By Charlotte Austin & Julie Parker
Contrary to popular belief, bivying in the mountains doesn’t have to be a “sufferfest” and involve spooning your partner for warmth while divvying up the last pieces of an energy bar. With a little planning and preparation, a bivy in the mountains can be a very satisfying experience filled with unbeatable views, good food and quality time with close companions. Here are some tips for a successful night in the alpine.
Make packing for the conditions a priority
What kind of terrain will you be in? What temperatures do you expect? Is a detailed weather forecast available? Will you be camping on grass, rock, sand, or ice? You’ll be able to save weight and reduce your pack size by precisely packing the appropriate gear.
Once you’ve gleaned as much beta as you can, tailor your kit to match the conditions. In the summer, for example, you can sleep comfortably with a lightweight inflatable pad. But in the winter months, you might want to add a closed-cell foam layer to your sleep system. If there’s precipitation in the forecast, you’ll want to roll with a tent and rainfly, but if the forecast is clear, consider sleeping under the stars.
Weight matters when you’re in the mountains—so much, in fact, that some experts repeat the mantra “ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain.” It’s imperative to eliminate redundancy. How many tubes of sunscreen do three people really need?
Communicate with your partners before you hit the trail. Which tools can be shared? Toothpaste, pocket knives, cameras, first aid kits, etc. You might be surprised at how much lighter your pack is—and how much happier your back feels at the end of the day. Pro tip: An ultralight tent for two like the MSR Carbon Reflex 2, can weigh less and provide more comfort than separate bivy sacks.
Bring one luxury item
After you’ve carefully selected and refined your kit, choose a small, non-essential luxury item to bring along. Pick something that you know will bring you joy when you’re miles into the backcountry.
Maybe it’s a carefully coddled piece of fresh fruit that’s savored on a summit. Or perhaps it’s a backup battery to fuel evenings of audiobooks on an iPhone. Other classic luxuries include a cotton t-shirt, small flask of fancy whiskey, or small camping pillow. Find that one special item that elevates your experience without breaking your back.
Eat good food
Just because you’ve left civilization behind, doesn’t mean you need to eat like a Spartan. A few bites of something delicious can go a long way when you’re in the mountains.
Freeze-dried meals get a bad rap, but they’re an undeniably easy, lightweight source of hearty calories. Adding a few slices of real cheese or a chopped fresh vegetable (carrots travel well) can add much needed texture and flavor to your pouch. Oatmeal is another staple that tastes better with a little love. Before leaving home, add nuts, coconut flakes, a spoonful of coconut oil, and date pieces to a baggie of instant oatmeal flakes—the carbs will get you going in the morning and the fats will fuel you for hours.
Bring something to share
The mountains can be unpredictable. Because you could be spending a little too much quality time with your partner if the weather rolls in, bring something that can keep you two interacting positively without getting cabin fever. Try a crossword puzzle, or a deck or cards. Or toss in a bar of dark chocolate for those moments when a little morale boost makes all the difference.
Julie Parker has a (mostly) healthy addiction to climbing, backcountry skiing, trail running and fancy cheeses. When not roped to the side of a cliff, she can be found exploring the Western U.S. with her husband and personal barista, Chris, and coydog, Chief in a converted Sprinter van.
Charlotte Austin is a writer, climber, and mountain guide who lives in Seattle, Washington. When she’s not in the mountains getting a sunglasses tan, she’s hanging out with Huckleberry, her dog. Read more of her work at www.charlotteaustin.com.