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Bad benightings
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Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 19:45:53 MDT Print View

It’s been pouring all day. It’s too windy to pitch the tent. There’s no shelter at hand. But for whatever reason you’re being forced to make ‘camp’ right here.

What do you do? Do you try to get out of your wet gear and into your down sleeping bag? Wrap yourself up in the tent fly (that wets out at a touch)? Will a saturated down bag offer any insulation at all?

Getting on your sleeping pad is obviously vital. Eating cold food. Are you better off staying dressed with bag and tent wrapped around you? Get into the bag fully dressed maybe?

Do bothy bags wet out as badly as tents?

Thoughts, tactics, equipment?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 19:52:22 MDT Print View

Craig, why don't you purchase a decent shelter, tent, tarp, or something that works properly in bad weather?

Spending a night in a saturated down sleeping bag isn't fun, and it is halfway dangerous depending on the air temperature. That's why bivouac sacks were invented. Better, though, is to learn to keep the sleeping bag 100% dry even when the weather is 100% wet.


Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 19:55:47 MDT Print View

if you're travelling solo, this is where a Nemo Gogo comes in handy.
pop 3 quick stakes in the ground, crawl in to the Gogo as if it were a large bivy, then pump up the single support pole from the inside. you now even have a vestibule to store wet gear from the storm.

this scenario, added to the fact I sweat quite profusely, is why neither my sleeping bag nor jacket are ever down.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 20:20:48 MDT Print View

Thanks for the input guys.

Bob, I've got plenty of gear and experience, just interested in the thoughts of others regarding bad benightings.

In bad enough wind/terrain a tent/tarp can't pitch, especially if you're trying to pitch it solo.

If one hikes with down, your primary shelter fails and the weather is poor enough, merely getting out of your wet gear and into your down sleeping bag (placed, hopefully, as it is in your bivvy bag on top of your groundsheet and sleeping pad) without things getting dangerously wet presents serious difficulty, no?

Climbers and mountaineers will tell you that bivvy sacks won't do the job in foul weather. Bothys they rate far higher in the clutch, but you can't lay down fully, so I wonder if sometimes it's even worth risking layering down and fiddling with sleeping bag at all.

Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 20:21:23 MDT Print View

Hmmm... I would say preferably keep going until you can use your tent. Shouldn't take too long. Definitely don't waste your bag's warmth by getting it wet. If you really have to stop (why I can't imagine) wrap up in your tent to block the windchill until you can keep going after eating. Once you find a good place to setup the tent get out of your wet clothes and use that nice cozy bag to warm up and gets some rest. When you wake up everything will be back to normal.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 20:26:46 MDT Print View

Prevention obviously better than cure, but, I don't know, injury, busted flashlight, horribly lost near cliffs, happens all the time really.

Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
keep going on 08/21/2012 20:33:06 MDT Print View

In all of those circumstances I would say keep going until you can setup your tent. Sitting around in wet clothes in high wind is a guaranteed recipe for hypothermia potentially followed by death. Injury even more so than the others. I would think you want to keep moving to stay warm until you can fix the problem permanently.

Edited by theronr on 08/21/2012 20:34:31 MDT.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 20:47:51 MDT Print View

"Prevention obviously better than cure, but, I don't know, injury, busted flashlight, horribly lost near cliffs, happens all the time really."

It's never happened to me. It's never happened to anyone I know. I'm not sure it happens all the time, I think that might be, maybe, an overreaction statement to the folks who aren't going along with your thesis.

And if you've got even a modicum of skill, I don't believe it can be too windy to set up your shelter. It might take you some time, you might have to be patient, might take a little thought (and even a bit of thinking outside the box), but you can get it erected.

Now I'm sure you can point out some outlandish examples - but those are the few, not the many. And I'm sure you can come up with some outlandish weather situations (what about if you're in a hurricane! Try setting your shelter up in that!). But, again, those would be so rarely encountered as to be not worth figuring out. That's the kind of stuff you just have to figure out when you're in it, 'cause there is no plan that can really prepare you for it.

My 2 euros.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Re Re Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 20:59:30 MDT Print View

Douglas has a point.

I've never been out when I could not get a tarp up. Alaska might be different. If I went out expecting prolonged bad weather here's what I'd do.

1. Carry a fleece layer. I'd wear this under my raincoat in rainy weather. When I started to get moist under my raincoat (it WILL happen if you stay in the rain long enough) that would help a lot with keeping my body a bit warmer.

2. Carry an appropriate tarp/quilt combo. I probably won't carry a tiny tarp and a down bag on a trip when I expect horrible weather. A slightly bigger tarp or a synthetic quilt give me some wiggle room.

Getting into bed wet is a real problem at times. Even if your tarp is set up right and you keep your sleeping bag dry what happens when you are cold, wet and want to go to bed? This was one reason I loved my synthetic quilt for the Colorado Trail. Another option would be to carry something like a Shamwow towel to dry off with.

Edited by Cameron on 08/21/2012 21:00:08 MDT.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Re: Re: Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 21:10:49 MDT Print View

Here in New Zealand, even in the North Island, people quite regularly die in the outdoors from overnight exposure/hypothermia. More than regular enough to plan for.

But then our landscape and weather are rugged.

And trust me, when it's gale force on an exposed rock ridge above the bushline, you can have a million modicums and you aint getting that UL tarp or tent up on your own.

Shamwow, Nemo Gogo, liking the look of these.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: keep going on 08/21/2012 21:20:59 MDT Print View

Makes sense, Theron. Even to the point of pacing or walking in circles - sit ups and press ups if, say, your ankle's blown - with constant snacking rather than hunkering down?

For arguments sake, in a real emergency, would a wet down bag wrapped around your outer layer rain gear give more insulation/wind protection than not?

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Rephrasing the question on 08/21/2012 21:51:36 MDT Print View


I gather that your real question is a hypothetical along the lines of:

"If you become immobilized in an exposed location without much clothing and equipment, and the weather turns very nasty (rain, high wind) then what do you do?"

Is that right?

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Rephrasing the question on 08/21/2012 22:01:17 MDT Print View


I'm interested in shabby benightings in general, but you are most welcome to re-interpret my post if it helps you order your thoughts.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 22:02:14 MDT Print View

>"Might happen in Alaska."

I was in winds of 90 mph, gusting to 127 mph (208 kph) on Unalaska Island once. So I stuck with my original plan and stayed in the Grand Aleutian Hotel. The windows rattled but the satellite reception continued so I watched the film Midway (Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, etc) in which they say, "They've attacked Dutch Harbor." which is exactly why I was there - to clean up that spill from 1942 when the Japanese bombed the fuel tanks.

I've got a similar plan for Adak this October. There's a local woman who offers a "Lodge and a Dodge" package. 2 bedrooms, a garage to butcher the caribou in, and a 4WD Dodge pickup.

I will have warm layers and a waterproof layer with me at all times and be ready to bivac if needed. But I'll also check the weather forecast and be ready to hunker down and read a book instead of venturing out.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Rephrasing the question on 08/21/2012 22:05:47 MDT Print View

I can't speak for the OP but that is a good question.

I'll be honest, if I was immobilized in bad weather with my 5 X 9 foot tarp, my bivy, and my down bag I might be in tight spot. I can tell you what I'd try to do but realistically I'd be going to bed wet. Camping safely with really minimal gear means you can't make mistakes. That is why I tend to give myself some margin on longer trips, or if I'm solo. For example on the Colorado Trail I started with a fairly small tarp but I had a synthetic jacket and a synthetic quilt. Synthetic insulation means if I go to bed a bit wet its not as big a deal.

Different situations call for different types of gear and whats minimal but safe in one situation may be suicidal in another.

Edited by Cameron on 08/21/2012 22:14:45 MDT.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Re Rephrasing the question on 08/21/2012 22:23:22 MDT Print View

In NZ we most often hike public hut to public hut. But our rugged landscape, weather, and the utter isolation of our wilderness parks (no roads allowed, you walk in and out or you chopper) often combine to leave people short of the hut before nightfall.

Hiking at night is all but impossible to do safely here. So most people carry emergency shelter systems of various efficacy.

Short of the hut - pushed for it instead of admitting defeat and using the last of the light to make a safe camp - makeshift equipment gets overwhelmed by stormy weather - people die.

With 20 odd years of experience, I'd like to think this won't happen to me, but you never know, especially if you run into someone else in trouble and need to stay with them. (This HAS happened to me an the weather eased off when we needed it to).

So I just like collecting war stories, tips, gear recs, etc, for when these worst case scenarios unfold.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Bad benightings on 08/21/2012 22:41:21 MDT Print View

The whole down vs. synthetic bag argument blows. I say this because when my oldest was 5 or 6 he had an accident on night 1 of a 2 night trip. His bag was soaked and useless - and synthetic. We ended up sleeping under my bag, quilt style that night. It was a quaint night to say the least....
The only reason his bag was synthetic at that age was so I could machine wash it.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Re Rephrasing the question on 08/21/2012 22:55:20 MDT Print View

Craig New Zealand sounds sort of like Alaska in its ability to throw bad weather at you. Sounds like an area where a more substantial shelter might be needed then a tarp. Do you think part of the problem in NZ is hikers depending on huts and pushing themselves into bad situations?

I know lots of hiking deaths in the US have less to do with the harshness of the environment and more to do with human error. We have plenty of bad weather in the US but (with a few exceptions) nothing you can't handle if you know what you are doing. The problem is people pushing themselves beyond their skill level or getting in trouble and panicking (or both).

I get the impression most of our problems involve day hikers going out unprepared and getting into trouble when the weather changes. Backpackers tend to be better prepared so they don't seem to get in trouble as often.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
ooooopppss .... on 08/21/2012 23:55:59 MDT Print View

synth will suck wet ... but it will suck less than down especially if its merely damp ... which brings me to the next point ...

your tent or tarp is a bivy ... if you cant set it up you can still crawl into it or burrito roll yourself in it with yr pack to weight you down .. now naturally there will be lots of condensation and yr down bag will get quite damp, but a synth bag will work quite a bit better ... which brings me to the next point ...

with sufficient insulation and body heat you can dry out yr inner layers somewhat or prevent them from getting too damp from condensation/spray if you wear them under synth ... i have done this with light down layers under synth bag/puffy ... remember that you shouldnt be soaked providing you crawl into yr collapsed tent/tarp, just damp from condensation and spray ...

either way your priorities are to
1. get out of the wind or reduce it
2. get out of the rain or reduce it
3. keep warm
4. worry about surviving the night

if you need to sacrifice things to do so, then do so ... and run like hell for the treeline or shelter next morning ...

there have been a post or two about people getting their down wet/damp by some pretty experienced people here ... some were happy to have part of their layering system as synth in that case...

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Superior judgment on 08/22/2012 00:13:26 MDT Print View


Your original question was what one of us would do in such a situation. It reminds me of the old pilot's saying (there are many variants, but they all mean the same thing):

A superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that require him to demonstrate his superior skill.

Edited by blean on 08/22/2012 00:27:27 MDT.