A review of the model 65 Swiss army sleeping bag

In case you’re wondering, no, this older model Swiss army sleeping bag does not feature a corkscrew or a can opener. ;) What it does offer, though, is warmth, durability and excellent value. I picked mine up almost two years ago for 17 Euros/22 Dollars. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a steal at that price.

This sleeping bag was originally issued to Swiss troops as part of a three-piece sleep system (which I’ll get to later), but of the original system I only have the sleeping bag shown here. Some specifications:

Materials: There are no markings on my bag which would indicate what it is made of. Various online shops list the exterior/interior lining as nylon and the fill as polyester.

Dimensions:

  • From head to foot: 87″/220 cm
  • From shoulder to foot: 75″/190 cm
  • Width at shoulders: 30″/75 cm
  • Width at foot: 24″/60 cm

Weight: 3.8 pounds/1.7 kg

Temperature rating: It seems that there’s very little information available online as to the temperature rating of this bag. I have used it in the summer with just my skivvies and in spring and autumn down to about 2*C/35*F with long underwear and thick socks and have been comfortable. As a result of some recent cyber research, I’ve found three accounts of the extreme temperature capabilities of this bag: -10*C (14*F), -15*C (5*F) and -20*C (-4*F). Not having solid information, I’ll have to do some field testing this winter to figure out how well it works for me at low temperatures, but more on this later.

Fasteners/Closures:

  • Extremely rugged zipper
  • Flap running the length of the zipper, closed with four snaps
  • Drawstring around the hood

The first thing I noticed about this bag was it’s size. It’s no small-fry. Most likely, a troop would be wearing a considerable amount of clothing inside the bag while sleeping, so some wiggle-room would be desirable. The materials of this bag are extremely rugged. The fact that my bag was made in 1978 and looks/functions almost like new is a testament to that. Being on the tall side, this large sleeping bag fits the bill for me very well, especially since I like to move around and change positions often. There aren’t any pockets or other extra features to speak of, but I don’t feel that I’m missing anything with this bag. Overall, it does what a sleeping bag is supposed to do and doesn’t cost a lot by any means.

The original system. The sleeping bag is inside the bivy bag here. (image linked from online shop)

As mentioned above, this sleeping bag was originally issued as part of a set, which included the sleeping bag, a fleece liner bag for increased warmth, a waterproof bivy bag for the outside and a stuff sack. I’m guessing that the extreme temperature limits I found online apply for the three components used together. Not having the original issue bivy or fleece liner, but wanting to get the most I can get out of the bag, I decided to “reconstruct” the system. I bought an Italian military surplus bivy bag for 9 Euros/12 Dollars when I purchased the sleeping bag and, more recently, a lightweight summer sleeping bag for 6 Euros/8 Dollars which fits perfectly inside the Swiss bag. I think this configuration should work about as well as the original system. The weight of the reconstructed system is 3.5 kg/7.7 pounds total, and the price was 32 Euros/42 Dollars.

What’s left now is to test the configuration at various below-freezing temperatures, which I will do over the next several months. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. If it ends up not being warm enough, I have another sleeping bag which also fits very well into the Swiss bag and is rated to a much lower temperature than the summer bag mentioned above, so there are multiple combination possibilities there. As an aside, I wear all my layers of daytime clothing (except my outer pants and jacket) when winter camping, which obviously improves the temperature capability of any sleep system.

Though I can’t provide information on winter performance at the moment, I can say that at this point I highly recommend this bag as at least a 3-season bag down to 2*C/35*F with suitable undergarments thanks to its heat retention, ruggedness and price. I have seen these sleeping bags available at various online stores, so they are readily available if you are interested in getting one!

Old Man Winter cometh

Update: If some of the images in this post don’t load, please refresh the page and see if they appear. I think I’m going to have to switch from Photobucket if this problem with images continues! Argh!!!

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We’re not quite there yet here in Southern Finland, but soon the temperature will stop peeking its head above 0*C/32*F and will remain below freezing until sometime in March (or later, if you’re far enough north), with the accumulated snow sticking around for a while after that. Depending on where you are in Finland, winter can last from 5 to 7 months or so, and temperatures can drop to -40 degrees or colder, so if you don’t enjoy winter sports and activities and can’t stand prolonged periods of darkness, you might have a hard time here. I take these temperatures and conditions as somewhat of a challenge and have, over the past few years, come to not only tolerate the winter, but embrace it (a few outings from last winter can be found here, here, here and here). No bugs, no rain, silent forests, gorgeous scenery…what’s not to like?

A few shots from last winter:

But as I said, we’re not there yet. We’re still in the late-autumn/early-winter phase of freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw etc. Here in Southern Finland we got our first dusting of snow last week. The Woodsboy was ecstatic about it. He’s now old enough to have vague memories of last winter and he begged me to take the sled out of storage, which I did. He’s chomping at the bit, but I told him we need a little more than a light dusting before I can pull him around. :)

On Sunday we took a drive to the Gulf of Finland to get out and enjoy the unusually sunny weather. Definitely doesn’t look like winter here yet:

Just a few yards/meters away, everything was covered in frost:

And ice is starting to form on still water:

In just a short while it will be time for snowshoes, fur hats and heated tents. Ice fishing for perch and building fires on the snow and ice. Tracking animals in the fresh powder and photographing frosty forest scenes. Camping on top of 4 feet (over a meter) of snow and relaxing by fire- and candlelight through the long, dark nights. I’m looking forward to it and I hope you’ll join me!

Rollin’ with the changes

If you’ve been following my doings for any length of time, you’ll know that I used to spend most of my outdoors time at my mother-in-law’s forest property before my family moved this past summer. Since our move, I’ve been bouncing around pretty wildly between different locations (Nuuksio National Park, Pukala Recreation Area, Hanko, Scandic Woodsman’s property, Florida, New Jersey, Estonia etc.). This phase is winding down now, and most of my upcoming bushcraft, hiking and camping trips will be spent in national parks and recreation areas, i.e. public wilderness, though I hope to visit Scandic’s slice of forest regularly as well. This transition from private to public means that my gear and methods are undergoing a transition of their own to reflect the fact that I cannot cut green wood or harvest (most) firewood, spruce boughs and other resources from public land. This post will show how my gear selection is evolving to suit my new situation.

The biggest difference in my experience now is the way in which I get wood for cooking and heating. Whereas I used to use my axe or hatchet to bring down dead small trees and saplings, this is both illegal and unnecessary at national parks and recreation areas. Just about every public laavu (wooden lean-to shelter) has both a fire pit and stocked wood shed. All that’s needed is to cut the wood to burnable size with a saw (usually provided) and split it with an axe (also usually provided). It can then be burned in the designated fire pit, wood-burning stove etc. You might think that this eliminates any need to bring a saw or axe at all, but I do prefer to bring my own. Sometimes, the provided tools are dull and/or not in the best of shape. I like to bring my own tools because I am familiar with them and know I can trust them. Also, if I were to always rely on the public tools, I might be surprised and disappointed should I find that someone who was there before me had misplaced them!

Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe

The fact that wood is now easily available means that I no longer need the extra power of my 3/4 axe (handle: 26″/65 cm, head: 2 lbs./0.9 kg) for chopping and heavier splitting. In my new setting, it’s “too much tool”. More appropriate now is something along the lines of the Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe (handle: 20″/50 cm, head: 1.5 lbs./0.7 kg) which I used off and on a few years ago (shown above). It’s smaller and lighter, yet it handles the splitting and carving tasks I have to do, and can be stowed inside my backpack, which is less off-putting to non-axe freaks out there in the public realm. In short, it’s sufficient for the axe work I do in public wilderness areas. Also, since the same type of wood is available all year round, the seasonal switching back and forth between a small hatchet and 3/4 axe doesn’t apply, so the LHA can be my year-round axe.

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But what if I’m not near one of these shelters and I want to cook a meal or boil some water? It is legal to collect dead branches and sticks (but not dead trees) from the forest floor and use them in wood-burning stoves and the like, but this is not always a resource that can be relied on, especially in the winter. This is where my alcohol stove from OZme at Bush n’ Blade comes in. Compact and lightweight, this stove will come in very handy in those cases where using wood is not feasible or practical. Just add fuel and light it up!

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In the “old days”, I used to cut off a small birch or willow branch or sapling and use it for roasting sausages over a fire. Instead, I now carry a telescoping sausage roaster given to me by my wife’s grandfather, because cutting live trees on public land is a no-no.

The most frequently used bedding material at my old campsite was spruce boughs or small bushy plants, covered with a thin foam sleeping pad or lamb fleece. Since collecting live spruce boughs (which doesn’t hurt the tree, by the way) and other plants is no longer an option, I have added a second thin sleeping pad to my bedroll, which does the trick.

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The last change isn’t a result of the new circumstances, but one that just makes sense for other reasons. While my canvas rucksack serves perfectly well for trips lasting longer than one night, I will be using a more modern pack for those trips instead. While going through some things in storage, I found my “old” pack, which is actually much newer and modern than the canvas pack I regularly use. For the heck of it, I loaded my gear inside and put it on. Sure enough, it carries a full multi-day load better. As I said, the older canvas pack works just fine, but why not use the one that works a bit better and get some use out of it? Another nice benefit of the modern internal-frame pack is that it is easier to travel with, i.e. on planes etc. Its shape and configuration make it better suited as “luggage”, and since I have to carry everything I travel with in that bag (including things like my boots, a carry-on bag and other stuff which I would not normally have inside my pack while wandering the wilderness) around airports, on ferries and trains, etc., the load-bearing benefit of this pack comes into play again. For day trips and one-night camping trips, however, my canvas pack is still No. 1.

It figures that after years of trial, error and testing to figure out what equipment works best for me, I would then move to a different area and place myself in different circumstances! ;) But seriously, these changes are not at all major, and not much to adjust to. In fact, most of these changes will result in making things easier and more convenient, which I really can’t complain about!

Autumn wreath – A blast from the past

Whilst on a brief excursion to the woods back in 2010, something inspired me to gather up materials and hastily fashion a small autumn wreath to take back home to my wife. As you can see, I’m not exactly a florist.

(Please let me know, and blame Photobucket, if the picture doesn’t appear!)

I used willow branches for the frame. The decorations are cowberry leaves and berries, spruce sprigs, bilberry leaves and some kind of small flowering plant. If I make one of these again, I think I’ll spend a little more time and make it a bit fuller and neater. :)

Altoid tin survival kits: yea or nay?

A seemingly popular item with many a bushcrafter, camper, hiker etc. these days is the Altoid tin or pocket survival kit. These small kits contain many useful and essential items which can come in handy should you get in trouble in the wilderness. At least this is the theory behind them.

(Not my image – Linked from Field & Stream)

I personally don’t have any kits like this. It’s not that I don’t see their theoretical usefulness, but whenever there’s at least a chance that I’d get caught in a wilderness survival situation, I will have with me (at a minimum) my belt pouch, which in my opinion contains more rugged and practical items:

(FYI: For those of you who have not seen this setup before, there are matches and a small ferro rod in the birch bark case, a needle in the pouch with the small fishing kit and several tools in the knock-off Swisscard (tweezers, toothpick, small blade, screwdriver, file, mirror etc.), in addition to the items which can be clearly been seen in the picture.)

Truth be told, I’d probably have my shoulder bag as well, which would make an Altoids tin survival kit even less needed. “But Weekend Woodsman, what if you lose all your gear, what then? Wouldn’t it be good to have a last-ditch kit tucked away in your pocket?” Well, my belt pouch is my last-ditch kit, and if either my thick leather belt, pants or the pouch belt straps are ever damaged heavily enough that the pouch is separated from me, I’m probably in the kind of situation where I’m going to need something a lot more substantial than a tiny pocket survival kit.

Since Altoids tin survival kits are mainly intended for wilderness survival, as they contain items for fire starting, signaling, water purification etc., I don’t see how useful they’d be if carried in a pocket in the city. How about in the car? What if I break down in the middle of winter on a back road? That’s what the emergency kit in the car is for, which contains food, blankets, flashlights, firestarters etc. etc. etc. In other words, for me personally, I just don’t see the need to have a small pocket survival kit.

Please don’t see this post as a serious criticism of these kits and the people who use them. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert or anything, so if you are a fan of Altoid tin survival kits, please take this post as a challenge, rather than taking offense. :) Tell me your thoughts on them and convince me why I’m making a mistake and should have one!

Something worth learning

On our daily walks around the neighborhood, the Woodsboy likes to point out the different plants I’ve been teaching him about. His favorite is yarrow. He also knows dandelion, mugwort and stinging nettles. He knows blueberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, lingonberries and, most recently, blackberries. His tree repertoire includes pine, spruce and birch. I can’t remember back to when I was three-and-a-half years old, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t able to identify that many plants, berries and trees.

Now, I’m not telling you this to boast about my son like some parents do. All little kids soak up information like a sponge. It’s amazing. What prompted me to write this blog post was one recent occasion when he started naming one plant after another to me and then singing “Mugwort, mugwort, yarrow! Mugwort, mugwort, yarrow!” as we continued along. His enthusiasm and excitement about a part of my hobby (or passion, you could say) made me feel proud and pleased. Rather than memorizing Pokemon characters (or whatever the latest incarnation is), he was learning about something real. Something of substance. Nothing amazing, but still, something worth learning.

In a world where kids are constantly bombarded with loud, flashy cartoons, video games and amazing toys, a lot of things worth learning are often left by the wayside. Valuable things which used to be part of our daily lives in a simpler and less artificial time (don’t even get me started about morals and ethics). I think the lack of knowledge and appreciation for the natural world seen so often today is sad, which is one reason why I am trying to learn all I can and pass that on to the Woodsboy now that he’s old enough to begin understanding some of it. Although I have always enjoyed camping, hiking, bushcraft and being in nature, the bulk of what I know and have done is from relatively recent times, just the past 5 years or so. My wish is for it to be second nature to the Woodsboy.

As we walk along the paths each day, I’m delighted when he asks, “What’s this plant, Daddy?” and then embarrassed if I don’t know the answer! I can only hope that he maintains this interest, because there’s so much more I want to teach him about the outdoors and about life. So many things I’ve learned and have yet to learn that I think would enrich his life and serve him well. His curiosity gives me hope that his knowledge and experience will far surpass mine one day, and that I’ll have to ask, “What’s this plant, son?”.