Thursday, 9 May 2013

Aqua-Quest Waterproof Lightweight 'Hooped' Single Pole Bivy

I have really fond memories of Australian outback trips using a sleeping system known as a swag; For those that haven't a clue what I'm on about, a swag is a waterproof canvas sleeping compartment or bedroll. All swags come with a foam mattress, and can comfortably be slept in with the addition of a pillow and sleeping bag. Swags are too heavy to carry on foot, though, and are commonly used when traveling the outback in a motor vehicle, as was the case on my adventures.
No doubt those memories of cloudless nights spent lying back staring up at the Milky Way and counting shooting stars to sleep, are rose tinted and the reality at the time was far removed from the romantic idyll I envisage now. I would like to experience it again but the weight of a swag rules it out so the nearest light equivalent suitable for the Bibbulmun Track would be the bivy bag.
So, we come to the Aqua-Quest Waterproof Lightweight Tent 'Hooped' Single Pole Bivy. I spotted this on Amazon for a snip at just under ninety of my English Pounds and it arrived the very next day.

Product Description
  • Waterproof and Breathable Laminated ESTER PU Coated 70-D RipStop Nylon Taffeta ( 10,000 mm Hydrostatic Resistance, 3,000 g/m2/day). Heat Taped Seams for Increased Impermeability.
  • Extremely Lightweight and Compressible Material. Ultra Convenient Single Aluminum Pole Set-Up. Outside Layer Rolls Down To Base Providing Excellent Insect Protection.
  • Fixed Rear Panel Mesh For Added Circulation and Condensation Prevention. Front Vent Increases Circulation and Breathability. Clear TPU Window Allows for a Clear View of the Beautiful Night Sky.
Dimensions (Approx):
  • 1-2 Person. 2.4 lbs. / 1.1 Kg.
  • Set-Up: 91 X 35 X 28 in. / 230 X 90 X 70 cm.
  • Width at Shoulders: 35 in. / 90 cm.
  • Width at Feet: 24 in. / 60 cm.
  • Packed: 16 X 6 X 5 in. / 40 X 13 X 13 cm.

I spent each week night setting it up. At 1.1kg, it is half a kilo lighter than my current tent option but the weight has increased slightly by attaching some guy ropes to lift the roof away from my lower body in an attempt to ease an issue many reviewers have had with condensation. With my walking poles lifting the middle, I used an old bivy pole I had lying around to hold up the foot of the bag. This works perfectly well, but I am on the lookout for a lighter alternative. I also halved the weight of the pegs by replacing them with some titanium ones and was eventually happy with the system.


It was now time to put it to the test, and the 45 mile southern half of The Ridgeway beckoned for the May bank holiday.

Set up, the bag is surprisingly spacious. With a thinner mattress than my Exped Synmat UL 7S, the roof of the base is ample enough for you to turn without touching the fabric, which occasionally happened to me.

My first night, wary of the reviews about the condensation problem, I left the outer zip about a foot open at the head. With the rear vent wide open, I hoped this would be sufficient, but come the morning, the inside of the roof was wet, and the outside of my sleeping bag was also covered in droplets. Fortunately, though, the Rab Neutrino 400 can cope with a bit of precipitation, and it hadn't got through to the down. After twenty minutes hung up on a fence, the Neutrino was dry, but in wet weather I wouldn't be afforded this luxury. My summer synthetic bag might be a better alternative.
Before packing up to hit the trail that morning, I had to towel down the inside of the bivy to soak up the considerable amount of water. When it was eventually packed, it was far from dry inside. Fortunately, the day was a good one, and when the bag was pitched later, the evening sun dried the bag in about ten minutes.
I wanted to sleep with the outer door open on the second night, but when returning from the pub later, I found the bivy was coated in a heavy dew. The inner was dry at that point, but by the morning, even with the ventilation increased, I was experiencing the same problem. This was, however a warm night, and even the tents nearby were suffering, so I can't say it was a specific issue to the bivy, but I will have to keep tinkering with the ventilation to perfect it.

Despite the condensation, I was very very comfortable. Whereas the first night was a little fitful, processing and filing thoughts of work to the back of my mind, the second night I was out like a light! I even managed to find a position that kept the pain of my injured shoulder at bay for long enough!

The hoop at the head should ease the concerns of anybody a little claustrophobic, and there was enough room to fit all my gear, including the rucksack. There was also a bit of room at the foot, but then I'm only 5ft 6", so that's hardly surprising!

What sold the bag to me in the first place, though, and still has me wanting the condensation issue to be resolved, is that with the door rolled down, the inner mesh gives great protection from whatever bug the Australian bush will throw at me. I considered just a lightweight tarp option, but recalling a trip spent at Wilpena Pound, in the South Australian outback, I quickly dismissed the idea; my unwelcome alarm each morning was a nearby ant colony and I was a smorgasbord for the resident mosquitoes!

Another requirement was also to be able to pitch it without pegs, meaning I can set it up in the three-sided, Appalachian Trail style huts, allowing me some shelter from rain and the comfort of sleeping bug free.

This Ridgeway trip was a warm one. I am expecting nights on the Bibbulmun to be similar, as it will be Spring down under, as it finally is here! It may well be colder at night, though, with quite a bit of rain, so my mind isn't made up just yet.

No doubt the UK weather will give me the chance to see how the Aqua-Quest Waterproof Lightweight 'Hooped' Single Pole Bivy fares in bad weather, and time will tell if I can crack the condensation issue.

To be continued...