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Cold? Wet? Open Up This 62-Year-Old Sleeping Bag in a Can

The Sleeping Bag in a Can Was Real and Fantastic

It’s vacuum-packed in a can like Spam. The external markings on Kul’s model indicate the bag was part of a U.S. Air Force contract. The contract number is difficult to run down, but it appears the sleeping bag was part of a contract for 1950s-era F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighters. That makes sense since the bag, sealed in a can, is clearly meant to be used only in emergencies.

Why would the U.S. military pack sleeping bags in metal cans? Goose down is compressible, but it’s also really difficult to get all the moisture out of a down bag if it gets wet (unlike modern nylon shells). If an emergency sleeping bag gets wet in storage you might not notice for years, and by the time you really, really need it you could be left with a mildewy mess. Thus the impenetrable metal can.

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  • Snakepit Kansas January 7, 2018, 1:03 PM

    That is really cool. I have an “emergency” 1,000 round container of NATO 9mm in the same style of can. I hope I never have to open it.

    Much of my hunting and camping gear is US military issue. I have traveled the world using my Dad’s old USAF B40 flight bag.

  • ghostsniper January 7, 2018, 1:37 PM

    Just about all of my army TA50 gear was mostly useless compared to what is available in the civilian market. I left an army issue arctic cold sleeping bag under dense shrubbery’s in the medium strip of I-5 somewhere east of SanFran in 1980, I just wasn’t gonna carry that heavy thing anymore. The sleeper in my BOB in my vehicle weighs less than 2 lbs. Still have most of my TA50 gear, including another arctic sleeping bag, but never use it.

  • BillH January 7, 2018, 1:39 PM

    That stuff was indestructible. After a 23 year career, I turned in most of the same gear I was issued. (Probably the only separatee who ever turned in his GI stuff.) Did shred a couple of flying suits on airplane innards and had to swap them out. In the early ’60s we were still being issued IF rations (field rations for flyboys) made during the Korean war.

  • Snakepit Kansas January 7, 2018, 3:01 PM

    I received three sets of heavy weight BDUs at work from an engineering intern who was prior an Army officer, in about 1997. I’ve hunted using those woodland pattern cammo sets since in KS, CO, OK, TX, WVA and South Africa. Over time, I have acquired and upgraded cold weather gear with a mix of military issue and commercial (Coleman) and am completely satisfied with the party mix. Yes, in most cases, newer technology gear is better than old!

  • Sam L. January 7, 2018, 3:39 PM

    Unless those sleeping bag outers are waterproof, or otherwise well protected, the down can still get wet. And then it’s worthless.

  • Casey Klahn January 7, 2018, 3:44 PM

    The air force is stupid when it comes to sleeping bags. One guy, with shitty info, trains the next, and on and on. Institutionalized stupidity.

    Try that shit on Mt Everest and see if you survive. You won’t of course. Mountain climbers (light years ahead of the AF when it comes to cold weather) use high-end goose down even today, because you don’t get wet in the Himalayas or the Alaska Range, unless you piss in your bag, spill boiling water, or walk snow in on your boots and step on your bag. Manmade fibers, such as Primaloft and Polarguard and the like don’t survive compression. This can, and the heavy-duty compression bags the AF survival staff use, will crimp and bend the synthetic fibers so their useful life might be one arctic season. Stupid. Also, they weigh too much.
    Casey Klahn, former mountain guide, REI Climbing Lead, and army infantry officer.

  • Casey Klahn January 7, 2018, 4:19 PM

    I gotta admit, that guy is funny. They don’t say the insulation type in the vid, but history and experience would say it’s down.
    When I worked at the REI store by the AF survival school (SERE), the instructors would come in with a purchase order to buy anything they wanted in a sleeping bag; seems they were deploying to the North Pole next. I would give them the riff about the types for extreme cold, insulation news and all that, but strongly recommend they buy the down ones, because they’d retire from the air force with a useful bag if they did, but the synthetics, as I reported above, would be severely beaten by the time they compressed them again and again for a year.
    They always bought the Polarguard bag (among the worst for longevity) and also a compression bag, and reefed it down to what was still a larger medicine ball than a like-temp down bag. Like I said, one guy teaches the next, and on and on.
    BTW, I outfitted the group noted for dying on Everest in 1996. Err, wait. Anyway, true story.

  • Harry January 7, 2018, 5:11 PM

    Casey Klahn, “One guy, with shitty info, trains the next, and on and on. Institutionalized stupidity.” Sounds like our public education system. And the stupidity is growing.

  • Casey Klahn January 7, 2018, 6:02 PM

    Harry: agreed.

  • Gordon January 8, 2018, 1:47 AM

    BillH, I turned in my parka. It was the snorkel kind that would keep you warm at -40. I still regret that; they probably threw it in a pile for disposal.
    Casey, I understand why folks climb Everest, but I also don’t understand. Once you climb above 14,000 feet you start dying. From there it’s a race to get up and down before you do die, and you’re making decisions with an oxygen-starved brain. And if you stumble and fall, no one will help you because if they do, they miss their chance at the summit. And a certain number of climbers get brain swelling, and that can kill you, and no one knows who will get it–and if you do, there’s a good chance that no rescue is possible. Oh, and Everest is a dump. No one will expend energy to carry down trash, or oxy tanks, or dead bodies, or feces.

  • MSgt Milo January 8, 2018, 1:52 AM

    When a compressed down bag needs to be deployed In frigid weather the first thing you need to do after unwrapping it is to unzip it, take hold of one of the long s end and vigorously shake it for a few minutes. This action stretches the shell fabric and helps separate the clumped up down feathers in their cells. Next gather it up in a ball and bang it all over with your hands for a little bit. This action further separates the down so air can become trapped between the feathers in the cells. When you are ready to get into it spend a few minutes “fluffing “ the bag from one end to the other so the feathers are more evenly distributed in their cells. When you get in the bag zip it closed and then wait a few minutes to let some of your body heat start to warm it up inside . Now you can start to remove a layer of clothing at a time. Your body movement in the bag will help generate warmth. Place the articles of clothing between your body and the inside of the bag . Continue removing layers of clothing until you are sure that you will be comfortable while sleeping without getting warm enough to sweat onto the clothing you keep on and have stored around the inside of the bag. Waking up to 49 below zero Alaskan morning with sweat soaked clothing that needs to be immediately donned is a terrible way to start the day.
    One more thing. Evergreen boughs make a great sleeping platform. Use many as it will be comfortable to lay on and insulating from the cold ground.
    MSgt Milo, Ret.

  • ghostsniper January 8, 2018, 4:22 AM

    Pull the cones off them pine branches, but yeah, you’re right.
    Leaves tend to layer up and block air whereas the needles tend to crisscross and let air flow.
    I have a down jacket that gets the washer/dryer treatment at least once per season and the down tends to bunch up in the various hemmed in areas. I read somewhere that to fix this you put 3 tennis balls in the dryer and they beat the devil out of the clumps. Makes a helluva racket but seems to work well.

    Unless I’m spending a lot of time outdoors my normal winter outgear are down vests and I have about 10 or so, all subdued colors. Easy on easy off, huge pockets, very comfy. Snaps not zipper, short collars that don’t jag into the chin. Soft and conforming after a couple wears. Most come from Lands End but I stumbled upon some at JC Penney’s recently and bought 4. The jury’s still out on them but I mostly like em.

    Right now I’m researching Thermals as the ‘spensive ones I got at Cabella’s 12 years ago have continued to shrink when washing and I gave them to my wife. I liked em but I believe there is better technology out there now. And the prices have went thru the moon.

  • Casey Klahn January 8, 2018, 6:54 AM

    Ghost, I regret buying the wool t-shirt at Cabela’s. Shrunken and holey and after only a few years.

    Sgt. Milo, you know your shit. The video guy never fluffed it out, I noticed. In an emergency, the foot box is big enough for footwear; that part was authentic. Don’t forget to place your boots in the foot area, or possibly next to your head and neck, to keep them from freezing. Also, your water bottles go in with you. In a hurry, and without an ensolite pad, you can sleep on your climbing rope. That’s a Russian trick.

    Gordon, I was leading a group on Mt Rainier, and ran into Simo, who had just returned within the month from Everest. He had led the expedition where they searched for and discovered Leigh Mallory’s body (damn near the top, on the North side). I asked him how creepy that was, but he said, no, it was very cool.

  • ghostsniper January 8, 2018, 9:27 AM

    @Casey, real wool is unbelievably expensive now. I have a couple pairs of long sox that are supposedly 100% wool but how do you know for sure unless you sheared the animal yourself? Most of it seems to be cut with polyester but is still expensive.

    If the temp is below freezing and you sleep in the bag with them on you’ll probably get frostbite the next day. Air them dawgz out! I do my best sleepin when it’s very cold. My dreams have dreams. Yeah, I go all the way down and when I come back it was like I was in a coma.

  • Gordon January 8, 2018, 10:30 AM

    I sleep well in the cold also, Ghost. But my best insomnia cure is a thunderstorm. I can fall asleep in a tent with thunder roaring, wind howling and rain pelting.

  • Casey Klahn January 8, 2018, 12:52 PM

    I see how my comment leaves you thinking I’m wearing my boots in the bag. Not what I said at all, but not the worst idea if the Hun are only 40 yards to your front, and it’s a ridge top foxhole. In that case, wear your boots, and sleep hard (I mean ready). Shit on your shovel, and throw fling it forward. Bet the ladies’ll never get into that part of combat. (forgive the second-hand story)

    Next time I’ll tell you about the time the brigadier general found me airing out my trenchfoot behind the command tent…firsthand story.

    Wool still functions in its own right, and in a few roles it beats all the manmade crap. The best socks I ever had were by Rohner, and were Swiss made by hand so the toecaps weren’t bunched where the machine needle quit. They were half aramid, half wool. None of that BS half cotton, half wool army socks for me. Fuckin army labs, anyhow.

  • ghostsniper January 9, 2018, 4:23 AM

    @Casey, I didn’t get that from your post.
    I think someone farther up the line said something about it though.
    If the bad guys are 40 yds out I ain’t sleepin, I’m shootin’.
    And I ain’t eatin’ neither, though I’ll be suckin’ down jet fuel like crazy and pissin’ it out in that grenade sump.

    Sleep in the bag with sox on and your dawgz will sweat soaking the sox causing ice to form when they are brought out into the frigid air. Take em off and let em dry out, rig a clothes line in the tent.

  • Casey Klahn January 9, 2018, 7:01 AM

    A trick I always used was to place my socks against my chest, under my shirt, while sleeping. never wettted-out and always toasty warm.