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Thread: How many people in Alaska have died in soaked sleeping bags?

  1. #1
    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default How many people in Alaska have died in soaked sleeping bags?

    I've heard it said that if your sleeping bag is soaked, you're going to be uncomfortable, but at least with a synthetic bag you will survive.

    If the issue is death vs survival in a soaked bag, I thought it would be good to list some cases where people HAVE died in Alaska in a soaked sleeping bag, the circumstances surrounding the fatality, and what the insulation of the bag was.

    There must be millions of bag nights with both down and synthetics, so if it is serious life/death issue we should be able to put some numbers to it.

    I found this list of Alaska outdoor fatalities. Lots of the expected crashes, drownings, and avalanche deaths. Undoubtedly not a complete list, though. Didn't see any soaked sleeping bag deaths in a quick scan.

    In my opinion, it's going to be a rough trip in a soaked bag no matter what the insulation is, so Step 1 is to keep your bag dry.

    Can anyone list some cases?

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    Premium Member MarineHawk's Avatar
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    I have a -20-F down bag I love, but aside from whether synthetic materials work better wet, they do dry out a lot more quickly. That's why your synthetic t-shirt will dry out a lot more quickly from your body heat than a wet cotton t-shirt. If you're in a synthetic bag, and it's giving you some warmth by still trapping some body heat, your body heat may dry it out and then you've got a dry bag, but that's pretty unlikely with wet down bag, which doesn't trap much heat at all and takes forever to dry out.

    I presume that, if people actually die as a result of a wet down bag, it usually would not be IN the bag. If my bag stopped working (as a wet down bag does), and it was starting to get really cold, I imagine I would pack up some stuff and try to hike back to some other type of shelter or below tree-line if I was above it. Then I might get lost in some blizzard and die, though not in my bag.

    I'm sure there are no statistics readily available of whether or how many people have left a wet down bag behind and died falling into an icy ravine versus not leaving their tent while remaining in a synthetic bag.

    I'm not saying down bags are killers, but you're not going to find the answer through simple statistics.

    I usually bring along the ability to make fire whenever I'm below tree-line, which solves the concern in that environment, and also I often bring some of those big, long-lasting body warmers for such emergencies. I generally am more comfortable bringing along a down bag when I think I will be in a place where I can build a fire (and I always bring a little bottle of white gas and a couple of those cooking fire tabs for emergency fire-starting in wet conditions).

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default I think the answers ARE in facts and statistics, not conjecture

    In the list of outdoor fatalities in Alaska I linked above there are many people who died of exposure and it's usually pretty clear how it happened.

    For example: the missing boy, was dressed in "fall-weight" clothes and sneakers when he left a friend's house and vanished at about 4 p.m, according to Alaska State Troopers. He apparently lost his way and died in the cold -- the second exposure death of the weekend

    I don't want this to devolve into down vs. synthetics or what techniques we use or what WOULD have happened in this or that situation.

    We can easily show through statistics that hypothermia linked to alcohol, lack of rain gear, lack of warm clothing, and falling in cold water can kill us.

    I want some examples where people DID die of hypothermia and soaked sleeping bags were found, either abandoned or occupied.

    Together we know thousands of outdoorsmen and can research the experience of hundreds of thousands of others. If it happens very often surely we can come up with some examples.

  4. #4

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    1. MarineHawk has already nailed the answer to your question.
    2. Your logic about the use of statistics is flawed, to use statistics you would need to rephrase the question.
    3. No one dies of a wet sleeping bag, people die of exposure, with a wet bag being one exacerbating factor.

    Buck, does your question come with an agenda? The number who have died IN a soaked bag might be extremely low, but the number who have died from exposure, with a soaked bag as one of many causative factors leading to exposure, would be a different matter. A wet sleeping bag is a risk factor, nothing more, and choosing a synthetic bag is a method of mitigating that specific risk, nothing more.

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seraphina View Post
    1. MarineHawk has already nailed the answer to your question.
    2. Your logic about the use of statistics is flawed, to use statistics you would need to rephrase the question.
    3. No one dies of a wet sleeping bag, people die of exposure, with a wet bag being one exacerbating factor.

    Buck, does your question come with an agenda? The number who have died IN a soaked bag might be extremely low, but the number who have died from exposure, with a soaked bag as one of many causative factors leading to exposure, would be a different matter. A wet sleeping bag is a risk factor, nothing more, and choosing a synthetic bag is a method of mitigating that specific risk, nothing more.
    Seraphina,

    People who agree with us tend to have "agendas" while those who disagree are "making good points."

    The "agenda" is to determine whether people have been dying from hypothermia as a result of a wet sleeping bag. It's either true or it isn't, and if it's true it's either a big risk or a small risk or something in between. Like any other risk factor facts are more valuable than opinions or anecdotes, whether mine or anyone else's.

    I am certainly interested in finding a better way of getting at that truth with different phrasing if you have one. There's no reason that the answers are unknowable. People have clearly died from exposure, primarily due to some of the reasons I've already cited. It can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The same would be true with wet sleeping bags if it's been happening, don't you think?

    Again, I would like people to cite some real world examples of hypothermia deaths involving wet sleeping bags. Think of it as causative factors, contributing factors, whatever you like. No need to get caught up in semantics. If we can find some examples we can look at what happened and draw our own conclusions. The number of examples will tell us something in itself.

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    Dead people don't talk.
    "96% of all Internet Quotes are suspect and the remaining 4% are fiction."
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    I'll be surprised if anyone anywhere can cite more than one or two deaths (proven) to be the result of a wet bag. "Proven" is the operative word here. That doesn't mean that wet bags didn't play a decisive role in someone's death, but getting to the point of proving that someone died (likely alone, remember) as a direct result of a wet bag is highly unlikely. In essence, you'd have to simultaneously prove that they'd have survived if their bag had been dry. Not easy, and not likely. At best the whole thing becomes a debate of opinions with no clear and accepted proof. That doesn't mean the wet bag=body bag argument is false. It just means that there will likely be a lack of statistics to confirm or deny it. No stats...nothing but opinions either way.

    "Nothing to see here folks. Move along......"

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    Member broncoformudv's Avatar
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    Buck I have never heard of anyone dying in a wet sleeping bag or a wet sleeping bag contributing to their death. Interesting thread though, kinda like you will die if you wear blue jeans and t-shirts hunting in Alaska rants people go on about around here.

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    I suspect that if "death by down" was very common we'd be able to find atleast one lawsuit somewhere where they were trying to hold a sleeping bag manufacturer responsible.


    A quick look at that list of deaths in Alaska shows that one has a much higher chance of dying in a crash, fall, avalanche or drowning than dying from exposure/hypothermia. Of the exposure deaths we don't know how many, if any, are directly related to a wet down sleeping bag, tent failure, unpreparedness from the get go or what. Maybe we could with some time and research.


    I tried to research this some myself earlier this year before I bought a down BigAgnes bag. I had bought into the "fear of down" for years.


    I ran across one guys story on a forum where he was on a mountaineering expedition of some sort and ended up weathered in in a snowcave . I don't remember how long it was. But, the conditions were such that there was enough melting in the snowcave that it created a pond of sorts that he was laying in in his down bag. He was not a happy camper but survived to tell about it. I don't know how close it was to being life threatening but it probably could have been.


    I remember backpacking on the Olympic Peninsula with my Dad in the 70's. He had his trusty ol down bag that he had used all through the 60's climbing all the peaks in Glacier Park in MT. On those WA trips to the coast through the rain forests and up down the beaches we never had a tent. Just a tarp and some rope. Lots of rain, humidity and water blown in off the ocean. He's still alive and well. I think I had an old orange rectangle coleman cotton bag. At some point I bought an rei synthetic that I had for years.

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Can't help you Buck. Have never died due to a wet bag, don't know of anyone who has. Have spent many miserable nights in wet, damp, or just inadequate bags (none of them down) though....
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default Reasonable conclusions can be drawn from facts

    I refer again to this list of Alaska outdoor fatalities.

    When someone loses their life in the outdoors, there can usually be conclusions drawn regarding the causes of death.

    The list shows beyond any doubt that flying, operating any type of machinery while drunk, being out on the water without a life jacket, falling, high marking with snowmachines, driving snowmachines at high speeds, avalanches in general, and hypothermia are among the greatest dangers Alaskans face.

    Out of nearly a thousand listed fatalities, a quick count attributes about 37 deaths to hypothermia or exposure. I see conclusions drawn in most, if not all, cases as to why they died of hypothermia (no warm clothes, no rain gear, drunk, no sleeping bags.) I don't see any mention of wet sleeping bags in any of them.

    Some reasonable conclusions can be drawn from what we DO see in those fatality stats, and common sense tells me some reasonable conclusions can be drawn from what we don't see.

    Before someone accuses me of saying that a wet bag isn't potentially dangerous, I would say of course it could be. But it is obviously very rare for a wet bag to be the primary cause leading to someone's death, and in those very rare cases it is likely only one of many factors, as K Dill pointed out.

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    If a wet sleeping bag is a contributing factor in ones death, the cause of death will be Hypothermia. Here is an interesting report even though there is 10 years more data now.


    Hypothermia-Related Mortality, 1979--2002

    http://www.hypothermia-ca.com/Hypothermia-Related%20Mortality.htm


    During 1979--2002, a total of 16,555 deaths in the United States, an average of 689 per year, were attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold...

    States with the greatest overall death rates for hypothermia in 2002 were Alaska (3.0)

    Understanding the risk factors for hypothermia can help identify populations at risk. This report highlights three risk factors for hypothermia-related deaths: advanced age (>65 years), mental impairment, and substance abuse.


    Additional contributing factorscan include homelessness, dehydration, and serious medical conditions.

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snyd View Post
    If a wet sleeping bag is a contributing factor in ones death, the cause of death will be Hypothermia.
    No doubt. And thanks for some real world numbers.

    And I see I had it backwards in the above post, swapping the words "agree" and "disagree."

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    Member greythorn3's Avatar
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    whats a good all around bag ? im sick of just keeping a space blanket for emegencys in the car
    Semper Fi!

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    Quote Originally Posted by greythorn3 View Post
    whats a good all around bag ? im sick of just keeping a space blanket for emegencys in the car
    If Just for emergencies then the Adventure Medical Kits Bivis for around $12 take no space and I have heard are good. I have one in my pack, bug thankfully never used it.

    For a top-line compact bag, I have been using a Snugpack Softie 3 'Merlin' for the past 15 years. It has done me through Iraq, Afg and AK. Ultra compact and light, rated to 30F. Not the warmest, but I always sleep in my clothes when hunting and it is a great bit of kit.

    http://www.platatac.com/snugpak-soft...g/w1/i1025914/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Buck Nelson View Post
    People who agree with us tend to have "agendas" while those who disagree are "making good points."
    (I see you already noticed about the word swap, good catch.)

    Actually Buck, I think you have some good points, yet I had to ask about the agenda because of the way you responded to MarineHawk. He gave you a fantastic response and you replied (rather harshly, I think) with "I think the answers ARE in facts and statistics, not conjecture". So I think "does your question come with an agenda?" was really a fair question in that context.

    The "agenda" is to determine whether people have been dying from hypothermia as a result of a wet sleeping bag. It's either true or it isn't, and if it's true it's either a big risk or a small risk or something in between. Like any other risk factor facts are more valuable than opinions or anecdotes, whether mine or anyone else's.
    As I stated, I fundamentally disagree that "it's either true or it isn't", because the wet bag is always a risk factor, never directly a causative factor, for exposure and death by hypothermia. Those aren't word games, you asked a question that needs to be rephrased if you want to apply statistical analysis. And I'm honestly not sure it's possible for us to gather the data you would need to generate a valid analysis.

    I am certainly interested in finding a better way of getting at that truth with different phrasing if you have one. There's no reason that the answers are unknowable. People have clearly died from exposure, primarily due to some of the reasons I've already cited. It can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The same would be true with wet sleeping bags if it's been happening, don't you think?
    Yes, there are indeed "reasons that the answers are unknowable"! As Akres said, dead people don't talk. As K Dill said, proven is the operative word, they died likely alone, and you'd have to simultaneously prove it both ways. As Snyd said, we don't know how many are directly related.

    So no, the same is NOT true "if it's been happening", not only because we don't have the data, but also because even if exposure data was collected in far greater detail, the operative risk factors are often unclear or even unknowable. Statistics based on false data are meaningless.

    Again, I would like people to cite some real world examples of hypothermia deaths involving wet sleeping bags. Think of it as causative factors, contributing factors, whatever you like. No need to get caught up in semantics. If we can find some examples we can look at what happened and draw our own conclusions. The number of examples will tell us something in itself.
    As I just explained, it's NOT merely semantics, there is a fundamental difference between direct and indirect causative factors. One set is knowable, the other set isn't. Also, I would argue that "deaths" may not even be the right population, seems to me like those who needed rescue for exposure (for reasons other than immersion) might need to be considered part of the data, because most were presumably already beyond the stage of self-rescue. One need not die to be a victim!

    (FWIW, anecdotally, of the five hypothermia victims that I've personally rescued, who I believe could have died on their own, three had wet sleeping bags, one had no sleeping bag (and wet clothes), and one was well equipped but simply too frail and exhausted to survive alone.)

    Anyway, sorry if you don't like my answers, it IS an interesting question you asked.

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    One thing we can do though is look at deaths from Hypothermia and the circumstances surrounding the incident and deduce whether or not a wet sleeping bag was a determining factor in the death. We read about homeless people in Fairbanks or immersion/drowning victims in the Bering Sea or snowmachiners in the Arctic but I don't ever recall reading about say a sheep hunter who got blown off the mountain or a bear shredded his tent and he ended up dying of hypothermia in wet sleeping bag.

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    There is no way your going to find stats that blame a wet bag as the cause of someones death. I can't believe this thread even exists.

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Seraphina,

    My statement: "I think the answers ARE in facts and statistics, not conjecture" was not meant to be harsh. I believe in "show me" rather than "tell me."

    We all know that in the real world people have died because they weren't wearing life jackets. And for lack of crampons. Or because they weren't dressed warmly enough. We can give many examples of fatalities from each of these situations.

    Dead people don't talk, yet if someone is found dead in midwinter in street clothes with a brandy bottle in their hand, their death, in the real world, was almost certainly the result of alcohol. We can say it was actually hypothermia and debate direct and indirect causative factors but frozen in a snowbank with a brandy bottle is the part that tells the story.

    Now with sleeping bags it obviously won't be quite so clear. Again, we aren't going to end up with a thorough statistical analysis, but if we can give some cases where a group of people are rescued and, for example, those in down bags are dead and those with synthetics lived, that would be pretty telling. (We can give similar examples with life jackets.) But if we are having trouble coming up with examples of anyone found dead of exposure in or near their soaked sleeping bag, that is pretty telling, also.

    The reasons I'm going with deaths is a person either dies or they don't. One person's required rescue can be another's uncomfortable night on the tundra.

    I know some of you don't like the word "stats." If you don't, just replace "stats" with "stories." Give us some examples of pertinent stories.

    Bottom line: if told "if you use a down bag you might not come back alive" I want some examples where it's happened before I personally will be concerned. My risk assessment will not, and should not, be the same as everyone else's.

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    Member greythorn3's Avatar
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    i slept in a bag in the marine for darn near a year and it was nice! wish i knew who made them bags, by todays standard they might be junk tho, that was in 90
    Semper Fi!

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