If you are reading this, then you most likely have a bug-out bag of some sort. And you have probably already started to wonder how you are going to keep it ready as the seasons change. This can be a daunting challenge, as everyone tends to overpack their bug-out bag, especially when it comes to clothing and shelter. You don’t want to carry too much with you, but at the same time, you don’t want to go so lean and mean that you won’t be comfortable or be able to function in an emergency situation.
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Your shelter system does two very important things for you. First, it protects you from the elements so you can stay warm and dry, and second, it provides you with a place to fuel your body (eat) and allow it to recover from the day’s activities (sleep). There are many ways to build an effective shelter system, but let’s focus on one that you can carry with you in a bug-out bag or vehicle-based emergency bag.
Your portable shelter system is composed of three key components: something to protect you from the elements, something to sleep in and something to protect you from heat loss to the ground or air. Once you have a shelter system that you are comfortable with, and that fits in your bug-out bag, the next challenge is keeping it ready for not just the relatively mild conditions faced in fall, spring and summer, but also the extremes of winter weather.
Some preppers and survivalists swap out the gear in their bug-out bags as the seasons change. Others just carry heavier winter gear and clothing all the time so they won’t be caught unprepared. Some take the minimalist approach and plan to suffer. My recommendation is to go with the basics for my three-season needs and add layers of insulation to meet the needs of winter conditions, just like you would when layering clothing for different kinds of weather and levels of exertion. You can do this all with a camping hammock composed of a tarp, a hammock, a sleeping pad and some kind of insulation to sleep under.
Keep Your Heat
With the increased interest in survival skills and preparedness, there has been a major increase in the use of reflective materials to minimize the amount of heat our bodies lose through radiation. These innovations take multiple forms, but they all involve adding a reflective layer of foil or paint to a substrate, like closed-cell foam, breathable fabric or Mylar sheets.
You can add these to your sleep and shelter system in a number of ways. Place the reflective material, such as a space blanket or foil pad, between you and your sleeping pad to reflect your body heat back up to you. Make a tent over your body to keep heat in your sleeping area, laying a reflective blanket or foil pad along the ridgeline of your hammock and securing it either to the edges of your hammock or under your body like a blanket. Lay a reflective blanket directly over your sleeping bag or quilt to reflect your body heat back into your insulating layer. Or line the inside of your hammock with a flexible foil pad to reflect heat back not only from below but also from the sides.
Another technique is to think like a caterpillar and put an insulating bag around your whole hammock to create a cocoon of warm air for you to sleep in. You can accomplish this in a number of ways and with a number of materials. One approach is to use a lightweight top quilt that you lay over your body just like you would in bed and a similar bottom quilt that is attached below the hammock to trap the heat escaping your body. These create a pocket of warm air above you and below you. It also reduces the need for a sleeping pad if you are only going to be using the hammock while suspended.
Yet another approach to creating this warm-air cocoon is to string a poncho liner over your ridge line to create a thermal tent inside of your bug net or under your tarp. Even in freezing weather it will help keep you dry by wicking moisture to the outside where it freezes. And at the same time it keeps the heat from your breath inside of the thermal tent.
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The most innovative method is to literally wrap your sleeping bag around the hammock to keep you warm (see picture, left). This approach is called “pea-podding” since you become the pea inside of the peapod made of your sleeping bag. You can buy a bag specifically designed for this purpose or modify an existing bag by adding a Velcro-fastened opening at each end that the hammock’s suspension straps run through for stability.
Tubes made of reflective materials, designed for emergency medical use, are available to the general public and can be used like a peapod. Wrap the hammock in the reflective tube instead of the peapod, and it will keep the warmth in while also weighing much less than the oversized sleeping bag.
The third and final strategy for stretching your three-season gear into a fourth season is to make use of items that can be used as multi-taskers. The following are some examples of how you can save weight and space in your bug-out bag by using things you already have to add warmth and a touch of comfort to your shelter and sleeping system.
Many models of hammocks have a double bottom that forms a sleeve to accommodate a sleeping pad. In addition to putting a sleeping pad in there, you can also add clothing you already carry, like a fleece jacket, a down vest or a winter coat, in the sleeve to add a layer of insulation under you. You can also take the same clothing and lay it beside you in the hammock to fill the dead air inside the hammock, which adds insulation on your sides. Additionally, sleeping pads now come with insulation in them, so, for a very small weight penalty, you can add insulation below you that will not be crushed by laying on it like you find with a conventional sleeping bag.
Now that you know the various ways you can stretch your three-season gear into a fourth season, it is time to make some changes to what you currently use. Take stock of what you currently have, see what weighs more than you want it to or what isn’t as efficient as you want it to be. Research the new pieces of kit you want to integrate into your new four-season shelter system. Once you have a design in mind, start buying the equipment you need as you are able, try them out on practice bug-outs or weekend camping trips, and see what works and what doesn’t work for you.
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The following websites are great resources for learning more about hammock camping and how to be comfortable in the winter:
Hammock Forums: This is a great place for discussions, to ask questions, or just lurk and soak it up. This is the home of hammock camping on the internet. (hammockforums.net)
The Ultimate Hang: Run by Derek Hansen, the author of The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide To Hammock Camping, this site not only offers great information on hammock camping in all seasons, but also shows you how to make your own gear. (theultimatehang.com)
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.