The JakPak (and Cheap Alternatives)

Photo by Jakpakjackpak survival suit

This is how they'll find you in the morning, except you'll be dirty.

I’m sure there’ll be many rave reviews about the JakPak, a two pound survival suit combining rain gear, bivy bag and tent in one neat $250 package you can wear like a rain jacket. I do admit I’d love to try it out for a night or two, but the price is too high for me. I can imagine all sorts of reasons I wouldn’t like the JakPak, but that’s just me. I’d rather be wet than wear rain gear unless it’s a howling storm and I’m miserably cold, and whenever I do minimal camping I wind up building the things I left behind. So for me at least, the JakPak holds little attraction. It’s the concept I like — emergency gear that’s lightweight and will pull you through bad situations without serious damage. In that sense, the JakPak is a good idea, with all the pieces of gear I’d normally carry for emergencies and rarely use. I just don’t have the money in my budget for a $250 rainsuit when I can put together something for much less that’s actually more comfortable and practical — and allows me to wear my regular denim jacket instead of musty rainproof nylon.

If you do wind up sleeping in the JakPak it will either be as a test of the gear or because there’s no other option. This isn’t a comfortable approach to camping and not a piece of gear people will use on a regular basis. Although the company says it’s a three season suit, that doesn’t count winter, and winter tends to encroach deeply into either spring or fall and sometimes there’ll be a few days of winter even in summer, depending on how high you are in the mountains. I saw no details on the Jakpak site about temperature ratings — any sleeping bag will have that information up front, because a bag that’s toasty warm at thirty degrees will be pretty useless at zero. I will assume from the lightweight construction that the JakPak is a fifty degree suit, meaning you’ll only be marginally miserable in it when the temperature drops that low and you’re trying to sleep. I’ve spent quite a few nights doing that with less gear, or the wrong gear, and it’s a horrible thing to contemplate once that’s in your frame of reference. It could keep you alive in a bad situation, and that’s reason to have such a thing with you, but you’ll be much better off if you have some sensible survival skills and use them as well.

My picks for a lightweight and economical alternative survival kit:
Army Nylon Camping Parachute Hammock w Sack
Space Brand Sportsman’s Hooded Blanket (Blue or Red)
Mylar Emergency Survival Sleeping Bag (Package of 2)
About $62.50 for new products on Amazon today.

As an alternative, for those of us who don’t have a lot of cash to toss around, many cheap pieces of survival gear can add up to something as good as the JakPak or even better, at a lower cost. Space blankets weigh only ounces (about three for the least expensive) and make serviceable groundcloths or rain gear. Eighty percent of your body heat reflects back to you from the reflective aluminum foil in the blanket.

That sounds good, but it’s a twenty percent loss and it still gets cold under one. I have tested the space blanket in cold conditions and found it helpful but miserably cold. In warmer weather, such as the aftermath of a summer storm in the middle of the night, it’s a bit better. Expect to be wet when the air is warmer, because the moisture your body vents will condense on the inside of the blanket — nasty but tolerable. Heavier versions can be used more than once without being ruined, but where weight is a concern the three ounce version is enough for emergency planning. Switch them out every year, otherwise you’ll discover as I did that over time the layers tend to weld together into a lightweight but useless lump. Always smart to check your gear now and then to see if any of it actually works — I learned that lesson at home and was very happy the secret wasn’t revealed when I actually needed the emergency warmth.


Might as well wear
a suit designed for
nuclear and biological
attacks. About as comfy.

Camping hammocks have been one of my emergency staples ever since jungle survival training in 1970. Our training sergeant recommended we put one in our personal emergency gear before shipping out to Vietnam, since he had personally found them handy while sleeping in leech-infested swamps. I almost never use one because I don’t like sleeping in hammocks, but I’ve frequently carried mesh pocket models as emergency gear. In the summer it’s a very useful piece of last resort equipment, keeping you off the ground and away from ticks. Mosquitoes will still find you a joyous feast, since they’re able to penetrate thin nylon cloth with their bloodsucking beaks. Hammocks are a cold way to sleep unless the night air is about eighty degrees, so if this is a regular undertaking a fleece blanket or fleece sleeping bag liner certainly enhances the experience. The better camping hammocks include rain-flys and no-see-um mesh, and you’ll be back up near the cost of the JakPak if you buy the top grade ultralite hammocks with all the extras. For the budget-minded the parachute cloth styles work well enough.

Rain gear is something I hate to wear but always take. It won’t keep you dry because of the sweat and condensation underneath, but there’s a warming effect and it does protect from the wind. Ponchos will cover gear as well as body, and with a little expert rigging double as a rainfly. I always avoid rain gear until I’m soaking wet and miserable, because if I put it on while I’m dry there’s a rapid decline to soaking wet and miserable before I begin to see the contrast between inside and outside as a good thing. Good rain ponchos may be all the tent you need if you’re a diehard ultralight traveler. I’m not — I prefer some level of comfort.

Bivy bags — and the JakPak’s sleeping bag feature is certainly a bivy bag style — offer minimal warmth, minimal protection against damp cold ground, and minimal insect barriers. Add to that minimal comfort. A groundcloth, sleeping bag and tarp offer very similar shelter without the bug barrier. In a bivy bag, built with a water repellant bottom half and a permeable top half, you’ll be unable to roll over without screwing the system beyond hope. Some people sleep like that. I roll over every five minutes, and in small spaces I leap into the air and spin before landing again. I’m not much in favor of bivy bags and would be as happy sleeping in a trash bag.

My advice is to skip the JakPak completely unless you’re fashion conscious and proud of buying the most expensive gear available. Put together a small emergency package instead — rain poncho, parachute hammock, space blanket and DEET mosquito repellent — and you’ll be better off for less than half the cost. Everything fits in a day pack easily, which is where you’ll be putting the JakPak on most days anyway.

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