Today I want to take a quick look at a Bothy Bag. I recently bought the the Vango 400, pictured below, which is a 4 person Bothy Bag. I bought it a couple of months back. I have of course tried it out but thankfully I haven't needed to use it in a real life situation i.e. in a tricky situation where I needed to provide emergency shelter to me and my group while out hiking. I hope I never do have to use it!
What's a Bothy Bag?
Starting from the start, for people who don't know what a Bothy Bag is, it's a basic portable emergency shelter you carry with you in your pack on the trail to provide protection from the elements should you get into difficulty.
It's kind of like a bag that you take out and pull over yourself and your group to form a cocoon of shelter around you. Bothy Bags are made from a tough material like rip stop nylon and polyester but are normally pretty lightweight do easy to carry. My Vango 400 weighs, you guessed it, 400 grams. So, this sheltered cocoon keeps rain, snow etc. off you and it will also provide an additional layer of protection from the wind.
In bad conditions, getting wet in cold winds is one of the most common ways people get into difficulty. When you stop moving, you cool down rapidly in wet and windy weather. In those conditions, it doesn't take long for hypothermia to set in.
With that in mind, the shelter not only keeps elements out, but as people bunch together inside it, the temperature inside the shelter starts to go up from body heat and so provides a much warmer environment to sit in.
A typical scenario where this would be required would be that you are out leading a hike with a few folks, say in Autumn. It's a wet and windy day and one of your party has a bad turn and slips and twists their ankle. They're not able to walk on it and so can't continue.
You're 3 to 4 miles from the nearest road, so all you can do is call for help, make the injured party as comfortable as possible and wait for help to arrive. You get your emergency blanket out and get the injured party resting on it to keep them off the wet ground. However, you're not moving anymore and so the injured party will start to cool down fast.
As well as that, you have a few other people in your group with you. They're newbie hikers and don't know how to use a compass or map and so on the day that's in it, you can't send them back to their cars on their own while you stay and wait with the injured party for help to arrive. Logically, they're going to start to cool down as well, as you will too.
As you can imagine, pretty soon, you could have a much bigger problem on your hands as people start to shiver, etc. You can't send the others on so they have to stay with you. You can't leave the injured party as you have to stay with them until help arrives which you know will be at least 3 to 4 hours. Enter the emergency shelter.
You get your party to huddle together around the injured party and pull the emergency shelter over you. This will keep the cold wind and rain off you as well as form the warm cocoon as mentioned above. Everyone is now safe to wait it out until help arrives and when it does, you can take the rest of the group back to safety.
They may be a little tired and maybe even grumpy but they should be safe. Incidentally this is also why carrying a head lamp with you is critical. It's a perfect example of a scenario where because you have to wait hours for help, you won't be able to hike back in daylight and so need a light to guide your way.
Also, it's worth mentioning that it doesn't have to be an emergency situation. Say you want to stop for lunch on a tough day, the emergency shelter could be a good idea to help keep people that bit warmer as they break.
My Bothy Bag
So, back to the Bothy Bag. They come in different sizes that usually range from a 2 person bag to a 20 person bag with 4 person bag, 8 person bag and 12 person bag in between. 20 is the largest size I am aware of. A shelter can be bulky enough but they fit in pretty well to any good pack.
To give you an idea of the size, the picture above shows my Vango 400 Both Bag (for 4 people) sitting on my hand. As you can see, it's not too big. From this you can derive that a 2 person would be roughly half the size, the 8 person more or less double and so on. The Bothy Bag stows into itself as in the picture above. There is a rip cord at the top of it to tighten it closed.
To use the Bothy Bag you pull it out as shown above.
When the bag is fully out it will look something like in the image above.
When you have it fully out, you pull it over your group as shown above.
When finished, you just roll it back up into itself to stow away and tighten the cord to make it snug.
Bothy Bag Features
Bothy Bags will usually have seats in them. So my Vango 400, for four people, features four seats inside it.
As pictured above, these seats are just 4 small black tabs in the inside edge. The main function of these is just to form a protective layer between your butt and the ground. You can of course beef that up by sitting on your pack or a seat if you have one with you.
Bothy Bags will feature air vents, like the one pictured above, which is of course required to let air circulate, otherwise it would get damp inside with condensation and possibly even too warm, believe it or not!
Bothy Bags will also usually have a window at the side so you can see out of which of course also lets some light in. Most Bothy Bags will have similar features as standard but these are what you should look out for.
As I mentioned at the start, thankfully I haven't needed to test this out in a real life situation, hopefully I never will! However, from taking it out and trying it out, it does seem to work pretty good.
It's easy to use and easy to pack away for carrying. My Vango 400 Bothy Bag isn't too big so as to be awkward to carry in a decent sized pack so it works well in that regard. Also, it is effective at keeping rain and wind at bay and you definitely do start to feel warmer inside it with a few people in it.
Overall, the Bothy Bag is a functional and effective piece of kit. It will see you good in an emergency situation as described above or for that bit of extra comfort when taking a break in bad conditions.
It's a standard part of my kit and if you are leading groups of hikers, it is a really good idea to get one and keep it in your pack just in case an emergency should arise. It will really help keep you safe until help can reach you.
I remember when I first saw a Bothy Bag years ago and my immediate reaction was that I was dubious! I just couldn't see how something that looked kind of flimsy and loose could be effective and useful. However, I was soon to find out, after trying one out, that they really are very effective in keeping a group warm and the worst of the elements at bay.
I hope you found this useful. If you want to learn more, check out the links below. Please like, comment and share 🙂