Wild camping

How to tackle your first bivvy bag adventure

Author: Naomi Dunbar

Bivvying is to sleep in the wild without the shelter of a tent. This may seem like a daunting prospect if you haven’t done it before, but once you get to grips with it, it’s actually quite simple and the rewards for doing so are very generous.

Picture the scene; you’ve been hiking magnificent trails in the warmth of the sun all day. Your rucksack is light because you’ve only got a few essentials alongside your trusty bivvy bag. Therefore, you’ve seen some truly spectacular scenery because you’ve been able to trek further and for longer. You find the perfect spot overlooking a striking blue lake which is framed by some of the most splendid mountains you’ve ever seen in your life – bliss.

After rustling up a hearty dinner on your stove, you tuck yourself into your bivvy and sleeping bag. Feeling all cosy, you stare up at trillions of stars twinkling in the sky above you. Instead of counting sheep you count shooting stars and you fall asleep peacefully, with a sense of true freedom and a smile on your face. The next morning, you awake to the sight of the sun rising gently over sleepy mountains, painting them in a glorious pinky-orange light. Does it get any better than this?

What is a bivvy bag?

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A bivvy bag is kind of like having a waterproof jacket, but instead of you wearing it, your sleeping bag does. Bivvy bags simply slip over the top of your sleeping bag and protect them from getting damp or wet. They are lightweight, easy to pack, discreet and are often cheaper than a tent. Once you’ve slipped your bivvy bag onto your sleeping bag, pop yourself in and tighten it around your face. Make sure you leave a little gap for your mouth to avoid creating condensation inside of the bivvy, as your sleeping bag will get damp. Most good quality bivvy bags are breathable so as long as you do this, your sleeping bag should remain dry.

What sleeping bag will I need?

The same sleeping bag rules apply as they would for a camping trip. If you’re planning on sleeping wild somewhere hot and sunny, then you’re not going to want to end up feeling like a boil in the bag camp meal in your four-season sleeping bag. If you’re planning to go somewhere chilly, you’ll want to have a sleeping bag that will keep you warm enough in cold or sub-zero temperatures.

You’ll also want to think about taking a sleeping mat with you. Not only will this be more comfortable for you to sleep on, but a sleeping mat will also help to insulate your body heat, by blocking the coldness of the ground beneath you.

>>> Six of the best down sleeping bags you can buy in 2017.

How do I choose the perfect bivvy spot?

First things first, choose the best view! You’ve made great effort in getting here, you’ve lugged your stuff around all day, so make the most of it. But, to avoid a rubbish night’s sleep, there are a few things that will help you out.

Look for flat ground: Pretty self-explanatory, pick somewhere that looks comfortable and is as flat as possible. You won’t sleep very well if you’ve got lots of rocks sticking in your back or you’re sliding downhill.

Protect yourself from the elements: Try not to pick a spot that is too exposed, wind-chill can hugely affect how warm you feel, making it feel much colder than if you were to find yourself a protected little spot away from the gales. Look out for stone walls, trees and large rocks for shelter.

Boggy ground: Once you’ve found yourself a good spot, just make extra sure that the ground isn’t water logged. If you end up sleeping on marshy or boggy ground, then you’re going to end up damp and cold in the night.

What else do I need to consider?

There are some other things to consider that will help make your bivvy bagging experience more comfortable, and if you’re comfortable, sleeping in the wild should be a positive experience that you’ll want to do again and again!

Water source: It’s often difficult to carry enough water for a day and night, let alone a couple of days in the wilderness. So, you’ll want to choose a bivvy spot that has a water source nearby, as you’ll most likely need water for cooking and, most importantly, to keep yourself hydrated. It’s also essential that you bring some form of water purification with you, for example, a filter or chlorine tablets, to ensure that your drinking water is safe to consume. Alternatively, if you have a stove, you can boil your water.

>>> How to purify water in the wild.

Rain: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, it will rain. A great way to keep all your kit dry is to bring a survival bag with you and stuff all your gear inside it. So, before you settle into your bivvy bag for the night, make sure all your kit is protected, including your boots! If it does rain during the night, your waterproof bivvy bag should keep you dry, however, if it starts to really pour you may want to think about searching for an alternative sheltered spot. Keep this in mind when you’re looking for your bivvy spot for the night, just in case.

During the night: Keep your belongings as close to you as possible, just in case you need anything in the night. You may also want to keep your headtorch and bog roll to hand just in case you need the loo during the night. If you do get up, remember to zip your sleeping bag up to preserve some of that precious heat and to keep any uninvited animals and insects out!

Leave no trace: As with any expedition, hike or camping trip, you must always respect the place you visit and do everything you can to preserve the nature around you. You can find the ‘leave no trace’ rules online, but the general guidelines are to leave what you find, dispose of your waste, and don’t disrupt the wildlife. If we follow these simple rules, then we can all enjoy these beautiful places for years to come.

>>> Five essential tips for wild camping beginners.

Seek permission: It’s illegal to wild camp in most places in the UK, so if you’re planning to do so, you must gain the land owner’s permission beforehand. However, some parts of Scotland and Dartmoor National Park are exempt to these laws, so, just make sure you check the legalities of the area before you set off on your trip.

How do I choose a bivvy bag?

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As with all outdoor clothing and equipment, bivvy bags start from basic entry level options and work their way up to luxury standards. If you’re going to go for cheap and cheerful to save some pennies, just make sure the bivvy bag you choose is waterproof and breathable. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up with a damp or wet sleeping bag which is going to result in an uncomfortable night’s sleep (and said bivvy bag would probably never get used again).

You’ll be able to find bivvy bags at most outdoor retailers, and if you ask a member of staff, they should be able to help you find the most suitable one for the type of adventure you’re going on. You can also buy army bivvy bags from Army Surplus stores, these are a good cheap option.