Saturday, April 7, 2018

Bugout Bag Camping Test

CC-BY-2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/frankdouwes/3984061273 
Back in the very early 1990s, I was working on a contract basis for a company that made telecommunications equipment. My schedule was pretty flexible. In fact I was able to set my own schedule, and I took full advantage of that fact. Payday was every two weeks, and I usually started a new pay period by working twelve and fourteen hour days to get my 80 hours in the first week so I could take the second week off. Sometimes I would even work 160 hours in two weeks so I could take the following two weeks off. This gave me lots of time off for camping, caving and budget road trips. It is worth mentioning that I was also single during that time, so I didn't have to worry about relationship difficulties arising out of my frequent absences.

On one of these instances where I had just finished my work and had a week or more off, there wasn't much going on. It was probably January or February; the holidays were over and the Spring activities hadn't started yet. It was raining, had been for a couple of days and showed no signs of abating. The temperature was barely high enough to prevent the rain turning into snow. All in all, miserable weather. I was already getting cabin fever.

For lack of anything better to do, I inventoried the contents of my survival kit. I don't think the term "bugout bag" was popular yet, but that's basically what it was: a medium sized fanny pack with a few survival items in it. Stainless steel cup, aluminum foil, Ramen noodles and a couple other food items, fire starting materials, space blanket, stuff like that. As I perused the contents of my bag, a plan started to formulate. It seemed like the kind of weather I would find myself in during a wilderness survival situation. How would I sleep, without a sleeping bag? How would I get and stay dry, so as to not succumb to the elements?

I had to do it; test my survival bag contents and my own ability to spend a night in the soggy woods, in winter, without my normal backpacking equipment. So I put on my boots, coat and hat, grabbed my survival kit and headed out the back door.

I was living in an apartment on the edge of town. There was a small patch of woods behind my apartment, and a railroad track ran through those woods. It was near the end of that line; the tracks stopped less than 5 miles away at the Tennessee River. I got on the tracks and walked in the direction of the river. When I was almost to the river and there were no more roads, I got off the tracks and headed further into the woods.

By the time it started getting dark I was thoroughly soaked. I couldn't have been any wetter if I had jumped in the river. It was time to stop for the night. I had found a small, battered piece of roofing sheet metal a ways back and brought it along. I put it down at the base of a small tree and looked around for some rocks and whatever else I could find, and ended up building a simple wickiup against the tree. It looked similar to the photo above, with the addition of a rudimentary fireplace that I built by digging a small hole and piling rocks around it. I used the sheet metal as part of the wall and to reflect the heat of the fire.

I used to buy these fire starter logs that are 3 or 4 inches in diameter and maybe 10 inches long, made of wax and sawdust. I would cut about a 2 inch slice of that, put it in a ziplock bag and stuff it in my pack. Whenever I needed to start a fire I would just pinch off a small chunk of it and use it as tinder. It works well; it's pretty water resistant and even a small lump burns for several minutes. I had a slice of that in my survival kit, and used some of it to start a fire. By the time it was full dark, my fire was going well and I was enjoying a hot cup of ramen noodles and watching the steam rise off my clothing. After awhile I was fully dry and warm.

A funny thing happened during the night, though: a skunk discovered my little haven and wanted to share it with me! Now, I've been around skunks enough to not fear them. In fact, they are amazingly funny and amiable creatures. But I didn't want to share my little shelter with one. If I happened to roll over on it in the middle of the night, it might not end well. So I spent an hour or two driving it away with my fire poker, every time it tried to worm its way in.

Other than that little incident, I had a reasonably good night. It stopped raining sometime during the night, so the trip back home was not bad at all.