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Benightment and Survival on the Mountain Part 2 – The Shelters

By Dave Roberts   

on January 5, 2014    5/5 (1)

Benightment and Survival on the Mountain Part 2 – The Shelters

Continuing from Part One where we looked at the survival rations, we look at the survival shelters you can take with you. As we state in part one, we don’t test kit in a field near an industrial estate car park. We took them to the top of a Snowdonian Mountain, at night, in November. There was even a dusting of snow, just to highlight this! We even thought the summit shelter was cheating, but essential in order to set up the photoshoot!

Here’s how they fared on the night. If you want more details on each one, click through to the individual review.


The Emergency Shelter ‘tent’  To be honest, we took a look at how impractical this was and how implausible that anyone benighted on the hill would manage to pitch this in the first place let alone receive any sort of protection from it. The only way this is going to warm you up is with the initial activity of trying to pitch it, and the ensuing fit of rage. Don’t bother trying to pitch it, instead use it as a survival bag for which we thought it was actually quite effective.

survivalkit_69_960-tileIt’s basically what they give runners at the end of a race and some string. I suppose if you’ve got two trees about, or a pair of poles you may get this pitched if you’re lucky, but much better utilised as a survival bag.

Verdict? This is cheap as chips, and definitely not a ‘tent’! Once we realised that, we found it served well as a survival bag, possibly more effective than just a plastic orange one as it reflects some heat back.

The Traditional Orange Bivvy by Highlander  The Orange Bivvy Bag is a staple of UK Hillwalking, alongside Kendal Mint Cake. Unfortunately, this Highlander bag was just too short. In a real emergency, it might have been possible to cut a hole for the head, but it was both short and a tad on the tight side.


Blizzard Emergency Bivvy – This one’s a modern version of the orange bivvy bag that keeps you warm as well as protects you from the elements. It comes vacuum packed, but while it’s reusable and tough, it’s huge once it’s been unpacked! This is a versatile blanket, you can use it under your sleeping mat or even groundsheet in winter for extra insulation, and is one of the better emergency options out there.


The vacuum packed bivvy is small enough to carry in your day pack, and well protected. The air adds insulation. We felt very toasty in this and would be happy to spend a night out in this!

Thermo Lite Bivvy – I’ve used this as a bivvy bag on a couple of occasions, although with a sleeping bag, and it proved functional enough. It reflects body heat and has breathable panels to prevent condensation, but we found it still formed. Because of the panels, and that one side is only closed with velcro, it isn’t the most weatherproof option, best used with a tarp and perhaps not ideal in an emergency. But it does insulate effectively and is also the most expensive option.


The Group Shelter – These are available in various sizes and brands, with the Vango one we used tonight being for 4 people. You wouldn’t want to try and kip in this overnight, but then again you’re not going to get a proper night’s sleep in any of the emergency options we’ve outlined here. A group shelter is great fun for lunch stops and is the only bit of kit here that you’ll find useful in non-emergency conditions. You soon warm up in here, but we’re not sure how long you’d be able to remain comfortable. This would be a great addition to your survival kit, in addition to some sort of survival bag. You could also, I suppose, wrap yourself into it as a makeshift bag if you had to.


Mountain Equipment Ion Bivvy Bag and lightweight bag – 200+400g  – If you’re really worried about being stuck overnight, perhaps on a tough backpack where you might become stranded before your night’s destination, this would be a lifesaver. Of course, you can even spend a planned night out with this kit, especially if you up the rating of the sleeping bag, add a sleeping mat and get a bag that’s a bit more waterproof. For fairness, we decided against including this one as it’s less of an emergency option and more of a planned, but unlikely, night out.

In summary, if we were stranded overnight we’d obviously go for a bivvy and sleeping bag, but that’s as obvious as choosing a tent over a survival bag! It wasn’t difficult in choosing the best option, as it provided the best level of insulation, weatherproofing and took it’s place tidily in the day pack until needed. The Blizzard Survival Blanket may be more expensive than an orange bag or survival blanket but you can get them for under £20 which is cheap compared to most walking kit and considering that this really could save your life. While the thinner survival blankets and traditional bivvy bags will provide protection, they’re just not in the same league as a Blizzard. The Thermolite may well keep you warm, but is even more expensive and the least weatherproof option, even if it is well insulated. Ideally, this could be supplemented with a group shelter and you’ll be toasty for the night. You won’t get any sleep, but the important thing is that you survive the night.

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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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