Remembering the G.I. Issue Extreme Cold Weather Down Filled Sleeping Bag – Used: While looking over current offerings of sleeping bags I found something familiar. In fact, I spent nearly a week in one of these during an Alaskan winter many years ago when it was the only choice I had. And I mean I literally spent a week in it, in miserable and exposed conditions, and stayed pretty warm. Army surplus may not always be the lightest choice for backpacking, and I’d guess you can find sleeping bags a little lighter for a few hundred dollars more than this one (just under $100 at Out in Style), but you probably won’t find one that’s more durable.
My father owned one of these which he took on his yearly hunting trips to Colorado and lent to any of the neighbors who also needed something indestructible and warm. After about thirty years of occasional use it still had plenty of loft and an interesting campfire smell that never went away. If you use a bag like this more often — say, sleeping in it every night for about two years like I did with a down bag of mine when I came back from Vietnam and couldn’t get warm — the down will lose its loft and its insulation value. For ordinary uses, well, you’ll have this bag until you give it to someone else. Military gear isn’t pretty but it lasts.
After the week I spent in winter survival training that year in Alaska I was a sold customer where it comes to down bags. I recall we had half a day of educational lectures and a tour of the nicest log-walled survival hut you could ever imagine, only four feet in height but wind-proof and clean, with a nice fireplace built in one wall. Then we were turned loose in teams of four to build our own, with the restrictions that we could not leave the marked area of scrub and forest that we used for training. The post commander was concerned we might deplete the natural resources of the area if we wandered too far. So we had to use whatever had been left behind by the previous classes, which wasn’t much. Our survival huts had lots of holes in the walls and were built of dead branches and twigs in a latticework about an inch thick in the good spots.
So while the officers snuggled each other in that ready-made log hut, tossing an occasional pre-cut chunk of firewood in the fireplace, we crawled into our G.I. issue down sleeping bags in a steady arctic breeze behind a windbreak of twigs and snow and expected to die. But we didn’t. These bags are good. I don’t remember hardly anything about the rest of that week except how warm it was on the inside of that bag.
Times change and so, inexorably, military gear also changes. The new “modular sleeping system” introduces hollofil insulation and a streamlined design lacking in the older army surplus down bags. Designed for temperatures from minus 30 degrees F. upward, the four-piece system includes a bivy sack for protection from rain and wind, and a stuff sack. You’ll be prepared for nearly anything.