Traditional vs Modern

This time of year is miserable to me - its the pause in the season between being out and about and the Christmas break and always leaves me yearning to get out doors again - so naturally I've been thinking about my kit.

More to the point what I carry and why!

Cutting tools - sleep system, even my pack are all under the stop light at the moment. What I want to achieve this year is

1. To lighten my load by carrying only versatile kit
2. To simplify my load by carrying robust kit
3. To carry only essential kit.

Ross Gilmore and a few others have written excellent pieces along these lines and I aim to re-read these and trial my own ideas too.

More to the point I am also thinking about how I over complicate my gear. As an example my stove, for bushcraft 99% of the time I cook over an open fire whether in UK or Sweden so my main cookware needs to reflect that - but the 1% of the time I am not I need a stove that is both effective, fast and inexpensive. So I have made myself a 12cm Billy with a bail from a stainless steel biscuit barrel - this is better than the brand name option aka a zebra billy in as much as its lighter, the steel is thinner there for conducts heat better and the bail army fits under the stove for easier packing - its also the perfect size for a 250 gas canister and a primus micro stove as well as a few addition tubes of spices and tea towel. So this covers or ticks all three boxes above - added to this I will carry two 58 bottles with the plastic mug attached then I have water and the options of a mug and plate (bowl) or two mugs if I want to share a brew with someone on the trail!!

One thing that is perplexing me at the moment is my sleep gear - I appreciate the need for a good nights sleep, and sleeping warm is important but I cant help wondering if the modern way is best? As a for instance is the bulky sleeping bag ideal? After all it is a item which serves but one purpose. Looking back and further afield I see other options ............. for example I can always remember my dad mocking me when I told him the army issued us sleeping bags because in his day they slept in their great coats with only a blanket as cover - Preben once told me that the Swedish called a certain jacket a tent coat as that was all they slept in when in the winter army tents with the wood stove. Looking back further the wool blanket was the standard item - it was a sleep system, addition warm clothing etc - before this the dark age warrior used his wool cloak or the proper highlanders their kilts as their sleep system and as functional clothing. More recently the Poncho and liner combination has  been used - so why do we now seem to think only Sleeping bag?

I'd be interested to hear readers views on this - at present I am pondering a 1 season sleeping bag with the addition of a woobie and if needed a army issue snuggy jacket and trousers - this will reduce my load size and weight while still offering my a sleep system which will cover all my option and yet offer me the ability to add or remove layers and use items for other uses too .................

I'll be testing this idea out soon so will write more but I wonder have any of my experienced readers tested other combinations of sleep gear and if so how did you get on??


Mike said...

From my hillwalking prospective I was looking at your kit list early in December on your blog and saw a woodgas stove on the list knowing you mostly use open fires. I thought it would be just extra. Sadly most people think anyway I still use hexi 90% of the time with other times a cheap gas stove.
Sleeping is important to me and I have tried Alpkit duck down with little success, even damp its horrible so always go back to a 90 ptn sleeping bag or the snugpak merlin with clothing on so your idea of :

“on this - at present I am pondering a 1 season sleeping bag with the addition of a woobie and if needed a army issue snuggy jacket and trousers - this will reduce my load size”

Makes good sense and has many uses for all the items, which is what your looking for.
To be honest for long hillwalks most of the lightweight kit just was not worth it at least in the clothing department.
Basically my kit is some heavy but robust kit e.g poncho instead of Bashas, metal mug instead of pans also the 58 ptn bottles. So pretty much what you have probably done. Just follow the old adage of get more than one use out of each item and carry only what you really need. I have had more fun nights out without a tent even in winter than with one and stayed dry.

Survivall said...

Nice one Mike thanks for commenting

Anonymous said...

I've been experimenting with wool blankets, sleeping bags and combinations thereof in a variety of conditions here in Finland. I tried using only wool blankets, then a sleeping bag/blanket combination and finally went back to sleeping bags and various liners. I love wool blankets for use at home, but found that they didn't suit my needs in the field.

One of the blankets I was using was the brown 100%-wool Italian military surplus blanket many bushcrafters are familiar with. As a blanket, it's great. Tough, soft etc. The problem (for me) is that it doesn't provide enough warmth to justify its weight (6 lbs.) unless you are sleeping next to a fire or pulling a pulk, which I don't always do. I found that this blanket kept me warm down to about 50*F while fully clothed. I also own two sleeping bags weighing 6 lbs. together which, when nested one inside the other, keep me warm down to well below freezing temperatures. To me, the choice was clear.

Your idea of nesting a 1-season sleeping bag with a liner, plus wearing insulative clothing will work, but the question of course is: Down to what temperature? That'll simply require field testing to know for sure. You might find that it works really well and is the optimum setup for you (also being versatile, as you mentioned). Wearing insulative clothing for increased warmth while sleeping is a great way to reduce weight and bulk because it doesn't go into your pack at all (if you're already wearing it during the day, that is).

Horace Kephart explained it well when he wrote that the key to sleeping warm simply comes down to the thickness of the insulation around you. If it's thick enough, you'll be warm enough. He even compared thin military blankets to soft, fluffy wool blankets.

I applaud your efforts to lighten, simplify and reduce, as I am on a never-ending journey to do the same. If you haven't seen it, you might find my article about simplifying gear of interest:

weekendwoodsman (for some reason, I'm having trouble signing in with OpenID...)

Survivall said...

Cheers WWM - i'll check that out on your blog.

I am coming to the conclusion a sleeping bag is sensible (at least for winter) - size and weight like you say are the negative to wool - thanks for sharing

Ross Gilmore said...

A very thought provoking post as always. Thank you for writing about these issues. Very few people look at things as critically.

On the issue of a sleeping system itself, I think sometimes in the desire to simplify, we make things much more complicated. An item that theoretically has multiple uses is useless if you never actually use it or if it doesn't perform the jobs well.

For example, a thick belay jacket or parka has to not only protect one from the elements, but also has to be easily pack-able. A coat that is thick enough to keep you warm while sleeping at night will be too warm to walk in, so it will have to go in the backpack for most of the trip. That would be impossible to do with most surplus coats unless you bring an extra backpack.

Same thing goes for blankets. A wool blanket over a light sleeping bag will just serves to compress the sleeping bag. If you are using the blanket for clothing, there are much better option. An extra puffy jacket will weigh just a fraction of the blanket and take up much less space.

Sometimes when we focus on versatility, we loose the forest from all the trees. Often we end up with a compromise that does not do anything well. At the end of the day, it comes to volume and weight. It doesn't matter how many uses a blanket has if the three blankets required to keep me warm at night weigh five times as much as my sleeping bag and down jacket combined. If an item has two uses, but weighs three times as much as the alternate two items with a single use, then it does not make sense to carry it, especially if the way it performs the two uses is inferior to that of the two individual items.

There is a common misconception that people did just fine in the past without all this modern gear. The reality is that they did not. We now look at history with rose colored glasses. Soldiers during WWII, and Korea regularly froze to death, or if they were lucky, only suffered immeasurably with the gear they had. People who did great deeds and climbed tall mountains did it despite their gear, not because of it. Many of them paid the price, whether it was death or lost body parts.

Looking at more recent history, it was only few decades ago when a standard weight for a backpack was 60 lb. These days with modern technology, a common weight is a third of that.

Anonymous said...

I think the only thing that is comparable to sleeping bags for winter in terms of warmth are animal pelts with fur on, but oh the weight... :)

For summer, though, I think there are a lot of options: sleeping bag, fleece bag, wool blanket, extra clothing etc. that I think of it, I might just try putting on extra clothing and not using any kind of bag at all next summer, just to see how I like it!


Lee said...

I bought the Ultimate Thule from Wiggy. It is a dual sleep system. There is an over bag which is good for late spring to very early fall, and an underbag which is good by itself until late november. When combined together they will go down to -50 celsius / farenheight. It is cold up north in Canada (i have been out in -50).

The problem with wool is that it is heavy and bulky. The Wiggy sleep system is more expensive but you also get options and a sleeping bag that will last a long time. Plus it can be stored compressed and is machine washable cleaned. There are lots of videos about it online. So far it has worked out perfectly.

Mike said...

Go with what you have probably tried in the past to walk with and sleep with Snugpak Sleeka and my favourite not fleese but fibre pile and or with pertex.

In some form of combination that will suit you