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A 5-to-9 Microadventure

Last week I had the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach: the idea of brief adventurous escapes. I had just spoken at an IT conference in Scotland and the boss of the company had taken the stage after my talk to do her very best to drain away all the fun, enthusiasm and positivity I had been paid to inject. On and on she droned, death by PowerPoint, death by cliche, way, way, waaaaay past her allotted time. The clock on the wall moved with glacial slowness. I watched my watch and waited.

At last she shut up! And I was free. We were all free. I bolted for the train station eager for a microadventure. I unfolded my map and made a plan. Stepping from the train into the peace of a Lake District evening I bundled my suit into my rucksack and began charging up the nearest mountain. We think nothing about jumping on a train for a day away, so why not use it for a night away? There are 16 glorious free hours between leaving work at 5pm and returning the next morning at 9am.

It was dark by now but I didn’t care as I stormed uphill as fast as I could (microadventure doubling as ramped-up South Pole training regime).

It was a warm, still spring evening. I unrolled my sleeping bag and bivvy bag on a patch of grass beside the summit cairn. (If you haven’t got a bivvy bag one of those orange plastic survival bags will do perfectly well for a short trip to the hills). Far below me was the small cluster of Grasmere’s lights. I had slipped the surly bonds of Earth and left the boring bits well behind.

Sleeping on a hilltop is normally a guarantee of uninterrupted sleep. But that night I was delighted to be disturbed by the team taking on the Bob Graham Round as part of The Epic Tri challenge. This is one of the most impressive, hardcore British challenges I have heard of and definitely merits a look at their website and a donation to their charitable fundraising. After waving them through at 4am I slept until first light.

Dawn is the “Wow” moment, if you have not already felt it, when you feel vindicated in deciding to sleep on a hilltop. Waking early but refreshed, with a view more uninterrupted and magnificent than any five-star hotel, on top of the world. I’mm aware that microadventures are no panacea, no solution to genuine woes and unhappiness, but they really do have a power. To put things in perspective, to infuse a serene, calm sense of well-being and happiness, if only for a short while.

Only for a short while because the point of this particular microadventure is that you can be back at work on time in the morning. You might look a bit crumpled if you used your suit as a hilltop pillow, but who gives a damn!

So I stuffed my sleeping bag back into my backpack and hared back down the hillside, making a slight detour for the reflective, calm waters of Grisedale Tarn on the way. A ball-bracing cold swim, a hot cup of coffee, and a mad, grinning, whoopee-charge down the grassy fells and I caught my train back home.

Commuter trains have a knack of crushing any feelings of well-being. But as I type this in an over-hot, over-expensive, over-crowded carriage, I know that the memory of waking alone in the silver-hazed silence of sunrise, and plunging into that lake will stay with me for a long time. Elbow were on the right lines singing “One day like this a year’d see me right“, though I’mm greedy and am looking for one a month to see me right.

Sleeping on a hilltop is a very cheap, easy route to a quick burst of refocussing, reprioritising, refreshing gratitude, serenity and happiness. It seems that a sleeping bag and a Scotch egg on top of a hill are all I need to make me happy. I hope you will try it for yourself. Please let me know if you do.

Finally, here is a short video I made. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunrise on a mountain

Grisedale Tarn


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  1. This is a great series Al. I will be packing my bivi bag for the Easter weekend.

    • Cheers Tim!
      Any suggestions on a really light bivvy bag? My “borrowed” Army issue one is a bit massive for the summer…

      • “Alpkit” seems to be the answer whenever anyone asks about bivvy bags.

      • Excellent idea – need to catch up with the weekend adventure first though!

        They are a bit massive, the army bivvy-bags, but they’re also really tough and durable (and breathable).

        You could go for a slightly tougher synthetic bag like a Snugpak Elite and do away with the bivvy-bag altogether, if it’s not going to rain (much). Or the opposite; more clothes and bivvy-bag alone… (but then you might want a thin mat to prevent heat loss to the ground)…

        Decisions, decisions…

  2. I’ve got a rab storm, cheap and good! Ronald Turnbull’s Book of the Bivvy is a fantastic read, funny and informative in equal measure.

    Going to walk Hadrian’s wall tomorrow!

  3. Fantastic. I hope to see more folks doing stuff like this.

  4. Time for a snap poll:
    Rab Storm or Alpkit Hunka XL

  5. Hi, would any of you mind lending me a hand. Never slept in a bivvy bag and was thinking of trying it. But then I saw you can get a tent that’s very small and easily fits in a rucksack, so why would you go for a bivvy instead of a small tent? Is it just size? With a tent and in the warmer months, I could just go with a sheet..?

    I was thinking of getting this
    or something similar.

    I was hoping to be able to trek lightly with a rucksack instead of having to use my backpack.

    PS I hope your corporate employer doesn’t read this blog! No more gigs there for you if they do!

    • Bivvybag is better because your face is out in the open air under the stars. It also encourages you to leave various tenty items behind like the cooker.

    • Jeremy Heaven Posted

      Using just a sleeping bag and bivvi bag is a completely different experience from using a tent. Your senses are alive to every sound, the air (and sometimes the rain) is on your face. It’s only a thin layer of tent material making the difference but wow it’s a massive difference.

  6. Hope I don’t sound naive with some of these questions but if I only go trekking 5 months a year in the UK and not when the weather forecast is bad, I wonder if just tent + a sheet + sleep in all the clothes I have will get the job done? And avoid having to carry a sleeping bag at all?
    Any help appreciated.

    • Hi Jamie,
      Happy to help.
      I think you’re looking at it the wrong way round if you’re thinking of taking a tent and no sleeping bag. Personally I’d prefer the other way round unless it was pouring with rain.
      The joy of a bivvy is that it is cheap, light, simple and, most of all, you are “outdoors” looking up at the stars and the sunrise.
      If it rains bivvy bags are truly miserable. But on mild summer nights they are lovely.
      If I was doing more than a few days though I would choose your little tent – the romance of bivvys wears thin after a few days…

      Highly recommend you read The Book of the Bivvy by Ronald Turnbull.
      Hope this helps?

      • I bought the tent I mentioned. To be honest it is so small it is practically a semi bivvy anyway, in fact that is what some of the reviews said. I will try this out for now.
        I also have just ordered Ronald’s book.

  7. Great reply just in from the ever-knowledgeable Tomo Thompson-

    Just on way back from climbing in the furnace that has been a Cornwall this week.
    Any of these bags will suffice
    I would go for Alpkit because they are Alpkit and genuinely nice folk. Just make sure that the hydrostatic head of the fabric is decent ie fit for purpose. As with many things really light means forfeiting something. In bivvy bag terms that is either having to buy another after a 3 day fast-pack, or potentially worse, the bag not keeping you dry. The really light ones are just for anti-moisture use inside single skin high altitude tents, not for kipping on Seat Sandal.

    Alpkit it is then.
    Their titanium gear, down vests and sleeping mats are really good too. And no they are not sponsoring me !

    Oh and a jetboil stove, filled with a small gas canister, half a spork, a few of the red (strong) Lyon coffee bags (think tea bags full of coffee), and a packet of fig rolls some loo roll and toothbrush with toothpaste already on and clingfilmed, and you can stay up there for breakfast.

    Feel free to paste this in to the forum.

    Sushi and jetboil coffee in a services on the M5.

    • Still dithering about this. To be honest, I am disappointed about how expense these bivvy bags are. It is just a water proof cover. I had thought it would be about £10-£20. Shows you what I know. I suppose the breathable quality of the fabric is what’s important here.

    • Andrew Round Posted

      Alpkit Hunka bivvy bags are the best value bar none! £30 quid or £45 for a more roomy one. Go for it!

  8. Lorne Read Posted

    I did this very thing last night in the carngorms – decided at the last minutes that a drive via the A93 was the way to head south – found a mountain – almost always take my bivvy kit in the car anyway – very good nights sleep under the stars and toasty

    alpkit normal size bivvy
    snugpak 9
    Thermarest prolite


  9. Hey Al, where exactly in the district were you? I’m thinking of an easter weekend mini trip up there with the girlfriend: where do you suggest to park the vespa and start walking?

    • Anywhere. My last bivvy night was on Great Gable. The high fells tend to be stony, and can be uncomfortable. Many around 2000ft mark have v comfy tussocks or heather. Sheffield Pike has a great dawn view along Ullswater.

    • I was just on the hills above Grasmere, near Keswick. Very easy to access.
      But on your vespa I recommend taking on Hardnott and Wrynose pass and parking outside the Wasdale Inn at the foot of Scafell Pike. One of my very favourite remote valleys in England.

  10. Monique Posted

    As always, you inspire. I love the idea of the micro-adventure series. Not a big time commitment, no need for fancy gear (renting/borrowing gear for short trips is easy if need be) and they can be great introductions for those testing the waters in terms of outdoor/personal adventure. Not only are these suggestions great for 9-5ers, they’re also perfect for students. I’m going to share this with the student outdoor program at Portland State University in Oregon. Keep up the good work!

  11. ian sellers Posted

    For those looking for a cheap small sleeping bag Tesco sell a 2 season down filled bag that packs up really small for 39 poundsand at the minute it has been on sale for 19 pounds

    • I had a look and I think you mean this one.
      Tesco Ultra-Lite Mummy Sleeping Bag
      Catalogue number: 200-7415
      Don’t see a £19 price online though.
      Maybe that is an instore offer?

  12. and the Oscar for best wake up on a hill summit goes to…

    great job Al – love it. been having plenty of nights/wake ups sleeping in the van in strange places over here. those first few hours are always special.

    happy easter

    • Just saw the video and it’s very well made. The phone box transformation is very good. Either you’re getting very good at these, or you’re putting a lot of time into it. Either way, it shows.

  13. Antony Posted

    Always enjoy reading your blog! This reminded me of 10 days I spent in the Lakes in Feb this year going running on the fells – never got to sleep out – didn’t have enough gear for the cold weather up on the tops and can’t see the point in sleeping at the bottom of the hill πŸ™‚

    Those Bob Graham people – they are so amazing – just reading Feet in the clouds – Richard Askwith – that’s an inspiring book.

    Agree with Jamie – I wondered about all the camera setup for the wakeup on the hill shots – lots of work or was there someone else to do the photography?

  14. Al, this is why I keep coming back to your blog. A beautiful video, and a concept/philosophy I heartily agree with.
    Whilst my work and family commitments have increased, this shouldn’t restrict the desire to challenge yourself and explore this little island of ours.
    Keep up the good work.
    PS. I loved the ‘superman’ scene at the beginning of your video – good decision not to come out of the phone box wearing that lycra suit of yours!

  15. Al, I absolutely loved this post! Fantastic idea! I’ve been trying to get this into my own life as well, I think a lot of the times, very simple trips like this are ignored because everyone is planning for the big boy adventures. After I saw the Ken Burns documentary on the US National Parks a few years ago, I promised myself I would do a camp trip in a park/rural area every year. And, without fail, they are always a blast (and cheap). Once you invest in the gear, you are good to go, and if you have any US readers who are looking for good gear at a reasonable price, I’d suggest the REI Garage Sale, they have them a couple of times a year and I always get good bargains!

  16. Megaceros Posted

    Left on sunday at 7pm by bike, one pannier with the sleeping bag the tarp (I’m not talking about anything fancy here, the one you use to cover your stuff in the garden). I cycled about 10 miles, found a nice spot on the edge of a wood.
    Next morning I walk up (early just before 6am) with 2 dears a few meters away from me …
    I loved it
    Although my mum thought I had gone gone mad leaving just for the night, it’s been a refreshing feeling, not to know where you’ll be sleeping and not to have any constraints …
    Cheers mate

  17. The microadventure battle cry gets an automatic thumbs up, but this goes well beyond with the extra execution + production effort involved.

    Lookin’ good dude, well done. Still having fun?!

  18. If anyone takes up this challenge would you send us the pics please..?

  19. Great video that makes me want to go and camp out again right now and I have just come back from 10 days of camping and hiking in The Lakes (although not bivvying I must add). Looking forward to the next bank holiday to get back there as soon as possible. Your blog as ever is very inspiring. Keep up the good work.

  20. Terrence Posted

    Great idea Alastair! I bivied last night on top of a Tor in Dartmoor National Park with just a sleeping bag and had a awesome night. I got two swims in, one in the evening and one in the morning (including some cliff diving!) and had fun scrambling around on rocks.

    Thanks a lot for the inspiration!

    P.S. how do I go about sending you pictures if I’ve got any good ones?

  21. Eskimomel Posted

    You absolute buggers!

    You’ve made it all so tempting that I’ve just bought a bivvy and am determined to get up the nearest mountain (quite a few of them around here in Wales) when I can get rid of the kids for a night and no storms are forecast.

    I’m rather looking forward to it.

    Mel x

    PS Al – great blog. Love reading it -thanks for the inspiration.

  22. Hi Al,

    What make is the mat you are using the video and do you know how thick it is? Trying to find one that is fairly small and lightweight but thick enough to actually feel like I’m not sleeping on the floor!

    Would love to sleep on a mountain for the night… but I live on the 9 by 5 mile Island of Jersey- we have no mountains and too many nosy dog walkers (it’s illegal to ‘camp/ spend the night’ anywhere apart from designated sites… boooo)


    • Hi Sarah,

      It’s a 3/4 length Therm-a-rest. As comfy as many a bed.

      It’s illegal to sleep wild in England too. But it’s a stupid rule so I ignore it.

      You’ll enjoy my Island Microadventure coming up in June…

      • Thanks Al,

        Didn’t realise it was illegal in England too, I guess you’ve got more places to go and not be spotted πŸ™‚

        Can’t for the Island Microadventure!!!

  23. Great stuff Al – important thing about the orange bivvy bags is to make sure in a rush you don’t pick up the enormous double sized bag you bought to sleep on the pavement for Charles and Di’s wedding. Then bivvy on the Snowdon summit before a 14 peaks attempt in a raging storm, trying to not be blown off the top holding this big bright orange sail!!!
    Best bivvy was by Crinkle Crags, just a sleeping bag and carry mat – stood starkers to greet the rising sun on midsummer’s day – best days of my life….
    Keep it up.

  24. I used to do a lot of this kind of daftness for the sake of it but somehow got out of the habit recently. Reading this just reminded me how good it was so thanks – I’m inspired to step outside of my comfort zone for the weekend again πŸ™‚

  25. Eskimomel Posted

    Finally made it (despite wolves, bears, poltergeists and tornadoes, Al)

    The top of a mountain in Snowdonia, with just ravens and stars for company. Brilliant.

    Looking forward to doing it again.

  26. Love this… just bought a bivvy bag (alpkit) and this sleeping bag
    Where’s good for a quick one nighter travelling from north london?

  27. I don’t know if there’s a way that all the commenters above get told about this update, but I hope lots of you will see this great competition:

  28. links go to pictures

    Did just this last night. While I enjoyed the sunset and the waking up at 4am to a very peculiar sound from a distant sheep only to see the night sky fully developed I did struggle getting to sleep in the first place.

    Now attempting to spend one (dry) night a week in my bivvy until I get over the insane paranoia that every noise is an axe murderer out to spoil my night (mysteriously this doesn’t occur if someone else is bivvying with me).

    Any ideas how long this will take?

  29. I read your AMA on reddit yesterday.

    After work last night, I packed up my never before used tent and drove to the State Park up on the mountain.

    I camped – alone – (and sober) for the first time in my life.

    I was incredibly unprepared and a storm started blowing in so the wind kept me up most of the night.

    I’m at work today – insanely tired – but grateful for the inspiration.

    Thank you for giving me the inspiration to break the mold of my 9-5 and go for a 5-9 microadventure. I hope it’s just the beginning.

    • Alastair Posted

      Hi Mike,
      Thank you so much for emailing me – I’m delighted you did this!
      I’m sorry you are so exhausted – I hope it was worth it.

  30. As for the Bivvy bag debate, one spent the night with 3 others in a large black silage bag, proper communual bivvy bag on the cheap.

  31. This is so great Alastair, I’m so inspired!!

  32. Jason Clark Posted

    For those of us above average height (I’m 6’8) there is little choice in this area.. it’s the army bivy all the way. Granted it’s a little bulkier and heavier than the light weight ones but at 9ft long it fits my extended 8’6 Snugpak Softie 3 sleeping bag perfectly.. It would be a shame to have the very nice people at snugpak make an extra long sleeping bag to then crumple most it up in a short bivy.

  33. Inspirational stuff! A few days after reading your blog I found myself wandering with my climbing partner into the peak district in the gloaming light to sleep in a cave we had spotted on a crag. Amazing sunset, a night of bats & owls ….. Slept like a log, up at dawn and at work for a 9.30 meeting next day! This will be the winter of my troglo-nights…. I’m off to find more caves!

    • Alastair Posted

      Well done!

      • quick update : I’m hooked on this. slept in 4 caves now and out on the moorside a couple of times as well. The evening goes like this : A few climbing routes on some Derbyshire gritstone then a brew, dinner, a couple of ales and retire to the bivi to watch the bats and talk rubbish. Up at 6, car by 7 and work by 8.30 with spiders in my hair! off to do it again this week. what a way to break up the week. Colleagues thing I’m mildly bonkers – none if them fell asleep to an owl and woke to a pheasant though!

        • Alastair Posted


          • I’ve gone upper class…. no more caves. The last bivi was in a Neolithic stone shelter. Candle lit & enjoyed with a bottle of port…. (not quite the full cave man experience!). Derbyshire is totally littered with funky places to sleep – You look at the world very differently when you are scouting every crag, cliff, cave and wood as a potential bedroom!

          • So this week the ‘call of the wild’ took me to sleep out in the snow with a bivi bag-tarp combo in about a foot of snow on a Derbyshire moor! We cooked a massive lamb curry over an open fire, before a nocturnal yomp in the snow. Slept like a log, woke with my feet under a snow drift!. Amazing what you can squeeze into an overnight adventure….

          • Alastair Posted


  34. Yesterday, I climb a hill with my 6 years old daughter. When we reached the top, I took some photos and my daughter said: the next time we have to sleep here. I never spoke about you with her, but I get a little micro adventurer. Greetings from Spain.

  35. Peter Reilly Posted

    Al> Can you recommend some co-ordinates (post codes) or areas to do a Micro Adventure either Hampshire / Berks / Outside of London. Ideally a hill and swimmable water? Any help would be appreciated – if easier respond via dm @rileforce

    • Alastair Posted

      Here are some microadventures close to London.
      Berks is great – lots of good spots along the Thames near Henley / Reading etc.

  36. Matt Giles Posted

    Planning some microadventures this summer and just need a stove to complete my kit. Any recommendations Al? Something light weight, good value, easy to use and clean. Cheers!

  37. Matt Salt Posted

    Slept on a hill last night. Clear skies all evening and woke looking down to a fog filled valley. Back at my desk for 9 coffee in had. Amazing idea Alastair! Sadly missed the morning swim. Next time….

  38. Ian Frankham-Wells Posted

    found your site and this blog entry while sitting at my desk looking up ideas for a weekend hiking along the Norfolk coast (feeling I need to get away) the idea of an overnight adventure sounds good ideal for a quick getaway though until I plan a proper length trip. Do you have any suggestions for good spots in the Cambridge area? generally I travel a long way for my hiking and camping to either the lakes or peaks so not to sure of what’s on my doorstep.

    • Alastair Posted

      have a look on my microadventure page for “A Journey Around Your Home”…

      • Ian Frankham-Wells Posted

        I actually just found that and was having a little look at maps of the villages and paths near home – think I’ll be out exploring locally a lot more now, will be a welcome escape from the 9-5.

    • Jeremy Heaven Posted

      Hi Ian I live in Norfolk but work in Cambridge. I’d be happy to meet up for some 5-9 sleep outs. My email is



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