Originally published on 12SEP2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Last week, we introduced the idea of using Michigan backpacking and camping as a fun recreation that has an ancillary effect of helping Michigan families prepare for emergency situations. Today, some traditional backpacking gear will be examined, and how it relates to a preparedness and survival situation. While gear isn’t necessarily as important as skills or experience, starting with gear may help those new to these outdoor recreations accumulate gear that can have multiple uses besides merely backpacking. First, shelter is a very important survival requirement. Insulating one’s self from the elements is necessary in many weather conditions. To do this, tents and sleeping bags are used.

For a tent, backpacking requirements force most people to consider an ultra-light three-season option. These tents are generally designed to withstand high winds, and the use of technologically advanced materials and engineering concepts make them both lightweight and rugged. If part of your emergency preparations may require you to hike out of an area on foot or in a makeshift “vehicle” (such as a flood), then a small, easily carried tent will be more manageable than a car-camping intent tent. Some more hardcore “survivalists” are concerned about EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) weapons used against the United States which may disrupt many forms of electronics. These individuals speculate such an attack would destroy the electricity generation infrastructure of an affected region, and may even destroy handheld or battery operated devices (such as a car’s engine controller or a cell phone). For individuals with this level of concern and preparedness, an ultra-light backpacking tent is ideal if their plans involve hiking, biking, or skiing to a “bug out location”.

For others, a car-camping intent tent is ideal. It is larger and more spacious, and will allow greater storage of family and stuff. For plans to stay with relatives where room may be at a premium, or plans to “bug out” to an evacuation area by motor vehicle, this option may be ideal. (As a note, if emergency preparedness plans for any family include “bugging out”, it is best to have routes, permissions, and area knowledge of the destination). For widespread evacuations, having a family sized tent may bring a greater sense of comfort and “home” at a relocation center.


Sleeping bags are a second item to help insulate people from the elements. Where the tent shields people from rain, sun and wind, a sleeping bag shields its occupant from the cold. There are many factors involved in choosing a sleeping bag, and since it is such an individual choice, there is no real one-size-fits-all solution. In general, sleeping bags are rated to a certain temperature. This is a general rating only, and some peoples’ comfort ranges are different. To achieve that rating, insulation is used. Insulation can be natural (goose down) or synthetic. In general, goose down is more compact and lighter for the insulation it provides, but is very susceptible to being wet. Once wet, it will not provide insulation. A synthetic insulation is slightly heavier, and typically does not compact as well as down, but these tend to maintain their insulative qualities.

For purchasing a a sleeping bag that can double-duty as a piece of preparedness gear, my recommendation is to get something in the 15 degree F range with synthetic insulation. Especially in Michigan, where rainfall and dampness is common, a synthetic bag will be a more versatile tool.

To store sleeping bags, do not leave them compressed in their storage bag, for easy retrieval in a go-bag or 72-hour bag. The continued compression can cause them to lose loft, and thus lose insulation rating. Store the bag in a breathable cotton bag that is big enough to store loosely. These are best kept in a very large tote or seal-able tub until they are needed.