Whether you’re heading out alone for a simple overnight get-away or embarking on an extended, minimalist-style adventure, choosing the right type of sleeping shelter is a major consideration. Besides weight and volume, utility also plays into deciding what type of gear to bring along. The choices are straight forward and offer a good range of options to consider:
Sleeping Bags – Presuming you aren’t going to curl up in the fetal position and burrow into a pile of leaves, the most basic sleeping arrangement is a sleeping bag laid out under the stars, on top of a ground cloth. Sheltered under a tarp is a smart adaptation of this method. Besides the comforts one wants in a bag, it’s also important to consider how well the outer shell resists moisture in the form of dew or rain.
Some bags are designed with a pocket or fasteners for inserting a sleeping pad into/below the bag. This and a good ground cloth that can be double folded so if it rains, it can be opened up and spread out to cover the exposed bag.
“Bivy” Sacks – Bivouac sacks are basically a sleeping bag-sized shell/sock that provides the same basic sheltering as a sleeping bag – without all the comfort features of that bag. Originally used as an emergency shelter for climbers, the bivy sack is just that, a shelter for you and your sleeping bag, offering personal protection against the elements. It’s a couple of steps above sleeping au naturel but not quite qualifying as a tent.
Bivy sacks can keep out rain, provide an additional 10 degrees of warmth, and take up much less room than a tent. The downside of most bivy sacks is the build-up of condensation in such a restricted, non/minimally breathable cocoon. Consider one with zipper vents for air flow/ventilation. Some bivys also have a hood adaption with internal framework (some even include no-see-um mesh netting) that creates a mini tent for your head. One caveat: there’s usually no room for gear in a bivy sack, except for a toothbrush -maybe.
Hammocks – A somewhat novel, yet quite practical solo sleeper is a hammock. While a net-like sling hanging between two palm trees is an iconic tropical image, a rugged, back-country tent-like structure suspended between two pine trees is becoming more common.
Modern camping hammocks are available in a variety of sizes, designs, weight capacities. Choose the classic no-frills sling design, or go with a more advanced design with added floor support, bug screens or extended roof.
The advantage of a hammock, besides its relatively small size, is the advantage of not needing a flat, dry, hospitable surface as one would want to pitch a tent. Kayakers in north country waters often find the shore line to be one continuous stretch of rocks, exposed roots and dense bramble, with nary a square foot suitable for a tent. Adequately-spaced trees, however, provide the perfect suspension support needed for a hammock camp. The hammock can provide shelter from the elements with a rainfly but should provide an insulated floor or pad pocket to insulate against colder air beneath the hammock.
The support suspension system can vary from none to elaborate sling strap configurations to keep the hammock tight to the tree trunk without slipping. Guy lines offer additional tension and stability. Hammocks typically have load limits, so make sure your own body weight is within the upper limit of the hammock.
Recently, more and more companies are promoting “Tent Hammocks” – basically a tent-shaped “hammock” suspended in the air. Some are designed to actually work as a ground tent or modified bivy sack, too. Free-standing frameworks for suspending hammocks could also be used for camping if weight and storage wasn’t an issue – so many ways to “hang out” while camping!
[Camp Tip: Some campers will get an inexpensive/super light weight mini hammock to use as a suspended storage “shelf” in the campsite to stow gear (sealed in waterproof bags].
One-Person Tents – “One-Person” is a relative term. My “2-Man” tent provides me with modest wiggle room and space for one pack. Such solo tents are meant to provide basic shelter, one step above (figuratively and literally) a bivy sack. Providing enough room to lay out a sleeping bag and sit up during a rain storm, a one-person tent is basically just big enough to provide a sheltered sleep and not much more – at least comfortably.
Like any tent, these small units should have a waterproof floor and may include a rainfly. No-see-um bug screens are always an added plus, too. The popularity of a ultra-lightweight solo tent among minimalist bicycle campers has created a wide range of options to consider.
A good night’s sleep is one of the most critical requirements for a great camping experience. If going it solo (whether initially on your own, or stepping out during a group camp), consider various solo sleep options. You can always bring along a hammock or bivy sack if you need to escape from that 3-person tent you’ve been crammed into.