Field Sleeping Options – A Discussion

July 20/21 Training Weekend AAR # 3
July 24, 2013
Thermal Camouflage & Update on the MVT Shield
July 26, 2013
Yesterday I posted some thoughts about weather, wet/dry kit drills and some related stuff HERE. I am following up today with a more detailed discussion on options for sleeping in the field.
There are two main areas that this relates to: Firstly, there is living light out of your patrol pack, the ‘travel light, freeze at night’ scenario, and secondly there is living out of your ruck in patrol bases in the longer term. In the first option, what sleep you do get while out on a short term patrol will likely be limited to naps while pulling 50% security at some rally point or ORP. In such situations you may be curled up on a combination of your battle belt/PC/patrol pack wrapped in whatever you have, whether it be a ‘woobie’ poncho liner or similar (or you just freeze your ass off). Today I am looking mainly at the longer term patrol base options. I am also primarily concerned with what you can carry with you in your ruck, rather than perhaps larger base-camp style group tents and cots and whatever that you may place in a long term base in the woods. 
When looking at equipment for sleeping you need to consider the environment and the weather. You need to be able to carry it and put it up or take it down rapidly. There are a different set of challenges in cold weather than there are in hot weather. The challenge may be the cold in the winter and conversely life may be more comfortable and require less equipment to survive in the summer, but you may have other worries related to sleeping, such as bugs.
In a temperate environment the classic way for soldiers to sleep in a patrol base is with the following combination:
1) Thermal sleeping mat: essential to maintain warmth in a sleeping bag, un-insulated contact with the ground will leech away most of your body heat.
2) Sleeping bag/bivvy bag combination
3) Rain tarp – this allows you an admin space out of the rain and can also now be substituted with a thermal tarp to conceal you from aerial thermal surveillance.
It is always best to assume that it is going to rain and put up your tarp. You can now also assume that there is always the possibility of a drone passing overhead, just to establish good drills, and put up your thermal poncho/tarp. A tarp, whether simply a rain tarp or also a thermal shield, should be rigged with bungee cords and/or paracord attached to the relevant grommets so that it can be rapidly put up and taken down. Carry a small supply of tent pegs as well to stake it down as necessary.
The classic way is for soldiers to sleep in buddy pairs, two under each poncho. It is optional, threat dependent, to dig a ‘shell scrape’, putting the poncho up over it and sleeping in it. A ‘shell scrape’ should be dug with your entrenching tool and is 12 inches deep and large enough to sleep two laid out with rucks. However, don’t make it larger than the size of your tarp, if possible, to keep the rain out. If it is raining a lot a shell scrape may fill with water so the alternative is to set up your tarp ‘hoochie’ behind it, ready to deploy into the shell scrape if you come under contact.
The digging of shell scrapes is most likely something that you would do with a larger element, such as a platoon, if digging in to a triangular patrol base. Remember that a patrol base should not be set up close to the enemy and should be well hidden, so the sound of shovels should not be a problem in most cases. Smaller recce type patrols will likely not dig in and will rely purely on stealth. Shell scrapes are not full foxhole style battle trenches, they are simply designed to take you below screaming shrapnel or direct fire if your patrol base is compromised and comes under enemy direct or indirect fire. Make your own tactical decisions on the merits of digging them. 
In a jungle environment you really want to avoid sleeping on the ground. This also applies to swamp land where the ground is wet. The reason is mainly to do with bugs and snakes crawling around and crawling into bed with you. Not nice. I know that in Vietnam conventional infantry lived in holes in a conventional manner, but if you are a small patrol in a jungle environment you don’t need to do that. The only time you will want to be kipping on the ground is when resting in an ORP prior to an attack, or laying in an ambush on 50% security, or similar recce style functions when you want to rest.
The way to sleep in the Jungle is to make some form of platform to sleep above the ground. A good method is to carry a hammock and string it up between trees. Just remember to check for dead-fall above you, something that not many consider but a reason for many deaths while sleeping in the trees. Clearly a hammock has you above ground if a firefight starts, but you can string it low. With a hammock, you should drape a bug net over it and above that you string your tarp. This keeps the rain and bugs off you. You can get hammocks that come as a combination of all of these and they are a good option for sleeping in the woods with bugs and snakes.
Other options are to construct an ‘A-Frame’ lashed to two trees and lay a sleeping bed of branches between the two cross pieces of the ‘A’s’. In a swamp environment a simple way to get off the ground is to cut and drive in three stakes into the mud and lay a triangle of support logs between them, then cover that with a mat of branches to make a raised platform above the murk. 
“But I’m not operating in the Jungle” I hear you remark. I contend that some of these techniques are equally applicable to a lot of the forest/swamp environments in the States where it may as well be the Jungle, with all the bugs and snakes crawling around. If you are worried about this and don’t want to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag., consider using a jungle technique such as a hammock. The other advantage of this is that a bug net will keep you from getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and similar, even if it is unlikely that Mr. Snake will crawl into your bag with you for your warmth.
There are other options that you should consider if you are operating out in the forests but short of a full jungle/swamp environment. This is where you are happy to sleep on the ground but want some protection from critters and getting bitten by skeeters. 
Firstly there is the hooped gore-tex breathable bivvy bag. The hoop allows you to close it over your face but gives you a little breathing room. These are simple to set up and take down but will restrict you getting out rapidly. Its all pros and cons. It may also be too hot inside in the depth of summer. Having one with a zippable bug net option without having to fully enclose the waterproof entrance would be useful. This does not really negate the need for a tarp to give you a full area to administrate yourself in the rain – you cannot do anything like get changed or change socks inside a hooped bivvy.
Next is the actual lightweight backpackers tent. This has the advantage of being waterproof but also with the option to unzip it but to keep the bug net closed. It is going to weigh more and take up pack space, and its not so quick to take down and put up. You may have to leave it in an emergency. It will keep all the bugs out. You will still have to string up a thermal tarp over the top to avoid FLIR surveillance, a tent will not block it. The other aspect is that a tent will be shared by two buddies so the carriage of it can be shared, or one carries the tent and the other carries other gear.
I have mentioned some options above and no doubt there are more that I have not included. On combat operations out in the woods you are not on a backpacking trip so some concessions to all your tents and pots and pans need to be made. On the flip side of that, ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’ so you should find a system that balances comfort with tactical practicality and weight/space. Living long term in patrol bases is a different proposition than a night or so out freezing your butt off. Consider a system, or summer and winter systems, that will allow you to carry the gear in your ruck in a practical way and can be utilized in a  tactical patrol base.
Live Hard, Due Free.


  1. FormerSapper says:

    You can get sleeping mats that fold up and take up very little room inside your bergen/ruck which leaves you room on the outside of your ruck/bergen to fill up with more shit you regret volunteering to tab/hump

  2. FormerSapper says:

    I promise before the week is done I’ll have a review up there and I’ll call the other reviewer a numpty or a gimp. Or maybe both.

  3. Chuck says:

    Another option for bug protection is the pop up bednet system such as the one at this link:

    It’s a really nice piece of kit that I’ve been using for the last couple of years. Set up time is nearly instantaneous (hence “pop up”) and teardown is pretty quick as well once you get the hang of it (it’s a little tricky at first) and it folds up into a circular package that’s only a couple of inches thick and a little over a foot in diameter that fits nicely between the waterproof bag and the part of my ruck nearest the frame.

    Used in conjunction with my GI poncho “hooch”, therma rest and sleep system I can sleep in relative comfort in the worst conditions, whether sticky sweltering summer humidity, torrential downpours or bitter cold.

    My current sleep/shelter system is as follows:

    — USGI modular sleep system and poncho liner (it’s modular so it’s tailored seasonally: summer = poncho liner and bivy sack; fall/spring = patrol bag and bivy sack; winter = heavy bag and bivy sack – I’ve not yet had to use the full MSS with both bags and bivy sack but the capability is there if I need it)
    — Therma rest – over ten years, trips to AFG and IRQ and only two punctures (one was my fault the other was from hard use) but easy to repair with crazy glue and a nylon patch
    — Poncho shelter (hooch) kit – USGI poncho with hood tied off, six 6’ lengths of 550 cord at four corner and two end grommets, six lightweight aluminum tent stakes, two three foot sections of lightweight aluminum tent pole (weigh next to nothing); all but poles go in stuff sack and kept in outside pocket of ruck for quick access – poles are for when no trees available
    — Pop up bed net system (adds about 1.75 pounds to weight of system but is absolutely worth it)

    System can be tailored for the environment. Where bugs aren’t a problem, the bed net can be left behind. Summertime means bivy and poncho liner; cuts way down on sleeping bag weight.

    • Max Velocity says:

      I looked at that bednet system. That’s interesting – it is designed to fit on a cot bed. In Afghanistan British troops were issued a similar system that sits on top of a cot bed and can be used either with or without one. Its ideal SHTF gear for bug infested environments actually – usually these would be set up inside a building/compound or in a tent as the soldiers personal space. There is also a bigger version designed with an inner and outer ‘room’ exactly sized for a cot bed. These are designed for when buildings or tents are occupied in a more ‘FOB’ manner and they give a soldier a true bug free personal space.

    • Semper Fi, 0321 says:

      Patching a Thermarest?, try Tenacious Tape from McNet Corp.
      I used their products in the scuba industry years ago, they make an outstanding outdoor tape that works on Gore-tex, rainwear/ponchos, tents, air mattresses, down coats, etc. About $4.00 a roll, buy several and carry one in your pack! My Thermarest had 2 patches now, with no sign of leaking.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I use a hammock Rigged with a rain fly and bug net. The way I train with it is; Dig a shell scrape then rig out the hammock. If the balloon go’s up in the night you just roll over and drop +roll for the hole. Dry, warm and bug free. Most of the year it’s the only way I have found to stay out of the mud. My net and rifle hangers have Velcro “break a ways” so all I need do is reach grasp and roll.

  5. ron swanson says:

    Its amazing how often I am thinking about a particular issue (I have been researching tarp/tent/bivvy/bug protection all morning) and I get on your blog, or Mosby’s, and you guys are addressing the very same issue. Thanks for all you do.

    Also, Chuck, here is a much lighter weight bug net protection device. Doesn’t cover the entire body but when used in conjunction with your regular bag or bivvy it seems to be a workable solution that is a lot lighter and easier to get in/out of. Food for thought.

  6. pdxr13 says:

    The USGI Gore-Tex bivy bag is a “very good deal” right now, especially if a person intends to operate in a wet woodland or wet alpine environment. Even if you don’t want/like the USGI 2-bag sleeping bag system (which is nicely snap-matched), the shell is the cheapest source of large HD Gore-Tex panels on the market for your DIY adventures.

    New-perfect $40, used-good $20. Uncle paid no less than $250 for the new one in 100’s of thousands lots. Woodland (Ft. Lewis) pattern, medium-size is okay for people up to about skinny 6′-1″. 5′-10/195 pounds with both bags installed is “roomy”. These are cheap enough to cache everywhere and pack into a 2 gallon pvc olive bucket with room to spare. An extra-long version has an NSN and is rumored to exist for issue, but no luck yet as surplus.

    I have used a Swiss fleece bag liner inside the bivy in moderate-temp/wet PNW weather with good results. This was while eating plenty. When calorie-deprived, more insulation will be required to keep warm. 37 degrees F. with a wet gusty 12mph wind feels MUCH colder than 20 degrees colder (freezing reduces humidity/dampness, improves insulating properties of almost every kind of lofty gear).

    Just above freezing (or worse, daily cycling of freeze-thaw, with no drying except in bright clear sun- which is available while you are already dry), gusty, overcast, wet is the definition of suck, esp. for someone “not from here”. No bugs or dust! No sunburn for redheads! Large mammals will find and eat your stuff. Warm-climate people will be over-bundled, cold, and huddling against vehicle heaters as much as possible.

    Then, there are storms. Heh.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeh.BUT you are still down in the mud every night, and packing your wet muddy gear every day. It don’t take many days like that to crimp your good mood.

    • pdxr13 says:

      Yes. Mud never sleeps.
      Shake it off, brush it off, scoop it off. Mud is heavy.
      Good mood not required, only a passable simulation.


  7. Anonymous says:

    It occurs to me that chimps sleep in trees, in hostile environments, by making a platform. People can do something similar. Get 80 feet up a big Doug Fir tree, or way up a big oak tree, and you wont be very visible from below. Also provides a good surveillance platform.

    The platform could just be a thin nylon cloth suspended between two stout branches, with a harness and quick-release buckle holding you on it. Needs a thermal/rain cover of course. Sleep in a sitting position, maybe.

    I haven’t tested this theory, heh, but it might be worth some investigation. Only for very small units though.

    • Anonymous says:

      Only bad part of that is; IF you get spotted you are dead. You have no way to fight or run and there is a good chance you’r shot before you wake up.

  8. Anonymous says:

    What about sleeping Viet-Cong style in spider-holes/underground shelter? Done right you can avoid both thermal and visual detection, and cache a lot of gear.

    • Anonymous says:

      Time is the enemy of that one, It takes DAYs and DAYs for five men to dig even a small bunker with revetment, overhead cover and cammo. It’s still a good idea IF you plan to stay in one place for a long time. One tried and true NVA tactic was to patrol in a spiral, stopping at the end of one days march and digging in with OH cover. Every time a patrol stopped in that fighting position they would improve it( Connecting tunnels, improved drainage, supply dumps) EVERY NVA and VC unit did this EVERY DAY. After years of this any NVA unit could find a bunker complex + supply dump one day apart every where in Vietnam. Its how they beat us. Gen Vo Mihn Giap (spell?) said that the shovel not the AK-47 was the most important weapon the NVA had.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, that’s why I figure that people should be experimenting with building these dual purpose hidey-holes/caches now. By the way, I’m not talking about building Cu-Chi style vast tunnel complexes (because ground seismic sensors, and even newer satellites can detect these vast complexes). But I figure that an underground living quarters large enough to accommodate four people, six to eight-feet below ground should be good. Cant think of a better way for a rural group of fighters to get a good night’s (or day’s?) sleep, and to really travel light.

    • Anonymous says:

      A lot of how “great” the satellites and sensors are is Psywarop black propaganda. It really isn’t half as good as all that. If you live in an AO that is honey coamed with caves and old mine tunnels(like I do) the sensors are really pretty useless. Most everything you have ever heard or read about US military weapons was PSYOP.

    • Anonymous says:

      To Anon July 25 @ 12:39 PM: Sure, a lot of tech-stuff may just be propaganda, buts its better to use caution! Plus, huge tunnel complexes take too damn long to build and are too big to afford being compromised. In Vietnam, once GI’s discovered one tunnel entrance, they could use smoke to find just about every other entrance, ventilation shafts, and destroy access to the tunnels. That’s why I think small square hidey-holes are best, you can dig more and without the same compromise risk.

    • Anonymous says:

      Point well taken

  9. Anonymous says:

    Back when I was doing my NCO Academy in FL(around ’85 IIRC), I took to hanging out with the green beanie crew in our class. WHile on an overnight patrol, one of them showed me how to set up the overnight hooch using our two ponchos tied about 12″ off the ground laid over about six inches of pine needles. He said the pine needle would keep the bugs and snakes to a minimum and being only a few inches off the ground we would tend to be below any incoming fire.

  10. Eric Albright says:

    Where can I find thermal tarps that aren’t in bright colors on the non-aluminized side?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I own and use a FLIR device for hunting, I understand the idea behind blocking the hot spot from showing up on observation devices, but won’t the use of a thermal blocking tarp create a square “hole” in the natural thermal background pattern? By natural thermal pattern I mean the differences in heat signatures that show up due to rates of heat uptake and release.