View Full Version : Bivy sac vs. space blanket

01-17-2003, 08:11 AM
I'm in the process of putting together my emergency kit for my Spikecamp. I want to be prepared for an UNEXPECTED overnight stay with out a sleeping bag. I am looking at the XPG bivy sac in Cabelas (got a couple of gift certs. burning a hole in my pocket) and would like advice. The alternative would be the space blanket "sleeping" bags ($10-$15). I have a lightweight tarp backed with the space blanket foil for a shelter (5x7 and grommeted at the corners), and wouldn't mind one of these bivis for protecting my sleeping bag when I get a tipi. My thinking is this...get the bivy sac and use it multiple times or get the space bag and be prepared to toss in the trash after poking holes in it. The blanket is definitely lighter (2 oz. vs 1 lb) and smaller but doesn't appear as versitile. I'd like to have the para-tarp as opposed to the el-cheapo model but I'm trying to save for the tipi! Any suggestion are greatly appreciated!

01-17-2003, 09:16 AM
I use the space bag for the emergency kit to save space and weight. If your planning on using it, I would go with the bivy sack or a tarp. I have both and carry the space bag unless I plan to be out.


Nevada Dan
01-17-2003, 10:40 AM
Ken, -Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but...
In a real emergency situation be carful counting on the 2 oz foil blankets. On your next trip out experiment with one, so you know what to expect. I did that twenty years ago on a search and rescue mission and realized it wasn't what I thought it was.(We found the lady. Upset, but in good shape). Peter Kummerfelt, a well credentialed survival instructor ( 30 yrs USAF Survival instructor/director, lectures at the RMEF Elk Camp) does a demonstration using a pencil for a twig. He puts a little tension on the blanket and pokes it with his “twig”. The blanket ( 2oz one) promptly tears from end to end like tissue paper making it useless.

Not trying to be negative here, just trying to encourage everyone to test their survival gear before the need it, so you know what you've got.

That being said, I still carry one- like you mentioned its a “weight thing”.

Peter Kummerfelt Link:
Click on Survival Kit order form for a list of his thoughts.

01-17-2003, 11:14 AM
ND- Thanks for the input and the link. I didn't think the space blankets were very durable but they are hard to ingnore for their size and weight. Hopefully there are some bivy sack users out there that will give me an opinion about this model or an alternative. This particular model is about $100, so I would like to get all of the advice I can before plunking the money down on something that I might need to count on. Maybe Patrick will intro his own model before I buy this one...

01-17-2003, 11:25 AM
Add serious firestarter. In a survival situation, the wood is often wet, too, so you need to be able to start some twigs and other wood while wet, and ring it with wet wood that dries out by the fire. Film cans with sterno, calcium carbide, or the commercial firestarters, with a metal match an lighter, are critical. Plus, if you are nearing hypothermia, your hand shake so it's got to be real easy to use, even when wobbly.

01-17-2003, 12:19 PM
Kevin- where do you find sterno or calcium chloride and what commercial firestarters would you recommend. I'd like to track some of these things down. What's the most cost effective? (read: cheap) Thanks for your input!

01-17-2003, 12:34 PM
Sterno at the grocery store, it's used for fondue.

You can also build little balls of IMR 4831 and nail polish remover, real cheap. DO NOT USE ANYTHING OTHER THAN IMR 4831, as the other powders may be unstable. (read; explodes just because it wants to.) Replace every season with new ones. The old ones get hard and don't work as well. Mix until it gets kind of wet and gummy and roll in balls. Let dry a bit and put in a film can or similar container. (From the old Colorado survival guru, Papa Bear Whitmore.)

Calcium carbide at REI or army surplus stores. Carbide is cool because it burns wet, combined with water it produces acetylene gas. But it needs to be replaced frequently as it tends to degrade over time.

There is other commercial stuff out there. I have no idea how good it is. This stuff is good. Of course, if you carry a pocket rocket, you have a firestarter, too, if need be and you don't run out of fuel.

Patrick also sells firestarter for his stoves, that I'll bet works good. I've never tried it.

Wiggy's has a "blast match" that supposedly works well. A good friend of mine in Grand Junction, not easily impressed, says it's amazing. I've not tried it.

01-17-2003, 12:42 PM
I'm not a reloader yet so I'll have to keep that one in mind. Thanks again for all of the tips and info! BTW...still giggling about the instability comment /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/laugh.gif

01-17-2003, 01:12 PM
Yo Ken--

Since you asked I'll chip in here. Don't know about you, but I simply cannot abide the constriction, the boredom, of a bivy. I suggest you try one before you "count" on using one. It's why I developed the Paratarp, which is what I carry and recommend.

For emergency Fire starter I'm still with Trioxane from the Army Surplus. Biggest plus is that it lasts forever, thus you never have to ask yourself if you "did" whatever-it-is to keep your starter up to snuff. Throw it in your Possibles Pouch and if, ten years later, you have to use it, it'll work. Incredibly lightweight too.


01-17-2003, 01:17 PM
I've been able to cut my daypack weight in half by foregoing the sleeping bag and bivy sack. Instead, I'm using the Wiggy's Arctic Parka that Kevin mentioned in place of a bag, and Wiggy's Cagoule in place of a bivy sack. Its a more versatile system because I can wear the cagoule when I'm traveling in a wet Cascade snowstorm. I can't wear my bivy... In a forced bivouac, my lower legs and feet would go into the emptied backpack and the cagoule covers the rest of me.

Kevin's right about firestarter, at least in my area. I've started carrying a 15' railroad flare for that purpose. Heavy but failsafe.

01-17-2003, 04:33 PM
Ken.. not knowing exactly what it is that you do or how late in the season you do it , giving you ideas good be narrowed down considerably . Seeing as how we are both from NY are you hunting in the Adarondacks? As well as others have said I would fore go the foil space blanket as well. I would much rather have a bivy bag for an overnight. The space blanket's insulative properties are only good when the sun hits it so for overnighting you would get just as much warmth from saran wrap. The bivy bag is a much sturdier to toss and roll in and wont open up once zipped in unlike the blanket. As far as fire starter I second the tioxane as Patrick said above 2 5 inch bars are .50 cents and a peanut size pinch will burn for 8 minutes.

01-17-2003, 04:45 PM
A space blanket in the wilderness is not to sleep in, it's to be used as a windbreak and to reflect heat back from your fire. Trying to sleep in it could get you killed.

Nevada Dan
01-17-2003, 06:11 PM
On fire Starters- Has anyone used cotton balls soaked in vaseline, stored in a 35mm film cannister? I exerimented with them in the kitchen sink (it was cold and dark outside, /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/smile.gif ) Good flame production, first from the balls, and then from my wife, BTW. I moved the tests to the backyard at that point. They're waterproof and do seem to have potential. Anyone test them in back country conditions?

01-17-2003, 06:38 PM
Patrick- I'll have to see about the para-tipi, first things first, and that will be a tipi. (Once I make up my mind on the size) Is it possible to have a loop sewn on the top of the para-tipi so you could get around having that front pole?

Dave Lowry- I can't swing the Wiggys gear at the moment. It's to bad I didn't know about his sleeping bags before I bought my Northface, his equipment looks to be first rate.

Dean- Yep, the Adirondacks. I'm very lucky to have them in my backyard, so to speak. I'm constantly finding myself further and further from the truck during deer season and I need to be better prepared. Looks like I'll be hunting down some of that Trioxane that you and Patrick speak of.

Kevin- I was looking for something small to help hold in body heat and break some of the breezes that are inevitable in a tarp type shelter. The feeling that I'm getting from most of the clan here is spend some money on a Bivy or Para-tarp and save the foil for cooking Brookies /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/laugh.gif

Nevada Dan- hopefully you got a good fire going after she booted you outside! Could get cold out there this time of year!

Thanks to all for the advice! (And humor!)

Nevada Dan
01-17-2003, 06:48 PM
Kevin, 4831 and Nail polish? A golf ball size lump and talk a hunting partner into lighting it ....just sit back and watch. Maybe a little cannon fuse coming out of the ball. I gotta try this one! I see some real potential here.

(Sorry, Kevin, I'm sure it works well. I just couldn't pass up the image my mind conjured up as I read it...) Oops, I just re-read the post,thats nail polish remover not nail polish.

01-17-2003, 07:19 PM
Dan, make them about deer pellet sized. A golf ball sized one would be pretty serious. Trioxane may just be better but I've always got 4831 and nail polish remover around. And since I have to keep the spike camp stocked, I can check this, too.

But if you have to choose between listening to me or listening to Patrick, pay attention to him.

01-17-2003, 08:18 PM

I've learned the hard way it's easier to just use a "pole" than to search seemingly forever for just-the-right limb to rope up to. Also, the stability of the tent goes completely to pot--it'll be doing the watusi in any sort of breeze. The Para's (either tipi or tarp) are low enough it's simple to break a stick and use as a front pole. Yep, you CAN leave the aluminum pole at home. BTW, of all the ramblings I've done over in the Whites I've still not made it into the Adirondacks, more's the pity. I've heard they're the real deal if you get back in a ways. You live in a good place, amigo.

Hey Lowry--glad you found your way back aboard. New format is different but has potential,eh?


01-17-2003, 10:22 PM
Patrick, thanks for the re-welcome. The board is first-rate, as with everything I've stumbled upon here on Kifaru.

I've trekked the ADK's extensively. Magnificent place. Mt. Redfield was named for one of my former bosses' granddad who was a leader of the survey team way back when. If I remember correctly, they trekked in up the Ausable.

Happy Trails

01-18-2003, 11:48 AM
I'll add my $.02. I use cotton balls soaked with Kroil oil (similar to WD40) for general firestarting aid. For emergencies I have a contraption of sorts that I make. I pour a bottle of cheap nail polish into a film canister and then mix in enough IMR4350 to fill within about a quarter inch of the top. Then I tuck a cotton ball into the to space and let it set up. A couple days later I soak the cotton ball with Kroil and then seal the whole thing with wax. These have proven to be waterproof for me and I have been able to light them with the spark from two rocks. (Just testing) Once lit they burn for about 10 minutes. Fortunately I have never needed to use one other than during testing but it is comforting to (As Patrick says) "be able to get a fire going underwater if you have to"! I would like to find an idiot proof way to do it one handed though. My current ignition sources are either not idiot proof or not one handed. Suggestions?

For emergency shelter I use a Western Mountaineering vapor barrie. I had to get it to keep from sweating my down bags full of water and its light enough and durable enough that I just carry it in my possibles purse. I haven't tried it yet but plan to see how low I can go with just the VB and a couple tear open hand warmers. I've read of people who go light overnight with just a tarp and the warmers. Now I'm curious.


01-18-2003, 06:39 PM
I have used the quality space blanket as a tent in the Alaska Range and spent a week under one. I agree that the light weight ones are not what I would call useful, but the thicker ones will work well. I would go with the bivy. Jim

01-18-2003, 07:22 PM
Nevada Dan

The vaseline soaked cotton balls (make sure they do not have any flame retardant in them) work very well here in the wet Pacific Northwest. I combine them with a metal match (ferrocerium rod). Learned this from Greg Davenport, another USAF survival instructor who operates Simply Survival.

Hope this helps, Buck

Dave R.
01-18-2003, 08:47 PM
Kevin or anyone else.....

I took and passed Papa Bear Whitmore's 2 day survival class years ago in Greeley. Does anyone know if he has a website or any contact info. He really knows his stuff. "There's no need to die in the wilderness!!!" (his trademark quote) I still have all of my notes from his class...priceless

Dave Roth

Nevada Dan
01-19-2003, 12:28 AM
Thanks. I was wondering how the Vaseline balls did in damp wet weather. Thanks also, for the name of the metal in the “metal match”, I always wondered what it was. As a side note, SAX (a reference book) says that many of the cerium alloys are pyrophoric. Like your instructor, Krumsfield is a strong supporter of the metal match (versus magnesium).

Kevin and Muddy Spud,
Thanks for the comments on the powder mixtures, I’m going to mix up a couple of batches . This is a brand new method for me.

- Dan

01-19-2003, 08:31 AM
I like the cotton balls soaked in vaseline for fire starters. You can use also use them for chapstick, hand protection, minor first aid, lubricate the seals on your lantern or bicycle pump.

01-19-2003, 12:26 PM
Patrick- Any time your ready to come out here and hunt for a week just give me a yell, I know of a few good spots.

Thanks again guys for all of the advice!

01-19-2003, 12:44 PM
I revamped my 'possibles' kit last year with the help of Patrick's essay on same and the Equipped (http://www.equipped.com) website.

I am currently carrying a paratarp and an oversized rain jacket (similar to Mr. Lowry's Cagoule) which serves as both raingear and bivy. [David, do you know the weight of Wiggy's cagoule?] However, Muddy Spud has a good point with his VBL bag. Both Western Mountaineering (http://www.westernmountaineering.com) and Integral Designs (http://www.integraldesigns.com) make a VBL suitable for an emergency bivouac. At around 5 ounces and $70- it might make a better choice than a bivy sack.

For firestarters, it is hard to beat trioxane for ease of use, safety, weight, no mess, etc. Brigade Quartermaster (http://www.actiongear.com) sells it for as little as .09 cents per one-ounce bar. I have also used cotton balls soaked in Vaseline (COTELINE). They work well but are messy and not as easy to use as trioxane. The first time I tried them was a rainy evening with a light (10-15 mph) wind. It took almost 15 minutes to light the Coteline balls sans matches after they had been submerged in water for a couple hours. The trick is to 'tease' them apart--a lot. Obviously they light much easier with a direct flame.

As I believe in redundancy when it comes to fire, I carry a butane lighter (0.8 oz), stormproof watches in a waterproof case (1 oz), and a Sparklite kit (~ 0.5 oz w/tinder). I heard about the Sparklite on the Kifaru board--the complete kit is a little bigger than a Zippo lighter and includes 8 waterproof tinder 'tabs'. The actual sparking unit weighs 0.2 ounces and operates with one hand. The Escape Co. (http://www.escape-co.com) has the best price I have found on the kits. The other one-handed ignition system is the Blast Match mentioned by Kevin. It throws a better shower of sparks but is rather heavy at 2.7 ounces.

I would avoid the magnesium firestarters that are so common. Having used them I find magnesium to actually be a poor tinder as it burns VERY fast, takes a long time to scrape together an adequate pile of shavings, and is so light the slightest breeze can blow it all away. You would be farther ahead with a metal match and trioxane (as Patrick lists for his 'possibles' pouch). Strike Master (http://www.gotfire.com) is the only place I know of on the web selling the basic 3/16 x 2" unit. Does anyone know of another source?

01-19-2003, 05:14 PM
shu ... http://www.gotfire.com or http://www.firestarters.com for magnesium

01-20-2003, 03:25 PM
Howdy shu,

The cagoule is size L and weighs 1lb 5 oz.

01-21-2003, 02:26 AM
Glad to see the board back up and running.

This is a miserable idea for weight but if you want to get serious about starting a fire under the worst conditions use a road flare.

Proven in Oregon where it sometimes rains.

I know, kinda violates the one match rule and certainly is not very Boy Scoutish but it will do the trick.


01-22-2003, 08:03 PM
I carry a silnylon poncho during three seasons as my emergency bivy gear. About $45 from Campmoor. 8 or 9 ozs. Comes in its own stuff sack about the size of a one lb. powder can. Large enough that you can tuck your legs up under it. Windproof and waterproof. Takes up about 1/4th the space of my mountain parka.

03-09-2003, 12:38 AM
I've used my Cabela's Bivy sack on summits of both Mt Shasta and Mt Whitney. I slept overnight in a hailstorm on one occasion and on snow on others. Tent space was available, but it just felt good inside the bivy sack. That would not have been true about the space blanket. Before I purchased it I used space blankets when wind made it very uncomfortable on the Pacific Crest Trail deer hunting. It saved the night, but made my sleeping bag soaking wet, and required me to return to my truck the next day. Also, it was in no condition to shelter me another night. It would have been awful if it had rained. I would not leave camp without the bivy sack these days. It is a great piece of gear. I use one of those aluminum white gas canisters filled with good old kerosene for fire starting. If it will burn at all, kerosene will get it going. I use the X-Large Longhunter and love the gun bearing system.

03-09-2003, 01:16 AM
Boy, Great thread.

Lots of good tips and tricks here.

I didnt see anyone mention it, but about those space blanket things... They work great as long as they they do not touch you. If they come in contact with you, they will release heat conductivly at the contact point (which makes them pretty useless as a sleeping bag liner...unless you just want a vapor barrier).

I use a Bibler Hoop Bivy and have had great success with it.I know alot of people dont like the claustrophobic feeling bivys can give, but because the bibler has the Delrin hoop for standoff, and does not need staked down, you actually have really good freedom of movement. I have regularly waited out a storm by sitting up, leaning back in it, reading a good book, eating some MRE crackers with peanut butter and generally having a good ol' time.

03-10-2003, 04:04 AM
Rick- is there room in that bivy for a long winter sleeping bag and myself (6' and 190 lbs)?
Like I mentioned at the top of this thread, I've got a gift certificate for Cabelas and I still haven't found anything in there that I would rather have at this time. Thanks.

03-11-2003, 06:47 AM
I disagree with the durability judgement of the "space blanket". The whole issue here is weight vs. strength. Sure there are much stronger options, but nothing as compact and light. I have used a space blanket for days at Navy Survival school and SERE school. They were strong enough, but noisy at night in a group situation. I have spent many nights "Siwashed" on a mountain in the Brooks Range (on purpose)waiting for morning to chase some sheep. The technique is to cary a space blanket, 4 clothes pins (plastic squeeze type), a candle and a paper cup. Turn the cup upside down, cut a hole in the bottom, stick in the candle, sit down and place it between your feet. Wrap the space blanket around you and clothes pin it shut. The candle provides the heat and the foil traps it. After a miserable night, break out your titanium small pot, 2 trioxene bars and Nesbit stove. Heat the water and drink tea and honey or hot chocolate with your favorite energy bar (I like Cliff). Loosen up your muscles and you are ready to shoot your sheep.
Obviously, with slightly more and heavier gear and access to wood, I could be whole lot more comfortable. However, the above gear is always with me and works above tree line.

Ed C
03-11-2003, 06:26 PM
That's a great idea for heat, but you get one hole in that space blanket and the wind will rip it to shreds. I'm afraid people that lack your experience in survial are going to end up in a bad way. I had an Airforce survial instructor expose the myth of space blankets. I'll never pack one again. I don't think anyone should carry anything for survival they haven't tested themselves.


03-14-2003, 06:25 PM
Burt- Whats the stuff size and weight of the Wiggy's? They don't post this info on their site. I would like to buy American if at all possible. Thanks.

03-14-2003, 06:38 PM
By the way, I have to say thanks to RLA for his first reply, I forgot to give thanks as your reply seemed to mirror my thoughts, sorry on the "lag" time here, I re-read the whole post to make sure I didn't miss any thing and lo-and-behold...I did, sorry... thanks again RLA