12 Aug How To Find A Great Bivi Camping Spot Under The Stars
Get Ready For Your First Bivi Camping Adventure, Part 2
This article is the second in a series of 4 articles for bivi camping beginners:
- Part 1. Get Ready For Your First Bivi Bag Camping Adventure! (What You Need For A Good Night’s Sleep)
- Part 2. How To Find A Great Bivi Camping Spot Under The Stars
- Part 3. How To Keep Safe On A Bivi Wild Camp (coming 19th August)
- Part 4. Lightweight Meals For Your First Wild Camping Bivi (Coming 26th August)
The Lie Of The Bivi Camping Land
Choosing a spot on the fly isn't always easy for a beginner, so it's best to have a plan before you head off into the night!
We’ll look at what you need to consider when you make your plan, and a lot of it is common sense, but for the beginner the first consideration is how far afield you to go.
Find Your First Bivi Camping Spot In Familiar Territory
First off I advise any beginner to start out close to home or somewhere familiar. Secondly, I suggest you stay within easy walking distance of a road or wherever you park your car. The spot you earmark should be somewhere easy to navigate to/from in the dark, just in case you have to abandon camp in the middle of the night.
Next, think about how fast you walk, which is probably about 2 – 3 miles/3- 5 km per hour, and estimate how long you’d be prepared to walk if you had to abandon camp. I’d err on the side of caution and suggest staying within an hour’s walk from a road or your car, and less if possible.
How To Use Your Map To Find The Best Bivi Camping Spot
So far you know:
- the general area you’d like to set up camp
- and that the area needs to be up to a couple of miles from your car
Now it’s time to get out your map, if you haven’t already! There are lots of maps available but I recommend the OS 1:25000 Explorer series for the amount of useful detail and information they provide.
The next thing to do is to get out a compass and pencil and find a road or somewhere suitable to park. Use the scale at the bottom of the map to open the compass to 1.5-2 miles/2.5-3 km and draw a circle from your proposed parking spot. (You’ll get used to doing this by eye after a while.) Now look for somewhere suitable within the circle.
What Makes A Suitable Spot?
The map legend is your friend!
You’ll find an illustrated list of the map symbols in the bottom corner of the map and you’ll need to refer to them to find your spot:
- The first consideration is level ground: look for an area where the contour lines aren’t very close together
- Dry ground is preferable to camping in a bog, so make sure there aren’t any ‘marshy’ symbols, streams or springs in the area
- Areas of scrub can be hard to pitch on (bracken or heather for example), so try to avoid those
- Avoid camping near buildings or houses, vehicle tracks or too close to public rights of way
- If you want a clear view of the sky, sunset or sunrise look for open ground (although woodland is great if you’re looking for somewhere discreet)
- Higher ground could mean stronger winds so you might want to find shelter from the prevailing wind – eg near the edge of a wood, rocky outcrops or a hedge/field boundary (for eg if there’s a prevailing westerly wind you could look for an area to the east of a wood or a field wall)
- Avoid cliff edges, nature reserves, farmland, crops etc
- beaches – make sure you know the high and low tide times
Undoubtedly compromises will have to be made, but whatever you do don’t compromise on personal safety.
A Note On Permission
The only legal places to wild camp in the UK are on parts of Dartmoor and in Scotland. However, as long as you follow etiquette it’s often accepted in upland areas (eg The Lake District and other mountainous areas) and tolerated in others. Etiquette dictates that you pitch late, leave early and spend no more than one night in the same spot.
In theory you should ask the land owner for permission, in practice it’s often extremely difficult to find out who the owner/s are. Something to look out for on your OS map are areas of Open Access, where you have the right to roam (but remember, someone still owns this land). Open Access areas are highlighted with a wide brown border around the area, and sometimes tell you who owns the land as well (The National Trust, for eg).
The beauty of a bivi is that it’s far more discreet than a tent, especially if you choose a subdued colour for your bivi bag, so if you pitch up at dusk and leave early it’s unlikely you’ll bother anyone. That is, unless you ignore the rules of the Leave No Trace Movement, which I recommend you read before you go camping. There’s also some more info in the 10 Mile Hike Guide To Wild Camping For Women.
The Great British Weather!
Check The Forecast
The weather can have a significant impact on your enjoyment of your first bivi adventure, which is why I recommend heading out in the summer months. Warmer nights, the potential for clear skies and drier weather make it an enticing prospect. But, whenever you plan to go make sure you read the forecast first.
Avoid extremes of weather, for example thunder storms, heavy rain and strong winds: don’t take unnecessary risks.
The Best Forecasts
There are a number of phone apps and websites, but these services are some of the best:
- The Met Office for good general forecasts across the UK
- Dark Sky is a highly regarded “hyperlocal” forecast, which also provides ‘live’ weather information
- The Mountain Information Service is ideal when you’re planning to bivi in upland areas in National Parks and adjacent areas, and is particularly detailed for bad weather conditions
A Good Weather Read!
- Weather Lore – The Natural Navigator is a fascinating read, but probably not the best way to make an accurate forecast! However, it’s interesting to discover how useful sayings like ‘red sky at night shepherds’ delight’ really are. It also explains where the sayings come from and the science behind them.
Once you’re happy the weather looks good, you know where you’re going and have everything you need, you’re good to go! But when you get to your planned camp spot, there’s one more thing you need to do.
What To Look For When You Get To Your Bivi Camping Spot
When you get to your planned camp spot you need to check the general area for potential threats to your comfort and safety. Check for the possibility of falling rocks, tree branches (even trees!), holes or dips in the ground and warning signs for things like mine shafts, shooting, etc. Another thing to look out for is evidence of animal activity.
Wild Animals and Livestock
A cow chewing the cud near your head is a startling way to wake up in the morning, believe me! Always check the area for fresh manure – and move on if there is any!
As well as cow dung you should also look out for signs of wild animals, such as badger or fox poo, animal tracks in the mud or animal ‘runs’ through grass. Look out for evidence of ground nesting birds in spring and burrowing insects like ants and bees (a ground sheet may give some extra protection). I recently found a spot that looked comfortable and sheltered in some long grass, but after a poke around I found an exoskeleton of a snake! (I would guess an adder – check out my article on UK snakes for safety info.) It wasn’t a difficult decision to move on and find some short grass instead haha!
Midges and horseflies are some of the biggest nuisances when you're wild camping, so take a head net and some insect repellent - just in case there's an attack of the flies!
(Find out what you should put in your personal first aid kit here.)
Wild animals are highly unlikely to cause you any harm unless it’s in self defence. And the best way to avoid this potentiality is to avoid disturbing their obvious habitat.
That’s a lot of information to take in for beginners, but most of it is common sense and can be put in a few sentences:
- Make a plan
- Bivi somewhere familiar
- Use a map to find suitable ground
- Get permission if you can (if you need to)
- Check the weather forecast (and tide times if appropriate)
- Once you’re on site check around for potential hazards and animal activity
- Sleep well
- Leave No Trace!