Cold Weather Survival
VI. BIVOUAC ROUTINE
3-45. Location of Bivouac Sites
of bivouac sites in northern areas is all-important and requires careful consideration.
The problem of selection varies with the tactical situation, weather conditions
and terrain. Terrain hazards such as steep rock faces concealed by snow, glaciers,
crevasses and avalanches are typical, especially in mountainous areas. Guides
familiar with terrain peculiarities must be used to the greatest extent during
the troop movement.
a. If possible, the bivouac area should be tactically
located in accordance with the principles of security and defense. It should be
located so that it would be advantageous for future operations. If contact with
the enemy is imminent, the bivouac should be located on high ground; this, at
times, is disregarded in favor of cover and concealment, more suitable ground
b. Cover and concealment against air and ground observation
is essential for the bivouac area. Forested areas pose few problems in comparison
to that area north of the treeline. Particular attention must be given in selecting
areas in cold regions to insure that local camouflage materials are available.
In the winter, protection from the wind is a prime consideration. This is particularly
true in areas of northern operations, where violent local gales frequently occur.
In wooded areas the wind has little effect on tentage or individuals.
The condition of the ground is important and, if possible, the bivouac should
be located on hard, dry ground.
e. Construction materials play an important
part in the selection of a bivouac. When making a reconnaissance for the area,
such things as the availability of firewood, water, snow for snow shelters, boughs,
etc., must reconsidered.
Bivouac in Forests
a. Most forests in cold regions provide excellent
bivouac sites and should reutilized whenever possible. Forests provide many natural
materials such as boughs for insulation, firewood, and camouflage construction
materials. They also provide excellent concealment against enemy air and ground
observation. Coniferous (cone-bearing trees) provide better protection from wind
and better insulation material and firewood than deciduous forests. Pine
spruce forests, normally found on well drained soil, offer the best hardstand
b. Tracks are visible in both summer and winter. On dry
ground, however, they normally are not as noticeable as on wet soil. Consideration
should be given to building dummy positions for the purpose of misleading the
enemy (fig. 3-20). Track discipline must be rigidly enforced in the bivouac area.
tracks are made, all movement within the areas should be restricted to
Bivouac on Marshy Ground
a. In winter, when the ground is frozen,
good bivouac sites may be found in areas which otherwise would not be usable.
Some swampy areas may not freeze during the winter, because of warm water springs
or gases. They provide poor facilities for the bivouac site. If it becomes necessary
to establish the bivouac on swampy ground, flooring for shelters must be constructed.
If tree trunks are available, a “float” may be built under the shelter (fig. 3-21).
In the absence of tree trunks, brush matting will serve the same purpose.
Areas to be used for extended periods of time require draining, clearing of
existing creeks, digging of ditches around the shelter, or preparing a water trench
inside the shelter.
Bivouac in Open Terrain and on Ice
a. Due to strong winds, drifting
snow, and poor concealment, bivouac areas in the barren tundra must be carefully
b. Tents should be pitched where they can be sheltered by natural
windbreaks whenever possible. The windbreak may consist of depressions in the
ground or pressure ridges on the ice. A visual inspection will indicate the degree
of drifting, direction of the prevailing wind, and more suitable protected areas
for locating the shelters. In areas where natural windfalls do not exist, snow
walls may be constructed to provide protection from winds and enemy small arms
fire, as well as concealment from ground observation. In open areas with high
winds, snow gathers rapidly on the lee side, making it necessary to clear the
sides and tops of the tents periodically to prevent the weight of the drifting
snow from collapsing the tent. The entrance to the shelter should face downwind
from the prevailing wind. This will prevent the snow from blocking the exit and
cutting off the ventilation.
c. When the tent is pitched on ice, holes
are chopped where the tent pins are normally set. “Deadmen” are inserted in the
holes at right angles to the tent. The holes are then packed with snow or filled
with water and left to freeze.
Bivouacs in Mountains
a. Mountainous terrain is characterized by
strong turbulent winds, cold and general lack of concealment above the timberline.
The wind overhead creates an extensive lee near the mountain. The overhead lee
resembles the dry space behind waterfalls caused by water having such speed that
it shoots over the edge of the cliff and descends in a curve. An inland wind blowing
50 miles an hour (43 kts) may not strike the ground for several kilometers after
passing the edge of a cliff or a very steep slope. While such a lee is an attractive
bivouac site from the standpoint of wind protection it should be noted that such
a lee area is often an area of maximum snow deposit. The requirement to constantly
dig out vehicles, walkways, and weapons positions may offset the windfree advantages
of a lee site during snowfall or snowblowing weather.
b. Cold air is
heavier and frequently settles in valleys. The point where the temperature starts
changing is low in summer and higher and more noticeable in winter. Therefore,
in some instances it is better to establish a bivouac up the hillside above the
valley floor and below the timberline, where applicable. Avalanche hazard areas
must be carefully avoided.
a. General. Setting up a bivouac is a routine
based on SOP which enables the commander to control the bivouac area, have it
always protected, camouflaged, and the personnel ready to fight. Only the minimum
amount of time should be devoted to pitching and striking the shelters and to
general housekeeping. Bivouacking in a routine manner allows more time for daily
movement, establishing an effective security system, and defense of the
site. Finally, it allows more time for rest and to make preparations for the continuation
of the operation.
b. Responsibilities of Unit Leader. On entering the
bivouac site, the unit leader is responsible for—
(1) Posting a security guard.
Checking the bivouac site.
(3) Determining exact tent locations providing the
best natural shelter and camouflage.
(4) Designating an area from which construction
material and firewood will be obtained.
(5) Selection of a water point, or
marking off the snow area to be utilized for water.
(6) Designating latrine
and garbage disposal sites.
(7) Designating a site for weapon and ski racks.
Temporary placement for weapons and equipment must be arranged until the bivouac
has been established.
(8) Breaking a minimum number of trails between the tent
site and area assigned for firewood and construction material, water point, and
(9) Maintaining camouflage and track discipline at all times.
Organization and assignments for the work details as follows:
and leveling the shelter sites. In winter the snow is dug to the ground level
or in an emergency, packed down by trampling with skis, snowshoes, or tracked
(b) Pitching tents (when used).
(c) Cutting, trimming,
and hauling trees and boughs for construction of improvised shelters and bough
beds (when tents are not available).
(d) Construction of improvised
shelters best suited to the area concerned.
(e) Construction of windbreaks,
(f) Building necessary weapon and ski racks. Special care
must be given to the protection of the weapons from the elements.
Construction of field latrines and garbage disposal sites.
a water point.
(i) Gathering and cutting a supply of firewood.
During cold weather, situation permitting, starting fires and preparing hot drinks
for all individuals.
(k) Upon completion of shelter construction, starting
a warm meal.
(11) Maintaining and emphasizing cleanliness, tidiness, and teamwork.
Upon completion of the bivouac, arranging equipment within the outside of shelters.
Preparing defensive positions and breaking and marking a trail from the shelters
to the positions.
(14) Maintaining a duty roster for exterior guards, fire
guards, and similar assignments.
(15) Rotating individuals on all jobs on a
(16) Assigning specific sleeping areas for all individuals in
accordance with the duty roster.
(17) Upon establishing the bivouac, removing
the exterior guard in case the parent unit has taken over the security of the
(18) Inspecting the area, examining the security, camouflage, cover,
weapons, skis, sleds, vehicles (if applicable), and the conditions of the men
and their equipment.
(19) Outlining and rehearsing the action to be taken in
the event of attack.
(20) Assuring that necessary safety precautions are taken
to eliminate or control any hazards that could result in unnecessary accidental
loss of men and their equipment.
a. When a shelter is finished, the first man
entering it will arrange all equipment in the proper place. The stove, water can,
firewood, tools, and rations are placed in the most convenient place by the door
of the tent. In a snow shelter, a special storeroom may be dug for these items.
In low temperatures, weapons should be left outside on improvised weapon racks
in order to avoid condensation. However, as a word of caution commanders must
insure that weapons left outside are properly secured, e.g., providing security
guards or securing the weapons in an unheated shelter. When cold weapons are taken
into heated shelters, condensation will form as the warm air comes in contact
with cold metal. This “sweating” will continue for about one hour. If weapons
are brought into a warm shelter they should be placed at floor level away from
direct heat to minimize condensation. To avoid freezing of moving parts, moisture
must be removed and Lubrication Oil, Weapon (LOW) applied to the weapon before
it is taken outside. If the
situation requires that weapons be taken inside
and later outside before they can be dried, the working parts must be hand operated
until the moisture is frozen and there is no danger of parts freezing together.
Before entering the shelter, hoarfrost and snow must be brushed off clothing and
equipment. This keeps the clothing dry and the shelter clean.
live comfortably in a shelter is not an easy art. Individuals usually are crowded
and must keep their equipment orderly and out of the way of other occupants of
the shelter. Unnecessary running in and out of the shelter should be avoided whenever
e. The use of fire and lights in the shelter must be carefully
supervised must be carefully supervised. Security, fuel economy, and the prevention
of fire and asphyxiation are essential. When wood is available, it is burned in
the stoves in place of gasoline. Lamps must be extinguished before retiring for
the night. All lamps and cooking stoves must be filled and lighted outdoors. A
stand or bracket should be made for the lamps or candles and they should be placed
where they are least likely to be knocked over. Sparks on the tent or lean-to
must be extinguished at once. Smoking while in the sleeping bag is
As many tasks as possible should be accomplished before retiring in order
to conserve time in the morning. All eating utensils should be cleaned, snow melted,
canteens or thermos bottles filled, and all weapons should be checked.
Upon breaking the bivouac in the morning all personal equipment should be rolled,
warm drinks and breakfast should be consumed, and last-minute details accomplished
prior to resuming the march.
Heat Discipline and Fire Prevention
Heat discipline presents a paramount
problem during periods of extreme cold.
a. Overheating the shelter is
very common and can and should be avoided. It causes sweating of individuals and
increases the fire hazard.
b. There are many ways to save fuel. Cooking
and heating may be combined. The melting of snow and ice uses large amounts of
fuel and should be avoided when water from other sources is available. In cooking,
liquid fuel is used sparingly. Wood should be burned when available. In extreme
cold it may be necessary to keep the fire burning throughout the night in order
to keep the men warm, especially when living in temporary shelters which provide
little heat. The drying of wet clothing and the providing of hot drinks for combat
reliefs are also necessary throughout the night.
c. Fire prevention
during both summer and winter seasons is extremely important. The combination
of low humidity and the drying effect of continuously heated shelters is conducive
to fire. Shifts in wind and the accumulation of frost or soot in the stovepipe
lead to backfiring of flaming fuel into the shelter. The excessive spilling of
fuel containers, lamps, and candles create additional hazards. The stamping of
feet to shake off snow or frost may cause stoves and small heating units to spill
and spread fire. The strict enforcement of all regulations is necessary in order
to avoid fire hazards. No set rules can be given for each occasion. Common sense
in the handling of all kinds of fires, fuels, and flammable materials is essential;
alert, wide-awake fire guards must be on duty in each shelter at all times when
men are sleeping and a fire is burning. Applicable technical manuals should be
consulted prior to operating tent stoves, cooking stoves or gasoline lanterns.
A base made from green logs must be placed under the stove if the snow has not
been shoveled away from the tent site. Fire reflectors may be used not only to
get more warmth, but also to keep the fire burning evenly and to help avoid sparks.
Care must be exercised when lighting the gasoline-type stove; it may flare up
and either damage the tent or set it on fire. All stovepipes must be cleaned frequently.
When using wood as fuel, cleaning must be done every day in order to maintain
a good draft and avoid fires in the stovepipes. Stoves burning petroleum fuels
tend to accumulate more soot when operated at low settings because of cooler pipe
temperatures. It is better to turn the stove off
in mild weather than to run
it at low settings. Detailed instructions for operating stoves are covered in
TM 10–735 (Yukon stove) and TM 10–725 (Stove M1941 ). Precautions against forest
and ground fires in summertime are extremely important. Coniferous forests are
highly inflammable during the summer season. Ground fires can burn for months
in muskeg and are extremely hard to to put out. A fire ditch is always dug before
lighting fire. A base of green wood, gravel, or rocks must be used under the fire;
the fire must be made on high ground when the forest is dry. Before leaving the
campsite, individuals must always be sure that the fire is completely out.
a. Keeping dry is important in low temperature.
At times it is impossible to avoid sweating. The drying of clothes and footgear
is therefore a necessity. Every opportunity must be used by each individual to
dry his clothing.
b. When drying outside using an open fire, clothes
should not be placed downwind from the fire, due to the sparks and smoke. Clothes
hung for drying should be frequently checked and not left unattended. Clothing
should never be placed too close to the fire or stove in the shelter. Leather
items are extremely vulnerable to extreme heat. Clothing being dried in the shelter
is placed on drying lines.
c. The use of a “Christmas Tree” (fig. 3-22)
for drying in the shelter is handy when operating in a wooded area. Branches are
cut off a dry or green tree which is then made to stand up in the shelter next
to the center pole so that it is in the air current. This offers an excellent
place for drying heavy items such as boots and parkas. The Tent, 10-Man, Arctic,
is also equipped with strong hooks at the inside peak for suspending lighter weight
clothing for drying.
Sleeping Arrangements in Bivouac
a. When arranging the sleeping
procedures in a tent or improvised shelter, the position of every man, especially
the position of reliefs for sentries, is planned. Each man must know where his
relief is sleeping. Therefore, the floorspace is occupied by the individuals in
accordance with the duty roster. The number one man sleeps next to the door, number
two man towards the rear. In this manner, starting from the door, the relief is
easily located without waking up all occupants. The systematic sleeping arrangement
will also permit exit from the tent in an organized manner in case of alert.
Ground insulation is most important. Often the occupants may have to improvise
insulation using all available material. Backboards, snowshoes, man-hauled sleds,
and empty cartons may be used. In timbered areas evergreen boughs are especially
suitable. On the tundra, dry lichen, grass, or shrubs provide effective insulating
material. To make a bough bed, one single bed is constructed for all; the size
varies with the number of persons, For improvised shelters, logs approximately
8 cm (3") in diameter are pegged or fitted around the bough or grass bed.
This helps to keep the boughs in place, If material and time permit, a 15 to 30
cm (6” to 12”) thick shingled bed made from spruce, fir, or balsam boughs (fig.
3-23) gives excellent insulation and provides a soft mattress.
The tactical situation dictates whether or not sleeping bags are used. The amount
of clothing to be worn when sleeping on a bough bed or in the sleeping bag can
be best judged by experience and will depend on temperature and the tactical situation.
As a minimum, outer clothing is usually removed when the sleeping bag is used.
The removed clothing is placed beneath the individual for additional insulation
and instant availability. In an emergency it may be necessary to dress in the
dark. In the morning all ice and frost is removed and the bag ventilated before
rolling it up. Time permitting, it is hung up by the strings and thoroughly dried.
When sleeping in a heated tent without a sleeping bag, boots are usually removed,
situation permitting. The parka is used like a blanket. The rucksack makes a good
pillow. The clothing is always loosened.
Water Points and Snow Area Locations
During the winter it may be necessary
to obtain water by melting snow or ice. When such a source is utilized for drinking
purposes, an area should be set aside and restricted to this purpose only. A preferable
site is one upwind from the bivouac and isolated from the latrine and garbage
disposal areas. If such an area is not available, then snow should be gathered
from the branches of trees or lightly skimmed from a carefully isolated area adjacent
to the individual shelters. Water obtained in this manner must be boiled for one
minute or chemically treated. Chemical sterilization of water under freezing conditions
requires a longer period because the disinfecting compounds act with retarded
efficiency under such conditions. The time allotted for contact with purification
tablets should be two to four times the normal period of one-half hour. Eating
ice or snow is unsatisfactory and may result in injury to lips or tongue. Contamination
may also be a hazard. If no other water source is available, as in a survival
situation, snow can be eaten but it must first be brought to the melting point
by holding it in the bare hand. It may then be eaten slowly and in small amounts.
This is best done during periods of temporary heat excess, as during marching,
or while in the sleeping bag. The risk of frostbite to the hand must be considered
and balanced against the need for fluids. Should some water be available in an
uninsulated canteen during a survival situation, this should be warmed under the
clothing or in the sleeping bag. Then snow may be added to the canteen after each
drink to replace the water consumed. Body heat stored in the slightly warmed water
will thus melt the snow with less risk of cold injury to hands or lips. A glass
bottle or plastic bag can be used in place of an uninsulated canteen.
Bough and Firewood Areas
The areas for cutting boughs and firewood should
be immediately designated when a bivouac site is selected.
a. Bough Area.
The area for cutting boughs for bedding as well as for construction of improvised
shelters should be common to all individuals of the group. It is selected in a
dense area of woods in which springy, unfrozen boughs are available, and should
not be too close to the bivouac site. It is advisable to use sleds in hauling
material to the shelter site. Due to the camouflage and track discipline, only
one well-concealed trail is used. When cutting boughs, the unnecessary felling
of trees should be avoided because trees lying on the ground can be easily observed
from the air. Instead of felling trees, only the lower branches should be used.
Firewood Area. It is advisable to have the firewood area nearby the area designated
for bough cutting so that the same track can be used. Dry, dead pine trees make
the best firewood. If no dead trees are available, green birch trees may be chopped;
they possess excellent burning qualities even when frozen. The top parts of dead
trees should be burned during the daytime, as they give off lighter colored smoke.
The lower part of the trunk has more resin and tar, and burns better, but makes
more and much darker smoke.
Storage problems in winter are increased by snow, low temperatures,
thaws, limited storage space, and the increased problems of transportation. Space
in any shelter is limited. Only items which are affected by cold, or which must
be immediately available, should be stored inside. All other stores must be concentrated,
well marked, covered, and left outside. On the other hand, some perishables which
are difficult to preserve in summer may be kept during the winter months in a
natural “deepfreeze” over an extended period of time. In areas where permafrost
exists, a hole can be dug or blasted out and then covered with insulating material,
such as boughs. A constant low temperature can thus be maintained.
Stand and Hanging of Weapon. In wooded terrain a weapon rack may be built
from poles placed in a horizontal position and covered with boughs (fig. 3-24).
When boughs are not available, various other materials such as empty cardboard
boxes, tent or sled covers, waterproof bags or ponchos can be utilized to protect
the weapons from rain, dust, and falling or drifting snow. When weapons are hung
outside on stacked skis, or suspended above the snow in some other manner, they
are hung with the muzzle down to keep falling or blowing snow out of the barrel
and working parts.
Ski Racks and Stacking of Skis. Care of skis in the field is highly important
because unit and individual mobility depends upon them. If left lying on the snow
in the bivouac area the bindings and running surfaces will freeze and render the
skis unusable for a long period of time, or they may be entirely lost
drifting snow. Therefore, the skis and ski poles are placed on an improvised ski
rack made of one or two long poles which have been secured between two growing
trees horizontal position (fig. 3–24). In open areas, skis are simply stuck upright
or stacked in the snow as described in appendix C.
c. Sleds. Sleds are
placed on their sides or on end outside. If loaded sleds are left on the snow,
sticks, poles, or branches are laid under the runners to prevent them from freezing
to the snow. Heavy cargo sleds, 1-ton or larger, must be placed on top of heavy
poles or logs due to the fact that sled runners remain hot after extensive usage
and tend to settle into the snow and become frozen, making movement of the sled
difficult the following day.
d. Vehicles. Vehicles are driven under
a big tree or in lee of a shelter or snowdrift. Vehicles should be parked so the
least amount of snow can get into the engines and parked on brush, logs, dry ground,
or other surfaces not liable to thaw from heat of tires and tracks and refreeze.
Ammunition and Fuel. Ammunition and fuel are stored separately outside. Ammunition
boxes should be stacked off the ground in a dry place and covered with canvas
or boughs. In order to locate stacks if snow-covered, a pole should be erected
near them. Boughs or poles are placed under fuel containers to prevent them from
freezing to the snow.
a. Waste Disposal. Field sanitation in the colder
regions is based on the same principles as in temperate climates. The extremes
in climate and weather, however, make the problem more acute. The wastes that
present constant and real problems are human excreta, garbage, and trash.
In bivouac areas, pit or “cross-tree” type latrines are used for the disposal
of human waste (fig. 3-25). One latrine will usually serve the needs of
occupying 3 to 4 shelters, or a unit of platoon size. The latrine is placed downwind
from the bivouac, but not so far from the shelters as to encourage individuals
to break sanitary discipline. Ration boxes or similar material should be used
to collect waste. A urinal, designated for each shelter, should be located within
4 to 5 meters (4 to 5 yards) of the shelter. A windbreak of boughs, tarpaulins,
ponchos, or snow wall should be constructed to protect the latrine from the wind.
When breaking bivouac, the human waste that has accumulated in the latrine will
be burned or buried. All closed latrine sites, tactical situation
will be clearly marked.
b. Trash and Garbage Disposal.
(1) In winter
the edible portion of food waste may be collected in receptacles and disposed
of by burial in the snow at a safe distance from the bivouac.
should be made to burn the bulk of the trash and garbage. During seasons and in
locations where bears are found, all edible garbage should be burned to avoid
attracting bears to campsites.
(2) All trash and garbage dumps should be marked
with appropriate signs to warn troops who might occupy these disposal sites at
a later time.
(3) Strict camouflage of all trash and garbage is essential.
Dark trash on the white snow is easily seen from the air. Glittering tin cans
or bottles may be seen by the enemy. Trash and garbage should be placed under
any available cover and camouflaged with snow, branches, or other materials.
Rats and Mice. Rats and mice will be found in most of the habitable cold regions
of the earth. They are a definite menace to health and property and should be
kept under strict control. Rat poisons or traps should be used when available.