Wool blankets have a long history that can be difficult to trace. However, for many people, especially in North America, the idea of a wool blanket may bring images of Native American trade blankets, or military blankets to mind.
Made famous first by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and later by Pendleton Mills, wool trade blankets have become cultural icons in their own right, and in the case of modern Hudson’s Bay blankets, they carry eye-watering price tags that put them squarely in the realm of luxury goods.
Today, wool blankets might seem like a quaint, outdated item, or something found in an army barracks or surplus shop. However, the same qualities that made wool blankets invaluable trade goods in North America also make them invaluable to the clever prepper.
While a good wool blanket can be heavy, they deserve a place in your prepping and off grid plans, and here is why…
Old School Gore Tex?
You know, or should know the old survival tip of never wearing cotton clothes in the woods. Cotton gets wet, and soaks up moisture like a politician sucks up other people’s money, and is about as pleasant to deal with.
Wool on the other hand can keep you both warm and dry, even when the fabric is wet. How wool works is all sciencey and technical and stuff, but the short answer is that it just works. Kinda like magic, only for real.
Our ancestors understood this unique property of wool and made blankets and clothing from it. There was a reason soldiers wore wool uniforms for centuries, and why blankets often doubled as cloaks, or outerwear in inclement weather.
What this boils down to, is that there is a reason Native Americans and pioneers alike wrapped themselves up in wool blankets when outside. Soldiers have issued blankets long enough to roll up in, as a sort of primitive sleeping bag arrangement, while mountain men made use of Mackinaw blankets, and cowboys developed the bedroll of waterproofed canvas and a woolen blanket. The end result always came back to making the most use of the all-weather warmth and protection the wool blanket afforded – much like we use Gore-Tex today.
That Was Then, But What About Today?
I’ll come back to some of this traditional uses of wool blankets in a bit, but let’s come back to the present moment. Wool blankets are heavy, can be scratchy, and when wet get even heavier. They are also bulky, and sometimes are cheaply made with scrap fiber and wool, greatly reducing their utility.
On the other hand, modern synthetic fibers are light, often waterproof, and can wick away water like nobody’s business. There is no arguing that Gore Tex like fabrics are superior in many, or all cases (there will always be exceptions and outliers), and a good bivy cover will keep you warm and dry. So why should a modern day prepper even cast an eye towards the seemingly obsolete wool blanket?
Because they bloody well work.
There are two main reasons to look at blankets – one is for your home, and one is for bugging out. I wouldn’t take a wool blanket bugging out unless you are doing it in a vehicle. Ounce for ounce, there are superior choices for bedding or clothing out there. If you are on foot go with modern fibers, when you can.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but first, let’s look at blankets on your homestead or elsewhere.
Wool Blankets At Home
I’ve got an old army blanket folded up in my closet, and another wool blanket rolled up with my “bug in” supplies. Fact of the matter is, when it gets cold, both of them come out, and I save a few bucks on heating, and enjoy being toasty warm. My cat likes it too, which tells me I’m on the right track there.
Premium wool blankets are pretty comfortable things, while cheaper army blankets can be scratchy. Still, it’s nothing a sheet or light blanket underneath them won’t help, and the end result is the same. A warm blanket that can help see you through the coldest weather.
However, other than providing highly efficient warmth, wool blankets play other roles on the homestead. If you are trying to conserve heat, it is a common tactic to hang blankets over doorways to isolate rooms, permitting heating only those rooms you are using. You can also hang a blanket over windows to hold heat inside. The heavy, dense nature of a wool blanket make them ideal for this sort of use.
Now there is one other reason why you might want to use wool blankets at home or your off grid retreat…
Natural Fibers For The Win
Now I personally have no issue with synthetic fibers, but there are a lot of reasons to favor natural fibers whenever possible. Certainly there is something to be said for making blankets or clothing from wool which is sustainable and can be harvested from organically raised sheep, as opposed to petroleum based fibers.
If you have an objection to synthetic fibers, or simply prefer something closer to nature and more honest, then it would make perfect sense to equip your home with wool blankets. If you have a sensitivity to chemicals, you may find wool blankets beneficial as well, especially when they haven’t been treated with flame retardants or other weird stuff.
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Another nice thing about wool blankets is that they breath and wick moisture away from you when sleeping. This can be a distinct benefit when sick and sweating – it’s never fun to wake up all hot and sweaty, and a wool blanket can help you feel a bit better when ill.
The straightforward conclusion to all this is that wool blankets are comfy – especially if you get a high quality commercial blanket. But well made highly functional consumer goods need little justification for their use, and should be acquired by preppers whenever they fit into their lifestyle and budget. Let’s go back to the past, which is where we can find some other cool uses for wool blankets.
The Civil War Blanket Roll
You’ve probably seen pictures of Civil War soldiers with a rolled blanket draped over their body. This simple way of carrying your blanket and a few small items were popular with soldiers who couldn’t acquire a proper knapsack, or who might have just preferred the blanket roll approach.
The modern prepper might be well served using a blanket roll when bugging out in a hurry, or simply taking a minimalist hiking trip or walk. If you have a good wool blanket, an argument could be made for carrying it in lieu of a sleeping bag in some cases.
A blanket roll can be used to carry spare clothing and a few other small items, but remember, it is always best to keep the roll small, which means putting very little inside of it.
The Cowboy Bedroll
A more advanced form of the blanket roll, the cowboy bedroll is also heavier, meaning you’ll probably want to use this when travelling (or bugging out) by vehicle or horseback, however, it is possible to make them portable – it’s just not a common thing.
The cowboy bedroll uses one or two wool blankets, and a large canvas tarp to create a sort of sleeping bag. Honestly, a sleeping bag probably is the superior choice, but a good cowboy bedroll also doubles as a bivy bag, making it an excellent choice for all weather use. If you can reliably carry or transport one, a cowboy style bedroll can be an excellent prepper choice if you don’t have access to modern sleeping and bivy bags.
I’ve already alluded to the way Native Americans wore blankets as outerwear. Ponchos are a variation on this same theme. Today’s preppers have the advantage of all manner of jackets and coats made from wool or advanced synthetics, but there is something to be said for wearing a nice wool blanket in woods during a Pacific Northwest autumn rain.
An old or worn down blanket can be quickly converted into a poncho by cutting a hole in the middle of it, making it a clever, frugal way to repurpose blankets that are past their prime, or that you found at a yard sale.
If you plan to use a wool blanket as a wrap, you’ll want one long enough to cover your body, but light enough to wear. Don’t expect it to keep you perfectly dry in a rainstorm, but in most cases, especially with a well made, tightly woven blanket, it will keep you both warm and dry, even in wet weather.
Wool blankets have served native peoples, fur trappers, pioneers, soldiers and homesteaders for thousands of years. Today, they tend to be a luxury good, and have been replaced by synthetics. Once an all purpose item of gear that was both bedding and protection from the elements, today’s preppers can still make great use of wool blankets, but some of their historical uses are probably best left in the past in the name of efficiency. But in a pinch, it’s nice to know that blanket can do more than just sit on your bed until you go to sleep!
For some wool blanket options in a wide range of prices, check out Samantha’s post “Best Wool Blankets For Survival and Emergencies”