Reader Poll: Do You Carry an Emergency Blanket When Hiking?

Emergency Blanket
Emergency Blanket

I know a lot of hikers who carry an emergency blanket or some kind of heat-reflective bivy sack with them on long day hikes just in case they need to unexpectedly spend the night out or to stay warm if they’re injured. I’ve never found these products to be very practical because they’re so flimsy. What about you?

Do you carry an emergency blanket on hikes?

Do you know anyone who’s ever used an emergency blanket or a reflective bivy sack?

62 comments

  1. I do only on long 25+ mile hikes. I am going to the Grand Canyon this weekend for two hikes (26 miles and 17 miles) I’ll probably bring my light weight blanket for both if them- they are so light and I’ll have room. No point in leaving it behind…

  2. I always bring it but have fortunately never used it :-)

  3. I carry an Emergency Blanket as well as all sorts of little do-dads (you never know when dental floss comes in handy, like the time I was on a short mid-day stroll with my youngest son at a popular CT spot, Sleeping Giant. We were crossing the main trail and ran into a young couple enjoying the summer sun. While the guy was wearing sensible shoes, the gal was wearing sandals and was limping because the strap on one of them broke causing the sandal to be a flip flop. I stopped them, and with the help of my trusty Swiss Army knife and floss from my bag got her walking as right as possible in no time. Not only were they happy, my son never asked me why I always carry a bag when I walk in the woods.

  4. When I’m on day trips, I try to have enough gear with me to survive a night out if necessary. I have a SOL Escape Bivvy and a space blanket that I take along for day hikes and canoe trips. I also toss them in the saddlebag when I ride desert roads on a motorcycle. I don’t take them when I go overnight backpacking because I will have with me all the gear I need.

    I did a back yard experiment with my grandson on a 17ºF night last month using the space blanket over summer weight sleeping bags in a small tent. We were warm enough but we ended up with much condensation on the inside of the blanket and very damp bags so I decided that was not going to be part of my layering system for trying to save weight.

    My sister and brother in law carried a tube tent on a winter day hike some years ago and were very glad to have it when they got caught in a torrential downpour. In the remote area they were at, there was no way to check the weather before their hike.

  5. An emergency blanket is the very definition of “just in case”, which often means “I didn’t plan.”

    It is kinda of good for a bunch of situations, but you aren’t sure exactly what. You’ve never tried it, since it won’t go back in the bag, so you you are not quite sure how to use it.

    A couple of trash bags, now that is useful. Easy to try out, easy to replace, go for it.

    • I always have at least one contractor’s trash bag. They’re tough enough and large enough to become a makeshift shelter and many other things.

    • It could also mean “someone is in danger, and I’m able to assist them.” And if you spend an extra dollar or so you can get one that actually does go back in the bag and won’t rip.

  6. Used one in Georgia on the AT around April 10th, 2011. Got caught in a heavy rain storm. From my knees below I was soaked due to condensation but it keep me warm and mostly dry. Luckily I also had a small umbrella so I was able to keep the upper part open to ventilate otherwise I would have been totally soaked. I found them extremely useful if you’re not carrying a tent or other shelter.

  7. I carry a “Sportsmans” Blanket which is an plastic sheet with a layer of reflective material on one side and green on the other and gromments in the corners. I can use it as a blanket, a Lean To Shelter cover, a Shelter from the Sun and Rain, a tent footprint, a rain catcher, a water bag, Wind Break and many other uses. It sits folded up in my pack against my back as a cushion from pointy objects. I also carry a Emergency Milar Sleeping Bag and NOT the blanket. All the blankets I have tried failed to meet my needs for one reason or another. So with this combintation I feel that I am pretty well prepared. I also carry the same combo in my Hunting Pack, Daypack, Camera Pack and Fishing bag.

  8. Here in the Adirondacks, I always bring one with me. I have the aforementioned survival bivy and have never used it in an emergency situation (thankfully). For its weight and ease to pack, I always think, “Why not?”

  9. I always carry either a survival blanket or bivy with me. Last year I used two of them on two different occassions. One was by my son who had failed to bring the gear he needed for an over-night camping on snow, and the other time was by me when we needed to wait out some weather in a location where we could not pitch a tent as it was on a step hill side. They are well worth packing.

  10. Whenever the subject of an unexpected overnight comes up, I think of this tragic story.

    http://vtdigger.org/2012/02/12/when-a-hike-in-vermont-goes-awry-no-one-may-come-to-the-rescue/

    I carry a MLD superlight bivy, a W/M summer lite down bag, a poltcryo ground sheet for an emergency tarp, some extra layers, and a ARC PLB w/GPS.

    Having personally broken my fibula while “7 miles in” but luckily able to hike out with it, I know it only takes a second for things to go awry.

  11. Used one climbing Cathedral Peak in Yosemite. My 13 year old son got freaked out from the exposure part way up. We decided to hunker down while friends continued up. Wind was howling, he was chilly. Helped warm him up and calm him down.

  12. Carried one when I was involved in any military activities, and I carry one in my ruck and in my car now.

  13. I use one as a ground cloth when backpacking…it is surprisingly tough.

  14. Yes – always in my emergency bag (emergency blanket, whistle, fire starter, pencil, tape….). And yes I have been with someone that has used one because they were cold and wet.

  15. I’ve brought one most trips and have used it only occasionally, both times in Maine when temperature dipped below what I had packed for. Definitely get one of the emergency blankets that is not crinkly.

  16. Day walks I would. Backpacking no need as I have shelter, and kit to keep me safe overnight in an emergency. Having the means to start a fire (to dry kit out, stay warm) seems a more obvious skill and precaution in the wilderness than a space blanket if stuck and stranded.

  17. In the ADK’s I often bring one on longer trips. Makes a good repair materiel for the boat skirt and helps cover the fire at night when it gets below freezing. Also, it reflects heat back into your shelter making the shelter warmer. Never use it for wrapping up in, though. Usually damp/wet, I need all the air permiability I can get to help dry out a bit.

  18. Day trips and when kayaking. Not on backpacking trips when I have a sleeping bag and shelter.

  19. Don’t own. Never needed. I carry other things. But if someone recommends a non-crinkly type I might get one. . .

  20. I carry one in the car (MN winters), and one that goes in my saddle bags for the summer on my motorcycle and I bought a new one for hunting and backpacking. The new one is the orange on one side heatsheets. I have used them many times for many different things. From side of the road car moments to keeping a boy scout warm during a failed hike, and once when my $10 tent failed miserably. I won’t go in the woods or take the bike without one tucked away. It’s the cheapest insurance policy I own, and at least one person is still alive from it. The one time I didn’t have it and a bandanna we had someone get seriously injured and we couldn’t do anything to help and had to rely on the kindness of complete strangers on a motorcycle trip in the middle of almost nowhere.

  21. I carry one on day hikes but, haven’t used it. Other people I know also carry them and to my knowledge haven’t used them either.
    It is one of those things I always bring and hope I never have to use.

  22. I carry the e-bivy in my hiking kit and my SAR pack. In both cases it is easy for a day trip to become an unplanned overnight adventure. With the bivy I can fill it with dry leaves or pine straw for extra insulation much more easily than the blanket.

  23. I carry an old Adventure Medical Thermolite Bivy (basically an insulated space blanket). I’ve taken it out a handful of times, mostly for other people to use, but only in situations where they were a little chilly on an extended break on a summit and needed more layers. I’ve not had to use it for a dire situation, thank you very much. But will continue to carry it, just in case.

  24. I always carry one, if not to be prepared myself (I mostly hike solo), but for the woefully unprepared people I often meet on the trail. Same with my first aid kit.

  25. For years I carried them as a Just in Case item, never really putting it to use. And then one backpacking trip, my brother brought along a mylar sheet (effectively an emergency blanket) he was given at the end of a race, and we found it had all sorts of practical uses: to cover firewood in a down pour, as a vapor barrier to sit on during a meal, as an improvised back cover, etc.

    The lesson learned: if you leave it in its package, it probably won’t get used. But, take one unpacked, and it’ll get put to use in all sorts of ways. Sure, they take up more volume unpacked, but they are way more useful. (The AMK heatsheets are a little pricier, but hold up well for all these random tasks we throw at it.)

    For overnighters, I’ll often sleep under a heatsheet as an improvised shelter (pic: https://picasaweb.google.com/108384855542303389501/CorbinCabinAdventure?feat=flashalbum#5765528083154585074)

    The only time I’ve ever used an emergency blanket for it’s intended purpose (wrapping around you to keep warm), it was at a race. We had to wait around in the rain and chilly cold waiting for the race to begin. I was actually quite amazed how warm it kept me. Since then, I’ve made it an essential part of my hiking kit, as I’ve got some sense that it actually works.

    It’s not a silver bullet, but as a quick way to get out of the wind and rain, it definitely works.

  26. I have thought about it but never have in the past.

  27. Yep. I keep one in my car too. They’re not bad for tarp camping on cool nights, under your sleeping bag.

  28. I always carry one, but have never used it. I have thought about one of the light weight emergency bivy’s, but don’t have one yet

  29. I’ve always carried one of the pictured ones on dayhikes, backpacking, and big trail runs. It’s like my security blanket.

    It’s served me well as a ground cloth in shelters, extra rain protection, sit pad… Used it a couple of nights underneath me with the sides wrapping up over my sleeping bag, leaving an open gap so the sleeping bag can breath, and felt a little coozier in the cold.

    On long, more adventurous trail runs (Catskills, ADKs), using a Nathan Race Vest, it’s always the first thing that gets packed. I know of no other emergency shelter that offers as much versatility in terms of weight, packability, and cost. I think the Salomon running packs even include one built in.

  30. On day hikes I always carry a Blizzard bag or Amk Emergency bivy.

  31. Obviously these fragile emergency blankets are a one-time use thing. The last time I used one, my pack was in my car while I was driving downtown in my home community, and I witnessed a motorcyclist wiping out at the intersection ahead of me on a cold, windy day. He didn’t seem seriously injured, but I gave him the emergency blanket to use and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived (about 5 minutes). The only other time I used one was during the all-day practical final exam for the mountaineering first aid class I took in the mid-1980’s.

    I carry one on dayhikes, but not on backpacks (for the latter, I already have tent and sleeping bag with me). For winter day hikes I also carry a small tarp and, of course, enough warm clothing to do the job should I be caught out overnight.

  32. Some might say if you bring this you did not plan well. That rationale would mean that you should tote along a level 4 trauma ward along with you when you go outside in to the wilderness. Well I have tossed an emergency bivy to a hiker or two, and used one about 5 or 6 times. Really at $16.95 for a bivy to shove in another bag or by itself. I use it so I can sleep with a lighter bag. If the weather is great. I don’t use it. If it looks chilly I break it out and use it as a vapor barrier in my bag, and it makes a world of difference. Yes, as Philip has said the flash off in the morning is tough, but I need that to get me going in the morning. However you got to toss it if you crack it open, as reuse is tough. I think the blankets are worthless, bivy’s seem to have much better application in a true emergency involving cold and wetness.

  33. Several years ago here in western Colorado, a man named Dan Walker died after his family got lost while cross country skiing and he tried to walk out to the highway. The local paper printed a list of essential emergency items, and recommended (besides fire starter, etc.) an emergency bivy, which it said was much more effective for holding body heat. So I carry the bivy sack whenever I’m going on day hikes away from my main backpack. We half-joke that we carry our “Dan Walker Memorial Survival Kits.” (Dan made a series of tragically poor decisions, but the bivy sack could have allowed him to survive the night.)

    I can see where a space blanket could be useful as a ground cloth…but then when you go for a dayhike, you have to pull it out of your shelter and fold it up, right? And then you have to put it back when you return. Doesn’t sound practical unless you never do dayhikes.

    Even a seemingly minor error can prove deadly. Once while mountain biking at Moab, a storm blew in, dropping the temp from about 85 to 55 in twenty minutes. My friends had forgotten their rain gear at the car. They were getting wet and chilled, and even though we could see Moab from the rim, we were more than an hour away from the highway, with the real danger of hypothermia. I gave them my emergency plastic poncho, which we duct-taped on, and then a Jeep gave us another plastic bag (no offer of a ride, however!). We were also fortunate that rain storms in Moab rarely last more than 15 minutes. You just don’t think about hypothermia in Moab in the summer (but we do now)!

  34. Always carry one bivy.

    Have used to supplement my sleeping bags both backpacking with a 45 F bag when nighttime dropped to 38, and with a +15 bag in snow shelters when temp fell to 15. Large benefit. Condensate in morning is only an issue if you do multi day and conditions do not allow drying of the base of the bag….that said I never felt wet from the overnight condensate. The SOL bivy bag will last 3-4 times with some care….and is less noisy than the cheaper silver ones.

    FYI, I also tried a set up using a clear plastic tarp facing a fire with a emergency blacket behind angled down on sleeper (showed on the Dual Survival show)…..amazing warmth…sorta cool.

  35. With the ultralight gear available today it is very easy to throw in a quality tarp and sleeping bag for ~ 1.5 lbs. On day hikes in Acadia national park (where I live) it’s usually just rain gear and some extra layers. But along the AT in maine I take the tarp and sleeping bag. Like Mr Rye, I value a quality fire starter as well. I don’t bother with the emergency space blanket.

  36. I always carry a two person emergency blanket. If it’s really cold I will also carry one of these space tarps in my daypack. http://www.rei.com/product/407106/space-all-weather-blanket
    Luckily I’ve never had to use either…yet.

  37. Yep. I always carry one. Either for myself, or for someone else.

    Have I used one? Yes – I have a skinny plastic foil one which has done service as a waterproof mat at stops on wet ground, but more seriously I have given a blanket to a girl who was coming off the mountains in Snowdonia, poorly dressed, cold and tired. Not quite hypothermia yet, but we warmed her up and helped her and her partner down to the valley, wrapped in my blanket.

    I also lead and train groups of kids, and always have an emergency blanket and an emergency foil sleeping bag with me.

    They weigh nothing. I’d say take one! (And I say that as a lightweight hiker and runner!)

    Jell

  38. Always carry an emergency blanket; why not? It takes up so little space and is light as a feather.

  39. I carry the thicker “space blanket” which is overkill for a ground sheet. Only because it is at least a dual use item.
    1) ground sheet (do’h)
    2) heat in an emergency (it makes a dandy outer layer of a “human burrito”, and can be important if shock is an issue.)
    3) it’s strong enough to use for transporting someone.

    I really carry the extra weight because of point 3. You can’t expect to transport someone for very far out in the wilderness, but you sometimes have to move them a short distance for things like shelter or to get off of a flood plane or to get out of a canyon. I’ve used mine for someone who had a bike accident on the Silver Comet and to simply get him off the trail so he didn’t get run over as well as have a broken wrist/arm/collar bone.

    • I usually carry one. I have a space blanket tied to a survival kit tin that I keep in a fanny pack on day hikes. The other day I forced my son to carry one on a trail run. He was headed out in 15°(F) weather for a 5 mile run. His clothing was fine for a run but if he stopped he would be cold very quickly. If he were to break an ankle it would take a while before anyone could get him off the trail. The protection would be marginal but way better than sweaty running clothes.

      I have one of thos SOL breathable bivvys also but I primarily carry it as an additional layer over my sleeping bag if temperatures are lower than expected.

      I have not had to use a blanket in an emergency but I have opened one up to check the durability and usefulness.

  40. I do now! I was on a short(3 mile) hike on Mt. Rainier and a hiker slipped and fell 80 off the side of a trail. It took us 45 minutes to reach him and another 4 hours for rangers to get to him and have him helicoptered out. Had he not had a couple space blankets on him(in his own FAK), he would have been in much worse shape then he was. Luckily, we had a few nurses with us and they were able to stabilize him. But his main complaint was being cold(even after we gave him all of our spare clothing.

  41. I bought a bunch of them after the Kim family ordeal in California. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Kim I gave them to all my family members to keep in their cars. And I hike with mine. Not the cheap flimsy one time use mylars, but the bigger, stronger ones. I’ve used it a few times. Once during a blackout when we had no heat. And another time when I was day hiking with friends, they mentioned they had an extra spot at Greenleaf hut that night and invited me. I was not about to say no, so I went and with a couple of wool blankets (it was shoulder season) from the hut and my mylar I was very comfortable. It has held up to both uses and I’ve even been able to get it back into the bag each time.

  42. Yes , I carry a space blanket and a Solo bivviy and lots of other extra gear never want to be without

  43. Very informative article, Philip. I’ve never carried an emergency blanket but will now. I’ve always carried an ignition source but not an emergency shelter. Never can be too prepared.

  44. I carry an emergency blanket on all hikes. These 3 guys in the Smokies were not prepared for weather but had one and it sounds like it made a difference earlier this month. http://t.co/XMp3Gc4r11

  45. If I think there is even a slight chance Of having to spend a night out unintentionally, I just pack a tarp and a sleeping bag. Might be heavier than a space blanket, but it’s also a lot warmer. In the summertime I opt to take light insulation in place of a sleeping bag

  46. One of these saved my butt on my thru-hike of the AT in 2012. I listened to a lot of peoples advice like “it doesn’t get cold after Damascus”. I believed that as much As VA was “flat”. My summer bag wasn’t cutting it on a cold stretch through southern VA and I picked one of these up at an outfitter for about $5. I wore all my layers up top and wrapped my legs in the blanket. Kept me warm all night in 30* temps in a 45* sleeping bag for a week or so every night. I’d wake up moist, but comfy. This is defenitely something I carry in cold temps or as a group if some inexperienced people are coming. the price and weight are worth the cost.

  47. Yes and used it on a cold early fall trip when I had tried to get by with just a quilt.

  48. Yes always have it. Only used once assisting the victim of a head-on crash while waiting for ambulance. Was able to rollit back up into original sleeve in like-new condition.

  49. A mylar emergency blanket has all sorts of uses: I once witnessed someone tow a car with one that they had twisted into a rope. I buy them by the dozen on Amazon and keep them spirited away in the cars, all packs, etc. One everywhere.

  50. Yep absolutely a SOL Emergency Blanket. Given its negligible weight its a no brainer and can may also save someone else’s life out on the trail.

  51. I always used to carry one of the really light-weight reflective blankets in my pack (i first started using them when I was a paramedic and they were standard issue). They weigh so little that it seems silly not to have one. Mine have been on anything from day hikes to a major expedition up Mt Mera (6,400 meters). These days though I have moved onto taking a storm-shelter (these are popular in England) with me as it provides shelter for me and my two small boys.

  52. Has anyone intentionally punched a pattern of small holes in one of these blankets/bivys to allow it to breath? You’d lose a bit of the reflectivity but maybe it would work better on top of or inside a sleeping bag that way.

  53. I tend to take one on most of my hikes, just in case. I think it’s definitely always worth taking one as they’re lightweight and compact enough for you to not even notice you’re carrying it…and you really never know when you might end up needing it!

  54. I have 2 taped together with the clear duct tape (uv resistant ) I use as my 8×9 tarp tent I’ve slept in the same one about 20 nights now no long trips but it’s lighter than cuben fiber and a lot cheaper. $3.99 vs $399 had to repair one stake rip out in an extreme storm.

  55. I have carried various things that might serve my needs for an unexpected night out. It comes down to weight really. If I’m serious and going out in winter i think a gortex bivy sack, a blue foam pad and extra warm (puffy jacket, long johns, gortex pants) are minimum. On a day hike on a maintained trail I take rain gear, a very light MontBell down jacket and a cheap mylar bivy sack that weighs 3.5 ounces. It is always a trade off between weight, safety, and comfort. But with sites like this you should be able to make some intelligent decisions based on your risk tolerance vs. how much you want to carry.

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