After spending a freezing January night shivering, without sleep, under a poncho on Belfast’s Cavehill it dawned on me that what you can survive with and what you need to enjoy the hills are not necessarily the same.
I had been, and admittedly still am, taken with the concept of minimalism. Taking only what you need. Wither in the hills, in your job or in your life. The process of stripping away the needless and discovering what you can get by on still intrigues me.
What I did discover during my minimalist experiments is that a poncho, some para cord and a £10 Tesco sleeping bag will make you very uncomfortable in the hills in January.
I therefore set about changing my sleeping set up to ensure I could actually sleep whilst enjoying myself outdoors.
A good bivvy bag was always on my mind and after looking at a few I settled on the Snugpak Stratosphere. (RRP £106.20 Amazon UK). This lightweight bivvy has all the fun of the traditional bivvy bag with a hooped porch/hood built into it to provide an additional amount of shelter. The hood can be zipped up in the rain or left open to fall asleep watching the stars (as I did the first time I used it) all in all a nice piece of kit that balances some of the pros and cons of tent vs bivvy out quite well. I have yet to use the bivvy without the hooped head porch however it can be done quite easily.
One important, for me clinching, aspect of the Snugpak stratosphere, is that in NATO green it blends in well with the surrounding environment. The shape of it also won’t stand out on the horizon. For these reasons it’s an excellent choice for any stealth bivvy.
Next on the list for a good nights sleep was a comfortable sleeping bag. I have to admit I put very little thought into this and simply went with a model that provided a comfort rating of -5 degrees. The model that I ended up with was the Snugpak Chrysalis 3 (RRP £71.99p Amazon UK).
I have never experienced warmth and comfort like this from a sleeping bag. There are also some additional features that make it that extra bit worth it: a built in reading light and adjustable zips to make the bag bigger or smaller being two that spring to mind immediately.
I do feel that there is a price to be paid for the luxury of the sleeping bag in terms of bulk. Even when compressed its a fairly hefty size in the rucksack. I did find that the sleeping bag can be compressed further via use of the straps on the compression sack. When fully compressed it passes, just about, the luxury vs size debate.
I was, however, a little disappointed when I saw the Snugpak Softie Range that is also rated to -5 and compresses much smaller. Still: it’s an outstanding sleeping bag worth that extra bit of bulk.
Finally completing the new set-up I bought an inflatable Ferrino sleeping mat (RRP £40 Decathlon). This gem was, perhaps surprisingly, the most impressive item of kit I purchased. It folds down to practically the size of a packet of biscuits and comes in its own compression sack. It was easily blown up with minimal effort and just as easily put back down again.
I slept like a log in the new set up. In comparison to my previous poncho set up it was pure luxury. Some things are worth the extra space… A good nights sleep is one of them.