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Benightment and Survival on the Mountain Part 1 – The Emergency Rations

By Dave Roberts   

on November 20, 2013    5/5 (1)

Benightment and Survival on the Mountain Part 1 – The Emergency Rations

Whilst browsing eBay recently for something on which to waste my hard earned pennies, I came across ‘tent like’ survival shelters. Being of a curious nature, I would have to see what these were like and perhaps how they compared to other emergency options. So we decided to see just how useful some of these bits of kit were in comparison to each other on the mountain. We look at them in relation to typical UK use, where you’re not likely to be stuck for weeks on end – just overnight!


The items we chose were the emergency shelter “tent”, a classic orange bivvy, a blizzard survival bag,  a group shelter and a Thermomax bivvy. We’d considered taking a proper bivvy-bag with sleeping bag, but that would have been no contest. While these would protect us, we also tried out some emergency rations for sustenance. We had some Kendal Mintcake, Snickers or Mars bar – wrapped up in duct tape and some lifeboat rations. I’d intended to procure some turblokken, but it’s harder to find than rocking-horse turdblokkens, so the lifeboat ration was chosen.

Being a bitterly cold November evening, we were well prepared for a lengthy stay on the hill, even making a small flask of coffee(cheating a little, certainly!), though I managed to leave this on the kitchen table. We didn’t want the hassle of descending a mountain in it’s entirety afterwards, but wanted to remain sufficiently high up. We decided upon walking up Moel Eilio as it would give us a walk first and a reasonably short walk back to the car later on with a pub stop a distinct possibility.

What were the emergency rations like?

Jelly Babies – Unfortunately, these will probably not survive as emergency rations as you’ll probably eat them before you need them. But, oh boy, are they tasty! If you’ve got these, you’ll be happy, at least until the initial sugar rush wears off.

Jelly belly

Chocolate – Again  the question is, will it survive? The short answer is no, and will probably end up being eaten some time off the hill when you happen to remember – “ooh! There’s a bar of Fruit and Nut in the rucsack from last month’s trip to Snowdonia! Aving it!”

I ate this in the car on the way to the hill.

Chocolate Bar – Wrapped in Duct Tape This is just too much hassle to open normally and it will survive in your pack. But, the sell by date on the bars we had were not much more than a year in the future – so you’re going to need to wrap a bar or two up every year. Are you really going to go to that effort? On the plus side, you’ll have some duct tape to patch and modify any survival bags or repair them if needed.


Kendal Mint Cake – You’ll either love it or hat it, so it would survive in my pack, but this wouldn’t boost my morale an awful lot! It would however, keep you sustained as each 85g bar packs in 330 calories as they’re mostly made of sugar. Does hold a weight of tradition behind it as well as beign used on the first Everest expedition. Yet tastes have changed, as it’s well known that people in the 50s ate humbugs for breakfast and liquorice and Fisherman’s Friend sandwiches for lunch, so it’s probably a generational thing.


Lifeboat Rations There’s an incredible 2500 calories packed in each 500g box! They tasted a bit like bland, powdery shortbread, and would still be more interesting than eating plain pasta or rice. This is the one we’d take to Knoydart – just in case – although I’d need plenty of sphagnum as it would set off my gluten intolerance. This has the highest calorie content and most likely to survive in the pack, as well as having a five year shelf life.


Hot Can – Without a doubt the best option of the lot, if only you know you’re going to be stranded and want to carry this brick-like weight in your pack.  Tasty, but woefully impractical to take with you on every trip and relatively low in calories. A lighter option would be a self-heating meal or a ration pack, but if you’re going to go down that route then you may as well carry an esbit stove, pot and dried meal that would weigh in at around 300g.

You think I’m sharing this?!

Verdict – When it came to flavour, it’s not surprising that the Hotcan rice pudding was the clear winner. But they’re just far too heavy to take as an emergency item each time, as would taking a self-heating ration pack or stove and dehydrated meal. Although, having a small stove and basic emergency food would obviously anyone’s first choice!

While we also had Kendal mint cake, a securely duct-taped Mars bar and a big bag of Jelly Babies we quickly got sick of all that sugar. You won’t leave the mountain the next day with a full stomach, but it’ll keep the hunger at bay and you certainly won’t starve overnight. We found that the Lifeboat Rations are probably the best bet, as they have an extremely high calorie to weight ratio, provide a more balanced nutrition than sugary rations and you wouldn’t be tempted to eat these unless it was an emergency.

The best bet if you’re in a group is to take a load of stuff with you and hopefully you’ll find something you like. Or take a couple of extra portions of trail mix along. What you don’t use will sustain your next trip. What’s important is that you’ve got a few calories to keep you going and prevent cold and the onset of hypothermia. For one night, the shelter you choose will probably have more of a bearing on getting off the hill safely.

Part 2 – The Shelters (To follow Next Week).

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Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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