Below is yet another exceptionally informative thread from the Rubicon's Main Message Board. This one deals with ultra-lightweight camping, a subject that should interest anyone with backpacking experience.
The post by Garry on minimalist camping reminded me of a trick I saw in a video by Mark
Baker, the Primitive Editor of Muzzleloader magazine. He got it from writings of a man in the
1700's, that spent many nights in hostile territory and couldn't have an open fire. He claims
this works and keeps you comfortably warm, you just have to remember you will be sleeping
setting up and know that part won't be comfortable.
You set down with your back against a large tree, bring your feet up so the bottoms touch
and your knees are bent outward to the sides, not up towards your chin. You then dig a hole
about the size of your head in the ground in front of you, but behind your feet where they are
touching each other. When you have the hole dug you build a small fire with sticks and then
add hardwood bark, keep doing this until you get a good bed of hot coals. Then you take
hardwood bark and lay it on edge the entire way across the bed of coals and then pack the
dirt you dug out of the hole to cover the bark, at the front and back of the hole leave a small
hole for air. Take your blanket and wrap it around you and bring together over your legs
making a small enclosed tent, this will hold in the heat from your pit fire and there will be no
smoke if it is done right.
According to the writings the man that wrote this originally stated he spent comfortable nights
in the winter this way and never gave away his position to Indians. In an emergency without
any way to make an appropriate shelter this will keep you warm and comfortable. Seeing it in
the video makes it easier to understand than my description, but I think you get the idea of
how it works.
I have shown my boy scouts a similar method. We use a 48-hour candle, and a space
blanket. If you can get the one with the hood, and pockets it works even better.
Very interesting - never heard of that exact variation...
Do remember the saying: “Indians build small fire, sit close, stay warm, white man build big
fire, sit far away, stay cold...”
Also, USAF Survival manuals suggest building small fires under trees, with branches placed
directly above fire to further break up the smoke, as well as shielding to hide light on the
When I go out in the woods for a few days of peace and quiet, I usually walk vs. ride.
Consequently, I keep my gear down to a minimum. A lot of time saving gear is replaced by
sweat, but I can't carry as much as I used to, and besides, what else do I have to do? For
instance, the chainsaw and bucksaw stay home, and the axe comes with me, etc. Here's a
list of what I "don't leave home without:axeThis works the same for winter or summer. I use a lean-to for sleeping, a fire for warmth and
22 rifle (shotgun instead if in Grizz country)
sleeping bag +/or poncho liner
flour, salt, pepper
can (for cooking)
pouch tobacco and papers, bic lighter
water container (2 x 1 liter)
1 x set clean clothes ( for return home)
clothes on my back
cooking, and a pine branch bed. This is not an easy way to live if you're on the move, but with
some practice you can both move and live. Great way to live if stationary. Priority of tasks..1) find place for camp. Don't waste time on this, do the best you can quickly.I could go on, but you get the gist. I'll leave you with plans for the most comfortable bed you'll
2) get wood for a fire that will last all night. Hint- don't buck up logs, leave long and burn ends.
As they burn, shove more into fire.
3) once firewood collected, get water and a bite to eat. I usually collect Labrador tea now.
4) if time permits, set a few snares
5) set up camp, even if it's dark, it's ok as all the important stuff is done. Have your lean-to face
south, avoid prevalent winds and get morning sun.
ever sleep in. Collect several small evergreen trees, drag back to camp. Set up lean to. Start
to make bed by ripping off small branches (about 6-8" long) from main branches of evergreen.
Plant in ground, torn end first. Keep branches small, pliable, and densely packed. The
branches will have a natural curve, keep all curves pointed the same way, to your feet. When
the bed is finally made, it will last a long time, and be REALLY comfy. Cheers-Garry
Alpha tent and emergency blanket with hood and hand pockets
will be all you need down to about +20.
if you're into saving weight you may want to reconsider the wool blanket. I'm a huge fan of
wool but it is bulky and heavy. Try a fleece blanket instead. My sleeping setup consists of a
very small light sleeping bag (similar to a Thinsulate poncho liner) and a fleece blanket. These
both fit inside my medium ALICE along with a change of clothes, a week of food and all my
other outdoor necessities and it all weighs about 25-30 pounds depending on what kind of
food I'm carrying (MREs are heaviest). This setup has been comfortably warm down to about
20 degrees farenheit and would be warmer with an alpha tent.
For a bugout type set up with no more than a 3-4 day timeframe I use the following: nights
down to 45 deg I wear my clothes with my insulation a polar fleece shirt, silk shirt and
lightweight polypro underwear. Poncho tarp and cover with a synthetic blanket (NF 3D
windstorm cut down to be a quilt) I haven't cut the bag yet but others have and got it to 18 oz.
In winter I add a polar fleece pair of pants, fleece oversocks and a down vest/coat.
If it is raining then staying dry means wearing the poncho and huddling up. I figure in bug out
much of the night will be hiking and the day sleeping.
If just camping or in situation where I will be out over a week then I use a bibler bivy with the
above set up.
As for the ground pad I use 6 sections of a zrest pad during the summer and am thinking of
getting a 3/4 length thermarest self inflator pad for the winter. If you are going for minimalist
you cant beat a 3/4 length ridgerest pad.
Although more bulky than your setup, I use a British wool sleeping bag liner found at the local
surplus store for $10 covered by a USGI sleeping bag cover ($3). It falls somewhere in
between the size of a GI sleeping bag and the poncho/liner combo.
I used to use a poncho/liner bag, but if you use the poncho for a shelter (ala Alpha tent) what
do you do then, carry an extra poncho for the liner? Since the goal was to lighten the load,
not add, I just dumped the idea.
Really depends on the temperature range you're working in. Down here in Tx (not the
Panhandle!) a couple of poncho liners and a space blanket or two will cover just about
anything nature will throw at you. You can heat up an Alpha tent pretty quick with just your
REI and places like that sell special soaps to wash the bags in, that won't strip the oils from
the feathers - that helps keep them from bunching together and loosing their loft (trapping air).
When you wash them, throw a tennis shoe in the dryer (on low) to help break up clumps.
It's best to store bags "loose" out of their bags when not in use, so they don't get used to being
packed tight and "clumpy."
I've found a nice sleeping bag (Campmor). Rectangular, 20 degree rating. Weighs only 2.5
lbs. It's down, so I know I will need to be careful about keeping it dry. Any reason not to spray
the outer shell with scotch guard or something similar? It comes with a "Urethane coated
oxford nylon stuff sack." Seems like that would keep it dry unless I managed to drop it in a
river or something. I'll just have to make sure to not take it out of the bag until it's inside the
tent during a rainstorm. Any reason not to get it? Link right here.
Never used the brand, but have used down bags for 30 years. I have 0ne bag I've used daily
for 10 months a year, for about 10 years. I don't use it much anymore, but it's still servicable
I highly reccommend down bags. I DO NOT suggest you waterproof it. When you sleep you
sweat, and the sweat has to go somewhere. If you want to see for yourself, get in your bag,
wrap your poncho around yourself, and go to sleep. I'll bet when you wake up you're soaked!
A breathable/waterproof bivvy bag is a great addition! Cheers-Garry
Probably not a bad bag for the money. I would definitely get a bivy sack for what ever bag you
buy, available from REI with a mosquito net for $60.00. I'd look at rei.com, rei-outlet.com and
sierratradingpost.com (see link). If you live in a damp, high humidity area I'd consider a
synthetic bag first, the bivy sack and a bag liner(which you need anyway to keep it clean) will
add quite a bit to how warm it sleeps and they give you lots of combinations to choose from
to keep you warm.
550 fill down is perfectly fine for a general use 3 season bag. 650 fill down is good for any
temperate region. 800 fill down is for arctic and expedition bags. Down is measured by a
weight vs. loft ratio. A sample is taken (always of a specific weight) and it's loft is measured.
The more light fluffy down bits (called "clusters"), the better the loft, and the better the rating.
Usually, a sample of 550 fill down was actually around 600 to 615, but was sold as 550. My
big question is about the baffles in the bag. A good down bag will have trapezoid shaped
baffle chambers, to help keep the down from bunching up too much. This helps to eliminate
cold spots. The oxford nylon stuff sack is water resistant, but not water-proof. Most
companies which cater to kayaking sell water-proof stuff sacks. I wouldn't worry about it being
made in China, everybody else’s are made there now, too. That's the reason I am now a
firefighter, and not still making sleeping bags and jackets.
It looks like a good bag and a fair deal to me, especially if you won't be in high altitudes or
extreme cold situations.
Coatings on sleeping bags are not the greatest idea because if they keep moisture out they
also keep moisture in. Look for a Gore-tex bag cover on e-bay to keep you dry and extend the
cold rating down another 10-15 degrees F.
If you are going to be in dry-cold climates, a GI surplus Extreme cold weather mummy bag
filled with down might be had for the same money. In Oregon (wet-cold/dry-cold day/night
cycling) I only use down bags inside a cabin or vehicle where they can dry well. For hiking
and tent camping, the synthetics keep you warm even wet to the touch. REI sells products
perfect for western WA-OR, but rarely cheap.
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