As a survivalist, you know that you have to be prepared for just about anything. Being properly equipped is key to surviving the unexpected, and it’s often the most basic of items that turn out to be the most useful.
Wool blankets are essential pieces of equipment you can put in your pack. They're among the best tools for keeping warm in cold conditions—but you can use them for many other things as well.
You can quickly turn a wool blanket into an emergency blanket to wear as a coat, make it into a shield when building a temporary shelter, or use it to protect your gear from harsh weather. This guide will help you learn more about what makes wool such a fantastic material and how it can help keep you safe in the wilderness.
A Brief History of the Wool Blanket
Before we get started on the many survival uses of wool blankets, it’s important to know where they come from and what the backstory of the blanket is. Used for centuries and popularized by the military, wool blankets have often been a fundamental accessory.
Before wool blankets became popular, people used simpler blankets for thousands of years. These early blankets were usually made out of animal skin, piles of grass, and woven reeds.
Popularized in the 14th Century
In the 14th century, a Flemish weaver named Thomas Blanket pioneered the blankets that we use today. To put it in perspective, this is around 200 years before William Shakespeare was even born.
Funny enough, blankets were not coined blankets just because of Thomas Blanket. He likely acquired this last name by profession, much like blacksmiths’ last names were Smith, or millers’ last names were Miller.
Either way, Thomas Blanket popularized the type of blanket that is traditionally used today as a bed covering.
Exporting to America
By 1700, the wool blanket had become the standard, and it played an essential role in the British empire’s exports. Wool blankets were also a staple of the North American fur trade, where they accounted for more than 60% of traded goods.
At the time, Native Americans and French voyageurs also made wool blankets into hooded coats, called capotes. These were critical pieces of apparel for those experiencing Canada’s freezing winters.
While historians found the first wool textiles in Europe around 1500 B.C., people back then often relied on cotton and linen. Wool became the fabric of choice during early American wars for blankets, coats, clothing, and cloaks.
Wool is extremely warm and water-resistant. With a good blanket that helps retain body heat, spending months out on the field in cold temperatures was a little more bearable for active-duty soldiers.
Wool blankets never went out of style in the military. During World War I, soldiers used wool for blankets because of its durability. They depended on it for warmth and its moisture-wicking properties. Military personnel used wool survival blankets in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Today, there are many military-grade wool blankets you can choose from, with the oldest (and most reliable) type being Hudson’s Bay point blankets. The Hudson's Bay Company initially made these blankets in the early 1700s and 1800s. They were famous for their classic green, red, yellow, and indigo striped patterns.
Military surplus wool blankets are aplenty on the market today. You can find them at various department and specialization stores.
What Is a Wool Blanket Made From?
There is one thing about wool blankets that never really changed: their formula. Wool is derived from the hairs of animals like sheep and lamb, but it can also come from goats, rabbits, yaks, oxen, camels, and alpacas. Sheep wool is the most popular because of its versatility.
Wool is obtained from an animal through the process of shearing. Shearing removes the wool from the animal, which helps them feel more comfortable.
Owners have to shear their sheep at least once a year for health reasons. But when sheep are raised for mass production, it’s not unusual to shear more than 3,000 sheep per day in a typical shearing shed.
While wool is famous for its microbial, moisture-wicking, and temperature-regulating properties, every wool blanket isn’t the same. There are many different grades of wool, which are determined by the diameter of the fiber and crimp. The tighter the crimp, the finer the feel of the wool.
Additionally, there are ten types: cashmere, mohair, alpaca, camel, virgin, angora, vicuna, llama, qiviut, and merino wool.
Turning wool into fabric starts with shearing, but the fibers then undergo a lengthy process between then and the time they are made into your favorite blanket:
- Shearing: Wool-bearing animals are sheared for their wool.
- Cleaning: The wool is cleaned.
- Sorting: The wool is sorted based on its fiber and crimp.
- Carding: The wool fibers are made into long strands.
- Spinning: The strands are spun into yarn.
- Weaving: After another wash, the yarn is woven into woolen textiles.
- Post-production: Depending on the type of textile being created, the wool might undergo some extra post-production processes like dying.
The production process for wool hasn’t changed much over time, and the same basic end fabric has been used by people across the globe for centuries because it holds in heat and wicks away moisture so effectively. You could call wool the quintessential blanket fiber.
While sailors and military personnel relied on wool sweaters and blankets, wool blankets are now the standard military-grade blanket. The fact is, they are perfect for survival situations.
Why Choose Wool Blankets for Survival?
Wool blankets for survival are a must. They come in handy in case of unexpected emergencies where you don’t have another blanket available. Frigid temperatures or harsh weather can be fatal, but a wool blanket keeps you warm and dry.
When searching for the best wool blankets, look for a high wool content, such as 90% wool or 100% wool. This way, even in really cold weather, you know you’ll have a warm blanket that offers all the unique benefits of this natural fiber.
Here’s why you need a wool blanket in your pack next time you’re out on the field.
Reason #1: Wool Blankets Regulate Temperature
When you think about where wool comes from, it makes total sense that it’s a breathable material that can help regulate your body temperature. After all, how else would sheep keep warm on a winter day? It all comes down to the science behind the fur.
Wool contains a natural layer of keratin, which is a protein in animal hair that helps maintain body temperature. The wool fiber also acts as an insulator that traps the air, making wrapping yourself in a wool blanket the perfect way to stay warm on cold nights.
Reason #2: Wool Blankets Are Water- and Fire-Resistant
Natural wool is highly absorbent. Wet wool can soak up to 20% of its total weight before it begins to leak through to the skin, which is why sailors and fishermen prefer this material.
Wool is also known for its naturally flame retardant properties. It has a high nitrogen content, which means that it needs higher oxygen levels to burn than the surrounding environment may supply. The cross-linked cell membrane structure forms an insulating layer that prevents flames from spreading.
Because of this unique property, wool is a very common fabric for home textiles like blankets and carpets: In the event of a house fire, the wool won’t help it spread further throughout the home.
Reason #3: Wool Blankets Are Environmentally-Friendly
This might come as a surprise, but wool blankets are environmentally friendly, and true natural ones are even biodegradable. These fibers are naturally sourced and therefore don’t cause much damage to the environment when they’re dyed, washed, or thrown out.
But you’ll never really need to throw out your wool blanket. Wool is a perfect material for repurposing. You can either reuse the wool fibers yourself and create them into something new—like a hat or a stuffed pillow, for instance—or recycle them with a trusted company that will reuse the fibers to create a new product.
Best Survival Uses for a Wool Blanket
It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: What are some ways that you can use wool blankets for survival? These low-effort methods are sure to keep you warm, dry, and safe in the event of any emergency.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #1: Sleeping Bag
Turning your wool blanket into a sleeping bag is not new. Sailors, fishermen, and frontiersmen have done this for centuries. Simply fold your wool blanket in half and pin the ends together to recreate the look and feel of a sleeping bag.
Although many sleeping bags are designed to withstand intense temperatures so that you stay insulated throughout the night, many are not waterproof. They can take hours to dry before they’re comfortable again.
Plus, depending on the type of sleeping bag you have, it may not provide the extra warmth you’re craving. And, of course, sometimes accidents happen, and your sleeping bag may be unusable.
So if your sleeping bag isn’t getting the job done, it’s a good idea to use a wool blanket to keep extra dry and warm. After all, it’s hard to beat the insulation and breathability that wool offers. If you’re going to an area where temperatures will plummet at night, then it might be a better idea to pack at least two wool blankets.
Layering yourself with several blankets of different weights will be warmer than only using a single heavy wool blanket since warm air is trapped between the fabric and fibers. In other words, the more separate fabrics there are, the warmer you’ll be.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #2: Poncho or Coat
Lower temperatures than you expected?
Planning on a long trip?
Need to explore the surrounding area, and don't know how long it'll take?
Whatever it is, regulating your body temperature is crucial. Remember that your body is the heat source, and your clothing is there to trap the heat so that you stay warm. So when you’re not layered up enough, you could experience the worst of the worst: hypothermia.
Hypothermia is divided into several degrees depending on the severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. The symptoms, cardiorespiratory response, and level of consciousness vary depending on the level of cold your body is experiencing.
The last thing you want to do is endanger your life while out on the field. As a bushcrafter, you’re trained to recognize signs of danger and know how to save a life when need be. So risking hypothermia is undoubtedly not an option, which is why wool blankets are a must-have for colder climates.
Wool blankets can be fashioned into coats, ponchos, or cloaks with ease. Think of the match coat, which indigenous people and early settlers used for hundreds of years.
This woolen cloth was wrapped around the upper body like a toga and regulated people’s body temperatures even in the coldest climates. A wool blanket can also be used to help a shock victim gain warmth and consciousness.
Or, if it’s begun to rain or snow, you can fashion your wool blanket into a hooded poncho or cloak by covering your head with the blanket and pinning it under your chin.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #3: Insulated Seat or Pillow
Never underestimate the importance of a seat or pillow. It might be one of the last things on your mind as you’re packing for a week-long adventure, but you’ll be wishing you thought of it sooner if you're without one when the time comes.
Imagine that you’re sitting fireside and everywhere except your backside is warm. Instead of warming up your whole body, you’re sitting on a cold log or hard rock that is sure to become incredibly uncomfortable.
Wool blankets are ideal for use in cooler temperatures, so when you fold one up into fourths and use it as a seat, you’ll be able to keep your body warmer—and more comfortable.
The same can be said for a pillow. A well-supported pillow helps alleviate or prevent problems like neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, and joint pain.
The last thing you want while out on the field is to wake up like you didn’t sleep your best, especially when you’ve got a full day of work ahead of you. If you forgot to pack your pillow, then fold your best wool survival blanket up to your preferred thickness and go right on to sleep.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #4: Traveling Pack
Since wool blankets have moisture-wicking and water-resistant properties, they can be folded up in a way that protects your other gear.
Here’s a simple, no-sew, no-cutting way to get your blanket into the shape of a pack:
- Lay the blanket flat on a sturdy surface.
- Fold the blanket in half lengthwise.
- Roll your gear up into the blanket.
- Tie it up with cordage and attach belts as shoulder straps or hook it onto your existing pack.
Now, you can use your bulky wool blanket as extra pack storage for different things that may not fit in your backpack.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #5: Shielded Temporary Shelter
Emergencies arise at the most unexpected times, which is why it’s crucial to always be prepared for whatever the wilderness may throw at you.
In the event of a broken shelter or if you need to make a temporary shanty for oncoming weather, you can use your wool blanket to block the wind and maximize the heat of an existing fire to stay warm.
If you have the time, you can build a simple lean-to and place the wood blanket on one side as insulation against the wind. Or you can string the blanket up between two trees and anchor it to the ground in the back. Then, you can fit underneath and stay safe from dangerous weather.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #6: Emergency Signal Panel
If your wool blanket has a bright or contrasting color, then you can use it as an emergency signal panel. This is when brightly-colored blankets or the classic Hudson’s Bay point blankets may come in handy.
Wool Survival Blanket Use #7: Protect Firewood
Fire is the most crucial source of warmth, food, and light.
So it's likely that one of the first things you probably do when you set up camp is begin your search for sticks and twigs that can act as reliable firewood. And once you've acquired what you need, it’s essential to keep them dry, or the spark won’t catch when you need it most.
In the event of damp ground or heavy rainfall, you can keep your collected firewood extra-protected by bundling it up in your wool blanket. Its water-resistant properties will help keep the firewood dry so you can build a fire even when the ground is still damp.
With so many applications, there’s no doubt that a good-quality wool blanket is one of the best things you can pack for camping, hunting trips, and wilderness survival in general.
Wool is a natural, environmentally-friendly insulator that people have used for centuries because of its moisture-wicking properties and naturally fire-retardant characteristics. It was first popularized in the 14th century but has remained an essential survival tool through time and across continents.
You can use just about any wool blankets for survival situations such as:
- Extra sleeping insulation
- An insulated seat or pillow
- Protective layer for a lean-to shelter
- An emergency signal panel
- Keeping firewood dry