draining heat and chilling you badly especially in cool weather or whenever there is a stiff breeze blowing

depending on the construction of your survival blanket, you might need to fold it over double in order to keep the water impermeable metal side facing out. Other blankets might be waterproof on both sides by nature, and you can use them as is.

Keep in mind that putting the foil side down against the ground is a good way to damage your space blanket, so make sure it is up to the task or it is really your most pressing priority before using it in this way.

Fire Reflector

One of the best and most ingenious uses of a space blanket is as a campfire reflector.

By hanging up or draping your space blanket behind you, with the shiny side facing the fire, you can recapture radiated energy that would otherwise be lost. In operation, you will sit between the campfire and your space blanket.

This could provide a better return on your fuel budget whenever you have a fire burning and it will also warm you up more quickly than normal by toasting you on both sides at once.

This is just the ticket if you are already badly chilled or are just desperate to warm up as a morale booster.

As a Wind Break

There are a few vertical uses for an emergency blanket. The thicker ones can make a great wind block.

If you have steady wind blowing in from one direction, you can use cordage to raise up your blanket and block the wind. You may want to do this to stay warmer or to help you start a fire.

Most preppers already know that the wind is not your friend, particularly when you are at risk of exposure. It might be dropping temperatures, in conjunction with wet clothing or skin or just a preponderance of windblown grit, dirt or sand.

Whatever the cause, if the wind is giving you problems you can hang up your space blanket to put a barrier between you and the prevailing wind.

This is the ideal use for a second space blanket that is not being utilized for warming you up directly one way or another.

As mentioned above, this is most easily accomplished by using space blankets that have built-in grommets for the purpose.

Using them in conjunction with cordage, zip ties, carabiners or other fasteners will allow you to easily hoist your space blanket into position.

Emergency Survival Blanket

Signaling

Emergency blankets can be used to signal for help. The shiny reflective surface is visible from quite a distance. You can also purchase ones that are hunter orange on the other side.

Once you get to high ground, use poles to build a frame. Then stretch the blanket across the frame and secure it with cordage. Once it is fairly flat, you have a good surface to try and signal a helicopter or other vehicle.

Glint

The bright, reflective surface of a survival blanket, be it gold-, silver- or copper-colored will reflect a ton of light if you have full value sun.

The glint coming off of it can easily gain the attention of rescuers, particularly those who are looking for you by air.

There are a couple of ways to use your survival blanket in this way. the best way is to stretch it out on a sort of frame that you can construct from any materials available.

Point the contraption in the direction of your rescuers and then Rock the survival blanket up and down steadily so that it will produce a glint or flash that can be seen from miles away.

Alternately you can place it in a fixed position and count on rescuers seeing the reflection or glimmer off of it as they move or whenever the sun is shining on it directly.

Color Indicator

If you purchase a nicer survival blanket that has a high visibility signaling colorway on the side opposite the metallic, reflective side you can use it as a traditional survival signal.

All you need to do is lay it out on the ground with the colored side facing up and then stake down or way down the corners so it doesn’t flap or blow around.

Ultimately you might hang it in such a way that it can be seen from a vantage point by rescuers who are on the ground looking for you.

High visibility hunter orange is probably the best overall color, but day glow green and even white might have good applications depending on your environment.

As a Flag

The human eye is attracted to many things, but it is perhaps not attracted to anything quite so readily as motion.

If the other methods listed above don’t work or your space blanket is just not suited to employing them in that way, you can attach it to any convenient point and allow it to flap in the breeze.

The erratic movement, glint from the foil and flapping will readily attract the attention of anyone with it in their field of view.

Hopefully, this will get you rescued! Be advised that this is fairly hard on most survival blankets, so make sure you have a genuine need to use it in this way before committing.

Fire-Starting

If you have no other options, you can sometimes build a fire with your emergency blanket. You have to have direct sunlight and very dry tinder.

Improvised Fresnel Lens

As hard as it is to believe, your space blanket might be able to serve as a fire starting tool in a pinch. this takes a little bit of preparation, plenty of practice and more than a little luck, but it is doable.

Use a bowl or other round container and stretch the blanket to line the inside.

Smooth out the wrinkles as much as possible. Then take sticks or wire and try to suspend a small bit of tinder a few inches off the bottom of the bowl. You may have to adjust it to find the focal point.

If you build it right, the sunlight should reflect off the blanket and hit a focal point somewhere in the center of the bowl. In perfect conditions this can get hot enough to create an ember.

Starting Insulator

Your space blanket can also be used to help you get a fire started using any other more traditional method.

By building a sort of TP or box structure around your fire using any convenient twigs and branches, you can put the reflector side facing your fire.

This will help you start a fire by two ways. First, it will keep wind off of the cold you are desperately trying to get on to your tinder.

Second, when your fire is Young and delicate, it will reflect heat back onto your fuel, perhaps making the difference when you are using damp fuel or in difficult conditions.

Water Collection

Emergency blankets even have a few uses for water. In a tropical climate like the rainforest, most of your water sources are contaminated. However, rainwater can be a clean source of drinking water.

Rain Catcher

Pretty much every survival blanket is water impermeable, at least if it doesn’t have a hole or tear in it. It is an easy thing to rig up a shallow depression lined by your survival blanket and use it to catch rainfall.

You might even position it underneath the broad canopy of a tree and direct the branches to allow water to gently spill into it.

You can also spread out your blanket with a lip at the base to direct water into a container. You can also build a rain catch with the blanket. Just dig a hole a few inches deep and about a foot smaller than your blanket on each side.

Lay your blanket over the hole and use poles or rocks to secure it in place. Make sure that the edges of the blanket come up over the lip of the hole and are secured in place.

You have to be cautious that the weight of the water does not pull an edge loose and drain all your clean water.

Use your imagination here, the sky is the limit, just make sure you have a plan for getting the water you catch into containers for easy transport and drinking.

Component in Solar Still

A solar still is a relatively simple but scientifically advanced method of gathering fresh, ready to drink water when in the wild.

You may use your survival blanket as a component in a solar still. Simply cover a shallow bit you have dug with your survival blanket after placing a small dish in the middle of the pit.

Cover the edges tightly with rocks or soil, then place a pebble in the middle of the blanket. After some time condensation will drip into the cup.

Transpiration Catcher

A little known but nonetheless effective method of gathering fresh drinking water in the wild is by capturing plant transpiration.

As it turns out, most leafy plants breathe out small quantities of moisture, moisture that is fit for drinking so long as the plant itself is not toxic or otherwise irritating.

But to capture this moisture, you’ll need to place a water and permeable covering over and around the plant. Your space blanket can do the job.

Early in the morning, before the sun comes up, find a suitable shrub, bush or small tree and wrap it up in your survival blanket.

After the sun is fully in the sky, you can come back and you’ll notice significant quantities of dew resting on the leaves of the plant.

You might wake up this moisture using a rag or sponge or figure out some other way to collect it in a container, but at least you’ll have access to it now.

The quantity will be quite small, but it could be enough to keep you alive in a pinch.

Container Liner

If you are able to scavenge a container in the wild, typically in the form of litter like a plastic bottle or jug, can, bucket or something similar, it is probably going to be filthy.

You can give yourself a little piece of mind and make the job of purifying your water easier by utilizing your space blanket as a liner for this container.

All right carefully placing your space blanket inside the container, smoothing it into the corners and crevices and then filling it with water you can prevent your water from coming into contact with the nasty, contaminated surfaces of the container.

As a Water Skin

When all other options fail, you might use your space blanket to contain a small quantity of water and take it with you.

It should be noted that even the most durable space blanket is not particularly well suited to this task owing to their overall fragility, but it can be done if you are cautious.

You can also carry water with your blanket. Dig a hole that is about a foot wide and as deep as you can get it. Place your blanket over the hole and then push down at the center point.

Try to smooth out the blanket at the bottom to get as much surface area as you can. Make sure there is plenty of blanket still sticking out of the hole all the way around the edges.

Pour in your water and stop about six inches from the top of the hole. Pull the edges together, twist them tight, and tie with cordage. You will need to carry the water with the tied end facing up.

Simply loop and fold your space blanket into a pouch like shape, and ensure that there are no tears or rips which could let the water leak out. Fill with water, tie off the neck with any sack knot of your choosing and hit the road.

As a Container

You can also use your blanket as a container in a few ways. If you have any food that you need to store overnight or while you are away from camp, it needs to be in a bear bag.

Place all your food in the center of the blanket. Pull up the edges and bundle the remaining material at the top. Tie it with cordage and throw one end over a branch at least 10 feet off the ground.

Then hoist it up and tie off the cordage. If you are worried about squirrels chewing through the blanket, you can put your food in a pot with a lid before you wrap it.

You can also carry water with your blanket. Dig a hole that is about a foot wide and as deep as you can get it. Place your blanket over the hole and then push down at the center point.

Try to smooth out the blanket at the bottom to get as much surface area as you can. Make sure there is plenty of blanket still sticking out of the hole all the way around the edges.

Pour in your water and stop about six inches from the top of the hole. Pull the edges together, twist them tight, and tie with cordage. You will need to carry the water with the tied end facing up.

As a Fishing Float

There are even a few ways an emergency blanket can help you with food. When fishing, you often need a float to either determine when the fish strikes or mark where you have sunken a trap. It may take a few tries, but you can build a float with your blanket.

Form a pocket in the center and then bring your blanket down on the surface of the water evenly.

You have to ensure that all edges of your blanket hit the water at the same time so air does not escape. As you push down with your arms, pull the blanket around the bottom of your air bubble.

Bring your hands together to close it up, and then tie it off with cordage. This will work best if you keep the opening under water while using it for a float.

To Build a Smoker

An emergency blanket is great to build a smoker for preserving fish or meat. Build a fire and let it burn down to coals. Next you need to build a tripod at least five feet tall.

Cut up your meat into strips ¼” thick or less. Check your cooking height with your hand. Hold your hand face down over the coals a few feet off the ground.

The correct height will be when you can keep your hand over the coals for eight seconds before pulling it away. Now suspend your meat at that height. You can skewer it on sticks, build a rack, or string it up on cordage.

As your final step, wrap your tripod with your blanket and keep the shiny side facing in. This will hold in the heat and smoke.

Make sure you do not let the edges of the blanket get too close to the flames as it could melt. It will take at least eight hours, but your food is preserved once it is dry and firm.

Oh, So Many Uses!

As mentioned before, the biggest defect with the inexpensive Mylar blankets is their tendency to tear. However, there are a few things you can do to get the most possible use out of these blankets.

Most do not come with grommets in the corners for building a shelter. Find small round pebbles.

Place one about an inch from the corner and wrap the blanket around it, then tie cordage around the rock and tie the other end to a stake to secure the corner.

When using your Mylar blanket with sticks for signaling, shelters, a fire deflector, or any other use, you must use caution. Be sure to trim your sticks smooth and try to use ones with smooth bark.

If using insulation materials, opt for something fluffy like leaves or dry grass. If your blanket must come in contact with the end of a stick, protect it as much as you can.

Carve the end of the stick to be round and smooth and tear off a little piece of cloth to place as a barrier between the two. Remember that a little whole can turn into a huge tear very quickly.

How To Use An Emergency Blanket Aside From The Obvious

As you can see, emergency blankets are one of the most practical and underrated objects for survival. They positively impact your efforts for food, water, fire, shelter, and signaling for rescue.

Very few other objects are so useful and important for your bug out bag. With the weather conditions I faced, my blanket may very well have saved my life on my first survival challenge.

If you are wet, any temperatures below 60 degrees F (15 Celsius) can mean hypothermia… or worse. For this reason alone, I carry mine with me every time I head into the woods. I suggest you do the same.

updated 03/15/2022

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