Backpacking in Winter can be scary and/or dangerous. Cold weather will put you in quite a predicament if it catches you off guard. Just listen to this Frozen Alive podcast by Outside Online and you'll quickly remember why they call it the "jaws of winter." If you are anything like me, you'll cringe halfway through the podcast and start going over your emergency prep list. Knowing how to prepare properly for cold weather excursions could be a matter of life and death. SOL blankets are nothing new, they are a common component of any cold weather emergency kit. They are lightweight and worth throwing in your pack (or car) if you are anywhere near cold temps.
We have a SOL emergency blanket that has been lingering in our gear for a while now - my mom probably gave it to us. Never opened (thankfully) and hopefully would never need to be. But, this past week, as we watched the temperatures start dropping for a backpacking trip we had been planning for few weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to see just how useful the SOL blanket could be. After all, we all know cold weather, ultralight gear (and just gear in general) can get expensive. So, I figured if we could find a practical use for a SOL blanket we might have a hack for backpacking on a budget.
Let me first say, my backpacking gear is already prepped for relatively cold weather camping. My Nemo sleeping pad is insulated and my sleeping bag is rated for 15 degrees. With a low of 20degrees, I knew I would be safe with the gear I had. At the same time, with my current setup, temperatures reaching below 30degrees usually leave me too uncomfortable to sleep. So, if anything was lost by my experiment, I knew it would only be rest.
After making it to camp for the night, starting the fire, and getting everything set up, I ripped into the SOL blanket to test her out. I was immediately impressed by a few things. Probably super obvious attributes of a SOL blanket, but never the less, I hadn't taken the time to considered how multi-useful it can be in an emergency. Lost in the wilderness? Break out your bright orange, reflective, superhero cape and fly around until someone finds you (note: not the proper course of action). Something goes wrong and you just so happened to skip that chapter in your Wilderness Survival class? Our SOL blanket even lists different ways to use the sheet in emergencies along with Wilderness First Aid and Survival tips. Which, by the way, includes the proper way to use the sheet as a reflective mirror to signal planes. And, also, how to build a snow trench with ski poles (the idea of that scares me a little if I'm honest).
Other uses outlined on the SOL Heatsheet blanket are a fire and heat reflector wall, fire ignition source, Solar still for collecting water, and a survival blanket. I had the thought that it might even make a good tent footprint or insulation for under your sleeping mat - not positive it would work well that way. I, however, would be testing my SOL blanket as a sleeping bag liner (on the outside) in an attempt to add a few degrees of warmth to my cold weather sleep setup.
I pulled the SOL blanket out by the fire and wrapped it around me. There is no doubt it warmed me up, but, having a piece of foil wrapped around you isn't super comfortable for fireside chills. It quickly got switched out for my sleeping bag. When I headed to the tent, for the night, I brought both the SOL blanket and my sleeping bag. I wrapped the SOL blanket around my sleeping bag and climbed into my bright orange burrito. The temperature was around 25 degrees and dropped throughout the night. I could definitely tell a difference, in warmth, from times I had slept just with my bag in similar conditions. I easily fell asleep until around 3 A.M. when I moved over and rolled against the edge of the tent. My shoulder, pressed against the tent, got cold and seemed to chill my whole sleep system as I rolled around. Eventually, I fell back asleep. When I woke up, in the morning, I realized the flaw that had caused me to loose heat in the middle of the night. The SOL blanket had trapped moisture and left my sleeping bag damp. The SOL blanket was wet with water droplets and my sleeping bag was as well (but not soaked to the inside). Nothing a little drying out by the morning fire couldn't solve and it had 100% helped me through the night - but would I use it again????
Definitely an easy fix, an emergency essential, and a low-cost option for one-time use. But, I can't say the SOL blanket will make it into my longterm sleeping setup for cold weather camping. We also got some very concerned looks from the morning hikers that came through as we broke down camp.