Category Archives: shelter

brush tipi

Had to rebuild my brush tipi today. Decided to cheat a little and put a tarp liner underneath due to the time I had (just me and one day), rain and high wind forecast. Oh, and the tarps were already close at hand and surplus. Over time I will add to the thatch reducing the need for this waterproof liner.


poles in place


bracing struts to support weight of thatch


tarps in place


starting to thatch with leaves, branches and mulch


view of inside bracing and tarps in place


inside tipi with firepit


finished brush tipi: ready to move in!

review: golite shangri-la 3

This is a mini, long-term review of the Golite Shangri-la 3.

Golite Hex 3 - the forerunner to the Shangri-la 3. I have had both.

Golite Hex 3 – the forerunner to the Shangri-la 3. I have had both.

The Golite hex, now Shangri-la 3 used to have an almost cult status on these shores when it was available. We all mourned the day Golite decided just to supply the US market.

I have used and owned a Golite Shangri-la 3 (and its previous incarnation the Hex 3) for nearly ten years. I have owned three of them consecutively. I have even tried out other one-man shelters a couple of years ago with me field-testing ten of them including the Hilleberg Akto, Jack Wolfskin Gossamer, Mountain Hardwear Sprite, Wild Country Zephyr, Snugpak Ionosphere and Terra Nova Laser Comp amongst them. In addition I have tried and tested nearly fifty other tents and shelters of various sizes.

Whilst a few of these tents are good (some like the Hilleberg are VERY good), the combination of 3+/four-season rating (below treeline recommended), space (it can sleep three with kit at a squeeze, has a total space of 5.5 sq. m and a head height of 157 cms), weight (at 2 kilos it can also be used fly only to make it a sub kilo shelter) and ease of pitching (it has just one, sturdy central pole and 6 pegs) makes this, as the literature states: ‘a model of backcountry versatility.’


I have used it in gusting winds (but not gale force) and persistent rain on occasions. I have used it in light snow a few times too. Winter through to Summer it has seen a reasonable amount of use. On-balance has been the best ultra-lite/lite shelter that I have used.

Despite my thumbs up to this shelter – the overall design is excellent (but then I am a sucker for tipi/pyramid shelters) I think it was a step too far (sacrificing real-world durability) to drop the fabric weight from 30 to 15 denier. This is just too flimsy – not in breaking or maybe even tear strength but in out-and-out abrasion resistance terms). I would like to see a return to 30 if not 40 Denier. This, and the fact that withdrawing from supplying outside the US, has created a gap that some quality minded tent makers could benefit taking note of since as the design of these are neither complex nor expensive to manufacture.



  • Stable pyramid shape
  • Ease of pitch
  • Amazing space to weight ratio
  • Good headroom for sitting up and changing
  • Plenty of sleeping length even for tall people
  • Can be used just with the flysheet
  • Pole can be replaced with stick or walking pole/paddle or even hung from a tree!
  • Improved ventilation reduced condensation
  • Lap felled seams which have been taped/sealed
  • Generous height bath-tub floor
  • Very light silicon-coated nylon.
  • Only $250 (in the UK when is was available it cost nearer 300/350GBP). Sometimes they even do free ground-shipping (US only)
  • The ‘bug-nest’ inner can be used separately and is totally sealed unit with bath-tub floor. This could be suspended under a tarp for an alternative shelter.
  • Although it is possible to pitch the outer first it takes a bit of gymnastics to do so!
  • Lighter green/moss colour makes the interior light much more cheery and less gloomy than the previous ‘sage’ used in the hex. Better for longer term morale.


  • Unless you live in the US then extremely difficult to get hold of. They do not ship internationally and they stopped supplying to European sales agents/retailers. There is a UK alternative (made in China) but I was not 100% convinced by the quality especially how the seams were sewn as they were not lap felled).
  • The 15D sinylon is a VERY light material,  and whilst Golite have claimed that they retained 90% of the strength by going lighter when they changed model from the Hex to the Shangri-la I am not convinced about its abrasion resistance. If this material was to rub (in the wind) against a stone or a rock it was pitched by I cannot see it lasting very long. Care should therefore be take what it could rub up against.
  • The pitching area is vast – making this tent quite fussy as to where it is pitched. Narrow ledges, uneven ground, tight in between trees will challenge you (and it). A nice big, flat, level area is preferred (and how many of those do you get in the wilderness!). On the plus side you rarely use guylines with it (unless it it blowing up a gale) so this saves on the total footprint of the tent.
  • The whole of the inner is mesh. It is not as warm as it could be in winter. You could get a custom inner from Oookworks.
  • Strong driving rain can splash a little (not much) through the upper vents.
  • The design means that you open the door in the rain then you get the floor wet. There is no porch for wet kit. However there are work-arounds like unhooking one of the ground straps of the inner to allow for it to be pulled back or get a customer inner from somewhere like Oookworks.
  • There are guyline attachements but these are or the ‘corner’ seams of each pair of fly ‘panels’. It would make much more sense to have these guy lines actually in the centre of each panel to act as lifters.
  • The short fasteners/straps for each tent peg are bulky (when compared to the rest of the tent. But the main gripe is that the ones for the next should ideally be much longer than the flysheet ones (as these have farther to go to reach the shared tent peg. Have the inner/nest ones on longer straps would help maintain the tightness and space between the inner and the outer.
  • The light materials does snag easily along the zip. A slightly more bulky material strip here might help like it does on sleeping bags.
  • The whole setup claims that it can be hung (inner and outer) from a branch using the central loop. and thereby dispensing with the central pole. However this does not work because the inner (when clipped to the outer via its clip) pulls the reinforcement cup under the peak of the outer fly DOWN since it is not fully attached to the outer. If it was stitched through or secured together right at the peak then this would not happen – as it stands its next to useless in this configuration.
  • Pockets would be a very useful addition to the inner nest.
  • Lack of highly visibility tent fabric colour choice (they used to have a yellow/bamboo option.


shelter: a special selection

To celebrate over 300 pages of posts and 25,000 visits to Mark the Wilderness Guide I will be publishing a selection of postings on various subjects – all in one place – to browse. These postings and articles date back a couple of years. Every few days a new selection on a different subject will be posted. Today it is ‘shelter’.



quick tarp tipi


Tarp tipis are relatively quick to erect, are spacious, thermally efficient with a fire and can be good for all seasons – including deep winter.

Just to prove how quick, simple (and cheap) they can be to do I used a large square tarpaulin (£12 B&Q), cut in half to make two long rectangles. That’s all it cost. It will be good for some time in the woods and will put up with gales and rain with ease. This particular shelter will sleep 4 with plenty of kit, space to sit around the campfire and a place to prepare and cook. It measures about 13 foot across with plenty of headroom.

The first step is to source some straight pieces of wood. Sned them and if possible de-bark them. This will ensure the poles don’t damage the tarp and remain fairly rot free.


Next simply lash the three poles together. You don’t have to do this but next you should loop a long cord from this axis and as you add more poles you should weave the dangling cord between the new poles at this point thereby securing them.


Once you have added poles – more in winter than in summer – to ensure that its robust against the wind, snow or rain then add the tarps with the long edge going along the base of the poles. Because tarps aren’t shaped into a crescent (ie they are square or rectangular) they leave gaps at along the ground at various points. This can be useful to help draw the air for the fire or to provide circulation in warm weather.


Or you can stop these gaps up with soil or brush.


You can drape a small tarp for the door


Or erect a small tarp as a wind cowl for the smoke hole


Both these add greatly to the comfort of the tipi but are optional in finer weather.





a fire reflector

Winter has come. A good friend of mine, Jane is sleeping out in the winter lean-to that has just been built in this previous post. To make these shelters more useable in cold weather a long log-fire is used along with a fire reflector. The beauty of this set-up is that a fire that is positioned one pace from your sleeping body, is as long as you are lying down (so it will kick out heat sideways down its full length), and has a reflector on the other side of the fire to reflect back what would be wasted heat  – all radiates this heat back into the shelter and down on you and even behind you to keep you warm and toasty. I have slept out in around -17 celsius without a sleeping bag. Although you need to keep a strong fire going all night for this.

So here is a very short step-by-step for the fire reflector and the principle behind it.

long log fire

long log fire

radiated heat bouncing back into the shelter

radiated heat bouncing back into the shelter

cut and drag 'body' length logs

cut and drag ‘body’ length logs

cut stake-poles to help stack the log reflector

cut stake-poles to help stack the log reflector

sharpen stakes to hammer into ground

sharpen stakes to hammer into ground

chamfer stakes so they don't split when pounded in

chamfer stakes so they don’t split when pounded in

stack them at least waist high or higher

stack them at least waist high or higher

with normal cooking fire

with normal cooking fire

layer up!

Oh, its gonna get cold. My cabin up on Dartmoor has no mod cons (like central heating or insulation) and with just an open fire we get a whole three or four degree advantage over the outdoor temperature. This means we dress for the outdoors indoors. We get quite used dressing sensibly as a result! With temperatures due to drop  below -10 in the run up to Christmas it is even more important that we dress well.

For recommendations on what to buy as layers for winter then scroll down to the bottom of this posting


good for the dry minus 10s: thick wool watch-cap, merino buff, bamboo base layer, woolpower mid layer, lundhag fleece, british army bivi jacket, merino liner gloves, boiled wool outer gloves, heattech long john under windproof trousers, angorra wool socks and insulated boots. Ventile smock in back pack.

Clothing creates a micro-climate around our body that allows us to continue to function and stay comfortable. Your clothing should protect your body and help maintain its optimal temperature even when the outside conditions are very cold, very hot, or very wet. Treat your clothing as your primary shelter. Experience has shown that the best clothing system for the outdoors is the three-layer method. Three layers of clothing allows for maximum heat retention and cooling efficiency in all weather conditions as well it being very adaptable to rapidly changing conditions. However, as a bynote, I would add an extra over-insulation 4th layer to go on top in very cold environments.

Being active in the outdoors causes your body to generate heat. When you are feeling cold the creation of heat is a good thing, but as in all aspects of life too much of a good thing can be bad for you. As your body continues to generate more heat than it gets rid of, it can overheat and start to sweat. If allowed to continue, excessive sweat will saturate the clothing next to your skin and reducing its ability to keep you warm. Besides feeling wet and clammy, when the temperature cools or you become more stationary (rest) then you will become sold or hypothermic. It must be mentioned that in some cases waterproof clothing and boots can promote cold injuries as they allow for the build-up of moisture within them that can in turn turn to ice.

As a consequence of cooling your core body temperature can start to drop and even if it does a only little then your efficiency physical and mental ability can drop rapidly. When your body cools it begins to burn calories at a higher rate. In the arctic you need two or three times as many calories to stay warm as you do in temperate climes.

The ideal layering system gives you flexibility in maintaining the proper body temperature. By adding or subtracting layers you can adapt what you are wearing to the ever-changing conditions you experience. While exerting yourself, you can strip off layers to help you stay cool and prevent sweating. I know that with enough energy reserves and a thin windproof layer I can go out and do hard physical activity in VERY low temperatures. But when you lessen your level of exertion or stop for a break it is important that you layer up to prevent your core temperature from dropping too far. It can only take minutes, if you are cooling rapidly, tired and hungry for hypothermia to start setting in and contributing to the making of unnecessary mistakes. If the wind comes up you may choose to throw on a wind-breaking layer so that air does not penetrate your clothing.

The bottom line is you want to sweat as little as possible and your want to stay dry as much as possible. The three layers system allows you to do this.

Elements of the Layering System

The 3 layers of clothing system consists first of an inner layer specifically designed to quickly wick moisture away from your skin and toward the outer layers of clothing. This layer is commonly composed of various synthetic materials or fine wool and is relatively thin like a t-shirt. Avoid cotton base layers like the plague as they trap moisture and cool you down more than keep you dry and warm. When it is warmer or you are exerting yourself and producing a lot heat, you can wear this inner layer by itself in order to stay cool and dry.

The middle layer is the main insulation layer so will normally be your thickest. Its main purpose is making dead air space. This captures the heat from body and prevents it from escaping into your surroundings. The middle layer is made up of wool, down, or synthetic insulations like fleece or pile. The thicker or loftier the layer the greater its heat retaining ability. The middle layer should be loose of fit to allow circulation and movement.

The outer layer is a proper windproof shell that prevents the wind from penetrating into your insulation layer and robbing it of heat. The outer layer should normally be waterproof too (as moisture is your foe) but should also allow the moisture that is being wicked away from your body by the inner and middle layers to escape. In very cold, dry environments you might want to dispense with a fully waterproof outer layer and stick with something that is just windproof – this helps moisture escape rather than condense within the layers.

This layering system can be extended to the legs aswell (leggings, main trousers and overtrousers) one of which might also have lofted insulation in colder temperatures. The same goes for hands. Mitts are the warmest type of glove but dexterity suffers so having a fine liner glove then a normal glove or mitt and then an over mitt of a robust, water and heat resistant material. Even with footwear wearing of a liner sock, a main sock, then a boot (ensuring that things are not too tight as poor circulation can lead to cold injury). Even consider layering for your face, neck and head with snoods (buffs), balaclavas and hats.

Do all of this and you are set for REALLY cold temperatures but can adapt as these change.

The professional wilderness guide Paul Kirtley has much experience in frozen environments and has shared this in some excellent blogs that go into more detail on the matter here, here, here but not here – go check them out.

The Basics of Regulating Body Temperature

  • Because of the dangers of wet clothing due to excessive sweating, it is better to try and keep your body temperature a little on the cool side. Cool and dry is far better in a ‘survival’ situation than hot and wet.
  • With a little experience you will learn when to put on and when to take off clothing in order to keep your body at its most efficient operating temperature. Try to think ahead and adjust your layers accordingly.
  • For example, during a hike in cold weather you may find yourself to be hot from the heavy exertion of climbing a mountain. When you stop for a break you run the risk of cooling down quickly, especially if you have been sweating. Do no wait until you are chilled before putting on another layer of clothing. You will want to trap some of that heat before it escapes into the surrounding environment.
  • If the weather is warm and you are about to start heavy exertion that you know will warm you up, do not wait to become overheated before removing some of your clothing. Think ahead and strip down a little as a pre-emptive strike against overheating.

Tips for Regulating Your Body Temperature

If you find yourself overheating you can safely regulate your body temperature in a number of ways that include:

  • removing your hat
  • loosening the clothing from around the neck area, pulling up your sleeves to expose your arms, unzipping your outer layer to allow cool air in
  • removing articles of clothing
  • reducing the intensity of your efforts or taking a break
  • drinking cold water

Conversely, if you find yourself cooling too much you can:

  • add a hat
  • batten down the hatches, so to speak, by closing off all areas where air can easily circulate out of your clothing – usually the neck, wrists, waist, and ankle areas.
  • add additional clothing to your middle insulation layer
  • wear all three main layers for maximum protection against the cold.
  • drink hot liquids and eat high calorie foods

As you can see, by wearing layers of clothing, each layer with its special purpose, you can fine-tune the micro-climate you create around yourself. This gives you the ability to safely experience a wide range of climate and activities.

Go chill out somewhere.


If you plan to buy winter layers then take a look at these


Mid Layer

Top brands also to consider for base, mid and outer are:

a winter shelter


Well it might not be a stable with a manger but this shelter will be your friend on a cold winter night. Based on the Arctic Lean-to this kind of shelter has been used by travellers in the boreal north for generations. Easy to construct out of conifer at a steep enough angle (60-70 degrees) to shed the weather. Pair it with a raised bed of soft fir boughs for insulation, a long log fire and a fire reflector and you are good to go down well into the minuses.

Below is a step-by-step pictoral guide for this lean-to. It was done in a several hours by with spruce cross-beam, uprights and thatching and with bracken thatch that was close to hand. The bed has a retaining log to keep the soft fir boughs in place. Over the coming days it will be improved with more thatching layers, a better raised bed and a fire reflector for a long log fire. The overhanging uprights will also be trimmed to discourage rainwater travelling down them and into the shelter

If you need more inspiration on what you could build then how about buying a book on shelters such as this book I have reviewed or this one.

basic frame at 70 degrees

basic frame at 70 degrees

under thatch with spruce to stop finer stuff falling through

under thatch with spruce to stop finer stuff falling through

thatch with finer material between forearm and arm length depth

thatch with finer material between forearm and arm lengths depth

thatch to top

thatch to top

weigh down thatch

weigh down thatch

continue to add depth

continue to add depth

add raised bed of soft fir boughs

add a raised bed of soft douglas fir

add a raised bed of soft douglas fir