04 Aug Get Ready For Your First Bivi Bag Camping Adventure!
What You Need For A Good Night’s Sleep
This is the first article in a series of 4 for beginners:
- Part 1. Get Ready For Your First Bivi Bag Camping Adventure! (that’s this one!)
- Part 2. How To Find A Great Bivi Camping Spot Under The Stars
- Part 3. How To Keep Safe On A Bivi Wild Camp
- Part 4. Lightweight Meals For Your First Wild Camping Bivi
Let’s jump right in and find out what you need for a good night’s sleep in a bivi bag!
What’s a Bivi Bag When It’s At Home?!
Bivi (also spelt bivy, bivvy and bivvi!) is short for bivouac, which simply means a temporary camp.
You can make a temporary camp in a tent, but generally speaking hikers mean a minimal wild camp in a bivi bag. They call it 'cowboy camping' in the US, which gives you a really good idea of what it's all about!
There are many great things about a bivi camp out, but that would make a long list! However, some of the best reasons to try it include:
- Open skies and real connection to the outdoors
- The ease of finding somewhere to pitch up discreetly
- And the much reduced weight to carry!
So, imagine finding a great spot under the stars, maybe having a fire (if it’s permitted – Leave No Trace), rolling out your sleeping bag, snuggling up and looking for shooting stars as you drift off to sleep… Sounds good doesn’t it? And it really can be that good if you plan it right! So what do you need?
3 Essentials You Need For A Comfortable Night In A Bivi Bag
A Bivi bag is a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag – and they also keep the wind out. They come in various designs, some much more basic than others. You can buy them with zippered ‘hoods’ with mosquito netting, some have short poles at the foot and head, some are more spacious than others, and some are as cheap as chips while the price of others will take your breath away!
There’s something for everyone. But, for the first-timer camping out in the height of summer you can get a cheap and effective one from an army surplus store. There are also some great bivi bag deals on Amazon UK*.
Size matters: before you buy one consider whether you want to fit your sleeping mat inside the bivi bag or not. (I prefer mine outside because it gives more protection to the bottom of the bag.)
If the weather forecast is good (not too much damp in the air overnight) you can even get away without one.
You definitely need a sleeping mat for a comfortable night’s bivi. Why? Because the insulation it provides will keep you significantly warmer, and there’s the comfort factor too. Lumpy ground is less likely to keep you awake if there’s some cushioning beneath you!
Regular hikers are likely to have a sleeping mat already, but if you’ve never camped out before you can start off with a simple foam roll mat. Or borrow one! When you’re ready to upgrade you can choose from the super comfy to the super light-weight, with everything in between.
A sleeping bag goes without saying! And once again there are so many choices it can be hard to decide where to start. So before you buy one, think about how often you’re likely to use it and at what time of year. A light weight summer sleeping bag might be all you need, but for a good night’s bivi make sure you buy a mummy sleeping bag with a hood. Your sleeping bag is likely to take up the most room in your rucksack, so choose one that compresses well too.
3 Added Extras To Add To Your Comfort!
Some people just can’t sleep without one, and if that’s you you’ll be glad to know there are several options. The simplest and cheapest option is to roll up some clothes in a stuff stack and lay a soft fleece on top. Then there are blow up pillows from the basic to the premium, which are lightweight and quick to inflate with a soft outer fabric. Start your research on Amazon and check out your local outdoor stores too. I prefer the clothes and stuff sack option, if I feel the need for a pillow at all, because it means I don’t have to carry any extra weight.
Sleeping Bag Liner
This is an optional extra that I’ve come to love! There are several reasons to invest in one: to add extra warmth; to save washing your sleeping bag so regularly, and to use without your sleeping bag on warm sultry nights. All the major brands sell them, and as ever you can go from a basic liner to silk or Thermolite fabric, which can increase the warmth of your sleeping bag by up to 8 degrees.
Regular campers are likely to have a ground sheet to protect the base of the tent, and this is the perfect solution for a night in a bivi. I use a ground sheet for a bit of extra space to lay out my kit and to protect my sleeping mat from thorns and prickles. It also gives me a bit of piece of mind to know that burrowing insects (like ants and bees) have an extra layer to fight through before they find me!
A ground sheet isn’t essential, but if you decide not to take one I recommend a bin bag to put your rucksack and shoes in over night.
What To Wear In Your Bivi Bag
Naturally what you wear to sleep in will have an impact on your comfort too. Always carry clothes specifically for sleeping in and keep them in a dry-bag, because sleeping in wet clothes is no fun at all.
On warm nights you might sleep in nothing more than a t-shirt and pyjama shorts, but if it’s a bit chillier there are several ways to add some extra warmth. Everyone aspires to merino wool base layers because their warmth to weight ratio is high, and merino has the added benefit of natural antibacterial properties. But, merino base layers often come with a hefty price tag. However there is an effective alternative: merino blend tights, which are available on the high street for around £10.00 a pair (eg M&S). I swear by them! And a thin fleece top or long sleeve t-shirt will add extra body warmth if you need it.
Keep Your Extremities Warm!
Pack a lightweight pair of bed socks (which have no elastic around the top cuff) if you suffer from cold feet, or consider putting a fleece inside the bottom of your sleeping bag. And finally, always carry a hat and gloves. A lightweight pair of running gloves or a glove liner are perfect for sleeping in. And a beany-style hat or a thin balaclava are always useful to have with you just in case.
My Summer Bivi Sleeping Kit
Here’s a list of what I take with me for an overnight bivi in summer:
- 17 year old Coleman Thermolite mummy sleeping bag (Coleman don’t seem to make Thermolite sleeping bags anymore, but other brands do, including Sea to Summit*)
- Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor* sleeping Bag liner
- Crux B1 Scout Bivi Bag
- Mountain Equipment women’s specific Helium sleeping mat
- Zephyros 1 Lite Footprint (groundsheet)
- Rab Merino Tee (mine was £20 in TK Maxx) or an old long sleeve North Face top that I’ve had for about 15 years!
- M&S merino blend tights (I often just sleep in my underwear in summer)
- Pair of fluffy bed socks (similar* to these)
- Pair of lightweight running gloves (I have a Ronhill Classic design)
- Thin balaclava (the sort you might wear under a ski helmet) – it looks ridiculous, but at least it doesn’t fall off! (You could also wear a slightly less startling Buff!)
You might notice some of my old kit in the photo above and there are several items I plan to upgrade (eventually), including my sleeping bag and mat. But, if anything, I hope this highlights that you can start with the basics and upgrade as and when you can. Which is exactly what I did, and if I can do it, so can you!