Six months ago I bought a Vaude Bivi 1P and had a midge-infested night in the rain in the Forest of Bowland. Since then, I have been wanting to try the bivi out on a cold winter night using my warmest down bag. It was raining last weekend, so wouldn’t have been much fun, but this weekend was dry with the temperature promising to be just above freezing so I packed my new rucksack (Osprey Exos 46 litre) and caught the train into Flintshire.
The first couple of miles walking were a bit grim. North-East Wales may look pretty on a map but the towns are run down and the local “beauty spots” full of litter and the remains of fires. I almost took a few photos of the litter but decided it was better to keep walking – especially when I found two arrows (as in bow-and-arrow) stuck in the ground between the trees I was walking through. Maybe they were part of a kid’s toy – but they looked pretty nasty to me and I didn’t want to linger.
Eventually I reached more open countryside and I could think of looking for somewhere to camp. I was carrying 1.5 litres of water, so wasn’t dependent on finding a clean stream, but I wanted somewhere that was unlikely to be disturbed by the local yoofs or by dog-walkers. I found a field which looked like it wasn’t in regular use so I nipped over the gate and identified the flattest 6′ by 2′ pitch. Flattest is a relative term – it was all bumpy and looked like it had been completely flooded in the not-too-distant past.
By 5:15pm I had the Vaude bivi pitched and the stove lit. I knew that I had no more than 45 minutes before it was dark but it was nice eating my pouch of curry as the light faded. The police helicopter went over three times but they didn’t let on that they’d seen me!
By 6:20pm it was too dark to see so I was lying inside my sleeping bag listening to the radio – until I heard an eerie noise. It sounded like someone pretending to make an owl noise, but a subsequent internet search has shown that it was a genuine Tawny owl. I lay quietly, listening to the owl hooting from various locations; or maybe there was more than one? Anyway, however many there were, they soon had me asleep.
I slept on and off all night and noticed the sky change from clear, to white cloud and then to clear again with thousands of stars. At first, I’d zipped up the door of the bivi but fully opened the main vent. However, to reduce condensation and to give me a better view of the stars, I unzipped the door to level with my shoulder. I kept worrying that the weather may change and that my rucksack, which was slightly too big to comfortably bring into the bivi, would get wet. I’d brought my micro-tarp with me to use as a porch if the weather had turned wet, so I wrapped my rucksack up in it and went back to sleep.
During the night, I woke up – nice and warm – but could hear that the bivi was frozen. I poked my arm out of the sleeping bag and could feel ice on the inside of the bivi. I pulled my Paramo smock over my hips to try to keep the ice off the sleeping bag but I could feel that the bag was already wet near my face. This is a Tundra Pure -10 bag with waterproof fabric at the hood and foot, but it was the material covering my shoulder and neck which was damp.
I woke again at 5am and was starting to feel a little chilly. Not cold but in need of a little extra warmth. I wonder how much of this was psychological, as I could feel cold spots though the sleeping bag and I was starting to imagine that the down was wet. I put on my Rab Neutrino gilet and went back to sleep until 6:30am when it started to get light.
I could now see that everything was covered in a layer of frost. My tarp (wrapped around my rucksack) was covered in frost and, everytime I moved in the bivi, ice rubbed off the inside. I tied back the bivi door in the vain hope that some of the ice/condensation would dry off. It was about minus 2 or 3, so it would probably have been better to scrape off the ice while it was still solid. I reached for my socks which I’d left outside my sleeping bag. They were very nearly frozen, so I tucked them under my body to defrost. As the cold melted into my back I had a thought ….. Boots! I’d put my boots down at the foot end of the bivi and they were bound to be frozen. Luckily they still had some flexibility in them and they defrosted while I was wearing them.
On my last trip, the rain discouraged me from getting up and getting dressed but this was not a problem in the frost; I just got up and got dressed as quickly as possible. The water in my Platypus was half-frozen – which made my breakfast muesli crunchier than usual.
When I got home, I found that my sleeping bag was only slightly damp in places. It was fine after a couple of hours in the sunshine. The dampness was all at the head end so presumably from my breathing, even though I had the door unzipped. I do move about in my sleep so there will have been times when my breath was going into the closed side of the bivi rather than out through the door.
So what have I learned fom this trip? Mainly things I already knew from the first trip:
- The condensation is a worry when using a down sleeping bag. I reckon I will have to use my TN Moonlite sleeping bag cover in future.
- It is impossible to avoid touching any condensation or ice on the inside of the bivi. Even when the bivi is open, and the door tied back, the wet surface rubs against your back when you’re sitting making your breakfast.
- I’ve still not used the bivi for a high-level “fast and light” camp. I do still think that this will work well as the low-profile of the tent should stand up well to gusts. This should also reduce the condensation.
- I like sleeping under the stars.
Marks out of ten based on this second outing? Maybe 8, down from a 9, but I don’t think I’ve given this bivi tent the best chance to prove its strengths yet.