A Bivvi (or Bivy, Bivvy, Bivi etc.) bag, is a waterproof bag that fits around your sleeping bag so that you can sleep outside without the need for a tent. It acts as both a groundsheet and cover for your bed. In the past they were mostly used by the army for fast and light travel, but they’ve become a lot more popular among civillian campers in recent years, particularly ultralight hikers and wild campers.
Bivvis come in all shapes and sizes, from the barely there water ‘resistant’, to the unweildy emergency shelter, to the nearly-a-tent type with hoop, pegs and insect net. Some people use them alone, others pair them with a tarp to keep off the worst of the rain. I’ve learnt to love the simplicity of a bivvi, and waking up to see the stars or the sunrise right in front of me makes up for any of the disadvantages.
The bivvi I use is an Alpkit Hunkka XL. It’s light and small, and packs away easily into its own stuff sack.
Just like sleeping in a tent you’ll need a mat. I most often use my Sea to Summit Ultralight air mattress, so I put it inside my bivvi to give it a bit of protection from the ground. I have also used my Thermarest SO-Lite and have left that outside the bag. The benefit there is that when it starts to get cold in the evening, you can get into your bivvi and sit up in it, like a snug caterpillar! On the downside, I tend to roll off in the night and wake up on the cold lump ground…
On top of the mat and inside the bag goes my sleeping bag. I have a few of these now, but the one I use most for wild camping is my OEX Leviathan. It’s light, packs small and is toast warm well below zero.
I like a bit of luxury when I sleep, so I take an inflatable pillow which slips under the hood of my sleeping bag, inside the bivvi.
If the weather is looking dodgy I often pair my bivvi with a tarp. It lets me leave my stuff a bit more spread out, and I don’t have to worry about my face getting wet in the night! I use a lightweight Rab Siltarp2 which is big enough to totally enclose me if I want. Paired with 4 titanium pegs, some cord, and my walking poles I can turn it into any sort of shelter that fits me and my gear very quickly. My sitmat and a bin liner work in very wet weather as enough of a groundsheet to stop the entrance getting muddy, and I’m able to make a cosy shelter in a few minutes of arriving at my campsite. If I’m wild camping I’ll either just use the tarp as a lean-to and tie one side to trees or a wall, or forego it entirely and simply sleep under a thick hedge! In a camp site I’m likely to make more of it, giving me a little privacy and more of an area to call mine. The beauty of a tarp though is how flexible it is, and if a forecast has changed during my stay I can just alter the pitching angle to increase the rain protection or ventilation.
My gear and shoes either go in to a garden waste sack or my bivvi if it’s going to rain, or just sit outside next to me.
There are hundreds of bivvis out there, all with their own benefits, and it’s hard to know where to start. There are several key factors to think about:
In all the discussions about bags I’ve had, 2 bags come up time and time again – the classic army surplus bag, and the Alpkit Hunkka XL. They’re both simple, highly waterproof bags with a basic drawstring hood and no other opening.
There’s a really detailed breakdown of all the bivvi options out there and their various pros and cons on the Next Challange website – it’s well worth a look before you buy.
I heartily recommend giving a bivvi bag a try. After some initial doubts I’m now a huge fan and have spent a lot of time in mine. It’s always a wonderful way to wake up, and the simplicity of it makes it much more enjoyable than a tent!
Mountain leader in training, Skipper, sometimes Viking and total coffee addict. Runner, hiker, Girlguiding leader, animal lover. British/Irish, aspirant Norwegian.