How to Choose Camping Blankets and Outdoor Blankets – Expert Advice
If you’re serious about camping, you know that a good night’s sleep is a necessity. Spending a cold night on the verge of hypothermia makes for a dangerous situation. Even if you’re camping in the desert at night, temperatures can be bone chilling.
We made this guide to guide you into the correct camping blanket. The right camp blanket is just as important as any other essential piece of your camping or hiking gear.
How To Choose A Camp Blanket
Types of Camp Blankets
Making the correct type of camp blanket can be a lifesaving decision. Choosing the right camping blanket can also save you energy if you buy light weight or keep you dry if you choose a water proof type.
- Pocket Blankets – These are a blanket conveniently packed in a small pack. They can be carried in a pocket and are extremely light weight. These are ideal to use outdoors at any time. If you are hiking, camping, picnicking, or even in the mood for outdoor yoga!
- Sleeping Bags – Sleeping bags are the general choice when camping, if you need the extra insulation and don’t mind packing the additional weight and area. Sleeping bags come in a variety of shapes, styles, sizes and thermal ratings.
- Wool Blankets – Wool blankets are a natural way to stay warm. They are good enough for our military to use because even when they are wet, they still insulate.
- Emergency Blanket – Emergency blankets come in many styles. They come in large and small sizes. Some are small enough to put 3 in a shirt pocket. Most emergency blankets are constructed for a few uses before tearing.
- Fleece Blanket – A fleece blanket is made of a synthetic polyester that maintains warmth and wicks away moisture to keep you dry. Some people may be allergic to fleece camp blankets, so test one before depending on it.
- Thermal Blankets – These thermal blankets are very similar to the standard emergency blankets but are generally more durable and made for more than one use. They do have a high thermal rating but don’t really feel as comfortable as a blanket.
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Camping Blanket Materials
- 100% Wool – Wool is probably the warmest of all natural materials. Wool blankets keep you warm by trapping air between its fibers. Even when these blankets become wet they still have trapped air between the fibers. They don’t soak up moisture or water like some other materials. This makes it ideal for wet situations. If your wool blanket becomes wet, just wring it out. The only drawback is that if it is wet it can take some time to totally dry out. Wool will also wick moisture away from your skin keeping you dryer and still insulated. Wool is made from sheep hair and can become itchy with direct skin contact. If you buy Merino wool, it won’t give you the itch that most wool will. Another benefit of wool is that it’s fire resistant!
- Fleece – Fleece is a material made to mimic wool. It’s great at trapping air between its fibers. Fleece camp blankets also wick away moisture while holding warm air between its fibers. The main difference from wool is that when this gets wet it can be rung out and dries quickly. It’s much lighter than wool but is highly flammable.
- Cotton – Cotton has a very comfortable feel but it is heavy especially when wet. If wet, it tends to clump and can take a very long time to dry out. It’s flammable and not a really good choice for most camping. Some blends of cotton with synthetics have proven to work well using a synthetic shell with a cotton center.
- Acrylic – Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is made into a filament then cut and spun like wool. Acrylica can be made from many synthetics but will contain at least 85% acrylonitrile monomer. It’s used in many applications like faux fur, clothing and boot liners. This synthetic fiber is good at wicking moisture and is becoming a top choice for sportswear. Acrylics will pull sweat from the skin keeping you dry and pull it to the outer layer where it can evaporate. This is a stain and mildew resistant fiber. It is very flammable so caution should be taken near open fires.
- Polyester – A non-flammable synthetic fiber like polyester can shrink if exposed to high heat. Don’t leave it too long in the dryer either! Polyester is an extremely warm and lightweight fabric with a luxurious feel. This synthetic fiber will also wick moisture from the skin and keep it’s insulated properties when wet.
- Nylon – Nylon is a very strong fiber and highly resilient. As one of the first synthetic fibers, it’s used in many types of clothing and furnishings. Nylon is fairly heat resistant but can melt if exposed to direct heat. Nylon can be machine washed but should be hung to dry or put in the dryer at low heat. If you dry on high heat, it may shrink. Nylon is also waterproof!
- Nylon Ripstop – As if regular nylon wasn’t durable enough. Nylon Ripstop is a woven fabric that is highly resistant to tearing. The fabric is woven in crosshatch pattern making it tear resistant. This has all the benefits of regular Nylon water proof, easy cleaning and wicking action with extra durability.
- Mylar – Mylar is the synthetic aluminum foil-looking material you see in survival situations. Mylar is really lightweight and can save your life, but it has many drawbacks the other listed materials don’t have. It is waterproof but isn’t a wicking material. If you do get wet or perspire, the Mylar material will hold it in. It’s noisy and also tears easily. It will hold the heat in but should only be used as a last resort. If you have a chance to prepare properly, other choices would be better.
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Weather plays a big part in the proper choice of camping blankets. Colder temperatures may call for higher thermal ratings. Warmer weather will obviously call for lower thermal ratings. But you have to ask yourself: if weather will change, will it be windy and will it be wet? All these questions need to be answered if you want to make the right choice.
- Heat – What sort of high temperatures will you have to deal with? When it’s hot outside you will still need some sort of cover. The ideal camping blanket offers protection from wind, insects and simply makes you feel secure while you sleep. While you sleep in the heat, you will sweat ,and a proper wicking camp blanket will keep you dry and feeling cooler.
- Cold – The cold weather brings challenges. A high percentage of people get hypothermia because of sweating in cold conditions. The best thing you can do if you find yourself sweating in hypothermic conditions is to undress and dry off. This is where the right cold weather camping blanket can save your life. A warmth-creating wicking blanket will draw off the perspiration on your skin and help you dry off.
- Wind – High winds can dry out your skin’s moisture or cause hypothermia. Having the correct camping blanket that stops wind from penetrating can help you survive with less water. It can also save you from freezing to death. Waterproof materials will also stop the wind from penetrating.
- Rain – If you get stuck in the rain, I hope you have access to a waterproof camp blanket. Even in hot weather you can die from hypothermia if you get wet. Our bodies don’t do well when we have prolonged contact with water. You have 2 options here: one is to stay dry with a waterproof camp blanket or getting dry with a wicking camp blanket. Some camp blankets use multiple materials so that you can have a waterproof shell over a wicking bottom.
Where are you going and how long will you be camping? I know that when I have been hiking or on hunting trips, packing gear is very important. Miles into your hike you wonder if you really need to take that heavy item. Next time, you will want to choose a lighter option. Weight is an important factor and you don’t want to carry more than you have to. When choosing the right camping blanket or sleeping bag, you should take weight into consideration. Smaller pocket-styled camping blankets may be the best option as far as weight and space, but you also have to take all the other options we talked about into consideration.
Choosing the Right Size
An important but often overlooked option for camp blankets are size. Camping can be really uncomfortable if you have your feet poking out of the bottom. Is the camping blanket too large and will it just get in the way or be heavier than needed? Check for the proper size which should be displayed on the packaging or description.
Some people do have allergies to some materials. Acrylic, polyester, nylon and even wool can cause skin reactions if there is any lanolin oil left on the wool. The symptoms can be anything from reddening of the skin to a runny nose. You shouldn’t find out that you have an allergy to your camping blanket when you need it. You can purchase hypoallergenic fleece camping blankets if you are sensitive to other materials.
Testing Your Blanket
The best way to find out if you made the right choice is to test. Get your camp blanket home and check for length. Lay down and roll around a bit to get the feel for it. If you don’t think it feels right, take it back and get another. Spending a night outside is totally worth making sure you made the right choice!