Survival Starts at Home: Shelter

Survival Starts at Home, Shelter; when we are talking “survival” we love to jump right into the worst case and learn the cool skills (which are important) but the true mark of a backcountry pro is not having to use those skills because of things that they can control. Obviously, there are situations outside your control when the super cool dude skills come in handy. But for me it is about hazard mitigation and avoidance.  

So, what am I talking about this week, well shelter and the planning process that goes into being properly equipped for the environment and being ready for the trip? So, first and biggest threat that I can start planning for is weather. What is the duration of my trip what will the weather be like and if my trip extends past that duration am, I prepared to protect myself from the environment?

Example: I’m going on a day hike in the summer and will be doing ten miles, I am allotting eight hours to do this hike. What are my temperature minimums and maximums going to be during the trip? Am I prepared to protect myself from the sun? Now here is the fun part what if my trip becomes extended for whatever reason, this is where I ask myself do, I have the ability to shelter myself from the environment in that twenty-four hour period? This can be as simple as bringing a warming layer and space blanket. So, the weather aspect can be as simple as looking at my trip and planning beyond my schedule if something should change and am I ready for any changes that might occur.

Duration is another key element I touched on above, but I can’t stress having realistic goals for your trip. Having a plan with a turn back time is key, a lot of times we get ourselves into trouble is when we have a destination in mind and don’t give ourselves the flexibility to adjust or turn back. Turning back can be a life savior. Especially when you gear is set up for your trip and not an over nighter. Keep in mind too that unforeseen circumstances can cut your trip short or extend it.  This can come from you assisting other hikers or something as simple as a rolled ankle that is going to either slow you down or sit you down for a while.

Example: we were doing a winter attempt at Mt Whitney, we got a late start and headed up the “shoot” from Trail Camp with crampons, ice axes and daypacks. The clime took us like six hours and when we made it to the top of the notch, we were only two miles from the summit. Based on that we looked at the time it would take and realized we would be coming down in the dark. The night before it dropped to 5 degrees F so we made the decision to turn back because if we got stuck or delayed all of our primary gear was at Trail Camp and it would be not only dangerous to do this at night but we didn’t have all the gear we would like to shelter in place.


Location is another important part of shelter options, what does the area provide for us to help in our protection, is it a lot of trees, boulders, is it exposed? A hammock with a bug net doesn’t help if there is nowhere to set up or if there is a specific area to set up you begin to put yourself in a situation where you might have to keep going which can add risk to your trip. Shelter options should be available at any point on the trail.

Example: Hammocks are a great example; I enjoy using them because they are comfortable, but I also need the trees. In SoCal we hike a lot of trail that can start lower in elevation and we wouldn’t be able to hang our hammock or rain flys so we have had to push a little further than we wanted to go in the past to get to a suitable campsite.

The hammocks are another great example for group size, if you get to a spot where you can hang you hammock but no one else can than that’s not a good spot. Group size also applies to your tent too. There are a lot of places to camp along the trail but often times you group size can keep you from using them because they just are not big enough or other campers beat you to it this can also go hand and hand with location and knowing where the suitable camp sites are.

Example: Chato and I where hiking up the Palisade Glacier and while it’s an amazing trip especially along the first three lakes the areas to camp can be limited. We wanted to stop at lake two but the spots where pretty full, so we ended up finding an awesome spot at third lake. It worked out but it also extended the hike and time we were ion the trail. This could have been an issue with poor weather, altitude sickness or a minor injury so this is always something to keep in mind. After all we are only as fast as our slowest hiker, this time that hiker was me ha-ha.


Group Ability is also a very important need to address, who is in your group what are their requirements for shelter? Some people run cold some run hot. What is you plan for keeping everyone together? Another aspect of group ability is are they familure with their shelter options and are they proficient in using them. The trail is not the place to the the price tag off you tents and set them up for the first time or to break out that borrowed gear. That is not to say don’t bring new hikers but have a plan, do a dry run set everything up under good conditions make sure everyone is familure with each other’s gear because if you go down they might have to help you out.

Example: On the same winter Whitney attempt I talked about before day one I was out of gas when we re3ached the camp and I was feeling the altitude. We all had technical four-season tents that take a little familiarity to set up. Lucky for me Chato knew the tent and was able to help me get set up quickly and I was able to get in my bag warm up and grab some sleep instead of miserably sitting in the snow trying to do it myself. Being able to set up and tear down quickly is a key component in staying safe and enjoying your trip.

Gear options having them and knowing what they are there for are also keys in enjoying the outdoors safely. I have a bunch of sleeping bags and tents for this very reason and my ability to plan the trip also means that I need the right tools for the job. Keep in mind a lot of the stuff you have will work across a lot of situations but when it won’t don’t be afraid to speak up, buy, borrow or rent what you need but going back to ability make sure you have a solid understanding of what you are using.

Example: I took a twenty-degree bag on a winter trip, it went to 5 degrees, I now have a 0-degree bag, ha-ha.

This week we covered shelter as it pertains to trip planning and some concepts and examples, I use to make sure my trips are fun and safe, we talked about weather, location, duration, groups size, group ability and gear options. “if you fail to plan, plan to fail” is a great saying I have learned to live by because when you are on the trail often times it’s a little late to go to the store for some more gear, ha-ha. I hope this help you out with your future trips and if you have any questions feel free to email us, we are always happy to help. Also this is based off of slide one of our Backcountry Skills Class “Shelter” so if you have the time sign up for one and find out what the rest of the class has for you.



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