Travel Light, Freeze at Night: Comments and Notes on Packing the Bug-Out Bag/Go-Bag/Patrol Pack
Whether you are a potential guerrilla force fighter, living in the hills trying to evade capture and wreak hate and discontent on the enemy, a member of the auxiliary who is smart enough to know that you need to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, or are simply a guy who wants to be ready to run for a safe retreat area when TSHTF, one aspect of that planning that receives a lot of attention in preparedness circles is the development of the bug-out bag/go-bag/patrol pack/whatever cool name you prefer…..There are dozens of books (actually, I just did a “books” search on Amazon for “bug out bag” and there were 360 hits….). Any forum online that is related to firearms or survival will generally have hundreds of individual threads on what should constitute a good bug-out bag.
Unfortunately, with many of these books, the “tricks” focus on generalist gear that may allow you to perform multiple functions at a mediocre level, but none of them well. I hate to burst any bubbles (well, that’s not true, now is it?), but while aluminum foil is amazing shit, and it CAN work as a signal mirror device, as well as allowing you to wrap a snared rabbit in it to cook on a campfire, it does not work anywhere near as well as a fucking purpose-designed signal mirror. A razor blade in a fucking Altoids can, will cut stuff…but not as well as a Benchmade folder that’s had a good edge put on it. An unlubricated condom will hold a lot of water…but not as well as a 2qt canteen or a Nalgene bottle will.
The second drawback to these books is their focus on comfort items. Folks, if you’re in a survival situation, whether bugging out for your hidey-hole in Idee-ho, or you’re simply trying to move from a secure guerrilla base area to a nearby place to conduct a raid, and your focus is on whether you have an entertaining novel in your ruck to read, or if your fucking IPOD is charged up….you’re as wrong as two boys fucking.
Third, these books are predicated on suburban housewife, soccer moms as the reader. They are seldom, if ever, suitable for the prepared individual who expects to have to fight and kill the enemy, whether to escape a horde of mutant-zombie-outlaw-biker-vampire-werewolf-communists.
Finally, too often, the supposed expertise of the authors of these books has to be questioned, as they recommend shoving all this shit into the tiny ass assault packs that are de riguer in the military and survival industries today. Recognizing the importance of always striving to reduce the mobility-destroying load-bearing requirements of the partisan, it is critical to dispel some long-cherished myths regarding the historical American woodsman-scout. When many Americans consider the mythological archetype of the frontiersman, their visualization typically involves either an eastern long-hunter (think Daniel Boone or Simon Kenton), or a western mountain man (think Kit Carson or Jedidiah Smith), slipping silently and effortlessly through the timber, carrying everything he owns in a shoulder-slung “possibles” pouch, or a small knapsack slung on his back. This, like the cowboy-plainsman with his bedroll strapped across the cantle of his stock saddle, is nothing by Thoreauan fantasy.
This is seen, in the modern context, in the form of small, lightweight, one- or three-day “assault” packs. These are not new to light infantry forces. From the haversacks of pre-industrial armies that lived largely off pack trains of horses and mules and wagons, to the ALICE LCE buttpack, the concept has a great deal of historical precedent.
The contemporary rebirth of the assault pack in the ongoing fight with the Caliphate is due, almost totally, to the prevalence of vehicle-based operations, even for “light infantry” (as I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, as well as the old site, calling a fighting force that travels to within 1-3 KM of the objective in motorized vehicles, and then walks the last little bit “light infantry” is, to me, ludicrous). When you expect to perform your mission, after a short one-mile jaunt, then return just as quickly to the trucks, only to be returned to the FOB in time for dinner and a show before bed time, there’s little reason to need to carry more than a simple day-pack. When the guerrilla fighter however, has to literally live out of his rucksack, with his entire sustenance and shelter only what he can carry for the duration of an operations, an assault pack will only suffice is his missions will be raids on the next door neighbors.
The sad reality is, the assault pack concept only works for modern conventional infantry forces because a) they are receiving heli- or truck-borne resupply on an average of every 48-72 hours, and b) the trucks are generally less than two hours of walking away if they do run out of something in the meantime. For the future resistance guerrilla fighter, or the auxiliary member who is concerned about having to go into E&E mode in order to evade capture following compromise, and will need to traverse jungle/swamp environments, alpine areas, or other non-urban areas, a return to the traditional rucksack will be necessary, regardless of how well-supplied you expect to be thanks to well-planned and developed caches, and logistics networks. While we should certainly have pre-planned and pre-positioned, and pre-networked to have access to these, any number of contingencies, from observers in the immediate area, to being on the run for escape-and-evade requirements, could preclude our ability to access either of these resources.
Even the simple amount of gear necessary for successful long-term operations in these non-urban environments is great enough to require a full-size rucksack, despite the best efforts of tactical experts within the military, and ultra-light backpacking gurus like Ray Jardine (you have to know if Ray knew I was citing him on a “militia” website, he’d be fucking appalled!), to reduce the weight of gear to the absolute minimum possible. If, like Mr. Jardine, you can get your basic payload of sustainment gear (not counting food), down to between seven and 12 pounds (a very laudable goal), you’re going to need room in your ruck for mission-essential gear, ranging from extra ammunition, to breaching tools, and aid bags. I keep my “go-to-war” ruck equipped with a basic load ample to sustain me in the field, for two weeks, without having to resort to snaring game or gathering edible plants (who am I fooling? I don’t eat plants anyway….). It still weighs less than 30 pounds (nevertheless, I make it a point to maintain the ability to carry a 65+ pound ruck, so I can add mission-essential gear if necessary).
Prior to World War Two, and the development of realistically practical off-road motorized transport, long-term travel in the backcountry almost always involved the use of livestock for the transportation of personnel and logistics. Guerrilla and irregular forces have historically made widespread use of the local indigenous beast of burden as well, whenever possible, even as recently as the GWOT (SF made rather extensive use of animal transport in the early days of OEF, thanks to the Northern Alliance’s reliance on horses. Both SOF and conventional forces have apparently continued to make use of pack animals, in various degrees, according to some of my sources who are still serving, especially in the more remote, extremely alpine regions of Afghanistan, where it can still be nearly impossible for rotary-wing assets to get to, and completely impossible to get wheeled or tracked vehicles in. Despite this, however, and regardless of the reality that future partisans should certainly be looking long and hard at pack animals as potential assets, for the light-infantry force, the paradigm in large part, remains focused on man-portable sustainment load-bearing equipment in the form of the ancient rucksack.
It is neither necessary nor desirable to pack the “kitchen sink” in the partisan’s sustainment rucksack load. We are not discussing recreational backpacking trips. Focusing the sustainment load packing list on the basic necessary logistics of survival and combat-effectiveness, rather than on creature comforts, makes it possible to minimize the partisan’s load to the barest realistic minimums. To cite a “Mosby Maxim” that HH6 likes to quote me as saying, “Don’t carry more than you have to, but be able to carry what you need to.”
Among the simplest, but certainly the most effective methods of reducing sustainment load weights, is the development and enforcement of “standardized” packing lists within a resistance patrol element. In order to be effective however, these standards must be ruthlessly enforced by key leaders during pre-combat inspections. At it’s simplest level, the light infantry sustainment load should encompass only the basic necessities to ensure human survival: water, food, and adequate shelter for the given environmental conditions. This minimalist approach leaves the partisan a sustainment load far less than the standard of modern conventional forces, while still allowing for the addition of mission-essential equipment without exceeding the ability of the conditioned, fit partisan to move and fight effectively.
The selection of a suitable rucksack design for the partisan is most critically dependent on the demands of the immediate operational environment, and the preferences of the individual. A resistance force operating in a largely urban enclave guerrilla base, with ample support from a complex, established subversive underground and extensive auxiliary support network, will have significantly different logistical sustainment requirements than a less well-supported organizational element operating from a swamp/jungle base or in an alpine environment.
Rucksack options, outside of the assault pack paradigm, range from military/military surplus options such as the old ALICE rucksack with frame and the newer MOLLE designs, to the option of civilian recreational packs from companies such as Gregory, Dana Designs, North Face, and Kelty. While these typically lack the modularity or sheer brutal toughness of the military designs, it is important to remember that, despite the sometimes oddball aspects of the mountaineering sub-culture, serious alpinists are extremely physical athletes who demand a lot from their equipment.
Further, the relatively innocuous appearance of this equipment may, in some areas, assist the partisan’s attempts to blend with elements of the local civilian population, in regime-controlled, denied territory, when moving into and through built-up areas (consider the idea of a small guerrilla force infiltrating an urban area to conduct a raid, either solo or in pairs, to rendezvous at an auxiliary-operated safehouse, to conduct final planning and isolation functions prior to the raid, withing the regime-controlled urban area…Have you ever spent any time in downtown Portland, Oregon or Seattle? See where I’m going with that?)
Finally, there is the obvious option of selecting the sustainment load rucksack from the current offerings of companies that are catering to the military and PMC (Private Military Contractor) markets, with non-issue, COTS (Civilian Off The Shelf) rucksacks, such as Kifaru, Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch, and others. While they offer a remarkably attractive blend of the best of both worlds (the robustness of military designs, and the the ergonomics of civilian designs), they do suffer from two potential drawbacks.
One, they are incredibly expensive. Although often no more expensive than comparable civilian sector mountaineering packs, they are seldom found used, in thrift stores and second-hand stores, dirt cheap, the way civilian models often are in resort areas like Jackson Hole or the towns around Yosemite.
Two, since most of them are obviously military in appearance, they may offer little advantage to partisans who will conduct operations in built-up areas that require covert, versus clandestine, infiltration, and need to avoid piquing the curiosity of regime security forces.
Ultimately, the selection of a pack for the sustainment load will depend on the physiognomy of the individual partisan, what is locally available and affordable (although, as long as the internet is available, “local” is a loose term in this case), and the operational/environment constraints of the local environment, and its demands on what “must” be carried.
I’ve gone through a wide range of rucksack options over the last two decades. I started with the ALICE large ruck and frame, as a young Ranger, moved on to a civilian mountaineering rucksack courtesy of Dana Designs, as a SF NCO, while I had a team daddy who let it fly, then tried a couple of different high-end military rucksack systems from the commercial market before reverting to the “big green tick” of my youth. I’m actually back to searching for a suitable civilian market replacement for it however.
The ALICE pack is not ideal for anyone, is far from ideal for most, and is simply unbearable for many. I accept that reality and seldom, if ever, recommend it, unless someone is on a budget, and often not even then. Kelty makes some extremely durable, large-capacity internal frame packs that are not much more expensive than a surplus ALICE ruck, while being far more comfortable for most people to bear. Additionally, the availability of well-cared for, used high-end mountaineering rucks, makes the ALICE far from the “best choice” regardless of the prejudices of those of us that grew up with it.
While our bodies long ago developed the necessary contortions to carry an extremely heavy ALICE ruck and still remain tolerably comfortable doing so (at least as “comfortable” as a “gut-check” can ever be), the truth is, there are far better options available. Denying that fact is hubris at best, and sheer stupidity otherwise.
One issue I’ve always had, when recommending packing lists, or developing them for myself or others, is my well-developed ability to move quickly, cross-country, with inordinate amounts of weight on my back, without complaint. This was beneficial when I was a young Ranger, packing a M249 SAW and a basic load and a half of ammunition for it, as well as when I was a junior SF weapons sergeant, and had a senior Bravo who insisted that I needed to pack a mortar, base plate, and a half-dozen rounds for it, as well as my personal gear.
It has turned into a severe drawback in recent years however, as I still tend to over pack my ruck, unnecessarily burdening myself with gear that is “nice to have” but far from “need to have.” Even here in the Northern Redoubt, where wintertime temperatures and climactic conditions can get pretty demanding, it’s generally not necessary to pack four fleece jackets, three pairs of thermal underwear, and an extreme cold-weather sleep system.
I’m not entirely certain where I first came across it, years ago, but I do know, from a survival standpoint, the military once used the acronym SMOLES to determine the survival equipment requirements for packing (I was actually reminded of this acronym recently on an internet forum dedicated to wilderness survival and preparedness). SMOLES stands for:
Lost and Found
Extreme Weather Conditions
This re-awakening of the fundamentals has led to drastic reductions on my basic payload weight, as I deliberately and mercilessly cull my gear on a regular basis (HH6 claims I re-pack my gear at least weekly. I’m pretty sure it’s not more frequently than once a month). If I’m moving, whether through the timber or across the desert, the heater on my back (the rucksack), keeps me creating more body heat than I need. If I stop, it generally means I’m moving into a hide site, which means I’ll either be crawling into a sleep system/shelter, have the ability to stoke the internal furnace (high caloric value food), or need to stay cool enough, without going hypothermic, to stay awake for essential tasks.
Filling the rucksack load with the METT-TC influenced equipment choices that will fill each of these categories, means that, at the end of the day, you have a pack that has the minimum amount of gear necessary to survive and survive. We will discuss each of these in context, below.
For most partisans, the self-defense aspects are completely irrelevant to the Tier Three, Sustainment load. Self-defense comes from the Tier Two, Fighting Load.
Most survival manuals, whether general wilderness survival or “bug out bag” books, focus on packing a generalist first-aid kit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and in fact, if you’re going to carry a first-aid kit, in addition to your blow-out kit (BOK), it should certainly be in your ruck, rather than on your LBE in the same pouch as your BOK gear (SUT classes include a period of instruction on TC3. Every single class, I end up having to go through guys’ BOKs and throw half the shit in them on the ground, because it’s first-aid gear that doesn’t belong in a BOK). In a partisan organization, rather than a simple “go bag,” the first aid kit should be very minimalist. Your team medic will have a medic’s bag that has ample first-aid gear for most foreseeable injuries that might occur, or he should. Adding a bunch of shit like sutures, abdominal wound dressings, and other “advanced” first-aid and medical gear that you probably don’t fucking know how to use anyway, is a pointless addition of weight to your gear. Leave it to the medic.
In a tactical environment, medical emergencies constitute those occurrences that can occur that will immediately (within 10-30 minutes) kill you dead, without intervention. The gear for remedying these situations should be in your BOK, on your fighting load. The exception to this rule, in my experience, is the recommendation that everyone in an element pack at least one 1000mL bolus of IV fluids, for fluid resuscitation. A handful of extra Israeli Battle Dressings, or an extra CAT-T tourniquet would certainly not be out of place however, if also not necessary.
Observation requirements in combat can range from the obvious use of binocular field glasses and spotting scopes to see the enemy before he sees you, to the application of NODs or FLIR devices. It may also include the carry of a flashlight or headlamp, for use after dark in limited areas, such as locating spoor for tactical tracking, or reading a map.
For visible lights, I’ve always used and recommended the use of red lenses for maintenance of night-vision. I’ve been asked in classes about the use of green filter lenses and always said, “I use red. It works for me. I don’t know of any advantages to green.” A fellow SF veteran recently pointed out to me however, one significant advantage of green lenses over red however….It’s fuck all easier to read a topo map with a green lens filter, since it doesn’t wash out the contour lines like a red lens does….
Headlamps may also be necessary for use when both hands are required for a task, such as securing a detainee, or gathering up materials on an objective for battlefield recovery. In such cases, while a colored lens filter may help with maintenance of night-vision, it may also reduce visual acuity enough that you leave something critical behind on the objective. A far better approach is to have a colored lens filter on a hand-held light (I’m partial to SureFire and StreamLight brands, personally. Despite the costs, they have a far more established track record for robustness than any of the newer brands. I’ll choose quality over cheap any day of the week, and twice on Sundays), and a white lens headlamp for searching personnel or objectives.
With NODs, I’m currently in love with the AN/PVS-14 monocular. It may go in your ruck, or on your fighting load, but for most people, most of the time, it should go in your ruck if you’re not wearing it on your head, and using it. While the AN/PVS-23 offers better depth perception for driving, it also costs better than twice what the 14s do. The AN/PVS-7, while slightly less expensive, suffers from the same lack of depth perception that the 14s do, while also degrading the natural night vision in both eyes, versus only one with the 14.
I often get asked about the applicability of less expensive NODs, such as the older Gen 1 Russian imported stuff, and some of the stuff you can find at hunting retailers like Cabelas. In a word, don’t. I’m sure someone will post a comment on this article about how it’s better than no NODs at all. You’re wrong, and you are doing nothing but demonstrating your ignorance when you do. The only way the cheap stuff is even remotely viable is with the use of the IR illuminator device switched on. Having the illuminator device on is the NOD equivalent of taping a fucking SureFire light to your face. If you’re dumb enough to assume that you’re the only guy in the area smart enough to have NODs, then thank you in advance for contributing to the cleansing of the gene pool.
Cheap, POS NODs are, in fact, far worse than no NODs. One, they breed false confidence, that will result in your dying. Two, NODs are actually not all that hard to hide from. FLIR can be difficult to hide from, but it’s not impossible. NODs are relatively easy to hide from however. Think about it. They magnify the available light. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you are camouflaged and concealed enough to hide from naked eye observation in daylight, then you’re camouflaged and concealed enough to hide from NODs in darkness. Fucking rocket science, isn’t it?
NODs, unless you are in an overwatch, support-by-fire position during a raid, running a precision rifle, or belt-fed weapon, should never be mounted on your rifle. Put them in your ruck for safekeeping, until it’s time to use them, then put them on a helmet or skullcrusher mount, and wear them. If you’re using the NODs to shoot with, drop the extra money on a IR laser.
Lost and Found
A lot of your land navigation and signaling gear will be in your Tier One or Tier Two loads. Signal mirrors and VS-17 panels for ground-to-ground signaling should be in your Tier One gear. Radios should be in your Tier Two gear. Compasses and maps should be in your Tier One gear. Extra batteries for all of this gear will go in your rucksack however.
A lot of guys like to bitch about the battery requirements, and how we should all get primitive, like we’re some sort of paleolithic hunter-gatherers. That’s fine, for what it is, and I can start a fire with a bow-drill or flint-and-steel if I have to. However, from a tactical standpoint, I want to win. I will leverage everything I can to that end, including the use of technology, when available.
I do not however, advocate GPS, for three reasons. One, I grew up with the old shoe-box sized PLUGGER units. The batteries would last about twenty minutes on those things, then you were back to map and compass, while still having to carry around that brick. I know modern GPS are far smaller, more lightweight, and more reliable (my ex-wife had a wrist mounted GPS that she loved, and wore like an extra watch), but……
Two, they create a cookie crumb record of where you’ve been. That only becomes a problem if you are killed or captured, and then it’s not a problem for you, but for your friends and family; nevertheless, it’s something critical to consider. While theoretically you can erase the cookie crumbs, I have my doubts about how difficult it would be for a computer-savvy person to dig them out.
Three, while the young bucks won’t remember this, until 1996, GPS wasn’t available for civilian receivers. In 1996, recognizing the applicability of GPS to civilian users, former President Clinton issued a policy directive that established the Interagency GPS Executive Board and opened the satellite system to civilian recreational receivers. I don’t think for one second that, given the impetus, Uncle Sugar wouldn’t flip the switch back the other way. Then, all you cool guys that either never learned to use a map and compass properly, or have forgotten the details, are fucked….(I got asked recently to do some articles on land nav. They are forthcoming).
Extreme Weather Conditions
At its most fundamental level, Che Guevara’s recommendation of a poncho and a light blanket may be all that is required for the partisan to function in inclement weather (as a young soldier, training throughout the southern USA and many tropical and subtropical environments, we utilized nothing more than a poncho and poncho liner as a “sleep system” even in winter). Even in winter in alpine environments, it is theoretically possible that it may be sufficient. The interior of a snow cave maintains a pretty steady temperature just above or at freezing. I’ve stayed comfortably warm in snow caves with nothing more than a poncho, poncho liner, and casualty-type, quilted “space” blanket. Of course, on the other hand, I’ve also frozen my dick off laying in a tank truck in the mud of an early spring sleet storm, wrapped in a poncho and poncho liner, with MRE heaters shoved under my ass in an attempt to generate heat.
As a result, although I suffered through as a young Ranger, I now refuse to scrimp on sleep comfort (of course, as participants in the last Colorado class witnessed, my definition of sleep comfort can be drastically different than most). I recognize the importance of being able to function for lengthy periods of time without adequate sleep, have done so, and can still do so. However, when the opportunity to sleep does occur, especially under tactical conditions, it is imperative to take full advantage of it, and get the highest quality of sleep/rest possible.
In Colorado, I used a summer weight patrol sleeping bag, inside of the GoreTex bivy, with a casualty blanket wrapped around me inside of the patrol bag. I generated enough heat that my hooch buddy commented on it “Dude, you put out a lot of body heat. Can I snuggle up to you for warmth?” That was fine, right up to the point the diesel motor starting roaring in my ear…
That’s pretty much my current standard for cold-weather sleep gear. I go back and forth between the old closed-cell foam sleep pad and a ThermaRest pad beneath it, but am pretty well stuck on the advantages of the ThermaRest. In the warmer months, I use the standard “Ranger Taco” bivy system. It is a quilted poncho liner (“woobie”) and a poncho, folded and snapped together into a sort of psuedo “sleeping bag,” with the casualty blanket on the inside.
To the average “camper,” neither of these is going to be anywhere near comfortable, or even adequate, as is. The secret, for me (and I know a lot of really expert people who disagree with me on this….), is that I wear dry clothes to bed with me, for an extra layer of insulation to trap my body heat.
I once had a Ranger squad leader who had developed outdoor sleeping in a tactical environment into a highly evolved scientific pursuit, worthy of study in architectural colleges. In addition to the basic “Ranger Taco,” he modified the “Ranger Hooch” into a system that I blatantly and unabashedly stole. While the basic Ranger Hooch concept simply involves stringing the poncho overhead to keep precipitation off, this system allows the hooch to he pitched anywhere, under any conditions, and protect the individual from the vagaries of almost any imaginable ill weather conditions, from snow and rain, to high winds, or any combination of the above.
(My Ranger Hooch, separate from the Ranger Taco, includes a basic USGI ripstop nylon poncho–although you could use any of the civilian type shelter tarps, like Ray Jardine’s of silicon impregnated silk–in woodland BDU camouflage, because let’s face it, UCP sucks as a camouflage pattern, with a loop of about eight inches of 550 cord tied to every eyelet around the exterior, and a 12-inch loop tied to the inside loops where the waistband strings were originally located.
The hood is cinched close as tight as possible, tied off with 550 cord, and has a six-foot long length of 550 cord extending from it. This provides a lot of options for tie-off points for suspending the shelter in vegetated areas.
I include 8-10 stainless steel tent pins–pegs are too heavy and space-consuming, as well as harder to drive into the ground in most terrain–as well as 8-12 one-foot bungee cords, and six sections of the old USGI shelter half poles. These allow me a great deal of flexibility in creating elevated corners and sides of the shelter, to control the ingress of wind and precipitation, while still allowing for maximum visibility to the exterior of the shelter. Combined with the Ranger Taco, or a sleeping bag/bivy system, this provides me a wide range of shelter options for protection from the elements when in a lay-up position or hide site. It provides all of the benefits of a tent, besides the psychological crutch of “solid walls,” with none of the tactical liabilities such as reduced visibility and situational awareness, and reduced egress options.
Finally, a new option I’ve been playing with that is actually a very old one, is the use of a hammock, even in cold-weather climates. The obvious drawback to a hammock of course, is the air flow underneath that steals body heat. What I discovered however, was that putting a ThermaRest pad on the hammock first, then a casualty blanket, before crawling into it with my sleep system, negated that drawback nicely. I actually let someone use it at an SUT class in Idaho last winter, and he even remarked that he was more than adequately warm through the night.
Other issues with extreme weather conditions include clothing to protect you from the elements when you’re not in a shelter. This is where most of us screw up. I prefer cold-weather environments over hot-weather environments, by a wide margin. I can always put more clothes on in the cold weather places, but I can only pull so much off before I’m naked in the hot weather.
Unfortunately, I’m also fond of staying warm. So, like most people, I tend to overpack. Of course, again, my definition of comfortable is far wider than that of many people. The suburban soccer mom or office hive worker will feel it necessary to pack a metric shit-ton of snivel gear to stay warm. They’re not used to being exposed to the elements, and so, regardless of protestations otherwise, they fear the discomfort of it. So, they make themselves even more uncomfortable by carrying far more gear than they actually need.
As we ruthlessly cull our gear each month, we need to look at the realities. You do not need seven outfits for seven days in the woods. You do not need a separate wet-weather parka and a cold-weather parka. Instead, the wet-weather parka, with a layer or two of insulating material beneath, doubles as a cold-weather parka.
For inclement weather protection, a lighweight, but durable wet-weather shell, a medium weight fleece jacket, a fleece or wool stocking cap, warm socks and gloves, and something to cover your neck and face, are generally adequate, unless you’re operating in Minnesota in January, or north of Denali in Alaska. I’ve functioned outdoors, on the Montana Hi-Line, in February, with one pair of thermal underwear, jeans and a Carhartt jacket, and a wool cap on, and stayed comfortably warm.
Think about what you actually need, then test what you think you actually need. My current snivel gear packing list?
1) Four pairs of wool socks. While theoretically, I could wear one and be drying the other, tactical considerations may preclude that, meaning I may need the extra pairs.
2) Silk weight, polypro thermal underwear trousers. I can’t stand wearing heavyweight thermal trousers, and my legs stay pretty warm anyway. These only go on when I’m stationary. Wearing them while humping a ruck will make you a heat casualty, even in cold-weather conditions.
3) medium weight polypro thermal underwear shirt. I finally got one of the newer waffle-pattern USGI ones and fell in love with it. A far, far better product than the old puke brown ones.
4) medium weight fleece jacket. This is one place where the old Gen 1 ECWCS beat the new system hands down. The black jacket is far warmer than the newer sage green ones. I’ve also however, got about two dozen different civilian recreational fleece jackets from Columbia, North Face, and other mountaineering companies. In fact, for about nine months out of the year, I’m generally wearing a fleece of some sort.
5) waterproof, nylon shell jacket. I’ve used a bunch of these over the years. I’m actually not certain what’s in my ruck at the moment, because I’ve got a bad ass softshell that I wear when it’s raining locally.
6) fleece beanie cap.
7) Unless it’s below 0F, I wear nomex aviator’s gloves, and that’s it. If it’s colder than that, I’ll wear Thinsulate lined work gloves, or heavy duty, well-insulated GoreTex shells over fleece glove liners.
8) I keep a dry pair of multi-cam trousers in my ruck, as well as whatever pants I happen to be wearing.
Not much, in other words….
Under the heading of survival, we’re discussing the fundamental requirements the human body needs to stay alive. This includes things like water, food, etc.
For most of us, water should be our first priority. I carry far more water than I need to in my current operating environment. In the area of the northern Redoubt that we’re building SFOB Rifleman’s Ridge, there is ample groundwater, in the form of streams and creeks, year-round springs, lakes, and snow, that even in August, you’d have to try to die of dehydration, as long as you have a way to purify the water. Nevertheless, I spent a lot of years living in the desert, and old habits die hard. Further, I may not be in a tactical situation that permits easy access to those water sources at any given time.
I keep two quarts of water on my fighting load, but I also keep a minimum of two quarts on my sustainment load. While I’m currently running an ALICE ruck, that means it is in a USGI 2qt canteen strapped to the outside of the ruck. When I use a civilian-style ruck, I’ll use a 100 oz Camelback bladder to hold the water.
I also keep water purification in both my fighting load and in my ruck. While there are various methods for this, ranging from high-end water filters to iodine tablets, I was introduced to a product 15 years ago that I use to this day. I’ve used it to purify water out of muddy puddles and out of cow troughs on the desert, and have never suffered Montezuma’s Revenge as a result. I’ve had people question the validity of it, but, while I don’t understand the science behind it, ION Stabilized Oxygen drops work, well.
Between the two tactics, I never seem to hurt for adequate water.
Food is a secondary consideration for survival. While there are those self-proclaimed experts who expect to do nothing but snare rabbits and field mice for food, while gathering wild edibles, they’re delusional. Trapping and gathering food is a viable option, if you’re already an experienced trapper and you have nothing else to concern yourself with.
In a tactical scenario however, the time needed to set and check traps will be restricted by the need to conduct tactical tasks, and the fact that even experienced, expert trappers don’t catch shit every time they set a trap or snare (I run about a 20% success rate when I run traps, and while I’m far from an expert, I’m not a novice either).
The idea that you’re going to live off what you snare with improvised snares and deadfalls, in the long-term however, at least in a tactical context, is ludicrous to me. Guys that have a chance of living off their traplines are not going to be doing much besides running their traplines. and they are going to be using professional tools, not shit they made in the field.
Food must be included in your packing list. Whether it’s freeze-dried mountaineering foods, MREs, canned goods, or staples like rice and flour is irrelevant. You will need food, and a means to prepare it. I can go 48-72 hours with no caloric intake before it really starts affecting me physiologically, even when I’m physically active, but when it does start, it gets rough in a hurry.
I generally pack dried staples and canned foods, despite the weight. I also carry a MSR XGK stove and one bottle of fuel, all in my ruck (I keep easy to eat, no prep snacks in my fighting load, and have a stainless steel nesting cup over one of the Nalgene bottles on my fighting load as well).
While there is a lot to be said for the benefits of looking at some of the options described in the books currently available of packing bug-out bags, the partisan needs to look at his patrol pack/go bag as a third tier in his equipment packing list, and look at it in the context of what he expects to be doing. I have lots of friends who ask my opinion on this author’s book, or that expert’s article, on this as well as other topics.
In a lot of cases, the literature currently available from survivalist or “prepper” authors are fundamentally useless. It seems like lots of people are jumping on the “Doomsday Prepper” bandwagon, looking to make a buck (incidentally, if the folks over in Northern Idaho who advertised that they had “Doomsday Prepper Dogs” for sale in the local paper over there–English Mastiff crosses–are readers, please email me. I want one of your puppies….TMO needs a dog, and I want one that’ll scare the living fuck out of lions and tigers and bears, oh my….and will trade training for part of the cost…). When I tell these friends that I thought the book was fundamentally worthless, or left out some pretty critical information, I tend to get the response, in lots of cases, that “Well, yeah, but you’re a death-dealing Special Forces soldier. For those of us with no experience, it was a pretty good primer, right?”
The answer is still “No!” God is in the details. If an author cannot be bothered to know or include the details, he’s doing his writers a disservice, unless he at least points them to where they can find the details.
Figure out what your needs are, based on your projected functions, and pack accordingly. Travel light, freeze at night, and only carry what you have to, but be able to carry what you need.