Here are some tips on spending a first night in a bivvy, I suggest you first read my other post The Way of the Bivvy, as that will explain what a bivvy is, and why it is such a great bit of kit. Then read this post.
If you still want to try it for yourself after that, then check out the Kit List post.
Any questions, just ask me in the comments at the bottom of the blogs.
Also check out my books on solo adventure travel, the first of which is out now in paperback and e-book and is called,
Planning your first night in a bivvy
Choose a location you plan to spend a night.
Check the 3-day weather forecast for your chosen area.
Find out what time it gets dark, and what time it gets light again.
Is it a full moon, or is there no moon?
Plan your escape route if it all goes wrong at 3am.
Mentally run through the scenario you imagine will take place.
Choosing your spot to sleep.
Choose a sheltered spot to dry out in the early morning if you get soaked (which you probably wont)
Know your setup drill.
Trust the bivvy.
The image above is of an emergency bivvy, but I have slept in ones much like this with no problem. It zips up like a bin-bag, and you can breathe through the small aperture that remains. It works, but I prefer the next level up now, which has a mesh front and a bit more space around the head to secure the small pack I take with me.
Get your kit bag right:
Read the next blog on Kit list – UK – 1 to 3 days. That has pretty much all the very basic things you will need to bivvy up for one night someplace. The less you take the better since it will be on your back, and on your mind. In the UK you are rarely far from a phone box or a town, if all goes wrong use your wallet to buy your way back to 21st Century comforts, food, safety, sanity, and home.
You really don’t need to take very much at all. Resist over burdening yourself with luxuries or unnecessary items, this is a practised art. The less you take the happier you will be. Just make sure you are dressed warmly, waterproof, and have everything you need to last about 15 hours without a shop, bin, coffee, or proper toilet. Water is important, food less so, just take some nibbles and gorge in a cafe either end of the experience.
The above is my ‘luxury’ sleeping kit with the bivvy on the left of the image. It’s a nice Gortex bivvy with mesh front, not a simple bivvy sack, but very light to carry, less than the weight of a small book!
Choosing a place to go:
For a first night you are going to be nervous and you are likely to get some things wrong. It really doesn’t matter, in fact it is the mistakes you will learn the most from. It is worth addressing some aspects to make life easier, and not put yourself off it all completely the first time out. It isn’t about having a tough night, it is about having the most comfortable, and dry one possible.
Choose somewhere far enough away from home so you cant chicken out at the last minute, but near a town with bed and breakfast, cafes and transport. Given you are likely to head out into nature you may want an O/S map to give you some clarity of your surroundings and what is in the land. You can get these from the local library. If you can find a good-sized town, not a city, near a public nature reserve that is open all the year round then it’s a good start. Work out your route to get there and back, then work out the easiest way to reach the outskirts or the place you intend to bed down.
Don’t involve too much walking the first time, if you need to wear yourself out a bit for sleep then stroll the town for a few hours in the day. Don’t have a slap up meal that might require you spend half the night in the bushes wishing you brought toilet roll or diarrhoea tablets.
Things to be wary of
- Fields which might have cows or sheep in.
- Farmers who get up at 4am with tractors might not be expecting to see a giant slug struggling about in the corner of their field.
- The parks nearest to towns are likely to be the parks where townsfolk walk their dogs at dusk and dawn.
- Parks in towns might have people doing things in bushes you really wish you never knew about.
- Outside of towns, in nature, on moonless nights you probably wont be able to see a damn thing.
- Bin men. Don’t sleep on a track or the street, as you may be mistaken for rubbish in the morning and thrown away or worse, get run over.
Find out what time it gets dark and light
You will probably find yourself having to adjust suddenly to a very different hour of waking and sleeping. In winter it gets dark at 5.30pm ish and the sunrises about 7.30am. That is about 14 hours of darkness that you will be alone in nature, without a TV or coffee machine. It is a long time and can get boring and tiresome, and is all the more of a challenge if it is raining throughout that time. It is also, for the first timer, shockingly lonesome. Most nights there comes some point when you will think What on earth am I doing, I truly am the saddest loner, and I need my creature comforts right now!
It is natural to get this moment, I think it is part of what happens when you escape the subconscious comfort of the company of humans, and it dawns on you that the universe, when dark, really is a big, wild, and totally unknown place, and a little bit scary. Just remember that when it is over it is this moment in particular that you will look back on with some sense of pride at having passed through it. It doesn’t feel good at the time, but in a funny way it is what you are doing it for in the first place. It is, quite simply, good for the soul.
Don’t take things to keep you occupied during that 14-hour dark period. Just let it happen, relax into it, and you’ll find after the initial adjustments of fear followed by boredom, that there really is something special going on around you, right there and then. Never in your life will you have been so close to the source of things; Mother Nature. We are one of her products despite all our attempts to distance ourselves from her inside concrete, electrically powered cocoons. She is more than happy to oblige us in taking us back into her bosom, as you will no doubt discover for yourself.
Night-time alone in nature is something very few of us know anything about. The feelings are what come as a surprise, as well as the noises, and they are far from easy to relax into the first time. You wont notice until the experience is over just how much of a beneficial effect it has had on you. You will probably be cursing your decision right up until you get in the bath at home at the end of it all, at which point the wonder of it will bring a smile to your face, and you’ll be planning your next campaign. All this is normal, as you may find out.
Plan your escape route if it all goes wrong at 3am.
The last thing you need is to trek out for a day and camp up somewhere in the middle of nowhere, only to have the rain start falling before you ordered it, you fall in a river because there was no moon and you forgot to buy torch batteries, then a gust of wind blows your bivvy away and wraps it, and rips it, round a barbed wire fence, and as darkness falls the temperature drops below freezing and you discover the cheap sleeping bag you bought last minute is bloody useless. You probably wont die, or even catch much of a cold, but you will sit for 14 hours in the dark, cold and wet with this thought on your mind and it wont be pleasant.
Alternatively choose a smart location not too far from habitation the first time, or at least near a phone box to dial a cab. You could even book out a cheap B&B in the day and take the keys but simply not stay there at all. Make sure wherever you go is far enough away from civilisation to avoid people turning up in the night; vagabonds, dog walkers, boy-racers, farmers, to name a few. But make it so you have an escape route should something you weren’t expecting happen in the wee hours. It gives you the opportunity to call the whole thing off, and do it another time rather than have to experience a real survival situation.
Survival really is NOT what this should be about, Bear Grylls and Naked and Afraid TV shows may glorify this side of it because they have to get viewer rates up. Actually Pleasure is the name of the game, that and freedom bought with knowledge and experience. This does narrow the options down quite a lot, but it is just some suggestions to make the unexpected less unexpected if it happens.
One of my first solo wild camps was in a desert in Morocco, 1 hours walk from anywhere, and it scared the crap out of me in a hundred different ways but I made it back, and it was probably one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and all good.
My first real balls-up was trying to camp on Snowdon on the second night spent in a bivvy, and realising I was too worn out to do it as a storm came in. I opted to try to get off the mountain in the dark with a bad knee and far further to go to achieve it than I had imagined because the map didn’t explain about the rocks. I managed it, but not without falling over 5 times and nearly breaking my neck as the storm hit and started knocking me off my feet. It was tough, but again looking back I learnt a hell of a lot and the memory is a sweet one, though not one I would like to experience again in a hurry.
Make life as easy as possible for yourself and then it will be an enjoyable experience you will want to repeat. Once you are familiar with the exercise you wont need to think about escape routes because you’ll have all you need, wherever you are, at any given moment, and then you can travel far and wide. It is just the early stages that are the hardest because everything is new, and you have no idea quite what you are doing or what you might be up against. Its part of the fun and what makes it special and worthwhile.
Choosing your spot to sleep:
If you can, scope the place before dark, it is easier to see what is going to surround you in the night, then come back when darkness falls and set up. It is probably not a good idea to camp up too close to running water because of floods, animals, bugs, or the ground might be soaked from water below and not above.
Don’t camp in a swamp, or on land that seems to be marshy, or in a defined valley where flooding might occur. Don’t camp under trees with large branches, if a storm comes they might fall on you. Small trees are good because they offer some shade from the heavy rain, and also the trunk blocks the wind. If the wind changes you wake up and move round the trunk to the opposite side. Walls are good, but not ones that lean because they might fall over, don’t tuck right under them unless you have to. Parks are ok but as already mentioned beware of dog walkers, vagabonds, farmers. Get out of the wind as much as possible.
The weather system usually comes from the West in UK but the wind can come from all sorts of directions, and when it changes it is often instant. You cant predict it, but if there is a spot that offers various positions of protection from all the compass points, and the ground is wet only because of rain, then it’s probably a winner. If it’s a hilly area think about the view at dawn and dusk. If you are blessed with a sunset and sunrise view then what could be better? But if you are on the very top when a storm comes in and you don’t fancy being a lighting rod, then you might want to drop down the hill some way. Probably the opposite side to the wind too.
The Setup Drill.
In doing it a few times I realised there is a pattern to setting up in a bivvy and it is one you can rehearse mentally before hand to make life easier getting setup, especially if it is raining heavily when it comes time to do so. Mine goes like this;
Take out two black bin bags
Therma rest out of rucksack and blown up.
Therma rest cover into ‘dry stuff’ bin bag.
Bivvy out of rucksack and laid over Therma rest.
Bivvy cover into ‘dry stuff’ bin bag.
Sleeping bag out and into bivvy.
Sleeping bag cover into ‘dry stuff’ bin bag
Empty entire rucksack contents into ‘dry stuff’ bin bag
Put dry night socks to side (in dry place like a fleece pocket)
Rucksack under lower end of bivvy if expecting a cold night
Empty contents of waterproof pockets into ‘dry stuff’ bin bag.
Tie ‘dry stuff’ bin bag up and place for night.
Waterproofs off, boots off, gloves off, socks off, and all into ‘wet stuff’ bin bag.
Dry night socks on
Me into sleeping bag
Things to have handy in the night
Torch on your hip in a holder
Sleep in all your clothes and hat, just not the waterproofs unless you have to.
Smokes and lighter in a fleece pocket so when you wake 10 times in the night you can have one without getting out.
Mobile and wallet in a pocket too for obvious reasons.
Drinking water and Nalgene ‘hot water’ bottle near the bivvy sack entrance.
Trust the Bivvy
If you bought one recommended from a reputable supplier then it should do what it says on the label: keep you dry. As mentioned in a previous post there are a few rules which you need to follow, otherwise this most magical of creations cant do it’s job properly and you will blame the bivvy when it wasn’t the bivvy’s fault. To follow the instructions it will take something of a retraining of the brain. Your instincts will tell you that when it is raining the more things you can put on the bivvy to stop the rain getting in, the more likely you will stay dry. This is not the case. Put nothing on the bivvy, don’t treat it with waterproofing chemicals either, unless it is recommended by the manufacturer. The technical details of how the material works I will leave for the specialists to describe if you really want to get your head round it. Here I will just explain what I found out the hard way, and you probably will too despite what anyone tells you.
The basic bivvy rules
You need it to be warmer inside the bivvy than out
This is what helps the moisture pass out of the bivvy through the magic material and into the atmosphere. It is also what stops it going the other way. Warm is good, but we know this already.
You need to make sure nothing else rests on the bivvy
If the basha, you couldn’t resist putting up, flaps against the bivvy in the night, or things lean against it, you will find condensation is unable to escape and your sleeping bag will start to develop mysterious wet patches that spread, feel cold and altogether wrong. You will think the bivvy is leaking. It isn’t, but condensation, normally un-noticeable, is accumulating, and that is what is getting damp, the cold is because it is not being warmed by your body but rather cooled by the temperature outside. It will wake you up and make you nervous. Let nothing lean on your bivvy. This does not apply to what is underneath you. So long as what is above ground level is not touching you things will be fine, there will be enough surface area doing the magic thing to make it ok.
You need a light breeze to be moving over the bivvy through the night
Light means barely perceptible. If you are outdoors there will be a light movement of air everywhere. This should be enough. Don’t park up in a wind tunnel thinking it will make the bivvy work better. If the wind is strong enough to push the material in against your sleeping bag, and your skin, then you will start to lose heat. This is convection loss, and not good. Move round behind something and start again. Light air movement over the bivvy helps the magical movement of condensation through the bivvy material and out. Harsh wind just puts the chills into the bivvy, and you.
You will need something under your bivvy to stop heat escaping into the ground.
Therma rests are ideal. They are insulation, they are comfy, they are perfect. Alternatively use your rucksack back. If you lie directly on the ground then conduction will suck the heat out of you, and it will keep you awake all night. Even the best sleeping bag in the world will not stop this because if you are lying on it, you are squashing it, and where you squash it you will be connecting your heat to the ground. The Therma rest solves this, and goes some way to radiating your body heat back to you. Since I got one I have not been cold enough at night to be bothered by the cold. Put the Therma rest inside or outside of the bivvy, it doesn’t matter. Inside it wont slip away, outside it will protect the bivvy from the rocks and sharp items on the ground.
If you can, breathe out the small aperture, and not into the bivvy
Finally when you are snug and in the bivvy pull the chord of it closed and have the small hole near your mouth so you can breathe out into the night and not into the bivvy. Some people just close it completely and sleep fine. This will risk condensation build up because the bivvy material will have to work too hard to release all the moisture of your breathe out through the material. Give it an easy life, sure you may risk swallowing a moth as I nearly did, or have strange dreams about kissing soft lipped women only to wake and find the breeze is playing over your lips seductively. The choice is between risking being a little damp, or being, most likely, bone dry. Either way if you have obeyed the other rules you will probably be snug and warm, and so a little damp will just be part of the adventure and little bother. Even a particularly damp night in a bivvy where all the rules got broken and the rains fell hard, it is still cured quite simply by hanging bivvy and sleeper out in the wind for 10 minutes while you jog on the spot to warm up. If that is suffering then don’t ever leave the house in winter, you wont like it. At worst you will wake damp, yet warm, and will dry in a matter of minutes. If you are soaked through then it is for other reasons, and not the bivvy. Maybe you slept in a riverbed or maybe you missed the Nalgene bottle at 3am?
You will lie out in your first rainfall and it will splat and beat about your bivvy and you will think to yourself, This isn’t right, no, this isn’t good. And your mind will play little tricks on you, and make you feel sudden wet patches where there aren’t any, and under the tree you feel large raindrops splod randomly from its branches like bombs dropped from the skies, and you will have the urge to seek shelter, or throw something over your bivvy. But hopefully you will remember this and those three vital words; Trust the bivvy. And you will trust the bivvy, and let the heavens blast all her guns upon you, but all will be well within, as close to Mother Nature as we can be since we lost all our fur.
If you havent already check out the previous post about the bivvy found at The Way of the Bivvy
Also check out the post titled – Kit List – UK – 1 to 3 days
Don’t forget to check out my books on solo adventure travel, the first of which is out now in paperback and e-book and is called,