Mylar Blankets (and the importance of being prepared while hiking)

Last week I sent my son to scout camp. His leaders gave him quite an extensive packing list. We generally complied, but I admit that I thought the list was a bit over the top -- especially the day-pack list. One item on his list was a Mylar Blanket (also known as a space/emergency/first-aid blanket). I had stored one of these blankets in each 72-hour kit, so I just grabbed his and threw it in his backpack.

We were surprised to find out that during the mid-week hike they got "lost" and had to use their day-packs to spend the night under the stars. [This was completely planned and was part of the scouts earning their Wilderness Survival Merit Badge.] My son had a well-packed day-pack, including long pants and a jacket.

Temperatures plummeted as it got dark (summer lows in the area average around 50 degrees). The boys put on their jackets and hats and then pulled out their emergency blankets. My son described the blanket as being way too little (he is 4' 10"). The blanket was only big enough to wrap completely around his upper body. He indicated that complete coverage was important as any gaps in the blanket allowed the cold air in and negated any warmth added from the blanket. Their scout leader also brought trash bags for each boy to use. My son felt that he really needed two mylar blankets and two trash bags to stay "barely warm." By 3:00 a.m. it was clear that the boys (especially those in shorts) weren't going to stay warm with just the supplies on hand. So they packed up and hiked back to camp where they all promptly snuggled into their warm sleeping bags.

In contrast, it was interesting to hear a cousin relate the story of his scout camp just weeks earlier. A group of 19 scouts and several leaders got lost in the Washington mountains while hiking. In that large group of scouts, only one scout had matches and food (a bag of goldfish). Temperatures dipped below freezing and it snowed that night. Thankfully, they had those matches and were able to build a single fire (too little dry wood for more). They were found the next morning. No one was permanently harmed. Unfortunately we stories like this all too often.

The moral?

Always, always, always be prepared for getting lost - even on day hikes!

(and) Rethink your use of emergency blankets. If my 12 year-old son needed more than one, I'm certain that the adults in our family would need even more. I've seen the "sleeping bag" style and might give those a try. However, I honestly don't think they would work for the larger adults in our home. I think I will add several mylar blankets to each 72-hour kit and to my car kits. I'm also going to add some garbage bags to those kits.



[I've been offline because we've been on vacation to Colorado for a family reunion. We had a great time! I hope you're having a great summer.]

Right now is a great time to purchase charcoal. You'll know that you've found a great price on charcoal if it is less than $.22 a pound. You get roughly 16 - 18 briquettes per lb. You can cook roughly 32 dutch oven meals for around $11 (24 briquettes for a 10 inch dutch oven). Charcoal is the "least expensive fuel per BTU that you can store." [1]

When stored, charcoal absorbs moisture easily and then doesn't light or burn well. You can prevent moisture from getting into the charcoal by storing it in an air-tight container. If properly stored, it can last indefinitely. [1] Charcoal can be easily stored in food storage buckets or used laundry buckets. You can lengthen the storage life of charcoal and increase the convenience of using it by sealing smaller quantities in food-saver bags and then storing those bags in your bucket. I plan to store the amount of briquettes I need to achieve 350 degrees in a dutch oven. This amount varies depending upon the size of your grill or dutch oven. Read here for more information.

You probably also want to store newspapers or lighter-fluid in order to light the charcoal. A chimney makes starting the charcoal a lot easier. I would also recommend purchasing a dutch-oven, volcano stove, and/or charcoal grill. These are uniquely suited to cooking with charcoal.

You should never, never, NEVER use charcoal indoors (or even in an open garage)! Charcoal creates a lot of carbon monoxide and will kill you. Always use it outside.

[1] Jones, Jonathan and Kylene; Cooking and Lighting with Alternative Energy, American Fork West Stake Home Storage and Preparedness pamphlet.