Bivy explorations

So I have added the crazy idea of doing the Welsh Ride Thing (WRT) to my sabbatical. Also I’m planning to wildcamp during the journey sections to add flexibility (not that many campsites to choose from) and reduce cost.

Both the WRT and the Wildcamping will work best if I don’t have to put my my fairly large tent (Vango Banshee 300) which is well suited to comfortable nights on campsites.

So I am looking at a range of possibilities.

  • Week long camping (eg at Lindisfarne): Vango Banshee Tent with a Tarp as a large porch
  • Nice Campsite (chosen because it has showers): Vango Banshee Tent
  • Wildcamping in the rain: Bivvy bag with Tarp covering kit and my head
  • Wildcamping when discretion is needed: Bivvy bag. Tarp laid over bike and kit
  • Wildcamping when short of time: Bivvy bag for me

It looks like I might wildcamp for 20 nights during the sabbatical. It would also open up options at other times such as I could have wildcamped on my way to Synod last month instead of starting so early in the morning (well if I hadn’t had meetings the evening before). That does mean I could save maybe £200 in campsite fees (not quite sure of the fees for a cyclist with a single tent).

As I looked at Bivvy bags one that is cheap and very popular is the Hunka, the XL version in particular seems a good option.

But (and it is a big but) the Hunka has a simple draw string at the top. That means your head is always exposed. Not a problem with rain as I’d always have a tarp to provide protection (and keeping your head out helps reduce condensation in the Bivvy bag). However, during the months of my sabbatical when camping in the UK midges are going to potentially be a big problem. I have horrible memories of them from when I walked the West Highland Way some 30 years ago.

So I asked for help on the BearBones Bikepacking Forum and have spent ages looking at the suggestions and reviews. This is what I have found so far.

Midge Protection. Seems that “The Stopper” is going to be essential when stopped and not sleeping. I could potentially sleep wearing one using a Hunka Bivvy but it does not appear a very comfortable or attractive option.

So I have been looking at other options, specifically Bivvy bags with mesh protection from midges. My preference is for a Bivvy bag that my sleeping mat (Exped UL 7 MW on order) can fit in (so it does not get dirty or punctured so I can also use it inside my tent afterwards) along with my quilt (Sestrals Quilt on order) and which will allow me to sleep on my side (cos I hate sleeping on my back).

The cheapest is the Highlander Hawk available for about £50. Not a lot of information available about it. In particular regarding how breathable the material is (critical to reducing condensation and being able to sleep with it fully closed in heavy rain). Not yet sure how much space there is in it. It does not look like it will be possible to fully enclose it so it will need a tarp when it rains.

Another option is the RAB Ascent for about £150. I like the look of how you can hold it open with the mesh protection but it looks pretty claustrophobic if you had to close the zip due to rain. The reviews are pretty positive, however, it looks like if I can sleep in it with my mat it will be tight and I might not be able to sleep on my side.

I could go slightly larger with a Terra Nova Jupiter or RAB Ridge Raider. Both get excellent reviews, but are a fair bit heavier (plus more expensive) and almost like carrying an extra tent.

Then there are a couple of nice options that just don’t seem to be in stock anywhere. That includes the RAB Sierra and the Outdoor Research Helium or Alpine.

I’m told there might be new possibilities in the pipeline that might also be made in the UK.

Meanwhile the most promising seems to be an American product. The Borah Gear Snowyside eVent Bivy. This is larger than the RAB Ascent has more mesh than the RAB Sierra and has at least one excellent review. Generally Event fabric seems to be the highest quality combination of waterproof and breathable. With the side zip option it looks like a great option.

No decision yet. More thinking to do.

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  1. All good thinking.

    I’ve bivvied when walking in remote (and on odd occasions not-so-remote) places. I’d recommend any bivvy-bag that is a Goretex one. And long enough (I’m 6’4″). You’re probably not going bivvy until it’s dark; so zip up inside and go to sleep without worrying about the added complications of nets or even propping the opening open. Don’t leave your head exposed!

    It can be colder than camping so wear some layers – and a hat.

    And not as comfortable as camping, even with a Thermarest. You’ll wake up more often during the night. I find having a Mars bar in a corner of the bag helpful for those 3 a.m. moments.

    Carry a bin liner so that you can put back-pack (or pannier?) and your shoes inside to keep them dry through the night.

    Getting up in the rain? Well, it’s got to be done. Even in the dry, dew and condensation can make rolling up your kit awkward. Plenty of plastic bags needed.

    But you’ll be on your way in the morning quicker than anyone else!

  2. Thanks Ian, good to get advice from those who have done it.

    I’m more into the pragmatic view of using a bivvy when a tent just isn’t going to fit or be discrete enough or when it is took dark to make it worth bothering. However, I’ve read lots of people going on about the romance of looking at the stars which is not really me. For one thing once I have taken my glasses off I won’t be able to see any stars anyway 😉

    I am suspicious of the breathable qualities of these cheaper bags and don’t imagine zipping yourself inside is possible unless it is goretex or pertex.

    • You’re right about the breathable quality of the cheaper bags.

      To see what it was like, I have bivvied in February in the Brecon Beacons in an emergency plastic bag! (Those six-foot by two-foot orange jobs that you sometimes keep in the bottom of a rucsac.) It taught me that I would take very great care never to have to do it again!

  3. Hi there,

    I am new to your blog, and am envious of your Dandy, alas I cannot afford.

    When it comes to bivvies, I have always used this http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Marechal-cyclists-bikers-hiking-backpacking-lightweight-bike-tent-/270970836638?pt=UK_SportsLeisure_HikingCamping_Tents_JN&hash=item3f171ed69e

    It’s cheap and might not be up to your purposes. It will depend on what time of year you are planning to go. But for me, the pro points are that it’s extremely light weight. Low profile – perfect for wild camping. Quick to get up. It’s small but not too small, I can get back my backpack, inflatable bed, and all other gear in there and still have a (bit) of room. It’s really a generous 1 person and a very stingy 2 berth at a push. It’s a glorified bivvy. With lightweight tent pegs and poles you can reduce the weight down some more. Lol, I’m slightly obsessive about being lightweight when backpacking.

    Down sides is it could use more vents. It’s ‘space age’ flooring could be a tad sturdier.

    It’s probably not what you are looking, but thought I would add that to the mix.

    Cheers
    Phen

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