Rab Survival Zone Bivvy Bag

THE YEAR:  1985

THE SITUATION:  4 fresh faced youths pitched off the BMC Chamonix express ( a now defunct bus service that the BMC used to run from London to Chamonix) after 23 uncomfortable hours and set up home in the woods behind the Montenvers Railway (you’d get arrested if you did this now!).  The most talented and handsome alpinist (or so my mirror tells me) pulled out his latest purchase and lay it on the ground.  His friends gathered round and stared in awe.  He stood proudly believing he really was the coolest climber on the block.

THE GEAR:  A genuine ex-army olive green goretex bivvy bag with features that he thought were vital to any alpinist such as space behind the head for a rocket launcher and a huge diagonal flap that allowed you to burst out at a moments notice if the enemy attacked in the middle of the night.

THE PROBLEM:  This puppy weighed as much as a 4 person tent (without the advantages), cost as much as a small mortgage, breathed like cowhide (this was first generation goretex) and only packed down to the size of an oildrum.  The cocky alpinist took it on his first route, realised it was rubbish and never used it again.  And, of course, his friends never let him forget his blunder.

---------------20 YEARS LATER---------------

THE YEAR:  2005

THE SITUATION:  4 alpinists pull into a comfortable campsite in Chamonix Sud in their turbo diesel cruiser.  The most talented and handsome alpinist (some things don’t change!) pulls out a small blue bag (about the size of a can of beans) and lays out his latest purchase on the ground.  His friends gather round and show moderate interest - then they all head for the bar.

THE GEAR:  A Rab ‘Survival Zone’ (SZ) bivvy bag.  A simple sleeping bag shaped bag with a drawcord closure around the top and fantastic value at under £50.  Older models were pertex but they are now made in ‘hyperlite storm’ fabric and weigh around 400 grams (around half the weight of comparable goretex bags).  The fabric seems quite thin but he has had no problems with durability and has used one everywhere from the Alps to the desert.  A full length thermarest won’t fit easily inside so best to either use a ¾ length model or put your mat underneath.  They are made quite long so most people will be able to sit up comfortably in them.

The SZ is ideal for emergency use, snowholing, keeping sleeping bags dry in damp winter camping situations, alpine use or any other situation where lots of rain is not expected.

THE PROBLEM:  Errmm.  Well there isn’t any really.  The SZ is a star.  There have been reports of excessive condensation but it’s important to know when and how to use these bags.  They particularly suit low humidity situations where the extra breathability of goretex is not required.  Anyway, given all their other advantages they are still a ‘no brainer’.  The closure system is about as simple as they come but you can pull it up tight and leave only a small 2cm breathing hole (just be careful not to breathe inside the bag as condensation will build up very quickly).  On one grim Cuillin Ridge bivvy the handsome alpinist got caught in an ‘uber’ storm and feared a soaking but he turned over so the breathing hole was underneath and awoke dry…and very impressed!

THE SUMMARY:  Needle Sports in Keswick, known for its active and knowledgeable staff (and a postage free website), only sell one type of bivvy bag - guess what type it is!  Enough said!
And finally….

THE ALTERNATIVE (?):  We haven’t tried this but Winwood Outdoors in Keswick sell a superlight bivvy bag by the company Equinox that looks interesting.  Only £40 and 6.6oz (or about 190grams to you and me) and with a mid length zip for ventilation and to ease getting in and out.  Sounds good

If only that alpinist had known!