Humans spend an average of one-third of their lives sleeping. Sleep is an important physiological function. In the long term, sleep deprivation can lead to a host of severe impacts to your health. In the short term, it has a profound impact. Due to the nature of a survival situation we’re most concerned with the immediate effects of sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep will degrade your alertness. It can also interfere with motor skills and cause problems with memory. All of these are important to the survivor. If you aren’t alert, you can walk into danger. If your motor skills are diminished, you may not be able to light a fire at that critical moment. If you’re forgetful and leave gear behind, you’ll find yourself in a much worse situation. So, sleep is important.
Selecting sleeping gear is like selecting every piece of kit that goes into your Get Home Bag (GHB). You’ll need to consider the potential situations you may find yourself in. Also, consider the seasonal variations for your area. If you live in an area that sees mild summers with the potential for winter blizzards, have at least two and probably three different systems to accommodate all the seasonal changes.
The basic components are going to be a sleeping bag, a ground mat, and a bivy. For purposes of a GHB I would avoid any bag with down. While an excellent insulator, it loses all value if it gets wet. There is a very high possibility for someone living out of a bag and trying to cover ground to get wet. There are a number of companies that make very good synthetic bags. I personally use Wiggy’s and Recon bags. I have found both to be very durable and comfortable.
Since you’re potentially going to be carrying the bag for long distances, look for lightweight options that packs down as small as possible. There are some very light and packable bags on the market aimed at the lightweight backpackers where every ounce counts. The only downside there is that these highly engineered bags come with a little sticker shock. They can be much more expensive than their slightly heavier and bulkier cousins.
Not all bags are created equal. My Wiggy’s bag was made custom for me. I had it made wider and longer than the normal offerings. The reason was because I would be spending a lot of time in it in very adverse weather. The downside is, it’s huge when packed. About the size of a five-gallon bucket. Not a great choice for the pack. The other side of the coin is my Recon bags. I love them because they pack so small and come in a number of temp ranges. This makes it easy to scale the gear to the conditions. Another thing I really like about them is that they have a waterproof barrier on the bottom. I won’t get wet if my tent leaks. It prevents moisture from being absorbed if I’m sleeping on the ground. There are other brands, but these are the ones I personally use.
I’ve learned to really appreciate a good sleep mat as I’ve aged. Lying on the ground lost all its cool factor to me years ago. Presently I use an inflatable from Klymit and love it. My version is an inflatable that expands to about three inches thick. It has tubes and channels in a zig-zag pattern to help prevent you from sliding off as the outer shell of most sleeping bags is made of a slick material. It inflates in a few breaths, and the valve assembly is one piece so there’s no losing a cap. It packs up to something a little larger than a beer can and doesn’t weigh much. It also comes with a repair kit in the stuff sack.
The other option is to go with a foam mat. These can be had in a number of dimensions and thickness. While bulkier than an inflatable mat, they’re immune to puncture which is the Achilles heel of inflatables. Foam mats will either roll up or have joints molded into them to allow them to be folded up. Due to their size they’re normally carried on the outside of the pack. An inflatable can be stowed inside.
The importance of a ground mat cannot be overstated. Whether you go with inflatable or foam, get one. A mat will keep you much warmer in cold temps because they protect you from direct contact with the ground. Even if you don’t have a mat, build yourself one from natural material. Pile it at least six inches thick. Never lie directly on the ground if you can avoid it. While building a bed out of natural material will work, it’s labor intensive. If you’re traveling from point A to point B and have to construct a bed out of native material everyday it’s going to slow your progress. It will also consume a lot of valuable calories. It’s easier to just carry a commercial option with you.
Another added benefit of a sleep mat is floatation. Should you find yourself needing to cross a body of water, you’re carrying a flotation device. Either the foam or the inflatable will add buoyancy to you and your gear. Always think outside the box with your gear. Every piece of equipment will usually do far more than you think initially. You’re only limited by your imagination.
The next component is the bivy sack. Having a waterproof bivy to put your sleeping bag in gives you an additional layer of protection in wet environments. Even if you can’t get dry during the day, being able to strip off wet clothes and climb into a warm dry bag is vital. A dry bag will boost your spirits and prevent hypothermia. The bivy will keep your bag dry should you choose poorly in camp site selection and find water flowing through the camp in the middle of night. That’s not to say you can use it as a raft and shoot the rapids on the river, but it will keep your bag dry. Even when packed, should you get caught in rain it will provide your bag additional protection.
The biggest benefit of the bivy is that it prevents your sleeping bag from absorbing moisture from the ground and environment. Gore-Tex allows perspiration to travel out of the bag. It does prevent water vapor from passing through from the outside. Some sleeping bags also have this feature. I got into my Wiggy’s bag soaking wet one night in Vancouver because everything was wet, and I mean everything. By morning I was dry, it was amazing. Keeping dry is of paramount importance, find yourself a good bag and bivy combination.
The USGI sleep system is a good budget minded option. It’s three pieces consisting of a heavy bag, a lightweight one, and a Gore-Tex bivy. It gives you the ability to scale the system to your own needs. In very cold temps you can stuff the light weight bag into the heavy and both of these into the bivy for a very warm sleeping bag. As temps rise you can strip layers until you’re comfortable. If you find yourself in a warm climate, simply use the bivy. It offers a lot of options for a modest investment.
But what if you don’t want to sleep on the ground? I’m a huge fan of hammocks from living in Florida. In the summertime a tent can be an uncomfortable place, even at night. So, hammocks make perfect sense down here. Not only are hammocks cooler, they get you off the ground. When you live in the most bug infested state in the country, that’s a major plus.
There are several options when it comes to hammocks. There’s the all in one style that’s usually referred to as a jungle hammock. This variety has a small tarp overhead and bug netting all the way around it. They are quick to set up and will keep the bugs off you.
Companies like Clark make excellent jungle hammocks and they’ve come a long way over the years. The current evolution of these have tent style poles to hold the netting and rainfly off you. This type provides you considerably more room inside and lets the net do its job of keeping bugs off. If the bug net is in contact with your skin, mosquitoes will easily bite through it. It’s important that the bug net not be in contact with your body.
If you’re looking for an all in one solution in the hammock department, the jungle hammock might be a good choice. They’re generally easy to set up and don’t require a lot of time. Having the net, rainfly, and all suspension materials in one package also ensures you can’t lose it. Unlike a traditional set up, you don’t have to stake the rainfly. But can also put a tarp over it for more protection if you want. The jungle hammock is a great compact sleep solution.
The other option is the traditional hammock style like an Eagles Nest Outfitters. I personally like these because they can be set up to suit my needs at the time. Not only can you sleep in it at night, it can be set up as a chair during the day. Or a traditional setup to lounge on a nice afternoon. This type requires more parts and little more time to set up though.
The bug net goes all the way around the hammock. There is usually a slit you enter through and it’s pretty easy. The hammock runs through the bug net, so the first thing you do to set it up is put a ridge line. The net is then suspended from this and the hammock threaded through it. This ridgeline will also serve to support your tarp.
Once the net is up, the hammock goes through it and you hang it in the normal manner. I like the straps that come with several varieties of hammocks today much better than the old rope. The straps usually have loops sewn into them to attach the carabiners on the end of the hammock. No annoying knots to deal with. Once the hammock is done, you can put the tarp up. This is why I prefer this style to the jungle hammock. You can use any size tarp. I generally use a 10X10 as it provides me a dry place on a rainy day to handle camp tasks. You can also adjust the pitch and angle of the tarp to suit the weather at the time. Of course, this does means carrying stakes to secure the tarp. I carry light-weight aluminum versions that weight nearly nothing.
In either a traditional or jungle hammock, being off the ground allows air flow all around you. But this can be a problem in colder weather. You will freeze in a hammock on a chilly night, even with a sleeping bag. A couple of ways to overcome this is to use either an under quilt or an air mat inside the hammock and under your sleeping bag. Both of these solutions will keep you from literally freezing your buns off on a cold night.
One consideration for hammock use is that it puts you up off the ground. In a tactical situation, you may not want to be off the ground. As we say, every situation is different and there is no one size fits all. Also, your terrain will be a consideration. If you live in the southwest where trees are hard to come by, a hammock is utterly useless.
One thing to consider with either of these hammock types is to make sure your suspension is rigged at about a thirty-degree angle. If your hammock has rope or the suspension lines connect directly to the fabric of the hammock, tie a drip line to it. This will prevent rain running down and soaking you in your sleep. If your hammock connects with carabiners, this generally isn’t an issue.
These are just a few of the sleep solutions for your pack. Obviously, there are others you could take a look at. The ones in this article are the basics to give you some ideas and information to make an informed decision for your needs. Remember, just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Think about your needs, environment, security concerns, and health. For instance, a bad back may or may not be an issue in a hammock. Or it could be a Godsend opposed to sleeping on the ground.
Let’s hear what you use, post a pic of your system. Getting out and using your gear is the best thing you can do. It’s important to have practical experience with your gear. Since you spend one-third of your life sleeping, it’s important to have a quality system that’s comfortable for you.