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

thumb_IMG_5278_1024Sometimes 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 of camping gear. And that means a decent bivi bag or tent or a bivvy hammock.

Latest update: August 2019


Wild camping should be light camping

The minimum of stuff to carry and the right gear so that discomfort doesn’t mar the sense of freedom. But it doesn’t need to be an expedition. It’s pretty wild to park up and then walk into the woods nearby and set up camp for a mini adventure.

 

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 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.


A Hennessy Hammock set-up. Cosy!

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. Apologies if any of the links below take you to a dead-end. We’re finding that these properly flat-bed hammocks are becoming very hard to find in the UK.

 

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.

The Lawson Blue Ridge can be used in the trees or on the ground, but nigh-on impossible to find in the UK. Try Ebay

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

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’ve also 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.

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 and the insulation keeps your back and bum warm.

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.

Find out more on all the tree hammock camping options we rate in our head-to-head test.


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.

 

Remember, though, that nearly 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 to the end to hear why we REALLY love the Aqua Quest’s West Coast for getting around that problem.


Aqua Quest Hooped Bivvy

The smartest-looking 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 damp with condensation, but this is common to all bivvies.


Lawson Blue Ridge

As mentioned above, this is both a ground bivvy and a hammock. The clever spreader bar splits in two, so it’s not huge to pack away.

 

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!


Rab Ridge Raider

The Rab Ridge Raider has one hoop and head entry. It’s slightly higher at the head end for a roomier feel.

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.


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.


Aqua Quest West Coast

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.

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. 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.


Mil-Tec bivvy bag

The Mil-Tec macho bivvy bag is the business for waterproofness and breathability. You don’t need to share it with that scary guy.

How to bivvy

Thanks to Alistair Humphreys and Tim Moss for their professional bivvying advice, based on years of experience.

These Rab shelters come in a range of sizes and colours and are great for setting up on walking poles or folding tarp poles..

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.

81cTnw1nEmL._SL1500_The options

  • 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.
bivvy bag

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

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.

Make yourself comfortable

A tarp will give you rain protection.

See our tarp article here. Get some lightweight aluminium tarp poles to give you flexibility in how you set up camp.

Sea to Summit do some great lightweight kit. This is the Etherlight mat – a bit of a pain to inflate, so go for one of their self-inflating mats instead maybe. In the picture, you can also just about see one of their clever lightweight pans with folding handle.

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 or the fantastic Sea to Summit Etherlight range with integrated pump packNilaqua waterless wash

Choose a good sleeping bag

If you’r going lightweight, then you’ll probably need a more expensive sleeping bag. Also have a look at our review of three-season sleeping bags. Taking warm clothes or an insulated jacket and just a silk liner is another option.

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.

Go for lightweight but efficient

A titanium kettle is superlight and quick boiling.

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.

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.

There are lots of options, but our one recommendation would be….just get out there and give it a go! Meanwhile, do share your own kit tips and bivvying stories with us – there’s a comment option below. Has anyone tried those covered camping beds, for instance?


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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