Over the last couple of years, I tested and used Terra Nova’s bothy bags, which Terra Nova bills as “Lightweight, compact and inexpensive shelters for emergencies or lunch stops.” Basically, bothy bags are giant stuff sacks designed to hold humans. You get out of your kayak or canoe, pull the bothy out of the stuff sack and pull it over top of you. The bags are just large enough to accommodate you and your friends, but nothing else. The fabric blocks the outside weather and warms up quickly. I own both the Superlite 2 and the Bothy 4, and I’ve used both in a variety of weather and situations. I’ll review both briefly here.
The Superlite 2 (pictured above) uses silicone nylon and has minimal features to reduce weight down to 8 oz. It packs down into a sewn-on stuff sack that compresses to about a half of the size of a Nalgene bottle. It features a single pole slot in the roof and two reinforced seats. Because I solo paddle more often than in groups, I use this bothy the most. It’s almost always in my day hatch on day trips, because it’s exactly the right size for one person — two make it tight. I use it most often in bad weather to eat lunch. I remember one particularly bad day that I needed to paddle 15 miles from camp into town to meet up with a friend. The air temps hovered right around freezing and a stiff headwind blew shoulder to overhead waves and sleet at me. The water temps were in the upper-30s. By lunch time, I felt chilled to the bone. I stopped on a sandy beach, grabbed my lunch and the bothy. Once inside, the bothy warmed up quickly. After lunch, I didn’t want to get out! I’ve also used this bag several times to add warm to my sleeping bag on cold nights. Price: $94.95
The Bothy 4 is much larger and has more features. It weighs about 21 oz. and fits four people. The bag is bigger than a water bottle, but compresses easily. It features a built-in stuff sack, four reinforced seats, a pole sleeve and a window. I actually use this one less than the other, because everyone usually wants to spread out during a break. (Although a friend of mine took this bag with him on a ski trip to the south pole, he never used it.) For four people, it feels tight, and with all the body heat, it gets very warm quickly. Both of the bags get humid inside, but this one feels more humid, probably, because of the extra moisture in everyone’s breath. For larger groups or guided tours, I think the larger sizes make good sense. I’d like to try an 8- or 12- person version during kayaking classes. On miserable days, they might be a better place for shore lessons than under a tarp. Price: $59.95
Overall, I think bothy bags are a great idea and worth the extra weight in climates that have miserable weather. They give you a way to get warm quickly. In an emergency, they’d offer a quick way to wrap a hypothermic victim. The only downside is that they’re hard to find in the U.S. A friend of mine actually bought the ones that I have in England and brought them back for me. Hopefully, more stores will start carrying these soon. The above links lead to one store in the U.S. that actually carries them.
p.s. I know that Sea Kayaker Magazine scooped me on this review.