Extremely small cold weather survival

With the “epic” blizzard that just hit the East Coast I wanted to give you a couple of extremely small and compact winter survival tools that will help you maintain core temperature in the most extreme conditions.  As a note, if you live in a more temperate climate, keep in mind the fact that most cases of hypothermia happen when the temperature is in the 50s.  Why?  It’s the perfect temperature that encourages activity, sweat, lighter than necessary clothing, and big temperature shifts due to the sun.  In other words, this is something you need to know regardless of whether you live in Alaska or Hawaii.

In the picture below, I show a shelter system I use that has worked very well for me and Ox has used down to -10 with only pants and a T-shirt on.

Display Images To See The Picture

Figure 10 – Left: SOL emergency bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits; Middle: Bag Liner; Right: GI Poncho;

On the left we have the SOL emergency bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits.  Many 72 hour kits come with Mylar bags, but Mylar tends to crinkle and tear.  I oftentimes wonder how many people selling 72 hour kits with traditional mylar blankets have actually spent a night outside using one to keep warm.  Over the years, I’ve gone from being mildly annoyed with these cheap sheets of mylar to *almost* getting to the point where I think it’s criminal negligence to include them in entry level kits.  Why?

Normal mylar emergency blankets, in a word, “suck.”  Of those who have actually used them and made it through the night using one, I wonder how many had a blanket that was still holding together enough to use for a second night.  If you doubt my assessment of traditional mylar, pull out one of your mylar blankets/bags and see how it performs.

And if you really want to test it, let it ride around in a backpack or in your car for a few months and see how well it holds up.  I would bet you that if you’ve got a traditional thin mylar blanket for more than a year and try to use it, it will fail immediately at the fold edges or corners.

They ARE functional, WAY better than nothing, and provide more heat retention per ounce/dollar than almost anything else you can buy, but they do have serious shortcomings.  If you know them and are comfortable with them, you won’t be disappointed by them in a survival situation, but if you naively expect them to be more than they are, you’ll be disappointed.

The SOL bivvies that I show above are flexible, don’t tear, cost less than $20 and they still reflect about the same amount of heat as Mylar. They are great tools.  In addition, they’re a lot quieter than Mylar.  If you’re a light sleeper, like I am, this makes a huge difference in your quality of sleep.

(Ox’s note:  I met with the SOL guys at SHOT Show, told them about the tests we’ve done, and they returned the favor by telling me about some AWESOME new products that will be coming out this year.  I saw a lot of things that I’m not supposed to share the details on and I believe these fell in that category, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know I can share the details.)

The middle bag in the picture is a Sea To Summit / Thermolite bag liner. A bag liner like this one will add 10 or 20 more degrees of temperature rating to your sleeping bag, regardless of whether it’s a bivvy or a full fledged sleeping bag. These will allow you to use the same 30 or 40-degree sleeping bag year round by letting you simply add a liner for three and four season camping.  The one I use (+15 degree bag liner) adds 15 degrees to ANY sleeping bag.  They also make a +25 degree bag liner.

A big reason to use bag liners is that if you’ve ever backpacked for a week or two, your bag can get to smelling pretty funky. A bag liner allows you to take the bag liner out and rinse it off in a stream every day, giving you a much-much cleaner smelling sleeping bag.

When combined with the SOL bivvy, it gives you a little more insulation and warmth in a small, lightweight package.

Another practical use for these is to carry them while traveling to avoid bed bugs in hotels.

In any case, what I do is use the bag liner close to my body, and the bivvy outside of that, and the reason I do that is for flexibility. On a very warm evening I can just use the bag liner or nothing at all, but I like the bag liner because it gives some instant protection, and on a little bit cooler evening, I can use just the bivvy or a combination of the two.

I’ve used this combination successfully down to -10 degrees, outside, on the ground, with no supplemental heat or cover.

If you start out cold or can’t get warm, this setup has the added benefit of reflecting the majority of the heat put out by chemical hand and body warming packets.

One thing that you’ll learn, and you’ll learn it faster the colder it is, is that you’ll lose a lot, if not most of your heat to the ground in this setup.  To combat this, you want to insulate yourself from the ground.  If you don’t have a camp pad, pile at least 6 inches of leaves, pine needles, or other debris that is “cushy” and traps plenty of air.

In a rain situation, it’s hard to beat a GI Poncho like the one shown on the right (photo), and specifically a poncho with grommets on the corners so you can make it into a tent. The “tent” doesn’t have a bottom, it doesn’t have walls.  All it has is an A-frame roof, but with the combination of these three items you can have shelter in most situations.

As a note, if you like this type of material, it’s a tiny component of the Fastest Way To Prepare course.  To learn more high speed, usable, and practical tips, tactics, and tricks for surviving any disaster that man or nature can throw at you, check it out by going >HERE<

About David Morris

David Morris is the creator of the Survive In Place Urban Survival Course, the Fastest Way To Prepare Course, Urban Survival Playing Cards, Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, and other books, courses, and articles on preparedness, survival, firearms, and other tactical topics. He lives with his wife, 2 boys, and 2 dogs.


  1. Is the SOL bivvy breathable? I’m not spending any more $ until there is a breathable one available. I have spent a night in a “plastic bag”. Did not like it at all!!

  2. Tom Sumrall says:

    I have spent many nights under my SOL blanket, as well as those mylar sheets. they can be used for many things, but a blanket is not one of them. Even the SOL needs to have an insulating layer, I use one of those cheap flannel throws, both will fit in a small carry bag, I keep one set in my go bag, one in my car bag.

  3. Joseph-Lee Morehouse says:

    Thank you for the information.
    I haven’t been camping in about 30 years but do remember the cold nights and old burlap blankets that were line with some sort of plastic fiber , they were heave but warm , never did find out who made them.

  4. Two of the things that is so often overlooked is:
    1) Your health, the ability of the body to gear up its internal metabolism to keep you warm. One of the big issues is that municipalities dumping of fluoride into our water system. The fluorine competes with iodine- an essential element for the thyroid. Actually there is a helpful antidote for fluorosis – boron, which you should be able to research. Fluorine is also a neurotoxin. Boron is also and essential mineral for the body despite the propaganda that has been levied against it.
    2) The foods that you chose to eat. Ask your self how the Eskimos are able to stay alive in extreme conditions. In the book “Kabloona”, Gontran De Poncins writes about a Catholic Priest that lived in a shelter cave scraped out of the side of a cliff at Pelly Bay. He was able to keep his dwelling at a comfortable 50 below zero. He said you can’t survive on a typical white mans diet. Most people might need a better sleeping bag than what is mentioned above but that Priest seemed to do well with what he had.

  5. LtColCrash says:

    Hi All,

    Understand the man-made versus synthetic materials. Much akin to emergency food kits, they cater to those with hearty & healthy immune systems. I’ve had one manufacturer email a reply to me that it was not cost-effective fro them to produce and to sell foods for the small percentage of the population who are doing their best to make lemonade out of bodies that are lemons.

    That said, i’m i/s/o legitimate suggestions not a pity-party nor to be rescued. I am fully aware that ‘only the strong survive’ and while my head and heart are willing, my body will not necessarily follow.

    Is there a snowball’s chance in H— that you can host a sidebar “conversation” offerings of possibilities for those of us who are challenged??? (And yep, as a retired LEO and now an RN, I get it the usual CYA “disclaimers” … so no need to go there, pls?)


    • LtCol;

      I’m there with you. Yeah, I was on Everest (not the top), but that was nearly 26 years ago. Since then, I’ve had 3 shoulder surgeries and two knee replacements. The body is not what it used to be. Earlier, I suggested to Diva that she and David start a column or blog on what value we older folks might be to the younger crowd after SHTF. What we can bring to survival, and when we “get in the way”. Survival suggestions, etc. Perhaps your suggestion will kick something off along this line.

    • Hello Crash,

      Not sure if I fully understand you, but this link might help: www.thrivelife.com/c/sites/default/files/ThriveAllergensReport.pdf It’s a chart showing common food allergies and food storage items from Shelf Reliance.

  6. Thanks for the info. Not having camped for an extended period of time, I was unaware of the possible odor problem that an unlined bivvy or sleeping bag can cause. Also, you brought home to me the need for foot warmers in my particular case. I have neuropathy of the feet, which causes numbness and even pain, but I know from experience that I have a very difficult time sleeping if my feet are cold. I will be remedying both these problems shortly. Thanks again.

    • Doug;

      Back in ’89, there was an expedition to Mt Everest that was build around my research program — energy metabolism under extreme conditions. The expedition purchased fantastic down sleeping bags — one for each climber and climbing Sherpa. As I was working for the US govt at the time, I also handled all logistics, including being the recipient of all our supplies that were shipped back to the US in June of that year. When I opened the plastic barrels which held the sleeping bags, I nearly vomited from the stench! It is AMAZING how much stink the human body releases in its sweat, even though you may not smell it when it is cold (VERY cold, in our case). But, when “things” warm up, look out Mama!

      Along these lines, it is amazing how much water vapor is given up by the body while in a sleeping bag, even when the outside temps are well below zero (F). We would wake up and, before trying to get back into our clothes that were stored in the foot of our sleeping bags, we would fluff up the sleeping bags to break the layer of ice that had formed on the top side of it — the result of evaporated moisture that migrated from our body through the sleeping bag during the night and then froze on the top surface when it hit the cold air inside our tent.

      The big complaint I have against the “space blankets” is that they retain all that moisture that would otherwise evaporate from your body, and this trapped moisture then lowers the temperature of the surface of your body. David has some good recommendations here, ones that are designed to prevent trapping of all that moisture. And, I agree with Stephane — wear as little clothing as possible when getting into your sleeping bags when it is cold (assuming that you have a good sleeping bag). The worst thing you can do is to trap that moisture against your skin over night. When on Everest, I never got full naked, but kept my underpants on — to try to keep from leaving those infamous skid marks on the inside.

  7. In the military, Alpine troops, in Europe, during the late sixties, early seventies, I had to teach my soldiers many things. One of them was how to sleep well in a snow hole. I always laid my skies bindings down in the snow, covered them with a blanket, put my sleeping bag on the blanket, laid my clothes on the floor of my sleeping bag, went in the bag naked, even if it was -30 on top of the mountain. My 1/2 tent covered my hole, my ski pole created the ventilation and a small 6 hours candle warmed up the sleeping quarters. The candle was on a small shelf on one side of the hole. My boots were stuffed with newspaper lightly crumpled, and put in my rucksack as a pillow. After two or three nights in these conditions, most of my soldiers,a platoon, did the same, and we slept just fine. Another candle helped make breakfast while we got dressed in WARM, DRY clothes. Even the boots were a pleasure to put on. All leather boots. I also taught my soldiers that there were only two fabrics to have straight on the skin: wool, or silk. Above that, NO COTTON EVER. That was in the 60s, when man had not yet created all those sweat inducing nylons, and other fabric created with 2 Litters Coke Bottles,( fleece). I have taught survival in mountains to many since, and many have thanked me. I NEVER wear man made fabrics. Just on the outside, if I do not have a good WOOL coat, ( peacoats are so great). Not too many people can buy cashmere, but I would rather save my money and spend well than buy anything man made.

  8. David, it looks like these come in both regular and breathable. Do you have a recommendation? Thanks

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