... And a Sleeping Bag Story!

Thought I'd relate a story about a sleeping bag that I borrowed from my husband to camp in for a weekend in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in March, in 1993.

My husband is in the Canadian Military and he has a large warm sleeping bag that comes with three layers, a (very narrow) Therm-a-Rest and a Gore-Tex bag, called a bivy bag.  (Short, no doubt for bivouac).

Because it was March and there was still snow and ice on the ground I fretted about being warm enough at night.  So he carefully tied everything together for me, so that I would be comfortable, told me how to arrange everything and off I went.

The first night is often the worst when camping in the cold.  The sleeping bag has a lovely (olive drab) flannelette bag that is the first layer.  This is put inside a 'summer' weight sleeping bag, which is then put inside a winter weight sleeping bag.  Each layer has a series of little tags of cloth so that they can be tied together so that they don't shift around (and strangle you in the night!!).  The Therm-a-Rest is this wide (picture me holding my hands about 12 inches apart), unfortunately, I am this wide (picture me holding my hands farther apart!!).  This would mean that I would have to sleep on my side, because I would otherwise have at least one hip hanging over the edge.  The tents were on wooden slat platforms - not terribly warm at that time of year - and since we had put the tents up when we arrived, they were not entirely clear of ice and snow themselves....

The Therm-a-Rest, with the sleeping bags on top, gets shoved down into this bivy bag - big enough to wrap up a mummy's sarcophagus, I'm sure.  And stamped in large no-nonsense letters, is the warning, DO NOT PULL DRAWSTRING TIGHT - MAY CAUSE SUFFOCATION.

The sleeping bag and flannelette liner were shaped like a mummy too, and when I got in, I discovered that there was no way to reach my feet.  They were so cold I was SURE they were frozen, and I desperately wanted to get my hands down to them to warm them up.  Drawing up my knees only folded the sleeping bag in the middle, trying to bend over and burrow my hands down, made it only to my knees.  The zippers on the bags only opened 36 inches, and I was sure my feet were past the frost bite stage and well on the way to frozen solid.  It never did occur to me to pull my whole body out of the bag so that I could reach my feet!!!  I finally decided that I would have to have them amputated in the morning, rolled onto my side, ducked under all those layers and, finally dozed off.

I feel that I have to tell you what I was wearing at this point.  I had a balaclava on - backwards.  This is a bank robber hat, for anyone who isn't sure and the eye holes and nose hole were at the back of my head.  I had a thermal undershirt, a t-shirt, a sweat shirt and a sweater on.  On my lower half I had long underwear, track pants, and a nice pair of (frozen) socks.

The zippers on the bag were unzipped about 12 inches, to afford a breathing hole, because all the warnings to the contrary about my breath condensing
inside the bag and making me colder (not likely - I think that was impossible!) I could not keep my face out in the air.  It was -26 Celsius, -14 Fahrenheit (I had to run upstairs and look at the thermometer to figure that out!) and one little layer of hat didn't cut it.

At some point in the night I rolled over.

Away from my breathing hole.  Remember the bivy bag and it's warning?  Well, my breathing hole must have vented into the hood part of the bag, but the spot where I was when I woke up, evidently didn't.  I woke up because I couldn't breathe!!!

After what seemed like an hour, I managed to get my left hand up even with my face, then burrowed through all those layers, and up over my head, and out the hole of the bivy bag.  And I pulled that hole down around my face!!!

I'm sure that if there had been any light to see by, I would have presented a pretty comical sight, as I lay on my back, with my hat on backwards, and my eyes as big as saucers, panting for all I was worth... for about 5 seconds, before I realized how COLD it was out there.  Then I rolled back over to my breathing hole, cautioned myself NOT to roll over again, and went back to sleep.

For those of you who have made it all the way to the bottom of this; I thought I'd let you know that when I woke up in the morning my feet were fine!

Thanks for reading, hope you thought it was as funny as my husband did when I returned the bag to him!!

Jane Maddin
1st Orleans Pathfinders, Orleans, Ontario, Canada - 
Guide Zone Gatherer of Games, Inspiration and Themes

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This page last updated April 12th, 1998