Field Sleeping Options – A Discussion
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.