Andy Kirkpatrick is Doctor Gear
© UKC, Jul 2008
In this interactive article series, gear guru and mountain funny man Andy Kirkpatrick will answer your questions on gear. From the basic to the bizarre, if you need to know something then just Ask Andy!
Forum Thread for posting questions: Premier Post
Read Doctor Gear Part 2 - Alpine Leg-Wear
Question for Andy:
Well lets start this new column with a story...
I will always remember the very first time I slept out in a bivy bag. I was probably about 13. I was in North Yorkshire with my brother and sister, when my dad told us cryptically that we were going to be sleeping somewhere special. Driving up onto the moors after tea via a winding road, we parked at an old stone bridge, the the dark closing in around us as soon as the engine died.
“Where's the camp-site?” we all asked, thinking our dad was joking.
© Terra Nova, Jul 2008
“Follow me” he said, getting out of the car and pulling a huge rucksack out of the trunk. Unsure what was in store, we followed him into the dark, all mumbling and complaining about the lack of obvious sleeping amenities.
“Here we are” he said, dumping his bag on the floor.
“Here?” we all said.
Emptying out the rucksack, four sleeping bags tumbled out onto the floor.
“We're sleeping here!?” we all cried again.
“Yep” he said, next pulling out 4 loaf sized stuff sacks, from which big oblong bags of fabric appeared.
“Right kids, this is a bivy bag. Grab a sleeping bag and get inside before it starts raining”.
Laying under the stars, shoulder to shoulder, was one of the most memorable moments of my young life. If some one had told me before that night that you could see satellite crossing the heavens, or that shooting start could be so numerous that you'd run out of wishes, that the constellations did stand out, and once seen would never be forgotten, I wouldn't have believed them.
Since then I've probably spent a couple of months of my life laying in bivys bags, bags of all shapes, sizes and materials, models made for two people, and models obviously made for less than one! I've used bags made from every waterproof breathable fabric know to mankind, plus some which were non breathable and some which were non waterproof, or even both! I've tried super-light-weight bags that were snow proof, and heavy weight bags you could probably sail the Atlantic in, and along the way I've learnt a couple of things.
A Bothy Shelter/ Bothy Bag is the Number 1 Survival Tool:
If you think a bivy bag alone will save your skin I'm afraid you may be sorely disappointed. Of course by getting into your bivy bag you will reduce the effect of wind, and create a slight rise in your micro climate, but sitting alone in a bivy bag with nothing else is a pretty grim affair. A bothy bag is cheaper, lighter and provides far more protection, both physically and psychologically and should be in the rucksack of every climber or walker in the UK (or stowed in a bum bag for rucksack-less multi pitch climbers). By grouping together you can share body heat, food, water and more importantly moral. Also a bothy bag is a very mobile shelter, and you may find that when the shit hits the fan, stopping for half an hour in the bag will allow you to sort yourself out enough to carry on (eat some food, double check the map, ring for a forecast). Splitting a team into their bivy bags almost guarantees to magnify the problem. Personally I use a 4 man Terranova bothy bag, which I further compress into an XS Exped dry bag (marked bothy bag).
When a Bivy Bag Rocks:
A Bothy Bag in Action
© Terra Nova, Jul 2008
A bivy bag is an odd piece of kit, it's a shelter, but it's not a tent, it's lieghtweight, but not that much lighter than the lightest tents, it's almost the same kind of price as a tent. What am I saying? Well for some people having a lightweight tent for sleeping in and a Bothy bag for emergency's probably makes mores sense. What a bivy bag is good for is dossing, basically sleeping rough in doorways, car parks, snow holes, caves, anywhere were there is wind and wetness, providing all the protection you need, but pitch-able in the same space as a sleeping bag (laying or sitting). This is why a bivy bag is a vital piece of climbing kit for alpine climbers, giving them and their sleeping bag a tiny mobile shelter, and extending their ability to stay comfortable in the hills for multiple day outings (and not just survival).
Make Sure 100% of the bag is Breathable:
Make Sure it's as Waterproof as Possible:
Keep it Simple:
Delta Bivvy Bag from PHD
PHD, Jul 2008
Make sure your climbing bivy has a double zip that goes from shoulder to shoulder, and is long enough to sit up in (when wearing a helmet), with a little extra room for boots, gas canisters and the like. Having a tie in point is nice, but simple larks footing a sling to a large hex on the inside works just as well, and can be placed were you need it (such as in the hood on sitting bivys, or on the hip for laying bivys).
Never Breathe in to Your Bag:
Keep It Bright:
Look After It:
About Andy Kirkpatrick:
Andy Kirkpatrick is the third best climber ever to come out of Hull (John Redhead and Joe Tasker pipping him at the post), and is as well known for his nerdy knowledge of gear, as his ability to climb slowly up hard routes. His knowledge of the finer points of climbing gear comes from ten years in the trade (running the rock room in Outside Hathersage), as gear editor for magazines such as Climb, Climber and High, and twenty years of climbing, often on routes where only the right gear would see you home safe (gear that very often he'd neglected to bring...or dropped!).
© Mick Ryan
Having spent two years in the wilderness writing his first book, Psychovertical (published by Hutchinson in September), Andy is returning to climbing gear writing here at UKClimbing.com with Doctor Gear, an irregular surgery for all gear and strange technique questions. If you would like to book an appointment, then please submit any questions to the associated Premier Post (please note Andy will not treat your questions confidentially in any way!).
Andy Kirkpatrick is sponsored by Berghaus and Lyon Equipment.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Andy Kirkpatrick: