Bothy shelters

A Bothy shelter is a very simple rectangular tent with no poles or floor, made of lightweight nylon. It can be pulled over the heads of a group standing together. The group then sits down tucking the lower edge of the walls under their backsides, effectively creating a tent with ‘human poles’.

Using Bothy during BSAR alpine training
Using a Bothy shelter in alpine conditions


They are also known as a Guide tent, Mountain Shelter, Bothy Bag, KISU (Karrimor Instructor Survival Unit) shelter
Bothy Shelter - unfolding
Bothy Shelter - how many can it fit?


A very quick, simple, effective lightweight shelter that can be used for rest or navigation breaks, as well as sheltering a group in severe weather or emergency situation.
Pros Cons
  • Because it’s very simple it requires minimal training (with no poles/pegs to lose or break)
  • It’s an almost instant, temporary emergency shelter with high visibility
  • No physical exertion required, unlike the digging  snow shelter
  • Capacity to shelter an entire BSAR group plus a patient, as opposed to a Bivvy Bag (victim only), or tent (generally 2-3 people), allowing suitable space to talk or assess a patient out of the wind/rain/snow
  • Very quickly removes the wind-chill factor to create a warm air atmosphere
  • Unlike a tent, there is no need to remove wet weather gear or footwear as there is no floor
  • Compact and lightweight (the 6 person option is little more than a standard bivvy bag in size & weight - ie approx 600 - 900g)
  • Unless in calm conditions (where packs or skipoles can be used, or where it can hang from a tree) it relies on people to act as ‘internal poles’ thereby restricting movement during use
  • Can flap around a bit in high winds particularly if only a few people are available to act as ‘internal poles’ on the windward side
  • Being lightweight material there is potential for damage from sharp objects
  • Not suitable for cooking inside due to the enclosed environment (only fitted with very small air vents)
  • Primarily designed as a short term option and doesn’t replace the need for carrying a suitable tent (there is no capacity for sleeping inside except for a patient lying in the central area when the walls are being supported by rescuers)

Original authors: Mark and Andy Oates, 2007