The Book of the Bivv The
above is the 1999 cover. If you have this edition, you are welcome to email me for the updated pages

The Book of the Bivvy

paperback 174 x 117mm: also
8 pages colour: b & w pictures and sketch maps
Cicerone 2001 second edition 2007
reprinted with minor updates 2011
10: ISBN 978 85284 561 2
Extracts, pictures, sample route at www.cicerone.co.uk

They are the best of nights; they are the worst of nights

Just where are the half a million bivvybags sold in Britain over recent years? Probably waiting for Ronald Turnbull to show the nervous owners the way forward.

Ronald's informed, humorous, instructive, wry look at the world of the bivouac is certainly the first, and perhaps the last, word on this unexplored territory. The Book of the Bivvy is a half-and-half mix of how to do it and why to do it. (Or of how not to do it and why not to do it.) Accounts of bivvybag nights and expeditions, both nice and nasty, alternate with practical chapters about the technicalities of the breathable membrane, how little kit you really can get away with, and the secrets of lightweight long-distance. The book closes with a selection of bivvybag expeditions to initiate the unwary.

Along the way, Ronald shows that 1900 to 1969 was the dark age of the bivouac, how Diogenes (the Cynic) bivvied under timber, and that the Eiger was climbed only through improved bivvy technique.

winner: Outdoor Writer's Guild Awards for Excellence: best outdoor book 2001


Quirky. Entertaining. Funny. Heart warming. Very well researched and stunningly presented.   OWG Award judges

The book has an informal, unstructured fell, and for me, is an enjoyable read. Tales of suffering are interspersed with technical details (yes, there are technical aspects to bivvy-bags!) and advice on staying dry, or not as is the case... The writing style is quirky, funny yet also very informative.   Dave Simpson, in Scottish Mountaineer May 2008

Thank you for writing The Book of the Bivvy. I bivvied out on Friday night near Capel Curig, alone in an ex-British Army bivvy bag bought for 12 from an army surplus store. Even though it was August Bank Holiday I saw no-one between 6pm Friday and 10:30am on Saturday and had no trouble finding accommodation. I hope to do this often - my only regret is not trying it sooner   Anthony Walmsley, via email


Foreword by Julian Miles
1 basic bivvy peign and suffering
problems of the polybag
plastic bag for pleasure purposes
polybag facts
2 bivvy history
3 the breathable bag five nights in green plastic
1 overnight Ochils
2 wet Wooler in November
3 Hoover Bag
4 Man management
5 saddle bag
4 midlevel baggery cave behaviour
fallback bag
shopping for bags
5 but what if it rains? wet under thorns in Belfast
further suffering
what if it rains?
Look after your bivvy and your bivvy will look after you
the ideal site
6 across Scotland by bag wetness and weight
Acharacle to Aberdeenshire
7 the art of lightweight long-distance bag and baggage
comparative luxury
the fuel on the hill
mountains under the moon
8 bag plans 1 bivvybagging the Wainwrights
2 bag and camera
3 Corbett bagging
9 bivvybag routes 1 sleeping on Skiddaw
2 Bruce's Crown
10 Another Pennine Journey re-enacting Wainwright on a walk to the Roman Wall
11 sudden death and sheep-stealing a crossing of Pumlumon Fawr
Afterword sheltered housing for the elderly
Manufacturers and suppliers


Exploring is delightful to look forward to and back upon, but it is not comfortable at the time, unless it be of such an easy nature as not to deserve the name
Samuel Butler - Erewhon

Ah, Knoydart! That remote peninsular is reached by no road, but by a long ride up the West Highland Railway and Bruce Watt's boat out of Mallaig. Leap onto the jetty at Inverie with a real feeling of anxiety and self-reliance. The boat won't be back for two days, and it's thirty miles to the bus stop.
       And those miles aren't easy ones. Knoydart's rough bounds are well separated from the so-called Real World, concealed in mists and snowclouds, defended by midges and the mysteries of the ferry timetable. Here the sea creeps deep into the hills, the hills drop steep into the sea - and 8ft of water a year are transferred from the one to the other.
       Knoydart in the rain is where Hamish Brown came closest to abandoning his All-the-Munros walk. Get lost in the mist and it's 600m down a vertical bog, and what you get at the bottom is a river in spate and no footbridge.
       It's best, here, to expect anything at all in the way of weather. And when a surprising sun beat down out of a sky of blue - as it does not infrequently at all in the month of May - we were equipped to cope. In my sack was a small green Gore-tex bag supplied by an elderly but very lively member of the SMC. In Oliver's sack was a similar, and in his head the route-plan for this very eventuality.
looking into Knoydart after a bivvybag night on Sgurr nan Coireachan
see the picture bigger
       Sgurr na Ciche. It's the hard heart of the Rough Bounds. Its rocky sides steepen as they go up, till its top contour-lines crowd so close there isn't even space for a spot-height. By the side of Loch Nevis we stopped to brew a simple supper, and looked at the Ciche. Its western ridge started as a seaweedy spine rising out of the loch; indeed, its rocky outline could be seen plunging on downwards into the salt waters. Sun-heat beat back at us off the rock-spine, the warm air carried the aroma of the bog-myrtle, and the bees were buzzing around in the heather. Assuredly not a night for the bothy.
       And so we raced the setting sun up the three miles (and one vertical kilometre) of the ridge. All the way the pointed summit stood like a beckoning finger against the sky. We scrambled on hands and knees up the final steep metres to reach the cairn in time for the last two minutes of the day. The sun went down behind the rim of Ladhar Bheinn like an egg-yolk falling into the blades of a liquidiser.
       At this point we may calculate the altitude of Heaven as 1042m (3418ft). For on Ciche's summit, at sunset, it is within touching distance.
       Two minutes down the eastern sides we found, among all the bare schist, a grassy shelf sheltered by lumps of crag. Twenty miles away Nevis, that urban hill, crouched under the stars. All night long our noses poked into the night and were cooled and freshened by the breezes.
       But by dawn those noses were damp ones. Grey rain had rolled in off the Atlantic. Tendrils of cloud swirled around our little hollow; we were annoying damp tealeaves to be scoured out of its pristine sink. We bundled up the bags and dropped 800ft to warm up before breakfasting huddled under a wet stone wall.

Julian Miles calculates that he's made about 8000 bivvy bags over the years, not to mention the more expensive but perfectly serviceable products of his competitors. Where are they all?
       Is it just that the bivvy is so discreet that we don't see it? A gentleman who didn't give his name spent four months in his one, watching a farmhouse in Kent were some thieves were preparing to steal the great De Beers diamond from the Millennium Dome.
       But are the other half-million or so bivvybags manufactured by Britain's lively outdoor suppliers - are all of them simply sitting in attics and their nervous owners taking them out every six months or so and saying do I quite dare? Or don't I? Like English lasses on a Spanish beach wondering whether or not to go topless...
       Topless - topful - topping - over the top - there's a pun here, struggling with its zips and trying to emerge into the open air. So far the bag has mostly been taken up by serious long-distance types, and of course the Special Forces. But even on a simple tropical beach sleep-out, it does make all the difference not to have the morning dew joining you in bed. Or take a bottle of whisky to the first flat place above the youth hostel and join Prince Charlie in the heather.
       They are the best of nights: they are the worst of nights. The modern lightweight tent has opened up the wilderness - but for an increasing number of people, the lightweight tent is just a bit too civilised. Can you really experience nature's rawness from inside a zipped-up storm-flap? For those who want to bring a bit of old-fashioned pain and suffering back into the outdoor experience, the bivvybag is the place to be.
       In a tent you have to unbag, boot up, and crawl all over a sleeping companion to see what the stars are up to. In a bivvy, the stars are shining right down onto your nose. When the moonlight falls onto a sea of cloud, and the Isle of Skye floats across the sea like a silver dream - do you really want to be zipped up under a green dome asleep? And when the wind howls in the heather and the rain gradually trickles in, you don't experience the full misery when you recline in waterproof tented splendour. If you like to travel a nice short distance with a comfortingly heavy pack, and to spend the sunset hours lying in a cramped green space rehydrating little packets over a cooker, then what you want is a tent. Or perhaps a Youth Hostel, or hotel. But if you want to walk right across the Lakes in a weekend, or right across Scotland in a week - if you prefer a small portable rucksack with no oppressive luxuries (like Karrimats, dry clothing, or cookers) to interfere between you and the mountain experience - then you want the little green bag.
       Apart from anything else, a tent won't ever fit onto that ledge of Sgurr na Ciche.