I think that most of us have a somewhat idealized vision of bugging out. We see it more as a way of getting away from it all and enjoying some time communing with nature. When we imagine ourselves on a bug out, we see nice weather, beautiful mountain scenes and a deer in our sights. Nice picture, isn’t it? But then there’s reality.
When the time comes to actually bug out, it’s probably going to be cold, wet and miserable. The highway will turn into a parking lot and we’ll be stuck abandoning our cars to head out on foot. It will be muddy, our flashlight won’t work, and we’ll have trouble finding anywhere at all to camp for the night, let alone an “ideal” campsite, like we saw in our imagination. With all the rain or snow, starting a fire will be an exercise in patience, rather than a demonstration of our survival skills.
Weather has a nasty way of playing tricks on us, especially at times when we need it to be cooperative. So, instead of planning the ideal bug out, we’d be much better off planning on everything going wrong. That way, we’re ready if it does and if the weather is actually nice, we can be pleasantly surprised.
Bugging out in bad weather adds a lot more challenges to our survival scenario. The biggest is trying to keep warm. Since hypothermia is the biggest killer in the wild, keeping warm is something that we can’t ignore. Even being a little bit cold could have drastic consequences, especially if it’s wet out too. Of course, that problem increases at night, simply because it pretty much always gets colder at night.
So, how do you make sure that you can stay warm at night during your bug out?
Start by Staying Dry
The most important single thing you can do to keep warm out in the wild is to keep yourself from getting wet. Water draws heat out from our bodies, just like sweat does. Since most clothing will absorb and hold water, it increases this effect. In fact, most wet clothing will make you lose body heat faster than if you were standing their naked. A wet down coat can make you lose body heat 300 times faster!
Proper selection of clothing will go a long way towards keeping you dry. Your outer layer must be water resistant. That’s even better than being waterproof. Water resistant fabrics will cause the water to bead up and run off, like waterproof ones will. The big difference is that water resistant fabrics will also breathe, keeping the inside of your clothes from getting wet from your sweat.
The old Army rain ponchos were famous for this. You’d put on a rain poncho, because it was raining, and within a half-hour you were soaked under your poncho, from your own sweat. I always wondered what good they did.
You also want to make sure you keep your pack dry. If your pack isn’t waterproof, then you want to make sure that you have a waterproof cover for it or that your rain poncho is big enough to cover it as well. A backpack full of wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag won’t help you keep warm.
Make Camp Early
When traveling through the wild, it’s always a good idea to stop a couple of hours before sundown to make camp. This is even more important when it’s wet and cold out, as the temperature can drop drastically at sundown. If you don’t have your camp ready when the sun falls, you could fall prey to hypothermia before you can get it done.
There’s a lot to preparing a proper camp, starting with finding a good place for it. You’ll have a much easier time finding a good campsite during daylight hours, than you will at night.
The Right Sleeping Equipment
Since you’re probably going to sleep at night, having the right sleeping equipment is extremely important. The most important piece of equipment is your sleeping bag. I’m a firm believer in having a warm sleeping bag. If there’s a choice between two types of bags, for two temperature ranges, I’ll always go with the warmer bag. If I’m too warm, I can always open it a bit; but if it’s not warm enough, there’s not much I can do.
That’s why I like the North Face Furnace Sleeping Bag. It’s rated down to zero degrees, which is colder than I ever expect to experience. So, even if I’m stuck bugging out in the worst of weather, my sleeping bag will be warm enough.
Although the sleeping bag is the most important piece of equipment, it’s not the only one. Sleeping bags tend to crush on the bottom side from your body weight. The Furnace is designed with that in mind, having a special padding on the bottom side to compensate for that; but if your bag doesn’t have something like that, you need something to insulate you from the ground. Otherwise, cold ground could draw off your body heat.
The easiest way to solve that problem is with an inflatable or hard foam sleeping pad, like the ALPS Mountaineering Lightweight Self-Inflating Air Pad. That provides extra insulation between your body and the ground, eliminating that problem. Another way is to add a rescue blanket beneath the sleeping bag. If you’re going to do this, don’t use the thin emergency blankets, but rather a heavy-duty one.
You’re also going to need a good backpacking tent to keep the rain off of your sleeping bag. A double walled tent, like the Coleman Holligan 2 will go a long way towards keeping your warmer. The outer tent cover is actually a rain cover, but it also creates an air space between it and the inner cover, helping to keep heat in.
Build Your Fire Right
You’re definitely going to want a fire to help keep you warm on those cold nights. Building a fire in wet weather can be extremely tricky, but you can still do it, if you watch out for a couple of details. First of all, make sure that your fire is sheltered from the rain. Building it under some overhanging tree branches will go a long way towards making sure it doesn’t get doused by the rain. Also, make sure that it’s in a place where it won’t be flooded out. Raise it up off the ground a couple of inches, with a bed of rocks, so that it won’t be washed out.
Placing a large rock or building a pile of rocks behind your fire will help heat your tent, by reflecting the heat from the fire back to you. The fire will heat the rocks, which will then radiate the heat. That heat will go straight out towards you, helping to keep you and your tent warm.
Stack your extra firewood near the fire, so that the heat from the fire can help to dry it out. You’ll also want to cover it, so that the rain can’t fall on it. Dry wood will give you a much better fire, with much less smoke to advertise your position.
Sound off in the comments below on other ways you have used to stay warm while out in the wild.