Gear Sleepover Season Tips

Campsite Bivvy & Bivvy Bag Review

Bivvy and Camping Gear in the Forest
Written by Stuart Wickes

Campsite Bivvy Microadventure & Bivvy Bag Review

Stuart Profile SmallHave you ever camped without a tent? At a campsite? It’s a strange experience as we recently found out. But it did give us a chance to test out different styles of bivvy bags in a controlled environment. In this post, part of our sleepover season of posts on bivvying micro-adventures, brought to you in collaboration with Terra Nova Equipment, we give you a little taste of campsite bivvying and the low down on the differences between the three Terra Nova bivvy bags we’ve been checking out. 

Camping without a tent?

For some people the idea of sleeping out in the wild in a bivvy bag is a step too far. So why not break yourself in gently, by bivvying at a campsite? I know it sounds ridiculous, and to be honest it can look and feel ridiculous too and confound campsite owners. But, if you’re new to bivvying and camping wild, it’s a great way to get to know your bivvy bag in an environment designed for camping. You won’t have to think about finding a suitable spot to bivvy, what to do about toilets, finding fresh water or all the other complications of camping in the wild.

What? No tent?

While out in the Balkans last year we tried a bit of campsite bivvying for ourselves. It was quite amusing trying to explain to the campsite owners (in Croatian) that we wanted to camp but did not have a tent. Almost as amusing as watching the expressions on other campers’ faces when we rolled up, rolled bivvy bags out on the ground and settled down to go to sleep.

In the end we found the best way of avoiding this kind of embarrassment was to turn up and pitch after dark, when no-one can see what you are doing anyway. Check out this video and see what that’s like.

Comparing Terra Nova Bivvy Bags

Anyway, this campsite bivvying gave us a chance to try out the three different kinds of Terra Nova bivvy bag we had with us; the Moonlite, the Discovery and the Jupiter.  If you’re thinking of buying a bivvy bag, I hope the information here will help you decide what kind of bag will suit you best and what kinds of features to look for when buying one.

Moonlite Sleeping Bag Cover Terra Nova

It’s Moonlite vs Discovery vs Jupiter in the Battle of the Bivvys

The Moonlite Sleeping Bag Cover

The Terra Nova Moonlite sleeping bag cover was wonderfully small, light and watertight, yet was voted the least popular bag every family member. Not because it didn’t do a good job but because it had no insect protection and we ended up bivvying in rather too many insect infested locations.

That said, the Moonlite has a lot of other things going for it. It has the tiniest pack size of the three bags we tried, fitting into its own small stuff sack, about the size of two adults fists. It’s so light (180g) you hardly notice it in your rucksack and being so small is ideal to throw in your pack on just in case you fancy a quick bivvy.

It has no zips, poles or pegs so is a cinch to set up; just unfurl, lay it out, put your sleeping bag inside and crawl in. And, most importantly it’s waterproof and breathable so you and your sleeping bag stay dry.  Well, everything perhaps except your head.

It’s not a roomy bag though, really only just big enough for an adult, especially if you try to cram your sleeping mat inside too.  We did manage to fit a full length thermarest inside with a three season sleeping bag, and while the kids found they had enough room, us adults struggled with feelings of claustrophobia and there was no question of turning over.

The material is thin and while we suffered no rips or tears you may need to be careful where you pitch it to avoid damage. I’d be inclined to use a groundsheet on stony soil or to keep your sleeping mat outside underneath the bag  to protect the fabric from damage.

The bag is shaped like a sleeping bag with an open hood and drawstring you can pull on to reduce hood size and keep out the elements. Pull hard enough and it can be reduced to a tiny hole to keep out the rain and insects but we found that rather claustrophobic and still the mosquitoes found their way in. It worked great under a tarp though, for smaller people and in insect free conditions.

I hear from Terra Nova that the bag design has recently been updated and 2014 models now have a mesh upper section with zip closure at the head to overcome these very drawbacks, although I don’t think it’s any bigger. If you want to be able to move around a little you need something bigger, like the Discovery.

Bivvying in the Campsite

What a nice way to wake up. Bivvying out in the Terra Nova Moonlite bags. At a forest campsite, Croatia.

The Discovery Bivvy

Our bright red Terra Nova Discovery bivvy became a bag worth fighting for when the weather looked dodgy or the ground was a bit rougher.  It has a different construction to the Moonlite bag with a durable groundsheet base and a top made of waterproof and breathable Goretex fabric.  The head end has a large hood with rain flap and zip so you can seal yourself inside meaning you’ll hear the rain but you won’t feel it.

It’s as easy to pitch as the Moonlite. There are no poles or pegs needed, just unroll, slide your camping mat and sleeping bag in and slip in. Once inside it feels positively roomy compared to the Moonlite bags. You won’t be able to swing a cat, but there’s enough room to get a sleeping mat, large sleeping bag and largish adult in, and the hood areas is generous enough to store a little bit of gear too. Even a large adult like me found enough space inside to move around a bit and turn over in my sleeping bag. One night I even managed to zip in, settle down and read a book by torchlight. It’s cosy, warm and dry inside, big enough not to feel overly claustrophic even with the zip fully done up.

The materials look and feel stronger than the Moonlite too, as if they could take some rougher ground and handling. Packed up it weighs (at 640g), about three times as much as the Moonlite, and it’s a little bigger in your pack too, but maybe that’s a price worth paying as you could probably bivvy out in the rain and stay dry in this without needing to carry or use a tarp.

Tucked up in Terra Nova Discovery Bivy

Tucked up in Terra Nova Discovery Bivy. Peeking out the storm zip.

The Jupiter Bivvy

The Terra Nova Jupiter turned out to be the most popular bivvy bag in our family. It’s also the most expensive and sophisticated, more like a tiny one person, single skinned tiny tent than a simple bivvy. The reason for its popularity? A spacious interior (compared to the others) and a mesh insect net. We knew this was likely to be a winner right from its very first outing, bivvying on the mosquito infested lawn of a Lake District country house. The lucky person in this bivvy was the only one to last the night, and the only one without an insect bite.

The Jupiter is a hooped bivvy with a single alloy pole, a handful of pegs and a guy rope that helps hold the hooped head end up and gives the bag its spacious feeling. It’s pretty quick to assemble and, like the Discovery, has a durable built in ground sheet and a breathable Goretex upper. Pitching takes a couple of minutes and once pegged out there’s ample room to get your sleeping mat, sleeping bag, yourself and some gear inside.  The pole gives you plenty of headroom, makes the whole experience much less claustrophobic, improves ventilation throughout the bag  and creates some space for storage. Don’t expect to be able to stand or even sit up though, this really is still just a mini tent for sleeping.

At the hooped end you have a choice of closures depending on the weather and your neighbours. You can leave the end open, zip up an insect resisting mesh door or zip up a full storm flap for full weather protection or privacy.  All this comes at a price in terms of size and weight; packed up in its carry bag, the Jupiter weighs in just under a kilo at 840g and packs into a 40cm x 11cm tube, making a bit more of a dent in your rucksack than the Discovery or Moonlite. Still, we all thought it was worth it for that luxurious bivvy experience, whatever the weather and especially in insect infected zones.

Sleeping in the Terra Nova Jupiter Bivvy Bag

Enjoying a lie in the Nova Jupiter Hooped Bivvy. Making good use of the insect mesh for sunbathing.

Disclosure Note: Our thanks to Terra Nova Equipment Ltd who loaned us the bivvy bags in support of our Sleepover Season.The opinions, experience and views expressed here, remain, as ever, entirely our own.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...

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