The blog picture is of the bivvy that I toured UK, USA and Australia with. The bivvy you can see laid out and it is ideal for wet and cold weather, but not so ideal for hot weather climes. This photo was taken in March 2007 early morning while packing the kit, it had rained in the night but I was dry and warm. I was on the way to Wales and had decided to sleep in someones orchard. There is no better piece of kit than the bivvy if you like fast moving and roaming free.
After reading this article check out the next called First Night in a Bivvy
Any questions, just ask in the comments
Also check out my books on solo adventure travel, the first of which is out now in paperback and e-book and is called,
Is there any man who can honestly say he doesn’t wish that, just once, he could go out into the wilds on his own with nothing on his back but his clothes and spend the night in nature watching the stars and listening to the birds and beasts?
Of course we all do, but there are some basic problems we encounter when we try to do it –
- What if it rains?
- What if I get cold?
- Don’t be ridiculous everyone knows you need at least a tent
- What if I get attacked by ghosts/animals/nutters/insects?
- I am scared
- Why bother?
- Everyone will think I am mad.
Fair points, but each of them is, in some way, put to rest by the bivvy. Except maybe the last point which can be avoided by simply not telling anyone until you have done it. But first you need to know what one is…
What is a Bivvy?
A basic bivvy is quite simply a magic plastic bag that is large enough to fit you, and your sleeping bag in and unlike a normal plastic bag, it keeps you bone dry. It has a hole in the top, you get into it, and then a tie pulls the aperture shut. That’s it (mine in the photo is my later one a bit more luxurious, the first was literally a bin bag style bivvy just as good mind you). When you are in it you will look like a mummy, or a long bag of rubbish. This goes some way to make it quite useful for avoiding being spotted while camped in a field. People just don’t see it, especially if it is green, or dark colored.
What is a Bivvy made of and how does it work?
It is made of clever stuff, modern day ones at least. It is able to breathe and let condensation out (we expel up to 1 pint of water per night through breath and sweat) and at the same time it stops rain coming in. It works on some cunning scientific laws and materials, thus creating a few important bivvy rules:
The basic bivvy rules:
You need it to be warmer inside the bivvy than out.
You need to make sure nothing else rests on the bivvy (so condensation can exit through the material).
You need a light breeze to be moving over the bivvy through the night (not a gale force, that will only chill you).
You will need something under your bivvy to stop heat escaping into the ground.(This can also be in the bivvy so long as it is between you and the ground).
If you can, breathe out the small aperture, and not into the bivvy (That way the material only has to lose your body sweat and not your breathe moisture too, though some achieve both).
The best ones will be made of Gore-tex (come on, everyone has heard of that stuff by now) these are the most expensive but probably also the best at keeping you dry, they will also have a slightly heavier carry weight, but it still beats a tent by miles.
There is Pertex but the official verdict on this material is that it is ‘shower proof’ and not waterproof in a deluge. Though some who use it would argue this vehemently, but the real winning feature about Pertex is the price at around £50. A good entry bivvy then. ( See later post kit list link to Rab Survival Bivvy)
There are others like Mylar, but really it is a Gore-tex you are going to be wanting if you get at all serious about doing it.
So how do I go about doing my first Bivvy?
Well lets go back to some of those questions that you are likely to ask of yourself because you aren’t going to head off without knowing the answers unless you are a bit wild in the heart, and head, already…
1. What if it rains?
If it rains, light rain, on an off, all night, then you will be dry inside a bivvy if you follow the bivvy rules.
If it is a monster storm, you may get sightly wet. There is a balance here; The bivvy is not 5 star luxury nor even a roof over your head, the bivvy is a method to outride the night, warm and in the main part dry, and to get some sleep. There may be some initial moments, just like when you go for a walk in the rain, that it feels a little uncomfortable as you acclimatize to your new surroundings. But after a while you adjust, adapt and feel pretty good. Feel alive in nature. So, approach it as a new experience that isn’t really all that hard, but has a valuable prize for putting up with a small amount of possible discomfort.
Alternatively use it on nights you can guarantee dry weather and it will be perfect. On the whole the bivvy will keep you 99 percent dry even in rain(if you follow the basic rules).
2. What if I get cold?
The bivvy isn’t what keeps you warm it keeps you dry, though it will of course go some way to help as it is windproof. For warmth you need to consider your sleeping bag, and get a good one. The bivvy will then serve to keep water from it. The main culprit for cold is going to come from the wind. So choice of sleeping spot is a major factor. You need to be out of the wind as much as possible, if the wind is harsh it will push the bivvy against your skin and suck the heat out of you that way (Convection). So find a spot with as much protection from the wind and rain as possible and that will help you achieve a warm, dry night; Behind walls (Not leaning walls), behind trees (not ones with large branches that might fall), Behind your house (why not test it near your bed and safety). The other vital factor for keeping warm is to have something insulating between you and the ground. Without this you can forget being warm. Thermarests are probably the best, but pricey at £50. Alternatively use your empty rucksack which most likely has a padded layer for your back. Put this beneath you, and it will stop conduction from sucking the heat out of you, and into the ground.
3. Don’t be ridiculous everyone knows you need at least a tent
The mind is a funny thing. It won’t believe in anything until it has been convinced otherwise and generally it will believe, without question, what the majority believe in. It feels safer that way. The majority of people only know about tents, those who know about bivvy’s remain a pioneering minority made up of fishermen, cavers, mountaineers and adventurers learning the art of traveling light and unnoticed. If you are going to carry a lot of gubbins about when you go camping then you need a tent, and possibly a mule. If on the other hand you want to sleep anywhere, and carry next to nothing, then you need a bivvy. Strictly speaking a bivvy is a tent and vice versa, it is just the most minimal tent in the world of tents. Welcome to the Knights of the bivvy.
4. What if I get attacked by ghosts/animals/nutters/insects ?
Yea, what if? This can happen to anyone, anywhere at night anyway. Ghosts? Well pretend they are not there and generally they aren’t. Animals? If you are in England you risk meeting the following when bivvying; dogs, cattle, sheep, squirrels. Just think about where you choose to kip and the possibility of any of them coming along, and you’ll be fine. Foxes, badgers and vermin are going to avoid you so long as you don’t leave food lying about. Nutters? Well nutters tend to loiter round large towns, public parks and bus stops. Again consider the reality of someone actually being in your field between the hours of 9pm and 5am and you’ll be fine. Chances are there will only be one nutter in it, and that will be you. Having said that avoid potential ‘cottaging’ locales. Insects? Well, other than wrestling with a moth one night I haven’t had any problems. Close the aperture up so only your mouth is near it and don’t park up on an ant’s nest. Alternatively get a bivvy with a mosquito net entrance and then nothing can get in, but bear in mind nothing can get out either. Generally if you feel safe in your location, once you bed down and pull the chord shut you will be in your own world until you wake. Aim for places people probably wont bother going, it may play on your instincts a little at first because by nature we like company to feel safe, but after a few goes you get the hang of it and tuck yourself away in a secret corner and are virtually invisible. Just beware of dog walking parks because dogs will find you, and as a result so will their owners. People tend to walk dogs last thing at night and first thing in the morning, hey, they like nature too. If found they will probably be more interested in talking bivvy than phoning the police, provided you don’t exit your bivvy armed with a blade, your eyes goggling in paranoia, and fists flailing, while shouting mad things. If you are nice to people they generally relax, after all they will have more reason to be scared finding you in a field, than you will be to find them finding you.
5. I am scared
So you should be, it is a scary prospect to head out into the world outside your front door alone, and we have been anaesthetized through home-life in the 21st Century. But the city is generally more dangerous than a natural setting, and after you have done it once, or maybe twice, you will have made the grade and have a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to be proud of. Just do it. Throw caution to the wind; get it wrong the first few times because that’s how you learn to get it right. You will most likely survive and have some hilarious tales to tell as a result. It is fun, it is funny, the fear comes from the sense of aloneness but then so does the real pay dirt; confidence of spirit. I can guarantee, wet or dry, that the first morning you awake from your first bivvy experience you will feel like a new man who just learnt what getting back in touch with nature, and himself, is all about. You’ll be hooked and invigorated, just do it. But most of all; trust the bivvy and follow the rules. Every man should do it, it is a primal desire we long for to know; being in nature. Feel the fear, it is part of the experience and what makes us men I guess (See the post on First Time Bivvying for more info about this).
6. Why bother?
There are a million reasons why. I think if and when a person finally does it there are countless personal reasons that pushed them far enough to take the leap, often not all pleasant. I will list a few of the reasons why I did it and do it still;
The challenge of slimming down the needs to next to nothing.
So I didn’t have to carry a ton of stuff on my back when trekking.
Sleeping under the stars so I could actually see them.
What my ancestors must have felt living in the elements.
What goes on out there between 9pm and 5am in nature?
For the hell of it.
I needed an adventure.
Because my girlfriend left me and I felt sorry for myself.
Because the city life and my four walls were doing my head in.
Because there was nowhere to pitch a tent out of season.
Because I wanted to see sunrise with no one else around, up a hill no one could drive to.
To charge my flagging spirit and put a bit of zest back in my life.
To know that I could start walking in any direction without rush, and bed down wherever I wanted.
To feel a sense of freedom.
There are so many reasons, all we really need is an excuse.
7. Everyone will think I am mad.
I thought I was mad right up until I did it, in the rain, miles from home, did it right and slept a good sleep. It was an adventure, there is no other word for it. I also felt like I made some life grade in doing it too. I finally knew how to set it up, keep it minimal, and get a good nights, warm and cozy sleep. I was now a survivor. I then had the badge of honour in my heart knowing I could do this anytime I liked at the drop of a hat. I can just pack and go, and travel light, out the door in under 5 minutes, and not come back for days. A Regular tom-cat. Once you have done it you see the sense and achievement in it, until then you don’t really know how to explain it to someone, even yourself. But when you have done it and you happen to mention it to a mate down the pub, and you start telling the story of how you got found by a dog, and nearly swallowed a moth, and lay in the rain for 4 hours bone dry in a field in the middle of nowhere. Then your eyes sparkle as you recall to him the joy in your heart as the clouds parted, and the moon shone down, and owls hooted, foxes trotted, and you slept like a baby under the stars. Just look at his face, he will be envious I tell thee. Mad? You are not mad, you are an adventurer!
So that’s the basics, you now have a theoretical knowledge of what a bivvy is, why you should get one, and what purpose it serves. And maybe a few thoughts to help jog you into considering why you should spend 50+ quid on getting one, and not just leave it in your loft for all eternity either. The next question is going to be…
I want to spend a night in the Bivvy that I just bought. Er….what do I do again?
For this info check the next blog out, and you can find it under First Night in 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,