Cheap emengency shelter

Some months ago we were discussing cheap but effective emergency shelters that could be included on kayak trips. There’s a sale on a 4 person shelter (a Terra Nova Bothy bag).

Hate to tell you what that looks like!

Something more versatile?

– Last Updated: Nov-27-11 4:47 PM EST –

Why not carry a good rectangular tarp from Cooke Custom Sewing.

Not cheap. But very light and very versatile. CCS makes EXCELLENT tarps. With care they will last a lifetime of paddling. I love CCS tarps. Night and day compared to most tarps.

Quick and easy
Tarps are great, but to compare them to a bothy bag doesn’t make sense. You can’t warm up a group of people under a tarp, you have to pitch it (with cold wet hands) you would have to pitch it on a sandy beach, a rocky shore, etc… I take a tarp when camping, I take a bothy shelter for its intended purpose, shelter in most any location.

space blanket
The original is still the best and can be wrapped around you (more than one person) or pitched like a pup tent. It’s small enough, grommetted and heat reflective on one side.

These days you can buy really cheaply tiny versions that are strong, weigh nothing, fold up into nothing, but can also be wrapped and might be able to be pitched. They’re smaller overall. You can also buy them as ersatz sleeping bags. They fit in your pocket with room to spare for everything else you want to put there! Everyone can carry his/her own.

They go under the name “space blanket” or “emergency blanket”. Nothing blankety about them; they’re really mylar.

I agree this much
there is no comparison.

Just ordered the 2 person. It should be ideal for cross country skiing.

Looks Good. Thanks.

– Last Updated: Nov-27-11 9:19 PM EST –

For an emergency shelter of the kind that would be of any use at all to me, this looks SO much better than a space blanket. In my case, I'd get the smaller one. Here's instant wind and rain protection that actually gives you some working room inside, so you would actually be able to do something useful while sheltered, like change clothes or eat. To rig up a space blanket as a totally sealed enclosure with working room inside and then not blow down in the wind would require lots of extra stuff, and even then it would be an engineering nightmare (nowhere near as easy as a tent or tarp, so what's the point), which is not what one needs minutes after a capsize or during a sudden storm.

I have often considered bringing a hunting/photography blind as an instant shelter for emergencies, but never have on account of the bulkiness and weight of the thing. This Bothy thing on the other hand, is light and small enough that if I had one, I'd actually bring it along.

Tarps help…
I use a standard Hennessy tarp on my Hennessy Hammock, and carry a Kelty Noah 9 (9’x9’) also for additional protection. Still, a light bag like the Bothy can protect more people quickly. It’s cheap and works.

Bring a backpacker’s poncho
The kind with the extra-long back. Cheap, multiple purposes, has a hood. No, it won’t shelter a group, but shouldn’t each person bring their own for other reasons anyway?

The plastic ones are even cheaper, and they even come in “disposable” versions that are very thin (for like $2 or $3) or thicker ones at slightly more cost.

I’ve also seen heavy-duty trash bags used as windproof shelter for paddlers in inadequate clothing.

Whatever…bring something that cuts wind and rain.

Seems like a good idea …
… as a survival shelter if your group got thrown off the water in a storm, etc.: Quick and easy to rig, combines the group’s collective body heat, allows for eating or first aid, and keeps wind and rain out. Pretty affordable, too. Not sure how effective it would be for a solo paddler.

I wouldn’t have much use for it in non-emergency situations, and would prefer a tarp/fly or tent.

To compare it to a space blanket is like asking, “Which is better: a fleece or a rain jacket?” A space blanket is intended to be wrapped tightly around a cold person to reflect heat back to the body, and will do little to keep wind and rain off him, so is next to useless as a shelter.

The Bothy Bag creates a relatively warm and dry micro-climate, but will not be as effective at re-warming a hypothermic victim as a space blanket. In fact, it seems that inhabitants must sit upright with their backs against the walls to form a ‘frame’ for the Bothy Bag, which would certainly cause wind chilling of the body.

A Bothy Bag combined with a space blanket (or better yet, a bag-style mylar bivy sack) might make the perfect combination for a hypothermic victim who has just survived a cold swim to shore and needs someplace to recover.

Here’s some other info on survival pack for paddlers:


Not exactly true
The original “Space Blanket” was a thicker, multi-layer product that had edge reinforcement and grommets. That was designed to permit you to pitch it like a lean to shelter or a pup tent if needed. It could still be wrapped around an individual too, as a body wrap or as a mock sleeping bag.

It’s the newer small, thin, one-layer versions that are pretty much only useful the way you describe. But they are really small and really effective as a body wrap and so if everyone carried his/her own, your group would be ahead of the game as compared to no shelter at all!

Sounds like what the military calls a “casualty blanket”, and certainly more versatile, as you describe, even if more bulky than the more common pocket-size mylar-only space blanket.

Try to anticipate the situations you might find yourself in, and take what works.


they still make those

a bit large for the daypack perhaps, but much more versatile (and quiet) than the cheap mylar emergency sheet.

Yeah, that’s the ticket!
That’s it and I thought they still made them. Even looks the same.

It’s still not a very big item, though, and it will easily fit in a daypack. It’s about the size of a paperback novel when folded correctly, as I recall, and it weighs damn little. Less than the novel!

My preference
Since I paddle mostly solo, the Bothy Bag would have little application for me, although it looks great for a group. For solo use, I favor this item. It keeps out wind much better than trying to wrestle with a mylar blanket and weighs little more. It isn’t as noisy or as fragile either. Just suggesting…

Yes, that’s the bag version
of the original Space Blanket. The original is useful dually as a bag (or personal wrap) and a tent, but this version is obviously a bit superior as a bag only.

Thin ones are "emergency blankets"
I kept one stashed in my fanny pack for mtn bike rides. One in my kayak camping emergency bag, one in my truck. They are so light and compact there’s no reason not to have one available.

that it boils down to one question…

How much money are you willing to spend for something you hope you will never use?

Most people who post here have money to burn. I do not. Most of my gear is home-made or a gift by someone who upgraded and didn;t feel like selling on Craigslist.

So, if you have no problem dunping $700 for a Thule Hull-i-vator, then this bag-tent is a great idea.

If you are like me and use pool-noodles wrapped around my cheap rack until I can find used saddles at a yard sale, then the cost is too high and I’ll use a mylar e-blanket with cheap plastic tube-tent.

Big Black Garbage Bags
Very chic!

I have worn one home from several ill considered adventures.