The ‘Thermal Poncho’

Countering Aerial Thermal Surveillance
April 1, 2013
April 1, 2013
I have had a lot of questions come in about the concept of the ‘Thermal Poncho’. I’m going to post about it here and I have also moved up my post on ‘Countering Aerial Thermal Surveillance’ from when it was originally posted back in October. That POST contains a lot of the detail on FLIR/ Thermal Imaging capabilities, along with a video of an Apache engagement. I recommend that you read these two posts in tandem and watch the video. 
The idea of the ‘Thermal Poncho’ is a concept that you must create for yourself and design as you see you will use it. In the post on Aerial Thermal Surveillance there are some good ideas in comments, such as Rick posting about the ‘Land Shark’ which looks like a good bit of gear, but it is not quite what I had in mind, at least not exactly, but it would definitely do the job for you.
The concept of the thermal poncho is to create a piece of equipment that will shield you from both aerial and ground thermal surveillance. When is use the word ‘poncho’ I mean it in the sense that the military issues ponchos; rather than using it as a rain style poncho to wear over yourself, you use the eye-holes along the edges to string the thing up as a shelter, as a tarp. So I could have used the term ‘Thermal Tarp’ but I use the word poncho for this item that you would string up as a shelter. I visualized the thermal poncho as something that you would actually put up, just as you would a normal poncho/tarp/shelter, but that would also protect you from thermal surveillance  In extremis, you could just deploy it and get under it, or even wear it over your head, but that was not the primary idea. But it may work for you.
The idea of the thermal poncho that I described in ‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises’  was to perform the following functions:
1. Act as a weather shelter in the same way that a normal military poncho/tarp would do
2. Provide visual camouflage to a position
3. Provide thermal protection
The construction is dependent on the exact material you have. You often find that Mylar or the thermal style blankets do not have the strength to act as a tarp and can also be shiny. Because of that, I suggested the use of a military poncho as the base material, giving it the strength to be strung up between trees or similar. 
One of the problems with any kind of thermal or waterproof material is shine. This can also be a thermal problem too. The reverse is the thermal protection appearing as a thermal ‘hole’ in the background. To this end the idea was to create a ‘gillie suit lite’ effect on the top surface, with the use of camo or earth toned cloth. This cloth would be on the top side of the military poncho and you can sandwich the Mylar/thermal blanket between the two, keeping it hidden and protected. On top of this cloth layer you can sew in a limited amount of burlap/camo gillie style cloth. Just don’t do too much because it will become bulky when rolled up and also heavy if it rains. But the gillie materiel will itself add thermal protection.
Once you have created this tarp, you can attach bungees/para-cord to the eyelets just like you would with your military poncho so that you can quickly string it up. Carrying some tent pegs and short tent poles/sticks will also allow it to be set up rapidly if there are no convenient trees. Once you roll this up, you should carry it outside your day-pack so that it becomes one with the ambient temperature and does not appear as a ‘hole’ in the thermal picture.
So what do you have? A complex thermal blanket that will allow you to string it up as a tarp and also provide your position with visual camouflage.
One of the issues with thermal protection is that if the material you are hiding behind is in contact with you for a time your heat can leak into it, warming it up, and thus allowing the thermal signature to be picked up. That is why it is a good idea to have this stand-off gap by putting it up as a tarp and being underneath it. You can also bring the edges to the ground on one or two sides to also provide ground thermal protection, setting it up by one of the many techniques that you would use for a military poncho shelter.
The idea in ‘Patriot Dawn’ was that these ponchos would be put up any time the group halted for any period of time, maybe for more than 15 minutes, or if there was a threat. In extremis you could just pull it over yourself. Think being in a patrol base and putting these up over your sleeping and sentry positions. Working as pairs you only need one per two people or if everyone has one then you have extra.
There is no one way to do this, and it depends on what you have and what exact purpose you want from the equipment.


EDIT: Important warning. The ability to hide from FLIR/TI is obviously very important and could be a life saver. To that end, I want to make it clear that it is not as simple as getting a poncho or a thermal blanket and hiding under it. That is why I go to the trouble above of describing a system and a way to deploy it. See below:

Some further info:

When we look at thermal masking we have to take into account the capabilities of modern USG thermal imaging systems. The .gov (and DoD) standard is the ability to discern either +/- 1 degree in temperature difference between objects and the ambient environment at any given range. So either one degree cooler or hotter and the shape of the image shows up in modern TIS. Most LE agencies use the same or similar equipment that possesses the same capabilities. In practice it’s hard to hide from either TIS or FLIR unless you do it right.

Most effective methods:
1. Use of weather (fog wreaks havoc on both systems)
2. Over-saturation (be it through fire, heat emitters, etc.)
3. Terrain masking.

That is why in Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises I make such a point of using terrain masking, vegetation and constructed cover (cam nets and false roofs etc) and also in some of the battles the Resistance uses thermal smoke from tire fires to mask action on the ground from overhead drones.

So to conclude: just getting under a straight up poncho will not work for long. You may appear as a ‘hole’ in the ambient temperature. There is also the danger of heat leaking out over time, or heating up the poncho surface. But how close are they looking? What you are at least doing is masking your human shape, which may have some short term value but is not the whole solution at least not for long.

If you use terrain masking along with being under some vegetation and you get under a properly put together ‘thermal poncho’ strung up above you then you will make it very hard for surveillance to spot you. Particularly if they are expecting to look for human shapes. Then it comes down to how long they concentrate on an area and if they discern heat either leaking out or warming up your poncho because you have it too close to your body.

Remember that on the commercially available casualty blankets it says it only stops 80% of body heat. The 20% will gt you killed. So make a ‘thermal poncho’ similar to how I have suggested and have some good ‘gillie’ cloth on the topside to break up shine and imagery. Put it up in trees or on short poles above you so that there is separation between you and the covering poncho. The more cover you have between you and the FLIR device, such as ground or vegetation cover, the better, such as trees above the thermal poncho. Of course, if you can get into a hole or cave then all is good, but the thermal poncho is for when that is not available Remember that the FLIR devices on the market such as the FLIR scout, actually advertise that you can check you home insulation by seeing where heat is leaking out. Something to think about!

So take the FLIR threat seriously and don’t think that just putting a casualty blanket over you will be like an invisible cloak. It is a complex camouflage issue that the thermal poncho can aid with, but may not be the whole solution all of the time. Depending how well you use it, it may only save you from a casual scan, or done well it make make you invisible to a careful search.


P.S. I ended up moderating a couple of comments of the “We’re all gonna die” type. Keep it constructive, even though the video is shocking. To use the video as a teachable moment:

1. Look at the tents, how they block the thermal signature. The problem is mostly surface/shine. That could be countered by the camo netting/ragged/gillie effect on top of your thermal poncho.
2. That is open ground in Afcrapistan. Imagine if you were operating in an area with greater tree cover, how that would add another layer to help you. That goes to terrain masking.
3. Look at the US Troops and see how their IR treated ACUs make them significantly harder to see than the Taliban. And they are walking in the open.
4. Just to conjecture, but the guys on the ground wounded or trying to hide, if they had even pulled a simple space blanket or simple blanket over themselves, how they would have significantly increased their chance of survival. In this case it would  be a little like surviving a bear attack – you just have to be more hidden than the other guys! So yes, a little selfish, but the point is there.

Thermal camouflage is just another layer to the art of camouflage. You have to work at it and it may not always be perfect, but there are things you can do to increase your survivability that do not involve always wearing a survival blanket. For example:

1. When moving plan routes around terrain / vegetation masking. Have  frequent listening/observation halts.
2. When halted, also use terrain masking but have properly constructed thermal ponchos available to put up to mask visual and thermal signature. Blend into the ground.
3. If actively fighting, particularly  in urban areas, consider the use of tire or fuel barrel fires to create a thermal smoke screen to mask off aerial surveillance and targeting platforms.


  1. John says:

    Sent comment via E-mail

    • Max Velocity says:

      Johns email was very useful and I mentioned that he should post it, so he may do. He drew my attention to the sportsman’s space blankets sold by Cabelas (the full link is too long for this comment (product: – these look very similar to the green thermal blankets used by US Army medics and if the eye holes go all the way round may be strong enough to act as a tarp as well. I suspect on their own they would not be sufficient to prevent heat seepage…..

      This reminded me of the fact that the US Military actually does poncho liners that are camo blankets, often used as bed covers on their own, that will go inside the poncho. But I don’t like it, I forgot to mention that this was part of my original thought porcess when I was thinking of the design: I don’t like the shiny poncho facing the sky, which is why I suggest cover the surface with camo style cloth and gillie rags for visual camo. Putting the poncho liner on the upside of the poncho would sort of defeat the idea of it….

    • Hefferman says:

      Over time the heat from your body will bleed through the woobie, and poncho. I went with a layered approach.
      Ghillie Blanket, Thermal Tarp, and a Flannel covering over the reflective part of the Tarp.
      Yes it is heavier, and gets heavy when wet, but it works as both a tarp, and thermal concealment.
      A few stakes and hanging the tarp up a night gives shelter. You can then sleep with a poncho and woobie unless it is real cold.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Consider this clothing designed for this specific purpose. Ignore the “fashion” of the clothing and focus on the effect.

    • Max Velocity says:

      I think this sort of idea does have utility, depending on what you are doing. I think that for combat operations it may be prohibitive to movement and you may die of heat exhaustion! That is why I would go with the poncho/tarp idea. Remember that military BDUs/ACUs should/can have some thermal blocking properties that will reduce your signature – clothing does block it to some extent,depending on its thickness. Body armor or a thick jacket does, for instance – usually leaving the extremities visible. Have a tarp/poncho available to either quickly pull over you or put up and get underneath. Something like a thermal, poncho is not the whole idea and where possible you need to use ground and vegetation/buildings to shield you as you move. You can’t walk in a tent! So it is part of your tactical route planning.

    • Anonymous says:

      Same dude here.

      Excellent points. Heavy activity underneath that type of clothing will cause a person to burn more calories than needed and could indeed lead to heat exhaustion even in winter months.

      May a option for mobile use could be to “spoof” the FLIR? So lets say you aren’t able to have the full protection that say a casualty blanket gives you while you are stationary. But what if the BDU/ACU you wore projected a signature that resembled wildlife or a common signature found in that particular environment? Some similar to the “razzle dazzle” camouflage from WWII battleships?

  3. Max Velocity says:

    Searching ‘thermal casualty blanket’ brings up some interesting options if you want to use a thicker thermal blanket as your base…if you do, you need one with grommets…

  4. Rick says:

    Something to remember in caring for your BDU’s. Per the washing instructions from Propper, do not throw the BDU’s into the dryer as that high heat tends to diminish the IR shielding qualities of the original fabric.
    Watching the video attached to Max’s post, you can see how much IR shielding the US troops had with their BDU’s compared to the IR signature of the Taliban. It is truly significant.

  5. avordvet says:

    I have used this type of blanket since SERE, its much heavier gauge than most, has grommets for attaching a camo netting or ghillie on top of it to break up the lines, and also help to dissipate the heat.

  6. frosty2 says:

    If your cheap, Get a medium duty camo tarp and duct tape some Mylar snack bags (cut open and cleaned) to the underside shiny side down. I also have grommets to tie in my poncho liner. Light weight sleeping bag / IR shield.

  7. Max Velocity says:

    I have added some important clarifying additional information to the bottom of the post. Bottom line, don’t underestimate the difficulty of hiding from FLIR/TI, and if you are going to attempt it, do it right.

  8. John says:

    My initial thoughts after reading MV’s description in his book started with something like the Sportsman Blanket that Cabela’s offers. They have one that is reflective on one side with a solid color on the other. They are thicker than the space balnkets you can roll up to the size of golf ball and shove in your pocket. The one (of four) I have used has lasted more than two uses. And the solid color offers something less reflective than the foil surface.

    If you started with something like the blanket above, would it be that difficult for the manufacturer to replace the solid color with a suitable camo pattern of your: e.g. any of Kryptek’s designs, multi-cam, A-TACS, etc.

    If a manufacture didn’t produce one, does anyone know if silk-screening a camo pattern would be an option?

    I agree with MV, it may not be the do-all-be-all, but it might afford you enough concealment for a cursory-to-average sweep.

    Having no experience with FLIR, I would be interested in any feedback.

  9. Anonymous says: allegedly sells to civilians. You may run into ITAR regulation issues with importing their stuff especially if you advertised it’s properties and resold it commercially.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Purchase a grommet kit at a hardware store and put grommets in where needed.

  11. Hefferman says:

    I have been talking about this for a few years now. A Thermal Ghillie Blanket that can be put up, put on, or taken down in a heart beat is what we need.
    The Ghillie Blanket, without Thermal.
    I get nothing from this place, but here is where I ordered my thermal liner for my ghillie blanket.
    I then used goop to glue green flannel to the Thermal Tarp, on the shiney side, the other side was green in the one I bought.
    Then attach that to the underside of the Ghillie Blanket with plastic zip ties. Yes, I had to make a set of holes in the Thermal Tarp, but sealed them with silicon.

    It reflects the heat from my body back down. That hides the blanket from thermal, and it even has enough layers and cover to make it last for a while when on the body. The Ghillie blanket part hides it from prying sight in dark, or daylight.
    I know some thermal energy will bleed through with time, but this give you the best concealment I have found.
    It even works as a tarp for resting.
    It does get heavy when wet, but works even better as a thermal shield then.
    You attach it to you pack with Ranger Bands made from old bike inner tubes, or with para cord ties.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I was wondering if anyone has tested their ideas and can share the images? Other than having a friend that does insulation/building thermal efficiency, any other ideas for FLIR devices to test out designs and materials? Thanks.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Four interesting words: hot air balloon fabric.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I did note on the video that in the first explosion, a man ran *towards* the explosion, which masked his signature allowing him to get over the ridge. (granted, I think he was the last one taken out, but he had made some distance from the inital site…if there had been a hole to crawl into, he might have made it…food for thought)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Max you disappoint me, I thought I had found a straight up tell the truth guy. Not so. This stuff is b.s. and you know it, you have just sold out a lot of good innocent folks for the almighty $$ and popularity. Oh well, I’ll just delete you from my favorites and hope you the best. When the true shtf happens, it won’t take long for those like you to be ferreted out. Go ahead with your head in the clouds, blowing smoke up others skirts….they will figure you out in due time.

    • Max Velocity says:

      Well, Anonymous 5:58PM, I’m flabbergasted! Although tempting to moderate such a comment with the delete button, this deserves answering. Are you a troll agent trying to discredit a potentially lifesaving technique?
      What is the malfunction here, the disconnect? Although defeating TI requires thinking and planning, it’s not rocket science and it is eminently feasible. I have SEEN thermal signature blocked. Vegetation will block it. If you are behind something solid it will block it. Basically, as I have stated, TI does not see through things, if you are behind something sufficient your TI signature will be blocked. You then have to worry about heating up that object or appearing as a hole in the background. Each of these can be addressed.
      Is this comment simply based on fear and misunderstanding: just because you do not understand what is being taught you automatically go into “we’re all gonna die” mode?
      If not, give me something to refute what I have said? Because I can tell you that I will be employing these techniques when the time comes, and if they don’t work I will suffer the consequences just as others will.

    • justin says:

      Lol. I’ve seen it done/done it myself too. Vegetation, mud, use of terrain, poncho liners over vehicle windows… there’s no simple, easy “ebay” fix, but it can be done.

      Playing OPFOR for OH-58Ds is not easy and not fun, but defeating TI is possible.

  16. KoryN says:

    Great post Max. I’m about half way throught your book so I knew just what you were talking about in regards to the thermal poncho.

    That video is both amazing and scary. Those guys don’t even know where the threat is coming from and don’t appear to get a single shot off because of that.

    The BDU’s worn by the US troops had a much lower heat signature and so I think that’s worth looking into.

    Very interesting stuff. Sure I might never be facing a helocopter gunship, I hope not anyway but any day now we could have TI equiped drones in any city in the US. The US Government and Police seem to have drone fever.

    If nothing else it’s a very interesting subject to think about.