Biker Bothy?

Given that winters in Maine —  even one as abnormally mild as this one has been —  are not generally conducive to scootering, in recent months we have had to settle for sitting at home feeding the pellet stove and perusing outdoor magazines while planning our coming summer adventures.  Recently, while engaged in a copy of “Canoe and Kayak” magazine, I came across an article reviewing new paddling gear and noticed an item called a “bothy”; intrigued, I began researching it online and ultimately decided to purchase one manufactured by a British company called “Terra-Nova”.

A bothy, I discovered, is originally a primitive shelter constructed in the Scottish highlands to provide temporary refuge for mountain hikers in the event of sudden storms.  Apparently these are very small, in order to conserve body heat and to reflect the relative dearth of building materials in those parts of the world.  The modern bothy is much the same; aptly described by an online reviewer as “a stuff sack for humans”, it’s made of a rugged orange tarpaulin material with plexiglass “windows”, a pole sleeve and an air vent.  Thus it provides immediate, portable, temporary windproof and waterproof shelter wherever you go.

This appealed to me as being eminently useful, not just for the occasional hiking trips and frequent canoe trips we take, but also for motorbiking.  Case in point — during the summer of 2013, my first year with the Vespa, I took a ride to Rockland for their annual lobster festival and was deluged with monsoon-like rains on the ride home.  Sure, I have raingear and I used it; but when the rain is coming down so hard that it’s bouncing up off the pavement and blowing up under your faceshield (so you have water on BOTH sides of the viewplate!), it ceases to be either fun OR safe to ride.  THAT would have been the perfect time to pull over and pull out the bothy.

The Terra-Nova 2-person bothy is the size of a football and so fits easily into pack, kayak hatch, saddlebags, topbox or underseat storage compartment.  Here my lovely assistant demonstrates the bothy as it rests on the backseat of the Honda:IMGP5207

Pull it out of the stuff sack and the sack becomes an attached airvent.  Here you see it occupied by one person (my lovely assistant again!) with a stick in the airvent to hold up the other side; the plexiglass “window” is just visible in the middle of the bothy:


Robin is seated in the right side of the bothy as you view the photo.  The 2-man bothy is designed to hold two people very snugly while sitting on the ground inside of it.  At four feet long by two feet wide, you need to be very good friends with whomever you share it (or, you WILL be very good friends when you are done!).  There is a reinforced plastic “seat” on each end to protect your clothing from the ground.  Seated thus, you can pull the sides of the bothy right down to the ground so that it becomes a completely windproof and waterproof place in which to eat your lunch, consult your map, warm up or just wait out a passing storm.  Again, it is small, to conserve heat — as an example, I can remember numerous spring and fall paddling outings where we stopped for lunch on an island and froze, sitting in the wind on a 45-degree day.  This is where the snug and windproof bothy would be well worth the investment.

Bikers, of course, could either park the bike and sit on the ground in the bothy:


(in this picture you see the pole sleeve being utilized to hold up the bothy off of Robin’s head), or you could park the bike, sit on it and then pull the bothy over your head and over the windshield of the bike, creating a snug and dry windproof cocoon in which to wait out the deluge (much preferable to seeking an overpass under which to park by the side of the road).  This worked well for me on the Vespa, but Robin had trouble fitting the bothy over the Honda.  I guess the relative angles made for a bad fit, as she could not pull it down sufficiently to keep out the wind:


This photo shows the window, the attached stuffsack/airvent, and the pole sleeve sticking up at the back.  Sorry I do not have a photo of it on the Vespa, but I was definitely able to pull it down while seated on the bike until only my boots were exposed, with the windshield holding it up very nicely to give me lots of warm, dry space.

So, it’s something to consider for anyone who might need quick, lightweight shelter.  Note that it is NOT a tent.  It is not big enough to stretch out in and while it would definitely be much better than nothing if stuck out in the woods overnight, it certainly wouldn’t replace a tent (or even a bivy sack) for a planned camp-out.

Here is a link to the excellent online review that sold me on the Terra-Nova bothy:

Lightweight, durable, waterproof and windproof, the modern bothy can be obtained through several manufacturers online at; the 2-person version we bought for under $50, but they are made in 4-, 8-, 12- and 20-man sizes as well.  Check it out and see if it’s anything you could use!

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