How Does a Space Blanket Reduce Heat Loss?

A space blanket, also known as a mylar blanket or emergency blanket, is a highly effective tool for reducing heat loss from the human body in extreme cold conditions. This thin, lightweight, and highly reflective material can reflect up to 97% of radiated heat, making it a crucial piece of gear for outdoor enthusiasts, emergency responders, and anyone who may find themselves in a hypothermia-inducing environment.

Understanding the Mechanisms of Heat Transfer

To fully comprehend how a space blanket reduces heat loss, it’s essential to understand the three primary modes of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation.

  1. Conduction: This is the transfer of heat through direct contact between objects or materials. For example, when you sit on a cold surface, heat is conducted from your body to the surface.
  2. Convection: This is the transfer of heat through the movement of fluids, such as air or water. When wind blows across your skin, it carries away heat, leading to increased heat loss.
  3. Radiation: This is the transfer of heat through electromagnetic waves, such as infrared radiation. Your body constantly emits infrared radiation, which can be lost to the surrounding environment.

How a Space Blanket Reduces Heat Loss

how does a space blanket reduce heat loss

A space blanket’s primary function is to address the issue of radiant heat loss, which accounts for up to 60% of the total heat loss from the human body in cold environments.

  1. Reflective Surface: The space blanket is made of a thin, highly reflective material, typically a metalized polyethylene film. This reflective surface acts as a mirror, bouncing the infrared radiation emitted by your body back towards you, rather than allowing it to escape into the environment.

  2. Trapping Warm Air: The space blanket creates a small, insulating air pocket between the reflective surface and your body. This trapped layer of warm air helps to reduce convective heat loss, as the air movement is minimized.

  3. Wind Chill Reduction: The reflective surface of the space blanket also helps to reduce the effects of wind chill, which can significantly increase the rate of heat loss from the body. By creating a barrier between your body and the wind, the space blanket helps to maintain a more stable, warmer microclimate around you.

Factors Affecting Effectiveness

The effectiveness of a space blanket in reducing heat loss can be influenced by several factors:

  1. Temperature Differential: The greater the temperature difference between your body and the surrounding environment, the more effective the space blanket will be in reflecting radiant heat back towards you.

  2. Surface Contact: Ensuring that the reflective surface of the space blanket is facing outwards, away from your body, is crucial for maximizing its effectiveness. If the reflective surface is facing inwards, it can actually absorb and conduct heat away from your body.

  3. Insulation Layers: Using the space blanket in conjunction with other insulating materials, such as a sleeping bag or a thick jacket, can further enhance its ability to reduce heat loss. The space blanket should not be used as the sole insulating layer, as it is primarily designed to address radiant heat loss.

  4. Durability: The quality and durability of the space blanket can also impact its effectiveness. Cheaper, lower-quality space blankets may not have the same level of reflectivity or resistance to tearing and punctures, reducing their overall performance.

DIY Space Blanket

For those looking to create a simple, cost-effective DIY space blanket, a combination of aluminum foil and plastic sheeting can be a viable option. Here’s how to make one:

  1. Obtain a sheet of aluminum foil and a piece of clear plastic sheeting.
  2. Place the aluminum foil shiny side up.
  3. Cover the aluminum foil with the plastic sheeting.
  4. Trim the edges to create a compact, portable space blanket.

While a homemade space blanket may not be as durable or as effective as a commercially produced one, it can still provide a significant level of radiant heat reflection and insulation in an emergency situation.


A space blanket is a versatile and essential piece of gear for anyone venturing into cold environments. By understanding how it works to reduce heat loss through the reflection of radiant heat, trapping of warm air, and wind chill reduction, you can maximize its effectiveness and stay warm and safe in even the most challenging conditions.


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