Published: February 11th 2013

by Steve Ellis (International Mountain Leader at Gemini Outdoor Adventure Ltd)

As an IML/Nordic Walking Instructor and someone who works in the outdoors leading groups in the UK and overseas throughout the year, in addition to my own adventures, I always carry safety equipment as part of my standard rucksack contents (I work on the principle that wherever possible everything in my bag should have more than one use).  In particular, I always carry a ‘group shelter’, whether a large one capable of sheltering a group or a small one for myself and perhaps one other.

In essence, they are large windproof bags, often referred to as ‘group shelter’, ‘kissoo’, ‘bothy shelter’, ‘big hankerchief thingy’; and, you may have seen green, ones, red ones, yellow ones, orange ones; however, regardless of their name and colour the added benefits are unquestionable and should form part of any groups safety kit.

Practically, this piece of kit has so many uses.  A few years ago I was involved in an emergency in the Lakes, in which a young man had twisted his knee in Priests Hole Cave, I used a couple of shelters in this instance; one to keep the injured guy warm, one we laid out and using stones created a visual marker for the approaching Mountain Rescue Team and one for the remainder of the group.

Equally, I use it for clients to sit on when enjoying a mountain view during a lunch break, or as was experienced this winter to shelter my Nordic Walking group from the icy elements on a windswept Pen Y Fan, whilst they donned layers and ate lunch.  In the reverse situation, I have used it to shelter groups from glaring sunshine and midday heat.

I’ve seen it used by open canoeists in a sail format, and as a makeshift tent; it can be used in conjunction with other rucksack kit to create a stretcher, a particular favourite of mine when teaching young people the importance of self-reliance and how to maximise what kit they have on the hill.

Used correctly in an emergency situation it can be a lifesaving device; an injured casualty placed in a shelter will not only be kept out of the wind and the effects of wind chill, their core temperature will inevitably benefit and a feeling of safety and security experienced, particularly used in conjunction with a ‘survival bag’ and someone who knows what they are doing!

The cost of this piece of kit varies depending on size and manufacturer; but it should last a lifetime if looked after properly.  I’ve been in a few over the years that have been unfurled having been left in the bag after a wet day in the hills, they don’t smell particularly pleasant, so dry it out and if possible, leave it to air.  They are so easy to use (in shelter mode), and great fun for kids (and adults) to practice with, and use with confidence when required.

So why not get yourself one? A ‘group shelter’ is a great piece of kit that fulfills so many uses and definitely ticks the ‘multiple uses’ box – how many uses can you find?

Steve Ellis is an International Mountain Leader, Personal Trainer, Nordic Walking Instructor, and formally a Lecturer in Outdoor Education. He runs Gemini Outdoor Adventure Ltd, based in Malmesbury on the edge of the Cotswolds. Combining the outdoors and fitness, Steve uses his skills and experience to the benefit of those wanting to get fit through Nordic Walking & Personal Training and experience the mountains of the UK and overseas in all their glory.  He is also a ‘DofE Approved Activity Provider’; runs ‘navigation courses’ and ‘hut-to-hut trekking trips’ in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Steve can be contacted at