What if I told you that for a little over 300gm you could carry a windproof, waterproof emergency shelter that could be the difference between life and death in the mountains? Well that’s exactly what a bothy bag is and as soon as I first read about the idea of bothy bags I was pretty much sold. These super lightweight shelters will keep you and a mate (or many mates) sheltered from the elements and enjoying your own micro-climate - perfect for emergencies as well as a quick to deploy escape from the rain for that check of the map or bite to eat you have been putting off.
A bothy bag is perfect for a trip where you intend to stay in huts and don’t want to carry a tent but need more than an emergency blanket as back up in case somebody becomes injured, gets too cold or you need to stop unexpectedly for longer periods of time. When out tramping in New Zealand it is imperative to carry some form of emergency shelter in case the proverbial hits the fan as hypothermia is one of the main causes of death here. If you decide that your tent is to heavy but you don't want to risk getting caught out, then reach for the bothy bag.
This little two man version from Terra Nova Equipment set us back $129 and is best suited for either proper emergency shelter (you're not going to sleep comfortably in it unfortunately) or as a planned temporary shelter during a trip in poor weather. The bag works by two people placing it over their heads and then sitting down simultaneously on the waterproof "seat" flaps letting their backs provide the structure for the shelter. Although there is a pole attachment, we found this was awkward to set up in the close confines of the bag and didn't add much in the way of room. When stopping to eat or map check in the pouring rain, the bag worked really well as our own body warmth quickly raised the temperature inside the bag and we were able to stay dry and comfortable while inside it.
If you needed to warm someone up in a hurry who had for example just fallen in a freezing cold river, the bothy bag would be ideal. Similarly, if you're planning a trip in poor weather this is a good way of ensuring you have a means of getting out of the rain and staying warm throughout the day. What it isn't great for is sleeping in and if you think there is a reasonable chance you will need a shelter for the night then I would suggest opting for an actual tarp and ground sheet combination so that you can actually lie down. The bag itself is waterproof and so you could use it as a very small tarp or ground sheet but it's not going to be the best solution for this.
We have used our bothy bag high in the westland ranges as an emergency shelter and it certainly helped save our butt on that occasion. We had run out of daylight whilst crossing an alpine pass and had failed to make it down to the next hut. The fact that we had our bothy bag with us meant we could stop where we were and spend the night safely knowing we could be sheltered from the elements. On this occasion we were lucky enough to have a clear starry sky above us so we slept with it underneath us on the snow but it was reassuring to know that if the weather changed we could still stay dry and relatively comfortable, albeit in a seated position!
I find that the bothy bag has become part of my go-to kit for day trips as it provides a degree of safety should someone become injured or unwell that surpasses a simple emergency blanket which although providing some warmth, does little to keep you protected from rain and wind. This would also be a good addition to your gear if you're heading out with kids and know they're going to need frequent breaks and/or possibly get wet, muddy and cold.