Emergency Bedding: Surviving The Night
You don’t need to hear from us about the extraordinary materials in modern sleeping bags, the options between those that allow you to survive in sub-zero temperatures versus the lighter, more compact versions that still work in milder climates. We’re also not going to get into the old debates between self-inflating sleeping pads and the lower tech foam rubber pads. There are advantages and drawbacks to all of them, and they’ve all been on the market, competing with each other, for decades.
Truth is, most of us are such gear hounds we’ve got combinations of them all on our racks, and it’s nice to have that, because every once in awhile the kids decide it’s their turn to throw a massive slumber party, and the more bags and pads you’ve got the better. One kid we know stacks up four different kinds of pads for a bed, two sleeping bags unzipped (one to sleep on, one under), and still has enough leftover gear to make a fort.
We know preppers who have sets of cots, folded up and in storage, with their own sheets and blankets, but if it gets cold enough those would be augmented by four season sleeping bags.
Some of us prefer to not even pack a pad or sleeping bag on certain camping trips, but instead stay in survival practice by building their own bed. As we’ve mentioned, it is always some form of variation on a place that is out of the wind, long enough for a body to lie down. We’re not going to lie, it takes some real getting used to, sleeping without the real warmth of a blanket or proper sleeping bag. But we’re here to tell you, if you’ve ever tried to sleep on the cold ground, then went ahead and stacked a single layer of leaves and fronds in your shelter and tried again, the difference is massive. This gets to the most fundamental question of survival that people kind of know, but don’t really know. Where do you think the heat comes from that allows you to sleep through the night?
The Ninety-Eight Degree Furnace
Your body. A sleeping bag is simply a wonderful insulation that traps your body heat to you. This is why those little reflective survival blankets that are thin as bedsheets really do work so well. They may not be comfortable, padded, or soft on the skin, but they trap the heat in. If you don’t have any form of blanket, the reason you dig a trench that conforms to your body is to get out of the wind, which sweeps heat away from you, and simultaneously, wind or not, the walls of your shelter trap heat closer to you. This is why you use leaves, fronds, newspaper, old trash bags … anything your imagination and scrounging can find to give you that insulation from the cold earth which sucks heat as if it were greedy, trying to steal it back to the molten core where it is least needed.
But that’s all about outdoor survival. What about wintering in your own home, if there is no longer central heating. The gas is out, the electricity is long gone, and wood is at a premium. The fire doesn’t stay lit through the night unless absolutely necessary. In the old days there were many tricks to stay warm through the night, even under a pile of blankets. The oldest is, of course, mutual body heat. Once again, what’s obvious can be underestimated until you really need it. Our body’s are furnaces, and two is better than one because wherever they are pressed together, they bounce the heat back and forth without losing it.
In some areas it was traditional to heat river rocks and tuck them under their own blankets at the foot of the bed. Still others actually devised bronze or copper pots that held burning coals! We don’t want to know how many fires broke out that way, but you can still see some of those antiques from time to time and some of us have tried them. They didn’t sleep very well.
Keep Basics On-Hand
So, overall, we recommend for those who like to prep for the end of the world, or others just wishing to be a little more ready for a more realistic natural disaster, have fun shopping for a good set of sleeping bags, but don’t forget the pads that go underneath. And if you live in an area where the winters are especially harsh, remember that even the furnaces that are our bodies can’t hold out against truly bitter cold. If electricity and gas are out, maybe the blizzard is so bad you can’t even get to the wood pile. PIck up a few of those compact survival blankets. They can even do a little work between a set of sheets to reflect heat one way and cold another.
Those little chemical pack hand warmers that heat up for around half an hour come in varying sizes. If you’ve got some shivering kids who are still cold even if they’re pressed up against each other under the covers, a couple of those heated pads right up against the chest, where the heart can get a little warmth and pump it to the rest of the body, can be the difference between a kid who catches a cold or flu or makes it through the night okay.
And it’s exactly this kind of thinking that helps you prepare. It’s exactly this kind of thinking that helps us understand why having one little shovel in our inventory could be the difference between making it and not, why an eighteen inch deep trench to sleep in, to reflect just enough heat, and keep the wind from sucking it all away in a single gust, is just the simple physics of staying alive.
Now don’t get us wrong. The one thing that gives us pause when it comes to things like earthquake kits is seeing perfectly good items sit, stagnate, and eventually go to waste. We’ve discussed this before. We like having a party once per year to cook up old supplies, eat them in a festive gathering, and replace them. We donate old clothing to goodwill, or sell it on eBay, but we understand most people don’t go through their kits until three years later when the kids have grown out of all the emergency gear that was made to fit them.
So we’re not recommending you go out and buy one sleeping bag for your emergency cot, one for your go-bag, and one for general use … unless you really have the extra space and desire to be truly prepared for the kind of emergency that has you sprinting out the door to survive for undetermined stretches of time on the road. Again, it’s about your own imagination, in your own home, with your own family, in your own climate and surroundings. It’s as simple as, perhaps, picking one good all around sleeping bag per person, and pad, and having the discipline to tuck them back in their place, packed and ready to go, right by the family go bags. When the kids are young and not at that eye-rolling stage--when they still think it’s fun and parents have good ideas (ha!)--practice a fire drill where you get out of the house as fast as humanly possible. Build it into a camping trip even, where instead of leisurely packing the car the night before everyone had two minutes to pile in and go, and if they forgot anything they wanted or needed, it’s time to improvise.
On that camping trip, if the environment permits, consider sheltering without a tent, just for practice.
Which gets us to a final point for now, which we haven’t yet explored. Don’t get us started on tents. We love them, and despise them. No matter how light they are, they are weighty and take up lots of carrying space. They can be complicated, uni-tasking, flimsy protection against predators, difficult to camouflage, hard to get out of quickly … and yet they can be amazing in unbelievably high winds, whipping back and forth, bending without breaking, sheltering those inside so well from the elements only an idiot wouldn’t take advantage of their phenomenal effectiveness. Sleeping safe away from bugs and snakes, it does sound appealing, but a lot of us never bother with them, preferring instead a poncho over a string, and a good mummy bag. That said, we’ll address tents another time. For now, we hope you enjoy thinking about the utility of a great little shovel, and the bare necessities of sheltering and staying warm when the usual amenities are absent.