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How do Emergency Blankets Work to Keep Me Warm?

updated December 08, 2016

Commonly known as space blankets, emergency thermal blankets are a staple of emergency first aid personnel, wilderness rescue responders, search and rescue teams as well as CERTs. As they are capable of a multitude of other uses, the blankets make the must-have list when putting together 72-hour and first aid kits.

It is important to understand how we are losing body heat naturally all the time. Sometimes it is a good thing, as when we’re trying to cool off during a hot summer’s day, but sometimes our body can’t keep up with what we’re losing and escapes us when we’d rather have it warming our cold fingers during the bitingly frigid temperatures of winter.

We lose body heat in different ways. By radiation, which is heat emanating from the surface of our skin and dissipating. We lose heat by convection, think of the wind blowing across your skin’s surface – nice on a humid day when we’re sitting in front of a fan, but bone chilling on a blustery winter day. And we lose heat by conduction, as when our pet lays on the couch, we then sit where they’ve been and can feel the 'warm spot' they left for us.

The blankets work to keep you warm by their very design. As an impermeable metalized plastic sheet, they trap up to 90% of the radiated body heat that would normally be dispersed into the environment. So they mainly keep us warm with the heat we’re already always generating and losing!

But as these blankets are not insulative, they do not prevent heat loss by conduction (heat-transfer).

They can, however, be used very effectively against heat loss through convection. Wrap the blanket around exposed skin and you have a wind breaker to keep that breeze from blowing across your skin and whisking the heat away.

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