When you settle in for a night in the mountains, your home away from home will be a tent, bivy sack, tarp, snow shelter, or hut. We will take a close look here at the kinds of shelters you can carry on your back or build from the snow. (Chapter 15 discusses tents, snow shelters, stoves, and sleeping bags as they are used in winter and expedition climbing.)
Tents are the most common shelter because of their many virtues. They are relatively quick and easy to put up, rainproof, private, usable almost anywhere, a refuge from wind or sun, and often roomy enough for you and your gear. They also are heavy and expensive. Tents are usually the best shelter above timberline and for glacier camps, winter camping, in strong winds, and in mosquito country. Alpine climbers in a hurry can get nighttime protection from a lightweight bivy sack, though the sack is not much help in heavy rain and has limited room inside for gear. A tarp in combination with a bivy sack increases protection from the elements. A snow shelter is a haven from wind and storm, but building it is hard work and time consuming.
Curiously enough, shelter is often more neces sary on a clear night than on a cloudy one. When two opposing surfaces differ in temperature, the warmer radiates heat to the colder. Since the human body is usually warmer than the night sky, exposed portions of the body or sleeping bag radiate heat and grow cold. Any shelter at all serves as a baffle. Clouds often reflect heat back to earth, and thus have the effect of a huge tarp between sleeper and sky. The clear nights are the cold ones.
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