A natural approach to sleeping

For those of you who have seen some of my past projects and tests you’ll know I like to recreate kit to my own specifications with natural materials. Things like my version of the Frost River Royale Junior rucksack made from an old canvas tent, a wool blanket hoodie based on my favourite hoodie, my version of the Keela Harris Tweed Smock made from a wool blanket and buckskin, leather mittens with wool liners, Ventile waterproof trousers… you get the idea. Well this winter my sleep system has got some of the attention as it was a choice of renew my well used sleeping bag system or create something new.

Before I get into the detail it’s worth explaining that I make stuff because it gets me exactly what I want rather than because it’s cheap. I had this conversation with someone on Social Media recently as they were shocked at the price of some piece of kit they fancied having. When you make you’re own stuff you appreciate that things out there are often worth every penny. The idea of “that’s expensive” comes into play most often when the desire to have an item is a want rather than a need or you simply don’t appreciate how hard it is to make it in the first place. For example, I need a sleeping system for work that keeps me safe all year round so I’ll happily spend hundreds on achieving that. I want many custom made knives but I don’t need them so I don’t buy them. My only bug bear is when you know the person making the item, in some far off land, hasn’t seen a fraction of what the item sells for but that should by no means downplay the skill involved.

I can hand on heart say that the bedroll project you’re about to see was not cheap but it does what I want. Again for reference 4 metres of high grade 12oz canvas at about £15 a metre plus 5 metres of high grade cotton flannel at £12 a metre, plus the duvet… Hopefully you get the idea.

Invest in what you need and ignore what you don’t. So with that in mind let’s see how the project went.

The Initial Concept
For years I’ve used, loved and recommended the Snugpak Special Forces 1 & 2 combined system. It works for me all year round in some pretty harsh and warm conditions. But the thing is it’s far from being natural materials and at home I’ve come to love the wool duvet we use. There are also instructors on the team that use traditional bedrolls made up of wool blankets and pins. So the idea was to create a modern take on wool blankets using the Snugpak system as inspiration. A quick trip to the Woolroom round the corner from Woodland Ways HQ secured a factory seconds, all year round, double duvet (a heavy and light duvet that connect together). Next up was some 12oz Cotton Duck Canvas for the outer shell and 100% cotton flannel for a cosy inner liner. N.B. The duvet was returned for having a black mark on the bag it comes in and the retail price was reduced by 50% – still not cheap but with wool from the Chatsworth estate just up the road and being natural materials it was the whole point of the project.

All the components needed for the project ahead.

The overall plan was to create a square duvet cover that would wrap around into a tube and zip closed to act like a sleeping bag so that the duvet itself didn’t need to be modified. Plus it also had to open to enable the two separate duvets, that connect together, to be taken out to make allowances for different seasons. The trouble was no matter how much I researched I could find no concrete answer as to how temperature ratings for sleeping bags related to TOG ratings on duvets so this was going to be a bit of a leap of faith and an experiment. And also the main reason I wanted the duvets to be unaffected by the build was that the back up plan was to use them in the spare room at home for guests if all went wrong.

The Steps

The Finishing Touches
The icing on the cake was someone locally also offered out a very handy bedroll carrying system via Freegle that their dad had made many years ago and was kindly gifted to me. The foot box means the whole system can still open right up but my feet won’t get a draft and it also acts as the bag to stow it all in. As usual it’s been a team effort with technical support (aka my wife) but I have to admit we were both really pleased with this one.

Carry handle attached.
Made and modified from an old briefcase.

Put To The Test
Looking good and being natural components were important but ultimately what mattered was did it work and compare favourably to my Snugpak system? Well it was a baptism of fire as it was completed just in time for the first course of the year back in January where it hit -7c overnight and the ground was frozen solid. I’m pleased to say it performed well but did require one minor tweak. I’m a fidget when I sleep and all my moving allowed the outer edges of the duvet that sit above me either side of the zip to slip down a little causing a cold spot. It was an easy fix with a few more velcro tabs on the inside of the cover but it did mean the duvet itself had to have some adding as well, so my desire of no changes to that had to be relaxed.

It’s now been out several times throughout the remainder of the winter and I’m now looking forward to taking one of the duvet layers out as the weather warms up to see how it goes as a warm weather option. At the moment I’m very impressed that a duvet system designed for use in a centrally heated house has stood up to some pretty harsh temperatures. It’s fair to say it’s not small or lightweight but as course kit involves dutch ovens, nearly two hundred kilograms of water and session kit, lightweight wasn’t the goal.

I’m not sure what the next project will be but rest assured it will be something that plays a key role in my life as a bushcraft instructor and it will be designed to do exactly what I want it to do.

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