It’s that time of year when outdoor masochists lose every shred of sense and start kipping on top of mountains. But is bivvying as scary as it looks? 

Bivvying on the summit of the legendary Buachaille Etive Mor. It may be mad – but who wouldn't want to? Photograph: Tom Bailey / Trail Magazine

What is bivvying?
Bivvying is sleeping outside, usually in a wilderness environment, using just a rudimentary means of protecting yourself from the elements – namely a bivouac or bivvy bag. In its most basic form, a bivvy bag is a waterproof sack, a little larger than a sleeping bag, although some bivvies have a single hoop to make them feel a little less claustrophobic.

Why should I do it?
Even the lightest one-person tents are still heavier than a simple bivvy bag and take up more space in a rucksack. For travelling fast and light, you can’t beat a bivvy. The other disadvantage of a tent is that you’re limited with where you can put it, while bivvies can be used anywhere there’s space to lie down, and don’t require tent-peg-compatible ground. You could kip on a summit, in a cave, or even on a mountainside, waking up to views most people can only dream of.

What gear do I need?
The kit:
1 x bivvy bag
1 x sleeping bag
1 x sleeping mat
1 x large dry bag or waterproof sack
Usual camping food and water
Usual hillwalking kit and clothing, plus an extra warm insulated jacket

Where should I do it?
Ideally you want a spot that offers shelter from any wind and rain.
Siting your bivvy on the lee side of a boulder or in a small hollow will help, while in designated bivvy spots like those found on Skye’s Cuillin Ridge, low, purpose-built walls constructed of rocks provide the same protection.

Don’t forget about the aesthetic value of the location, too. If you know where the sun is going to set or rise, if there’s a view of your favourite mountain, or if you just want to be able to see where you’ve parked the car, take the time to choose a spot that provides you with the most pleasing outlook.

How does it work?
Insert your sleeping mat into the bivvy bag, then add a sleeping bag. Place all your kit and any spare clothes inside a big dry-bag. Unlike a tent there’s no space to store your pack and boots but you still need to protect it, so put your kit somewhere it can’t blow away, or anchor it down.

Once you’re set up and ready for bed, slide into your bivvy bag and get comfortable. If fine weather’s forecast, you can leave the bag unzipped; but apply insect repellent as the little biters may be up to no good during the night. Otherwise, zip yourself in and nod off to the soundtrack of the wilderness around you…


Do I need a bivvy bag to sleep outside?
No, but if there’s any chance of getting wet, either through precipitation or dew (and in the UK that’s most of the time), you’ll want one.

Will I need a sleeping bag too?
Yes. A bivvy is just a waterproof cover. It offers little by way of insulation, so you’ll want a sleeping bag to keep you warm.

What about a mat?
Yes. Even if the terrain is comfortable, you can lose lots of heat through the ground. Sleeping mats add comfort and insulation, and fit inside most bivvy bags.

Will my face get wet?
Bivvy bags usually zip up completely. While this can make them feel a little like a body bag, the waterproof nature of the material means you will at least be kept dry.

Will I be able to breathe in the bag?
As well as being waterproof, bivvy bags are also breathable to reduce condensation, so you won’t suffocate!

Could I roll off the side of a mountain?
In theory, yes. Unlike a tent, a bivvy bag isn’t anchored to the ground. But it takes some effort to roll over, particularly if you have a sleeping mat, so you should be safe.

Do survival bags do the same job?
Survival bags don’t zip up completely so, unlike bivvy bags, they are prone to leaking in wet conditions. They’re also not in the slightest bit breathable, so you’re likely to end up soaked in condensation and sweating like a grizzly bear in a sauna.