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.