Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Shelters for Swift Fox 20

Last year especially really reminded me of the need for good shelters at our events, and for carrying and using them.

The weather can change fast at events like Swift Fox 20 (sign up today!), and it doesn't take much wetness or cold, or especially both combined, to be very uncomfortable very fast.

Or even, be outright dangerous. We want you to be safe above all, as I said in the sleep system post last week. A shelter on top of a sleep system can be a real difference between comfort and danger. Consider the weather, talk to your team, and think of what else you should bring to be comfortable the whole weekend.


First off, the field we're using for Swift Fox events has a lot of structures of one sort or another. Much more another, though. The ones on the playing area are often quite derelict, often deliberately so to act as bombed-village props. They can provide some protection, but it is rather obvious, so not necessarily the most tactically prudent choice.
Some of the roofless structures at DDAP, as viewed from another one across the river at Swift Fox 19. Good for hiding, but no protection from the rain or snow.

If you decide conditions mean you should camp out in a structure, you will likely need a tarp or tent as well, so between the various other downsides of structures, don't assume any are around to save you.

Kitoy this year will be based in a relatively secure structure with a door.

But even there, we won't all be squished into the building to sleep, but using it as an operations center. It is also likely that it leaks and drips, and maybe we'll loose a fight and have to relocate anyway. So you'll need to plan for shelter in the event you are sleeping in the woods, in the rain.


Ultra Lightweight (UL) gear has been all the rage for my entire outdoors career. With high tech fabrics, some of it is sturdy enough to use for military purposes, or of course to bring out to rough and tumble events like Swift Fox. Pyramids are a common way to get to a tent, like this:
Read more about these sorts of shelters over here, among other places.

One pole (often not provided, and it should be a hiking stick) and sides. That's it. These pack down as small as a cargo pocket and weigh nothing. They are not all bright colors, so can be suitable, and are nice if you own one as a backup, to always have shelter, because they are so light. But, expensive.

Most tents that apply to this small and light event, these days, are instead free-standing tents with floors. Put the poles in and they pop up, have a completed shape. Pick them up and move them around a bit to their final position. You can't dig into the dirt, and can't cook inside them, but fire in any sort of shelter smaller than standing height gives me the willies, so that's fine with me.

A woodland camouflaged LEWS at Swift Fox 18

That also means they can blow away. Really, not kidding, seen it too many times to count. Stake your tents, or at least make sure they always have sufficient stuff inside. Always. A lot of the blowing-away I have seen is right after everyone takes their stuff out in the morning.

If you need the tent for shelter, you are likely to need the rain fly. Those are usually provided as an extra thing over the top, and for maximum efficiency, should definitely be staked, to bring the sides out, and to add vestibules, or little covered porches to store your gear in.


A simple rectangular tarp can be put to many uses. As a ground sheet, to wrap yourself in, as a lean to, or with a center ridgeline cord, as a roof with the footprint of a tent. You can pick and choose based on terrain and conditions in ways you can't so easily with a tent, and can deploy them very quickly.

There are even ways to use them with poles, if you wish to pack those, but you will need stakes, or lots of trees to tie to.

The Australians love their hoochie, and there's much discussion of that and ways to rig tarps over here.

Another one that those who like ponchos do is to use it as a shelter. They even make aftermarket ponchos that are more suitable as shelters.

Whichever you do, plan ahead most of all by bringing enough cords to use it in these several ways. I have pre-set cords on the corners of my ICS fly and the tarp I often pack, and also extra cord to use as a center ridgeline, if that is needed.

I'd also bring stakes, and some way to secure the system, ideally some mechanical toggles, so you aren't relying on tying a dozen knots as your hands start to freeze up. Be careful about bungees and plastic cord ends; you may have a lot of load on this, and they can fail, as they have for me.


Lots of military issued shelters are modular, and provide several options. The USGI shelter half is one common example, providing a (heavy, canvas) tarp, a ground sheet, a lean too, or when two are attached to each other, a small tent suitable for two. Combine 4 and you have a thing called a Von Ruck, with room in the middle for a fire, room around the edges for 4 to sleep, or 8+ to sit and work, eat, or generally huddle up.

One I always pack is the ICS or Improved Combat Shelter. Or actually, sometimes I do. More often, I carry just the fly, as either with no, one, or two poles it can be a (not free standing) lean to. Combined with the bivy, this sort of setup provides a lot of protection from bad weather, for you and your gear.
This is old. I have a Woodland fly now and it's much sneakier like that.

You also don't need to pick only one. You may find it useful to bring either a modular system so you can flexibly choose what to deploy, or multiple systems, such as a tarp and a small tipi or tent.

Whether yourself or in coordination with your team, if you choose to bring a shelter, talk to everyone else. It may be that only one large tarp is needed, and a tent could be stored at the supply point, for use only if you have a base camp and the time and circumstances to set it up.

Camouflage, Concealment

Tarps and tents are not foolproof ways to hide; they are not lightproof for example, but they are better than nothing by a wide margin, even by themselves, as long as you bring something that's a suitable color, and try to hide it.

Camouflage patterns on tents and tarps, can be extremely effective. As long as you site them well they can look like a bush or rock from even quite close range.

This one, poorly set up on top of a hill because it was dark, was found by the enemy, but they didn't realize it was a tent until 10 yards away.

Sealed Tents, Buildings, Vehicles

One great thing tents provide is that they are sealed off areas. You can take your goggles off!

Now this is important to get right. It only applies to sealed tents. Tarps, lean toos, von-ruck sheleters? No. No way. Zipped up doors are sealed tents.

I'll consider a tipi or shelter half as tent the same, as long as you do pretty well getting the sides down to the ground. Stake them well for safety as well as warmth.

Don't leave eyepro off when the door is open. And think about why it's safe: no pellets. Don't bring guns inside the tent. This is a pretty typical thing anyway in bad weather; you may cover the gun, but leave it outside so there's no temperature change to condense on the gun and mess it up. And, also, for the same safety reasons; tents are small and you don't need to accidentally shoot someone.

And for anyone attacking into a place with vehicles with the doors closed and rolled up, buildings with closed doors, or tents with zipped- or snapped-up entrances: Leave Them Alone.

You can attack the campsite, but DO NOT open doors, stick muzzles under tent edges, etc. Actually, tents are pretty thin so avoid shooting at the tent walls themselves too much.

Call out safety kills or just declare "everyone in that tent is dead" after firing some bursts at the ground. No one hiding behind a few mils of nylon should give you any argument.

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