With hunting season and fall hiking upon us and winter around the corner, I wanted to give you a couple of extremely compact winter survival tools that will help you maintain core temperature in the most extreme conditions. If you live in a more temperate climate, keep in mind the fact that most cases of hypothermia happen when the temperature is in the 50s. Why? It’s the perfect temperature that encourages activity, sweat, lighter than necessary clothing, and big temperature shifts due to the sun. In other words, this is something you need to know regardless of whether you live in Alaska or Hawaii.
In the picture below, I show a shelter system I use that has worked very well for me. I would not suggest trying this, but I’ve used it down to -10 with only pants and a T-shirt on.
Figure 1 – Left: Flexible Mylar Bivvy; Middle: Bag Liner; Right: GI Poncho;
On the left we have the flexible mylar bivvy. It is a thin flexible plastic “sleeping bag” that’s lined with mylar to reflect heat. There are a couple of different brands of these, and >The Tact Bivvy< is my current favorite. Both my 9 year old and I can comfortably fit into it at the same time without stretching, ripping or tearing the bag. It’s worth getting one for each car you own. In addition, I carry one in my running/hiking/hunting pack that I use this time of year.
Many 72 hour kits come with Mylar bags, but Mylar tends to crinkle and tear. I oftentimes wonder how many people selling 72 hour kits with traditional mylar blankets have actually spent a night outside using one to keep warm. Over the years, I’ve gone from being mildly annoyed with these cheap sheets of mylar to *almost* getting to the point where I think it’s criminal negligence to include them in entry level kits. Why?
Normal mylar emergency blankets, in a word, “suck.” Of those who have actually used them and made it through the night using one, I wonder how many had a blanket that was still holding together enough to use for a second night. If you doubt my assessment of traditional mylar, pull out one of your mylar blankets/bags and see how it performs.
And if you really want to test it, let it ride around in a backpack or in your car for a few months and see how well it holds up. I would bet you that if you’ve got a traditional thin mylar blanket for more than a year and try to use it, it will fail immediately at the fold edges or corners.
They ARE functional, WAY better than nothing, and provide more heat retention per ounce/dollar than almost anything else you can buy, but they do have serious shortcomings. If you know them and are comfortable with them, you won’t be disappointed by them in a survival situation, but if you naively expect them to be more than they are, you’ll be disappointed.
The TactBivvies that I use are flexible, don’t tear, cost less than $20 and they still reflect about the same amount of heat as Mylar. They are great tools. In addition, they’re a lot quieter than Mylar. If you’re a light sleeper, like I am, this makes a huge difference in your quality of sleep.
The middle bag in the picture is a Sea To Summit / Thermolite bag liner. A bag liner like this one will add 10 or 20 more degrees of temperature rating to your sleeping bag, regardless of whether it’s a bivvy or a full fledged sleeping bag. These will allow you to use the same 30 or 40-degree sleeping bag year round by letting you simply add a liner for three and four season camping. The one I use (+15 degree bag liner) adds 15 degrees to ANY sleeping bag. They also make a +25 degree bag liner.
A big reason to use bag liners is that if you’ve ever backpacked for a week or two, your bag can get to smelling pretty funky. A bag liner allows you to take the bag liner out and rinse it off in a stream every day, giving you a much-much cleaner smelling sleeping bag.
When combined with the SOL bivvy, it gives you a little more insulation and warmth in a small, lightweight package.
Another practical use for these is to carry them while traveling to avoid bed bugs in hotels.
In any case, what I do is use the bag liner close to my body, and the bivvy outside of that, and the reason I do that is for flexibility. On a very warm evening I can just use the bag liner or nothing at all, but I like the bag liner because it gives some instant protection, and if it is colder, I can use just the bivvy or a combination of the two.
I’ve used this combination successfully down to -10 degrees, outside, on the ground, with no supplemental heat or cover. This is really something you want to avoid.
If you start out cold or can’t get warm, this setup has the added benefit of reflecting the majority of the heat put out by chemical hand and body warming packets.
One thing that you’ll learn, and you’ll learn it faster the colder it is, is that you’ll lose a lot, if not most of your heat to the ground in this setup. To combat this, you want to insulate yourself from the ground. If you don’t have a camp pad, pile at least 6 inches of leaves, pine needles, or other debris that is “cushy” and traps plenty of air.
In a rain situation, it’s hard to beat a GI Poncho like the one shown on the right (photo), and specifically a poncho with grommets on the corners so you can make it into a tent. The “tent” doesn’t have a bottom, it doesn’t have walls. All it has is an A-frame roof, but with the combination of these three items you can have shelter in most situations.
As a note, if you like this type of material, it’s a tiny component of the Fastest Way To Prepare course. To learn more high speed, usable, and practical tips, tactics, and tricks for surviving any disaster that man or nature can throw at you, check it out by going >HERE<