Saturday, December 21, 2013

Field Sleeping in the Winter

Max talks Combat Patrol Gear and Info which got me thinking about different ways I have slept outside over the years. So today I am going to discuss that topic.

When it comes to cutting weight (to leave room for fun stuff, booze or tactical stuff depending on the trip) a tent is one of the first things to go. While most people like the creature comfort that a tent brings and some depend on the psychological shelter it isn't really necessary. I like them for comfortable base camp type setups but they are solidly a want not a need.

First I will talk gear. We will get to how I use it later. Let's look at some different budgetary price points.

Searching the couch for change- A synthetic sleeping bag or a large WOOL blanket and a poly tarp or piece of heavy plastic sheeting like painters use as ground cloths. A foam pad is a bonus. You can find deals on new or gently used off brand SYNTHETIC (shell and fill) sleeping bags in the $60 or less range. If you are really broke search mom or grandma's basement and you can probably find a wool blanket though that is going to be more of a 'don't die' than a 'comfortable nights sleep' solution. Total cost with a bag is probably $75. Cost with Mom's pilfered wool blanket is under $20 but you are going to be sucking if it's cold.

(Note that I specifically said a SYNTHETIC bag or WOOL blanket. If you can't figure out why the el cheapo Coleman cotton bag we all have in our garage/ basement is not good for anything but sleep over's or summer camp I do not know how to help you. Either you are ignorant and should find someone to teach you or are so stupid you can't be helped.)

You have a few bucks to spare- A military ECWS sleep system and a nylon tarp or military poncho along with a sleeping pad. The military bags are not exactly better than civilian ones but they are hell for stout and come in at a very aggressive price point. You must spend 2-3x as much to get a better civilian bag. However in the ECWS sleep system the bivy is really the prize. Those things are awesome. I have slept soundly in them during torrential downpours and snow. On more than one occasion I woke up in a puddle but inside the bivy was totally dry. The sleep system comes with a light bag, a heavy bag and the bivy as well as a stuff sack or two. By mixing and matching the system is good for weather warm enough that you lay on top of the bag all the way down to 0 deg far or even lower. Think it's reputed to work to -10 or something. For cost they can regularly be had around $200-220 brand new and nicely used from $130-150. Of course better deals pop up but you can't realistically plan based on the $40 bargain your friend Jimbo got at a garage sale.

For sleeping pads lots of folks like the thermarest inflatable type pads. I am not one of them. The damn things always break. Either they get punctured or the air nozzle thing breaks. I use the older military green foam pad. They are not as comfortable but short of getting run over by a lawnmower or tossed in a fire nothing stops them. The foam pad is bulkier but it doesn't weight anything so I don't mind it much. Other foam pads are a fine option also.

In this category the best shelter option is probably a surplus military style poncho or the civilian equivalent. Expect to pay around $50 for the shelter piece. Total cost assuming a good used ECWS system, a foam pad and a poncho is in the $200 range. Figuring a brand new ECWS system, a thermarest and a poncho it will be closer to $300.

Price isn't a concern- Military sleep system or high end bag inside a military bivy. Two poncho's or a larger purpose made nylon shelter cloth like a Swack Shack or a similar product. Whatever type of pad suits your fancy. Price starts from $230ish for a used ECWS system, a swack shack or 2 poncho's and a foam pad and goes up from there. On the top end a high end North Face bag with a commercial bivy and a Kirafu shelter could cost as much as my AR. I do not see a reason to spend that kind of money unless you're flush and want to.


The only option that is very different is the cheapest one. In this case you need to pay more attention to moisture as the bivy isn't there to protect your bag. The tarp or plastic sheeting needs to be put up into a hooch or something. If you fail to do so (like just laying it on top of your bag) the precipitation that forms on the inside can soak into your exposed bag. That can mean waking up at 3am awful chilly with a wet bag you do not have time or the ability to dry out.

This option can work fine if you stop and set up camp in a place where you can make a shelter.

For the middle and higher end options. The big advantage is that the bivy gives you a lot of leeway in shelter setup as well as bad conditions. Most of the time if it's not looking like rain or it's a go to bed late, wake up and leave, situation I don't bother setting up a shelter. I just pull out my bag with the bivy on the outside, wrap my ruck and boots in a poncho to protect them from dew or whatever then go to sleep. When my gear is sorted out I flip the top of the bivy over my head then go to sleep. This is sufficient for moderate rain though it is not the warmest option or the best for lots of rain.

If it looks like the weather is going to be bad or I am going to be around for awhile and the tactical situation permits I do like to set up a shelter. I'll just rig something up using a poncho, or even better the Swack Shack with some 550 cord to whatever trees or shrubs are available. This lets me keep the cover of the bivy partway open (vs over my head) which is nice and I don't have to worry if bad weather rolls in. Also it makes for a nicer morning with all my stuff dry. Since the shelter blocks the wind and sort of traps some air it makes for a warmer nicer night's sleep. I try to build a shelter that is suspended high enough to be off my gear but low enough that it can warm up with body heat. Typically this setup is usually just high enough at the peak to sit up.

With a small shelter (poncho sized) I will use the second poncho to wrap up my ruck to keep it dry since the ruck doesn't typically fit all the way underneath. Granted the ruck is packed so everything vulnerable is waterproof but I'd rather keep it dry. While the 2 poncho option gives more flexibility as I can have a poncho with me and have my ruck protected someplace else, etc a single larger shelter is a more comfortable setup.

So that is really how I do it. It's pretty comfortable if you choose a nice spot.

What is your field sleeping plan?


Anonymous said...

I use the MSS bivvy sack with a 0 degree Primaloft filled REI bag, an HPG Mountain Serape (between the bivvy and the bag), a Thermarest Z Rest pad and a 3/4 length self inflating pad from REI. It all rolls up together to fit in a dry bag, since I don't winter camp without a truck or sled nearby. If I need to ruck it, it'll fit in the bottom of the MOLLE ruck, with the pads removed and strapped to the side. My poncho is an Ecotat, so it sets up into a little cocoon type thing that makes a snug but moist microclimate.

When it's real cold (I live in NY, work in VT), I bring along a Kifaru stove and tarp shelter. That and a shovel makes a mighty comfy camp.

Btw, I've never commented before, but I've been enjoying your blog since summer, good work and thanks.m

Fireguy said...

A pair of combat casualty blankets and some paracord make a great shelter. Reflective on the inside,maybe helping to defeat FLIR devices if you are lucky. Not much weight either with some cord and lightweight pegs. There are some good youtube vids of this type of shelter.

AM said...

You can buy the gortex bivy shell from surplus stores for around 40 bucks, and the green foam pad for less than 10.

That is the best lightweight option to survive a night. If you want to be comfortable get any sort of sleeping bag rated for what you intend to be surviving in.

Field tip, put the foam pad INSIDE the bivy cover and sleep on it. You won't slide off the pad in the night and lose your thermal insulation against the ground that way.

AM said...

Links to said products.

40 dollar bivy cover:

5 dollar sleep pad:

30 dollar inner bag:

30 dollar patrol bag:

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