Monday, February 2, 2009

Never explore the final frontier blanket-less!

Charles Lindbergh rejoiced flying alone at night above a forgotten cloud bank, feeling as though lost "in the solitude of interstellar space," yet confessed to

"know that down below, beneath that heavenly blanket is the earth, factual and hard."
Flying closer to our factual and hard earth, the cycletourist seeks a more literal blanket at night. Spaceblankets are great! Waterproof, windproof and light, they pack small; I put them in thick zip-lock bags and squeeze the air to an interstellar thinness before sealing.

While I never go on an overnight ride without a space blanket (small, weightless, waterproof, effective) they do make a space bag that would be drier (from the outside) and much warmer. My buddy uses a breathable one that has two layers and is perforated with some quilted insulation for almost all his camping year-round. He is tough, but we are in the south and he wears a lot of clothes in the winter.

On a long brevet, you might try a time honored ultra-light backup to a space blanket by doing what 90% of the Randonneurs do: Travel light, ride briskly and sleep indoors at the checkpoints that the organizers provide.

There are actually four distinct styles of space blanket products, though all do not use the same name or trademark:

  1. NASA Style: Silver with red or gold back, with or without corner grommets. Solid, stiff and built like your life depended on it. Stiff enough to serve as an emergency sleeping bag, does not cling, and works as a tarp, etc., for years.
  2. Foil Type: Silver with gold or silver back. Mylar ultra thin and ultra light film. Fits in your pocket but is delicate. Maybe 1/20th the weight and a 1/8 the size of the NASA style.
  3. Plastic Coated Mylar Style: 1/2 to 1/3 the Weight of the NASA style. This is a mylar blanket coated on both sides with clear plastic. Fairly durable. These are hard to find.
  4. Space Blanket and Space Sleeping bag Style: These are perforated for ventilation and has a very thin synthetic loft—insulation layer in a mylar or foil sandwich. Both styles are very light and easy to find in our area. The compacted size is 4 x 8-9 inches or so and very light for a sleeping bag, but I like a little more softness.

Some clever bike-packing rugged individualists get dual-use from good space blankets by pressing them into service as pannier covers, also making good use of their high light reflective property—Ingenious! But we recommend using aluminized coated nylon for pannier covers—this material weighs similar (heavier 1.1 - 1.4 oz per yard) and will pack smaller as it will not puff up like the space blanket. Four pannier covers could wad into your fist. Stephenson's Warmlight and my neighbor (Treklite) who used to work for Stephenson used this fabric in tents that start in the sub two pound range for real three-person tents. At the Warmlite website this material was recommended to resist sun damage. It has a high tech Lost in Space/NASA look. Stephensons sells the fabric too.

Combining the water protection of plastic with the lightweightedness of Tyvek, the space blanket also sees use as a ground cloth or tent floor protector. While they can puncture more easily than Tyvek, they can be easily patched. Really if you are worried about punctures of a floor protector, you are pitching in the wrong place as far as your tent is concerned.

I have also used the space blanket as a space blanket.

Yours in Cycling,
Gilbert Anderson

North Road Bicycle Imports
P.O. Box 840
166 Courthouse Square
Yanceyville, NC 27379
toll free: 800-321-5511
local: 919-828-8999

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