The most basic human needs are food, water, and shelter. On a hill or mountain we carry supplies of the first two, but often rely on finding stone walls, natural dips in the ground, or banks of peat to keep the wind and rain off us. That’s where group shelters are invaluable. You can get shelter pretty much anywhere you please by carrying your own with you.
You could argue that clothing itself provides shelter, as well as protecting our modesty, and this is of course very true. However, being able to get yourself and everyone in your group out of the elements, and kept together is a great moral booster, and you can also spend time having lunch, checking the map, or whatever.
The other great thing about a group shelter is its use in emergencies. The old orange plastic survival bag still has its uses in the hills today, but if someone has had a serious accident, it is far, far simpler to put a group shelter over them than it is to try to slide them into an orange bag. Even if you do manage to get someone with say, a broken femur into an orange survival bag, the rest of the group are going to be sitting it out on a wild hilltop waiting for the mountain rescue team to arrive, which could take hours, so everyone gets hypothermia into the bargain.
I carry a group shelter every single time I go into the hills for a walk. And I make sure it’s large enough for the whole group to get into. Some days I might use the shelter three or four times in really foul conditions – to allow everyone to get a drink or a snack, to adjust clothing, to check the map, and to just allow everyone to get out of the cold and wet for a short time.
There are a number of different manufacturers of these group shelters, and it has to be said that they are all much of a muchness in that it’s just a huge pertex sack that you put over everyone once they are sitting down. That said, some of the ones out there are simply too small to fit the size of group they claim to be designed for. I’ve been testing the Vango Storm Shetler 800 for the past 6 months now, and find it to be one of the few on the market that is actually big enough to get a group of 8 into, comfortably, with rucksacks.
The Vango Storm Shelter 800 retails at just under £50, so it’s a fair bit cheaper than other similarly sized shelters on the market. Of course you can also get smaller ones too, but I’d recommend buying one that’s actually a little larger than the size of group you normally walk with, just in case you have an extra person or two turn up on your walk.
All in all I would say that every walking group heading into the hills and mountains should carry a group shelter, and I’d find it hard to find fault with the quality, size, weight, and price of the ones produced by Vango.
Graham Uney – Wild Walks Wales http://www.wildwalkswales.co.uk