Stephanie Boon hiking on the South West Coast Smiling at the camera.

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Article: Bivvy Camping For Beginners. Image: Stephanie Boon sitting in a bivvy bag on the grass (side view).

Bivvy Camping For Beginners, Part 1: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Bivvy Camping For Beginners, Part 1: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep

A 4 Part Series

  1. Part 1. How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep
  2. Part 2. Where To Bivvy: How To Find The Perfect Spot
  3. Part 3. Bivvy Camp Safety
  4. Part 4. Easy Bivvy Camping Food

Bivvy Camping, How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

Get Ready For Your First Bivvy Camping Adventure!

What Is Bivvy Camping?

Bivvy is short for bivouac, which means a temporary camp, and it’s one of the simplest forms of camping there is. It’s basically just a form of wild campingbut without the tent!

In this 4 part guide I’ll take you through what you need, where to go and how to keep safe, and I’ll give you some ideas for food to take along for your first night too!

Why I Love It

At the top of the list is simplicity and a real connection to nature. So I love the way I can just pack a few things into a rucksack and head out under a clear sky for a few hours star-gazing before I drift off to sleep. Bivvy camping is light-weight, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, there’s no faffing about and you can set up pretty much anywhere, and pretty late into the day too. It’s the perfect way to see the sunset and sunrise, to listen to the waves or feel a summer breeze on your face. In fact, it’s the perfect way to head out for a micro adventure, and I reckon you’ll love it for these reasons too.

Packing up after a wild camp on the Devon Coast. The image shows a rucksack on a sleeping mat on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Early morning after a bivvy camp on the cliffs. I was on a long distance hike on the South West Coast Path in Devon.

 

 

3 Essentials You Need For A Good Night’s Sleep

Bivvy Bag

You can just sleep in your sleeping bag if the weather’s good and there’s not much dew in the air, I have. But here in the UK you’re likely to wake up soaking wet (I have – because there’s always dew in the air!) so a good bivvy bag is essential if you want to keep dry. At it’s most basic level a bivvy bag is a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag – but 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 often some great bivvy bag deals on Amazon UK.

Size matters: before you buy a bivvy bag consider whether you want to fit your sleeping mat inside the bag or not. (I prefer mine outside because it gives more protection to the bottom of the bag.)

Sleeping Mat

You definitely need a sleeping mat for a comfortable night’s sleep. 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 been on a bivvy camp before you can start off with a simple foam roll mat on some soft grass. 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.

Sleeping Bag

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 bivvy 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.

View over the cliffs in Cornwall after waking up from a night under the stars.

Wake up to fantastic views!

If you plan to buy any new kit, check out my gear reviews. I only review gear that I’ve used for a period of time so you can rely on the fact that it’s been well tested – which I hope will give you confidence in anything I recommend (or not!).

3 Added Extras For Bivvy Camping Comfort!

A Pillow

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 online 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 (really useful if you have a lightweight summer sleeping bag).

Ground Sheet

Regular wild 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 bivvy. 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 Over Night

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. However, merino base layers often come with a hefty price tag. There is an effective alternative to merino ‘long-johns’ though: merino blend tights, which are available on the high street for around £10.00 a pair (eg M&S). I swear by them! Add a thin fleece top or long sleeve t-shirt for 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 during cooler months. And a beany-style hat or a thin balaclava are always useful to have with you just in case.

 

 

When’s It Best To Go For Your First Bivvy Camp?

Summer, of course!

If you’ve never wild camped or bivvyed before this is definitely the best time to go because you need far less kit. Less kit means it’s a less expensive way to see if you enjoy it. And, it means you’ll have far less weight to carry, which is always a bonus, whether you want to travel fast and light or leave room in your rucksack for a bottle of wine to drink with your mates!

My Summer Bivvy Camping Kit

When you’re hiking in summer you need less kit, so I pack everything I need for an overnight bivvy into a 30L day sack:

 

 

My Bivvy Camping Kit List (shown in the photo below):

Sleeping

  1. Coleman Thermolite mummy sleeping bag (Coleman don’t seem to make Thermolite sleeping bags anymore, but other brands do, including Sea to Summit) (roll with yellow strap)
  2.  Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor sleeping Bag liner (orange roll)
  3. Crux B1 Scout Bivvy Bag (light green roll)
  4. Mountain Equipment women’s specific Helium sleeping mat (black roll, top centre)
  5. Zephyros 1 Lite Footprint (groundsheet – centre next left to orange roll)
  6. Titanium pegs for groundsheet (dark orange roll in centre)

Clothing

  1. 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!
  2. M&S merino blend tights (I often just sleep in my underwear in summer)
  3. Pair of fluffy bed socks
  4. Pair of lightweight running gloves (I have a Ronhill Classic design)
  5. A thin balaclava, which might look ridiculous, but at least it doesn’t fall off! (You could also wear a slightly less startling Buff!)
Summer bivvy camping kit laid out on grass.

My summer kit, including my bivvy bag which is the light green pack, top centre

Also in the photo

Many of the items listed below are covered in other articles in the series Bivvy Camping For Beginners

  1. Wash/first aid kit (clear pack, top right) (here’s what should be in your outdoor first aid kit along with a free check list)
  2. Water bottle (top right)
  3. Flask (Costa reusable mug)
  4. Meal (clear plastic tub, top right)
  5. Head torch and sundries (light green dry bag)
  6. Orange plastic trowel and toilet paper (in clear plastic bag)
  7. Notebook and pen (clear plastic pack next to trowel)
  8. Small map (next to trowel)
  9. Nalgene bottle (for meths stove)
  10. Mini Trangia (round stove)
  11. 30L Osprey rucksack
  12. Mountain Equipment Gore-Tex light weight waterproof jacket

That’s The End Of Bivvy Camping For Beginners, Part 1!

Part 1 highlighted everything you need to have for a bivvy camp before you head out. (Excluding a cooking stove and related equipment, which is covered in Part 4). So read on! Part 2 will help you plan where to go for your first overnight camp, including permission, type of land and the weather.

I hope you’re feeling excited because you’re well on you way to a fantastic experience. One you’ll want to repeat again and again!

Happy hiking

Stephie x

Next In The Series

  1. Part 1. How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep
  2. Part 2. Where To Bivvy: How To Find The Perfect Spot
  3. Part 3. Bivvy Camp Safety
  4. Part 4. Easy Bivvy Camping Food

 

Pin The Series!

 

Comments

  • 13 August, 2019

    An excellant intro to bivvying Stephie xx

    reply
  • Paul
    7 August, 2019

    Hi do you ever use a simple tarp, if so what do you use. Paul (walking_for_jenny)

    reply

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