Portable Fire Reflector

Posted by: bloodbuzzed

Portable Fire Reflector - 10/26/12 10:43 PM

I was thinking of making a fire reflector, something I could roll up with my tarp shelter system and have in my pack all the time. I'm more than happy to keep rigging them up from wood around the campsite, I was just wondering if there was a simpler way. I'm not looking to go crazy with this project. Just a cheap tarp or some plastic sheeting to make it out of. The design isn't an issue. It's a simple enough thing to make. I'm just curious to know if anyone else has tried out a homemade, portable fire reflector and, is so, what were the results. Is is worth the effort? Thanks.
Posted by: Cranman

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/27/12 09:23 AM

How big? A piece of foil can reflect alot of heat back at you, simple and light and packable. Also emergency blanket type material can reflect alot of infared radiation (heat waves) but of course you have to keep them well back of intense heat or flames. My guess is foil supported by some sticks in the ground would be your best bet, reflecting heat and acting as a wind screen as well.
Posted by: DJ2

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/27/12 10:21 AM

I've spent a lot of time backpacking on the beach with fires in the rain. Here's my experience.

Any big clear bag put over you helps. When you stand near the fire (not too near) it heats the inside of the bag and you.

Here's another option that takes a little more work.

(1) Tie a string between two trees so it creates a "clothesline" that runs by the fire about 7 feet off the ground.

(2) Hang a tarp or piece of plastic vertically from the string so it forms a hanging wall.

(3) Stand between the fire and the plastic wall with your back touching the plastic. Now step back (into) the plastic about a foot. When in this position (assuming the wind isn't too bad) you are warm and protected from most of the rain. What little rain might hit you will quicly evaporate.

One nice thing about the hanging wall method is that you can easily come and go to tend the fire, collect firewood, cook, etc. If you get a little wet on these trips you can quickly dry out when you return to the proection of the hanging wall.

Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/27/12 11:34 AM

Take a look at this tent I made with SOL emergency blankets, it might give you some ideas:


In below freezing temps it will heat up to 80 (or more) inside with just a small fire in front of it and it weighs less than 2 lbs.
Posted by: bloodbuzzed

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/27/12 08:40 PM

Nice, Bill. Something like that would be overkill for me, though. Don't see a whole lot of snow or even frost here in the Texas Hill Country. It's just me and my wool blanket come wintertime. Thanks for sharing, though. Very creative. Question: can that tent fold up and fit into a pack? Is it practical on the trail?
Posted by: rionada

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/28/12 01:58 PM

That looks beautifully warm Bill - very nice!

I built a similar shelter out of silnylon a couple of years ago. I always cook over a fire so I needed a way to be near a fire and out of the rain. That lean-to style works great for that.

I have never set up a reflector on the opposite side of the fire however (except infrequently - rocks). I am intrigued by the idea of a small piece of mylar space blanket materiel (maybe 3ft x 3ft?) suspended behind the fire reflecting the heat back into the shelter. Like Cranman said you'd probably have to keep it well back from the fire, but it might still work well (and weigh near to nothing). I also like the aluminum foil idea. Has anyone tried this sort of thing? What did you do? Did it make you warmer?
Posted by: jbylake

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/28/12 08:31 PM

Originally Posted By billstephenson
Take a look at this tent I made with SOL emergency blankets, it might give you some ideas:


In below freezing temps it will heat up to 80 (or more) inside with just a small fire in front of it and it weighs less than 2 lbs.

Nice job! Pretty resourseful use of those SOL reflector blankets!
Posted by: Samoset

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/29/12 09:14 AM

I use a 9*9 peice of tyvek as a fire trap. Pitch it kind of like a bakers hut or cave or something traps alot of heat. That wouldotherwise escape behind you!
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/29/12 10:39 AM

I made that shelter last season for winter camping here in the Ozarks, but I also played a lot with heat reflectors while leading up to that design.

Lightly compressed that tent is about the size of a soccer ball in a stuff sack. I don't bring the tent poles when I backpack, I tie off the roof corners to tree limbs and stake the floor corners as best I can. Considering the weight and compressed size, it's a fairly comfortable two person shelter. For one person it's very roomy and could be smaller.

I tested it in my back yard on some very cold nights but I've only got to use it about 3-4 nights while actually backpacking. I'm not fast at setting it up, but I'm beginning to like the design once it is. It packs small and is light enough to make hauling it a breeze. So far it's held up fine, but my nights backpacking with it were clear, cold, and mostly pretty calm. I'm not convinced yet that I'd be nice and dry in a downpour, but there are things I could to improve my odds before I even try that.

Honestly, I don't think a design for a lightweight backpacking campfire tent made with that reflective material has really been well thought out yet. I think the concept is definitely worth exploring more.

But to answer your question, yes, I do think the concept of a lightweight campfire tent made from that material is practical and after making that shelter I won't be using anything else for cold weather backpacking here in the Ozarks. To be honest, it's not only practical, it's absolutely luxurious. It's bigger and lighter than any backpacking tent I've owned and it's an amazing luxury to sit inside it and be so warm, and even more amazing to crawl into a warm sleeping bag after letting the campfire die out for the night.

It gets plenty cold enough in Texas to use one of those for winter backpacking. Even if you don't have a fire going that reflective material helps keep your body heat in the tent, but one needs to be designed with that in mind to really take advantage of that capability.


What I've found while playing with the reflector concept is that the Walmart silver "Space" blankets work great as reflectors, but the "SOL Emergency Blankets" are much more durable, bigger, and only a couple bucks more, so that's what I've been using.

2" Clear duct tape works great for seaming the blankets together and 1" fiber reinforced packaging tape works great to reinforce edges. You can get a cheap grommet kit at WalMart or a hobby/craft store and those work great when you put them in a spot reinforced with the tape (I used extra tape where I put the grommets).

Rigging a square tarp into a simple "Baker's Oven" style shelter is easy, and I'll suggest you start there. Google "Tarp Setups" and "Baker's Oven Shelter" for videos, pictures, and illustrations on how to do it. It's a very simple, but incredibly efficient design for this purpose.

I you make one of those you'll instantly realize how effective that reflective material can be with just a small campfire in front of it, plus you'll have a good ultralight tarp for camping anytime. You can even rig it shiny side up for a shady spot in the Summer, they work really good for that too.

Posted by: bloodbuzzed

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/29/12 03:23 PM

You make a great argument for the emergency blanket shelter. Yeah, I haven't really seen or heard about anyone trying something like that. On some of those survival shows I guess but not even close to the extent you're talking about. You may really be onto something. I'm tempted to get to work on one myself. I hear what you're saying about the downpour. After studying over your structure the main question I had about it is whether or not or could stand up in harsh conditions. But it sounds like you're on your way to solving that "problem". Way cool, man. I appreciate you taking the time to lay it out for me.
Posted by: Samoset

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/29/12 11:35 PM

Bill I've been thinking of trying and using some 3m spray contact adhesive and lamenting one of the double heet sheets to a peice of tyvek. For a fire tarp! maybe reinforce the edges with some of this tape you mention! A few grommets and we might just have a winner
Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 11:44 AM

Originally Posted By Samoset
Bill I've been thinking of trying and using some 3m spray contact adhesive and lamenting one of the double heet sheets to a peice of tyvek. For a fire tarp! maybe reinforce the edges with some of this tape you mention! A few grommets and we might just have a winner
Pure genius! I love it. I have some tyvek I might just have to copy your idea.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 02:25 PM

The tent or the tarp are plenty cheap enough (under $25 for everything you need), and very easy to make, and the timing is perfect right now to test them out.

You have to add the clear front panel to get the full effect of the "Super Shelter" design but I have no doubt you'll be impressed with just a tarp rigged as a Baker's Oven type shelter.

I think if we have one or two more people here start playing with the concept and provide some feedback it might inspire a few more to try it and after that it will probably catch on.

Personally, I was skeptical when I watched the "Dual Survivor" and "Frozen Butt Hang" videos on YouTube, but I had played with the reflective material enough to want to try it so I made some very quick and dirty mock-ups to test it and was impressed enough to move on to the tent I made.

Actually, the design for my tent was suggested to me by another member here, "ULHiker", while we were on a backpacking trip in AR, so he deserves the credit for that. Shortly after I got back I started on making it.

That tent exceeded my expectations by a lot and I've talked it up quite a bit here since, but so far no one else has made one like it. I think if you're in a spot where you can use one, and have the experience and skills to do it safely, than having one of these is a game changer for cold weather backpacking and once you've tried one you won't be without it.

But you have to make it yourself. No one else has one to try out and I seriously doubt that anyone will start a company to sell them. No matter how you market it, someone will sue you because they burnt themselves, and they will probably win. But since they are cheap and easy to make that's not an issue.

It's also an opportunity to play on the leading edge of a new design concept. No matter what you make it will be new and innovative, and one of a kind. That presents other opportunities, like on a cold, or even just a chilly night, you can set up your campfire tent and light your fire and invite your buddies to get inside for a minute and check it out. They'll all be amazed and dazzled and instantly your status will either be confirmed or elevated to that of a super-duper techno nerd and they'll all just have to ask, "How'd you get so smart-assed?"

Shoot, considering the ornery rag-tag bunch of know-it-alls I generally hang with while camping that there's genuinely "Priceless" laugh

Posted by: Samoset

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 06:42 PM

Originally Posted By rockchucker22
Originally Posted By Samoset
Bill I've been thinking of trying and using some 3m spray contact adhesive and lamenting one of the double heet sheets to a peice of tyvek. For a fire tarp! maybe reinforce the edges with some of this tape you mention! A few grommets and we might just have a winner
Pure genius! I love it. I have some tyvek I might just have to copy your idea.

Please do and make sure to post plenty of pics and let's know how it works out for you !
Posted by: Heather-ak

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 07:17 PM


This is one of the projects on my... "To-do" list. but it is a long list blush and before that is the kettle canner tent stove. If I ever do get it made I'll post pics cool
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 09:11 PM

My first try at a "Super Shelter" was using a visqueen tarp I'd already made and taping some of the Walmart emergency blankets to it. It worked really good.

On the backpacking trip I did with ULHiker we were talking about it, and I told him I wanted to glue that material to my visqueen tarp. He told me about the SOL Emergency blankets, and said they'd probably work well enough to make a tent or tarp. I bought one and started playing with it and they are made from a much tougher, more durable plastic.

Honestly, I don't think the Tyvek will offer much advantage. I think, because of the weight and durability of the SOL material, that it's the best way to go right now. I carry duct tape with me when I take that tent backpacking, but so far it's held up very well and I haven't had to make any repairs.

On the other hand, the reflective surface on the SOL material does wear off, and it will lose its efficiency as it does. That may be the big weak link in using it.

I don't think that's the case with the Walmart type shiny material. My experience with that is that it stays shiny, but once it gets the tiniest of punctures or tears it goes to shreds. It would probably be a great choice for a laminate type material like you're talking about because once it's glued in place it won't go anywhere, and you may have something that will truly last for years.

I'm as anxious as can be to see what others come up with and how it works for them, so please do let us know about it.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/30/12 11:07 PM

I understand Heather.

I'm lucky if I can steal a night for backpacking right now.

I really do intend to get at least a night in this week...
Posted by: Samoset

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/31/12 12:52 PM

I've played around with a het sheet as a fire leanto once or twice and I always keep on in my pack. I don't know that I would trust one as a primary shelter not lamented to something for a little extra streangth. I have noticed that the material will general stretch opposed to rip. Not sure if this is true in colder applications
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 10/31/12 11:30 PM

Take a look at this PDF file:

18 Ounce 2 Man Shelter

This is the first tent I saw made with the SOL material. I learned a lot from reading his instructions for making my tent and he does a good job of reviewing the material too.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 11/02/12 12:45 AM

gro stores sell reflectorized mylar thats pretty thin and light, in 4 foot wide rolls. Theres some mylar duct tape thats perfect for the seams. This mylar is a pretty wide spectrum reflector and stays cool.

Aluminum foil, for example is actually a color and absorbs the rest of the spectrum, and gets hot shocked. Flat white is generally a better reflector than mirrors, but shiny white isn't as good for some reason - I think whatever makes it shiny absorbs some light.

a rock behind you is a good reflector but of course you can't take it with you, so you have to decide just how complete of a shelter do you want? a 4x6 foot piece of mylar might be fine with grommets in the corners.

Jim grin
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 11/02/12 12:05 PM

That info on the aluminum foil is really interesting Jim. I hadn't thought about why the foil gets hot and the reflective mylar does not, but I know that's the case and now that you've explained why it makes perfect sense.

The real trick to maximizing your warmth with a reflector (aside from choosing a good one) is to arrange it so it reflects the heat at YOU. While this may seem obvious, I think it may be a big part of the reason why people haven't caught on to using them more.

This is why a Baker's Oven style shelter works good. A reflector set up like a flat panel behind you won't do much good at all, but if you set it up with a back and two angled sides and sit in front of it, like so:


you'll instantly feel the heat reflecting back at you. Those angles are very important. I've tested this a lot. They don't matter near as much when you have a roof and front panel to trap the heat inside, but they make all the difference in the world without those.

When you add a reflecting roof over it and sit inside it you start trapping the heat and really start warming things up, and when you add that clear front wall panel and sit inside where there is little draft the temp inside evens out and everything inside warms up, the ground included. Keep your fire going for a few hours before you go to bed and the ground will help keep you warm inside after the fire has burnt out.


I'll share a few more thoughts I've had on this subject:

It's occurred to me that using this material in combination with a tent heater would probably allow one to use a heater with less BTU output and maybe even stay warmer at the same time. I haven't tried that yet, but I do wonder how well it might work with even just a few candles burning inside. If you could fashion a safe, lightweight heater and raise the temp inside just 10 that could be pretty significant.

I'm not sure you can make a "Foolproof" tent heater, but you can probably make one that's safe if you don't do something foolish, which is worth looking into. A tent and heater designed specifically to work together might produce a very good result.

Also, think about a bivy style tent with an arched roof that's centered over the sleeping bag. That should direct the reflected heat right onto the sleeping bag. If you designed the angles of the arch correctly it should heat the bag very evenly too. Put a half dome at the foot and head and you get some extra heat in those spots.

There really is a lot of ways to put that material to use that I haven't seen tried yet. Honestly, just sitting outside on a cold night with no fire at all and wrapping one of those SOL blankets around you keeps you a lot warmer.

I carried one of those walmart blankets for probably 5 years and never even took it out of the original package. I think a lot of us have probably done that. Now that I've taken the time to learn and practice using one, I actually use it. The SOL blankets really are a pretty amazing piece of UL gear.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 11/02/12 07:13 PM


Couldn't that reflecer just sort of be at a 45 degree angle?

My homeless friends prefer a three pole tall dome tent with vestibules on each end. They put a reflectorized blanket over the inner tent and then insulating layers like sleeping bags over that and then put the roof on. A propane stove warming a coffee can with holes to promote air flow, will keep you warm on a cold day. Votive candles in those glass "jars" will heat a tent nicely - say 6 on a zero degree night. The homeless and climbers and hunters have used fires in their tents, caves and teepees for hundreds or thousands of years. The only thing unsafe is a modern stove in a modern tent. You cannot die from carbonmonoxide from candles and apparently seal oil lamps can be used in igloos without harm. I think there is a lot of old technology that would be useful to modern campers, except people think newer is better.

fact is - there is this box that we think inside of. How bout a lightweight folding box that has straps to carry it, unfolds into a rigid waterproof shelter, and is heated by a salad oil lamp and all cooking is on the oil lamp*1? Its painted flat white inside to trap the heat and camo outside. The floor is rigid so it can be suspended or set on uneven rock. But is it camping? What if it was prefolded and screwed to my sled - then would it be snow camping? The idea of an unfolding studio sitting on a sled comes to mind.

*1 many arctic peoples do all of their heating and cooking with a seal oil lamp - indoors.
Posted by: JPete

Re: Portable Fire Reflector - 11/04/12 04:20 PM


Much impressed with your design. Don't know if I'll try it, but printed it out in case I get tempted (or do more hiking in cold weather and also decide to start building fires again -- haven't done it when I'm alone for a long time).

The design I'm familiar with, we called it a "Baker Pitch", though the ones I've been in were Egyptian cotton canvas, light colored but not reflective. We always had fire and usually something to reflect it (logs, canoe) but nothing as sophisticated (or effective) as discussed here, nor did we have a transparent front (some had a canvas awning that covered the cooking area and helped direct heat inside. It could be dropped and tied to make a loose front). But if the wind in the front wasn't too bad, they were pretty cosy. But they weighed about 20 pounds.

I've always liked that design, and frequently set up my poncho that way (except no ends, obviously). Yeah, the design is retro, but with your technological advances, it sounds great. I'm really impressed with the transparent front and the reflector, as well as the material itself and weight.

Only remaining problem is bugs (used one in Minnesota and it was hell -- skeeters gathered inside out of the breeze). But a couple of small hanging nets would probably fix that.

You got my attention. best, jcp
Posted by: Samoset

AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/05/12 08:24 PM

This might be exactly what I had in mind!

Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/05/12 08:34 PM

I have a emergency blanket that is very similar!
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/05/12 10:16 PM

That's the stuff. I used the Two Person Survival Blankets for the tent. They're a little bigger and a lot lighter than the one you have.

I haven't seen one like yours yet, but I'd like to see what's different with it. With the added weight it's surely more durable. Have you noticed the shiny coating rubbing off?

This Escape Bivvy is interesting too. I think someone here said they were thinking about giving it a try.

It might make a good bag liner, or if it's big enough, use it over your bag. I'd like to see one of those up close too.
Posted by: Samoset

Re: AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/06/12 07:47 AM

Actually don't have one yet. Ordered one yesterday thru amazon though. Ill let you know what I think when I've had my hands on it for a few days!
Posted by: Samoset

Re: AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/09/12 04:28 PM

Ok Bill,

The shiny side of the blanket is still just as fragile as ever I can see notable wear and scratches in mine and I only set it up in a few different configurations. Even check with my pinky nail and it comes off super easy!


Otherwise its a nice little tarp just wish the reflective side was a little more durable!
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: AMK's Sport Utility Blanket - 11/14/12 12:14 AM

That's disappointing. frown

I really figured the extra weight of that blanket would have been at least in part applied to a solution for that problem.

This makes me wonder about that breathable sleeping bag they sell too.