When equipping a bug out bag with necessary items for an overnight experience in the wild, things can get tricky. Many people will pick between a sleeping bag and a space blanket without actually comparing the two. To make things easier and help them decide, I’ve added my pros and cons based on my personal experience.
Some have either a sleeping bag or a Mylar space blanket in their various emergency kits. It doesn’t really matter the purpose of the kit to be honest. What matters is to decide if you made the right choice based on the conditions which will force you to use those items.
I’ve used both my sleeping bag and my space blanket in the wilderness with various occasions. From sleeping in my car, to sleeping on the ground or in a tent, they all proved to be quite efficient at keeping me warm. Here are my pros and cons for each item:
Space Blanket – Pros:
A space blanket is actually warm. Despite being considered a glorified tinfoil by many, a space blanket actually works at maintaining your body heat. If you wrap it tight against your body it will radiate back the heat your body is losing.
It’s the more portable of the two. The lightweight and the portability of the space blanket make it ideal for small survival kits. After all, it’s about the size of a deck of cards when wrapped. After you use it once, you can fold it back into the initial shape and that’s it. The space blanket will be ready for when you need it again.
It has good reflective properties. Besides reflecting heat, a space blanket will also reflect light. This makes it ideal for signaling for help but also to disperse light inside a tent if you space it properly. If you use a phone with a dimly lit touch screen you will have no problem handling it under a Mylar blanket.
Multiple uses. Compared to a sleeping bag, a space blanket has more than one use. It may not look like much, but this thin piece of Mylar film can prove useful in an emergency situation and it may even save your life one day. You can use it for gathering water, cooking purposes, as cordage and even as fish bait.
Related reading: 12 Survival Uses for a Mylar Blanket
Space Blanket – Cons:
Doesn’t provide much comfort. You need a certain degree of comfort to improve your morale during a survival scenario. The problem with a space blanket is that other than warmth, you won’t get much comfort from it. Not compared to a sleeping bag and that’s why you will also need a pillow in conjunction with your Mylar blanket.
Coverage gaps. Wrapping yourself in a space blanket to cover all the gaps can become quite a challenge. You will need to use tape if you want to prevent heat escaping. No matter how well you try, there will always be gaps you can’t cover.
Susceptible to puncturing. Now this may depend on the brand you are using, but sooner or later your space blanket will get a couple of punctures. However, the design and the resistance of the blanket will prevent those puncturing from turning into large tears. Ripping a space blanket apart is quite difficult.
Breathability may become a problem. If you are not wearing the proper clothing you will sweat a lot during the night. The Mylar material isn’t breathable and you may suffocate if you tuck your head under the blanket. This characteristic doesn’t make it ideal for cold environments.
Sleeping Bag – Pros:
Provides warmth like nothing else. Nowadays there are certain sleeping bags designed for extreme cold environments. I have no problem sleeping in my sleeping bag during a 30 degree night.
Comfortable. Having a sleeping bag with a soft, flannel lining provides you with incredible comfort compared to the space blanket. Even the stuffing padded is ideal for resting your head and sleep comes easy when using a sleeping bag.
No coverage gaps to deal with. Unlike the space blanket, my sleeping bag doesn’t have coverage gaps. I slid in, zip it up and warm myself in a couple of minutes. A good sleeping bag will contour the shape of your body type and you will have no problem staying warm.
Breathability is no issue here. You don’t risk suffocating with a proper sleeping bag and I’ve seen people crawling at the bottom of their sleeping bags during cold nights. This makes them ideal as sleeping gear for extreme cold environments.
Related article: Planning a Shelter in the Wild
Sleeping Bag – Cons:
A good sleeping bag is often bulky. The padding, which is the best feature of the sleeping bag is also its weakness. Some sleeping bags take up a lot of space. This means you will have problems making everything fit in your bug out bag. Not to mention that if there are more than one people sleeping in the same tent, the sleeping bags will take a lot of room.
Portability can become a challenge. As I said above, carrying a sleeping bag takes a lot of space inside a survival bag. Storing a sleeping bag in the trunk is no problem, but if you have a family of four or more, you will have little room for anything else. People often chose the space blankets for their portability advantage. The solution here would be to go with a queen size sleeping bag, designed for two people.
No reflectivity. Compared to the space blanket, a sleeping bag can’t double as a reflective signal. Although there are some sleeping bags with reflective patches, they are no match compared to the reflective properties of a Mylar blanket.
Limited use: A sleeping bag will serve the purposes it was built to serve; keeping you warm and provide comfort throughout the night. You can’t use it for other tasks like you would use a space blanket and if you try, you will ruin it. If you see this as a big issue, read this sleeping pad guide. There are potentially other options you may be interested in.
Although the choice may seem obvious for most people and going with the sleeping bag seems the right thing to do, I have another recommendation. Why not go with both and combine the two? You can wrap the space blanket over the sleeping bag and you would be able to sleep even in the harshest of environments. Not to mention adding a space blanket in your bag doesn’t take much space and you will benefit from its multiple uses.
In the real world, it would be smart to go with both and you will benefit from both comfort and versatility. You can even line a tent wall with a space blanket (or two) to keep in warmth. Following the same logic, you can put them on the outside during the summer to reflect heat. However you sue them, both will prove useful when things are at their worst.
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