Winter Bugout

Started by cockpitbob, February 24, 2015, 09:40:58 pm

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Years ago, in times B.C. (before children) I did a fair amount of snow camping.  This year, from late January to mid February Massachusetts broke all kinds of snow fall records.  We got about 5'-6' in 3 weeks.  With all that snow I decided to do something I haven't done in 20 years; sleep in a snow cave.  It would be a good test of what little gear I now have, and it might be fun.

After shoveling 2' of snow off the back porch for the 2nd time in a week I had a really big pile to tunnel into.  It took me a little over an hour of hard work to dig out a cave big enough for 2 people.

I threw down a tarp, closed cell camping pad and a fancy air mattress that supposedly has synthetic down to keep cold air from circulating up.  Recently, for Boy Scout trips I bought myself an inexpensive (Kelty) zero degree mummy bag.  I also dug out my old candle lantern.  With a piece of plywood covering most of the door opening the candle lantern got the interior up to 35F even though it was 22F outside.  Once I went to bed my body heat kept the inside in the low 30s with the outside temperature at 20F.  It was quite comfortable, except when I had to get up and pee and brushed the low roof with my back and got snow in the bag.  I think that's the one big down side of a snow shelter is trying to not get snow in your gear as you move around.


A week later I did it again when the temps went down to zero F.  I know my "zero degree" sleeping bag is really good for about 20F, but I figured the snow cave would keep me warm.  It did until 3:30am when I had to get up.  It was about 2F outside and leaving the door open chilled down the inside.  I didn't bother lighting the candle lantern and the inside of the cave never recovered.  At 4:30 the inside was 15F.  I decided this was the limit of the bag.  I got up with very cold feet, went inside, turned the electric blanket up high and crawled in bed.

So, what if I had to bug out on foot today?  It would be bad.  Even with my snow shoes, travel in 3'-5' of snow would be exhausting and I'd cover 1mph.  The temperature has been in the teens and single digits at night lately.  Nights would be bad without a good fire.  Maybe if I wore most of my clothes and had a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag (used to work great for me) I could get a few hours of sleep.  I would be in my tent unless it was very, very cold.  The work of making a snow cave and putting up with a snow ceiling are big drawbacks to a snow shelter.

Do zombies hibernate or travel south for the winter?  With the way they walk I can't imagine them catching me in my snow shoes while they sink up to their thighs in snow.  At least I've got that going for me.


Well nice job taking advantage of the situation and testing out some gear.  Seems to me a good 'Pee Bottle' needs to be added to your bug out bag.  I'd need a couple of them things!   :-X :-X


February 25, 2015, 06:04:08 am #2 Last Edit: February 27, 2015, 12:14:40 am by freax
Get a a Sheepskin wool insert for your sleeping bag and try that.

Good luck!


March 01, 2015, 06:02:43 am #3 Last Edit: March 01, 2015, 06:06:03 am by BlinkyBill
Cockpitbob, great read.  I'd be interested in knowing what a difference having another person in there with you would have made. 

In my part of the world it doesn't get that cold, but with wind chill a couple of people die most years in the mountains.  Snow caves here get you out of the wind, where it's rather cosy, but haven't done it on my own.  Your temps are crazy though!

A question related to freax's comment re sheep skin.  My thought would be sheep skin wouldn't be great as when it gets wet it will take a lot to dry.  But that's in temps nowhere near zero F.  When it's that cold can you just let the moisture freeze and bang the ice off, such that it's it's not an issue?  I know a silk sleeping bag liner makes a huge difference, and holds very little moisture, but have no experience at your type of temps.


The "zero degree" bag I had was a fairly cheap one.  I got what I paid for, which is something for casual use on colder Boy Scout trips.  No, we don't make 11 year olds sleep outside in zero degree weather.  Winter trips are in cabins with a wood stove.

I don't know about sheep skin inserts for sleeping bags.  They sound expensive and I couldn't find any on Amazon.  I think they must be an Australian thing :P .  What I could have done is gotten one of my rectangular summer bags and put my mummy bag inside it.  I've doubled-up bags before and I'm sure I would have slept cozy, but my goal was to learn about the cave and the bag I had.  I also should have sealed the door better and lit the candle lantern after my 3:00am trip to the litter box.

One interesting note.  The snow cave is slowly collapsing.  Over the span of a couple weeks the ceiling has been slowly lowering and it's now half what it was when I dug it.  There's no cracks or signs of catastrophic collapse.  It's just slowly settling down.  Bare in mind that it's not a domed snow pile with a domed chamber carved out of it.  I imagine that arrangement would last longer.  Plus, I've added a lot more snow to the pile while clearing my back deck.  The pile is now 7' tall >:( .

It's been a crazy winter and tonight's 4"-6" snow might set an all time record for total snow in a winter.  We've had about 8.5' this winter.  In about 2 weeks is Boston's St. Patric's Day Parade (a very big deal in Boston) and right now there is so much piled up snow on the streets that some have been made one-way.  Some stretches of the traditional parade route are too narrow for the parade and along much of the route there's no place for spectators, except to stand on the snow banks.  I've got piles of snow in my yard that I think I'll be mowing around in May. :o


This is a good thread for some of us living above 40th Parallel.

I did some cold weather camping with Scouts when I was a lad...a long time ago...before modern hollow fiber synthetic fabrics and fills were available. Even with duffle bags full of blankets piled on top of our crumby sleeping bags (cotton fill ?) we mostly suffered if it was below freezing.

Fast forward 30 years or so to our son as a Scout and me as a Scout dad with 'Klondike Derby' coming up. I popped for medium quality medium tech bags rated for -30F. I vaguely recall they were on sale at Camp-mor for $99 each. The first night was -5F and the second night was -7F. I won't say we were toasty warm, but we were okay...we were able to sleep. Most of the rest of the troop ended up spending the first night in leader's cars and trucks with engines running...and most of them went home before second night with just a few of us sticking it out. Worst thing was cooking. Scoutmaster was really old-school and did not allow MREs or freeze-dried convenience foods...and what are you supposed to do with solidly frozen eggs and bacon, hamburger and spuds ?

I've mentioned on another string that I got officially hypothermic once...and it scared me. Living at the southern tip of Lake Michigan where I've seen actual -25F air temperature gives me a lot to think about regarding staying warm and dry in emergencies.


Looking to do this myself soon. I've wanted to snowshoe into the woods and settel down somewhere for the night. I have a 3 piece mil issue bag that is rated to -40 but i'm not too interested in testing it. Gonna wait till we get an overnight temp above 20 w/o wind and try it.


Madball, you had better hurry before the 8' of snow we've had this winter is gone.  It's March.  I figure my backyard snow cave's snow pile will be gone by mid-May :o .  It's only 7' tall ???


Mission accomplished! Overnight low on Saturday nigt got down to 19 but i was snug and warm in my dugout. Any snow trapped bwtween my bag and sleeping pad melted and i woke up with a puddle built up.


Nice, and a whole lot less work than my cave. 

MB, could yo post a link to your "3 piece mil" bag?  I'm curious about it. 


March 10, 2015, 04:05:57 pm #11 Last Edit: March 11, 2015, 01:17:35 am by cockpitbob
Dayum!  Good and cheap.   Now I've got buyer's remorse for spending $100 on that "0 degree" Kelty bag.

Thanks MB

OK, I'm going to cheat on the 3-post/day rule and edit one in here    ::)

Anyone use hot water bottles?  Decades ago we were backpacking in the snow in NY's Catskill Mts.  The snow was deep and no running water so we had to boil snow in our camp stoves.   Just before bed we did a big pot and topped up our water bottles which we then wrapped in a t-shirt and took to bed.  Mmmmm that was warm until about 2:00am.  We took turns doing the 2:00am warm-up.  At the time they seemed like the best invention on earth.


The Gore-Tex bivvy cover alone is worth the better part of $100 if it's in good shape. You do have to be a little careful with military surplus stuff because it's not always in first rate condition. Some dealers are more 'transparent' than others about actual condition...busted zippers, tears, missing straps, etc.

For anyone not very experienced with cold weather camping, fight the urge to use your exhaled 98 degree breath to warm the inside of the sleeping bag. The moisture builds up and really compromises insulation value of fill material. And best to change your clothes before crawling in bag so that your clothes are as dry and fluffy as possible.