Military Sleep System Review
Just recently I had purchased two of the newer issue military sleep systems (one in the older woodland camo issue and the other in the newer ACU/digital camo) to upgrade some of my existing bug-out gear. I wanted to take some time in this post to do an in-depth review.
Overall Production Quality
First off, I love the fact that these sleeping bags are American made (made by Tennier industries). So much of the outdoor gear you find at many of the largest outdoor vendors is China made — which as a rule I try not to patronize if possible (not always easy I know).
What you’ll notice off the bat is the high production quality of this sleep system. The zippers are large and durable, do not snag and are designed for quick exits in an emergency. The material, made of resistant rip-stop nylon, is light-weight but does not feel “cheap”. Whether you’re looking at the straps, buttons, or fabric, you can tell that great care was taken in choosing the right kind of materials to support our soldiers in harms way.
Even with many of the higher-end vendors (TNF, Mountain Hardware, REI etc) most of the China-gear they sell — although lightweight (this seems to be the only important factor nowadays for outdoor enthusiasts) — much of it will not hold up to the rigors that soldiers or someone bugging out will put them through on a day-to-day basis.
The modular sleep system is made up of 4 components.
The outermost layer consists of a 100% waterproof Goretex bivy sack. For those not familiar with a bivy sack, it’s essentially an outer shell that acts as the most basic of shelters — protecting the user from exposure to the elements such as rain, wind, and snow. The next two layers consist of the Patrol Sleeping Bag (rated to 30 F) and the Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag (rated to -10 F).
Each layer is designed to be used independently of one another or combined as needed depending on the climate. For example, when you combine all three of these layers together, you have a sleep system rated for -30 F.
The final component is a compression stuff sack, which allows you to compress all the layers down to around a cubic foot as seen below:
The obvious advantage to this set up is the wide-range of temperatures and climates that you can use this system in. And since it includes a bivy sack, you can leave your tent at home — saving you extra weight when bugging out. It’s your one-stop shop to keeping warm and dry.
Assembling the Sleep System
Putting the sleep system together is a fairly simple task. If you’re sleeping in warmer climates (> 30 F) then just combine the bivy sac with the patrol bag. For temperatures ranging in -10 F to 30 F just the Intermediate Cold Weather bag in combination with the bivy would be used. And finally if you’re looking to sleep out in -30 F to -10 F then you’ll need to combine all the bags together.
To assemble, each bag is fitted with a number of snaps that allow them to be used with or independent of one another. This “mating of the bags” so to speak ensures that, when combined, they act as one unit. The advantage of this is that you won’t get tangled in multiple layers of bags through the night — very problematic if you’re needing to egress the bag in a hurry.
Testing and Ratings
One thing you’ll want to note is that all military gear is tested. Therefore the ratings and specifications are always candid and accurate. Unlike most other sleeping bags on the market that provide wildly optimistic temperature ratings, if the Army labs in Natick, Massachusetts say a product does something, you know it does.
Even with that, if you’ve been a regular reader to this blog you know important it is for me to test things personally. Since we are still in Summer here in New England I haven’t been able to give this military sleep system a fair shake. This I’ll do in the upcoming new year where I’ll put it through the rigors of a New England winter.
This wouldn’t be a decent review without pointing out what’s not so hot with these sleep systems. The biggest one for me is the weight. Pushing 11+ pounds these sleep systems are quite heavy compared to many of the ultralight bags you can find. Given that these bags are super durable, durability comes at the price of weight so I’m ok with that. Also, since I’d use these as my shelter (no tent required) their would be weight saved overall.
The second biggest negative for me is the size. When compressed, these systems are a bulky cubic foot. Still too big for most backpacks. However, they can easily attach to the outside or bottom of your backpack without issue.
The last negative (only a minor one for me) is the camo patterns on the bivys. I’m not a big fan of Woodland camo or ACU (they both stick out too much in my opinion) and much prefer Woodland MARPAT (Marine Pattern) or Multi-cam in my area. The reason this is not a huge issue is that since I’m not wearing these bags while mobile it’s an easy process to blend these systems into the surrounding landscape without much issue if discreetness was crucial.
Pricing and Where to Buy
Just a cursory look online and you’ll notice a wide range of prices these bags are being sold for. On the high side you’ll see them going for $600 (for a brand-new ACU issue system) and on the low side for around $120.
The key is not to buy them brand-new (the $600 ones). Instead, you’ll want to get the gently-used surplus ones which can be found at your local army/navy surplus store or on eBay. In actuality even the “beat-up” ones I’ve seen look pretty good. These bags hold up well. I purchased the ACU camo system for $160 (brand-new) on eBay and the woodland camo system for $125 (slightly used but essentially mint condition) at the local army/navy surplus store.
If money is not an option there are other sleep systems that are better such as the Wiggy’s FTRSS sleep system (also American made) or the Snugpak complete sleep systems — both are much lighter, very durable and excellent quality.
But for the price that the surplus military sleep systems go for you get a fantastic, quality-made sleep system at a fraction of the cost of other bags on the market — many of which wouldn’t withstand the abuse that these bags can go through.
How to Identify an Authentic Military Sleep System
On a final note, it’s important for you to be aware of the many copycats and supposed “military spec” sleep systems on the market. You’ll find many sleep systems being peddled on eBay and elsewhere for around $50 – $80 claiming to be “GI Sleep Systems” or “Military Sleep Systems” but in reality are nothing but cheap knock-offs.
What you’ll want to look for is the NSN — the National Stock Number (or NATO Stock Number as our allies call it). This will properly identify the bags. Each bag, compression sack, and bivy will contain these numbers sewn on them. Here’s an example:
Here are the NSN’s and details you’ll want to look out for:
Woodland Camo Issue (NSN #8465-01-445-6274)
This was the original updated sleep system designed and made by Tennier Industries. It’s a 4-part sleep system consisting of a black compression stuff sack, a black Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag, a green Patrol Bag, and a woodland-camo Bivy Sack.
ACU Pattern Issue (NSN #8465-01-547-2757)
This is the latest release in the updated sleep system designed and made by Tennier Industries. It’s a 5-part sleep system consisting of two foliage-colored compression stuff sacks (one large and one small), an urban-grey colored Intermediate Cold Weather Sleeping Bag, a foliage-colored Patrol Bag, and an ACU pattern camo Bivy Sack.
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