The Beauty of Bivvying

With tents becoming so lightweight, it seems perverse to go out into the wilds with what’s basically a waterproof sleeping bag cover and with barely any weight benefit. Most of the cheaper ex-army type of bivvy bags are actually heavier than your typical 1kg lightweight tent. So why bother?

Reducing the experience down to the weight is the first mistake. You don’t necessiarily bivvy to save weight, though saving weight does appear somewhat as a side product. Of course, there are real harcore spartans out there who bivvy for the sake of lightweight, or climbers who bivvy as that’s the only way to shelter half way up an alpine ascent. For me, bivvying is down to the experience. It’s utterly unlike camping in a tent that comparing the two by weight would be pointless.

It’s spending the night out on a mountain summit, with rocks as a backrest and the stars as your ceiling. In a tent, you may be able to look outside from your bag, but you largely miss the evening once you’re in your sleeping bag. In a bivvy you can look at the clouds and imagine shapes, or even disbelievingly spot the ISS on one of it’s many passages across the sky. You’re a little colder though, as you lack the warmth that an inner tent provides with the bivvy only cutting out the windchill.

In the morning, you don’t need to go anywhere in order to prepare breakfast other than roll onto your side, cook and eat. A strong pot of coffee should set you up for the first tricky task of the day, when you have to emerge from your nocturnal chrysalis and find that you’ve transformed and emerge as a slighlty more enlightened outdoor type after your first bivvy, standing on the hilltop in your pants. A cast iron bladder helps too, as you don’t want to be forced out of the warm womb of the bivvy before you have to as once you’re out, you’re out. No sneaking back in as it works on a binary system. Either you’re in the bivvy, or not – and the simplicity means you’ll be off sooner than usual in the morning as you lazily roll your bivy and sleeping bag as one into your pack as you’ll most likely have plenty of space to spare.

It’s the sheer simplicity of bivvying that appeals. While it isn’t great in the rain, you can combine it with a tarp to keep the worst off, but I admit that I’d be unlikely to set off if the weather was looking particularly foul. I’m yet to find the solution for the midnight wanderings of the sleeping mat that ends up on top at around 4am as I am awoken by the cold, hard ground. I tried an old skool foam mat pegged to the ground, but it’s not that comfortable. How I envy those who can sleep all night on their backs.

Even if I’ve failed to persuade you to get out and bivvy, which wouldn’t surprise me, at least give the Book of the Bivvy a punt. It’s the best book on the subject (also the only one) and seeing as you’re on this web site, you’ll enjoy it even if you don’t get out and bivvy. We review it here.

Bivvy checklist:

  • Bivvying is colder than camping, if in doubt take your warmer bag.
  • Take pegs and be organised, especially if it’s windy as bivvying gear and empty packs will not pose a challenge to a serious gust.
  • You might need a light groundsheet – protection.
  • Try it at home first – you need to check your bag and mat fits. You’ll be lucky to fit anything other than a thin mat into your typical bivvy.
  • Summits are great, just make sure it’s a grassy one!
  • It can be a weird experience, you may not want to go alone. I enjoy wild camping alone, but prefer bivving in company.
  • You need to strip before you get in, so make sure there are no holes in them shreddies.

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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