Rucks/living in the field, American Mercenary

08 APRIL 2013

Travel light and freeze at night, thoughts on Bug Out Bags

JM wrote about packing the stuff you need to survive and the stuff you need to accomplish your mission. I absolutely applaud his decision to not put out a packing list for a bug out setup.  There is no list that can cover every situation, and the best thing that you can do is decide what you need, then test it out.  I don’t agree with his philosophy that all comfort items should be discarded, I do agree they should be kept to a minimum.  My freeze dried coffee packets are a luxury, but damnitall I am going to take them.

Survival sucks. Survival is uncomfortable.  The longer you have to live out of your pack, the more careful you need to be about packing the bare necessities.  So lets make a few assumptions about the Bug Out Bag.

1. This is a true, need to bug out now, I’m not able to come back to this location scenario.
2. You will also need to escape and evade away from where you currently are.
3. You will avoid lighting fires at night unless it is life or death, as it will compromise your position.
4. You need to travel 10 to 20 miles per day across rural terrain, and you cannot rely on nature to provide you anything but incidental food.
5. You will need to carry a weapon needed to support future operations.
6. You will need to carry ammunition needed to support future operations or break contact during E&E.

That basically describes what light infantry would pack for an “infiltration” or “escape and evade” type scenario.

The phrase, “travel light, and freeze at night” is a true statement for traditional light infantry forces.  But with a little planning, you can actually get decent rest at night.  One thing Ranger school taught me is that if you are on a limited sleep schedule, you want it to be as restful as possible.  The key to restful sleep is being warm and dry.

So instead of intending to travel light and freeze at night, I recommend starting heavy and paring down through experience as you move.

Military sleeping bags are rated to give you 4 hours of continuous sleep down to 40 below when fully assembled.  Unless you live in an arctic environment you don’t need all three layers.  I’ve survived in a bivy cover for a single night, although I wouldn’t want to do it again.  If you are truly “traveling light” you will need to make/find shelter before you set up camp.  Whether you make a debris shelter or whatever to keep you warm through the night you have to ask yourself, “is this half hour worth of work worth the 6 lbs of sleeping system I didn’t pack?”

In summer in Florida, hell yes it is worth it.  In October in Maine, probably not.  I know that in my kit I keep an extra set of clothes that I can sleep in based on the lessons I’ve learned.  One of them is that I really hate freezing at night, and my decision making skills deteriorate when cold, wet, hungry, and tired.  Maximizing what little sleep I got was a wise decision, and I think it holds true still for me.

If you are on the move, you will sweat and get your clothes wet.  You will cross streams, walk through dew laden underbrush, and generally find yourself wet from movement.  That is normal.  What is not normal is to sleep in wet clothes.  On my second time through Darby I figured out that if I kept one set of uniforms clean and dry, and used them only for sleeping, that I was a lot more comfortable than the guys who swapped out uniforms every day.

Once again, in Georgia in the summer, not so bad sleeping in a wet uniform, but by the time October rolled around that was an obvious no go.  Is my extra set of clothes a comfort item?  Arguably yes, but I don’t know any veterans who don’t routinely pack an extra set of utes in their ruck for extended length ops.

The 25th ID, “Tropic Lighting”, has two brigades stationed in Alaska, Stryker and Airborne.  When your gear to survive starts overpowering your ability to carry gear to accomplish your mission, you have to get smart quick about transporting stuff.  Instead of a rucksack, why not tow a sled?  Instead of marching, cross country ski?  And if there is a damn big blizzard coming, why not hole up and let the bad guys wander around and get themselves killed by ma nature?

And speaking of alternate ways to transport your gear, who ever said the guerrilla forces have to be aligned along a traditional light infantry model as a hard and fast rule?

If you are in the deserts of Arizona, or the high plains of Wyoming, wouldn’t a mountain bike make a lot of sense for off road travel?  Even if you spent half your time pushing it while your gear was strapped to the bike, you still get to cover the other half of your time covering a lot more distance than humping a ruck.

Here is the first point where I’m going to differ from JM.  I’m going to give you a list of “essential snivel gear” that travels with me during the majority of the year (you don’t need these in summer in most locations, but ymmv).

Fleece cap/watch cap/stocking cap.
Neck gator.
Silk weight base layer.
Bivy Cover and one insert bag.
Poncho and poncho liner.
Extra utility uniform.

You can put all of this into a sleeping bag stuff sack to save space and cinch it down really tight if you want, but I generally want the poncho very accessible.  But this is the dry stuff you want to change into after a hard day of moving.  Before you start moving again, take all this nice warm snivel off and put that sweat soaked nasty uniform back on since you’ll be sweating inside fifteen minutes of a hard ruck no matter the temp so it is good motivation to get going.

There is an item that I routinely carry that light infantry guys generally ignore, a sleeping pad.  If you put the sleeping pad inside the bivy cover you don’t slip off of it in the middle of the night, and it gives you really great thermal insulation from conduction heat loss to the ground.  Obviously this is not needed for most of the summer, but comes in very handy in colder seasons.

Getting on to food.  I’m a big fan of beef jerky, protein bars, and other things that don’t have to be opened from a can or prepared.  Freeze dried camping meals are an option if you have time to prepare them, and MRE’s make a lot of sense for grazing on the go.  Expect to lose weight when you actually have to move out, at SFAS in 2001 I was routinely consuming 4000 to 7000 calories a day and still lost 20 lbs in 24 days, and most of that was due to rucking all over Camp McCall.  Ranger school showed me that I can survive on as little as 1200 calories a day in a high exertion environment as long as I don’t mind looking like an Auschwitz survivor.

Anyways, the lesson is that if you are seriously rucking, you are going to lose weight.  Each pound of fat your body eats up is 3500 calories you didn’t have to pack on your back.  And you will burn fat, oh yes you will.

Which brings us to food selection.  To get the most calories per gram, you want fat.  Survival is not the time to go on a diet, and if you can put a 40/30/30 mix of fat/protein/carbs in your pack for getting out, you’ll be doing good.  40 grams of fat gives you 360 calories, 60 grams of protein and carbs gives you 240 calories, add it all up and you get 600 calories per 100 grams.  This is what I consider an optimal mix for survival food as you could get 2400 calories from 400 grams of food.  Consider that a lot of chocolate bars are sold in 100 gram bar form, you see that caloric density makes sense.

If you could get a perfectly balanced wonder food you could carry a week’s worth for a weight of only 2.8 kilograms, about five pounds.  I know of no food on earth that comes close to this ideal weight.  You can get “emergency ration” bars off the internet that come sort of close.  Living off them sucks, but it beats dying.  These are good example of civilian hiking consideration: and  Note that some of these foods require a fire to prepare, which is something we tried to avoid in initial assumption.

Water, some folks like filters but I’ve never used them.  I have used iodine tablets and bleach.  Both tabs and bleach powder store for a long time and are relatively easy to use.  They just take time, so a “survival straw” might be a handy thing to have.

Getting down to the brass tacks, the second part where I depart from JM’s wisdom, I give you an example packing list.  If I had to pack a generic bug out bag, with no terrain/season specific considerations, this is about where I would start.  Remember that this is NOT a definitive list.  This is NOT a definitive list.  THIS IS NOT A DEFINITIVE LIST.  If you find out that you need bolt cutters to get through an enemy obstacle you can’t say “Well AM didn’t put it on the list!” and get any sympathy from me.

AR-15 carbine, lightweight as possible.
7 loaded Magpul Pmags with storage device on to prevent feed lip deformation.
Some sort of carrier (chest rig, FLC, molle plate carrier, etc)
Essential Snivel previously listed.
Fixed blade knife and multi-tool.
2 quart canteen, 2 1 Quart Canteens with cups, Camelback, iodine tabs
IFAK (or equivalent bleeding control assets).
Food.  For a dedicated “need it now” bag survival bars make a lot of sense, but that gets old quick.
550 Cord, this stuff is just useful.
Extra socks, 4 pairs set up a reasonable rotation.
Fire Starter (a Bic lighter actually works out great for this) even if you don’t plan on using it.
Hygene kit (trust me, toothpaste and toothbrush are TOTALLY worth their weight).

That leaves plenty of room in your rucksack once you pull out the rifle and ammo carrier for things like radio batteries, NODs and batteries.

Oh, and if you want body armor add 15 lbs for SAAPI plates and another 5 lbs for a helmet if you are planning on fighting in them.  If the season is mild, you can cache, destroy, or abandon some of the “essential snivel” or if you in a rainforest you probably don’t need 6 quarts of water storage.  Remember to adapt to the environment you are going into and through.

You can always drop gear on a ruck (I remember a SAW drum sailing over my head and into a creek from a particularly good toss by a Ranger one switchback above me during my second time through Mountain phase…) it is much harder to obtain gear on the move.  Thus endeth my thoughts on packing a rucksack for bugging out.

For patrolling, that is a different set of thoughts.  Much more oriented towards operations, packed mission specific, and packed for a specific time frame in which the mission will occur.



Disciple of Night said…

I’d like to hear your thoughts for those of us who live in the Midwest. Our weather has been freaky and unpredictable. From January-now of this year it’s been 35 one day and rain to 65 and sunny the next. Our position in the middle of the county means that we are in the jaws of conflicting fronts, which produces tornadoes and all kinds of strange storms.

Water is something I’ll always carry an abundance of in summer, especially after last year’s record drought.

APRIL 8, 2013 AT 8:23 PM

Sol gardener said…

I’m amused at the mental image of the ranger chunking his SAW drum during mountain phase. I live just south of the area. My son and I have spent a number of hours on scavenger hunts picking up ranger refuse. I had the image of the ranger watching for a moment to shed weight.

I recently found some M60 belt sections with ’68 dated brass.

My son has a belt of unfired SAW blanks. There have been a few arty sims picked up too.

Thanks for the post, the laugh and the info.

APRIL 9, 2013 AT 10:08 AM

ivymikecafe said…

I don’t care how hot, cold, or hateful the environment, I will always find a way to pack in coffee.


Great stuff AmMerc. Appreciate the wisdom from the tabbed dudes.

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