Monday, February 4, 2019

Guest Post: Light Weight, Low Bulk, Cold Weather

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

In the Infantry there is a phrase: "Travel light and freeze at night." It’s true that there isn’t a lot of room or weight left over for creature comforts when you have to carry lots of military gear, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t add in a few pieces of "snivel gear". After graduating Ranger school, I decided that I would never again be cold, wet, hungry, and tired all at the same time if I could possibly avoid it. I can’t always avoid the hungry or wet or tired, but there are some things I keep on hand that help in the cold.

A sleeping bag is unfortunately a big, bulky, and relatively heavy thing to carry around, so if you have to travel light and freeze at night, the sleeping bag is usually the first thing to get left behind. After all, as your Platoon Sergeant will remind you, the rucksack you carry is for supporting the Platoon, not yourself. Fortunately, you don’t have a platoon sergeant deciding that you need to carry an extra 800 rounds of linked 7.62mm instead of a sleeping bag, but you still have the same problem: a sleeping bag is a hell of a luxury item to carry around.

Here are a few tricks to get some sleep at night,without carrying around the full weight or bulk of a sleeping bag or having to spend hundreds of dollars on a high-tech lightweight hiking bag that you only have as an insurance policy in a bug out bag.

Beanie or Watch Cap
"If your feet are cold, put on a hat" is actually pretty decent advice. Fleece beanies are lighter weight and more compact than knit watch caps, but once synthetic fleece gets wet with sweat, it’s not as good and insulator as wool. But if ounces make pounds and pounds make pain, a less than six dollar fleece beanie is a good investment for your go bag, especially if you really only need it for when you go to sleep.

Wool costs more and weighs more than fleece, but not much more. If you're in a climate where you’ll need to retain heat throughout a day of strenuous activity, then I recommend you spend the extra money on this wool cap.

Neck Gaiter
You lose a lot of your heat from your neck, which is why scarves are a thing. A neck gaiter has all the warmth of a scarf without all the bulk and weight. You can find them at most surplus stores, but Amazon has a polyester military style that works well and folds very flat.

I've been using a shemagh in cold and dry conditions for a few years, as wrapping it around the neck and tucking into your coat or sweatshirt retains heat well enough. But in reality it’s just a cotton scarf, and a cotton scarf is inferior to a polyester neck gaiter for heat retained versus weight and bulk. If you happen to live someplace where having a cotton scarf makes more sense to you than a poly neck gaiter, ten bucks isn’t a bad price for something that can keep you warmer at night and show off your keen fashion sense during the day.

Base Layer
A silkweight base layer of thermal underwear is great for staying warm while  sleeping in, hanging around camp, or light activity outdoors. If you don’t want a military surplus color, you can even save a little and buy a top/bottom set for a little less. Believe me, the military doesn’t buy the best, so I have no reservations recommending people purchase civilian products for enjoying the great outdoors. 

The military surplus base layer has thumb holes on the sleeves to help keep heat in at the wrists, but if yours doesn’t, then a 6 dollar set of wrist gaiters will help a lot. 

Sleeping Gear
When bugging out and carrying gear you’ll really want something to sleep in, just maybe just not a whole sleep system or full winter sleeping bag. During the summer I’ve used just a Gore-Tex bivy cover to stay dry at night, as the best way to stay warm is to stay dry.* There are alternatives that are lighter and smaller, and if you only plan on getting to a cache point/bug out site, then an  emergency bivy might be a better choice for you. 

No matter what you carry to sleep in, I recommend some sort of ground pad for thermal insulation. I’ve used closed cell foam and inflatable, and I think the closed cell foam is more durable, but the inflatable is definitely lighter and more compact for being on the move.

* Hence the reason that when stopping for the night I change out of my sweat soaked uniform and put on the dry spare to sleep in. The next morning it always sucks to put on that wet uniform before you move out, but really that’s the only way to have a dry uniform to sleep in the next time you stop.

Tallying the Weight
If you purchase a beanie, neck gaiter, silkweight base layer, bivy cover, and inflatable sleeping pad, your grand total will be less than 8 pounds in your pack and you can fit it all inside of a backpack that wouldn’t look out of place in a suburban or urban setting. If you're in an area that consistently gets below freezing at night, you’ll want more than this; probably a 30 degree sleeping bag to put inside the bivy cover.

So there you are. You’ve been on the move all day wearing some clothes soaked with sweat and you've decided to get way off the beaten path for the night. You find a nice spot where you're unlikely to be noticed, so you strip off the wet layers and put on dry clothes, inflate your thermal pad, put it inside your bivy so you don’t roll off it in the night, and then get snuggled up inside for some shuteye with a neck gaiter and wool cap helping you stay warm. It won’t be a stay at the Hilton, and you may wake up cold and shivering after a few hours when your sleeping metabolism slows down, but you’ll be a lot better off than the folks who just threw a six pound sleeping back in a hiking pack and let the ground suck out their body heat because they didn’t have a thermal pad, and who couldn’t pack enough food because the bulk of the sleeping bag took up so much space in their ruck. 

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