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Phillosoph

Rucksack Packing

My previous article was on taking the foundation survival items to the next level.
Having given you a list of items that you might need, some comments on how to carry it were logical.
It is always prudent to get some different views on a subject, particularly if it is a subject you feel you are already familiar with. Even after my many decades, I occasionally I pick-up a new idea, such as using a sandwich box to carry a wash kit!
And so, I find myself browsing videos and webpages on rucksack packing.
There is no single right answer, but a couple I encountered do stick in my mind.
One character starts by producing a waterproof bag. This is one of the expensive drybags that cost more than a reasonable takeaway:
“These are my waterproofs! Always keep them in a drybag!” they tells me, very proud of themself.
Why?, I ask the screen. Are you worried that they might get wet, or is it to stop them drying out once they are wet?
If it is raining heavy enough to penetrate the rucksack, I want to be wearing the waterproofs, so a bag to keep them dry is redundant. Once they are actually wet, I will be stowing them somewhere on or in the rucksack where they can drain and dry.
Nit-pickers will doubtless waste time thinking of rare scenarios where having the waterproofs in their own dry bag will be valid, but I will move on.
It is not an efficient packing strategy nor use of money that could be better spent on something else.
A lot of rucksack packers have a selection of accessories for their electronic gadgets. I have to marvel that many of them carry numerous flexible electronic cables in hard cases, yet are content to throw expensive and valuable compasses in pockets or soft pouches.
Once I have some funds, I intend to find a rigid camera case suitable for my best compasses. That is a post for another day.
If it is a “72‑hour pack”, why carry boot polish and associated brush and paraphernalia? Freshly polishing boots only adds a little to their water‑resistance, and your boots should not be totally water‑proof anyway.
Air needs to circulate, your feet need to breathe and the interiors need a chance to dry‑out once water gets in over the tops. And you are better advised to wear matt-finish boots in a natural or neutral colour(s).
I can recall only one three week or more duration trip where I bothered to carry boot‑cleaning items. Most trips were to a climate and/or season where canvas or canvas and Goretex boots could be worn.
When carried, my boot cleaning kit was a single brush, can of polish and a shred of rag carried in an old cotton sock. Sock could be used to buff the cleaned boot.
Rather than continue on this vein, I will pass on some useful ideas that I have gathered over the decades.
Firstly, I will suggest a premise:
• Your pack will contain some items that you do not want to get wet. For example, your warm clothing, your bedding, your food etc.
• There are some items that will get wet, and once wet you will want them to dry. This includes parts of your tent, your waterproof clothing, etc.
• There will be some items in your pack that it does not matter if they get wet. This includes water bottles, cooking vessels, canned or pouched food, etc. If the exterior is contaminated by water containing sewage or microbes, that needs to be addressed, but leaving these items out in a quick rain shower would not be a concern.

Bags within Bags

A well thought out bag is a bag of other bags.
No rucksack should be considered to be totally waterproof. Thus, one or more waterproof liners are used to enclose the contents.
Items within these liners will themselves either be in plastic bags or stuff sacks.
You can buy drybags large enough for the main compartment of a rucksack. Some armies issue these, although examples may have gone through many hands and no longer be fully waterproof. Personally, I have never used these.
A heavy-duty plastic sack is a good alternative, and the usual choice before drybags were commonly marketed.
I used to be able to get 100 litre yellow bags from work. The current ones have things like “clinical waste” and “biohazard” printed on them, so not something that may be re-purposed and used in public!
The plain yellow bag I currently use has served on many trips.
Should I need to replace it, I am considering an orange plastic survival bag for the role. This could be cut down to size, or used intact with the mouth partially rolled down. In the latter case, it may still be used as an emergency shelter, or as a signalling panel.
Incidentally, if things turn extreme, your feet may be kept warmer by placing your feet (or the foot of your sleeping bag) into the emptied rucksack. If that bag contains the emptied liner or the end of the orange survival bag, so much the better!
When the tactical situation allows, I highly recommend using a light coloured bag as a liner. It is much easier to find items within a yellow or orange bag than in a black rubbish bag or dark-coloured liner.
There is an obvious niche in the market for sand-coloured plastic liners or drybags. Failing such an item, try a clear bag.
If you expect your pack to see heavy use, it is not unreasonable to “double bag” your main rucksack compartment. When I add the orange survival bag, the older yellow bag will probably be place around it, if it is still reasonably intact.
Similarly, if attempting to cross a river, placing a black rubbish bag or two around your rucksack liner is prudent. A few rubbish bags may be squeezed into the corner of a pack and take up very little room, but can prove useful.
Clear bags are useful in the construction of solar stills or transpiration traps.
I am sure someone will soil their panties over my use of plastic bags. The real issue is the disposal of plastics, not the use of them. I expect my bags to be in use for years, possibly decades.
Some people pack the contents of their rucksacks in colour-coded stuff sacks or packing cubes. Acquiring a suitable variety of colours and sizes may take some effort and expense.
Most stuff sacks are not totally waterproof, so for things you want to keep dry, such as clothes or food, you will probably end up lining the bag with a plastic bag or two anyway.
For many items, you may be better packing them in clear plastic bags and not bothering with a stuff sack.
Clear plastic lets you see what is actually in the bag rather than memorizing stuff sack colours. You may even label the bag with its contents with a marker pen.
If planning a trip or building an emergency or camping kit, I strongly suggest that you stock up on some five‑ or ten‑litre clear plastic bags, such as freezer bags. Avoid getting rubbish bags in “biodegradable plastic”!
Bags that can be sealed watertight, such as “Ziplocs” are an obvious asset.
You should probably invest in a quantity of smaller bags too. These may be used for carrying EDC items or making fire kits.
Items that are particularly vulnerable, or that may cause serious problems if they leak, should be double-bagged.
A range of plastic bags is a much more prudent initial investment than a flashlight that can be seen from the moon!
If your bags do not have sealable closures, avoid overfilling them, roll over the opening and secure with mini-bulldog clips. If you lose a clip, or put it to another use, such as hanging up a survival blanket as a reflector or signal, twist the bag shut and use your cordage in a strangle knot. You may alternately roll the opening and use a piece of duct tape, but this solution may have only limited life.
Stuff-sacks are good for items that do not need to keep dry, such as your frying pan, or stuff you want to breathe and become dry, such as waterproof clothing.
Patrol Pack with Extra Side Pouches

Putting It Together

The above is the “how” of “how to carry items”.
The “where” is based on frequency/urgency of need and on the bulk/mass of the item(s).

Popular High or Outward

Items that are frequently needed, or may be needed in a hurry, are placed where they are most accessible. Such items are often carried in the external pouches and/or lid pocket of a large rucksack.
Smaller items, that might be hard to locate within the main compartment, also tend to get carried in external pockets.
Most large rucksacks would be considerably improved by more external pockets, and more smaller pockets and/or interior divisions to better organize gear!
My favourite hostelling and hotel rucksack has six large external pouches. I knew the water bottle would be in the bottom-left side pouch, my wash kit and towel in the bottom right-side, and my journal and medical kit in the top, front.
I could even send someone else to fetch the medical kit by being able to unambiguously describe its location.
Items that are not so frequently used, or only carried as spares, tend to be placed toward the bottom of the main compartment. You will only need to unpack your sleeping bag once a day, for example, and not until your tent or shelter is erected. The sleeping bag is thus at the bottom of the main compartment.
You do not need your sleeping clothes until your sleeping system is set up, so this clothing will probably be stored under the sleeping bag.
Some packs have the main compartment divided into two sections, often with a removable partition and separate access to the lower section. The lower part is used for your sleeping bag and related items.

Hard Up, Soft Down

A sleeping bag is soft and compressible, which is another reason it is carried toward the bottom of the bag.
Denser items, such as spare water bottles, canned food and cooking vessels are held towards the top of the pack, so their weight helps compress the items below. These items may be needed more than once a day.
Conventional wisdom is that heavier items should be carried towards the top of a pack, and close to the back.
I have seen an alternate view that ammunition should be carried with the sleeping bag in the lower compartment to avoid the pack becoming excessively top heavy. This rather depends on just how much you are carrying.
In general, I would keep the dense items “high and to the back”, but keep in mind the option of redistributing some items if the pack becomes excessively top-heavy. Better still, have a rethink of what you are taking!
I have previously written about what to carry in a daysack, so will not repeat that information here, although some of those concepts will also apply to what items and how you carry them in a “big pack”.
In a previous blog, I explained my use of a soft-core pack, which allowed me to easily transfer a number of useful items between different packs.
In a follow-up, I suggest a similar range of items packed into the detachable side pouch of a military rucksack. This pouch would be worn as a pack when the large pack was not, but when a soldier might still have need of items such as googles, extra water, protective gloves, dry socks, or rain poncho.
The other side pouch would carry CBRN items, and also be carried if such threats were anticipated.
Many modern soldiers carry lots of items on their webbing that are not immediately combat relevant and would be more efficiently carried in a light pack.
A Daysack
On many of my trips, I have ensured there was room at the top of my main pack to carry a daysack. This was packed with most of the items that I might need to hand for a day sightseeing. Many of these items were things it was always handy to have at the top of a main pack, such as a rain jacket, toilet roll and sun hat. Effectively, when the daysack was in my large pack it served as extra pockets.
I could dump my main bag at my accommodation, grab the daysack, transfer across my water bottle and journal, and I was set to see the town.
Some soldiers advocate carrying a “grab bag” of “mission essentials” at the top of their pack. This will contain relatively dense items such as ammunition and communication gear. The idea is that if the main pack needs to be abandoned, the grab bag and its contents go with the soldier.
An extension of this idea is that under the grab bag there should be a bag of “personal admin” gear that may be taken with the grab bag if possible.
Some soldiers already carry an unpacked daysack within or strapped to the outside of their large pack.
It seems to me that the above ideas may be combined with the creation of a daysack that fits into the upper part of an army large pack. The daysack would have an upper section optimized for carrying dense “mission essentials”, and a lower section for “life support” such as 24 to 36 hours of rations, a brew kit, a stove and mess kit/canteen cup.
This “assault pack” would have a compartment for a water bladder and provision to attach the side-pockets of the large pack, holding the contents suggested above.
Which “personal admin” items belong in the small pack and which should remain in the large pack will probably be hotly debated in certain circles and forums!
As is so often the case, I digress! Back to the topic of rucksack packing.
For convenience, I will divide the contents of a large pack into seven generic categories:
• Clothing
• Cooking
• Food
• Water
• Sleeping
• Shelter
• Miscellaneous/Any Other Business.

Clothing

You will probably have several bags of clothing, based on form or function.
Most of your clothing will be packed into waterproof plastic bags. Several small bags may utilize the available volume better than on larger bag. “Dirty laundry” I tend to keep in a stuff sack, so that it may air.
Recently washed items such as socks may be tied to the outside of the pack, or held in a mesh bag pinned to the rim of the pack flap. This lets them air dry, and they may be easily slipped under the flap should it rain. Some rucksacks have external mesh pockets which are useful for drying your laundry.
Rain clothing is carried in stuff sacks. My rain poncho will be with my soft-core bag or side-pouch, along with some cordage and light pegs so that it may be used for a shelter.
A rain jacket and trousers, if carried, will be in a readily accessible area such as a side pocket, lid compartment or top of the main compartment. If the storm clouds are gathering, these items may be placed directly under the top flap, above the snow‑lock for immediate access.
Rain items tend to migrate, depending on if they are wet or dry.
If wet, they are generally left unbagged and slipped under the pack flap or strapped to the outside of the pack to dry.
You will probably have a plastic bag for your socks in the main compartment. It is also prudent to have at least one smaller Ziploc bag holding a single pair of socks in a more accessible location. If away from your pack, have a bagged spare pair on your person.
If conditions are bad, change into dry(er) socks whenever you can. Let the wetter pair air dry, bag them if they get dry.
With most clothing, I usually reckon on “wash, wear and spare” unless carrying a lot of other gear, or a very short trip, in which case it is “wear and a spare”.
Socks are an exception, and it is not a bad thing to have a few extra pairs.
Underwear may be bagged with your socks, or separately. If you are packing an emergency or bug-out bag, you may have several different types of underwear to suit different seasons and conditions. Bag these separately, according to type.
Spare shirts and trousers are carried in the main compartment.
If you carry a spare uniform or set of clothes for sleeping in, bag these separately and stow at the bottom of your bag under the sleeping bag.
You will need a warm jacket or jumper should the weather be colder than expected, and to prevent you from chilling once you cease a hard activity. This should be bagged individually and carried in the main compartment, but above the spare and unused clothing so it is relatively easy to access.
Hats, gloves, scarves and bandannas, if not already being worn, some, at least, should be readily available in a side or lid compartment.
You may need several different types of gloves available.
It is prudent to carry spares of hats, gloves, neck gaiters and the like. These may be bagged in the main compartment if space is needed for other items in the outer pockets.
Most clothing items take up least space if rolled. There will be exceptions to this general rule of thumb, so experiment!

Cooking

Cooking is treated as a separate category to food.
On many of my “city-breaks” I have not carried any form of stove or cooking vessel.
Some backpackers take to the wilds only carrying food that will be eaten cold.
In general, you should have some means by which you are able to heat-treat water.
For general camping, I carry a pair of billies and a frying pan with a folding handle.
For more basic cooking, a canteen cup will serve, but a European mess kit is better.
The use of cooking fires is not permitted in many areas, and an unmodified canteen cup and many camping cook sets are not particularly suited to such heat sources. You will need to carry some form of stove, and an adequate supply of fuel for it.
Being relatively dense items, your cooking vessels, fuel and stove should ride high up in the main compartment, helping compress the clothing and sleeping bag below.
You will eat or brew‑up more frequently than you change clothes, so these items also sit high for ease of access.
Stuff sacks are suitable for many of these items. Fuel containers that could leak should be placed in plastic bags and packed so that they stay upright. Fuel in general should be kept dry, so pack it in plastic bags. This also reduces any odours the fuel may produce.
Brew‑kit items will also be vulnerable to water and should be in a plastic bag.
Canteen cups, and British and European mess kits are of a shape that allows them to fit in a relatively narrow pouch. Some types of stove are also very compact.
Some travellers like to carry these in the side pocket of a large pack. There is usually room also for some fuel, a brew‑kit and about a day’s worth of food and snacks. This makes these items very accessible, and is particularly useful if you tend to stop to brew‑up every 90 minutes. Additional fuel will probably need to be carried in the main compartment.
The downside of using a side pocket for your cooking kit is that you might need this side pocket space for something with a higher priority. Another problem is that your stove and other items will be rather vulnerable in this position. If anyone else is likely to handle your bag, expect it to be knocked over, manhandled and possibly tossed off the back of a trailer. If you have to trust your large pack to airline baggage handling, I suggest you repack the stove and other vulnerable items to the main compartment.

Food

Most of your food will be in the main compartment, above your clothes. You should be eating more often than you change your clothes, and the mass of the food helps compress clothing and sleeping bag.
Most of the food will be in plastic bags. For many things such as rice or flour, double bagging is a good idea. Yes, I have travelled carrying and using flour. I have read Kephart and James Austin Wilder.
I once saw a backpacker’s guidebook advocate carrying dried rice in a plastic ice cream container. I still have no idea why the author thought that was necessary.
Many packaged foods are already in a form suitable for carrying in a rucksack. You might throw them in a bag just to keep them together. Canned goods are also generally “good to go” right off the shop shelf.
Some fresh foods, such as fruit, cheese and bread may be better kept in their paper bags. Pack fruit carefully so it does not get smushed.
In the past, I have carried some spices and condiments in 15 ml centrifuge tubes. Essentially, screw-capped plastic test tubes. More often used items were in 50 ml tubes. Curry powder, chilli powder, cayenne, cumin, salt, sugar, powdered garlic, Tabasco sauce, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce can add welcome variety to meals. In hindsight, many of these could have been carried in small Ziplock bags, with the tubes only being used for the liquids.
Snacks, trail-mix and food for that day may be carried in external pouches for easy access. Some of these items end up in jacket pockets if you tend to “graze as you go”
In bear country, you will need a line and net to cache your food and other items..

Water

Water is quite heavy, so ideally rides near the top of your pack, near your back.
Many more modern rucksack designs include a compartment designed to carry a hydration bladder. Those that I am most familiar with are against the back and high up, so are the most efficient position to carry a large volume of water.
I suggest you get the largest hydration bladder that you can afford that is compatible with your pack, so a significant part of your water is carried where its mass is best dealt with.
Another advantage of such a hydration bladder is it lets you drink any time you want, or at least any time while you are wearing your pack.
Hydration bladders designed to attach to the outside of packs should be mounted as close to the top and back as practical. These may be better off carried within the main compartment for protection.
More conventional bottles are best carried in the main compartment, close to the top and the back.
If you do not have a hydration bladder, you will want to carry one bottle where it is readily accessible, such as in your daysack or an external pocket.

Sleeping

I once met a young Dutch backpacker who was rather offended that I was carrying my sleeping bag inside my rucksack.
“You are supposed to strap it to the outside!” he protested.
“But it fits inside! I have plenty of room.” I argued. Just to compound his annoyance, I was camping, so was also carrying a tent, stove, cooking kit and my daysack in my bag, while he was hostelling and had his pack so filled he had to carry his sleeping bag outside.
Admittedly, my Alaskan Packboard is a roomy beast, and I was using tricks such as wearing silk shirts. And my sleeping bag was my little Merlin Softee, which has a packed size about that of a rugby ball, without needing compression straps!
There are several approaches as to how to carry sleeping bags.
Firstly, use the right bag for the season and expected conditions. If you are hostelling in the Mediterranean in summer, you do not need your heavy, bulky extreme Arctic-rated bag!
On other pages I have given advice on what sleeping bags to acquire.
If you have to carry a sleeping bag on the outside of a rucksack, be aware that your bag is not protected against abrasion nor water. The stuff sack or compression sack you use with your sleeping bag is generally lightweight nylon.
Our ancestors knew to roll their blankets in a ground-cloth or gum blanket. This never seems to occur to many modern travellers.
It may be prudent to find a sports bag or similar that can fully enclose your sleeping bag. If necessary modify the sports bag with attachment points to keep it more securely attached to your pack.
Inside the sports bag, have a plastic bag big enough to hold the packed sleeping bag. Generally you want your sleeping bag to dry out from any moisture it may have absorbed in use. If the heavens are about to open, or you plan to ford a river, put your sleeping bag in a plastic sack to prevent it getting any wetter.
Where to carry the strapped sleeping bag? Possibly the most common solution is to carry it on the bottom of the pack. This is not so bad when walking, but can get in the way if you try to sit with your pack on.
Top of the pack is generally not so practical. I have seen soldiers try this, then discover they cannot raise their heads to fire when they have gone prone. Even if you keep on your feet, you may feel that your pack seems top-heavy.
A sleeping bag strapped to one side of your pack can get interesting if you try to navigate narrow doors or use crowded public transport. It may also throw off your centre of gravity. I have sprained an ankle carrying too much weight on one side (I had a sports bag instead of a rucksack). Similarly, a bag strapped to the front of the rucksack, projecting behind you, can cause problems, assaulting strangers and demolishing scenery.
As you will have gathered from previous sections, a sleeping bag can be carried in the main compartment of a large pack, and should be placed close to the bottom. You only need to unpack your sleeping bag once a day, and it can be compressed by the mass of other items above.
First time you put a bag in your large pack, it can be a shock! Some bags will appear to take 50 to 75% of the volume. How will you be able to carry all the other stuff you have?
Generally, sleeping bags are an item you do not roll to pack.
Your new sleeping bag probably came nicely rolled up in a stuff sack or compression sack. You can drive yourself mad trying to get it back inside in the same configuration.
The best way to pack a sleeping bag is to insert the foot part into the sack, then grab handfuls and cram them in, pushing them down as far as possible and into any empty space you feel. Takes a fraction of the time and is probably better for your bag.
If you have compression straps, first “foot and cram” as described. The best method I have found is to then sit on the sack and incrementally tighten alternate pairs of straps.
It is worth repeating that for long-term storage, sleeping bags should not be kept in stuff/compression sacks. Mine are loose in large plastic bags to keep the dust off. My down bag is in a roomy cotton sack the manufacturer thoughtfully provided.
One of the problems of a bag in a stuff sack or compression sack is that it is fairly dense and will not compress much more. It may not be the best shape to efficiently use the interior volume of your rucksack.
An alternate approach is to just not use a stuff/compression sack!
“Foot and cram” your bag directly into the bottom of your rucksack. This allows the bag to “flow” into any available space. An interesting variation of this is to use a bivi-bag as the waterproof liner you cram the bag into. A nice example of making one item serve more than one role.
Not using a stuff sack is a relatively new idea to me, so I have not had time to try this “in the field”.
As an experiment, I placed a bivi-bag in the bottom of a British Army large bergen. Into this I crammed my Merlin Softee and a -15°C three/four season bag (A Eurohike “Backpacker Micro III” I have lying around. Amazing what people leave behind and never return for!)
The results were promising. The bergen is still 50% empty, not including the volume enclosed by the snow‑lock. That is impressive for two sleeping bags and a bivi-bag. I expect the bags will compress further once some mass is placed above them.
Unpacking the bags seems quicker than if they were in stuff sacks. More importantly, they may be packed up very quickly, which is useful if you have to vacate the area quickly.
Even if your rucksack does not have a separate sleeping bag compartment, I recommend keeping your sleeping system in its own liner/bivi-bag outside the liner with all the other items.
Kip mats are another sleeping item that is often strapped to the outside of a pack. While bulky, they are less massive than sleeping bags so cause less problems with the balance of your pack.
Items tied to the outsides of packs may not fare well through baggage handling. Wrapping the pack in a dozen or so metres of plastic may only be a partial solution.
Some mats may be folded and will fit inside the main compartment. These may be carried outside the liner, and are usually placed close to the wearer’s back to provide extra cushioning.

Shelter

I was taught that your tent was to be carried inside your main compartment, but outside the waterproof liner. A tent will often be packed up while still wet, so the logic of this approach is clear. Outside the liner, the tent components have a chance to dry‑off while you are in transit.
Most modern tents come in a nice bag, probably fitted with carrying handles. You will want to re-purpose this. Chances are you will never get the contents back in this bag as neatly as they came from the shop.
Separate the tent inner and fly and place them in separate stuff-sacks.
Tent poles are usually carried down the corners of the main compartment, near your back. If your main compartment has a partition, it should have cut-outs at the rear corners to accommodate tent poles. If you are buying a rucksack with a partition, make sure it has this feature.
When packing your poles and tent bags, be careful that you do not damage the waterproof liner(s).
Your bag of tent pegs should be stored with the tent fly, unless you are so unfortunate to have an “inner pitches first” tent!
Tent pegs can be in a plastic bag or a small stuff sack. A clear plastic bag lets you see the contents, but won’t let the pegs dry so readily. Galvanized tent pegs should not corrode, but if you brought them from a budget source, they may not be quite what they claim.
It is a good idea to have an additional bag of spare and special purpose tent pegs. Store these in an outer pocket where they are readily accessible.
If the tent fly or inner got a good soaking, lightly fold it and carry it without its stuff sack, under the pack flap, over the snow‑lock. This will let it air and drain.
If you use a basha or tarp rather than a tent, packing instructions are effectively the same: Inside the bag but outside the liner.
Some individuals have squeezed a basha and associated items into the top pocket of a rucksack. There is not really much room for anything else, and getting it in and out may take several minutes and a black-belt in origami, which is not the best situation if you need to pack-up fast and get somewhere else.
Carrying a basha in the top compartment may increase the rain resistance of the rest of the bag. The same effect may be achieved by carrying the basha or tent fly just beneath the snow‑lock, although this may hinder accessing the main compartment for other items. Carrying your waterproof jacket and trousers at the top of the bag may produce the same protection but be more practical.
Some companies that customize rucksacks offer external poncho/basha pouches. Typically these are high on the front of the rucksack, just below the edge of the lid when it is closed. There are various ways to rig something similar, either as a pouch, or a square of tough material the shelter may be rolled up in. If going for the former, make sure there are drainage holes that let the contents dry.

Miscellaneous/Any Other Business

The above six categories include most of the items that will occupy most of the volume of your large rucksack.
This last category includes a variety of other items, some of which are very important, others less so.

Medical

My EDC includes a number of first aid items. There is a more extensive kit in my large rucksack. An intermediate level kit may be found in my daysack/soft-core pack. I have described the contents of these kits on other pages. Many of the contents of these kits are individually in plastic bags to protect them from water. The larger pouches are within clear, sealable waterproof bags.
Your medical kits should be readily accessible, so an external pocket is preferred. It should also be obvious what it is.
You may have to send someone else to fetch your medical kit. They should be able to find it with simple directions such as “My pack. Top, front pocket. Green pouch with a white cross.”

Washing

Wash kits are another item that I have described in other blog posts. It is convenient to have them in an external pocket so they may be easily accessed when wanted. Some items of a wash kit inevitably get wet, and an external pocket gives them more opportunity to dry. The wash-kit is a large pack item. It would be a rare circumstance when I would want to carry this in my daysack.

Lights

My girlfriend: “Flashlight!”
I rummage through my bag and produce a flashlight.
“How did you know I had a flashlight?” I challenged.
“You have everything!”
A flashlight lives in my daysack, or other readily accessible pocket. I have other sources of illumination on my person. My soft-core pack has a hand-crank flashlight from a pound store. It is 100% waterproof if I keep it in a Ziplock bag.
Some campers carry lanterns. I have had little use for them myself. I am more likely to go to bed than curse the darkness. My only lantern is made from a soda can and a candle.

Maps and Compass

I have a Suunto Clipper compass as part of my EDC. If heading to the wilds, I will have a larger compass either on my belt or in a coat pocket. A mirror sighting compass lives permanently in my German desert parka.
It is not a bad idea to have a spare compass in your daysack or large pack. Pack it so that it is well protected from damage and moisture.
Maps in current use should be carried somewhere accessible, such as the daysack or top pocket of a large pack. Maps not in current use should be bagged against water and may be carried elsewhere where there is room.

Emergency Items

Emergency items such as flares, smoke bombs, space blankets and similar should obviously be in an easily accessible location. Bear in mind that the emergency may begin with you being separated from your large pack.

Repairs and Spares

Your repair kit should be relatively compact. A few buckles, a minimal sewing kit, some bladder patches and some tape. This is described elsewhere.
Despite its low bulk and mass, it is a large pack item. Tucked into the corner of a lid pocket is probably a good location.

Cordage

Various sizes of cordage will prove useful.
It sould be easy to find and access. In addition what I carry on my person, the soft-core pack contains several kinds.

Books and Notepads

I like to keep a journal when travelling, so carry a notepad. Also good for recording anything interesting, or drawing pictures when there is a language barrier.
Not surprisingly, the notepad is in a plastic bag. It lives in the external pocket of my daysack, or an external pocket of my large pack, depending on what I am carrying.
Guidebooks and novels currently in use migrate between the daysack and external pockets of the large pack. Guidebooks for previous areas or areas yet to be visited ride in the main compartment where their mass compresses whatever is beneath.

Electronic Gadgets

I never carried electronic items on my major adventures. Even my beloved iPOD stayed at home. I preferred to experience rather than to photograph and record. I know this approach will be alien and probably incomprehensible to younger readers.
Rationalize the electronic gadgets and accessories you intend to carry in your pack. A couple of USB adaptors will remove the need to carry half a dozen or more different cables. A hand-crank flashlight that also works as a charger and radio is a better choice than a more expensive and heavier power bank.

Miscellaneous Bag

Tucked away in the main compartment of my large rucksack I have often carried a “miscellaneous bag”. This might be an old pencil case or a Ziploc bag. It contained anything I might need in the future, but not at present: My home house keys, travel card to get me home from the airport, money that I could not use in the present country, presents for people at home, and so on.

Other Paperwork

It is amazing how many packing lists never mention toilet roll! This needs to be reasonably accessible and kept dry. My soft-core pack includes a roll in a Ziplock bag with a 100 ml bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer.

Ammunition

If you are armed, a realistic quantity of ammunition should be on your person. Spare ammunition may be carried in your pack. Since ammunition is dense, and may be needed in a hurry, it obviously rides near the top of your pack, and close to the back.

Final Thoughts

If your pack is totally full, you should probably rethink.
You will need some free room for unexpected contingencies. And free space lets you move stuff around when looking for something. You do not want to unpack your pack every time you want something lower down.
Categories
Phillosoph

Foundation Survival Kits: The Next Level

One of the blogs that I have often referred back to has been that on Foundation Survival Kits.
In that article, I suggested seven items that formed the foundation of a useful emergency kit.
These were:
• A water bottle
• A canteen cup or mess kit
• A fire kit
• A survival knife
• A blanket or poncho‑liner
• A rain‑poncho
Each of these items may also be seen to represent a theme.
In this blog, I would like to expand on these themes and reflect on what further items may be acquired to expand these capabilities.

Water

Water is the cheapest category to address. Buy a couple of bottles of soda. Once you have drunk the soda, use the bottles for water.
Soda bottles are incredibly tough and flexible. If water freezes in a bottle you can bash it around to break up the ice, with very little chance of damaging the bottle enough for it to leak.
When there is a chance that water will freeze, carry any water containers with the cap or drinking tube downwards. Ice floats, so the lowest part of an inverted bottle will be the last to freeze solid.
The soda bottle is a superior choice to more expensive, smaller, heavier and more rigid military plastic canteens. Unlike a military canteen, you can squeeze some of the air out of a soda bottle to reduce the noise of water sloshing around.
The only thing wrong with most soda bottles is the small diameter cap. It needs a little more care when refilling. It also makes it a little harder to shake broken up ice out of the bottle.
The alternative or supplement to a soda bottle is a hydration bladder. Most of these come with drinking tubes, allowing you to drink while on the move. There are drinking tubes for soda and other plastic bottles, but the ones I have seen seem to cost as much as some models of bladder with a tube.
Being very flexible, water bladders allow air to be squeezed out of them to reduce any sloshing noises. This is useful if you want to move tactically, are hunting, nature-watching or just want some peace and quiet.
Soda bottles and large hydration bladders are a great means for carrying water in your pack.
You will need some means to carry water with you when you are not wearing your pack. However, you do not want to constantly carry such a weight of water that the effort increases your water consumption.
There are hydration bladders that can be worn as an independent backpack. You cannot wear these when wearing another pack. Switching to them usually involves some unpacking or detachment.
Depending on conditions, one or two litres on your person will be about right. This may be a soda bottle or smaller, or one or two of the smaller capacity hydration bladders or bottles.
Ideal would be a bumbag/waistpack with a bladder of about 1.5 litres. Sadly, these seem rare at the moment and the examples you can find have a high price tag and are not offered in neutral or natural colours.
See the knots book for a method to construct a carrier for a soda bottle.
“Work from the outside in”. Use the water in your pack in preference to the supply you carry on your person. This policy also applies to other consumables, such as matches, emergency food and so on.
You should invest in some water purification tablets for times when you cannot heat‑treat your drinking water. It is a good idea to have a good stock of these.
There are various brands of water sterilization pumps. Given the importance of clean water, these are worth considering if they are within your means. Viruses may pass through filter systems. Water so produced may still need to be heat or chemically treated.

Cooking and Food

The topic of heat-treating water brings us to the item of a cooking vessel. I have recently written on the subject of cooking vessels, so have little to add about them here.
A cooking vessel will be more useful if you also have some form of stove.
This theme also takes us to considering the provision of food, be it rations or that procured by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering.
An emergency is no time to worry about the diet! The food in your bug-out bag should be rich in calories, carbs and sugars. It should require very little water, cooking or preparation. It should have a long shelf life when stowed in the bag.
Ideas along these lines have been discussed on various pages on this blog.
If the 72-hour timeline of an emergency is accepted, theoretically your bug-out bag only needs half a dozen MREs or three HDRs, if you have access to them. Obviously, discard unnecessary mass such as the gum or duplicate cutlery. This is, however, an expensive option!
Your food may need to be in a bag or net that can be hung from a tree out of reach of bears. Other items that will attract their interest, such as toothpaste, cooking vessel and refuse will also need to be cached with the food. Keep about 16 metres of suitable cord with your bear bag/net.
MREs may include flameless heating pouches. You will still need your mess kit for water treatment.
Going without a cup of tea for a couple of days will not kill you, but a small brew kit may be good for morale. A hot drink may make the difference in cold weather. In addition to tea and coffee bags (vacuum-packed?), add some variety such as instant hot chocolate, soup and stock cubes.
Inside your mess tin is a logical place to carry a brew-kit.
Living on wild foods is more likely during a longer duration survival scenario.
After plant matter, fish are your most likely source of wild food.
If venturing into the wilds, carry at least ten metres of braided fishing line and a dozen or so no.12 hooks, each already attached to a foot or more of monofilament line. A third to half of those hooks should have some form of lure, such as mackerel feathers. This fishing kit gives you the capability to set up a night‑line.
If you wish, have a small fishing kit packed into something like a 35mm film container that you can easily add to your EDC. A more extensive kit, including bulkier lures, more line and copper or brass wire may be packed in a small tobacco or Altoids tin and carried in your pack. A frog/fish gig head is worth adding to your larger fishing kit, but may need to be modified so it can be used on a field-made shaft.
For active hunting of small game, your priority purchase should be a catapult/slingshot. Potentially, this could also be used to drive off threats such as feral dogs, or knock fruit or nuts from trees. If you do not have such a device, become a petrobólos and remember the ancient art of throwing sticks and stones.
Do not get a model that is too elaborate or bulky. Regularly inspect your catapult for deterioration of the bands.
Like any weapon, this will be of little use unless you put in the practice.
Your first hunting firearm should be .22 rifle, preferably semi-automatic and suppressed. A useful number of rounds may be carried for very little mass and bulk.
Openly carrying a firearm may not be prudent in certain locations. A takedown design that can be stowed in a pack has merit, if it has adequate accuracy. A small game rifle/shooter/ammo combination needs to be capable of reliably taking squirrel‑sized targets.
Many small game and birds have sharp eyes and are particularly attuned to movement. A semi-automatic allows for less body movements that might spook your target.
If forced to use the .22 defensively, the best tactic is accurate rapid fire, which also favours the semi-auto.
Examine the iron sights that come with your .22 rifle, and invest in a good set of iron-sights if you find them wanting. Learn to use your iron-sights, before you buy a scope. If/when your scope gets damaged, you will need those iron-sights.
A survival .22 may be required to defend its user or in an emergency to take targets larger than is customary for this calibre. Both of these possibilities favour high-penetration performance. Hollow‑point “hyper‑velocity” loads such as CCI Stingers are mainly intended for small game. For the survival weapon, the preference is for more conventional high‑velocity solids. These not only waste less meat, but generally cost less!

Fire

The fire kit is another low cost item, if you are sensible. Hold off from buying fire-starting gadgets and exotic tinder materials.
The best means to light a fire is a naked flame. Buy some disposable lighters.
Have a lighter on your person at all times. I keep mine in my trouser pocket so that it stays warm. Have a couple of lighters in any fire kits you construct. Add a lighter to each of your outdoor coats, handbag, and other bags you commonly carry.
You should have a lighter or fire kit in your car, boat etc. Do not assume the dashboard lighter of a vehicle will work when you most need it. The car battery may be dead.
For each fire kit, have a water‑tight container or two for tinder. Fill one with cotton wool and Vaseline. Some folks prefer wax‑soaked cotton string. The Vaseline and cotton wool that you do not use to make tinder are handy things to have around the house anyway.
To this fire kit, you can add some birthday cake candles and a Fresnel lens. (Remember that your compass may also have a magnifying lens that can be used for fire‑starting).

Toilet Paper and Hygiene

Toilet paper is a low cost, low mass and relatively low-bulk item. Carrying more than one roll is not a bad idea. Better to have it but not need it than…
Toilet paper leads us to the theme of hygiene. I have already written about washing kits and medical kits.
The common mistake with wash kits is to carry too many items, in too complicated a bag or roll.
My wash kit fits in a small mesh bag, with the toothbrush, deodorant and paste in a mesh pencil case, since it is convenient to have these separate.
Travel towel/home-made tenugui, soap in draw-cord pouch, razor(s), container of shampoo, microfibre facecloth, mini-nailbrush, small mirror, spare comb. Very little else is needed.
With medical kits, it is easy to go for two many specialist items and overload your kit.
Insect repellant and sunscreen may be needed. EDC Pouch Contents
You will probably have several medical kits. I have a few items in my EDC pouch, and a more extensive kit with my travel bag. “Intermediate” kits are in various daysacs and the soft‑core bag. You should have a more comprehensive kit at home, in your car, truck, boat, aircraft etc.
Returning to the toilet roll(s). Alcohol hand sanitizer is not the magical panacea that some people think. It is, however, a useful item to keep with your toilet roll(s). You will also need some means to dig a cat‑hole.
This brings us to the theme of tools.

Tools

In the preceding article on foundation survival kits, I recommended the acquisition of a knife with “a full-tang fixed blade that is single-edged and not less than seven inches/18 cm”.
Knives and other tools are heavy, and can be very expensive. It is very important to have a realistic understanding of what you need.
You will see certain survival experts claiming that you do not need a big blade. Buy the little (larger profit margin) knife they use, available from the website… They fail to mention they have an axe with their pack, or a full film crew to support them.
In a survival scenario, the primary role of your knife is efficient shelter and fire construction and the ability to easily work any available materials for these purposes. You need a knife that is an effective multi‑purpose wood‑working tool.
Hence, my primary choice is a kukri.
If on a budget, machetes and billhooks will often do the job as well as any expensive custom knife.
A big knife can be handy when butchering large game, although in a survival situation you are more likely to be living on plants, small game and fish. To supplement my kukri, I carry a fixed-blade Mora knife.
Swiss Army Ranger
Another useful acquisition is a good pocket tool such as a Swiss Army knife. This forms part of your EDC, and may be the only tool you have when you really need one.
You will also need the means to resharpen your tools.

Digging

Digging tools need deeper consideration than they are sometimes accorded.
Hopefully the survivor will not have to be digging foxholes and bomb-proof dugouts.
More likely reasons to dig include:
• Edible roots and other foods
• Catholes and deeper latrines
• Disposal of biodegradable waste.
• Fire pits and trenches
• Pit traps
• Drainage gutters to keep water flooding your campsite: About 20 cm deep and as wide as your shelter
Indian well: Half a metre deep and wide
• Survival stills: About a metre across and nearly that deep. Will probably need two per person.
• Bank‑bunk/Den/Emergency dugout: A shelf to hold a sleeper, dug into the leeward side of a hill or bank. About two metres long, one wide and two thirds deep.
• Various types of snow shelter: Either digging down into snow or building a wall against the wind. When abundant fuel is available, try melting a hole down into the snow rather than digging it out.
Minor digging tasks may be achieved with a digging stick, throwing stick, tent peg, screwdriver etc.
Lightweight trowels are sold for campers and backpackers. Generally, these are either plastic or a high-tech material with a high price tag.
If on a budget, check out the trowels in the gardening centre before the camping store. The toy department is also worth a look, since beach and gardening sets for children are sometimes found.
hori-hori
My digging implement of choice is a hori‑hori. This is compact and relatively light, yet strong and versatile.
Many of the digging tasks listed can be performed with a hori‑hori. The larger excavations are possible in an emergency if you are methodical. For example, with the bank‑bunk, use gravity to your advantage so clods of earth levered out will drop away rather than need to be lifted.
A hori‑hori is a good choice for light and emergency digging. In certain terrain, situations or seasons, larger excavations are more likely.
Trifold Entrenching Tool
Trifold entrenching tools are probably the best off-the-shelf option for deliberate digging in terms of cost, utility and bulk/mass. Sometimes a hoe/mattock is a more useful digging implement than a shovel/spade. Buy a tool where the head can be set at an angle. Some models include a pick‑blade too.
Although used by the military, these folding tools should not be expected to be as sturdy as larger and/or one-piece tools, so use them accordingly.
For deliberate winter travel, lightweight snow shovels are worth considering. These may be aluminium or plastic, and some will disassemble or are telescopic for easier carrying.
Snow shovels are not much use for digging in hard earth, but can move large volumes of snow or leaf-litter. Items such as slabs of wood, skis, snowshoes, mess tins and frying pans may be used to move loose snow.
Knives with long blades can be handy for cutting snow blocks, although some arctic travellers carry crosscut saws from the hardware store for this purpose. These are useful for wood too. They are not as compact as camping saws, but a fraction of the cost. With a covered blade, such a saw may be slipped down the side of a rucksac’s main compartment,
If you live somewhere that is wooded and often cold, an axe such as a three‑quarter or Hudson Bay style may be a wise investment.
In an emergency, you may have to get out or into a location in a hurry. The crowbar may be a very useful addition to your kit.
Crowbars are very reasonably priced.
Wrap the shank in electrical tape to insulate your hands when it is cold. This also provides a source of tape for repairs.
A crow bar may be used like a digging stick or pick to break up hard earth.
For those with far bigger budgets than mine, there are titanium crowbars.
A screwdriver should be carried with your tent pegs. This may help in both inserting and extracting pegs. It is also a potential prying and digging implement.
Like the character in my novel, you will find such a screwdriver may be used for a variety of useful purposes.
Cordage may be considered to come under the umbrella of tools. Invest in a reel of suitably coloured paracord or similar.
In an emergency, some individuals may attempt to steal your food or equipment, or prey on you for other reasons. To ignore this as a potential possibility is to neglect the hard lessons of several thousand years of human history.
Many of the tools already discussed have potential as means of self-defence.
Since the publication of my book “Survival Weapons”, I have been asked which firearm an individual should consider purchasing first? Should it be a shotgun, or the .22 rifle?
Your first weapon should be compact or sub-compact semi-automatic combat handgun. It may be carried in situations where a rifle or shotgun might draw unwelcome reactions. It may be used to defend both your home and your person. In extremis, such a firearm may be used to hunt small and medium game in the absence of a weapon more suitable.

Sleeping

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Our performance when awake is often influenced by how well we slept. Sleeping gear is an important component of your emergency kit and in keeping yourself hale and hearty.
Man in Poncho0liner
In the original article, this requirement was met and represented by a poncho-liner or blanket.
Poncho-liners, as they are issued, are mainly intended as bedding. See my previous blog on simple measures that increase the utility of your poncho-liner as a garment.
A silver surivival blanket, or a more robust all-weather blanket, may be combined with a poncho-liner and pomcho for extra warmth..

Kip Mats

Once you have a poncho-liner, the second item on your sleeping wish‑list should be a kip mat.
Quite simply, “ground chill can kill!”
A kip mat is primarily insulation rather than cushioning.
Shop around, you can sometimes find a better deal on items marketed as exercise, yoga or gym mats. The main problem seems to be finding them in neutral or natural colours.
Some folks claim the black ones are inherently warmer, while some mats are offered with a reflective foil coating. No one seems to offer a foil‑coated black foam mat!
Naturally found materials such as grass, bracken, hay, pine boughs etc can insulate you from ground chill. Use your kip mat over the top of these. It will protect you from any damp materials.
Even when you can find one in a useful colour, it will be monochrome and of a regular shape. Kip mats are light but bulky. If you have to carry one on the outside of your pack, buy or make a suitable camouflage stuff sack. Fittings may be added to this so it attaches more securely to the outside of your pack.
You can roll a kip mat up in a camouflage bivi-bag, although potentially having a bivi-bag on the outside of a pack increases the chance of it being damaged and losing water resistance.
You can trim the corners of a mat into a more “mummy” shape if you wish, but this is not going to make much difference in mass and bulk. If you prefer your kip mat inside your bivi-bag, it may fit better if you shape it.

Sleeping Bag Liner

Your next sleeping acquisition should be a sleeping bag liner. Clean, dry insulation works best. A sleeping bag liner provides a little extra warmth, but its main advantage is that it keeps your bedding clean.
I have talked about sleeping bag liners before, so will direct you to that article. If your budget won’t allow you to buy your sleeping bags for a while, you might consider the warmer examples such as pile liners.
If personal security is an issue, you may need to sleep clothed and in your boots. Wearing a pair of sandbags over your boots saves your sleeping system from damage and dirt.

Sleeping Bags

Yes, I did say sleeping bags!
The poncho-liner was designed for sleeping at temperatures of above 10°C.
If your breath is fogging, you will need to make more elaborate sleeping arrangements, such as more ground insulation and a better insulated shelter.
Your sleeping gear will most probably acquire some sleeping bags. Sleeping bags are another topic I have addressed elsewhere.
Rather than buying a super‑duper arctic mountain‑rated bag, your money will be better invested in a one‑to‑two season and a two‑to‑three season bag.
Since we are considering items for your bug‑out bag, sleeping bags should be of mummy configuration for lower bulk and better performance.
Some folks prefer zipless. Personally, I find a zip offers more versatility with respect to comfort and ventilation. Ensure your choice has a two-way zip so that you may vent the foot area.
When you own two bags as suggested, you may use either or both together as local conditions dictate.
Your liner will add a little more warmth, and keep your bags clean and warm for longer.
Your poncho-liner will continue to see service as a supplement to your sleeping bags, or on its own in hot conditions.

Mosquito Nets

In many regions a mosquito net for sleeping under is a prudent investment. Working out how to suspend it may be a challenge you don’t need at the end of a long day, so look into free‑standing variants.

Shelter

Rain-Poncho

The rain‑poncho represents the theme of “cover”, which is appropriate since the rain‑poncho is both a garment and a means of shelter.
I have written elsewhere on the topic of selecting clothing for your “bug‑out outfit”, so I will concentrate on the topic of shelter.
Pocho Shelters
Your poncho probably came with a stuff‑sack. If it did, to this add two three‑metre lengths of paracord or similar. These will prove useful when you rig your poncho as a shelter.
A pair of bungee cords is quicker but less versatile, so may be added later.
If it is particularly windy or cold. one of these cords may be used as a belt around your poncho. The other may be used around your poncho‑liner.
A rain‑poncho and cord is not a complete shelter. You will also need some pegs or stakes. In extremis, your knife lets you carve them from sticks.
There are a number of ways to do without pegs, or for use when pegs won’t hold. I will deal with those some other day.
To your shelter kit add a small bag of pegs. Most shelters you can construct with a poncho or basha need four to six.
Add your screwdriver to this bag. This may be used for covert pegging, or as a spare peg. The screwdriver may also be used as a “T‑handle” to pull pegs up again.
Many of the shelters you may construct with a poncho require some means of support.
You cannot rely on convenient trees or even branches always being present.
Hiking/ski poles and bicycle frames have been used instead.
In addition to the above, your kit should also include a couple of tent poles, each with an extended or assembled length of about one metre.
The rain‑poncho “hooch” is a very basic form of shelter. It is relatively low cost, even more so if you have ponchos issued to you. Some servicemen carry three or four: one for wear, one or two for shelter and another as a groundsheet.

Bashas

A common upgrade is the “basha sheet”, which is a waterproof sheet of around 1.7 by 2.5 metres. It is similar to a lightweight tarp, although tarps tend to be three to four metres square. You will still need the rain‑poncho as rainwear.
Most basha sheets encountered these days have a camouflage print. However, the scale of the print is such they tend to show as a regular pattern.
A poncho/basha/tarp shelter may be improved by rigging two canopies, one below the other.
The inner canopy may be another poncho, a space blanket or even a suitably large non-waterproof cloth.
The double canopy retains more heat in cold conditions. It also insulates the occupant from the heat of the sun in the desert.
In the latter situation, the outer canopy may be a space blanket or similar reflective item. This also makes your shelter highly visible, which may or may not be desired.
This brings me to the topic of security.
One of the reasons the infantry use ponchos or bashas where possible is they give better situational awareness. They are also easier to vacate in an emergency.

Tents

A purpose‑designed tent may be warmer than a poncho/basha hooch, but also may make you more vulnerable to two‑legged predators.
This is something to think about when considering what form of shelter to include in your emergency or outdoor kit.
If you do opt for a tent, make sure that you buy a design that allows you to pitch the flysheet (outer) first and take it down last. Do not let any salesman con you that “flysheet pitches last” is an advantage. I have put up and taken down enough tents in the rain to know better!
When you buy a tent, the fly and inner probably packed in the same bag. Buy another bag and pack them separately. These bags should be distinct so that you know if you are reaching for the inner or the fly.
Avoid single layer tents unless they are made of a material that is both waterproof and breathable, such as Gore-tex. The latter are usually either bivi-bags or one‑man tube tents.
Single layer tents made from other synthetic materials either have condensation problems or let the rain in.
Single layer tents made from canvas/cotton duck etc are better, but tend to be heavy.
If you do opt for a tube‑tent or bivi‑bag. you will probably need a poncho or basha as well to give you a sheltered space you can dress or cook in.

Groundsheets

While not essential, a groundsheet will help protect the bottom of your tent inner. It may make the interior of a hooch more pleasant too.
If you carry your bedding items on the outside of your pack, the groundsheet may be used as an abrasion and water-resistant cover .
A groundsheet for a tent should be no bigger than the tent’s floor. Any material outside this area will channel water underneath. Similarly, a groundsheet for a hooch should be no bigger than the sheltered area.
Currently, several sources are offering cheaply-priced foil-coated sheets that have interesting potential as groundsheets. During the day, these could be staked out as reflector panels to attract attention. The sheets of silver material sold as reflectors behind radiators may also have potential.
These could be combined with a sheet of waterproof, puncture resistant material.
I have, on occassion, used my all-weather blanket as a groundcloth and insulation. When the cheap tent I was in started leaking in the alpine rain, I flipped the extra width over myself and stayed dry for the night.

Bivi-Bags

A bivi-bag may be thought of as a raincoat for your sleeping bag, or a one-man tent without the poles.
Being a single waterproof layer, they need to be of a breathable material such as Gore-tex, which ups their price. Gore-tex items tend to have a finite life until they stop keeping water out.
Bivi-bags are useful when you lack a kip mat or groundsheet to keep the damp out. They may be combined with shelters such as bashas and ponchos.
The bivi-bag provides a little extra insulation, so in warm weather may be used on its own or with a poncho-liner. In very cold weather it adds an extra layer of insulating air.
When inside the rucksack, a bivi-bag may be used as a water-resistant bag to store your sleeping system in. This puts your sleeping system in its own bag, rather than at the bottom of a rucksack-liner with all your other gear.

Conclusion

In this article I have built upon the foundation introduced in my blog on Foundation Survival Kits.
Some of these requirements may be easily met, with very little outlay.
In other cases, I hope this discussion has helped you prioritize your acquisitions.
There are a number of sundry or related topics, but these I will save for another day.
Categories
Phillosoph

Sleeping Bags for Hostelling

A few weeks back I got talking about my experiences of youth hostelling when younger.
I didn’t get into hostelling until I was in my early twenties so was often the “old man” of a dorm. That said, I often struck up enjoyable liaisons with some of my fellow travellers. Some of these only lasted a couple of days until our paths parted, others were friendships that remained active for many years.
I was asked to write a little on the blog about my experiences and conclusions. .
One of the first topics I was asked about was sleeping bags for hostelling.

Do you really need a sleeping bag for hostelling, I was asked? My answer would be yes. 
While many hostels provide some bedding there are many that do not. It depends where you are in the world and whether it is an official IYH hostel or not. .
I will note that some of my most memorable experiences have been at “unofficals”, although by no means should you avoid the official places. There have been some fun times in those too. .
Another reason for having your own bedding is that there will be times when you want to travel overnight by train or bus, saving yourself the price of a room for the night.
This is not going to be a generic article on selecting sleeping bags. I will save that for another day if there is interest.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

The most common mistake when buying your first bag is magnum-itis!.
A common mistake when buying a bag is to buy one that is too warm. .
Look around any hostel and you'll see several roommates with legs draped out of too hot five-season expedition bags. I did exactly the same when I brought my first bag (labelled as -15°C). I still have that bag but now reserve it for outdoor use or buildings that I know will be insufficiently heated. .
In truth, I have seldom used it. 
Use your hard saved money for a more practical purchase.
I soon invested in a one/two-season sleeping bag that folds up to the size of a rugby ball without the need for compression straps. My bag of choice was a Snugpak Merlin Softie 3, which I am happy to say are still in production. There are several variants available now. There are lengthened versions for the very tall. A tactical version has a reinforced lower for users that might need to sleep in their boots. (Put sandbags over them first!). 
Looks like the modern versions do have compression straps, probably because users expect them. My original stuff-sack neither had nor needed them.
The latest versions may have higher specs than my bag. According to its label my original bag is a “summer” bag for -5 to +10°C, comfort 0°C.

My Merlin Softie has been all around the world with me and is still good to go. I have used it for both hostelling and camping.
I prefer bags with two-way zips for hostelling and similar travels. They provide better ventilation and are easier to get into in a dark dorm room. 
Some designs can also be zipped together, if your bag has a right hand zip and your loved one's a left.
The compact size allows me to carry a very small pack, with plenty of room for everything else. 
The larger sleeping bags often take up most of your rucksac volume or become large unwieldy lumps lashed to the outside. 
Should conditions be colder than expected, I can always add more insulation in the form of clothing or blankets. Taking insulation out of a heavier bag would not be possible. 
Conceivably I could use my lower performance bag inside another bag.
I suppose if I had my time again I'd buy a one or two season bag and a two or three season and have a really versatile system for all conditions.
I have a lightweight down bag that might work well with the Merlin but I cannot recall any instances where I was cold in the Merlin bag. 
Bear in mind that many of your travels will be to warm places in summer and you will see that such a bag is more than adequate. 
You’ll spend a third of your time on holiday sleeping, so a good bag is a good investment.
Many hostels will provide blankets but expect the guest to provide a sleeping bag liner. A sleeping bag liner is basically a sheet sewn into a bag-shape to keep the bedclothes clean. Some hostels may also have sheets or bags for hire.

For a long time I carried a simple, easily washable cotton sheet bag, both for hostel bedding and to protect my own sleeping bags.
One morning in a German hostel it disappeared from my bed! The maid had mistaken it for one of the hostel’s sheets and sent it on to the laundry. This was my last morning before moving on to Holland, so there was no way my bag would be returned to me in time.
The hostel owner was most embarrassed by this and gave me a set of sheets as a replacement. Once I'd returned home I set about sewing these sheets into a replacement liner, with two modifications:
  • One was to sew the sheets into a mummy shape to match the shape of my sleeping bag.
  • The other was to sew round the opening several pieces of brightly coloured material. This was partially to make my bag instantly recognizable to prevent the same happening again, and also so that I could locate the opening of the bag by touch, saving me from using a light and disturbing my roommates.
Although quite reasonably priced, liners can be very easily made, and there's no reason why they have to be white.
Make them from something you can recognise in an instant and line the neck with something that feels different and identifies it further. Some of you may consider a piece of lace.
I’m still using my homemade liner. Nowadays you can find pile liners to make your bag warmer. There are also silk liners and pertex ones, which have tempted me but I have yet to try.
If you are a restless sleeper who often gets tangled up in their bed clothes, you can make or modify your liner so it has separate legs.