10 Tips for your first bothy

Want to spend a night in your first bothy but not sure how?  Here are my top tips for your first bothy.  A night in a bothy is a unique experience and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life

I am a veteran bothy traveller with many visits under my belt. Here are some of my dos and a few don’ts, that’ll help you plan your trip and ensure you have fun.

Remember a bothy is a remote mountain shelter. It is open to all and unstaffed, so you will need to be self-reliant.

Ben Alder bothy. A remote place and not the best choice for
a first trip


  1. Choose your bothy carefully. Visit the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) website and check out their location map. http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/locationmap.asp   This will give you grid references for all their bothies.  Choose a bothy that is easy to get to for your first trip.  Many bothies are only an hour’s walk from the road and situated on good tracks.  Choose one of these.  Don’t head for some of the remoter bothies which can be a minor expedition to get to and might not even be on a track. Remember you’ll be in remote terrain, so basic navigation skills are essential.

Typical Bothy interior

  1. Don’t go alone. It’ll be more fun with friends and you’ll have back up if there are problems like someone feels ill or you get lost.  Three is probably the ideal number.  Larger parties are more difficult to keep track of as there’s always someone goofing off and food is more difficult to plan as there’s bound to be someone who is allergic to pretty well everything.


  1. What to expect. Bothies are basic shelters.  Let’s start by saying what isn’t there.  In general bothies don’t have electricity, running water, plumbing of any kind or soft beds.  Many are outside mobile phone networks and it’s unlikely you’ll get a data connection on your phone.  You may get a connection in some bothies but don’t rely on it.  You are on your own out there folks!
Hill walking

All the comforts of home

  1. What to take. If you are going to your first bothy it’s best to imagine that you are going camping in a bothy so the only thing you don’t need to take is a tent.


As well as my usual gear for a day’s walking I take the following.


  • Camping stove and gas.
  • Sleeping bag.
  • Sleeping mat.
  • Pots and pans
  • Knife and fork
  • Tin opener
  • Matches and cigarette lighter. (Never rely on just one box if matches.  If they get wet, you’ll be in for a cold night.)
  • Map and compass
  • Food! Very important.
  • Drink. Drinking alcohol in a bothy is one of life’s great pleasures but be sensible.
  • Fuel for the fire. (See below.)
  • Toilet paper, hand sanitizer etc.
  • First Aid kit. Very much down to personal choice what you put in this.
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent. Depending on the time of year.
  • Spare clothes in case you get soaked on the way in.
  • A plastic bag to take your rubbish out.
  • Candles.
  • Torch.
  • A sense of humour, you’ll need it.

Firelogs are a convenient way to provide some heat.

  1. Something to burn. Sitting round the bothy fire is one of the greatest joys.  I’ll do another blog on how to light a bothy fire as it’s an art in itself.  If you are confident about lighting a coal fire take around 6-8 Kgs of coal (Not smokeless) split between the three of you.  Remember to take kindling and Fire Lighters.  If you are not used to lighting coal fires, then you could take a Fire Log each. These are wrapped in paper and about the size of a big brick. They are easy to light and give you heat for about 1-2 hours.  Never cut live wood or take down fence posts and other things that are there to do a job, to burn


  1. Follow the Bothy Code. (Or, don’t be an arsehole) The MBA has a code which is a guide to behaviour and how to treat the bothy and other folk. You can read it here http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothy-code.asp

An undesirable.

  1. Who you’ll meet.  Many people worry about meeting ‘undesirables’ in bothies.  I never worry about this as I can’t think of anyone more undesirable than me.  In all the bothies I have visited I have never had any problems, the worst I’ve had to endure is people droning on about the mountains they’ve climbed or snoring like a Hippo all night.  Most people who use bothies are outdoor folk of one kind or another and are pretty reasonable.  My best advice, if this worries you, is; go in a group of three for security and trust your instincts. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, leave.  With any luck, you won’t find me there.


  1. Check the weather. It’s a good idea to look at a weather forecast before you set off. This is good advice for any hillwalker. If you are about to be hit by the worst deluge since Noah’s flood, be prepared to change your plans.  Getting to many bothies involves river crossings.  In the hills rivers can rise and fall incredibly quickly and, after heavy rain, river crossings can become dangerous or even impossible.


  1. Get advice. If you are unsure about a bothy trip, ask advice.  There are groups on Facebook that will be more than willing to help you although not everyone knows what they are talking about (including me) and you should always rely on your own judgement.

Old man burning his trousers (Me)

  1. Say thanks. If you have had a good trip to a bothy why not say thanks to the MBA. Bothies are maintained by volunteers who give their own time to replace roofs and fix doors and keep the places water tight.  Why not make a donation?

http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/make_a_donation.asp or you could even join or go on a work party to help with bothy maintainence.   Look in the bothy book to see who was last there and sign it yourself it’s always good to let folk know you were there and you might come back and see your names in years to come.


Bothies are fantastic places to visit.  I forgot the only really import tip!! Enjoy yourself

WE ARE MOVING. I’m bringing all my sites and blogs together on my new site http://www.johndburns.com/  come over and take  a  look. follow my news site. My old blog shuts down in a few months.






3 responses to “10 Tips for your first bothy

  1. Brilliant piece! Who’s the undesirable? he looks great fun. I’d love to share a bothy with you by the way – a most entertaining night it would be.

    And, to be honest, people snoring like hippos are found in every youth hostel, bunkhouse or any other place you have to share!

    On my first trip to my first bothy, Culra, with my mate Mark, I realised halfway up the A9 that I hadn’t brought any plates or cups at all. That was soon rectified. I got him to stop at the little garage just after Blackford and bought us a cup of coffee each. I kept the cups and used one for my food and the other for my drink. The arrangement was so good, I still just carry those now for my crockery. Very light and they stack and pack beautifully!

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