It used to be that a classic piece of camp gear was an old stadium blanket or a well-worn military-style wool blanket. No frills, no special treatments, just an added layer to wrap around a chilled body or provide a bit of extra warmth in or under a sleeping bag.
Today’s classic wool blankets still have that traditional military look and feel to them, (the 100% wool fabric now blended with softer Merino wool and about 30% synthetics). At the other end of the “camp blanket” scale would be the mylar ‘fabric’ survival/emergency blankets most outdoors enthusiasts carry in their field kits. While they can be used as a supplemental heat-retaining wrap around camp, they are mostly used in threatening cold weather situations.
As the bison hide gave way to the wool covers, so, too, today’s synthetic materials and design features that take that traditional blanket to a whole new, broader level.
Most all the blankets marketed as “camp” blankets are made from polyester/nylon synthetics, in a variety of thicknesses and pile structures of fleece or the smooth sheen surfaces of other synthetic coverings. Those filled with synthetic down-like insulation are designed to bring a little extra comfort to the campsite – to ward off the chill of the night, even while sitting around the campfire (some having spark retardant outer coverings on one side). They also offer several attributes that make them even more convenient to take camping. Weather-resistant treatments helps them repel stains, spills, dirt, and of course, moisture.
The range of materials used for camping blankets include: Fleece – warm, insulate, moisture-wicking, lightweight, highly flammable; Polyester – fire-resistant synthetic, lightweight, highly insulating when wet, moisture wicking, durable; Acrylic – moisture-wicking, stain/mildew resistant, extremely flammable; and Nylon – strong synthetic material, some heat resistance, waterproof, rip-stop option;
Added features on several blankets include loops or tie cords on the corners, grommets along the edges to facilitate staking the blanket down to the ground on windy days (useful as an emergency shelter/wind break); small, carabiner-like clips make it possible to secure the blankets around the wearer’s shoulders for hands-free warmth around the campsite.
Other blankets offer specific properties for use outdoors: Rumpl’s NANO Loft Flame Puffy Blanket is made of proprietary fire resistant material to keep campfire sparks from burning holes in the surface. Insect Shield’sblanket is treated with Permethrin, an effective insect repellent.
The wool Navy and Army blankets were an iconic part of winter camping way back before technology broadened the possibilities of these natural-based coverings. For the added benefit of warmth and comfort in the backcountry, county park, or simply as part of your emergency gear stowed in your vehicle, the “camp” blanket is both a necessity and a luxury.