Woodlife People
Would you like to react to this message? Create an account in a few clicks or log in to continue.

Trueways Survival on Bivvy Bags

Go down

Trueways Survival on Bivvy Bags Empty Trueways Survival on Bivvy Bags

Post by wannabemountainman on Mon 07 Dec 2009, 13:32

Whilst many people’s first experience of the outdoors stems from a camping trip of some sort, those of us that progress to an interest in minimalist camping and survival activities soon yearn to cast off the need to carry a tent and associated gear on our trips.

However, anyone that has built an all-natural shelter of any description from scratch realises how time consuming a process this is. So how do we take overnight trips with the freedom to practise a variety of skills but not be tied down by a time consuming shelter building session? Especially as the seasons progress; the warm nights of summer firmly behind us and with winter fast approaching, gone are the days for this year that we could brave over-nighting with just our clothes and a fire to stay warm. The ideal solution is to bivvy out.

Bivvy (or bivi, bivvi, however you might see it written) is a shortened form of the word bivouac. A bivouac is a temporary camp, so technically even a natural shelter or a tent is a bivouac, but for the purposes of this article I will deal with the most common use of the term nowadays – sleeping out in a bivvy bag.

A bivvy bag, quite simply, is a waterproof, normally (hopefully in fact) breathable cover for a sleeping bag. This enables the user to sleep out without the requirement for further shelter as the bivvy bag will ensure that the sleeping bag is protected from the elements. That said, bivvying out does have some pitfalls, and the purpose of this article is to maximise your comfort, enjoyment and safety when trying out bivvying.

I use my bivvy system heavily, even in the middle of the Arctic winter: in fact especially so, due to the types of snow shelter I use. I find it gives me a great combination of freedom, the ability to lighten my load and flexibility in my options. Bivvying is a viable option in all seasons in the UK. It provides the great advantage of reducing the weight you need to carry. It gives you great opportunities, with uninterrupted views to observe nature and the night sky through the night and into the morning. I bivvied out on the edge of a tree line next to a frozen lake in March this year and woke up to find an Arctic fox not 5 metres away from my face trying to figure out what I was doing there! Had I been in a tent, I’d have seen his tracks the following morning, but nothing more. One of the many fantastic experiences I’ve had whilst bivvying out.

So what makes up a bivvy system?

Essentially, there are only 3 components:

1) A sleeping bag
2) An insulative sleeping mat
3) A bivvy bag

As anyone who has attended any of our courses should know, the essential elements of any shelter system, anywhere in the world, are insulation (by trapping air somehow) and weatherproofing (to protect the insulative layers of air). A sleeping bag is your all-round insulation, the sleeping mat is further insulation (into the ground is where you will lose most heat) and adds comfort, and the bivvy bag is the all important weatherproofing outer layer.

The first thing to consider is how this system all fits together. Obviously, your sleeping bag will be inside the bivvy bag, and the sleep mat is to minimise your heat loss to the ground. But does your sleep mat go inside the bivvy bag too, or outside it? Opinions vary about this, but you need to consider the best balance of how to protect your equipment and ensure your bivvy system is being as efficient as possible.

In a temperate environment staying on the mat at all times is not such a critical concern, and care for your kit is an influencing factor, so in order to protect your bivvy bag from getting torn, punctured, worn and dirty, place your sleeping mat on the ground and then your bivvy on top. In colder environments, the ability to remain on your mat becomes far more important, so put your insulative mat inside the bivvy bag. BUT, before you do so, make sure it is dry. ANY moisture you introduce inside the bivvy system is going to have a direct effect on your ability to keep warm and therefore the quality of your sleep. This is the essential reason your bivvy bag should be made of a breathable material, so any moisture (including sweat) that does make its way into your sleeping system has the best possible chance of escape.

If you wish to go the whole hog, you can have the best of both worlds and combine the above. Have a good quality sleeping mat inside your bivvy bag and a thinner, lightweight mat to go between your bivvy bag and the ground. So many cheap, very lightweight foam sleeping mats are available that this option should be given strong consideration, especially as this will protect both your bivvy bag and an expensive inflatable mat from punctures and tears.

Note: an important consideration when buying your bivvy bag and insulative mat; make sure you can fit one inside the other. Obviously, closed cell foam style mats can be trimmed to shape, but you don’t want to try cutting up an inflatable mat!

As an alternative to breathable bivvy bags, another option is a lightweight emergency survival bag, or poly bag. These are commonly made of heavy gauge polythene, though there are much thinner gauge versions available. Breathability is totally sacrificed here for the purposes of weatherproofing, which means the user will suffer huge amounts of trapped condensation. That’s why these excellent items are intended for emergency use only rather than comfortable bivvying; on the principle it is better to be warm, wet (with sweat!) and alive than cold, wet (with rain) and dead! I.e. in an emergency it is better to be sweaty and uncomfortable in a polythene bag overnight than cold and wet with rain having no waterproof covering at all, risking hypothermia and death.

A final point of note when putting together your bivvy system is making sure the sleeping bag is up to the job. A bivvy bag is great, but you still need an appropriately rated sleeping bag to put in it. With the best will in the world, if you take a +5oc rated sleeping bag out in the middle of winter, it’s just not going to be fun. In fact, it’s totally unsafe! So make sure your sleeping bag is appropriate for the season. There will be a full article soon on sleeping bags: it’s a big subject!

All that’s left to consider before ‘heading out’ is how you are going to store your bivvy system in your rucksack. Of course you can pack all the elements separately, but in inclement weather you can risk getting your sleeping bag wet as you unpack it and put it into your bivvy bag.

You can store your sleeping bag already inside your bivvy bag. If you do keep them separate ensure your bivvy bag is packed in your rucksack so you can get to it before your sleeping bag. That way, when you’re readying your camp, you can lay out your bivvy bag, sort your sleeping mat, and then position your rucksack at the mouth of your bivvy bag to transfer your sleeping bag into your bivvy bag as quickly as possible. If you are using a stuff sac for your sleeping bag, ensure you have packed it so your sleeping bag will come out ‘feet end’ first, this makes it much easier to feed it into your bivvy bag correctly.

Now that we know what makes up our bivvy system and how it goes together, here are some top tips / practices to maximise the effectiveness of this great system.

If you aren’t building a shelter, don’t ignore any natural shelters or windbreaks that are available in the area that you have chosen to stay, every little helps!

As standard, we need to give consideration to our site selection. We ideally want to find an area as flat as possible. If there are any inclines, you’ll need to sleep with your head uphill. Avoid, wherever possible, naturally dips or depressions such as gullies or ditches, as cold air will pool in these low points, and if it rains (even some distance away) and there is water run-off through your camp, you can wake up in a puddle – or worse! Ensure the ground is as clear from hazards and uncomfortable objects as possible and ALWAYS look up to make sure nothing above you presents concerns (deadfall, animal nests /hives or similar).

When I have set my bivvy up for the night and decide it’s time to get in there, I perform the following routine. First, I make absolutely sure I have taken care of all my camp tasks including going to the toilet. Once I’m in my bivvy, I don’t want to get out until morning. Then I place my backpack at, but above the head end of the bivvy. I sit on this, keeping me off the ground and making it much easier to get into the top of my sleeping bag. Whilst sat here, I’ll remove my boots and socks and put them on one side. Normally at this point, weather permitting, I’ll inspect, dry and powder my feet. With that done, I’ll strip the bottom half of my clothing system down to my thermal layer, then quickly slide into my sleeping bag up to my waist.

Now, obviously here, I’m not in a tent and in the main have no other form of overhead shelter (although I will be covering basha/tarp usage in the next article) so I need to ensure I am keeping on top of my kit administration much more than if I was camping in a tent or under a tarp. So what do I need to look after first? If I intend to reuse my socks the following day I will tuck them inside the crotch area of my thermals to dry. That said, I usually carry at least one pair of socks for every day I intend to spend out: developing a fungal infection around my groin is not high upon my list of things to do, and having abused them for years, I now try to treat my feet right and treat them to a fresh pair of socks each day. So my used socks normally get popped into a Ziploc type bag and stowed in my backpack. Likewise, clothes that I have removed go into a dry sack in my backpack which I am now no longer sitting on.

Remember, ANY moisture you take into the bivvy is potentially going to give you problems. This is a key consideration and in line with that, unless you put them into a waterproof bag, DO NOT take your boots into your bivvy system. Normally this is only desirable in the extreme cold, where your boots will freeze if left out. If you are going to leave your boots outside, again you have two main options. Option one is to ensure you cover the tops of your boots over so they won’t fill up with rain/snow if precipitation comes whilst you’re asleep. I normally use a small plastic bag over each boot and lace it in place to ensure it won’t move overnight. Alternatively, put two sticks in the ground and put your boots over them upside down. This works well in wet woodlands and jungle areas, preventing your boots becoming any wetter, and potentially giving them the chance to dry out. This also keeps SOME creepy-crawlies out, but not all – though it does discourage most snakes! Make sure you keep your boots in arms reach in case you do need them during the night.

From this position I can cook, eat, drink, read, nature-watch or journal. When it is time to settle down for the night I remove my jacket, putting it into the top of my backpack. If I have an insulative jacket or fleece I tend to roll this up and use it as an additional pillow, or alternatively, if it’s really cold I will put it down inside the bottom of my sleeping bag as an extra layer of insulation for my feet.

Now I should be down to my thermal top. If this is wet I’ll remove it, put it in my dry sack and if I have a spare dry top put this on. If I have no spare, I’ll simply ‘go topless’ inside my sleeping bag. With that done I’ll slide down into my sleeping bag. Before zipping myself in and pulling all the drawstrings, toggles etc, I’ll reposition my backpack underneath the head end of my bivvy bag to act as a pillow.

If it is raining or snowing when I need to get into my bivvy, I’ll either assess whether or not there will likely be a gap in the weather (and get into my bivvy then) or simply remove boots and wet layers, quickly slide directly into my sleeping bag, cover over with the bivvy bag, and just have to remove the rest of my clothes once I’m in there!

I normally either wear a hat / balaclava or have one inside my sleeping bag with me, to give me some flexibility in what position I’m going to sleep. In really cold environments, where I absolutely don’t want to get out of my bivvy bag until morning, I may have a pee bottle (empty) in my sleeping bag with me. Pee bottles should be a minimum 1liter capacity, wide necked, EASY to secure / release the lid and CLEARLY LABELLED as such. I’ll not describe here how we use a pee bottle inside our bag, and what very useful additional functions this bottle can have, but those of you coming on our next Arctic survival course will get to learn this. 

My final consideration is to ensure I have a torch easily available, so if I do need to get up in the night I can see what I’m doing! I’m a big fan of the small Petzl head torches, and I secure one by using the headband of the torch wrapped around my wrist 2 or 3 times, so I know exactly where it is should I need it. I prefer this to wearing it on my head at night, as it can be a little uncomfortable depending on the position in which you sleep, and also I really don’t like the idea of it working loose and disappearing into my sleeping bag somewhere, or even ending up around my neck!

This routine is simple, yet effective, and becomes quite a quick process with a small amount of practice. I would definitely recommend trying out some dry runs at home before bivvying for your first time, as if you do get caught out in inclement weather you’ll want to be able to perform this routine quickly to minimise moisture getting into your bivvy system. After this simple routine, I should be warm and most importantly dry, inside my bivvy system, ready for a good night’s sleep. Getting up and out in the morning is just a matter of reversing the process.

Bivvying out is a great stepping stone from camping to survival activities, so I’d encourage everyone to give it a try. Removing the need to carry a tent and ancillaries can really cut down on the weight you’re carrying, giving you much greater freedom to wander and practise more skills. Also, a bivvy system is much more discreet than camping, so you leave less of a footprint on the landscape whilst you are there! If you are new to minimalist camping, bushcraft and survival, a bivvy also gives you the chance to try out your shelter building whilst allowing you to remain confident that you won’t suffer too much from any shortcomings your shelters may have until you are more practised at constructing them.

In future articles, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of different types of sleeping bags and cover how we can supplement or enhance our bivvy system with some simple non-natural shelters.

Until then, practice your skills and enjoy the outdoors!

[ Article by Trueways instructor Toby Cowern - Arctic Survival Expert ]

Your Bic Lighter and your pocket knife...Don't leave home without 'em!

“Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival.” W. Edwards Deming

Posts : 433
Join date : 2009-07-12
Age : 71
Location : M'boro UK


Back to top Go down

Back to top

Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum