Summer. The days are longer, the weather is warmer and unless you live in a particularly midge afflicted part of the country, it’s the perfect time to give a first time family bivvy a go. This time last year I took the plunge and persuaded the family to join me in spending a night without a tent atop a local hill. It was such a worthwhile experience it left me wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. The fear of trying something new and the perceived effort of organisation and persuading the rest of the family held me back for a whole year before I worked up the courage and psychological motivation. What’s stopping you?
There are so many pressures on family time these days, from parents with long working hours and commutes to the kids being involved with structured activities after school, not to mention the general tiredness that comes with caring for babies and children. I appreciate that finding a time when everybody in the family is free is a challenge but like all challenges the lack of time is an obstacle to overcome. It requires commitment to schedule a night out when everybody in the family is free but it is a great opportunity to spend time together as well as introduce little people to the great outdoors little by little (not to mention all the learning, developmental and emotional benefits…).
The beauty of microadventures is you don’t have to go far or for long – it’s up to you how challenging and time consuming you want your bivvy to be. If you’ve got a whole weekend you can travel further, backpacking in to wilder country. If it’s a school night there’s the possibility of a quick bivvy somewhere locally or in the garden. Although Finn and I have ventured further afield, on all our bivvy adventures this year we’ve not actually left the house until around 4pm and we’ve been back home before 9.30am the following morning. Regardless of how close to home we are or what little time we’ve spent away, it always feels like we’ve had such an adventure!
I love microadventures because they’re practically free but the rewards are great. There will be an initial financial outlay for any kit you might need, especially if you’ve never done any sort of camping before but the good news is that you need very little to begin with, especially if you’re sticking to a summer adventure close to home. The fundamentals are a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and bivvy bag. For summer microadventures you don’t need anything fancy, a basic cheap sleeping bag will do (wear more clothes if your bag isn’t particularly warm) or borrow a sleeping bag if you can. You can pick up cheap foam sleeping mats for a fiver and to start with it’s fine to use an orange survival bag instead of a more expensive, purpose built bivvy bag to protect you and your sleeping bag from wet weather (or go without if a warm, dry night is guaranteed). Several years ago I slept in a snowhole in Scotland one freezing February night in a 3 season sleeping bag and an orange plastic survival bag. I’ll admit, I would have had a much more comfortable night if I’d had a winter sleeping bag and proper bivvy bag but I’m glad I didn’t let a lack of fancy gear get in the way of having such a memorable experience!
A stove is a useful addition to make hot drinks and dinner and/or breakfast or take a flask and something pre-cooked wrapped in foil or food you don’t need to cook. Once you’ve got hold of some basic equipment you can enjoy a cheap but cheerful family night out with memories that will last you a lifetime.
Finding the headspace to come up with a plan and execute it often threatens to hold me back, especially as it’s normally just myself as the sole adult and organiser. A first camp or bivvy can feel like a truly epic adventure; the preparation and packing both for yourself and the little ones, the effort of trying to enthuse reluctant kids to get out the house, especially when the weather is less than favourable, carrying enough kit for several children, getting very little sleep when you’re out and then just the thought of all the unpacking to do when you get home again! Yes, when your children are young it’s a lot easier to stay at home safely within your comfort zone, but keep your adventure simple and it can be a lot easier than you think.
I’ve reduced my preparation and faffing time by making a very detailed list of everything I’ve found it useful to take on a microadventure, which means I can now do my packing on autopilot. I’ve also discovered that it will take me however long I have to pack. If I only have an hour I will take an hour to pack. If I’ve several hours it will take me several hours. So I leave the packing until later in the day and try not to think about it until then. It also helps to keep everything you need for your family microadventure in one place if your storage space allows. Wild camper Phoebe Smith recommends a “Go Bag”, a rucksack which she has packed at all times filled with all the essentials she needs for a night’s wild camping.
Once you’ve been on a few family bivvy adventures and have worked out exactly what you need planning becomes easier and your adventures can become more spontaneous. At the end of the day, there’s no escaping the fact that even a one night microadventure with kids will require some effort but as I’ve discovered, it’s worth it.
It took a year of pouring over the ideas in Alastair Humprey’s inspirational book “Microadventures” before I shrugged off my trepidations and instigated my own family microadventure. Whatever your fears, try and find a way that sets you at ease. Lack of experience in the wild? Start close to home or somewhere you know and feel safe (a friend or relative’s garden?) and gradually head further afield. Afraid of going by yourself with your kids? Persuade another parent and kids to go with you. Not sure about “roughing it”? Sleep in the back garden with your duvet, pillow and hot water bottle (and an accessible toilet). Don’t like the rain? Wait for a dry evening. Not sure if your children will cope? Try it and see.
Personally I’m still fearful of sleeping out in new places on my own with F (my post about Bothying in Burley Whag says it all!) but I do my best to face those fears (the dark, wild animals, people wandering about over wild moorland after dark, irate farmers, bogeymen etc) because realistically I know I’ve blown them all out of proportion. Logically and statistically I’m much safer up a hill after dark than on the streets of my nearest city. For women worried about solo microadventures (or taking out children by yourself) this advice by adventurer Anna McNuff is a good read.
A few tips to help you get going
- Read some inspiring books or blogs. I love Microadventures by Alastair Humpreys, Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper by Phoebe Smith and 100 Family Adventures by The Meek family. Plenty of inspiration and advice for families of all ages can be found in this compilation of different families’ microadvenure experiences gathered by Alastair Humpreys.
- Sign up to or pledge to take part in a microadventure challenge or create your own challenge. Alastair Humprey’s summer microadventure challenge was the catalyst for our first family bivvy last year. Commit to this years Summer Solstice Microadventure challenge anytime between 5th June and 9th July or join in with this year’s Wild Night Out on July 1st.
- Strenghten your commitment by sharing what you’re doing, face to face or on social media, or join forces with another family and hold each other to your word! I’ll admit, if I hadn’t announced publically on my blog that my son and I were going to bivvy out a night each month this year I probably would have given up by February!
- Weather watch. Dry weather certainly makes for an easier first time bivvy so if you’re able to make your plans flexible, hang out for a good weather window.
- Start small and local, especially if you’ve not camped out a lot before.
Finally this is my more detailed kit list for anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing!
- Bivvy bags
- Groundsheet or tarp
- Sleeping mats
- Sleeping bags
- Extra clothes for night-time
- Hats, buffs and gloves
- Waterproof jackets and trousers
- Stove, gas and matches
- Food, snacks, tea bags
- Drinking water
- Large travel cups, sporks and a sharp knife
- Wet wipes
- Small first aid kit
- Small trowel (for digging a toilet)
- Insect repellent and sun lotion (summer)
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Ziplock bag for rubbish
- Black bin liner to keep things in if wet
- A book (if it’s just F and I we like to read stories!)