Sometimes you just want to escape! Thinking about wild camping can be more fun than the actual experience…unless you get the equipment right. There’s no better way to enjoy it than getting out there with the bare minimum. And that means a decent bivvy tent or a bivvy hammock.
Wild camping should be light camping – the minimum of stuff to carry and the right kit so that discomfort doesn’t mar the sense of freedom. We love bivvying (and especially bivvy hammocks). You can throw a bivvy bag into a rucksack or pannier for hiking and cycling trips. You can pack a couple in the campervan for off-site spontaneous nights or to make the most of beautiful places that don’t allow vehicles.
Bivvying, bivvi-ing or bivouacing is simply sleeping outside without a tent. A sleeping bag and a mat is the most basic kit you’ll need, but weather (and even dew) will usually persuade you to invest in a bivvy bag and perhaps a tarp for over the top. See our article on tarps here, by the way.
Off-ground bivvy hammocks
For us, this is one of the best options, providing you get a flat bed hammock. You can read a full review of these bivvy hammocks.
Exped’s Ergo hammocks are a great design that allow you to sleep more or less flat rather than slumped in the middle like a normal hammock, though that comes at a price. They have a removable zip-closure mosquito net that sits well above your head. A camping mat needs to be slipped into the special sleeve under the base, which keeps the hammock flatter and provides insulation.
There are plenty of other hammock bivvies to consider if you don’t mind the slumpy slumber – and they start from around £20, so a huge saving. We haven’t tried any of these (although we have slept in an ultralight and strong Ticket to the Moon hammock with a regular mosquito net over the top, and it just about worked). For ultimate bug-freeness, TTTM also sell a 360-degree mosquito net that fits around the hammock properly. We tested one of those and the difference was worth it, though there was an issue with the tightening toggles and it is slumpy.
There are also Tentsile tents, which need three trees to keep them taut. They look great (though not a cheap option). We haven’t been able to try them out yet, so can’t recommend at the moment. Our concern would be that they’re not so discreet and quick to set up.
Ground-based bivvy bags and tents
The most basic bivvy bag is simply a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. Our choice, however, would be a bivi tent with a hoop at the head to give you breathing space. The best we’ve tested so far are the Aqua Quest, the Rab Ridge Raider and the Snugpak Stratosphere. Remember, though, that ALL bivi bags will have some condensation in them come morning. It’s one of the reasons we like the hammock and tarp option better. Though read on for Aqua Quest’s new answer to that problem.
The smartest-looking bivvy we’ve tested, and also the best for getting into and for ventilation. It weighs around 1100g, complete with pegs (not quite enough supplied) and a snap-together pole for the hoop. It’s roomier than many options, but a thick mat makes it had to sleep without your feet pushing against the fabric.
The reason it gets our vote is the side entry zip and the option to have just the mosquito mesh between you and the sky. Fully waterproof, of course, and there’s a transparent window so you don’t feel buried when you’re fully zipped in. The foot area did get damp with condensation, but this is common to all bivvies.
- Weight: 1088g
- Packed size: 38cm x 13cm
- Around £100
The Ridge Raider is a lightweight, waterproof single-person bivi, with one head-end (and super-easy) DAC Pressfit™ pole, it has a bathtub floor and eVent waterproof, breathable fabric. Unlike the Stratosphere by Snugpak, this bivvy really does need to be pegged (and possibly guyed) for it to be useable. The hoop doesn’t stay up otherwise.
It’s certainly sleek and minimalist, but we found the head entry a little awkward and claustrophobic. It’s just like getting into a sleeping bag. The head entry, while it does have a mesh net as an alternative to the waterproof roof, doesn’t give many options for warmer weather. On the plus side, the head height feels roomy.
It’s VERY light and VERY small, so ideal for adventure and backpacking trips where kit needs to be kept as minimal as possible. As with almost all bivvy tents, condensation can be a problem when fully zipped. The lack of ventilation at the foot end means air can’t circulate, so sleeping bags will often end up damp.
- Weight: 1033g
- Packed size: 30cm x 16cm
- Around £250
This bivi comes with two hoops. It’s very easy to set up, using auto snap-together poles that slot into the head end. These hold the roof well above the head and also mean the bivvy can be used unpegged if needs be. There’s both mesh over the face and behind the head for better ventilation
The full-length side zip makes it feel less claustrophobic and means you can leave it open in warmer weather, though it would be great to have a mesh vent down the side too so that you could keep it airy and keep out bugs.
- Weight; 1130g
- Packed size: 31cm x 14cm
- Around £100
Apart from the bivvi hammocks, this one is the best pick for good weather wild camping and bivvying. It’s basically a mini mesh tent you can set up in a minute, and you can then string up a tarp to keep off the rain. It wouldn’t work with rain AND wind, unless you created a tarp cocoon, of course.
It big advantage is very little condensation (there was some on the green roof section, but it doesn’t touch your sleeping bag except right at the foot). It’s also roomy and a pleasure to sleep in, looking at the stars. In a way, though, it’s not fair to compare it to the others here, which are all designed for more extreme conditions and for hardy explorers.
For us, though, simply wanting a small, light and fast ‘thing’ to sleep in when fair-weather wild camping, this is perfect.
- Weight; 1000g
- Packed size: 38cm x 13cm
- Around £80 (£135 with tarp and tarp fittings)
How to bivvy
What is a bivvy bag and why is it a good idea?
- A bivvy bag is like a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. It’s a thin, waterproof bag. You use it over the top of your sleeping bag. You’ll also find all-in-one bivvy sleeping bags.
- A bivvy bag is cheaper and smaller than a tent.
- It’s very discreet and allows you to sleep on tiny patches of flat ground.
- You are not cocooned from the environment as you are in a tent. In a tent, you’re basically in a rubbish version of indoors. In a bivvy bag, you really are outside. You feel the breeze on your face, look up at the stars before you sleep and sit up to a brilliant view in the morning.
- It feels more exciting and more wild than a tent.
- If you’re in the UK there is usually a risk of rain. The cheapest way to stay dry is with a survival bag like this orange one. The disadvantage of these is that you will realise in the morning how much vapour your body gives off in a night! Your sleeping bag will be quite damp. But for a single night microadventure they are absolutely fine. And they cost less than a fiver.
- A step-up is a breathable bivvy bag. From around £20.
- There are a few companies that produce very cheap bivvies made from a coated nylon. They tend to be pretty light and pack down small. The downsides are poor breathability and durability.
What are the disadvantages of a bivvy bag?
- If it rains, you’ll have a less pleasant night than if you were in a tent or five-star hotel.
- Even the best bivvy bags leave some condensation on your sleeping bag. For a single-night trip this is no problem, but for extended use you need to be able to hang your sleeping bag up to dry occasionally.
How do I use a bivvy bag?
- Just slip it over your sleeping bag. Do it before leaving home rather than doing it later in the dark and pouring rain.
- Pull it up over your head when you sleep. Just leave a small gap for breathing to minimise condensation.
- Experiment with having your sleeping mat under OR in the bivvy. See what works best for you.
- Remember to take a large waterproof bag to put your other stuff into at night. You can use this as your pillow.
How do I make it comfortable?
- A tarp will give you rain protection. See our tarp article here.
- You’ll probably want a lightweight mat. Cheap foam ones are good, but – if you have the space – more expensive self-inflating mats are better (see our article here). You can, if you must, use bubblewrap. Our top choice if you’re not carrying your kit very far is the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus. For a smaller, lighter alternative, we rate the Thermarest Neoair Camper SV.
- Your choice of sleeping bag depends entirely on the situation. If you are going lightweight, then choose an (expensive) tiny down sleeping bag. Also have a look at our review of three-season sleeping bags. Taking warm clothes or a down jacket and just a silk liner is another option.
- Take Nilaqua waterless washes – there are body and hair washes that will keep you clean without access to a shower or running water (not for very sensitive skins). Waterwipes are excellent and completely pure.