Submitted October 4, 2011

Ol’ Fat Lady Survival Adventures #1

Over many years of reading a variety of survival, wilderness camping, emergency preparedness, etc. manuals, I have noted a disturbing omission. These learned tomes will include, after listing all the must haves for a bug-out bag, the phrase “Be sure to take into consideration the very young and the elderly in your preparations” without going into much detail beyond special medications and disposable diapers as to what considerations may need to be made. Having progressed well beyond very young, I felt it was my duty as one of the “elderly” (an opinion expressed by my children and grand children who are no doubt experts) to undertake some experiments involving a variety of survival materials usually touted in preparation instructions.

As a test subject, I feel that being a woman within kissing distance of 60 years old, overweight, arthritis in both knees and hands and asthmatic, I represent some fairly common physical disabilities that mature individuals can be expected to have. On the other hand, I do camp every weekend year round and have for many years so it is unlikely that I will run into situations I can’t handle and very little of the equipment will present any surprises. I have a place to experiment where I have access to a variety of locations, yet close to supplies and accommodations in the event the experiments fail. Better now than under critical conditions. I also have a giant bearded assistant who encourages me by asking “Darlin, are you really going to sleep in that little tent in this weather?”

In preparation, I garnered ideas from a group of individuals of varying degrees of fitness (or lack thereof) and of a like age. Showing a somewhat sexist bias, the consultant group was all female. I suspect the men did not want to admit they had no idea what I was talking about. The discussions encompassed a range of potential situations, needs and some fairly outlandish possible solutions. (How about building a fire in a [nylon] tent to keep it warm? No. Just a small one? NO. Maybe in a can or something? NO!) The consensus seemed to be that getting cold and/or not being able to keep warm was the primary concern. Thus it was decided that the initial experiments would concentrate on keeping dry and warm in various weather conditions. Other aspects of the camping and/or emergency preparedness could be delegated to future experiments.

Searching about on the internet (I will miss it so much when civilization falls) and using a variety of books as reference, I formulated a few plans for initial experiments. They involve using a small portable tent that can be hidden in the woods (sorry you folks living in the desert or wide open plains, you are on your own). A small tent will retain human body heat better than a large one and can be packed up and carried without too much stress. Perhaps it can be insulated, shielded? How about those emergency mylar things that everyone sells as emergency tents, sleeping bags, blankets, etc. It must be kept light and must be easy to use. It also must be affordable. Sounds like a plan.

I acquired 3 small triangle tents (2 person allegedly), 3 emergency tents (also allegedly 2 person triangle tube tents), and 3 emergency sleeping bags. I already had a bunch of emergency blankets (they make great stocking stuffers), a 20-degree down sleeping bag that doesn’t fit around me any more, a lightweight dark green nylon tarp with black paracord at all attachment points (no one should EVER go into the woods without a tarp), and a 4 inch foam sleeping pad (it is hard enough being old and crickety without having to try and sleep in one of those stupid 1/2 inch foam pads, it isn’t that heavy and there are some lines I will not cross). My experiments will take place in an eastern temperate forest, in the foothills and beginning in October when the weather is unpredictable and potentially cold and rainy.

EXPERIMENT #1 - October 18, 2008. light drizzle, daytime high around 55, expected nighttime low is 37 degrees F. Excellent experimental camping weather. The scenario running in my head as I prepare is that we have to camp in the open, there may be falling debris from above, perhaps some weather or geological event. There may be a bunch of people, I totally grab the most level spot, slightly elevated to prevent swamp syndrome (finding your tent surrounded by an inch of water and soggy wet ground in the morning). I will be using the 2-person camouflage pup tent, an emergency sleeping bag, my sleeping bag and pad with a polartec 300 blanket and 2 poncho liners as blankets.

The camping site is in an open field, next to the woods. The ground is a tiny bit softer than cement, cold and damp with a wispy and not very cushiony layer of grass. Gusty winds from the northwest bring a heavy misty chill. Perfect.

I had my tent still in the unopened box, just as most people would who have not used their emergency equipment before they need it. It weights 3 1/2 pounds. Very light and compact in its cute little duffle bag. My emergency sleeping bag was still a crisp little rectangle in its original packaging. Other supplies are in a black contractor trash bag. Dry supplies are happy supplies.

My first thought was that since the tent is new, it no doubt leaks like a sieve. Most inexpensive (I hesitate to use the word cheap) tents claim to be seam sealed and waterproof but it is pretty common to find yourself sleeping in a pool of water, especially with a wonderful woven polypropylene bottom that can serve as either a bathtub or watering trough. Now the bottoms are usually VERY watertight. I have seen people in new tents in a downpour actually floating in 8 inches of water on an air mattress. Funny as the dickens but not an excellent survival scenario.

The little tent was easy to set up, the stakes are a nice steel and strong. I needed a hammer to get them in the ground. {NOTE: add hammer (w/stake puller) to bug-out bag.} The poles are 3 section and pop together like a breeze. One question: on a camouflage tent, which would imply a desire to hide or at least blend in, why have bright, brilliant white cordage? Is it to prevent the people hunting for the tent from tripping in the dark? Sure the cords will get all muddy and cruddy before long but why not go with at least tan or even black? {NOTE: replace cords with camo nylon cordage}

It was still drizzling so I put my tarp over top of the tent and tied it to the corners. Better safe than soggy.

If this is a 2 person tent, those persons are very thin and get along very well. It is 5 feet wide at the widest but that is all up under the angle of the sides and 36 inches tall at the highest little pointy part. It seems sturdy and well made. It even has tie-outs on the sides to make the interior a little bit less confining than a large bread-bag. There is a supporting pole in the middle at each end which means the actual entryway is supposed to be 2.5 feet wide, which it is at the very bottom. The usable entryway is about 4 inches narrower than my butt. Fortunately the sides flex. I wedged my foam pad in there and it fit beautifully. It is 24 inches wide. It even left some room on the other side of the tent for supplies, incidentals and my Rottweiler Tony who MUST sleep with me or he will have a breakdown. I figured he would add to the heat generated in the tent. The ground is very hard and since the tent is very low, kneeling down was required to go in and out and set things up inside. The pain was inexpressible. The world was blessed with muffled “ow ow ow ow ow” as I crawled in and out. {NOTE - add foam knee pads to bug-out bag or a foam kneeling pad/seat} Theft of my assistants’ foam hunting seat to use like a little doormat solved the problem. Relief was instantaneous.

Stuffed the sleeping bag in there and the blankets. Put down a rug for the Tony dog and unwrapped my emergency sleeping bag. First of all, it says to put it over your sleeping bag, which would make it an emergency sleeping bag cover not a sleeping bag. It is certainly long enough, and wide enough to do that. However, it is simply a long tube. It does not open like a sleeping bag. It is like a giant silver trashbag. Are you supposed to put it over your sleeping bag and then wiggle in using your Olympic gymnastic abilities? Or are you supposed to get in your sleeping bag and then somehow pull this very flimsy silver bag up over it? No freaking way was this ol’ fat lady going to attempt either of those scenarios. As I contemplated this large silver bag, another horrifying image leapt into my mind. As many mature women and some men know, sometimes late at night one can awaken from one of those mysterious dreams where you are wandering in the woods, or a castle, or some other unlikely place looking for the bathroom . . . when your clever brain wakes you up, you need to get outside of that tent RIGHT NOW. Encased in a sleeping bag covered in a plastic sheath with no opening, there is no way that is going to happen. The horrible image of a giant silver caterpillar shrieking “Oh my God! Oh my God!” catapulting from the tent (perhaps bringing the tent down as well - remember that tiny little opening) and writhing on the ground in the cold rain is just not something I wish to be a part of.

A command decision was made to put the excellent emergency sleeping bag under the cover of the sleeping pad, under the down sleeping bag. It is certainly large enough and much longer and sturdier than just an emergency space blanket. And night fell.

The tent’s little (seriously little) window was closed, the door “storm flaps” were tied and the screens zipped up. I snuggled into my sleeping bag, covered up with the polartec blanket and a poncho liner and prepared to sleep the night away. It was coldish out there but my site was level and I was comfy. Tony dog, my temperature gauge, was curled up tight next to me under the other poncho liner. I am pleased to report that there was not even a cool spot coming up from underneath. Later in the night, I have no idea what time, I kept feeling a shuddering go through my sleeping pad. It was the Tony dog, with no emergency sleeping bag under him, shivering so hard his teeth chattered. I pulled the sleeping bag out from under me and put it over both of us. Even then I did not get cold spots from underneath, the emergency sleeping bag/pad worked like a champ.

There was a great deal of condensation the next morning on the tent walls. Things were a bit damp around the edges. Wet is never good. I believe more ventilation is needed. Once Tony stopped shivering, the rest of the evening and a good bit of the morning was spent in blissful slumber until awaked by my darling assistant who “just wanted to see” what it looked like in there.


• The tent is a little small but doable for one big fat woman and a dog (or child or tiny person maybe), with room for some supplies.

• The emergency sleeping bag seems a bit deranged as a sleeping bag but is awesome underneath a sleeping pad to shield from the cold ground.

• More ventilation may prevent condensation (another experiment ahead)

• When the ground is hard, pad your knees somehow - pain is bad.

• Put a mylar shield under the dog (or child or tiny person) too - it is only fair.

• You need a way to hammer in the tent stakes and pull them if the ground is hard.

• Do not lose the little cords the tent is tied up in, you will need them to hold the little duffle bag closed, it goes back into the bag but there is a lot of strain on that zipper.

- Marsha Verber

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