Cold injuries are a real risk not just in theatre but also when you're bumbling around the UK doing your own thing in the back of beyond. It's one of those oft overlooked risks which we don't worry about until some poor sod has gone down with it. So what solutions are available to prevent the onset of cold injury?
An option which some of you may already be familiar with is the Blizzard Survival Jacket, available in silver, green and orange. Made with Blizzards Reflexcell material to allow the maximum amount of heat to be trapped next to the body. The design style means it's a lightweight sleeveless jacket with sealing hood and a spacious interior which will let it fit over any attached kit you have on the body.
The jacket itself is fully windproof and waterproof and the actual warmth level is 8 Togs which is equivalent to a quilted jacket and comes in a tiny vacuum packed parcel.
That's the details, now the kit itself.
Well, it's a bit of a random one this. On tour we had a consignment sent out to us from Blizzard to trial and whilst the kit itself certainly keeps you warm when it's close to freezing, due to the material it's made from you're effectively wearing a very noisy crisp packet. As such, the jacket certainly has no tactical military application apart from a cold casualty. This then makes it difficult to properly understand the pros and cons of a piece of kit if you can't use it as intended, short of making someone sit starkers in the compound all night until they go man down.
A few points were established though, the main one being that due to the foil construct, it is as you'd expect incredibly fragile. Actually getting it out the vacuum pack and opening it out is a trial in itself. It's so tightly compressed you have to resist the urge to wrench it open as you'd rip it in half. Even with the most tender squaddie hands opening it we still identified several rips and tears by the time it'd been put on however Blizzard have said that as long as it's not a massive rip the heat loss will be minimal.
Fitting it on is a fairly straightforward job with a large opening at the base which is fully elastic enabling you to slip it down over yourself and whilst it's prone to rips it can still be handled reasonably roughly when tugging at it. Once on, the heat build-up is pretty rapid. It doesn't take long for it to get quite toasty inside, and with the hood up and the front of the hood sealed over it becomes incredibly warm. It really does feel like you're in a self-contained unit.
There are two versions available, with our without sleeves. The sleeves are a clear material which to be quite frank, are a big great pain in the arrse. As we had the sleeved version we were quick to cut these off. They seemed to offer very little except a good way to get snagged on anything nearby.
Once you're finished with the jacket it can be stuffed away for later use and Blizzard state that it can be re-used over and over again without losing its properties. You can even send it back to Blizzard to have it resealed in a vacuum pack or buy a stuff bag from them for £8
Whilst it's advertised with the words 'Emergency survival' slung around, it can also be worn as an over jacket whilst still being active such as trekking.
As with the Survival Bag, the Blizzard Survival Jacket isn't an everyday bit of kit a soldier will be interested in buying, but for the outdoorsman that likes to ramble off on their own it's a lightweight and proven solution to carry should you find the temperature taking a sudden turn for the worse.
The next item we're looking at is the Blizzard Survival Bag at £30 and made with the same techniques and material as the Jacket.
As with the Jacket it's incredibly spacious once you're inside and you can close the top in to help heat retention. Tests by the Royal Marines in Norway showed the bag keeps the occupant warm up to three times longer than normal bivvy bags at temperatures down to -13c
Again though, these bags are the same as the jackets and thus sound like a horde of rampaging crisp packets which limits their use in the military to emergency situations. However we did find that for open vehicles such as the Jackal where the noise isn't a factor they're a useful bit of kit to have for the crew. Driver and Commander can use them for covering the waist down to protect from wind and rain and the Gunner can stand in the bag with the base cut away to allow movement. On those long road moves at night or in the cold season it's an ideal solution to help keep your crew switched on and alert, especially if you have a short halt in a low threat area it can be used as a quick fix for warmth.
Other than its specific role the Jacket and Bag are near identical in design and structure, both using Reflexcell technology, both fragile to sharps for rips and tears and both really designed for emergency situations although could be adapted to everyday use in cold conditions.
So whilst not an immediate 'Must Buy' item it's certainly been proven and is a strong recommend for sole or group outdoor activities where the temperature is already low or could take a sudden turn.