Last winter, I was given a bivvy bag for my birthday — the Alpkit Hunka. This was just about the same time that Alastair Humphreys was inspiring us all to get out and do a microadventure every month of the year ahead. All of a sudden the cold of winter was no longer a valid excuse not to get out adventuring. And so I did. January came and went, but a window of OK weather fell on a crisp Saturday in February. The Hunka was about to get tested!
Sleeping wild may be chilly and a bit damp, and the quality of sleep will never be the best, but the rewards are always worth it. For me, the appeal isn’t just about the ceiling of stars that replace your tent. Nor is it the freedom alone that draws me out into the cold. It’s the mornings — waking up to a frost or a heavy dew, to mist seeping out of the valley below, the raucous of the morning chorus, watching the sunrise from the comfort of thick goose down. And then taking it all in with a freshly brewed mug of coffee while the world starts around you.
After the first winter outing, spring offered some good conditions for more nights under the stars in the English countryside. Then after that, a week seeking out some wild sequestered beaches in Greece to lay down my roll mat, truly confirmed my love for sleep-deprived rest on cold rocky ground without a tent. I was desperate to spread the love and so decided to get my big sister out for some fun.
My sister and I hopped on the train straight from work, and spent the night on a quaint little hill in Oxfordshire — a perfect summer evening with light in the sky until gone 11pm. As we sat in our sleeping bags, sipping hot mint tea and nibbling on chocolate, a few walkers enjoying the soft light of the setting sun, came over to say hi. Intrigued by our cosy set up, they were full of questions.
We chatted back with enthusiasm, but our answers only made them quick to express their concerns about two women spending the night up there on their own. It had never crossed my mind. What could go wrong? I cycle every day in London traffic and walk home at night on my own. Surely my everyday habits are of more concern? Hmmm — perhaps I should address that?!
It wasn’t until we snuggled down for the night that my mind got racing. Crackles in the woods behind me and shifting shadows from the breeze made me much more anxious than I was used to. I realised that I had on all the other nights sleeping wild, shared my canopy of stars with guys. I’d felt protected and safe despite the lack of tent above my head, and unconcerned about the noises in the trees and the monsters that inhabited them. But this time it was different. It was me who was the protector. My sister was totally in my hands. She put all her confidence in my experience and as a result, slept soundly without a worry!
So this got me thinking. Maybe it wasn’t anything to do with being a woman and feeling vulnerable and unprotected. Maybe it was more about feeling responsible. Stepping up to take control if things went awry. And taking on that role with my 40-something year-old sister (who loved her night out in the wild) has now given me the confidence to go and do it on my own.
Having the confidence is one thing, following through and actually doing it however, is another thing entirely. So I have made it one of my goals for this year — to go and sleep outside on my own (and not just in my garden)! It’s a goal that has taken me a good few years to build up to. I’ve always been capable of it, but have never believed I would do it. Now, the belief is there and it’s backed up by confidence and experience. So all I need to do is just… go do it!
Words and images by: Joey — editor of Cool of the Wild, an online resource for outdoor lovers. Joey has endless enthusiasm for the outdoor world and loves sharing this passion and inspiring others to find and follow their own dreams.