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Is it worth having a Bivvy bag in the U.K?

Currently I own a moderately lightweight (2.8 kg) 2-man tent, but I've been considering buying a bivvy for minimalistic camping/hiking in the summer months in England and Scotland.

I am looking for an answer from someone who is familiar with U.K weather conditions (as I am).

Edit: I do not have a substantial budget so while investing heavily in a lightweight tent would be the ideal option, it is not feasible here. This is partially the reason for my interest in a bivvy (lightweight + affordable).

Are there specific styles of bivvy that would be more suited to variable weather conditions?

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    For the close voter - guidance on weather conditions in the UK doesn't really constitute opinion-based. (IMO anyway. :) Nor does advice on safety, where "safety" could reasonably be defined as conditions which would affect your ability to continue a hike in good physical health and which can be expected at least a significant minority of times out.
    – Graham
    Apr 25, 2022 at 11:47
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    BTW given your edit, that's a large part of how I ended up with a couple of cheap tarps (one under, one over) for when the weather is good enough. That's cheaper than a bivvy bag, especially as I'm tall enough that not all bivvy bags are big enough for me.
    – Chris H
    Apr 25, 2022 at 13:39
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    Two words: Midges and rain.
    – fgysin
    Apr 25, 2022 at 15:04

7 Answers 7

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The variability of the UK weather means that light options can be realistic. Last year I had a week in Scotland sleeping under a tarp in a lightweight sleeping bag, with no rain.

Some people use a bivvy bag under a tarp, either a full size one, or a little tarp just to give some space for cooking etc. and allow opening the head end of the bivvy bag.

Bivvy bags give a level of subtlety for wild camping that nothing else really offers, but could be very cramped on campsites, as well as out of place. It really does depend on what sort of camping you expect to do.

All this means that if you have a tent and a bivvy bag (and/or tarp), you can choose what to carry when you pack a few days before setting off and can check the weather forecast.

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    @ab2 I'm sure I did. I was cycling, and the wind was against me, so not perfect conditions, but it would have been far harder in the wet (also the wind kept the midges at bay)
    – Chris H
    Apr 25, 2022 at 8:15
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    TBH, the variability of UK weather for me is exactly a reason to bring a solid, roomy tent, instead of a bivvy. That and the midges.
    – fgysin
    Apr 25, 2022 at 15:06
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    @fgysin depends on the length of the trip - these days the forecast is accurate enough to pack for a long weekend on Thursday night, trusting it. For me a tarp is a game-changer on the bike, which is most of my trips these days. While it only saves about 1.5kg directly compared to my tent, the space saving means not needing a rack and panniers, saving the same again on the weight, plus bulk causing drag (but next trip will be with the tent)
    – Chris H
    Apr 26, 2022 at 7:22
  • Having said that (@fgysin) I did almost exactly that a few days later - Thursday's forecast was dry for the whole weekend, Sunday turned out to have light rain/drizzle almost all day. I'd taken my proper tent anyway but only lightweight cycling waterproofs so got rather damp hiking. So it doesn't always work
    – Chris H
    May 12, 2022 at 13:35
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There isn't really a "right" answer here. It depends on how you value comfort vs weight. A tent will be more comfortable. A bivvy will be lighter. If you want a compromise consider getting a lighter tent. You can get nice fully featured 2 person tents that are only 1kg trail weight.

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  • +1 to this. Having a bivvy bag will mean that the elements don't kill you, but the same would be mostly true of a reflective blanket.
    – Valorum
    Apr 24, 2022 at 6:58
  • 2.8 kg is way too much for a hiking 2 man tent! Get something lighter! As others had said: midgets and rain, so I would go for a tent without any doubt.
    – Alex J.
    Apr 26, 2022 at 22:07
  • It looks like the edit that this is all on a budget came after the answer, but to get the tent weight down that low means spending a good few hundred pounds with MSR or Terra Nova. Single skin trekking pole tents look interesting if you have trekking poles with you anyway, but won;t be as robust as other solutions. VauDe's Hogan SUL 1-2 looks good at 1.1kg but is still £400. I still have my old Hogan from 30 years ago, so they certainly used to be well made.
    – Chris H
    May 12, 2022 at 13:34
  • Yeah, the edit was directly in response to my answer I think. I see like-new 2lb 2 person tents go on sale used in the US for $2xx fairly often (can't speak to UK used markets). My <2lb Nemo 2 person tent has 100+ nights in it and still works just fine so I don't see a problem buying used from a longevity standpoint when people are selling them with what looks like single digits nights of use. Now $2xx is still a lot of money, but a bit more manageable than £400 at least.
    – noah
    May 12, 2022 at 17:57
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When I was younger and doing more long hikes, my routine was normally two nights camping, one night in a Youth Hostel. Especially if I needed to plan ahead.

On average, you're very likely to get rain once in three days. If it's fine the rest of the time then of course you can tie your wet stuff to your pack to dry. But if it's not, the Youth Hostel was a chance to use a dryer.

Since someone's mentioned a week in Scotland with no rain, I'll mention a counter-example. I walked the West Highland Way in July, and I only had one day when it didn't rain. Of the others, there were regular showers on 3 days, and driving continuous rain all day on 2 days. You can expect very similar conditions in Wales and the Lake District (and other areas on the west side of the country) if you're unlucky. The east side is a little dryer, but still you should expect plenty of wet days.

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  • You're right about the variability. Many years ago I did 3 days of South Downs Way in bivvy bags and had plenty of rain, even snow. That wasn't pleasant.
    – Chris H
    Apr 25, 2022 at 8:23
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In my experience you can definitely have multiple wet days in England and Scotland. Since you asked for citing weather records: according to wikipedia Dundee has about 12 rainy days a month in July/August. In my experience you can't depend on being able to dry out the next day.

An additional drawback in that your bug free space is pretty limited in a bivy bag and it's pretty miserable to choose between getting bit by insects or spending your evening in a bivy sack.

If you have the funds, a dyneema or cuben fiber tent (made by zpacks and other ultralight companies) is a much more comfortable alternative. You can get a durable, two person, bugproof tent that weighs the same as a regular bivy sack (about 600g)!

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    Good point. In Scotland you may find yourself contending with the fearsome highland biting midge. These little beasties can make life very miserable indeed, and without protecting oneself from insect ingress, you will quickly find yourself covered head-to-toe with miniature biting creatures in their thousands. For instance, on some stretches of the West Highland Way, the only respite is to keep moving. The moment you settle, they'll start their relentless attack. It's horrible.
    – spender
    Apr 25, 2022 at 9:23
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I had my first night in a bivvy bag about 5 years ago (just below freezing point overnight, Scottish Highlands, tent adjacent in case I decided to bale out!) and since then it is my first choice, even when tents are available.

I mainly camp in Scotland, and use an Alpkit Pipedream 400 bag, Alpkit Numo sleep mat and an Alpkit Hunka XL Goretex bag (now a shareholder, but when I bought the kit I had no affiliation with Alpkit, they just had the kit I needed at a decent price, and a well deserved reputation for quality). I often use a tarp if I'm expecting substantial overnight rain, or to keep the sun from overheating and wakening me at an early summer dawn.

I find tents humid and oppressive, and sleep much better in a bivvy. I've had great sleeps in a range of weather, from the hottest of Scottish summer days to a howling storm in the Cairngorms, so I would say definitely worth it for me.

The biggest difference for me is when I waken in the night. In a tent I will lie listening to the weird noises, convincing myself something terrible is approaching the tent or I can hear a drip inside. In the bivvy bag I half-open an eye, see an amazing sky or view, or a sheep or rabbit passing by, and go straight back to sleep.

The down side is lack of privacy for getting changed (and almost impossible to get changed inside a bag!) and not being very graceful to get into and out of, but those are both bearable (and helped by the extra privacy of a tarp)

So I would say yes, it's definitely worth having, I wouldn't go back to a tent.

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I don't have experience in hiking or camping in England or Scotland, but after reading the first two answers, I want to offer a "Best of Both Worlds" way of thinking about your question.

First, unless you have left something out of your question, you don't need a six pound tent. Consider buying a smaller, lighter tent that will still give you good protection in bad weather, as @noah said. Second, don't use, or even erect, the tent unless the weather is bad. This means that you have to carry a tent which you may not need, but assuming you are young and strong, this is not a big deal.

This is the what my husband and I did over many years backpacking in the Sierra, the Rockies, Hawaii and Shenandoah. We never slept inside the tent, or even erected it, when the weather was good, but we could retreat to it when the weather was bad. Not sleeping in the tent, but having it, gives you what @Chris H calls "the level of subtlety for wild camping", without the "subtlety" progressing into outright masochism.

In our case, we could pretty much count on sun the day following even a drenching downpour or heavy snow. (Late spring, summer, early fall).

We did do one trip with a shelter thing, whose name I do not remember, which was no more than a large plastic sheet. Horrible night. Never again. But the sun came out the next day!

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Pros:

  • lightweight - my bivvy bag weighs 1kg, is Gore-Tex lined and cost about 80EUR some time ago
  • water resistant - I've slept in perhaps 20mm rain staying dry
  • you see the stars
  • setting it up takes 10 seconds; the fastest I've been able to pitch a tent is 5-10 minutes and that's unpleasant in heavy rain
  • because of the low profile is infinitely stealthier than even a 1-person tent; depending on the situations you get yourself into that can be an advantage or a disadvantage
  • the low profile means high winds just pass above you
  • doesn't require a rectangular flat spot to erect; I've slept on a steep incline jamming my stomach against a tree - good luck doing that with a tent

Cons:

  • I've seen a frustratingly low quality bags
  • your luggage is out in the rain
  • no personal space to change clothes or read a book in the wind

Subjective conclusion:
Seeing the lengths of both lists it should come as no surprise that since trying it, I use my tent only for beachside vacations or frontcountry BBQ. Climate: southern continental Europe.

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