Updated: Jul 17
I had to give this Bivvy Bag Camping a go, so why the hell did I choose the coldest, bleakest February to try out 'the body bag'? I asked myself that question way too late.
The Coldest of Camps - February '22
It's worth noting from the start that my usual partner in adventure, Ms Legs, gave a resolute NOPE! when I excitedly showed her the post I'd seen. Who wouldn't want to be a part of a world record attempt, to get as many people as possible to camp under the stars with just a bag to protect your sleep set up? It's a fun idea right? Well yes, It would have been fun, if it wasn't for the chosen season, and the coldest month on this green and pleasant lands calendar.
I spotted someone who had probably just 'liked' the post out of general interest and politeness, but I spotted Abi's little thumbs up, so I pounced!! and we signed ourselves up! no going back.
A few messages back and forth as the date drew closer, checking what we were each packing and to confirm the rules of play - no poles to help create a shelter, no hooped bivvy, and it had to be in a wild location, just a bag and a frozen face to the stars! We were to write our names and a secret code, to photograph once we were in our chosen place, and boom we would be in the records book! no problem. It hadn't been done before so no record to technically beat, it was just a case of turning up. We were ready for the adventure.
The chosen night was picked to coincide with the organiser Russ Moorhouse's own ongoing personal challenge to camp with a bivvy on every wainwright in the Lake District, and on his final summit, people across the country and abroad, would join him for a night under the stars and more importantly to raise awareness for the homeless. How lovely, thought us, from the comfort of our armchairs!
We had agreed to meet in Castleton and drive up to the foot of Mam Tor, a few hours of daylight to find our spot for the night. The plan was to use a tarp (without the use of poles) maybe a wall or tree we could adapt a shelter to give us some respite from any wind or a rogue rain shower that may pass us by. The night was drawing in and I knew that it would be much quieter on the other side at Winnat Pass, the views would be awesome, it was a clear night and a sunrise would be a welcome sight in the morning.
We were exposed, and without poles we were unable to elevate a tarp high enough to give our heads shelter, so with a clear forecast ahead we just laid it down flat and readied our Bivvys on top. No sooner we had made our beds and all light was lost. It was a beautiful star studded sky.
I've never been in a survival situation (not to be over dramatic obviously), but this felt very close, this was far beyond my comfort zone. I splashed out on an expensive sleeping bag in preparation, and to make the night more comfortable, I had a decent sleep mat and foil mat in my gear cupboard so I felt prepared. I might as well have slept with a damp hand towel over me, the cold crept in about 9pm and never left me until around 8am the next day. I slept at some point, because Abi noted my snoring! but for most of the night it was miserably cold, damp and claustrophobic, constantly hunkering down into my bag for warmth, then panicking five minutes later from feeling trapped inside a body bag. I wasn't enjoying the whole experience, my body was not responding well to the cold and I was in physical pain from not being able to relax my muscles.
Being with Abi made me put a brave face on! She was the best adventure buddy and just giggled at the absurdity of it all, we were grown woman sleeping out on a cliff edge on the coldest night of the year! At one point she pointed to a little gadget attached to her bag and shouted 'its minus 7.5 for fucks sake!!' She just laughed it off again. That's when you know this is not our last adventure together.
It's one of those memorable moments in time, when at the lowest you think why? just why?, and then at the high, when the sun finally rose spectacularly in the morning, we slowly thawed out while Abi cooked bacon and Sam came to join us for breakfast. The cold, rough night was quickly replaced with euphoria at the amazing sunrise and that we had survived!. We felt a real sense of achievement, when the early sunrise seekers looked on in bewilderment and commented on how brave/batshit crazy we were. Result!
Anyone can bivvy camp, not everyone can wake up with ice inside their sleeping bag in minus figures and still giggle at each other.
All ages across the UK and abroad took part in the record attempt, unfortunately, The Guiness Records refused to recognise the world record attempt, but I don't think anyone who took part that night cared in the end. We were introduced to an amazing wild camping experience, and some of us were already planning the next one.
The Hottest Night on Record - July '22
It wasn't planned to pick the two most extreme weather conditions to do a bivvy camp, the shooting stars must have just aligned at the right time for me to go 'you know what? I'm going to sleep on a hill tonight!' and that's how the decision was made. Now I can understand the cold turning Sam's decision to not take part in a world record attempt. But she could not get out of the next one. It was never put to the table, she knew she would lose massively on the adventure points if she turned me down on this one. I even chose her favourite hill, Mam Tor (or Sam Tor as we refer to it) so I just messaged her a friendly 'see you in an hour'.
The sun was already setting and the crowd were taking their final selfies, when we came trudging past with our sizeable packs, we looked like we'd been trekking for days, it had only took us 30 minutes to slowly snail pace our way up to the trig point. We didn't loiter long, avoiding people on summits is our super power, Sam muttered some swear words about 'taking their litter home' and we bypassed the flipflop brigade to our chosen spot. We sat on our bags tucked away from the summit peak, and waited it out until all but the last of the humans were gone.
We rolled out the bivvy bags. It was hot! The sky looked amazing. It was hot! We watched a farmer tend to his fields. It was hot! We talked to some sheep, as is tradition. It was bloody hot!
Due to the dry weather we hadn't taken stoves or any heat source, so some pre packed sandwiches were our dinner of choice. As we sat on our sleeping bags looking out over our amazing view, we ticked off all the hills and trails we could see that we'd accomplished. It was a special night with the warmest breeze and the only faint sound in the distance was from the farmer and his floodlit harvester working through the night..
This was the bivvy night I'd needed, this was the reason I had purchased the bag online, this was the image I had had in my head, maybe not the crappy petrol station sandwiches but you know what I mean. My faith in the body bag was restored.
Unlike the first bivvy experience I'd had, this time instead of waking up with ice droplets hitting my forehead, I awoke to the most beautiful moon lighting my face and lighting up the great ridge to our left. A quick temperature check, it was 28 at 2am, my friend had given up scouring the floor for creepy crawlies and was sound asleep. All was well with the world, it really was an incredible morning. I loved it.
Bivvy Bag or Tent?
Bivvy bags are the ultimate ultralight campers dream. Packing a bag in a stuff sack can go down to the size of my hat, with less weight and no set up time it means you have more freedom to pitch on difficult terrains or when you need to stealth camp. Mountain ledges, caves and narrow country lanes, more pitch options become available when you need to quickly roll out your bag and sleep system.
A simple tarp configuration over your bivvy and you have the added protection from the elements, and the flexibility without the added weight that some tents can bring.
No setup, or pitching issues means less hassle. Ideal for extra long hikes when you have nothing left in the tank and just need some much needed shut eye. While tents shut out the outside world, a bivy lets you sleep out fully immersed in your chosen environment, underneath the stars and its an experience all of its own.
I use the Alpkit Hunka XL Bivvy Bag and my sleep system includes the following:
Trekology UL Camp Mat
Highlander Aluminium Foil Camping roll pad
Rab Accent 700 Down Sleep Bag
Trekology Ultralight inflatable Pillow
Annual International Bivvybag Day's for your diary:
Winter 26th February
Summer 26th August
You can find out more about Russ Moorhouse and the story behind The International Bivvybag Challenge (and spot mine and Abi's name in the record attempt) in his book Fell Asleep. Or follow his incredible adventures on instagram @amountainbivvy
We already have some wild camps planned for this year, and it's hard not to see little nooks and flat little spaces whilst we are out and about, making mental notes to come back with the bivvy.
We challenge you! to a bivvy adventure and send us your thoughts and pictures, let us know how you get on!
Check out our Mam Tor Bivvy here...