Using A Car Sun Shade For Multiple Survival Purposes

This guest post is by Justin J and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

A common theme in many survivalist blogs and forums is the importance of having gear that can serve multiple functions. The last thing any body wants in a SHTF or emergency situation is a bunch of single purpose equipment weighing them down, so maximizing the uses of each piece of your gear is a priority in preparing any type of kit. This is especially true for every day carry, get home bags, vehicle kits, bug out bags, etc.

If you have ever used a sun shade in your car you should already know that they do an excellent job of reflecting solar radiation outwards and keeping your car less hot in the summer. Unfortunately this is usually where the uses of this product end with the common consumer…but not a prepared survivalist. Aside from keeping the heat out of your car, a sun shade can be put to many different uses in a survival situation.

With a few simple modifications which you can read about here,, you can use a sun shade to purify water and cook food. The key tools to efficient solar cooking are a reflector (sun shade), an absorber (dark colored container), and glazing (cooking bag). When the sun shines into the funnel shaped sun shade it’s rays reflect back through the cooking bag and hit the container. When the sun rays hit the container they basically radiate and and get trapped in the bag thus heating the container. The container itself must be a dark colored object in order to absorb the sun’s rays. It is much like how you get hotter wearing black clothing in the summer time compared to white clothing that does not absorb as much.

The ability to purify water and cook food in this manner is very useful. For one, you do not need to have fire which could save you vital calories in a survival situation since you would not need to collect tinder, fire wood, and expend energy trying to start the fire. It is also a very stealth way of cooking as there is no noise, no smoke, and no scent if you are only purifying water. The only real downside is that it takes a little longer to heat up but the trade-off can be acceptable in many scenarios.

Here are a few tips that I have picked up from using this. Unless you are carrying a black camping cook kit with you, it may be hard to find a container that will absorb the heat on the fly. While a variety of clear plastic and glass bottles could still be used without the cooking bag to achieve water purification though SODIS, you will probably have to improvise to make a cooking container. What I found useful is to paint the outside of a stainless steel water bottle with black BBQ paint. It is already a piece of gear that I carry anyway that had been “charred” on the outside from heating water next to a fire on different occasions. This works well in the cooking bag and I have even been able to use it in a clear poncho too. I’ve also found that both a folding sterno cook stove and a cooking ring can be used as a stand for the bottle inside the funnel.

While the ability to cook with the sun shade is pretty awesome by itself, I’ve found some other uses for the sun shade as well. The one that I purchased folds up and is very lightweight and I actually roll it up inside a backpacking bed roll when camping. This thing could quite possibly be the biggest signal mirror you could ever have on you in a survival situation as it would definitely help in catching the attention of any rescue planes or helicopters. It is also a great way to reflect the heat of a campfire back towards your camp. You can put it underneath your sleeping bag at night and it will reflect your body heat back to you and help keep your core temperature up. I’ve also put 2 of them inside the top of my tent before to keep the tent cooler in the summer time.

In my opinion, this is one great piece of gear to keep in your car at the very least. Not only are they useful in a variety of ways, but they are cheap (usually around $3 at a dollar store), are lightweight, and can be folded up so that it doesn’t take up much space at all. What other ways could a sun shade be used for survival?

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About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Sounds like a good use of a car shade. I wonder if those reflective blanket cloths used by NASA and cost $3 would work as well. They reflect 90% of heat, but would it work for cooking as well I would think so.

    Just a note about the storm… I wonder how many actually prepared? It has shown what happens in a BIG SHTF senario. I think this country is more resilient than expected. I sent donations to Disaster Relief for the survivors, and ask others on this Blog to do the same. With this disaster and many without power, a $3 reflective blanket would go a long way with temps dropping.

    • Donna,
      I use the “Space Blanket” for all of the above. At $3.00 each they are in all of my bags and I have at least two in my EDC. They are IMO one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in the survival tool set.
      As for storm preparedness, I saw a guy on TV today complaining that his wife and two children were in the dark without food and water and wanted to know when something would be done about it. Who knows, perhaps he didn’t pay attention to the news and didn’t know that the storm was coming. Unfortunately this guy represents too many folks in our current society.

  2. You mentioned things I hadn’t thought of. Thanks.

  3. You could keep a cold pet in one – like line a cat carrier with it.

    There are also reflective bags like caterers use, with the same stuff inside. So you could rig an auto shade to line a bag with food to keep it warm, if you didn’t have a bag made for that purpose.

    I wonder if a car shade could be used to thwart FLIR equipment? You’d need camo on top of it, of course.

  4. Patriot Dave says:

    It appears that you could catch rain water in it and allow it to leak into the bucket through the velcro. Although not as much square footage as a tarp.
    Donna: I don’t think the space blanket would hold its shape well enough without some kind of support structure. But you could attach it to some cardboard like these different plans: They use aluminum foil instead. More reflective. Also, It becomes a single use item.
    What I like about Justin’s plan is multifunction part.

  5. Your mention of keeping a car cool and got me to wondering… has anyone ever tried to use the passenger compartment of an old car as a solar dehydrator? I would think one could use solar fans to keep the air moving and roll the windows up and down as temp control. One could even go as far as using a broken down beater car, and remove the seats and steering wheel. Racks would be easy to insert and remove, just open the door…

    Thanks man for the idea!!

    • I know I read on here about someone using a van for that purpose,,,I believe it was Bam Bam.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

      I’ve read several articles of people doing just that, leaving dark colored vehicles parked in full summer sun and using the heat to dehydrate. Works way better in non humid areas of course.

  6. Justin, Thank you for sharing your multipurposing of a very common item.I’ve been wondering why I keep those things!! Iwas thinking they would be great to kneel on while changing a flat tire. I like your ideas alot better. If you’re ever stranded in the hot sun they would be good to help keep you cool, too.

  7. PJ Prepper says:

    Who knew sun shades could be so versatile. Way to think outside the box (sorry for the office cliche). I like the thought of using a couple sun shades as sleeping mats at night, this is very good idea that I never thought of. Usually I tend to remove the sun shades from my vehicles during the winter, maybe I’ll leave them in full time from now on.

    I know it’s off topic but I would suggest each vehicle has a survival bag (get home bag) as well, in addition to your sun shade of course. Something you can live out of for 3 days while on foot while you make your way back home (post disaster).

    Great article and thanks for the submission.


  8. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Justin J.,
    Good article! It’s not just the multi-uses of the sunscreen but you have got the rest of us thinking about the many versatile utensils in our aresonal.

    When TSHTF we all will become rednecks. It is amazing how creative we will become when the resources are no longer there.

  9. Good post. Is like to see more ideas like that. What other uses for “x”? The ssleeping mat is genious! I planned on getting a few for my solar oven, but may need more. Ty!

  10. Compact umbrella as well , especially in the SW , a lot easier to move distances ,and use less water in the heat if your shaded the whole way . Who cares what people think or say about them , they are good to have . I would see big burly guys in Puerto Rico walking around with them folded up in their hand as they walked around the streets ……………..After getting caught in one of their tropical rain storms and forced to walk home in the middle of one . I became a believer and picked one up the next day . Personal moral : copy what the locals do , because they do it for a reason .

  11. Once again my eyes are opened to what was in front of my nose. Thanks, I need a nudge now and then to think of the possibilities around me.

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