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From orange survival bag to hooped bivvy: falling in love with bivvying

I couldn’t possibly sleep. The full moon we had watched rise from beyond the sea was making its steady progress across the sky, lighting up the cliff top around me.  I was surprisingly comfortable in my plastic orange survival bag with the breeze gently gusting across my face and Gareth’s last minute warning about adders, as he zipped himself up in his hooped bivvy-tent, had quickly faded from my mind, replaced by the intoxicating thrill of being part of the outdoors.

A bivvy (well survival bag) microadventure on Jurrasic Coast

Inspired in part by Alastair Humphreys’ #microadventure campaign, Gareth (@gareth_js) and I took the opportunity whilst spending the weekend together (to record an episode of the Social Hiking podcast) to head out on our own micro adventure. It was nothing epic – a few miles hiking along the Jurassic Coast after a pub dinner to a quiet cliff overlooking Weymouth across the bay – but it was no less amazing.

I love being outside and I love camping, but the thing with having a tent is that, once you have soak up the wonder of being outdoors, you then shut yourself away from it behind canvas.

“In a tent you have to unbag, boot up, and crawl all over your sleeping companion to see what the stars are up to. In a bivvy, the stars are shining right down onto your nose…… And when the wind howls in the heather and the rain gradually trickles in, you don’t experience the full misery when you recline in waterproof tented splendor”
The Book of The Bivvy – Ronald Turnbull

There was a little misery – I woke in a damp sleeping bag in a wet plastic bag (plastic is after all not at all breathable) but I was happier than any night I have spent in a tent. I was bitten by the bivvy bug… (metaphorical bugs.. I will come onto physical ones later!)

A month later I bought my first bivvy bag – a basic no frills survival bivvy (basically a sleeping bag cover). I did not have much spare cash and I was only expecting to use it on occasional rain-free evenings. I have had a few great nights in it locally but the next stage of my bivvy epiphany came on Pew Tor in Dartmoor. I felt such an amazing connection with my surroundings: the rocks of the Tor in my immediate vicinity and the brooding mass of the moor beyond. Opening my eyes to the sun rising from behind Great Links Tor was unforgettable. I wanted more.

Asleep in my survival bivvy on Pew Tor, Dartmoor (photo thanks to Paul Buck)

On my return home I bought ‘The Book of The Bivvy’ by Ronald Turnbull – this book, as well as being an entertaining read, is packed full of useful advice and a contagious enthusiasm for bivvying. It also made me realise the key shortcomings of my bivvy: it is too short (I am 6’3, it is 6’2) and it fits like a glove (so it moves with me and reduces the efficiency of my sleeping bag).  I also have a thing about bugs…. I have arachnophobia and a sensible hatred of ticks and other potentially biting insects, so having one end completely (and permanently) open troubles me!

My appetite was further whetted after flicking through Alastair Humphreys’ latest book – Micro Adventures and my mind was racing with ideas for bivvy adventures locally in between my rarer trips further afield. Sadly my bank account had less enthusiasm 🙁

It must be fate or maybe I have the favour of the outdoor gods – a week later I was offered a Snugpak Stratosphere Bivvy to review for Polimil Factory Shop. It solves all the shortcomings of my survival bivvy – I comfortably fit in it for a start! It can also be closed up completely in bad weather, put in ‘bug mode’ to put a mesh between me and the spiders, or left open to fully experience the night.

Bivi spot on Lower Hartor Tor, Dartmoor

I will be writing a review of it soon but, after using it for a week on Dartmoor, I am completely and utterly in love – both with the bivvy and of bivvying. I slept on tiny patches of grass on top of Tors, opened my eyes to amazing sunrises, drifted off bathed in moonlight, stirred to light rain on my face and watched bats hunting from the comfort of my sleeping bag. It was by far the best time I have ever had in the outdoors! There were other benefits too – being lighter and smaller than a tent meant I could do more (I honestly was not expecting my back to last a day let alone a week) and I found there was a wonderful simplicity to it.

Bivvying on Great Links Tor, Dartmoor

So I would urge you to go and buy or borrow an orange survival bag and go and sleep in it for a night – you may be surprised at the world it opens up! (I would also recommend Alastair’s book – it contains loads of great ideas for accessible adventures that do not need much time or money, as well as some useful advice and reassurance to get you started)

I am not sure Polimil quite realise the pleasure they have given me!

Here is an excerpt from Al’s book on ‘the glorious bivvy bag’:

Here are some of the advantages of a bivvy bag over a tent:

  • A bivvy bag is cheaper than a tent
  • A bivvy bag is a lot smaller than a tent
  • A bivvy bag is easier to pack, carry, dry out and store than a tent: perfect for low-hassle microadventures
  • A bivvy bag is very discreet and enables you to sleep on tiny patches of flat ground
  • In a bivvy bag you are not cocooned from the environment as you are in a tent…… In a bivvy bag you really are outside. You feel the breeze on your face, look up at the stars and sit up to a brilliant view in the morning.
  • A night in a bivvy bag feels more exciting and wild than in a tent.

Microadventures – Alastair Humphreys

 

Bivi in Foggerton Tor Quarry, Dartmoor

Comments

David
Reply

Hi Phil, firstly what an amazing camp site – securely tucked away from the no doubt wind swept plains. Personally I’ve always been a little hesitant about using a bivvy but the Snugpak looks a lot less claustrophobic than most and at probably well under a kilo? might just be enough to sway my opinion. Look forward to the review.
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Martin
Reply

Ohhh, really enjoyed this post, I must get out bivvying again, it really is a wonderful way to experience nature at her best : )

Sam
Reply

Great bivvying article and ❤ the Polimil – going to get one methinks.

Ive got a DD travel hammock which can also act as a bivvy -but needs a tarp for wet weather. However I can recommend hammock camping with exactly the same enthusiasm. Great for woods and especially uneven ground.

daylightgambler
Reply

Agree Sam the hammocks are likewise a great experience. I was lent a DD travel hammock, but I never ended up using it due to lack of confidence and experience of setting it up! For me I like the fact the bivvy goes anywhere without any hassle or skills needed to setup!

daylightgambler
Reply

Thanks everyone for their comments. A full review of the SnugPak to follow – just catching up on some trip reports!

sam
Reply

Yes agreed there is a skill to hammocks albeit a small amount. Knots don’t have to be fancy: Simple shoe lace knots are enough!

I’m going to take my daughter bivvy ing on Dartmoor – you’ve convinced me!

Andrew W
Reply

Good stuff Phil.
I must dig out our old bivvy bag.
Don’t think I’ve used it since Knoydart in 1997.
Actually, maybe I need a new one.
Hmmm not more expense. ☺
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daylightgambler
Reply

Thanks Andrew – if you do not mind a bit of misery, then a ‘survival’ bivvy is only £25 😉

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