June 23, 2020
Dad’s First Sleeping Bag Puts Her Fancy Gear in a New Light
From our friend and contributing writer Kinga Philipps: A few years ago I stopped by my parent’s house after a camping trip and unloaded my gear in their living room. My dad looked at my Patagonia sleeping bag, ultralight tent, my solar panels, camping stove and nest egg pots and pans. All the things I’ve meticulously gathered over the years because…well, I like quality gear. He laughed. I was a bit miffed that my fancy gear was amusing. He should be impressed, really. As a geologist and avid outdoorsman, my dad spent his life trekking the wilderness, camping Eastern Europe mid-winter, and exploring deep into the wild corners of old growth forests. Now here I was following in his footsteps. Why was I funny!?
That’s when I heard the story of my dad’s first sleeping bag. My grandfather was a game warden and my dad’s family was stationed in the Polish woods. During the war and Germany’s occupation of Poland, German bombers would get shot down by the Polish resistance forces (of which my mom’s father was a member) and the pilots would eject, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. When one came down near their home, my grandmother went into the woods and located the pilot. He hadn’t made it. But the silk of his parachute was incredibly valuable so she cut it away and took it.
For years she kept it hidden, as taking anything from a German soldier or pilot was severely punishable. Years later she gifted it to my dad, who took it to the town seamstress, Mrs. Mandova. He scraped together what was a good bit of cash to pay her for her work and the down she used for fill and she made him his first sleeping bag…from the downed pilot’s parachute. This was what he took with him on backcountry expeditions, pulling sleds with canvas tents, carrying heavy metal pots to cook over the fire, when the dogs had to wear booties so the ice wouldn’t rip apart their paws. Now I get what was so funny. We’re a little spoiled these days and have it pretty darn easy when we can Amazon Prime gear in a day, maybe even a little too fancy for our own good at times. Has technology made us soft? Too reliant on gadgets and comfort? Good question.