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Phillosoph

Poncho-Liner Improvement: Pops and Zip

In my blog on foundation survival equipment, two of the items were a rain poncho and a blanket. Given how expensive good blankets are these days, many of you will have opted for a poncho-liner (aka “woobie”) instead.
Why a blanket/poncho-liner rather than a sleeping bag? A good sleeping bag is well worth having. In warmer conditions, however, a poncho-liner may be a better choice than that bulky five-season expedition bag you just had to buy, “just in case”. In colder conditions, a poncho-liner may be combined with a sleeping bag of more modest (and more practical) capabilities.
In case you have not worked it out, a more practical sleeping bag purchase would have been a two or three-season bag that can be combined with other items in colder weather, including another sleeping bag. Generally, several thinner layers trap more warm air than one very thick one.
The poncho-liner was designed to be part of a warm weather sleeping system. The instructions are that the poncho-liner is to be tied to a GI-issue rain poncho, with the rain poncho outermost. The soldier lies on one half of the combination and folds the other half over themselves. The snaps (poppers) on the rain poncho should not be used to fasten the opening if sleeping in a combat zone.
Tying the liner to the poncho may not be necessary. Threading the tapes through the eyelets may keep things together by friction alone.
Easiest knot is to make a loop at the base of the cord and pass it up through the eyelet. Make a loop higher in the cord and take it over the edge of the pooncho and pass the loop through the first. Hold the free end and pull the other side of the second loop to pull the first loop snug. This is very easy to tie and easy to undo with cold, wet hands. This is “two-thirds of a Highwayman's Hitch”.
Easy knot for attaching poncho to liner
The above method of using rain poncho and liner together has become known as a “ranger roll”, not to be confused with the packing method of the same name. It has been pointed out to me that this system resembles an Australian swag, with the obvious difference a swag uses heavier but breathable canvas,
Ironically, the best way I have found to pack a poncho roll is the other kind of ranger roll.
The poncho and liner (presumably as a ranger-roll configuration) is designated as a sleeping system for temperatures above 50°F (10°C). Put another way, if your breath is fogging, make more elaborate sleeping arrangements.
Rigging your rain poncho as a shelter, such as a ridge tent or lean-to, will trap a layer of air above while you sleep wrapped in your liner. You will be better ventilated and more comfortable than the ranger-roll. Where tactically possible, a fire may be built before a lean-to.
Insulating yourself from ground-chill will also facilitate sleeping at lower temperatures. Place hay, browse, bracken etc between yourself and the ground. Wreckage such as seat cushions may be used. If you have an insulated kip-mat, it may be used instead of or in addition to the previous measures.
If you want to use your poncho as a shelter you will need to carry some cordage, pegs and possibly poles. The two hanks of cord I recommended adding to your EDC will do fine. Since most ponchos or liners do not have a waist cord such cord may be knotted around the waist when wearing a rain-poncho and/or poncho-liner. Bungee cords are an alternative to cordage for shelters, and may also be used around the waist if your brought them long enough.

Pocho Shelters

Some ponchos only have eyelets at the corners, or even lack these. Fit eyelets to each corner and the centre of each edge.
There are alternate options, of course. One of them is a bivi-bag and a pair of poncho-liners.
 
A poncho-liner is a sensible thing to acquire, even if most of the time you just throw it over yourself when watching telly in the colder months.
Useful though the poncho-liner is, there is room for improvement.
Below is a video of “Green-Craft's” poncho-liner improvements:

Personally, I found some of the modifications described hard to fully comprehend. Long, verbal descriptions on a video are not the best means of communicating information. The video could have benefited from some more illustrations and written lists.
I decided not to use many of these suggested modifications.
For one thing, I do not like “hand-warmer” pockets. Move with your hands in your pockets and you cannot defend yourself nor save yourself if you fall. Essentially, hand-warmer pockets are diametrically the opposite of what this blog is about.
I also had concerns that some of these modifications would affect the packability of my poncho-liner.
And I am short on funds, so cannot afford all the bits needed for the modifications even if I did want them.

The Head Hole

Why did the inventors of the poncho-liner not include a head hole so that it could be worn under a rain-poncho?
Perhaps it was something to do with the commitment to the war in Vietnam? Warm clothing was not seen as a high priority?
Modifying your poncho-liner so that it can be worn as a real poncho is probably the most useful modification you can make, and it is relatively simple.
You will need:
• A 40 cm open-ended zip of suitable colour and finish
• About a metre of suitably coloured double-fold bias tape
• Sewing supplies. A needle, suitably coloured thread, pins, chalk, scissors/shears, a tape measure.
You do not want a zipper with shiny nor reflective teeth, so you will probably get a plastic zip. Colour and shades should be one that blends well with the basic appearance of your poncho-liner.
My poncho-liner is in German Tropentarn desert camo (aka “desert flecktarn” or “fleckdesert”), which is actually quite a good general-purpose pattern. Thus I brought a zipper described as beige.
I brought my double bias tape and the colour was described as “stone”.
If you have some scraps of suitably coloured or patterned material you can make your own bias tape by cutting it diagonally. Using different scraps will enhance the disruptive effect.
There are videos on how to make bias tape and how to join the different sections. You will need and iron and possibly a former.

The Cut

Decide which side of your poncho-liner will be the “outer” and which the “inside.” Also decide which part will be “front” and which “back”. My poncho-liner has a label in one corner so I arranged it so that this would be inside and at the back.
As evenly as possible, fold your poncho-liner width-wise. Then fold it lengthwise. The corner of the folds should be the centre of your poncho-liner.
Many blogs ago, I advised you to buy some chalk and add it to your EDC. You probably had several sticks left. Add some to your home sewing kit, it is times such as these it comes in useful.
Measure down from the centre corner 8 cm and mark a spot with your chalk. Make an 8cm cut through both thicknesses of the poncho-liner. Note that the cut you are making is lengthwise, going from back to front.
Unfold the poncho-liner. From the edge of the cut measure 19 cm and mark a point with chalk. I used a set-square here to ensure the line was perpendicular to a width-wise fold. Cut down the front 19 cm.
You now have a poncho-liner with a 35 cm hole in the centre. Check this fits easily over your head. Make it a shade bigger if necessary.

Fitting the Zip and Collar

Unzip your zipper into separate halves.
On the outermost side of the poncho-liner, place your zipper parts on either side of the head-hole.
Position them so that for each the teeth are on the opposite side to the opening.
You should be looking at the “back side” of the zipper and the puller should be on the front-side of the poncho-liner when fully down.
Pin each of the zipper halves so that the toothless edge is flush with the cut edge of the head-hole.
Note that your zipper is longer than the hole you cut. Make sure they are closely aligned. Try closing the zipper while it is still only pinned in position and adjust as necessary.

Fitting the Double Bias Tape

Once you are happy with the position of your zipper, you need to pin the bias tape into position.
I suggest you watch a few videos to familiarize yourself with how this tape is used. We are going to fold it all the way over the edge of the head-hole. If you look at the outer edges of your poncho-liner you will see a similar method has already been used to finish that edge.
Cut two lengths of bias tape about the same length as your zipper. Unfold the tape so that you are looking at its “inside”.
Place the tape, inside uppermost, over your zipper half. Align the inner edge of the tape so that it is flush with the cut-edge of the poncho and the toothless edge of the zipper. Pin in position and repeat for the other side.
You can remove the pins you put in to hold the zipper.
There should be pins securing both tape and zipper to the poncho-liner.
Note that if I was to do this again, I would use short lengths of bias tape to cover the top and bottom of the cut before adding the zipper. What I have done does not look too bad (on the outside!), but it could have been neater.

Sewing

I started off trying to use a “mini-sewing machine”. This was very cheap when I brought it. I notice the price is creeping up now!
After attaching the first zipper half I got sick of repeatably rethreading the thing, and realized I could probably do a neater job hand-sewing. Some sections would need to be hand-sewn anyway.
Sew along the crease of the bias tape that is closer to the hole.
Once this is done, fold the tape so that it completely covers the cut edge of the liner and the other crease touches the inside of the poncho-liner, the far edge of the tape tucked in.
Both creases of the tape are thus folded and both edges of the tape tucked in.
Sew just inside the edge of the tape so your thread passes through all four layers of tape, the zipper and the poncho-liner.

Finishing the Zipper

Close your zipper and tuck each end through the cut to the inner side of the poncho-liner.
Finish the ends of the bias tape so they are sewn to the zipper.
Since the top and bottom of my head-hole was untaped, I put a few stiches through the zipper and through the poncho-liner to close off any opening that remained.
Lastly, add a length of cord or tape to your zipper-puller.
This will stop it rattling. It also lets you easily work the zipper if your hands are cold and numb or wearing thick gloves.
If you can get some bootlace that matches the ties on your poncho-liner, that would be cool. I used a length of “desert-camo” 3mm budget paracord, which does not look out of place.

The Zipper Explained

Why use this configuration for your zipper?
When used as a garment, the teeth of the opened parts of the zipper will not contact your bare neck. You can roll the edges of the opening outward if you wish. This is shown in the photo immediately below.
There are other ways to prevent the teeth rubbing the neck, but the above method is one of the simplest and involves very little sewing.
Poncho-liner with zippered neck opening
The puller of the zipper is at the front when opened so that you can adjust the neck opening to vary ventilation or retain more heat.
The zipper I brought was described as beige but the actual colour was lighter and more yellow than I had hoped. Because very little of the zipper is visible on the outside, I got lucky and it blends very nicely with the rest of the poncho-liner. I think it may work better than the dark green zipper I also considered.
In practice, the zipper will usually be covered by a scarf or shemagh.
The zipper I brought was missing a tooth at the very top. This caused the puller to jam if the zip is fully closed. Fortunately, by tucking the very bottom and top of the zip, the last few centimetres of each end are not used, yet the opening can be fully closed. A combination of luck and improvisation!
Poncho-liner with zipper opening fully open
The bias tape I brought was described as “stone” in colour. I was expecting something with a hint of brown, but it proved to be a light, very neutral-looking grey. Not surprisingly, this colour and shade goes very well with both the zipper and the poncho-liner in general.
The camera flash probably creates a greater contrast than the naked eye sees.

Poppers

Once I had fitted the zipper, I went about installing some plastic poppers (aka “snaps”, “snap-fasteners”). These may need special pliers to fit.
You will need something that can poke a small hole through the poncho-liner. I used a stout sailmaker's needle I have in my home sewing kit. A set of these is worth having. The smaller ones go in you EDC or travel kits, the larger into your home sewing and/or repair kit.
You can chalk the needle to make the holes easier to locate.

Getting the Poppers Right

Lay-out your poncho with the inner side upwards.
Mentally divide it into quarters. We will be installing poppers using the following rules. The reason for this will be explained later:
• Each quarter will have the popper halves all of the same time. A quarter will only contain “male” poppers or “female”.
• If a quarter at the top has male poppers, the quarter immediately below will have female, and vice versa.
• If a quarter on the left has male poppers, that on the immediate right will have female, and vice versa.
• Quarters that are diagonally opposite will contain the same type of popper half.
I started off by installing the corner-most popper halves. Concentrate on getting these right and then it is just a matter of using the same popper type for each quarter.
I installed the corner poppers 40mm in from the side edge of the poncho-liner and 190mm from the top or bottom edge. If you are on the large side, place the poppers closer to the edge.
Next, fold your poncho-liner width-wise. Use the top and bottom poppers you have just added if you wish.
From the width-wise fold, measure down 240 to 250mm and install a popper 40mm in from the side. Make sure each quarter of the poncho-liner has the same type popper-half.
When you are wearing the poncho-liner, using this popper forms a sort of sleeve. The opening is generous enough to allow for bulky cold weather clothing. You can also slip your hand in and use it as a hand-warmer, “Fu Manchu”-style.
You will want to add a few more poppers down the side between the “sleeve” popper. I chose to add three more to each side.
With your poncho-liner still folded width-wise, fasten the sleeve and corner poppers. Make another width-wise fold so the corner popper touches the sleeve popper. Mark where the fold is and install a popper. As always, make sure each quarter of the poncho-liner has the same type popper-half.
Install additional poppers between the sleeve and corner poppers and the middle popper you just fitted.

Finishing the Poppers

The poppers I had purchased were supposedly “beige”. They turned out to be way lighter than expected, and had a gloss finish! When installed on the poncho-liner they appeared like they were white.
Luckily, I have some enamel model paints, several in colours close to that of the poncho-liner. I used these to paint the outer sides of the popper halves. I did not bother to paint the inners. I suspect the paint on the inners will either wear off too quickly or affect functionality, but try it if you wish.
Painted poncho-liner poppers.
For the record, the colours I used were Humbrol no.84 Stone and Revell no.83 Leather Brown. None of the poppers passed through green areas of the camouflage, so I did not use any of my green paints. These are not exact colour matches for the poncho-liner, but if someone is close enough to see the difference camouflage is no longer an option!
Like most painting, a second coat will improve it. You can stipple the surface to produce a more matt-effect, or even sprinkle a little sand on the first coat. However, given that the surface of the poncho-liner is quite smooth, the practical value of this is moot.
While you are at it, see if the poppers on your rain-poncho could use some paint. 
Again, the flash on my camera probably shows them up more than the naked eye can discern them.
Below is a shot taken without flash.
Modified poncho-liner photographed without flash
You may not be able to avoid painting your poppers, but start off with some that are matt, medium shade and a natural or neutral colour if you can.

The Poppers Explained

Why did I insist such attention be paid to which popper half went in which quarter?
If you want to sleep in your poncho-liner, fold it lengthwise and tuck under the foot-end. You will find you can use the poppers to fasten the free long edges. Much more compact and less bulk than fitting a long zip on this edge!
Personally, I find sleeping like this a little restrictive and am more likely to use the liner like a conventional blanket. Part of the appeal of the liner as a warm weather sleeping system is that it does not confine you like a sleeping bag. Best way to turn the poncho-liner into a cold weather system is use it with a sleeping bag!
Obviously, if the poppers of the rain poncho on a ranger-roll should not be fastened in a threat environment, the same goes for the poppers you fitted to your liner when sleeping.
Wearing your poncho-liner? Two sets of poppers line up to create a sleeve-type opening. Those below can be used to close up the sides.
These simple modifications will take you less than a day, even if you have to hand-sew.
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Phillosoph

Soft-Core Pack: Military Version

The battle order suggested in the previous blog raises an interesting question: How does the soldier carry his poncho?
Items such as bayonets and ammunition have obvious places on the webbing.
Not only must a poncho be carried when not worn, but it must be protected from unnecessary damage.
The official solution was most probably to carry the poncho in the butt-pack. As I have discussed in previous posts, there are objections to using a butt-pack or similar. Its capacity is a temptation to carry extra gear. Its position makes it hard to easily access, and it is inconvenient if sitting in a vehicle for any time.

Military Soft-Core Bag

In a previous post I described my “soft-core bag”. This idea can easily be adapted to military applications.
The military version of the soft-core bag would actually be lighter than my version. Items such as the fire-kit, first aid kit and sweets can be omitted, since these roles will already be met by items hopefully carried on the soldier’s webbing or person.
For the same reason, the water-bottle in the soft-core pack can be omitted unless operating in particularly arid conditions.

Contents

What should the military soft-core bag contain?
• A poncho. This should ride at the top of the bag for easy access.
• Accessory clothing items such as warm hats, gloves, spare socks, bandanas, shemagh.
Many outdoor coats lack sufficient pocket space to carry such items, and you may need your pockets for more tactical items. The soft-core bag is a practical solution. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• A spare shirt, jumper, jacket or liner, “ranger-rolled”. Useful if the temperature drops or you reduce your actively level. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• Toilet roll in waterproof bag. As well as the intended use, good for fire starting. Use a bag that can be sealed against water.
• Items such as cordage and space blankets are optional for the military soft-core pack. You may decide these are better carried in your trouser or shirt/jacket pockets.
• A “non-soft” item of equipment that might be carried in your soft-pack are your goggles.
These can get in the way if you are not wearing them. When not in use they need to be covered for camouflage purposes.
Stowing them in your soft-core bag is a very practical solution. Place them in the middle of clothing to provide padding and protection.

Carrying Bag

Like the other version, the military soft-core bag fits in a simple draw-cord bag. This is stowed in the top of your rucksack so the poncho or other contents can easily be accessed if needed.
When you stow your rucksack, you pull out the soft-core pack and wear it as part of your battle-order. When seated in a vehicle, the soft-core pack should act as additional padding for your back.
Nearly all of the contents of my civilian version of the soft-core bag may be fitted in one of the detachable side pouches of a bergen.
There is room for a water bladder and a few “mission” items.
The other side pocket may be used for NBC gear. When NBC (CBRN) is not a likely threat, the single side-pouch may be carried as a patrol pack.

Camouflage

Ideally, your draw-cord bag should be of an effective camouflage pattern. A grey-beige-brown scheme may be more versatile than the green-dominant examples shown in the photos.
Sewing some textilage to the outer side is a good idea too.
If you cannot get a camouflaged example, a suitably neutral-coloured bag can be camouflaged with a few passes of spray paint.
Making a camouflage draw-cord bag will be within most reader’s capabilities. Note that the bags shown have carrying cords created by taking the cord down to eyelets at the bottom corners. If your bag lacks these, they can easily be added.
Dark or unsuitably coloured cords are easily replaced with something such as “desert-camo” paracord.
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Phillosoph

Tactical Bed Rolls

I came across an interesting article called “Pedomic Mobility” in the October-November 1960 issue of “Infantry” magazine.
Pedomic_compressed
In the narrative, an officer watches his company conducting a “ruck attack” on a position. A ruck attack is an assault where the troops wear their rucksacs. This slows the soldiers down, makes them larger and more obvious targets and tires them out more quickly. Shooting from a prone position may be problematic if the pack prevents the soldier raising his head. Despite the obvious disadvantages, the ruck attack remains common in certain armies, both in training and actual combat operations.
The officer watches his near exhausted men and ponders if there is a better alternative.
The proposed solution has two parts. The first is the attacking force should be equipped thus:
• Clothing appropriate for the climate, season and weather
• Load-bearing equipment
• Helmet
• Weapon and ammunition
• Bayonet
• Water bottle, cover and canteen cup
• First aid packet
• Gas mask
• Poncho.
Personally, I consider a canteen cup a backpack item. The dynamics of operating in a platoon or company may change this, however.

Soldier's Bed Roll

If the unit was to stay in one place for any time, a bed roll for each soldier would be brought forth. A bed roll, as described in the article, consists of:
• Shelter-half with poles and pegs (“pins”)
Blanket
• Air mattress
• Sleeping bag
• One or two changes of socks and underwear
• Towel
• Toiletries
• Field jacket liner and trouser liner*
*The jacket and trouser liners were included if it was a “seasonally transitional period”. The mention of the blanket and insulated boots suggest the cold of Korea was still fresh in many soldiers’ minds.
If you have read Kephart, you will know that an outdoorsman’s pack was once exactly that: a package of items wrapped in canvas (above).

Soldiers carrying tactical bed rolls
Bed Rolls in Action. Note the man at the rear has transferred his entrenching tool to his bed roll for more comfortable carrying.

The bed roll was primarily intended to be moved by truck or jeep. When necessary it could be carried by the infantryman. The author suggest re-rolling the item into a horseshoe roll, or fitting the bed roll with a rope or carrying strap.
The use of a shelter-half for the outer layer is particularly clever. Being made of canvas, it is robust and relatively damage tolerant. It is better suited for this roll than a poncho or more modern nylon tent might be. Shelter-halves were widely available from military supplies and easily replaced. A shelter-half could be put to a number of other uses other than as a pup-tent.
See this video for a “pegs before poles” method of setting up a shelter-half tent.
The only objection to using a shelter-half is that most are green, rather than more versatile dull brown or camouflage finishes.
Also notable was this officer understood that toiletries were not something a soldier needed to carry on his person.
Can we adapt this concept to more modern equipment? An all-weather blanket that can serve as a ground cloth and for other uses would be a good addition. Air mattresses are not common with modern users. I do know some soldiers who use self-inflating sleeping mats. Most, however, use foam kip-mats. Even when trimmed down, these tend to be bulky. Similarly, a poncho liner is rather bulky when rolled. I am not sure you could roll these up in a shelter half with a sleeping bag and still have a roll only a foot in diameter.
In the article, mention is made of stowing bed rolls in waterproof bags. An obvious extrapolation of this is to carry a bagged bed roll within a medium-sized rucksac. Packs would be clearly marked with name, squad, platoon and company, for example: Grant N. 471, 3-2-B. The pockets of a rucksack are a more convenient place to carry a wash-kit, canteen cup and some other items. A foam kip mat can be rolled separately from the bed roll and carried along side it within or outside the pack. Kip mats have uses in addition to sleeping on, so having them separate is more convenient.
When bed rolls are brought forward, rations and ammunition will probably be brought with them. If a unit has to fall back the rucksacks used to move the bed rolls can also carry some of the rations and ammunition too.
The specific contents of a bed roll with vary with climate and other factors.
When in transit, experianced soldiers will keep their bed roll close to hand. If baggage gets misdirected or delayed, the soldier still has the essentials necessary for a good night’s rest.
The article Pedomic Mobility was written for infantry companies conducting operations within range of support units. It may, however, provide some inspiration for independent outdoorsman both as to how and what they may carry.
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Phillosoph

The Soft-Core Bag

Today I am going to introduce what I call my “soft-core bag”. This is not a “bug-out bag”, although it could be included in the contents of one.
I have a number of bags and rucksacs, and there are certain items that I would invariably want in one if I was carrying it.
Stocking each pack with necessary items is not economically practical, however.
Perhaps, I thought, I should have a box containing the necessary items and potential alternatives. This was part of the solution, but I quickly realized many items could be packed together so they could easily be grabbed in one go.
I drew on the lists given in the previous post to select the current loadout.

  • Top left: A small first aid kit. This supplements the items I carry in my skin-level EDC.
  • Directly below the first aid kit in a dark brown camouflage bag is a rain poncho.
  • The white plastic bag beside the poncho contains a toilet roll. This has subsequently been replaced with a clear ziploc bag.
  • Middle top can be seen a bag of boiled sweets and a pair of warm gloves. These are sitting on top of a dark green all-weather (AW) blanket. You can see some of the shoelaces that are tied to the grommets of this. I intend to add a pair of silver space blankets too.
  • Top right, a red and black shemagh. This is a spare/additional shemagh, since I am often wearing one these days.
  • Bottom centre is my Advantage-camouflaged boonie hat.
  • Sitting on the boonie hat is a plastic bag carrying a small fire kit. This has two butane lighters, two nightlights, a 35mm film container filled with Vaseline-soaked cotton wool and a Fresnel lens.
  • Below the fire kit and to the left is an ACU-patterned headover which can serve various roles, including as warm headgear.
  • Bottom right is a one-litre Playtpus waterbottle. Sitting on it are a shoelace, hank of general purpose string, hank of green paracord and some braided fishing line wrapped around a piece of plastic (yoghurt carton) or a small tube.
  • Not shown: two supermarket carrier bags. I wear photochromic spectacles. If you do not, a pair of cheap sunglasses may be a prudent addition.

The whole collection packs into a draw-cord bag, as shown. Note snap-link added to one carrying cord.
This bag is lined with another plastic bag to provide better water resistance. Everything except the AW blanket, space blankets, shopping bags, poncho and water-bottle fit inside the waterproof liner bag.
The headover is folded into a pouch and used to contain some of the smaller items. This pouch, in turn, is placed inside the boonie hat. The folded shemagh is place with this.
Most of the pack contents are soft and crushable so no great genius at packing is really needed. Put the blanket in first and add the plastic bag of other contents. Put your water-bottle away from your back and ensure your poncho rides near the top of your bag.
Packed, but without water, the soft-core bag weighs about 1.3 kg. The volume of water I will carry and which water-bottle I will carry will vary with climate and anticipated conditions.
The soft-core pack is easily stuffed into a larger bag, immediately adding a collection of very useful items. On its own, it is a good bag to have for trips where you do not want to be bothered by a bag. It is light and low-density, and makes a pretty good pillow.
A quick glance inside the first aid kit. Items in this kit are consumed in preference to those in the skin-level EDC. Vaseline is good for chapped lips and other ailments.
The soft-core bag probably has more cordage than it needs, but I had some hanks already made up. This is a nice example of paracord carried using hojo-jitsu configuration.
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Phillosoph

Survival Kits: Bringing It All Together

Today I am going to try and bring together some of my ideas regarding survival kit and selection of contents. When possible, I try to approach topics from a different perspective to that echoed on most websites.
Regular readers may know that I have my reservations about the “little tin of gizmos”. Thinking that you are covered because you have a couple of band-aids and a couple of loose fishing hooks and swivels is a recipe for disaster.
Survival kit may exist on several levels. On your person you will have your skin-level EDC. Most of mine is in the pockets of my trousers, although some items are on my trouser belt or key-ring. If you are carrying a bag, it is prudent to have some additional items in your bag. You consume the items in your bag in preference to your skin-level items. Military personnel often have an intermediate level in their webbing load-bearing equipment. Ideally this should only hold ammo, weapons, some water and immediate first aid items but the tendency to add additional gear is common. A larger pack or vehicle may provide higher levels of survival gear. One should always plan for the contingency that one may get separated from bags or vehicles. This is why your skin-level gear is important.
My current planning list looks like this:
Seven Tools of EDC
Hat, Towel, Rope
Medical, Writing, Fire, Knife
Foundation Survival Kit
Blanket, Fire, Knife
Poncho, Water, Toilet Paper, Canteen Cup
Travelling Kit
Navigation, Signalling, Illumination
Washing, Repairs, Food,
Documentation, Money, Clothing, Armament
The item names are memory aids and should be taken generically rather than specifically. “Knife” represents other tools, “blanket” represents sleeping bags and related items and so on.
The Seven Tools of EDC
The Seven Tools of EDC were inspired by the roguku or Six Tools of Travelling. I remember these as three flexible things (hat, towel and rope), three multi-part things (medical kit, fire kit and writing kit) and a knife.
Hat” represents other protective clothing, such as gloves, goggles and sun-glasses. At “skin-level” this will be whatever headgear and other items suits the current or expected weather. If I am taking a bag I will probably have two hats. One will be to protect from the sun and keep the rain off my glasses, probably a boonie hat. The other will be a warm hat such as a watch cap or headover. If it is really cold spare gloves and headover are a prudent precaution.
Towel” in this context is a multi-purpose piece of cloth. At skin-level this is a bandanna in my pocket but recently I have also been wearing a shemagh. If I lose or did not bring my hat these can serve as head coverings. Any bag I carry usually has a spare bandanna and/or shemagh in it. In colder conditions the shemagh is replaced or supplemented by a woollen or acrylic scarf.
Rope” for the ninja may have meant a grappling hook and rope. For me this reminds me to carry some cordage. At skin-level this is a couple of armspans of paracord, a hank of string, a container of dental floss and a retaining cord for my glasses. Packs contain longer lengths of paracord. If heading for the deep wilderness I would have a toggle rope or the modern equivalent.
Medical Kit. On my person I have a small number of plasters, alcohol wipes and pain-killers, plus some personal medication. I have a more extensive medical kit I carry in daysacs, plus a bigger kit in my travelling bags. Medical also includes such items as insect repellent and sun cream. These are usually bag items but certain conditions may require a small supply to be carried on your person. Whenever possible items are consumed from the larger kits before the skin-level kit.
Writing represents communication and recording. In my pockets I carry a pen, pencil and two pieces of chalk (one light, one dark colour). Usually have a phone on my belt. Daysac may contain a notepad in a plastic bag. When on holiday I keep a journal.
Fire Kit. For everyday use this is simply a disposable lighter riding in the bottom of a pocket. I carry a plastic bag with a couple of tissues in, which could be used as tinder. If straying further afield I would add a container of tinder, fresnel lens and spare lighter to my pockets. Daysac has a couple of spare lighters and some candles.
Knife” represents tools and related hardware. My Swiss Army Knife goes nearly everywhere with me. I also have a Leatherman Squirt and pocket prybar on my person. A diamond impregnated metal card is carried for sharpening.
Foundation Survival Kit
The items on the Foundation Survival List are mainly bulkier “bag” items, with a couple of significant exceptions.
Blanket” represents sleeping items in general. It includes poncho-liners, sleeping bags, cloaks and long coats. These can keep you warm, even when not sleeping. This category is called “blanket” to remind us about the survival blanket, which is compact enough you can easily fit one or more in a trouser cargo pocket. They are reasonably priced so you can buy a dozen and stick spares in coat pockets and any bags you might carry. As well as keeping you warm, they can keep the rain off, spread out as a signalling panel, possibly even used as a heliograph. One is in the little medical pouch that carries most of my skin-level EDC. For decades now my daysac has carried the survival blanket’s larger cousin, an All-Weather Blanket.
Fire Kit. A fire kit was included in the original Foundation Kit list. It is repeated since the ability to create a fire is an important component of survival. Have a means of making fire on your person, and additional means in your bag. Consume the bag supplies before that on your person.
Knife. Another duplication, but repeated for much the same reason. In this context it can be read as “a bigger knife”. Useful as a pocket knife or muli-tool are, they can only get you so far. This category also reminds us to remember other, larger tools such as a crowbar or entrenching tool. Have a fixed-blade knife on your trouser belt. If you lose your pack, webbing or even your jacket or shirt you will still have a useful survival tool.
Poncho includes other forms of rain-proof clothing and shelter items such as tarps, tents, shelter halves, basha-sheets, groundsheets and so on. Any bag of sufficient size should include a means of rain protection.
Water represents a means to carry water, and the means to ensure that it is drinkable, such as water purification tablets. In rural areas a supply of water and purification tablets should be both on your person and in your pack. Consume the water in your pack before that on your person.
Toilet Paper. A roll of toilet paper in a waterproof bag is a prudent addition to any bag. A small bag with a couple of paper tissues rides in a cargo pocket of my trousers. A bag with additional tissues will be added if I am heading off the beaten track. As well as intended use, such tissues can be used for nosebleeds, nose-blowing and as tinder.
Canteen Cup. A metal canteen cup or similar small cooking vessel is a useful addition to the above items. Boiling water to sterilize it will conserve water-purification tablets. It can also be used to sterilize instruments or blades intended for medical uses. Even if you wear a water bottle on your person, the canteen cup is probably best carried as a pack it. The interior can be packed with some of the smaller items listed above.
There is a survival adage that says you cannot live three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter can kill you, you can last three days without water and three weeks without food. The Foundation Kit contains the essentials towards keeping you alive beyond three days.
Travelling Kit
What I have chosen to call the “Travelling Kit” are mainly “very useful” rather than essential. Food is obviously essential, but you can last several days or more without it.
Repairs. If away from home, a small repair kit is worth putting together. My compact little sewing kit has seen many uses over the years. This is supplemented by a couple of rucksac buckles, dental floss, a roll of electrical tape and a tube of superglue. A small screwdriver that fits in my Swiss Army Knife corkscrew has been used to repair several pairs of glasses. I have seen it suggested that a piece of glue stick of the type intended for hot glue guns may also be useful. You can even add a little repair capability to your skin-level kit. A small bag of safety pins can deal with tears and zipper problems. Around the pencil I have wrapped a length of electrical tape then bound two threaded needles to its sides.
Food includes food procurement and cooking means. Put together a small fishing kit, with some wire traces that can be used as snares in extremis. Assemble as much of the kit as is practical before hand. Sitting in the wind and rain as the light fades is no time to be tying on swivels! Add the fishing kit to your trouser pocket items if heading into the wilds. The food you carry should include some items that can be consumed without heating or rehydrating. Some boiled sweets/ hard candy is a useful addition to any daysac, giving a quick energy boost when it is needed.
Illumination. There are numerous small flashlights that are suitable for skin-level EDC. The little Photon lights can be added to a keyring, dogtag chain or whistle lanyard. A larger flashlight is a suitable addition to a daysac or larger pack. My daysac has a handcrank model in it.
Navigation. Personally, I have found a small compass a useful addition to my EDC. Even in town it is sometimes useful to know which direction is which. A number of guidebooks have information such as “…the hostel is to the northwest of the piazza”. If travelling away from civilization better maps and compass are recommended. GPS is nice, but you should plan for when it stops working. Without a compass there are other ways to determine direction, which is why these items are under “very useful” rather than essential. Worth repeating is that in most cases where rescue can reasonably be expected your chances of survival are better if you stay put rather than walking out.
Signalling. Signalling assumes there is somewhere out there to signal to. Flares are not much use if no one is likely to be in line of sight. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be overdue. Signalling overlaps with Illumination and Fire, and mobile phones have already been mentioned. Your skin-level kit should include a whistle. Mine is on my key-ring. A small heliograph is easily fabricated. The back of my phone is mirror-polished, so I would use this instead.
Washing. If you do any travelling you should put together a lightweight wash kit. How to put one together is detailed on another page. I prefer mesh bags over the more elaborate, heavier and more expensive wash bags.
Documentation. Travelling may require visa, permits, passports and other documentation. Make sure you have it all before any trip, and store in a waterproof bag. Make photocopies of important documents, such as your passport, and carry then separately to the originals. I prefer to carry some of these things on my person rather than in a bag.
Money. In some environments, one of your most useful tools. Includes credit, debit and ATM cards. Have information on what to do if you lose the latter. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Clothing. How much spare clothing, its type and quantity will depend on trip duration and conditions. 
Armament. Carry if you can. The world is full of nasty people who will rob you or hurt you just because they can.
Categories
Phillosoph

Foundation Survival Kits

Many visitors to this blog are interested in putting together survival or emergency kits. Regular readers will be aware that I don't regard a little tin full of gizmos an ideal start.
If you have such a kit, one of the first things you should add to it is a mylar space blanket. These can be carried on your person at all times and can provide you with warmth and protection from the rain. And they only cost a few bucks!
Recent discussions with friends have made me reflect that many of the items in a suggested list of equipment fall under the heading “nice to have/gadgets”. Your starting point in putting together a kit should be those items you might class as “really in trouble if your don't have”.
With this criteria firmly in mind, I would base any kit around three items. These would be:
  • A blanket.
  • A fire kit.
  • A good knife.
You can use a sleeping bag instead of a blanket, but ideally it should be one that can easily be adapted as clothing.
“Budget” rectangular bags may be more suitable than more expensive “mummies”, so keep an eye out for bargains and promotions at big stores.
Poncho liners are an alternative to blankets and can often be found for a cheaper price. Both original style or versions with head openings or hoods are suitable.
A couple of blanket pins added to your kit can help in making or blanket or similar into a cloak. (Not sure if you can magnetize blanket pins) If you have a spare space blanket, throw it into the kit as extra insulation.
Fire kit is the basic kit described elsewhere. A pair of disposable lighters and some cotton wool.
If you are female you might wish to replace the cotton wool with some tampons. As well as the intended use they can be used for tinder or as wound dressings.
If you want you can put your fire kit in a little Altoids or tobacco tin and seal it up. Throw in some matches and/or some birthday candles if you wish. Fire drills, fire pumps and ferro-rods are very nice but you can get dozens of disposable lighters for the same money. When you are cold and tired a lighter is simpler and quicker.
What is a “good knife”? There are a number of suggestions in my book “Survival Weapons”.
In short, a full-tang fixed blade, single-edged and not less than seven inches. My first choice is one of my kukris.
If on a budget look around the gardening section of local stores. A mass-produced billhook or machete is often more capable than more expensive smaller knives.
These three items constitute the foundation of any good emergency kit.
The cost is reasonable so you can probably put several together within a reasonable period of time.
The three items form a relatively compact package that can be placed in a daypack, the bottom of a wardrobe or the trunk of a car.
For a kit for a young child you may wish to replace the knife and fire kit with a flashlight and whistle. These are good additions to an adult's kit, but of a lower tier of priority.
Friends of mine said they would add sewing kits, fishing kits and/or an AM/FM radio.
Some of these are useful, some are nice to have but I do not regard them as essential, even though my sewing kit has seen considerable use over the years!
If expanding the kit the next items that I would recommend are:
  • A rain poncho.
  • Bottle(s) of water.
  • Roll of toilet paper in a waterproof bag.
The rain poncho can be worn or can be rigged up as a shelter or windbreak. It can be used as a waterproof wrap for your other garments when river crossing and if packed right can be even be a flotation aid. It can be combined with a poncho liner or blanket to form a sort of sleeping bag. You can even rig it to catch rainwater for drinking.
Shop around and you can find rain ponchos at a price you can tolerate.
How much water to put in your kit will depend on your local environment. In some places where water is plentiful you may need no more than a litre bottle in your kit.
Generally I would recommend at least two litres, perhaps four. Two-litre soda bottles are a very good choice for storing water in a kit. They come “free” with the soda. Wash them out. Boil some tap water, let it cool slightly and fill the bottles with it. Loosely cap and let the water in the bottles cool to about hand temperature. Add a couple of drops of bleach to each bottle and seal. If you wish you can seal the cap on with wax and/or tape. The bleach breaks down into salt and water, which is harmless at this concentration. In fact this constitutes a trace amount of electrolytes.
Truly sterile water, which the above process should have produced, will be good for years and will not “go off”. Wrap the bottles inside your blanket to keep them out of the light, just to be extra sure.
FEMA estimate a person needs a (US) gallon of water per day, but half of this is intended for hygiene. If it really is an emergency you may have to forgo your daily shampoo and shave and let the pits smell a little. Priority should be given to washing wounds and cleaning the hands before eating or medical procedures.
Used intelligently a gallon should last you a couple of days at least.
You can buy water bottles of about a gallon capacity for a kit if you want, but I think a pair of 2 litre soda bottles are easier to carry, as well as being cheaper.
See my free knot book for how cordage such as string or paracord can be rigged as a carrier for a bottle.
The roll of toilet paper is a useful but very cheap addition to the kit. In addition to the obvious use, it can be used for cleaning wounds and fire starting.
In one of my favourite movies a character stops a truck by running streamers of toilet paper across the road. The trucker is so surprised he hits the brakes. Appropriately coloured toilet paper can be used for signalling!
Toilet paper is of little use for most purposes if it gets soggy. Invest in a suitably sized ziplock bag that can be sealed against the entry of water.
The above six items form the basis of a fairly capable emergency kit. Even if within a modest budget it should be possible to construct a kit for every member of the family.
Relatively compact, a kit can be stored in the bottom of a wardrobe, form the foundation of a bug-out bag or be tucked away in the trunk of a car. A warm hat/headover, bandana and gloves are useful further additions. If we want to make the list a round seven, then a metal canteen cup or equivalent can be added.
Disaster relief organisations should stockpile such kits.
I suspect certain governments have large surpluses of ponchos and liners that can no longer be issued since they are not in the latest camouflage pattern.
If not, manufacture ponchos and liners in high-viz colours. This is a good option for kits to be sent overseas. Makes them harder to be used for military purposes.
A fire-kit tin with lighters, tampons and matches can be put together for a couple of dollars.
Bags of toilet paper and sealed bottles of sterile water can be mass-produced.
Certain factions will doubtless squwit their britches at the idea of handing out knives, so I suggest these “agency kits” have a ferro-rod and striker of a design which still gives the survivor a useful cutting edge. Perhaps the striker could be the sort of credit card-sized tool that includes a can-opener and other tools.
Categories
Phillosoph

Horseshoe Rolls, Blankets and Gum-blankets

While researching the “Soldier’s Load” a conflict that was often mentioned was the American Civil War (ACW). Sherman’s “March to the Sea” was a frequent topic. From the Confederate side we have “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Campaign where infantry covered 670 miles in about a month and a half.

A distinctive element of these campaigns was the use of the “horseshoe roll”, occasionally called a “croissant”. During the blogs on the WW2 Soviet infantryman I mentioned that what was often described as a blanket roll was in fact a rolled greatcoat, which was also used as bedding. The horseshoe rolls used by ACW soldiers were blankets, but they were not just blankets.
It is a matter of record that many ACW soldiers on both sides discarded their issue knapsacks and carried most of their gear in a blanket roll. There are a number of videos on-line showing you how to construct a horseshoe roll. Key point is that they are rolled LENGHTWISE. A very good article on how the ACW soldier carried his gear can be found here and is worth reading.
The horseshoe roll was generally not just blankets. Spare clothes and other suitable items were carried wrapped within it. Often the blanket itself would be protected from damage and weather by wrapping it either in a shelter half or a gum-blanket.
The shelter half of this conflict was a simple square of cloth. Two could be buttoned together and rigged up in various ways to make a very compact two man shelter. Rifle-muskets or local materials provided support.

The gum-blanket was a relatively new invention. It was a cloth coated on one side with a waterproof coating such as vulcanized rubber. The gum-blanket served as a ground cloth. Materials such as hay, cut long grass, bracken or similar can be piled under the gum-blanket to serve as a mattress. If a shelter cloth had been lost or been discarded a pair of soldiers might sleep on one gum-blanket and rig another up as cover. A single sleeper might wrap himself in his blanket(s) and sleep within a folded gum-blanket. The gum-blanket also served as a rain cape. Rain ponchos were constructed in the same way as gum-blankets but many soldiers used a single gum-blanket for everything. The shelter half might be discarded in favour of just the gum-blanket. (Note that some books clearly confuse gum-blankets with rain-ponchos).

Some comments on sleeping in blankets in the field are relevant here. I cannot do better than quote Horace Kephart:
“To roll up in a blanket in such a way that you will stay snugly wrapped, lie down and draw the blanket over you like a coverlet, lift the legs without bending at the knee, and tuck first one edge smoothly under your legs then the other. Lift your hips and do the same there. Fold the far end under your feet. Then wrap the free edges similarly around your shoulders one under the other. You will learn to do this without bunching, and will find yourself in a sort of cocoon.”
It will be noted that this arrangement tends to place a double thickness of material between the sleeper and the ground, reducing ground chill.
The horseshoe roll was supposed to be carried from the weak-side shoulder, allowing the rifle-musket to be more easily fired from the strong-side. If your activities are less bellicose the roll can be alternated from one side to the other to rest one shoulder. The end parts of the roll needn’t be at the lowest point. Such a configuration apparently hindered access to the cartridge box when worn from the left shoulder so the ends were often shunted back.
After the civil war the American Army issued a set of leather straps designed for constructing a blanket roll. This seems excessive both in weight and complication of maintenance. Use some cordage and a parcel wrap of half-hitches. For some suitable knots see my free book on the subject.

The shoulder roll can be easily discarded if needed. On the negative side it is not a very good way to carry items that you might want while on the move. Accessing the any item within it requires stopping and unrolling the roll and then reconstructing it. It is better used to carry “end of day” items. Using a gum-blanket or rain poncho as the outer cover of the roll has the disadvantage that if it starts raining you will have disassemble and reassemble the entire roll. This article describes several ways to carry a gum-blanket or similar item separately.
Osprey Men-at-Arms 214 US Infantry Equipments 1776-1910 (p.23) adds:
By the Spanish-American War Of 1898 the Army had devised a regulation manner of rolling and wearing the horseshoe roll, as Plc. Charles Johnson Post, a New York infantryman, found:
‘In the business of making a blanket roll, you lay the blanket on the ground, put into it your tent pegs [3 pegs] and your half of the two tent poles—for each man carried but one-half the tent—and then arrange your towel, socks, shirt, and extra underwear and roll up the blanket. Then, turning your attention to your half of the tent, fold it lengthwise. This you lay on top of the blanket roll, fasten it at the ends and the middle, much as if reefing a sail, then bend it until it takes its horse-collar shape, fasten the two ends—and there you are ready to stick your head through and sling it. It is excellent. But—and this we learned on our first march to the transport— the blanket roll must be made sloppy, not neat. A hard, neat horse collar will bear into the shoulder like a steel bar, so roll it loose and floppy for the part that lies over the shoulder and with no baggage inside the center section—just at the two ends. It looks like a clumsy, amateur sausage lying out straight, but it is soft on the shoulder. In Cuba our horse collars made us look like a bunch of hobo blanket- stiffs.’
Rain ponchos and similar items made from modern materials may be too light and fragile to form the outer layer of a horseshoe roll. Using them in this fashion may increase the likelihood of them becoming damaged or punctured. A heavier duty item such as a canvas shelter half or a groundcloth may be more suitable. There are a number of websites that explain how to make your own gum-blanket/ groundcloth by painting one side of a cloth with black latex paint.