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 of camping gear. And that means a decent bivi bag or tent or a bivvy hammock.
Latest update: October 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Weight: 1088g
- Packed size: 38cm x 13cm
- Around £90
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!
- Weight: 1900g
- Packed size: 56cm x 16cm
- Around £175
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 £130
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’s the most affordable too.
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.
- Weight; 1000g
- Packed size: 38cm x 13cm
- Around £80
How to bivvy
Thanks to Alistair Humphreys and Tim Moss for their professional bivvying advice, based on years of experience.
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.
Make yourself comfortable
A tarp will give you rain protection.
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 pack
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.
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
Go to the loo without fear
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.