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Warm and Compact, Versa and Versa Luxe Blankets Serve Multiple Functions

There are many things we consider commonplace in our lives today that are actually outgrowths of government programs. Mylar sheeting used as a lightweight way to reflect heat is a byproduct of the space program when NASA started on its three-phased journey to the moon in the 1960s. The commercial equivalent is something we all know about, the space blanket. Your ability to navigate with your smartphone would not be possible if the U.S. military had not developed the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the 1970s.

The poncho liner, shown here in woodland camouflage, was developed during the war in Vietnam and remains an essential piece of kit for troops in the field.

One of the earliest commercial products that came from government funding of the space program was the space blanket, which was based on the reflective Mylar film used to help regulate body heat in the suits astronauts wore.

Another military innovation that many of us know at least something about is the poncho liner. Poncho liners, or woobies as they are affectionately called, were developed in the 1960s during the war in Vietnam. They were a simple and cost-effective way, when combined with the issued nylon poncho, to give our troops a way to stay warm and dry when they couldn’t use their issue sleeping bag or tent.

THE GREATEST MILITARY INVENTION SINCE THE M-1 GARAND

The U. S. government-issued poncho liner is made by quilting some polyester batting insulation between two sheets of lightweight ripstop nylon with a final size of about 82 x 62 inches. A tape ribbon is sewn around the edge to prevent fraying. Nylon ties in the corners and the middle of each side complete the design. They allow it to be attached to the issue poncho or tied to trees as a shelter. The whole package weighs just 22 ounces.

“WHEN PACKED, THEY TAKE UP LESS SPACE THAN A SLEEPING BAG AND CAN BE JAMMED INTO ANY CORNER OR SIDE OF YOUR BUG-OUT BAG OR BACKPACK.”

Originally issued as a lightweight blanket, it very quickly caught the attention and the affection of the ever-innovative GI. It has many uses:

  • Blanket by itself or with the poncho to keep the wind and rain off
  • Lightweight sleeping bag
  • Sleeping bag liner to increase its warmth
  • Ground cloth or picnic blanket
  • Field-expedient hammock
  • Overquilt or underquilt in a hammock
  • Makeshift stretcher
  • Shelter against the sun or wind
  • Pillow

When I was in the Army, I even took a poncho liner and a military rain jacket to the tailor on base. They lined the rain jacket with the poncho liner and made what we called a Hawk jacket, which kept me warm and dry when facing the wind and rain of the central German plains during training exercises.

A NEW GENERATION ARISES

While some attempts were made to improve upon the woobie, they never seemed to catch on in a commercial way. They were either too expensive or too heavy or didn’t hold up or didn’t provide enough extra bang for the buck.

Fortunately, technology is always advancing and newer forms of synthetic insulation have brought about a new generation of technical blankets that I refer to as super-woobies. They are much warmer, they come in non-tactical colors, many have a durable water repellant (DWR) coating so they can be used without a rain poncho in light rain or dew, and they don’t weigh much more than their Vietnam-era cousins. And they don’t cost an arm and a leg.

As a result of these new improvements, these super-woobies are worth your consideration for inclusion in your bug-out bag or other prepper gear. They are warm enough to be used as a two- or three-season sleeping bag and are not as restrictive or heavy as their sleeping bag counterparts.

They can also be used as a lightweight sleeping quilt which is more comfortable and effective than a sleeping bag when paired with a sleeping pad. When packed, they take up less space than a sleeping bag and can be jammed into any corner or side of your bug-out bag or backpack. They can even be used as a cloak to add warmth to existing gear.

A VERSATILE OPTION FROM KLYMIT

While researching this new generation of super-woobies, I came across two that really caught my eye for their utility and non-tactical appeal. They are the Versa Blanket and the Versa Luxe Camping Blanket from the outdoor company Klymit. Unlike some of this new generation of woobie, the Versa blankets are designed with camping and backpacking in mind, with a blue and orange colorway rather than earth tone colors or other tactical features.

“THE TWO VERSA BLANKETS WE HAVE IN THE SCHWARTZ HOUSEHOLD HAVE REPLACED MY OLD ISSUE PONCHO LINERS AS THE PREFERRED COMFORTER WHEN WATCHING MOVIES IN THE LIVING ROOM OR TAKING A NAP ON A COLD WINTER AFTERNOON.”

They are also well-suited for use at home or in an RV. In fact, I am looking at the Versa Luxe lying on the couch in our living room as I type this. It has become one of those items that is integral to our home environment. Just like the remote for the television or the plants in the window box.

Technical blankets like the Versa Luxe are excellent options for a top quilt in a hammock or a tent. It can also be used as a sleeping bag liner to increase its thermal efficiency.

The design for both versions integrates the good things about the original poncho liner and adds some modern features to address some of the poncho liner’s weaknesses. At just a few inches smaller than the poncho liner, it is still large enough to be used as a blanket on a bed or as a cloak to keep you warm on a frosty morning while you enjoy your coffee and wait for the warming rays of the sun to break the threshold of the horizon. The fabric is also water repellent so it keeps wind and rain at bay, which the original poncho liner did not do very well.

If you are a hammock fan, either Versa blanket would work well as an underquilt, as shown here, to provide insulation under your hammock in cool or cold weather.

The insulation is a proprietary synthetic material called Klymalite, which is layered between two sheets of 20D polyester on the blanket and a sheet of 20D polyester and a sheet of high loft fleece on the Luxe Camping blanket. Both shell materials are strong with a light and soft touch and both models are 58 by 80 inches in size. For reference, that is just 2 inches narrower than a queen-size mattress, so it is a big blanket.

“FORTUNATELY, TECHNOLOGY IS ALWAYS ADVANCING AND NEWER FORMS OF SYNTHETIC INSULATION HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT A NEW GENERATION OF TECHNICAL BLANKETS THAT I REFER TO AS SUPER-WOOBIES.”

There are black plastic snaps in each corner and a drawstring at the top. You can use the snaps in a variety of ways. You can connect two blankets at the bottom by the footbox and use it like a backpacking quilt, laid on top of your body and tucking the sides of the blanket under your legs with your feet in the footbox. Or, you can go to the other end and connect the two up by the drawstring, and then pull the drawstring tight to cinch down that end to keep the heat from escaping.

A second way to use the snaps is to connect two Versa blankets together, either next to each other to make it wide enough for two or three people, or on top of each other to double the insulation.

A third way is to wear it over your shoulders like a cloak and connect just two of the snaps in front of you. If you snug down the drawstring it will stay on your shoulders hands-free.

Another modern touch not found on the poncho liner is the addition of two corner hand pockets and a footbox on the Versa and four corner pockets and the footbox on the Luxe Camping blanket. These ideas were taken from backpacking quilts which are gaining popularity in the ultralight camping world. You can put your hands in the corner pockets to keep them warm while holding the blanket around you.

The wide footbox pocket, which is centered on the bottom edge of the blanket, will keep your feet warm. It also prevents the blanket from moving off your body if you change position at night. In addition, it can be used as a stuff sack for the blanket and will form a warm and soft pillow.

SUMMARY

The two Versa blankets we have in the Schwartz household have replaced my old issue poncho liners as the preferred comforter when watching movies in the living room or taking a nap on a cold winter afternoon. My wife quickly took to the Versa when I got it to try out; but she just as quickly gave it back to me when the Luxe version arrived. Both models are light in weight, warm in use, soft to the touch, and are packed with features that the poncho liner didn’t have. All in all, either one will be a great addition to your prepping gear.

The orange and blue Versa Blanket can be folded into its footbox pocket to make a convenient pillow that is perfect for camping or taking a nap while traveling.

Versa Blankets come in their own stuff sack which has instructions and illustrations on how to use them. Since it isn’t attached to the blanket, you should stick it in the foot box so you don’t lose it.

The corner snap, shown here on the orange and blue Versa Blanket, serves a number of purposes, from attaching multiple blankets together to forming a sleeping bag and turning the blanket into a cloak.

If you want to wear the blanket like a cloak, you can cinch down the drawstring to form a hood after you connect the snaps and put your head through the opening.

Klymit Versa Blanket

Specifications

• Size: 58×80 inches
• Weight: 23 ounces
• Hand pockets: Two
• Footbox
• Corner snaps
• Cinch cord
• Stuff sack
• Shell: 20D ripstop polyester shell (top and bottom)
• Insulation: Klymalite synthetic insulation
MSRP: $79.95

The Versa Luxe Blanket is the big brother to the Versa Blanket. It has a stuff sack to keep the blanket clean between uses and provide information about how to use it.

The Versa Luxe Camping Blanket can be turned into a pillow when not being used as a blanket. Just invert the footbox and stuff the blanket into it. A nice piece of design work puts the fleece side out when it is in pillow mode.

Since the Versa is a blanket and not a zippered sleeping bag, you have more options when you put it in your bug-out bag or other pack. You can stuff it into whatever space is available along the side of the pack. Or, you can use the stuff sack that it comes with and put it in the bottom of the pack to keep the heavy items higher to improve the carrying comfort.

Klymit Versa Luxe Camping Blanket

Specifications
• Size: 58×80 inches
• Weight: 48 ounces
• Hand pockets: Four
• Footbox
• Corner snaps
• Cinch cord
• Stuff sack
• Shell: 20D ripstop polyester shell (top); high loft fleece (bottom)
• Insulation: Klymalite synthetic insulation
MSRP: $119.95

Care and Maintenance of Your Versa Blanket

The Versa Blanket and Versa Luxe Camping Blanket are really easy to care for. Wash them on a gentle cycle with your regular laundry detergent, but no bleach. Then, tumble dry on low heat. You can store them long term in their stuff sack, or any stuff sack, or in pillow mode as long as they are clean and dry.

S O U R C E S

Kylmit
(888) 559-6481
Klymit.com

Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL)
(800) 324-3517
SurviveOutdoorsLonger.com

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.