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Wild camping with minimal kit – it’s bivvy marvellous!

Sometimes you just want to escape! But, 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 of camping gear. And that means a decent bivi bag, lightweight tent or bivvy hammock.

 

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Latest update: April 2020

Wild camping should be carefree camping

Wild camping and bivvying doesn’t need to be a full-on expedition. It’s also pretty wild (and good fun) to simply park up, walk into the woods nearby and set up camp for a mini overnight adventure.

 

There are plenty of Bear Grylls-type websites out there for hardened expeditionists with super lightweight (and expensive) gear, tying themselves to the sides of mountains and eating moss. 

That’s not us…but we do like to get close to nature, and that’s where a few nights of wild and basic camping is a brilliant experience. If that’s your dream too, read on for our choice of simple camping gear to help you stay warm, dry and comfortable.

Option one – a simply bivvy bag

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. 

The most basic bivvy bag is simply a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. This is really only an option for hardier ‘proper’ wild camping types! 

Highlander Dragon’s Egg Bivvy

A waterproof bag with integral mat from Highlander. Around £65

 

You can throw a bivvy bag like this Highlander 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.

 
 
 

Mil-Tec waterproof bivvy covers

Rainy weather (and even dew) will persuade you to invest in at least a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag like the MilTec one shown here, and perhaps a tarp for over the top.

Or slip a waterproof cover like the Mil-Tec above over your sleeping bag.

Mil-Tec bivvy bag

You don’t need to share this simple Mil-Tec bivvy cover (around £40) with that scary guy. Just ask him politely to leave.

 
bivvy bag

The Highlander Hawk bivvy bag is lightweight, breathable and waterproof. Around £50.

 
BEWARE: 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.
 

You can do a lot with a simple tarp over your bivvy bag, but we do like the Rab Element shelters. They come in a range of sizes and colours and are great for setting up on walking poles or adjustable tarp poles.

 

Option two – a hooped bivvy

Next step up is a bivvy with a hoop so that your head is protected but you have some wriggle room. It’s just a mini-tent the size of a sleeping bag.

Aqua Quest Hooped Bivvy

The smartest-looking hooped bivvy we’ve tested, and also one of 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 a little damp with condensation, but this is common to all bivvies.

Snugpak's Stratosphere bivi tent

Snugpak’s Stratosphere bivi tent – two hoops and a full side zip.

Snugpak Stratosphere

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.

Option three – a bivvy tent

For more freedom of movement, go for a teeny tent that goes up in seconds and packs away to nothing. 

Aqua Quest West Coast

This AquaQuest beauty 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’s the most affordable too.

 Its 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. For us, it’s the idea small, light and fast ‘thing’ to sleep in when fair-weather wild camping.

Coleman Bedrock tent

More affordable still, the Bedrock is just about a two-person tent, but we prefer it as a roomy one-person bivvy tent.

Fibreglass poles, a ventilated inner tent and storage room. Best of all is the 93cm headroom. It’s heavier than our other picks, but still packable.

 

Andake ultrapackable tent

This is too cheap to be any good, eh? After all, most backpacking expedition tents cost hundreds of pounds.

 

Well, I doubt you’d want to explore the Antarctic with it, but it’s proved itself in wind and rain and is pretty excellent.

It has a double-wall construction so that it stays dry inside and you can keep mosquitoes off in warm weather while still have air coming through. It has aluminium poles.

Option four – an off-ground bivvy hammock

For us, this is one of the best options. You’re off the ground, so you stay drier. But, hammocks aren’t generally comfortable for sleeping in – way too slumpy in the middle.

So, look for a flat-bed hammock. You can read a full review of these bivvy hammocks

Etrol 3-in-1 hammock

Given how hard it is to find the Blue Ridge (see below), we were excited to test the Etrol instead. It’s a third of the price at around £55, and has some great features.

Use this hammock (almost flat-bed) in the trees, or peg it down on the ground. Use the mosquito net at night, or remove it to use as a standard hammock.

It comes with all the fixings you need, and some really good tree straps. Around 1.3kg and a small pack size.

The key to sleeping flat in this (and any hammock, actually) is to sleep on the diagonal. For that, the hammock needs to have width, and the Etrol is a good 140cm wide.

Just £55 makes it worth a go.

Lawson Blue Ridge

This is both a ground bivvy and a hammock. The clever spreader bar splits in two, so it’s not huge to pack away. Sadly, there are few available in the UK. Try here, or try for used or imported on Ebay.

You simply roll it out, peg it down with one peg at both ends and then insert the shock-corded aluminium hoops to give you head and foot room.

Lots of space, a couple of hanging loops and pockets inside, a mosquito net, zip door and a detachable rain cover. Pretty great, but pretty unobtainable!

Hennessy Hammocks

 

One range you can get easily – and one that offers a lot for the money – is Hennessy Hammocks. Mosquito nets, included rainfly, almost flat-bed and very strong materials. Around £130 upwards.

 

See the  tree hammock camping options we rate most highly in our head-to-head test.

Tentsile tree and ground tents

Tentsiles are unique. They hang from three trees so that the floor is kept absolutely flat and taut. There are sophisticated tents for one to six people, which can also be used on the ground. Plus there are hammocks and lots of add-on accessories.

 

With rainfly and insect mesh, they’re the all-in-one option for sleeping in the trees. Prices start at around £150 and rise to nearly £1,900 for the soon-to-be-launched (literally) Three Elements, which works on the ground, as a hanging tent AND as a floating shelter on a lake. Wow!

Hammockbliss Sky Bed

For a cheaper option, the Hammockbliss Sky Bed with bug net isn’t bad either, but not absolutely flat. Around £55.

 

An ordinary hammock – but not if you have a bad back

The Forbidden Road hammocks are a great bargain. Around £10 for the single size and around £15 for the extra-large double.

They come with all the straps and carabiners you need for fixing.

The single will hold up to 180kg and the big one up to 220kg. They fold down into a tiny stuffsack. Spend the money you’ve saved on the Klymit hammock pad for a comfier sleep.

Convert an ordinary hammock into a comfortable camping bed
For an ordinary hammock, get yourself a Klymit hammock pad…they make all the difference.

The extra side bits keep the fabric from engulfing you. Available for around £60 standard and £130 insulated.

Find your wild camping spot with Viewranger for walking, biking and more

Viewranger is our favourite way of discovering new walks, cycle routes and exploring new places.

We used it for the first time on a trip to the Lake District. Absolutely loved its Skyline feature for identifying fells, tarns and interesting landmarks.

When we got back, I got in touch with them and they agreed a special offer for you, 10% off and you can try it free for a week. 

Be inspired with The Wild Guides

A brilliant series of guides that help you discover lovely landscapes, places to swim and camp, unusual and special places to eat and more. 

There are guides to Scotland, Central England, the Lakes and DalesWalesPortugalCornwall and the South WestScandinavia and wild swimming in the UK, Italy and France.

 

Now make yourself comfortable

A tarp for rain protection

See our tarp article here

 

Tarp poles

Providing you have the tarp clips, guyline and trees, it’s pretty easy to make yourself a shelter. But for extra versatility, add a few tarp poles like the Noorsk above to your kit.

Go for as light as possible and don’t forget to check how many eyelets your tarp has to accommodate the pole ends.

This Justcamp tent and tarp pole is fantastic for height (it’s telescopic up to 95 to 230cm), so it would work as the central pole in a lightweight bell tent or tipi.

Go for lightweight but efficient

The MSR titanium kettles are superlight and quick boiling. Plus you can cook in them too.

 

Go to the loo without fear

Take a toilet trowel…and read our article on camping toilets for information about how to go in the wild.

Clever clips and cords

These bits and pieces will cost you under a tenner and will change your (camping) life! Use the bungee cords to secure tarps, awnings, bits of flapping tent or for 101 other uses. The green clips fasten on to canvas taps, tents and so on without damaging the fabric and give you more options for securing.

Campfire wood-chopping time!

Here’s my Bahco Laplander, spotted in the timber merchants this week and now in the kit.

The teeth cut in both directions, so it’s a bit easier to use, plus folding it up is a tad simpler. It’s only £15 too.

Choose a good sleeping bag

If you’re going lightweight, then you’ll probably need a mummy sleeping bag, however these do make it difficult to move around to get a good position in a bivvy hammock.

Our choice would be something like the Andes Grand (1.8kg and around £25), which can be a duvet or rectangular sleeping bag. It’s rated for four seasons, but you might want the extra warmth of a liner or a Jungle Blanket over the top.

Also consider the affordable Vango Treklites in a choice of warmth balanced with weight and pack size.

Please, please – if you can – don’t buy a down sleeping bag. It’s really not fair to those poor geese and ducks.

Have a look at our review of three-season sleeping bags. Taking warm clothes or an insulated jacket and just a sleeping bag liner is another option.

Headtorch to lamp

Petzl NoctilightThis handy (and cheap) little zip-up pouch holds your headtorch, turning it into a lantern. 

A hanging cord wraps neatly around it. Clever little Petzl Noctilight!

The best headtorch we’ve found is the new Actik Core 450-lumen Petzl. It’s big advantage is that it can be recharged from a USB socket or used with batteries. Very bright, very comfortable.

A lightweight mat

Cheap foam ones are good, but – if you have the space – more expensive self-inflating mats are better. You can, if you must, use bubblewrap.

We rate the Klymit range of ultralight mats for their comfortable V-shaped baffles.

For insulation in a hammock, go for the Snugpak hammock underpad.

For super-comfortable, non-backpacking options, have a look at our guide and recommendations for camping mattresses.

Keeping clean without a shower block

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). Aqua Wipes are excellent and completely pure AND biodegradable.

 

Cheat when it comes to cooking

Take easy-to-make food like Firepot (our favourite camping readymeals) and make your own tea and coffee bags using unbleached paper pouches.

Source Liquitainer

The Source Liquitainer is a taste-free, non-BPA, foldable water carrier. Holds six litres. Stands up (many water bags don’t), reliable tap and easy-fill top.

AND have a look at our article on hammock camping for more lovely ways to sleep cosily in the wild.

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2 Comments

  1. In my opinion, the Lawson Blue Ridge is way too heavy to take wild camping. I bought it from Amazon, when it arrived it was about half a kilo heavier than listed on amazon, then add on the straps – it’s way heavier than my 1 man tent. Nice hammock to have in the back of the car or camper van. Mine never left home as it would’ve made my pack waaaay to heavy. Editor: I agree that the Blue Ridge is a bit big and heavy (actually 2.2kg) for very lightweight backpacking. The trade off compared to a lighter hammock with mosquito net is the flat-bed sleeping.Compared to a backpacking tent, the advantage is the being able to set up in the trees rather than on rocky ground. Probably our recommendation for off-the-ground, lightweight camping would be a decent, but light, hammock plus the Klymit hammock pad

  2. Nice article and thank you for linking to my website.

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