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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Review - Rab Ridge Raider Bivi

Lovely late summer evening on the flanks of Kinder Scout

"...the Rab Ridge Raider bivouac. A roomy shelter that's performed exceptionally well - though not all people will choose to spend nights out on the hills this way, it's still gives greater flexibility when selecting a pitch compared to a tent. Given the right conditions, bivvying is the best way to enjoy the great outdoors in my opinion. Lying in bed, snug as a bug in a rug, gazing up at the Milky Way and distant orbiting satellites is really quite liberating and humbling."

Bivi? Bivvy? Bivouac? Whichever name you choose to use, they're all the same thing. Essentially, a large waterproof cocoon where you place yourself, sleeping bag and bed within to shelter from the elements.

Now, I could romanticise the wonderful experiences one can have when it comes to spending nights out under the stars in a bivvy - I'm very tempted to do so - but in the main, I find bivvying a bit of a pain in the rear.

But it has it's merits for use as a shelter, make no doubt.



Stealth bivvy 

For starters, the footprint is small so you can pretty much make home anywhere - including stealthy camps out in the lowlands of Britain. Bivvys tend to be relatively light and pack small too. Lacking the volume of a tent the user can soon feel warm inside - though consequently a little damp due to humid air (if fully sealed).


The thought of falling asleep under the stars has big appeal for many backpackers and I'm one of them - but a bivvy is not the be and end all to such romantic visions.


If you're using a tent, tie the doors back, position your mattress et al out into the porch and you too can lie snug as a bug gazing up, with bleary eyes at the vast universe above. And of course, if the wind and rain comes in you can soon slip back into your tent and still have lots of room to negotiate your usual camping practices in comfort and shelter.

With a bivvy? Well, you're pretty screwed. Zip up, put up and shut up. Of course, you could take a small tarp (or poncho as I sometimes use with trekking poles) but this in itself as a set up soon adds up in weight and you ought as well have a lightweight 1 person tent and be a lot more comfortable!




Even so, I enjoy bivvying because despite all the pros and cons - I really am a bit of posh tramp. I'll have a camp made with a bivvy in under 10 minutes. Job done. No messing about with tent poles, clipping hooks on, unzipping doors, flinging kit in and getting organised. I see a nice wee shelf just off a summit that's too small for a tent - no problem with a bivvy, I'm there.


The two way zips for inner and outer doors can snag/trap a little at times

There's something primeval about walking about on the hills and moors in all weathers, taking in the sights and at the end of a long day chucking your pack onto the ground and slipping out ya bivvy to make bed for the night.


Cooped up within your coffin you soon warm up yet feel quite exposed to the environment and it's elements - unnerving to some I know but to others it's heaven. It's kids at play, it's boys with their toys for me.

Sure, it's not particularly nice to wake and see a slug within inches of your face seeking shelter within your shelter - or observe spiders creeping and crawling perilously (?) close within your personal boundaries - but all that don't bother me.


I like it. It's being there amongst nature and the land - and it's that element more than anything that nails bivvying for me as more enjoyable than camping with a tent. OK, I could seal the bivvy shut - but you can't help but want to be out in the open!


Generous storm flap covering bivvy entry
Alas, with our weather in the UK it's not always ideal. Bivouacs work in many ways much like waterproof clothing - ambient temperatures, winds, humidity can all contribute to the success or failure of how it performs. You don't want it too humid within a bivvy as it could consequently compromise the thermal capabilities of your down sleeping bag, for example.

Having to negotiate getting undressed into dry clothes and then into your bed out in the open isn't ideal either seeing as we see more rain than sunshine in the UK. Same goes for when you wish to sit out the elements and crack on with some cooking.

But as with anything in life, you adapt, you evolve and being Brits - you put up with it and all soon becomes 'normal'.

So, the Rab Ridge Raider Bivi - any good?

Well, if you don't like the idea of material flopping about in your face when asleep you'll be pleased to learn that the Ridge Raider is a hooped bivvy. I like these sorts just for comfort - if anything it prevents your warm moist breath steaming up the fabric which in turn drips or rubs back into your face. And of course it's not so claustrophobic.

The hoop is easy to insert into an outer sleeve (pre-curved) , which is then pegged out to keep it upright (internal height 58cm). This is a front entry  shelter, so you do have to contort and negotiate your way in feet first - but once inside, all is well, fine and dandy.

Bivvy bedhead
The door zips open and shut over the complete arch of the bivvy alongside the upright pole and is covered by a sizeable storm flap to prevent any water ingress via the zips - of which there are two. Both can be opened at either end for venting, one for the mesh inner door and the other the waterproof fabric itself.

Now, I've found the zips on many occasion to snag a little - not on their own but when trying to slide one zip grip past/over the other. They can catch easily and come stuck. Despite the handles being able to glow in the dark, you still can't discern which zip is for which door at times too. This is only a minor gripe, mind - but it can make you huff, puff and curse from time to time during  inclement weather.

It is worth noting though, that after a night of prolonged rain, that when you come to open up the bivvy and wonder at the clag and smell the fresh damp in the air - often any pools of moisture beading on the storm flap will immediately roll and drip down on to you inside. Large the storm flap maybe, which is good - it is quite flaccid. It would help to have a small tie loop where you could attach a short guyline and peg out to stiffen it up a bit.

There is a very generous bathtub groundsheet (10,000mm waterproof nylon base width 80cm) to the Ridge Raider, too - great for maintaining the loft of your sleeping bag all year round. However, if you are like me and prefer to use a thick air mattress for sleeping on (which can be up to 6cm thick) it's likely to form a tight fit when using a winter sleeping bag.

Stealth bivvy where I woke to a temperature inversion
Even through the summer months, the sleeping bag would compress at the foot end of the bivvy. But I'm a bit of a side sleeper and tend to curl my legs a little. So, this didn't prove to be too much of a problem. But when lying on my side I'd find that at times I could then compress the sleeping bag and thus negating it's thermal properties against the top of the bivvy.

It's something I've informed Rab of and an issue I feel all companies who produce bivvys need to accommodate. Namely, due to the popularity of air mattresses in recent times.

Even so, I've not been cold - just a little restless and even this could be remedied by using a regular self inflating mattress or foam mat.

The Ridge Raider bivouac is a little over 7 feet in length (2150mm), too. Plenty of room for a chap like me at 5'11" and more so when I store all my kit in a dry bag out and beside the shelter.

The fabric used for the shelter proper is eVent® Exchange Lite™ - windproof, waterproof and highly breathable. Which is essential if you're going to spend the night cooped up inside for lots of reasons.

In the real world, I've been mightily impressed with the fabric for use in a bivvy - it's not only kept the rain out but I've never encountered any condensation within either. The bivouac has been used in all weathers and conditions (except winter) - from hot and humid nights with some rain, dry evenings with persistent drizzle and more.

Nice evening spent on Stanage Edge
I really expected some form of condensation to occur around the head area of the shelter - somewhere you always pick up some with a bivvy when sealed tight from the elements. But after the past few months of regular use? Nothing.

Whatever the science or statistics of eVent (Google's your friend) it's impressive - more so when compared to the odd Gore-Tex® bivouac I've used in the past. Aye, they've kept the rain out but often the air is muggy within and condensation regularly occurs in varying degrees - in my experience.

I suppose it's handy with the option to vent a little due to the single hoop design - but it's not something I've often felt the need to employ.

So, any concerns about how your down sleeping bag may lose some of it's thermal properties to damp humid air can be put to the side - there's nothing to worry about with the Ridge Raider bivvy. It really is 'that' good.

To finish things off, you'll find handy pegging loops in each corner of the bivvy along with the ends of the pole to help prevent the bivvy from slipping on ground where there maybe an incline - and you get some decent V pegs too.

For storage the shelter comes with an excellent waterproof dry sac, peg and pole bag.


PROS


  • Pitch anywhere, lightweight shelter, small footprint.
  • Total weight (including pole, pegs and drysac) 820g on my scales
  • Generous bathtub waterproof nylon groundsheet
  • eVent® Exchange Lite™ fabric that performs exceptionally well
  • Extremely roomy bivouac


CONS


  • Awkward front entry design - would be preferable to have a side entry where you can just roll in on your side
  • Some may find snagging issues with the zips for the inner mesh and outer eVent door
  • Claustrophic shelter compared to a tent
  • eVent fabric will need cleaning with regular use to ensure performance
  • Bathtub inner groundsheet needs to be a little deeper to accommodate popular air mattresses such as Thermarest Neoair or Exped Synmat UL
  • Get a hoolie blowing, the bivouac will compress against you and consequently your sleep bag within.


Overall, I really like the Rab Ridge Raider bivouac. A roomy shelter that's performed exceptionally well - though not all people will choose to spend nights out on the hills this way, it's still gives greater flexibility when selecting a pitch compared to a tent. Given the right conditions, bivvying is the best way to enjoy the great outdoors in my opinion. Lying in bed, snug as a bug in a rug, gazing up at the Milky Way and distant orbiting satellites is really quite liberating and humbling.


Flattering picture, eh? 5.30am wake up one morning recently

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Terry Abraham
Outdoors filmmaker who wild camps to capture the landscapes at their very best. Also a blogger, photographer and gear tester.

I've been known to write from time to time and am a big fan of real ales.



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