Operating in a tactical environment – non comms related post

Posted: 12/07/2014 in Uncategorized

I recently noticed a WRSA posting regarding Daniel Beard’s Book “Camp-Lore”, and an article from ivymikecafe.com regarding his recent backpacking trip into the Appalachian mountains. The author explains the trips purpose was skill building, primarily land navigation.  Others in the community should be outdoors doing just what these fellows are doing; Getting intimately familiar with your AO, developing outdoors skills and working with your team. Nothing builds a functioning team like adversity and challenge. He then uses a lessons-learned format to highlight several problems that he encountered during the event. And while he gives solutions to the problems encountered, they seemed to address fixes appropriate to a civilian backpack expedition.  For my readers, I would like ensure they have a firm understanding of the differences between woodcraft and camping skills that a prepper might find useful in a survival situation and similar field craft and tactical skills needed to operate in an unconventional warfare environment while conducting small unit operations. I will limit this post to cover situations he encountered during his expedition. If my readers want more detailed information regarding gear, tips and techniques, I will follow-up with more non-comms posts. While reading my post, keep in mind that when you spend a lot of years in SF you develop a high threshold to suck, so what doesn’t bother me might not be appropriate for you.

Equipment: A couple of fundamental rules.

Ounces are pounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re an 11B in the 10th Mountain Division or civilian backpacker. 100 lbs. of light weight equipment in your ruck weighs….100 lbs. The more stuff you put in your ruck, the heavier it gets. A large part of my gear comes from the local backpacking store where I seem to spend an inappropriate amount of time lusting after equipment and talking to the folks coming off the AT about what works for them and what to avoid. When in SF, most of the guys on the teams were always looking for ways to lighten their loads, and so naturally gravitated to commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) gear.  COTS backpacking gear is almost always lighter than military issue which is usually heavy due to the requirement to be “Private Proof” indestructible. Keep in mind camouflage when choosing the color of your gear. Stick with the earth tones appropriate to your area and remember; Black is not an earth tone color.

Every piece of gear should be multifunctional if possible.  For example, my primary compass (notice I said “primary”. I always carry two.) is a Sunto with a mirrored cover. Primary use as a compass and inclinometer, secondary uses include using the mirror as a signaling device, to shave with, to do tick checks in places your Ranger Buddy won’t check, and lastly, it has an integral magnifying glass that I have started survival fires with. Bottom line; don’t be afraid to augment your military surplus gear with high quality civilian gear. Take what you need to accomplish the mission, but no more. Be ruthless in your assessment and leave the nice to have stuff for camping trips.

Tents – As advanced and lightweight as the newest civilian backpacking tents are, tents have absolutely no place in tactical, small unit operations. A tent takes up space in your ruck better reserved for more ammo, food, clothing or water. They are slow to get out of when you are in a deep sleep on a pitch dark night and your RON site is suddenly being overran by the bad guys. A better answer is the poncho “hooch”. The military poncho (or “cho”) is light and compact and has a dual use as a rain poncho or shelter. Now, I admit if you’ve ever had to use one as rain gear, they pretty much suck. As a shelter to keep you out of the wind and dry, it does a pretty good job when constructed properly, you can roll out from under one in any direction in the blink of an eye and they have a very low profile. For another use, we keep a poncho in the top of our rucks to access quickly when we have to do a map check at night. Pull it out, throw it over your head, map and red-lensed flashlight while laying on the ground. That’s why military maps are labeled “red light readable”. The hooch is constructed by closing and tieing the hood off with its attached draw string. Stake the four corners off with stakes in the corner grommets into the ground or use a piece of 550 or bungee from the grommet into each stake to give you a raised opening at any side. If a convenient small tree or bush trunk is available, use it instead of the stake. If you have a prevailing wind, then stake that side directly to the ground. Last, suspend the tied-off hood into a peak using more 550 cord or a bungie to an overhanging branch to form a low peak. In order to maintain a low profile, the hooch should be just high enough off the ground so that you can just slide underneath without touching the top. Dont forget to break up the strait outlines with a little fresh local vegetation and to check out your handiwork from a distance. We each carry a military poncho with five very light tent stakes and five very light green bungie cords. OD 550 cord can be substituted for the bungie cords. If you prefer a hammock, then suspend your poncho over the top at the ridgeline with one piece of 550 cord. Keep your hammock and poncho combination low, where it barely clears the ground. You won’t see as much condensation on the bottom of the poncho as you will a tent, but you are at the mercy of insects and other critters in the summer so bug spray is in order, or if you don’t like the odor of bug spray, carry a small piece of OD green mosquito netting to drape from the inside of the poncho over your head or entire body. My choice of poncho is either the woodland pattern or MARPAT version.  Stay away from the Army digital ACU pattern unless your AO is in a gravel pit. Do not buy the cheap Chinese versions on the internet, the grommets will rip out. If you can’t find a military woodland pattern poncho (they are no longer issued) then go with the MARPAT (Marine Camouflage Pattern) version. Or go to Old Grouches Military Surplus online. He has a source for newly manufactured Woodland or Multicam ponchos that are superior to the original issue version and usually stocks the MARPAT. Max Velocity has a thermal sensor resistant version on his website. I have found backpackers that speak highly of the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. While it is highly rated, very light and durable, and can be had in green, I would probably be pretty tore up if I had to bug out of my RON in a hurry and leave it behind. Cost is approx. $300.00 vs. my poncho at around $39.00. Do the math.

Ground Pads – Since I’m getting long-in-the-tooth I usually carry a ground pad to keep my body off of the cold ground and as a barrier to the ever-present rocks in these mountains. This is one of the few pieces of comfort or “snivel” gear I hump in my ruck. If you go with the old military pad you might want to trim it down as small as possible. We were also issued “Thermorest” pads in SF and I still have a couple, but in order to save space and weight I now use the Klymit Static V Recon Sleeping Pad. The pad came highly recommended. Although it is inflatable I haven’t been able to poke a hole in the thing yet. It is quiet, rolls up very small and light.

Sleeping bags – AKA “The Fart Sack”. I still use the Military Modular Sleep System. While most backpackers would turn their nose up at it, I’ve used them for years and not been disappointed yet. It comes with two sleeping bags, a woodland camo Gortex bivy and a compression bag. They can be had fairly cheap. Pack the parts you think you’ll need according to MET-TC. I usually get by with the green patrol bag in the winter but I use a Thermolite Reacter Extreme Liner in my bag. It gives an extra 25 degrees to the bag and only weighs 14 oz. It also keeps my bag clean. Rules for sleeping bags in the field: 1.  Always sleep with your clothes on. It does you no good to have to roll out of the sack in the middle of that fire-fight when your buck naked. I have slept with all my clothes and even with my ECWS jacket and pants. That includes boots  (though we did have a Team Sergeant that would let us sleep with tennis shoes or TEVA sandals on. You should hump a minumum of one spare pair of dry clothes in a dry bag in your ruck. When you stop for the night you put on the dry set and stow your wet set in your ruck. Next morning, stow your dry set and put on the wet set. If you are humping a ruck the dry set would be wet in a few minutes anyway.  2. Never zip your bag, use the snaps. If you have to un-ass your bag during the aforementioned assault on your RON, you won’t have time to look for zippers in the dark. That’s why the military specs snaps on issue bags. 3. During cold weather, instead of burying your head in your fart sack, wear your knit cap (snookie) to keep you head warm while sleeping. If you bury your head in your fart sack, you won’t hear as well and will wake up with a wet bag. If your really playing the game, since either you or your Ranger Buddy will be up pulling security (50% security), you can save a lot of weight and “hot rack” or share a bag. No homo, not at the same time, your buddy’s on security while you sleep, remember. I once pulled a mission where equipment requirements were so intense that four of us shared one bag (75% security). 4. In warmer weather, substitute a military camo poncho liner (woobie) for the fart sack. The Marines have issued an oversize MARPAT version with a full length zipper sewn in (what’d I just tell you about that zipper?) that is sized for 7′ men. Old Grouch has them, I carry one and it’s the cat’s ass.

Base layer clothing – If you’re not layering your wrong. You really can’t go wrong with poly pro. Don’t get me wrong, I like wool. I tend to use a mix of wool and poly pro. I wear Darn Tough Merino boot length socks. They are expensive but have a lifetime warranty. I’ve used them daily for a few years and still haven’t worn a pair out. I still have and use the Army button up wool sweaters, however, most of my base layer items are poly pro.

Why not cotton? Cotton kills. Clothing insulates by trapping warm air against your body in small cells. When cotton gets wet, it absorbs and holds water and sweat against your skin while loosing all insulation ability. In cool weather you are miserable, in cold weather you die slowly from hypothermia. One of the commentors after the article suggested wearing a cotton t-shirt under the wool shirt to avoid the itch from the wool. WTF.

Other cotton fabrics to avoid; corduroy, denim, flannel and duck as well as 50/50 cotton polyester blends and silk. Also stay away from modal, rayon, viscose, tencel and lyocell. They are made from cellulose which absorbs moisture faster than cotton. Wool still absorbs about 36% of its weight in moisture but does not lose its insulation ability. Synthetics use capillary action to wick moisture from wet areas, your skin, to dry areas, the fabric surface. Yes, poly pro can stink because it collects bacteria on the surface over time and wool is naturally anti-bacterial. To avoid the stink I thoroughly wash all my field clothing when I get home. Use a hunter’s detergent like Scent-A-Way. It has no UV brighteners and no odor. Also avoid fabric softeners and dryer pads. They are usually perfumed and also have brighteners.

Ivymike spoke about issues with poly pro underwear and fire. He was right-on regarding its flammability and yes ,wool doesn’t melt to your skin. However, poly pro should be used only as a base layer under your field clothing. More importantly, in a tactical situation, fires are not used because of the light and smoke produced. Get used to a cold camp and eat your food cold. Or use an MRE heater if there is no danger from the smell compromising your mission. If for some reason during a tactical mission (I cannot fathom the reason) you believe you must have a fire, pack a small backpacking stove like the Jetboil Sol. You could dig a Dakota Hole, but you still run the risk of smoke and leaving more spoor for trackers.  Keep in mind that flames can be seen at night so use that stove only during daylight.

That pretty much covers the Ivymikes article regarding equipment and clothing. Another issue in his article concerned the forgotten compass. This would be addressed before the patrol or mission with the conduct of the pre-patrol personnel and equipment inspection. This is done by your Ranger Buddy under the supervision of the patrol leader. Ask my guys or students in my SUT classes how it works.

Remember, camping skills do not necessarily work in a tactical environment.










  1. SemperFi, 0321 says:

    Excellent writeup!
    Pretty well sums it up for me too. At 60 I still spend a majority of my time in the rugged mtns and desert of high altitude Wyoming. I see temps from -35 to 100+, and have to carry gear to cover all of it. The back of my Jeep TJ has bags of clothing and gear so if I end up staying out, I can survive. I have military gear going back to WW2 right up to the newest MOLLE and ILBE, and it all gets used. Same with lightweight backpacking gear, my newest was a yr ago when I got myself a Jetboil, and love it! A Brit surplus basha is my sleep shelter, added snaps so I can put 2 together for a big ass hootch.
    I like to mix merino wool and poly, if I’m going to sweat a lot, I wear the poly, and I’m really partial to an acrylic G.I. 5 button sweater vs the wool one. Wool is nice for sleeping and staying warm in a static position, I can’t even begin to count all the surplus wool clothes I’ve acquired. Same for the new lightweight merino wool long johns, but ouch are they expensive! Nothing but Smartwool and Darn Tough on my feet all year long either, never have foot issues with wool.
    And stay away from cheap Chinese footwear, they’ll rot your feet in no time. Most of my boots are Meindl from Germany or White loggers from Spokane, WA. Expensive?, yes. But they’ll last for ages in the toughest terrain you can imagine, if you take care of them. Dry them, clean them, and oil them properly. Just had a pr of Whites rebuilt last yr that I bought in 1995, used them for yrs logging, now they’re good for another decade. Sure, I love a pr of soft Keens, for around town and light hiking, but they don’t go to the field with me, they won’t last but a few days of tough use and your feet are coming out the seams.
    Buy the best you can afford, and take care of it, there may not be a resupply for many yrs to come.

    • danmorgan76 says:

      For my readers; have you had any issues with your jetboil in extreme cold or at higher elevations?

      I agree wholeheartedly regarding the footwear and socks. My favorite boots are my Vasque Sundowners and (before they were stolen) my very old (1988) Danner Ft. Lewis Go Devils. Your correct, just like your weapons, clean, dry and oiled. I have a set of the Danner Marine Rat Temperates and a set of the Marine Rat Hot Weathers. I am impressed with both so far. Just insure you get the Danner version and steer clear of the Bates version.

  2. More please.

    As much as you an throw out.


    • danmorgan76 says:

      Thanks for posting my article on your site along with the nifty photo. That’s what we called a “Hooch-aminium”

      • SemperFi, 0321 says:

        Amazing how many folks don’t understand how or why to carry a G.I. poncho/basha. I spent yrs living under poncho hootches and am surprised how many folks have no clue how important one is to survival outdoors.
        Maybe a quick class on poncho selection and hootch building?
        Sadly, most of the good quality military ponchos are long gone, hardly a surplus store around carries the good Bundeswehr/Austrian/Dutch/US ponchos, however the new USMC or Brit basha is available on ebay.

      • danmorgan76 says:

        Yessir, we were taught to use them as shelters by the old SF guys returning from Vietnam. In addition to the ripstop woodland version I also carried one of the older OD green, rubber coated non-ripstop versions for a groundcloth until SF started issuing the Gortex bivy and thermolite ground pads. The source listed in the post, Old Grouches, has someone putting together new ponchos that I consider superior to the original Army woodland ripstop version. They have built with a special liner to make them a little more waterproof. The liner did add to the weight and size a little.

      • Quietus says:

        Luxurious camping for me is the use of two ponchos. The second makes a windbreak/vestibule for the low hootch and makes boiling up the coffee less cramped at my advanced age. Two ponchos is just an occasional thing, basically the marriage of two rucks at one place.

        Please write more.

  3. Steve_in_CA says:

    Don’t use the dryer for your polypro, it makes them pickup a really foul odor (not bacteria). Line dry or tumble no heat.

    • danmorgan76 says:

      Point taken, good advice. My wife’s cheap and we always use the line, probably why I haven’t had the problem.

  4. gamegetterII says:

    Reblogged this on Starvin Larry and commented:
    Great points,I agree with all of it-except for not using silk-I had a long sleeved shirt I used as base layer that was 50% silk and 50% merino wool.Best base layer shirt I ever had.
    It wasn’t supposed to be a base layer-it was a shirt my ex-wife bought for me-with my own $$$- for wearing to functions that required me to at least wear a sportcoat,or a suit and tie.

  5. Gary Nezat says:

    Thanks for that reality check

  6. Action Saxon says:

    Thank you for posting this info!!! I teach outdoor skills and it is amazing how many III team have NONE! At least not real ones! You, Mosby and others are doing a huge service by going back to the basics and doing Pineland writ large! We are your guerrillas, you are out team guys.

    There are so many basics that get overlooked. We need the team daddy’s eye and occasional boot to remind us.

    Thanks again!

  7. nonconformist says:

    More of the the same-ground cover, bivy sacks, etc. I’ve picked up a lot from the ultralight backpacking crowd. I like my Hennessy Hammock, the Gram Weenie Kitchen(alcohol stove system)
    and generally how to accomplish tasks without having to carry the kitchen sink. All this is applicable
    to the future. Thanks.

    • danmorgan76 says:

      The jet boil I mentiond belongs to one of the fellows in my group. Nifty, light little thing. I still carry my old MSR Whisperlite International. I found it laying on the ground after a jump onto Holland DZ at Ft. Bragg many years ago. It’s been all over the world and I’ve replaced some parts on it but it always fires up. The local backpackers consider it as something from the stone age but I don’t have to rely on canned fuel, it’ll burn most any fuel. Have you tested your alcohol stove at higher elevation or in extreme cold?

      • SemperFi, 0321 says:

        Went backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming 2 summers ago with a Swedish alcohol stove, found out the hard way they don’t like to burn at high altitude. Had to buddy up and use my friends gas stove for a few days.
        Extreme cold is also tough on the canned fuel for Jetboil, keep it warm next to your body.

      • danmorgan76 says:

        That’s the consensus from most of the through hikers I’ve talked to here. Quite a few of them do the Wind River every summer. I usually pack my whisperlite during our groups backcountry trips. We then share it as a group to cut down on overall weight. Of course, they then have to carry some of my gear. We called it cross leveling in SF.

      • pdxr13 says:

        MSR XGK from 1970’s through newest is a fantastic ice-melter. Multi-fuel allows use of relatively safe Diesel/Kerosene/JP4 or JP8 rather than naptha or gasoline. Not as stupid-light as micro-titanium Snow Peak cartridge-gas models, but unaffected by altitude, and unmatched in max-BTU per minute in a backpack model. Service kits with every little part $30.
        Here are some images: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXLtiARoFec

  8. Echo 9 says:

    Outstanding info.
    Take care of your feet. Change your socks daily.
    Better to be cold / dry than cold / wet.
    Also try and void prior to putting up RON in the cold. The body pulls a lot of heat from your system to keep all that “fluid” warm.
    Take good advise and adapt it to what YOU need.
    Thank you Gentlemen.

  9. Quietus says:

    Trying to get more info on the Thermolite Reactor Extreme bag liner. I see R.E.I. has it for $67. Wondering: Is the footbed big enough for light treaded footwear (not boots, more like Keen river sandals?)

    Stoves: I’m still using an Optimus version of the Svea 123 and an eyedropper to prime it. My first Svea got bought in 1974 but it got stolen, current version is from 1988. I have and carry a rebuild parts kit but have not needed it in 25+ years of use. Me and that stove are both getting long in the tooth, but we have come to an accommodation with each other. It boils water and puts out a comforting little roar on a cold day; I spiff it up once in a while and go easy with the eyedropper in return.

    • danmorgan76 says:

      I have to admit that the Reactor Extreme can be a little tight around your feet but I’ve had no problems with it using boots. It does stretch quite a bit. I purchased it mainly to keep my bag clean and it came with the added benefit of additional warmth (although not the amount they say in thier literature. Maybe 10 degrees). Also, you have to shimmy into it before you get in your bag as it has no zipper so I probably would not use it in a tactical situation. You can get it a little cheaper on Amazon. Another liner you might want to look at it the ALPS brand. They have a microfiber brand that has a rectangle footbox, and unlike the Reactor which has no zipper or velcro closing tabs, the ALPS does. The are quite a bit cheaper. I plan on testing one shortly.

      Thanks for the comment, It reminded me that I used the spare parts kit for my MSR last summer and didn’t replace it. Must be slipping in my old age. Another reason team always trumps going solo.

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