Gear Review–MILSURP Sleeping Bag System

As promised, here’s the gear review for the Tennier ACU Pattern military sleeping bags I bought recently.

First of all, let me explain what you get and how it works.  The system is broken down into four parts:  the compression bag, a bivy sack, patrol bag, and intermediate bag.  You can use various parts of the system as needed or the whole thing at once for cold temperatures.  For example:  if it’s warm out and you want something to keep a slight chill off the patrol bag is probably what you’re looking for.  If it’s colder – say down to the mid-twenties to the forties, then you’ll want the intermediate bag.  Keep in mind that the system is designed with the idea that you’ll be sleeping in ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) long johns in these bags.

The bivy is good for when it rains or snows plus it adds a little in the way of thermal protection as well.  If it’s really cold out you combine everything and sleep in it like that.

Here’s the progression for combining them:  take the intermediate bag and place it inside the light patrol bag, then take that combination and put it inside the bivy sack.

I tested this system in 25 degree weather, which I’ll discuss at the end of the post.  Below I’ve added a bunch of pictures with notes underneath.  Read on!

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Here’s what it looks like in the compression sack.  This is NOT compressed down as far as it will go.


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Inside the compression bag I put the bivy sack on the outside, so if it rains the sleeping bags won’t get wet.  If I were going on a hike I’d make sure everything was *inside* the bivy sack to guard against wet weather.


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Here they are laid out (above).  At the bottom is the patrol bag, in the middle is the intermediate bag with the stuff sack at the head, and at the top of the picture is the bivy sack.


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The intermediate bag.


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The bivy sack.

Pros and Cons

Cons – being military these bad boys are heavy by civilian standards. I picked one up and stood on the scale and after doing some math figured out they way about ten pounds apiece. (Give or take a little given the accuracy of my scale.)

Another thing is the size.  These bags compress to about a cubic foot, so you need a big pack or find a way to attach it to the outside of your pack.

Pros – These are sturdily made bags.  The zippers are heavy duty and designed for a quick exit and the bags feel like quality bags when you hold them.

Despite the fact they are heavy and bulky the fact that it includes a bivy sack means that if you have to bug out you won’t need a tent.  Get in the bag, zip it up and you have just alleviated the need for a tent.

Another pro is that you don’t have to take the whole thing with you.  If you’re camping on a fairly warm night just take the patrol bag and the bivy.  That compresses up nicely and you won’t be carrying the extra weight of the intermediate bag around with you.

You can throw a couple of these in the trunk or the back of your truck and even in the winter you’ll know that if your car goes off the road and you’re stuck you’ll at least have your sleeping bag to crawl into.

My Experience

As you can imagine I’ve slept in many many sleeping bags in my day.  By far the absolute warmest was the 80’s style extreme cold weather sleeping bag they gave us for Norway.  It also weighed a ton and compressed down to the size of a Volkswagon.

First, these bags are in very good shape.  My biggest worry was getting the bags in and finding out they had holes in them.  Thankfully, this was not the case.  They looked good and the only hole I saw was a small tear in the seam of one of the compression sacks.  Other than that I didn’t see any holes or overt signs of wear and tear.  The bag I tested was one grabbed randomly out of the pile.

I slept out the other night in temps ranging into the mid-twenties.  I was in a five-man cold weather tent with my Ammo Can Stove (more on that later) sleeping on a cot with a camping mat.  For clothing I had on a polypro cold weather top, a pair of cotton sweat pants (poor choice for sleeping in cold weather), wool socks, and a wool hat.  After the stove went out the temperature dropped into the high twenties for a bit inside the tent.

Overall I was comfortable.  When I first crawled into the bag it was still semi-warm in the tent, so I unzipped the patrol (inner) bag to my waist and let my arms hang outside of it.  Of course I was still zipped up inside the intermediate bag and was very warm.  A couple of hours after the stove went out I woke up chilly and zipped up the patrol bag and pulled the hood(s) up over my head.

You have to screw around with the hood system for awhile to get it right and I suggest you do it before actually trying to sleep in it.  I yanked on cords and adjusted stuff for what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to a couple of minutes.  Once I had it adjusted properly I slept fine.

I didn’t use the bivy bag except to put my feet in.  I left it unzipped from the knees up.

One final note… at 25 degrees the bag felt comfortable, but my gut feeling is saying I should have been warmer than I was.  Maybe those thin cotton sweatpants were the culprit, or maybe it was because I didn’t have the sleeping bag hoods adjusted properly, but being comfortable in the mid-twenties got my spidey sense tingling.

More likely it was the fact that I used the system incorrectly.  After talking with a friend of mine (thanks TwelveToe) I figured out that I had the intermediate bag inside the patrol bag and the instructions call for it the other way around.  I also just noticed I had the intermediate bag inside out.  Der!

Therefore, I intend to wait for another cold night and sleep in my lean-to to get the full effects of the cold weather.  I’d really like to test it when it gets down into the teens or colder, but I’ll take what I can get.  I’ll let you know how that works out when it happens.

Overall I like this bag.  It’s heavy by civilian standards, but it’s rugged and if you want to drop some weight you can dump the bivy sack.  I haven’t checked how much weight you’ll save, but I suspect it’s at least a couple of pounds.

For Sale

As promised I did order extras and I am placing them up for sale.  If you are interested in ordering one or more of these bags let me know by emailing and we’ll work out the details on how to get them to you.  I’m asking $90 per bag and that includes the shipping price.

I’m looking to set up an online store here for whenever I happen to get items to sell to make this process easier, so if you see weird things happening over the next few weeks keep in mind it could be me screwing around with WordPress.

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor

19 comments… add one
  • Spook45 November 16, 2012, 9:20 am

    How small will it go? Ive seen some that will compress down to the size of a small football but they are rather expensive. I need something like this that small enough for everyday.

    • Jarhead Survivor November 16, 2012, 9:53 am

      Hey Spook – both bags and the bivy compress down to about a cubic foot from what I understand. I haven’t actually tried it yet. But if you took the bivy out I’m sure it would compress down even further. I believe what makes this system so heavy is the bivy, which is pretty cool, but probably not totally necessary for sleeping in a tent.

  • Jason November 16, 2012, 11:04 am

    I wasn’t sure if what you were saying about the bivy if it was waterproof or water resistant, can you clear that up for me?

    I do like the reviews you do on these products – Mrs. Jarhead must think you are nuts with all of your experimentation’s or she’s just as looney! I do appreciate the extra lengths you go for us audience members.

    BTW, the online store is a great idea.

    • Jarhead Survivor November 16, 2012, 11:32 am

      The bivy is made from Goretex, which is supposed to be waterproof. I’ve slept out in one where it rained and I was under a leaky lean-to and didn’t get wet, so I can vouch for that much. But I haven’t yet slept in a windswept rain to test it out myself.

      And yes, Mrs Jarhead thinks I’m a little crazy sometimes.

  • GoneWithTheWind November 16, 2012, 11:41 am

    The warmest bag I ever had was a military casuality bag from the Vietnam war era. It was big, big enough that two could have slept in it (well two small adults) and it was warm because it was intended to keep the injured person warm while mounted on the skids of a helicopter. I used it while hunting cariboo in Alaska and other winter camping. But it was big and heavy and only suitable for fly in or car camping.

  • irishdutchuncle November 16, 2012, 1:22 pm

    I’ll have to wait now until after that religious holiday I celebrate around the time of the winter solstice. (hope they sell out quickly for you)

    My old feather filled mummy bag will hold me ’til then. I’ll start saving my pennies…

  • paranoid prepper November 16, 2012, 2:05 pm

    Hey, Jarhead! Great post and I’m interested. I’m trying to get an idea of how well they’d fit me. Care to share your height and weight? Thanks for all of your posts!

    • Jarhead Survivor November 16, 2012, 2:31 pm

      Hey Paranoid,

      Sure. I’m 5’6″ and weigh 180. From all the weight lifting I’ve done I’m almost as broad as I am tall. :-)

      My biggest problem is usually shoulder width and these bags were made to fit guys way bigger than me.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Jason November 16, 2012, 9:49 pm

        You look much taller on Youtube!

  • R.V. November 16, 2012, 2:46 pm

    Great informative review as always! I am waiting to get my woodland camo 4 piece GI modular sleeping bag system in but your explanation of the bivy cleared up a lot. I was worried that this system would be really heavy but knowing that the bivy weighs a couple pounds definitely helps. My wife and I will have our Diamond USMC Combat tent split up between both of the Arc’Teryx packs and I will probably leave the bivy out and readjust the sleeping system based on our Bay Area, CA weather patterns (patrol bag during the summer, intermediate during the fall/spring, and patrol+intermediate during winter). I am trying to keep our tent/sleeping solution weight down to 10 pounds per backpack so we will see how it goes. Some questions:

    Does the bivy unzip all the way as I am wondering if it could be used as a lean to tarp in a pinch?

    Also do they have any pockets on the inside for say a flashlight?

    Did yours come with two compression sacks as I have seen that the ACU pattern ones like yours are sometimes called 5 piece modular systems?

    What are you using for your sleeping pad. I ordered two sets of new in the bag 4 piece systems and they will be coming with a free GI foam pad but I am looking at getting some of the self inflating ones?

    • Jarhead Survivor November 16, 2012, 3:33 pm

      Hi R.V. – thanks!

      Ok, as to your questions.

      1. No. The bivy (nor any of the bags) unzip past the knee. Once you get down to the knee it stops. I didn’t get a good picture of it, but if you look at the 3rd picture down the bag in the middle is unzipped as far as it will go, which is standard for all the bags.

      2. I did not see a pocket for a flashlight. Doesn’t mean it’s not there, maybe I just didn’t look close enough, but I don’t remember something like that.

      3. Yes, this particular system comes with two compression sacks. One for the whole system and a smaller one for an individual bag if you wanted to take just one and really squish it down.

      4. I mostly use the foam systems. They’re cheaper and a little lighter and I probably have a half dozen kicking around. I do have one of the bigger air pads that I’ve used and I like it, but I use it for mostly close-by camping or car camping.

      Hope this helps!

      • R.V. November 17, 2012, 3:52 am

        Jarhead Survivor,

        Great to know.

        How do you like the GI foam pads? The place I ordered from included two foam GI pads but thinking it would not be enough padding I have bought one military thermarest and am looking at getting another.

        Do you know where I could get one of the smaller compression sacks to make my 4 piece into a 5 piece. Does the large compression sack compress enough to only carry one of the bags around as I am planning for my summer and spring/fall set up? Thanks!

        • Jarhead Survivor November 18, 2012, 6:10 pm

          You can pick those up at sporting goods stores usually.

  • dub November 17, 2012, 10:51 am

    How good is the supply? If I have to wait a couple of weeks will there be any left?

  • NAC eye drops November 19, 2012, 8:44 pm

    The stuff sack that comes with the sleep system is not waterproof. You’ve got some options though. You can either purchase a waterproof stuff sack from a third-party vendor or do what I do and ensure that both sleeping bags are securely inside the Goretex bivy before putting it in the stuff sack. Since the bivy is waterproof it will do fine keeping the two bags dry even though the stuff sack gets wet.

  • Ken November 30, 2012, 3:15 am

    I have slept in the woodland camo bivy 4 part ECWS sleep system. The zipper on the bivy goes 2/3 the way down and is made from goretex so it is supposed to be waterproof and windproof. I am a big guy though
    (6′ tall and weigh 315 lbs but broad shouldered as well) I fit in it however, if I was another 10 pounds heavier, I would not. If I wanted to change sides or positions, I rolled the entire bag with me with a little arm space inside but I could not completely close the top. the Bivy has one patch of velcro about 3 inches long, not enough to do the job. I gave mine to my nephew who fits perfectly. This sleep system and the one that Jarhead is reviewing/selling will be your last sleeping bag you will ever need and own. One note to everyone, to get the cold rating down to the -25 to -40 they say, the military recommends you only wear your polypro long underwear inside with wool socks. Anything else will make you cold. All the zippers I found are heavy-duty and need to be zipped up together. I tried doing them one by one and it doesn’t work. just work each one part way and then start over till they are up. I bought an air mattress from (Big Agnes Insulated Q-core silver-gray long-wide $180.00) but it has a lifetime warranty if you are a lifetime member there. The lifetime member fee is a one time $20.00 fee. But this could leak in 20 years and they will take it back and give you what you paid for it or another one off the shelf.
    Anyway, I highly recommend the sleeping bag and this air mattress. you can put the air mattress inside the compression sack and it is all together for ya. I sent a more detailed email to jarhead with my email address in it. If you have any questions, send it to him and he can forward it to me. I have spent the entire last year buying everything I might need if TSHTF and I was on my own. I even bought a USMC one man two carbon pole tent that is small and perfect for your BOB that I bought from my surplus store for only $69.00. Thanks jarhead for your reviews. they really help others looking to buy items but not sure what it is. I read reviews on items online as it is someones review on what they thought. I get valuable info from it so jarhead is doing the job for us… thanks!


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