While most campers plan to stay in a tent, have a hammock setup, or some type of ultralight setup, during nice weather, or certain conditions, hikers may consider camping without a tent. This is known as bivouacking. In this article, we are going to discuss the pros and cons of bivouacking, when it is appropriate, when it isn’t, how to best do it safely, and some common bivouacking options out there.
What is Bivouacking?
The term Bivouacking is used when describing a person sleeping outside without a tent. It could be taken as sleeping outside on the ground on any mat on a bed made of gathered materials, utilizing a bivy, or some other materials. Most of the time, bivouacking happens when a camper feels like sleeping outside of the tent because of clear skies, weather conditions, or are on an ultralight camping/hiking/climbing trip with a proper bivy sack. However, sometimes bivouacking becomes a survival tactic during emergencies, or minimalist outdoor enthusiasts will challenge themselves to create their own shelters. You’ll often find hikers carrying emergency bivvies as life saving devices.
What Is A Bivy Sack?
Bivy sacks are an additional layer that is constructed to go over your sleeping bag, and creates a windproof and waterproof or water resistant shield for your sleeping bag. A bivvy can keep adventurers sheltered from the environment without the need to construct a tent, or find a large enough space to pitch one.
Bivvy’s were created originally for emergency use and shelters, and are still often used for that purpose today. Over time, the use of bivy bags has increased substantially as technology has improved, and as adventurers are finding more use cases for them.
What Are The Benefits Of Bivouacking / Camping Without A Tent?
A Lighter Alternative / Less Weight
Bivvies are quite light. With many being less than a pound (16 ounces), they can easily be stored in a backpack and turn your sleeping bag and pad combo into a shelter for various situations. A bivvy allows adventurers to not have to carry a tent or hammock, which can save weight for a destination trip or difficult journey.
The ultra-compact nature of bivvies make them valuable assets when reducing weight. There is substantial space saved when compared to a tent or even hammock alternative. many bivy sacks pack down to the size of a softball, and emergency style bivvies even smaller.
Technical terrain is where a bivvy system really stands out. Campers can utilize rock ledges on cliffs, caves, tight spaces between trees, or really any space they please. The ability to squeeze in areas where tents or hammocks can’t fit can add a ton of versatility.
In addition, if you pair a bivvy with a tarp setup, you can get more versatility out of your lightweight setup. You’ll be able to handle more precipitation, and more wind when carrying a tarp.
By adding another layer of protection, bivvies trap in some additional warmth. This is often done better than a tent. Many bivvies feature water-resistant but breathable materials that reduce condensation, keep in heat, and keep out wind and precipitation. With this being said, if you are in a windy or wet environment, you may not be as comfortable in a bivvy.
Ease Of Use & Efficiency
With a bivvy, you don’t need to pitch a tent, you don’t need to search as long for a a location to camp, and packing up camp in the morning becomes even easier. This can save campers a fair amount of time and energy that can be utilized elsewhere.
Some people just like to have the minimal gear necessary. You become a little bit closer to the nature you are exploring in a bivvy setup, and that alone might make you enjoy it more. Trying out the minimalist approach might be a great option.
A bivvy system, or a handmade system is generally cheaper than a tent setup. If you want to save some money, a bivy sack is a lower cost alternative.
Stealth & Security
Camping without a tent allows you to be less visible. A tent is very noticable in many terrains, and a bivy setup is extremely easy to hide. It is conceivable to stealth camp only a few feet off the trail without even being noticed.
When Should You Consider Using A Bivy / Bivouacking?
There are a few scenarios when bivouacking makes a little more sense or is a little more common:
- When destination hiking / backpacking for objectives. Hikers can save weight, and save time on camp setup and breakdown.
- When adventuring in an area where tent space is limited or nearly impossible to find.
- When weather forecasts are quality.
What Are The Cons Of Camping Without A Tent?
We have explained some of the positive points of sleeping outside without a tent; now it’s high time to discuss the negative aspects of overnight sleeping without a tent.
- If the weather turns to heavy rain or wind, a bivy system may not be comfortable. You’ll want a very waterproof system for rain, or you are in for a miserable night. During the rainy season, you will be more likely to experience many challenges during an overnight stay without a tent. When the weather doesn’t look favorable, it may be better to stay in a tent best for heavy rain.
- You have little space to move. This can be uncomfortable for some, but the biggest downside is the ability to move around in a sheltered location. Sitting up in your tent and playing games simply isn’t possible with a bivy setup.
- If you aren’t using a bivy setup, you may have to spend time making a bedding setup. This is really only a practice of survivalists, or those in actual survival situations.
How To Bivouac?
Want to have a comfortable time without a tent? Here are some important tips:
- Find a camping spot shielded from the wind, and on high ground, or ground that will not have water channels that travel to through your camping spot.
- Place any gear that needs to stay warm and dry at the feet of your bivy or sleeping bag.
- Use a warm water bottle inside of your sleeping bag on cold nights to keep warmth in for extended periods of time.
- Cook away from your sleeping bag and leave any items with smell in a bear box or hung up when in bear country.
- Ensure you have a waterproof sack for your other gear.
- Air out your bivy sack during the day if possible.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about