Storm Shelters

Storm Shelters

Storm shelters are a piece of kit you should not be without, although they don't fit into the essentials category they are close.

Storm Shelters 

Storm Shelters

Storm shelters are sometimes called mountain shelters, bothy bags or group shelters, but all names refer to the same piece of kit.

When I first saw one of these being used on the hill, I laughed. I laughed at how silly it looked flapping around in the wind and how out of place it seemed on the top of Great Gable one Remembrance Sunday. Sometime later I acquired a free storm shelter and carried it for quite a few mountain adventures before using it.

On a very wet day whilst walking around the Angletarn Pikes area of the Lakes, I’d started to become hungry, but the last thing I wanted to do was stop and get even wetter. Then I remembered that I had the storm shelter with me, so though I should give it a go. The day wasn’t too windy, but I found a more sheltered spot, got out my 99p sitmat, positioned it on a small low rock, then opened out the shelter and got into it. Immediate relief from the driving rain, and after a few minutes it became warm enough to take off my jacket. I couldn't quite lie down in there, but it was very relaxing and allowed me lean back and take on some calories, before heading off for the rest of the walk. From that moment onwards I was a storm shelter convert and never go walking without one.

Storm shelters come in a few sizes, from one or two capacity, up to eight to ten. Having one or more shelters sufficient in capacity to house everyone in the group would be sound advice, as without such it's unlikely that part of the group will have lunch in the dry whilst the others get wet outside.

NEWS: Vango storm shelters now available in the MountainSafety Shop

Emergency Situation

A storm shelter could be a life saver in an emergency situation. If you or one of your group could not walk, the first priority is to remove the casualty from the harsh external environment, especially if chucking it down or windy. That way you will protect the casualty from getting any wetter, and cooling by convection will stop immediately, thus stopping or slowing the onset of hypothermia. Perhaps first aid needs to be administered or you need to call for and wait for help to arrive, but it’s clear that keeping as dry as possible is key to preventing heat loss. Having company for the casualty, as opposed to being stuck into a single person survival bag, can also be great for morale as well as providing heat from everyone in the shelter.

Lunch Stop

Stopping for lunch in a storm shelter is actually not as silly an idea as it sounds (check out the video below). In fact, it's got many safety elements attached to it. If the conditions are poor - wind & rain - you know the kind - the chances are that you won't want to stop for lunch and would rather press on to get to the end of the walk. Well, it's just those kind of conditions that hypothermia uses to creep up on you. Another favourite of hypothermia is that your energy levels are depleted as you've not eaten enough, i.e. you've not taken on enough calories for the demands of the walk so far and what's left to do. Thus, stopping in a storm shelter not only gives you some time to rest, you can also stay dry in the process and take on calories. It's a win situation all round, and the combination of which will keep you that much safer for the remainder of the day.

hill walking safety - storm shelter /bothy bag for lunch stop
Eating lunch in a storm shelter, staying warm and dry in the process. Picture thanks to Darren Sainty

You may think that carrying a storm shelter is a bit excessive, but once you've used one you'll wonder how you managed for so many years without one, and that assumes that you've not had a long wait to be rescued or an enforced overnight stop in the middle of nowhere, 2,000 ft up a hill!


Survival Bag

Even if you have a storm shelter to house everyone in the group (and you should), each person in the group should still have their own personal survival bag, which the can use within the storm shelter, or alone should they be separated from the group.


A quick demo of a storm shelter on top of Carn an Fhidhleir in The Cairngorms. Not really storm shelter weather, but you'll get the idea.

...and another one - found on YouTube, which demonstrates the morale effect of a storm shelter. You can guarantee that these kids wouldn't have been smiling without it!

More stories

My shelter has been used on many occasions, including:

On the ridge of Ben Starav in Glen Etive. It was late October and chucking it down. The ascent took a little longer than planned, due to the weather taking a turn for the worse, including a strong wind, and I’d already decided that Beinn nan Aighenan was a Munro too far for the day. And, I was knackered after fighting the wind and rain! I found somewhere out of the wind on the summit ridge leading to Glas Bheinn Mhor and got into the shelter. Calorie intake, and I was fresh and ready for the battle ahead. And it was a battle, but taking on calories meant that I didn't become exhausted.

On a two day mission from Glenshee out to the west and a bunch of Munros. As the day progressed, the weather got worse. Heavy rain made the going hard, and I’d walked a long way over three Munros, with at least one more to go before my intended campsite for the night. I took a direct route off Glas Tulaichean and had to stop for some energy, and re-jig my map, ready for the assault on Carn an Righ. Sitmat & storm shelter equalled respite, food and a dry map suitably repositioned in the case - as I'd walked off the end. Even better on that occasion was that I had my walking poles, which were used as impromptu tent poles to stop the spare canvas flapping around.

It’s not all plain sailing as I discovered one wild day on Fairfield. Having sought shelter in the summit shelter from the violent wintry summit winds, I tried to get into the storm shelter for extra respite and food. But it was no good; I was fighting with the canvass so much that I had to abandon the idea and get off the top pronto!

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