Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poor Man's Sling Bag

When I first started woods-cruising, I gathered together surplus U.S. military ALICE [All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment] parts, specifically, suspenders, butt pack, 2 canteen covers, a compass pouch, and 2 magazine pouches. It was a great set-up. Well designed and thought out as most military equipment is, and it had lots of room to carry all the essentials for the trail.

I used this rig for about 2 years then switched over to a COLEMAN hydration daypack. Today I still use the COLEMAN for most of my outings. But sometimes I just want to go light and carry the absolute minimal gear when a-trail, and after awhile I got the urge to own a sling bag. I saw folks at a couple of survival schools carrying these modern haversacks....MOLLE bags with velcro sections for nametapes and patches, and lots of loops and compartments for stashing bits of kit. I admired how so many essentials could be carried on one's person in a small package.

I started pricing tactical sling bags by major makers and found them too pricey for my taste [I am very cheap] and started brainstorming a solution. I like making my own improvised gear anyways, and what I came up with was to make a "saddle" to convert ALICE clip gear to shoulder carry. I went to a nearby leather shop and purchased a piece of stiff cowhide from their leather scrap bin and formed a saddle:

Saddle for ALICE clips
With a little dumpster diving I came up with some hardware from discarded luggage to make the attachments for a shoulder strap. I purchased some locking oval rings at the hardware store, along with some Olive Drab nylon web strap. What I came up with was this arrangement shown below:
Sling rig for ALICE gear, disassembled
Sling rig, assembled
I found that I could slide a small knife sheath onto the saddle behind the canteen, where it was convenient, out of the way, and protected. I used an inexpensive little knife with a ferro rod in it's sheath, so I had a firemaking tool as well. I also added a homemade pace counter, which I made from beads my wife received doing laps at a Cancer Walk:

 Homemade Ranger Beads
Presently I am working on a larger saddle pattern:

Improved saddle pattern
This new saddle is going to be a little wider and thus will accommodate a USGI magazine pouch. I plan to place a disposable poncho and a space blanket in the mag pouch. There should also be enough room to place a sheath knife on the saddle as well. The leather saddle is somewhat flexible, and so it will bend and conform to the curve of the waist when wearing the rig. I'm also thinking of streamlining the attachments and just using small carabiners and plastic sliders for the shoulder strap.
If you've got some old ALICE gear and want to put it to work, this saddle is easy to make...just some cardboard for a pattern, and a Swiss Army Knife to cut out the leather and awl to make holes for attachment hardware and you are ready for the trail. 
Safe Hiking!
Goblin Ranger

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Adventure Medical Kits Bivvy's

For several years now, I have used an Adventure Medical Kits [AMK] 2.0 Thermal Bivvy for my minimal gear camp outs as an ultralight sleeping bag. Basically it's a velcro closure "Space Blanket Sleeping Bag" that reflects body heat. It weighs 7 oz. or so, so you are sacrificing comfort for light weight and some protection, as it is also designed to be water repellent and provide a barrier against wind [to prevent heat loss from convection]. It was about $34 dollars when purchased new. The maker warrants them purely for emergency shelter, and it's meant for 50 degree + temperatures, but I've used it in temps down to the mid-upper 40's some nights.

AMK 2.0 bivvy

The main problem with this bag is that it doesn't breathe really well. It has gaps between velcro closures but those don't seem to vent enough to prevent condensation from forming. Although it is warm enough for the average 50 degree evening, if I close it up over my head condensation accumulates inside and later in the morning it becomes very clammy inside.

Again, the AMK bivvy is an *emergency* bag not intended for is meant to keep you alive pending rescue were you lost or injured.  Reflecting body heat and keeping you from becoming hypothermic in cold weather, maintaining body heat to avoid shock from a traumatic injury, shelter from wet conditions, etc, all purposes which I think it can answer quite well. If you intend to use it for ultra-lightweight hiking and backpacking, then my suggestion is keep your head out of bag and wear a knit cap.

Often I'll just use a ground cover such as a cheap plastic poncho with a USGI wool blanket for a comfort pad.

Shelter: 5 X 7 tarp, poncho ground cloth, AMK bivvy, wool GI blanket
The AMK bivvy is remarkably rugged, but you should still clear sharp debris and if possible make a mattress out of boughs. I tend to be restless when I sleep [doze, toss, and turn] when camping, and I've torn a couple of seams, which I patched with GORILLA tape, Duck tape, and reinforced with some thread stitches. I just air it out after use, pick the leaf debris out of it, and spray with some disinfectant spray and allow to dry before storing away.

On a couple of outings my clothes [cotton] got damp in the bag and I started to shiver so I pulled the wool blanket into the bag and was instantly warm.  The wool sopped up the moisture and of course wool stays warm(er) even when wet, so it got me through the night just fine. I've thought about adding a fleece liner, but concerned that will just become saturated as well, and then that's heading back into weight and bulk...

On one outing a friend used AMK's lighter 3.5 oz. EMERGENCY BIVVY. Those are made out of a tougher material than the usual mylar emergency sleeping bag you can buy. It's reflective silver on the inside, and bright orange exterior with instructions for survival,  rescue, and signalling imprinted upon it. I have also noticed that the EMERGENCY BIVVY compacts down into a pouch about half the size of mine.  He reported condensation problems as well, but, I repeat again, it's intended as a survival bag, i.e., not for comfort.

After using it a few times and concerned about the condensation, I wrote to AMK to inquire about the condensation problems and here is their response:

"The version you have is the newest version of the bivvy (the 'SOL
Thermal Bivvy'). We got rid of the foot vent, because it added complexity to the
sewing pattern with no real benefit - extensive real world testing showed us
that the foot vent didn't reduce condensation by any noticeable amount. The best
way to avoid condensation with the bivvy is to keep the side vents open. By
design, the fabric is not breathable, since this is primarily an emergency
product whose main attributes are that it is totally waterproof and windproof -
as a result, condensation is a fairly inevitable result when using the product.

Let me know if you have any further questions, and thanks for your purchase!


Product Marketing Specialist
Adventure Medical Kits

Bottom line: AMK's emergency bivvy's are meant for emergency use. Yes, they can suffice for minimal pack gear. Be aware you may have condensation problems and be prepared to get up and re-warm/dry out next to a fire or towel off with your shemagh. Otherwise it should work fine. I will definitely use mine again, following those provisos, as the weight trade off is too good to pass up.

Now, a friend of mine [JASONHCC / BCUSA forum review: Bushcraft U.S.A. AMK SOL Escape-Bivvy ] has purchased AMK's latest emergency bivvy model, the Adventure Medical Kits "Escape bivvy" and he reports no condensation problems whatsoever. He has also purchased the very recently introduced olive drab model, a useful color for more tactical applications. I have not tested the Escape, and cannot validate his observations, but he is an expert woodsman and I trust and value his opinions. I may have to purchase one of these improved models for my own kit at some point in the future and relegate the old bivvy to a day pack kit or emergency vehicle bag.

If you are interested in AMK's products, visit their website at  Adventure Medical AMK offers a complete line of well designed, quality made, medical and survival related products for outdoors men and women which can be viewed on their excellent website. Locally a good selection of AMK gear is available at SLO CAMP N PACK. The store staff is very knowledgeable and can assist you in selecting useful gear for the trail.

Safe Hiking Trails!

Goblin Ranger