Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hiking With The 10 Essentials, #10: Emergency Shelter

The 10 Essentials of Hiking. 10. Shelter

This category is a tad unwieldy. If you’re hiking for an overnight or multiday trip, you’re more than likely bringing a tent, tarp, bivvy, or other shelter. If you’re heading out for a day hike, emergency “shelter” might be a bit of an overstatement in describing your emergency needs. Basically, you want to bring something that can keep you relatively warm and dry in the event you find yourself bedding down unexpectedly in the backcountry. The climate and time of year will be important factors. If you’re hiking Alaska in the dead of winter, your preparation will be much more important than the Florida Everglades in July. With that in mind, below are some ideas and links for gear to consider for this last category on the list of the Ten Essentials. (PLEASE NOTE: I have no affiliation with any manufacturers or retailers listed below. I am simply offering my opinion regarding goods I’ve purchased as a consumer.)

Tarps, Etc.
emergency tarp ideasUltralight tarps can be convenient to simply throw in your daypack if hiking in an area where “true” shelter could be important. If you find yourself lost or injured in a cold, wet, or otherwise challenging locale, you'll be glad to have something designed to keep you protected from the elements. Many backpacking tarps are extremely lightweight, pack small, and can be supported with cord, trekking poles, or found sticks. I have a very simple 8’ x 10’ silnylon tarp from Etowah Outfitters that I love. It weighs less than a pound and backs up to roughly the size of a Nalgene (this is the tarp photographed in the title image above.) 

You don’t have to splurge for a dedicated backpacking tarp, however. “Utilitarian” tarps like those found in hardware stores can be used, but they can be bulky and heavy. They are cheap and readily available, however. Other items to consider are tent footprints, but test them to make sure they are waterproof. Tyvek (the white paper-like stuff they wrap homes in after the framing stage) is another great, lightweight, readily available option. You can probably get a free piece of scrap from a construction site by simply asking.

One last option which is especially useful is a hybrid poncho tarp, like this one from GoLite for $60. This is a very smart multi-use item that will keep you and your pack dry while walking, but can also provide a nice dedicated shelter to sleep under or wait out a storm.

A “bivvy” sack is basically a body-sized mummy-like “tent” of sorts. They are barely larger than a sleeping bag but are waterproof and usually have some type of simple structure or support to give them a little form (so the fabric is not laying across the top of your body.) I am a bit on the claustrophobic side, so I’ve never really considered a bivvy. They are great for saving weight and space, however. This model from REI is only $100, weighs under a pound, and gets mostly good reviews. Other designs I see on REI’s site weight two pounds or more. Again, as someone who has never used a bivvy, I wouldn’t bring along something so restrictive in the same weight and price range as an ultralight two-person tent. Perhaps the sheer simplicity and thermal trapping are what inspire advocates. Make your case in the comments section, bivvy users! I’m sure advantages exist of which I’m truly ignorant.

In addition to a “real” bivvy as described above, other items more designed for temporary or emergency situations are sold as “emergency bivvys.” These are basically simple, heat reflective sacks. They range from about $10 for the simplest models, $30 for a bit more substantial one, and $50 for the SOL Escape Bivvy which I’ve been circling around for a while now but haven’t yet pounced on it. What I like about the looks of the Escape Bivvy is that it seems substantial enough to use as an ultralight sleeping bag during warm weather months at a measly 8 oz. If I ever pull the trigger and purchase one, I’ll update this post.

Space/Emergency Blankets
The most simple, affordable, and lightest option is a simple “space blanket” or emergency blanket. These are simple plastic sheets, typically with one reflective surface to retain body heat. Often they are orange on the other side to make for greater visibility for rescue. They fold up to about the size of a wallet and usually only weigh a couple of ounces or so. The SOL Emergency Blanket is only $5 at REI and weighs in at 2.5 oz. An even cheaper alternative is to simply bring your own plastic sheeting or a large contractor grade garbage bag.

Most of the options listed above are not intended to provide a warm and cozy night blissfully sleeping in the snow. These are mainly survival items designed to keep you from getting hypothermia or frostbite until you can get out of or be rescued from a tough situation.

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