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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Guest Post: Why Every Bug Out Bag Needs a Woobie

by George Groot
George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

What is a “Woobie”?

In the military, a woobie is a standard issue poncho liner, designed to work with a standard poncho to make something like a survival sleeping bag by putting the two together.* By itself it's a quilted camouflage square made from ripstop nylon with a small bit of insulation between the two sides. The edge is reinforced with slightly thicker nylon webbing, and there are sewn-in laces that allow you to tie the woobie to the poncho.

The woobie is beloved by soldiers as it is the most cost-effective item in terms of weight that you can carry to keep from freezing. The old saying “Travel light and freeze at night” is true in the infantry, and the woobie, much like the “snookie cap” (aka watch cap), is something lightweight to keep you from freezing at night.

Just how much do Soldier’s love their woobies? This much:



The woobie is viewed as an essential piece of kit for field exercises by most infantrymen, although it is viewed as a “comfort item” by some leaders who view a two pound woobie as additional weight that would be better spent on water, food, batteries, or ammunition. Having served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Germany where the winter weather can kill you just as dead as any enemy, I firmly believe that a woobie helps a soldier get better rest in the field. and a soldier who has better rest makes better decisions, is more alert on patrol, and a better teammate to have around. If you have a mission set of unknown duration, you’ll want to pack your woobie, and want your guys to pack theirs.

Getting a Woobie of your Own
Shipping weight for one is two pounds, but they are actually lighter, usually around 22 ounces when dry. Woobies come in a standard milspec size of 62x82 inches, but commercial offerings can be larger or smaller (my personal woobie has an extra 10” of length), so when ordering online make sure you get a woobie that is a size appropriate to you -- although if you don’t know where to begin, the standard milspec dimensions work fine for almost everyone except the super tall (and even for the super tall, a milspec woobie will work for most uses).

If you are looking for the most possible “utility” from woobie camouflage, get the USMC version with MARPAT camouflage on one side and coyote brown on the other. If you're looking for the most absolute value for the money, faded ACU pattern woobies are usually half the price of new ones, and the mottled digital gray actually does okay in winter, sagebrush deserts, alder forests, and against gravel and concrete. OCP, also known as multicam, works well in most natural environments, and the woodland pattern is usually fine for anywhere that has greens and browns to blend into. However, I recommend you purchase clothing that is specific to the area you are in, and not rely on a woobie for concealment.

The Many Uses of a Woobie
Much like the towel of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the lightweight woobie is an infinitely useful item to have on hand. Here are some of the things you can do with a woobie:
  • Comfort while resting. You can use your woobie as a blanket. You can use your woobie as a pillow. You can use your woobie as a hammock (not recommended, but you can if you have to). You can share woobies so that one person in three can get really good sleep while two provide security.
  • Overhead shelter and concealment. By spraying your woobie with Scotch Guard or other water repelling treatment for camping gear, you can use your woobie as a rain cover. Since they come in camouflage patterns, you can use your woobie to conceal you (if you've picked a pattern that makes sense for your area).
  • Gathering and carrying tool. You can lay your woobie out and shake fruits or nuts from trees to gather. You can use your woobie as a carrying implement by rolling stuff in it and tying the ends together and slinging it over your shoulder and across your body.
  • First aid. You can use your woobie and two long sticks to make an impromptu field litter to transport a casualty. You can cut a woobie into strips for splinting a broken limb. You can fold a woobie into a sling to support and immobilize an injured arm.
  • Cold weather garment (see pictures at end of article). By tying the loop ties together you can make an impromptu uniform liner that covers your arms and torso down into your groin and upper thigh area. (When wearing standard Army fatigues you’ll look “puffy” with your woobie stuffed in your uniform jacket and pants, but you’ll be warmer than the guys who are hanging about in a wet uniform.) Simply slide your fingers through the tied string, and put your uniform jacket on, then stuff the extra poncho liner into your pants, adjusting the poncho liner so that it covers your arms, armpits, torso, groin, and upper thighs. This will help you not die of exposure when halted for a long time.
  • An aid to fire starting. Since the woobie is synthetic, if you absolutely need some highly flammable tinder, you can pull the polyester stuffing from your woobie (not recommended, but it’s an option).
Youtube has many videos on how to modify a woobie to make it even more suited to various tasks, and if you are handy with a sewing machine you might want to look into whether or not any of those projects would be value added to you in the circumstances you think you are most likely to encounter.

What a Woobie Is Not
It is not the same as a sleeping bag, thermal mat, and a tent. In terms of heat retention it's way better than nothing, but on its own isn’t going to give you the good rest you need except in very mild conditions in places where it doesn’t get too cold at night.** You’ll need at least season-appropriate clothes to truly make the woobie into a valuable addition to your total system, and I recommend wool watch caps in every bug out bag regardless of season, as it can always get cold at night.

Packing your Woobie
A standard bug out bag can easily accomodate a woobie. A woobie is at least five pounds lighter than an M65 field jacket, and much lighter than a full sleeping bag set; it's even lighter than a spare uniform set. It crams down into a much smaller stuff sack or ruck pocket too. So if you need a lightweight bugout bag I highly recommend you put a woobie in it.

In a standard ALICE or MOLLE rucksack, an external pouch is perfect for rapidly stuffing a woobie into when you need to strip down to minimal uniform or so you don’t overheat. Stored that way, the woobie is nice and handy for when you need to add a layer. On a civilian backpack, I would recommend a small nylon “stuff sack” be used to hold the woobie so that it is easy to find by feel in the dark.

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Your other kit should also be in stuff sacks, so that you don’t have a “rucksack explosion” digging around for a specific item. There's nothing more frustrating than having to empty your entire pack to look for one item, and then needing to repack in a rush because your position was compromised and you need to move immediately!

If you are cheap and don’t mind not having cool factory gear, a gallon ziplock style freezer bag reinforced at the seams and sides with duct tape can make a great waterproof storage bag for your woobie. (Note: if you have a larger than milspec woobie like mine, you’ll need to duct tape two bags to make a waterproof bag for your woobie). When I was in Ranger school this was the preferred way to store spare socks, t-shirts, woobie, pens, paper, etc, that could get soaked in the rain or a river crossing. I’ve used both the slide lock and the standard press lock, and for storing clothes, the press lock is probably the better option; for storing maps, paper, etc, the slide lock is really convenient because you’ll get in and out of those bags a lot more often even if it isn’t as totally waterproof. For what it's worth, I still have some of the duct taped ziplock bags from over ten years ago protecting some of my gear.


Waterproof sacks from ziplock gallon freezer bags and duct tape.
Waterproof gear bags ensure your BOB will float, and be much lighter on the other side of a water obstacle.
The bag holding my woobie is halfway finished to illustrate process.


Appendix: Woobie as Cold Weather Gear

1). Tie Figure 8 knot in center ties on each side of woobie.



2) Put fingers through tie loops created by figure 8 knot, holding folded woobie over shoulders.



3) Put on your jacket or uniform top over woobie, using ties to pull woobie into arms. Wrap loose parts around your torso.



4) Tuck excess woobie into your pants top. If you are a little tight, just unbutton the fly and stuff, using belt to keep pants up.



5) Zip up your top. Now you have extra insulation around your torso, arms, and upper legs. It won't make you perfectly toasty warm, but it's a lot better than nothing. To remove, just take the loops off your hands and pull the woobie out the jacket front.



Footnotes
* I’ve been in the US Army for a while now and this is one thing I haven't done with a woobie, so I might have to try it someday as simply knowing how to do it isn’t the same as having experienced doing it.

** However, if you are “escaping and evading” you should be moving at night and resting during the day anyway.

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