The Science of Survival: Wool Blankets

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By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices

Hikers have long been familiar with the benefits of avoiding cotton clothing and material at all costs when it comes to maneuvering out in the backcountry. It’s because of this that many exclusively use wool socks and other synthetic materials for their clothing. But what about wool blankets?

Is there still room for wool when it comes to a survival situation? Let’s take a deep dive into the subject to see if wool blankets still have a place in the world of emergency preparedness.

Why wool blankets? 

As you likely already know, the chief problem with cotton is that once it gets wet, it loses 100% of its ability to keep you warm. In contrast, wool can still keep you warm even if it does get soaked. This in itself is a huge reason why so many people within the outdoor, search-and-rescue, and military world rely so heavily on these types of blankets.

For example, at least until 2010, it appears that the chief means by which the Norwegian military would keep casualties warm as they were being evacuated was with wool blankets. EMS responders in Norway used wool blankets combined with hot IV fluids until 2002, as well. They’ve largely resorted to “bubble wrap” since then, whatever the heck that means.

Why is it so important to keep casualties warm?

Because if you don’t, they end up with an increased risk of all kinds of problems.

wool blankets

Picture in your mind that you have found yourself dealing with the aftermath of a tornado. You crawl out of your devastated home to find that there is someone across the street that’s been extensively lacerated by glass shards that were blown through the air.

Tornadoes bring rain (sideways), so their denim jeans are soaked, and they are starting to shiver. They are in an austere environment, you have zero idea how long it will be until they can get proper medical care, and now they are growing hypothermic as well.

Studies have shown that hypothermia with trauma victims is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. One of the ways this plays out is with an increase in the probability that they will come down with some type of wound infection.

This is why researchers have studied the benefits of wool blankets for these cases.

The US Army has spent a bit of time studying this in the past.

In “Assessment of Hypothermia Blankets Using an Advanced Thermal Manikin” by K. Barazanji of the US Army Aeromedical Research Lab and JP Rugh of the National Renewable Energy Lab, it was found that placing a wool blanket between a casualty and the stretcher that they are on decreases their heat loss by 30%. If, in addition to this wool blanket, a reflective blanket is wrapped around them as well (on the outside of the wool blanket), then an additional 30% decrease in the loss of heat takes place.

Another study also found that using a wool blanket combined with a reflective blanket seems to be the magic combination for casualty evacuation.

Wool blankets with casualty evacuations save lives.

Even more interesting, I think, is the fact that this Barazanji study found that wool blankets worked better than electric blankets. That’s good news when you’re working in an austere environment (aka, virtually all disaster scenes).

(How do you survive a winter storm? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to find out.)

There are some factors about wool blankets you should know about.

Before you rush out and buy every wool blanket you can find, I will point out that I’ve personally found it incredibly difficult to find a wool blanket that hasn’t been inundated with fire-retardant chemicals.

This has always been something that concerned me. Your skin does absorb things through the environment around it, and having a chemical-laced blanket wrapped around me has never settled well with me. It seems that the research supports my gut feeling here as well. Are these chemicals safe for regular, daily contact with? Decide for yourself, but I say no.

I understand that virtually every item of clothing and blanket you use has chemicals in it that could be deemed harmful and that you can’t eliminate 100% of the risk from daily life, but I do try to be choosy about what I am willing to encounter.

Seeing a wool blanket that proudly advertises “Flame-resistant!” to me is a reason to go and shop elsewhere. Especially considering that wool is naturally flame resistant as it is, I don’t see the reason to act as if everybody with a wool blanket is juggling lit campfire logs or has a family history of spontaneous human combustion.

If you go out and shop for a wool blanket, I would keep all that in mind.

I did some warmth testing with some different blankets around the house.

To get some hard data on how different types of blankets retain body heat, I gathered a number of similar-sized blankets from around the house and used a ThermoPro TP50 thermometer to track the temperature underneath them. What I did was wrap myself completely in the blanket while sitting in a chair with the thermometer in my lap.

I recorded the ambient room temperature right before testing, sat for ten minutes wrapped in the blanket, and then immediately recorded the temperature underneath the blanket wrap.

Here is what I found:

Fleece Blanket

The fleece blanket was the typical “fluffy” blanket that looks like a Snuggy. A lot of people turn to these types of blankets because they’re cheap, they aren’t cotton (“Cotton kills”), and they’re comfortable.

The room temperature immediately preceding this test was 68.7 degrees Fahrenheit. After ten minutes under the blanket wrap, the thermometer read the temperature as being 72.5 degrees. The temperature was only raised 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was somewhat surprising to me as I thought that with all of the little air pockets that are inherently a part of fleece blankets, there would be a lot of trapped heat here. At least within the time span of ten minutes, that wasn’t the case.

My thoughts here are that perhaps fleece can trap extraordinary amounts of heat, provided it is part of a layering system. When I wear a fleece jacket, if it’s windy outside, the cold rips right through it. If I’m wearing something that blocks the wind as well, fleece jackets can quickly become almost too hot. Admittedly, there’s another variable there because there’s a second layering, but that’s what leads me to wonder if that’s how fleece blankets work.

“Mexican” Blanket

I’m not really sure of the proper term to call these, but they always look like a poncho, so the term seems fitting. These are typically a polyester blend, and you can typically find these at novelty beach stores for around $20. That’s where I got mine.

The ambient room temperature before the test was 68.2 degrees Fahrenheit. After ten minutes under the wrap, the thermometer read 72.9 degrees, making for a temperature difference of 4.7 degrees.

Wool Blanket

For this, I used an Arcturus Military Wool Blanket from Ready Made Resources. The room temperature here was 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit. After ten minutes wrapped in the wool blanket, the thermometer read 77.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature was raised 11.0 degrees.

 

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Here’s what my experiment showed…

There really wasn’t even a contest between any of the other blankets compared to the wool blanket. Nobody other than the wool blanket reached double digits in the temperature, which, to me, is a very good inkling as to why search-and-rescue and other organizations regularly include wool blankets in part of their preparedness measures.

At the very least, with winter approaching, I would highly recommend you consider stashing away a few wool blankets in the trunk of your car. If you end up trapped on an interstate for hours on end in the dead of winter, this simple, inexpensive step could easily save a life.

As far as flame retardant chemicals go, I’ll also point out that the Arcturus blanket I used wasn’t sprayed with anything, meaning that being wrapped with the guts of a fire extinguisher wasn’t something that I had to worry about.

So whether you live in Tornado-Ville, Hurricane Land, or just somewhere where you regularly find yourself driving through heavy snow and ice, may I suggest considering the idea of picking up a wool blanket. Professionals throughout the world like them, sheep like them, and, for what it’s worth, I like them too.

But what are your thoughts? Do you have wool blankets as part of your survival kit? Or do you use something else? Let us know in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

The Science of Survival: Wool Blankets



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