There are some great resources out there from seasoned wild campers that will help you get out of the concrete box you live in, and spend a night under the stars. From Al Humphries to Phoebe Smith to Anna McNuff, there is a growing movement encouraging anyone who will listen to escape the mundane and try a slightly more exhilarating sleep.
These guys are the experts, but if you’re a newbie contemplating your first night in a bivvy, it might be useful to hear from someone else who is new to the process. Hopefully the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing, means that you can learn from my mistakes and challenges.
Commit to doing it
Pick a night that works for you – maybe one that’s a little special. I did my first bivvy the night of the Perseid meteor shower. You might choose the full moon, the solstice or equinox, or a night that marks a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. It makes it all the more special to pick a night with meaning…plus your less likely to back out.
Once that’s decided, stick to it no matter what. It might rain, you might not be in the mood or, like me, you might get to the train station to go to your set destination to discover you have forgotten your wallet and can’t buy train tickets. But if it rains, you’ll survive, if you’re in a bad mood, there’s nothing like a bit of time outdoors to cheer you up, and if you’re an idiot, like me, with no money for trains find another way. (Luckily I had my Oyster card with me so redirected my trip from the anticipated Chiltern Hills to Epping Forest last minute, so I could take the tube.) I was so close to backing out when I realised I had no money, but I decided to find a way. It was so worth a change of plan to get to wake up and watch the sun rise.
Don’t overthink the spot
I was so focused on finding the perfect spot to sleep. So focused, in fact, that I put off doing planning this for far too long. Up a hill is great because you get a beautiful view, you’re unlikely to be disturbed and you’ll be away from buildings. In the trees is good because you’re sheltered from the elements and camouflaged. The most important thing is being just doing it. As long as you’re in the wild, connecting with nature and letting go of your every day, the spot you pick is superfluous.
When I ended up in Epping Forest at short notice, I had no OS map and no plan. I just used my instinct, found a spot and went for it. It was quite an open space, and not that far from civilisation, with dog walkers around until quite late. But when the people dispersed, I felt peaceful in my solitude, and was pleased with my selected spot. It wasn’t perfect, but I had a fabulous night.
Bivvy versus tent
This was something that plagued me before my night outdoors. On one hand, a bivvy is less conspicuous, lower impact on the surrounding environment, and easy to relocate if you’re suddenly faced with foxes/other campers/rain etc. It also means you’re enveloped in the nature you were seeking out, without obstruction between you and that delightfully twinkly sky. But a bivvy alone leaves you so very exposed. Having wild camped (albeit in legal spots) with a tent before, I had loved the illusion of safety the canvas provided. I am well aware that should the axe murdered that I was convinced was outside my tent actually be there, it wouldn’t be hard for them to unzip my tent and get chopping. But a tent gives a feeling of being indoors, which has always made me feel protected.
However, on this occasion, I decided my large, bright blue tent could attract unwanted attention. Slightly swayed by the online wild camping community, I reluctantly decided to try my first bivvy, and if it didn’t work out I would invest in a more camouflageable tent.
My worries were unfounded – I loved sleeping in a bivvy bag. Firstly, it was so easy to set up and pack down, and no one noticed me there. But most importantly, I really did feel safe. Unlike sleeping in a tent where I assumed every gust of wind I heard was someone out to attack me, in the bivvy, when I heard a disconcerting noise or felt a bit anxious about my surroundings, I could pop my head out and reassure myself. As a result, I had a fantastic night’s sleep.
Whether you use a bivvy bag or a tent, do what you feel comfortable with. You’ll probably still have nerves either way, and you’ll probably love it regardless. Don’t be ashamed of pitching a tent because all of the professional adventurers bivvy – this is your night and you should do what makes you happy.
Bring things that will help you enjoy your trip more. Take food you like, bring coffee, tea or hot chocolate to make up on your camp stove if you have one, wear clothes that will make you feel warm and cosy snuggled up in your sleeping bag. Some people are happy to skip a sleeping mat, but this makes a world of difference in protecting you from the cold beneath you.
Have a plan for how you will keep entertained. This might be totally natural fun, like watching the sunset, foraging for edible plants and spotting constellations in the sky. It might be a book, podcast or music. It’s really nice to journal your thoughts as well.
I was slightly ashamed that I was using my phone a lot on my night out in Epping Forest, as Instagramming and Tweeting aren’t exactly congruent with switching off and relaxing in nature. But for a first time doing this alone, it helped me to feel a bit less nervous about being out in this big field on my own.
Realistically, you are much more likely to be attacked going to work, having a drink in your local pub or walking down a high street than you are camping. But it can’t hurt to take a few precautions to help you feel a bit secure. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. (Don’t do what I did and tell your friend you’ll call then fall asleep leaving them to wonder whether something dreadful had happened.)
Don’t post your exact location on social media or share it with randomers beforehand.
Take a whistle. You shouldn’t have to use it but it helps to know it’s there.
These are my key tips on wild camping from a newbie perspective, but I would love to hear any other ideas for making the most of sleeping outdoors.