I haven’t been out in a while so I decided to take advantage of being away with work. I avoided a mediocre but expensive hotel and spent the night on the shores of the Clyde. I also have a small problem in that I still have a hole in the fly of my tent. With one thing and another I still haven’t got it repaired. The sil-nylon won’t allow any repair tape to stick and I don’t want to expand the rip. Rather than botch it myself I’m going to send it through to Scottish Mountain Gear who do repairs.
I was keen to get out though, my knee is feeling better after I had a steroid injection but I’m still taking it easy building the exercise up slowly. So I spent the night in the new to me bivvy (spell it how you will it’s an abbreviation of the bivouac). I’m guessing it’s Dutch army as they used to use a very similar camouflage pattern to the Brit DPM. It’s a copy of the Carinthia Observer bivvy a double hooped pattern with an entrance at one end and two large zips on top to give a wide entrance. The entrance at one end can be fully opened or there is a zipped vent opened to ensure you can breathe. The vent and all the doors are shielded on the outside by a flap of goretex material so the rain doesn’t come in. The end door and zip going across the bivvy have fine midge netting that can be zipped across to provide air but stop the dreaded midgie. It feels like a bombproof piece of kit with no detail spared ensuring that all the seam taping was done well and quality fabric used. This also means that it’s heavy at 1.75kg which is heavier than my Hilleberg Akto.
I arrived at my ‘pitch’ late about 2130 and the area had one other tenant, an fancy looking tarp set up with a windbreak and I think a fire. I was a bit anti-social and didn’t pop over to say hello but I was hungry and tired. Also a little jealous. I knew I had rain coming in over night and that I would be getting wet in some shape or form. I wanted to try the bivvy out without a tarp to see how it could be managed. A test of sorts. I had all my kit packed in my Kifaru 14’r, still overly heavy with pouches on the outside but weight and size is something I’m working on. My first real concern was my sleep mat, I use a Thermarest Neo-air, in my opinion the best sleep mat I’ve ever used and packs up small. But because it’s so light and really necessary in a Scottish December when frosts are becoming more common I wanted to protect it. I bought a large sheet of Tyvek roofing material to act as a ground sheet. Not exactly stealthy with either a white or grey side to choose from but it felt pretty robust. I staked it out and set bivvy up with the end opening at the edge of the tyvek. I know settting up a hooped bivvy shouldn’t take long but I was still pleasantly surprised when I was there with abode erected and bed made. The Hilleberg Atko takes a little bit of playing about with the guylines to get it taut.
My thoughts very quickly turned to dinner I didn’t want to sit and wait for freeze dried food to rehydrate so I was using retort food pouches. This was an ex Brit military ration I got from buying a box of ten. I take them apart into more manageable packages removing food I’m not going to use then mix and match with Wayfarer meals. This evenings dinner was chicken in a Black Bean Sauce. I wasn’t expecting much but my god it was good. I would have been very happy to have paid a lot more for it. The veg still had a crunch to it, the flavour was fantastic and it didn’t come across as oily or full of MSG. I was very pleasantly surprised. I bought a little titanium gas burner from eBay for £7. It comes in at 26g I think and certainly kicks out the heat. I haven’t done a comparative test but I think its a bit heavy on the gas. It does need a windshield though, I’ve used it without one and had it blown out in a light wind. I finished dinner off with an apple turnover heated in the same way as the retort meal. I can’t remember whether I bought this separately or it came from the ration pack but whilst tasty you could tell it was not exactly a wholesome home baked apple turnover.
I didn’t want to lie down in the bivvy to eat dinner so elected to stay outside sitting in the open air on a sit mat and the tyvek. It was a beautiful evening looking out over the Clyde with the distant beat of a fishing vessel’s engine coming across the water. Behind me was the hills of @@@@ (sorry I don’t want to advertise a great wild pitch). A truly magical night. The last time I’d camped here a large stag had been rooting about in the undergrowth eyeing me warily as I parked up. He moved off slowly certainly not rushing away. On my drive to the site this time I came across three otters playing around a puddle on the side of the road but they scurried away as I approached.
With my brew made but still too hot to drink I elected to get in the sack. I was using a Field & Trek down bag with 750 fill, I forget what it’s temp rating was when I bought it about 15 years ago but I was confident it would be warm enough. It’s been pretty frosty all over Scotland this week but it wasn’t a concern. With clear skies I elected to undress outside and nip into my bag. I was wearing an Aldi merino top and long johns to bed and I dumped my trousers and buffalo at the head end of the bivvy. There was a mass of room there holding my clothing, food, possibles etc. Not as much as a tent and no handy pocket to hold a phone or book but not a big issue. I zipped up the side zip and opened the top zip before zipping across the midge netting. It’s December and there’s no midgies around but I felt better with it done up. There I was in the bivvy, dry and warm. Width and length were generous and I could have easily have had my clothing laying alongside me along the length of the bag. Whilst the top layer of the bivvy was laying on me with room provided by the twin poles the top end was cavernous.
I opened up the zips and lay with the top lid open and pulled back whilst I enjoyed my brew. The Tyvek was pegged down at the corners but I could hear it flapped as the light wind got underneath it. My rucksack was laid beside the top of the bivvy with my boots underneath my rucksack. I surveyed the surroundings as I supped on my brew feeling the stress of work drifting away. I was tired and knew I’d be sleeping well tonight. The temperature didn’t feel like it was going to be dropping near freezing tonight, I had a homemade woobie in the car (about 10m away) just in case but I didn’t feel the need to call on it. During the spring/autumn I’ll try to use only the woobie in the bivvy to see how that goes. I used it in my tent this year and really liked the freedom presented by it. As I lay there I recognised a flaw in my plan, I had not packed any de-caff tea. As I’ve got older I’ve preferred to shift to a de-caff tea in the evenings. I did have the comfort of the tea made with evaporated milk, the milky sweet tea it produces tastes so good.
I had planned to read a book this evening but as I finished my brew I knew I’d be laying my head down and quickly going to sleep.
Sure enough that’s exactly what happened, I woke up around 0330 and turned over before drifting off again. I was wakened again at 0530 and lay there recognising the increasing patter of rain on the bivvy. I felt the midge netting on the top of the bivvy and it felt a tad dampish so I unzipped the midge netting and zipped up the top flap across the bivvy and unzipped the side zip to add to the ventilation. I lay there thinking this might pass. Which was fine right up to the point where it got quite heavy. I then thought that it might be prudent to bring my goretex into my bivvy for when I got up. By the time I did that I was pretty much awake. I lay there listening to the rain battering on the bivvy. It did not relent and to be honest this is what I was waiting for how to camp out on with the bivvy without a tarp. This would take some manoeuvring.
I kicked off my sleeping bag and pushed it right to the bottom of the bivvy. The rain was now hammering down on the bivvy. I did my best contortionist impression and got my trousers on followed by my Buffalo smock that was the tricky one. I was quite warm with all of the movement despite the top layer of the bivvy being cold. Next was my goretex, more easily done, I was now sweating like a soldier in a maths test. My boots were underneath my rucksack but may have been wet with water pooling on the tyvek groundsheet. I wanted to protect my sleeping bag though so i quickly got up and zipped up the bivvy behind me. The rain was heavy on my goretex but I managed to get my boots on relatively easily. I considered packing my bag. Now this is the thing I am slightly lazy and the thought of rolling all my soaking kit up and putting it in my rucksack to fester for a few days (I had other places to visit before I got home) didn’t appeal.
I’m guessing this is where discipline should have come in. Certainly if I was doing a few days walk with the bivvy as my shelter I’d have to. Even if I was just walking off after a night I’d have to have everything packed back in my bergen. However I did not feel like packing all my sodden kit up. I was also concerned if I would be able to keep my sleeping bag dry as I packed it into my drybag. Instead I just put everything in the car. Stuff still in dry bags and my sleeping bag to the back seat. I put all the rest of my kit in the back of my truck. As I was putting it in with the top glass door open the rain started to ease off. I decided to cook breakfast in the shelter of the van. Still in a lazy mood I just put the cooker together without the windshield. The wind was pretty strong and it blew out the cooker so I put the windshield around it cursing myself. The water took an age to boil with the wind but eventually I had warmed up the All day breakfast and made a brew. Having finished breakfast it was goretex off and into the back of the truck and set off.
So lessons identified; bring a tarp. Still slept really well and felt better after having a night under ‘canvas’. The ground sheet was useful but probably would have been of more use above me. I like the ease of the bivvy but it’s heavier than my tent, which gives me better sleeping and living shelter add the tarp and it’s extra weight gets a bit silly. I do have a simple goretex sleeping bag cover style bivvy but of course it doesn’t have any ‘living space’ that the hooped bivvy provides. Useful to have but I don’t think I’ll be going to it full time.