What’s the difference between a bivvy and a tent?

Some say it’s a case of horses for courses, we say if you’re an angler it’s a bivvy you need not a tent.

But what’s the difference? And why does that make a bivvy the correct tool for the job of keeping you warm and dry on the river bank?

Here’s what makes a bivvy a far superior shelter for people who fish.

Not a family holiday!

Camping Family Holiday

Image source: Monkey Business Images
Family holiday – the perfect tent occasion!

Tents are for campers and either bulky enough to fill the boot of the car and accommodate the whole family for a fortnight in France, or lightweight enough to be carried long distances on trekking adventures.

But while you might want to go for a lightweight bivvy if you’re planning a long walk in to remote reservoir, lake or stretch of river, you’ll still find that your average bivvy is, for its size, of much sturdier construction than a tent. Heavy duty nylon fabrics and sturdy frames are designed to withstand wet and windy weather – often the best conditions for snagging a big carp!

Quick to erect

A bivvy is designed to be erected in seconds. And while some might say the same goes for tents, there is a difference. A bivvy is constructed so that not only does it snap into shape at the drop of a hat, but because we know you might need to move it several times in a single angling session, it’s also designed to either pick up and plonk, or collapse and re-erect in seconds.

Because we know it needs to cope with frequent re-pitching, a bivvy is mechanically more resilient – it won’t have multiple poles that need threading through the flysheet. Instead look for umbrella designs, and features like built in groundsheets, double skins for heat retention and wide double stitched and taped seams.

Designed for fishing

Fishing Bivvys set up on river ready for fishing.

Image source: Andyone
Bivvies are designed with fishing in mind.

A tent is designed primarily for sleeping in. A bivvy is for fishing from, and that plays a big part in the way it’s designed and constructed.

Generous head height enables you to sit upright in a chair inside. Wide openings accommodate either a pair of anglers sat side by side, or a single bed-chair. A deep hood provides great rain protection while the door is open – porch windows enable anglers to keep one eye on their bite alarms while zipped up snug. And then there’s the colour – it’s designed to merge with your surroundings, not stick out like a sore thumb.


Festival tents

Image source: Petr Jilek
No tents allowed!

And then of course there’s the fact that some fisheries won’t let you pitch a tent in the first place. A draconian measure – or a sensible rule? There is a school of thought which suggests that allowing a proliferation of cheap beach tents at any given lake encourages a clientele whose main interest is “refreshment” not angling.

And a garish collection of multicoloured tents is less than restful on the eye too. We say, get the right tool for the job. It’s angling you’re into – it’s a bivvy you need. And if a new one isn’t an option, check out the multitude of online fishing forums for the second hand market alternative.

The TF Gear 60” Brolly

I have written of the TF Gear Poncho, explaining the total-protection nature of its material and design. Now I feel compelled to shout about the TF Gear 60” Brolly having sheltered under my own for more than a few nights this year.

Our weather has, generally, been good for some time – although August was like a mini-winter! Up until that month, and certainly since, the climate has been kind to those of us who willingly shun our beds in favour of a sleeping bag by the river. Fortunately, I have had no need to employ the over-wrap: my nights under the stars have merely been long and damp. I cannot then, in all honesty, sing the praises of the 60” Brolly’s stability or rain-repulsion qualities, though it is clear to anyone who has erected and used this superb refuge that those criteria would be well served.

For me, the TF Gear 60” Brolly provided a roomy yet cosy sanctuary from the damp and the night generally; there was sufficient room for the largest bed-chair (though I chose to sleep on the ground-sheet) and loads of space for one man’s gear, (personally, I prefer to use a brolly over a fishing bivvy because they are easier to transport) but even with active cooking-gear, this brolly would have accommodated and shielded a stove from all but the most awkward, ‘straight-in’ winds – largely thanks to the amply-proportioned wings at either side of the brolly entrance. With the wings (or side-flaps if you prefer!) level to the ground I initially perceived the entrance to be too low, but this was an illusion brought about, I believe, by a lifetime with brollies of standard size.

On entering my ‘cave’ I found little need to bend more than was necessary to effect a stoop – loadsa room! And as for stability, the six good quality pegs and two storm-rods made it patently clear that the TF Gear 60” Brolly would be going nowhere if a gale blew up – it hugged the ground like a limpet! With no centre-pole and an abbreviated rib-boss my 60” Brolly experience was a good one, and I can easily imagine the sheer luxury within once the weather really turns and forces me to use the over-wrap – bring it on!!

6 steps to get your kids hooked on fishing

Do you remember the first time your dad took you fishing?

Chances are it was one of those special occasions for father, son bonding, and the moment of magic when your enthusiasm for all things angling was kindled.

And now you find yourself in the position of introducing a son, daughter, niece or nephew to the delights of fishing? Feel daunted? Don’t be. It’s certainly a hefty responsibility and because there’s only one first time, you’ll only get one shot at it, but to help you pass on your fervor for fishing, here’s our six step guide to introducing children to fishing.

1. Don’t push it

Modern distractions

Image source: Lisa F. Young via Shutterstock
Modern distractions!

Unlike twenty or thirty years ago, fishing has to compete with a multitude of distractions for your child’s attention. Not only are today’s kids hooked into the internet 24/7, they’re also more likely to be involved in a host of extra curricular activities. Given the time an average child spends on music lessons, karate class, footy club, Facebooking, Instagramming, Spotifying and yes, playing computer games, genuine downtime is at a premium.

With this in mind, introduce the concept of fishing gradually, and if your son or daughter rejects the idea first time around, don’t push it. Keep your powder dry – the perfect time will come!

2. Comfort

Bivvy Comfort

Image source: Fishtec
Kids get cold, so pack a bivvy.

You’ve generated the enthusiasm necessary to coax your kids to the riverbank – great. But just because you relish the prospect of feeling the howling wind tear through what remains of your hair, doesn’t mean your offspring and their friends will delight in the same level of physical discomfort. And remember, kids get cold quicker than adults. With this in mind, do remember to pack your bivvy, chairs, hot drinks and plenty of snacks.

And if you’re little princess is fishing for the first time, make sure there are adequate facilities close by for when she needs to spend a penny.

3. Safety

dad and son fishing

Image source: Dale Carlson
Pick a safe spot to fish.

Don’t overstate the dangers of fishing but do make sure young ones understand the hazards and know what to do if they fall in the water. Younger children in particular need close supervision and buoyancy aids. Do make sure you choose to fish a spot that’s well away from deep, fast flowing water, and that offers an easy exit from the water should someone take a tumble.

For a first foray to the riverbank, choose somewhere that’s quick and easy to get to. Your favourite spot might take an hour’s hacking through vegetation to reach – but how will smaller people tackle the challenge? Always work to the weakest member of the party.

4. Simplicity

Simple Tackle

Image source: The Lure of Angling
Start with a simple set-up.

Stick with a simple rig to begin with. Not only will you have (in theory) less tangles to sort out, but children will soon pick up how to set up their own tackle, leaving your hands free to get your own line wet.

Do talk your child through the different tackle items and show them how everything works, but keep the information short and to the point. Teach a simple knot like the blood knot and help your child set up their own rig – remember – learning by doing is much more fun than watching you do it for them. Protect young fingers from hooks by burying sharp points in cork!

5. Patience

father and son fishing

Image source: brennaval
Demonstrate and let them practise.

Demonstrate the cast, guide your child through it, practise it – but don’t expect it to go right first time. If every cast your child makes lands in the bushes, keep your sense of humour. At least they’re trying.

Tangles – they will happen – lots of them – so get used to the idea!

Be prepared for short attention spans. Whiling away the hours on the riverbank is an adult pleasure; kids like to be occupied. So when your youngsters get bored and want to play, then as long as it’s safe for them to do so, and they’re not irritating other anglers, let them. And when kids have had enough, pack up and go home. Better a trip that’s short but sweet than the memory of a marathon they’d rather wash the dishes than repeat!

6. Praise

girl catching fish

Image source: Jayme Frye
It’s a catch!

When your boy or girl gets that first tug on the line, resist the temptation to take over. Instead, whenever possible, let your offspring play the fish themselves. Be ready with the net, and camera, and when they land that all important first catch, be generous with your praise as you show your kid how to handle their catch without hurting it.

And when with fish in hand, your son or daughter’s eyes gleam with excitement pride and pleasure, give yourself a pat on the back – you’ve just passed on the joy of fishing.

TF Gear DVD Big Carp Tactics with Dave Lane

Join Dave Lane on the banks of one of the most famous carp lakes in history, the prestigious Yateley Pads lake. Dave attempts to lure the elusive Pad lakes monsters, learn how to successfully target the largest carp in the lake on methods which are no so widely used. Joined by Total Carp editor Marc Coulson who gives a master class in chod rig fishing and shows you everything you need to know about this devastating presentation.

Get an exclusive first look at the exciting new carp fishing tackle Dave has been developing for TF Gear over the past 12 months. Highlights include Laney’s new long distance carp rods and watch in amazement as he erects his new Force 8 Shelter, the fastest shelter in the world, in under 10 seconds.

He reveals the new Hardcore Brolly System with its unrivalled luxury, versatility and stability – this is surely the ultimate all season brolly system. Including many other TF Gear products which are all available from Fishtec.

Look out for part two, three and four over the next week.


Fishing in the desert

There’s only one word to describe this winter: waterlogged.

The wettest winter since records began has brought misery to the thousands whose homes have been flooded. For all of us it seems as though the storms have lasted forever. And though spring might be just around the corner, it can’t come quickly enough.

That’s why we invite you to join us as we head to the world’s driest places. Fishing where it’s hot, dusty and bone dry. It’s time to swap your rain lashed bivvy for suntan lotion and a broad brimmed hat.

Let’s go desert fishing.

New Mexico

Jemez river

Image source: Adventure Insider
A diverse fishing paradise

Land of the saddle weary cowpoke and the dusty gun slinger, New Mexico is the location of choice, for many of our favourite Western movies. It’s also more geographically diverse than it gets credit for. While it’s famous for its rose coloured deserts and barren tablelands, there you’ll also find the forest clad mountain sides and snow capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Southern Rockies.   

For the intrepid angler, the fifth largest state in the US offers everything from alpine lakes and desert gorges to lowland rivers and streams; year round fishing for winter weary Brits. And with panfish, trout, bass, catfish, northern pike and walleye on the list of target species, you’ll have more than enough to keep your rod tip quivering.

Lake Nasser

Lake Nasser Egypt

Image source: Panoramio
5,250 km² in size, there’s plenty of fish in the lake

Anyone travelling to Egypt should check out the Foreign Office website for the latest advice before they go. But assuming you make it, you’ll be rewarded with rich fishing in a climate that will banish your rainy day blues. During the 1960s, President Nasser ordered the construction of the higher Aswan dam, a vast feat of engineering built to control the annual flood of the River Nile.

Fish in the middle of the dramatic desert landscape, as nomadic tribesmen graze their animals on the lakeside vegetation. The waters of lake Nasser offer the opportunity to hook the fish of your life – the Nile Perch. A formidable adversary, this king of fish grows up to 2 m in length and can weigh anything up to 200 kg.

The best time to fish Lake Nasser is October to June – perfect for avoiding the British winter. Choose from one of the many tour operators for a fishing safari of a lifetime on Africa’s biggest lake.

Skeleton Coast

skeleton coast Namibia

Image source: Wikimedia
The ‘land God mad in anger’

The bushmen call the Atlantic coast of Namibia, the ‘land God made in anger’. Infamous for its treacherous cold water current, constant surf and frequent mists, it’s not surprising so many whales, dolphins and ships have met a watery end here. A most inhospitable coast, the bleached bones littering the shore would have provoked terror in the lost and stranded. And with good reason because the sea is full of sharks and it hardly ever rains.

But if this doesn’t dent your enthusiasm, you’ll be glad to know the fishing on the Skeleton coast is to die for. And there are a number of operators offering fishing safaris in the area. Catch wise you’re looking at Galjoen (black bream), Steenbra, Kolstert (Blacktail) and Bronze Whaler.

If you do go, you might want to pack your bivvy, plenty of water and emergency food rations in case your transport breaks down. You could be waiting a very long time for the next bus…

Northern Territories

northern territory red cliffs of Port Essington

Image source: Trip Advisor
Deadly but rewarding

Australia’s Northernmost tip is home to some of the deadliest creatures on earth. It’s stiflingly hot, full of flies and if you get lost, you’re as good as dead. But don’t let that put you off. There are few language issues, cold beer is in plentiful supply, and there are plenty of tour operators who’ll have you afloat in a tinny before you can bound from your bivvy bag and boil a billy.

And the fishing is great. The Barramundi is a superb game fish that grows up to 1.8 meters long and can top the scales at 60 kg. They make good eating too, great for those long hot evenings beside the barbeque.

One word of caution though – beware the crocs…

Dogs in day shelters

What do you get when you cross man’s best friend with man’s favourite pastime?

Dogs in day shelters!

These canine buddies happily keep their owners company on the riverbank, but every so often they need a break, as evidenced below.

13 dog day shelter

Proper fisherman’s friends
Source: Bug Eater

15 dog day shelter

Just chillin’
Source: Hyperlite Mountain Gear

1 dog day shelter

“Nahh, I’m good in here thanks.”
Source: Cycling Gypsies

2 dog day shelter

The scenic way to lounge in a day shelter
Source: Cycling Gypsies

4 dog day shelter

That bulldog’s going nowhere!
Source: Dirt4Dinner

5 dog day shelter

Double warmth
Source: Gopantone

6 dog day shelter

Provide a velvet throw for a hint of luxury
Source: Celebrity Dachshund

7 dog day shelter

Too cosy to consider leaving
Source: Burnt Well Guest Ranch

8 dog day shelter

An urban day shelter
Source: Gopantone

9 dog day shelter

Having a cat nap in the shade
Source: PitchUp

10 dog day shelter

These two are staying put!
Source: Funhogs and Fundogs

11 dog day shelter

Remember, sharing is caring.
Source: Cameron Adams

12 dog day shelter

Ahhhh, bliss!
Source: Net Diva

14 dog day shelter

Slightly homemade looking, but we get the gist
Source: Anne James

3 dog day shelter

All the shade, none of the claustrophobia
Source: Kin-Newie

Bivvy Grand Designs

Bored by your bivvy? It’s time to get inspired!

We all know a fishing bivvy is supposed to be a purely practical item, created to provide shelter for super keen anglers. But what’s wrong with injecting a little design?

We’ve been on a hunt for the weirdest, wackiest and most wonderful examples of Grand Design Bivvies out there.

Here’s what we found…

bivvy 1

For giant caterpillars, and humans.
Source: Inhabitat

Das Park Hotel

You might need to stock up on air freshener in this sewer pipe hotel.
Source: Electric Tree House

bivvy 11

A boring-looking bouncy castle or a post-nuclear disinfection tent?
Source: Camping Scene

bivvy 10

Confuse some sheep with this design
Source: Field Candy

bivvy 9

It’s a jacket, it’s a sleeping bag, it’s a TENT!
Source: Firebox

bivvy 8

Let’s play rock-paper-scissors to pitch this tent.
Source: Technabob

bivvy 7

Now that’s a place for a romantic dinner.
Source: The White Connection

bivvy 6

No fly is coming near this giant frog! Perfect for insectophobes.
Source: Trend Hunter

bivvy 5

I just want to know where the wine bottle is!
Source: Trend Hunter

bivvy 4

Fairies and elves not included
Source: The Coolist

bivvy 3

‘Living in a bubble’ just got a whole new meaning.
Source: Bubble Tree

bivvy 2

Ever dreamt about living in a raindrop? Here’s your chance.
Source: Inhabitat

How we used to do it!

We ad it at toof

“Well of course, we ‘ad it toof…”

This is an undisguised but wholly justified plug for the products available from my employer, Fishtec!

I have written at length over many years about the hardships me and my fishing buddies used to suffer in pursuit of specimen fish, but before launching myself into this unashamed endorsement of fishing tackle I would emphasize the value of our very unsophisticated angling adventures; I really wouldn’t have missed a moment of them and, what’s more, I fundamentally believe that we owe our good health and undiminished zeal to the way we were compelled to fish. Those who entered our wonderful way of life at any time after…say, 1990, will have little or no concept of how their predecessors paved the way for today’s bank-side opulence and convenience products, their view of fishing predicated on the expectation of a dry, warm environment and hot, well-cooked meals around the clock!

I am all too aware of how this piece could blossom into a full-blown Python sketch, with descriptions of long, late-September nights huddled beneath a 36” brolly – a wooden-poled brolly at that! – eking-out the last dregs of lukewarm tea  from the flask… I could go on and on and on and on and on about ‘ow toof we ‘ad it in thorz days and, frankly, I’d have every good reason for doing so! You see, everything is relative. (Indeed, we live in an age of relativism brought about by the tyranny of political correctness but that’s another story for a different publication)

If you’ve been smacked across the face with a big, wet cod every day of your life it’d come as a relief – nay, a pleasure – to have that cod replaced by a sprat, wouldn’t it? Think about it…EVERY rotten single day of your life – at around mid-day – you receive a jaw-jarring, eye-watering SMACK! right across your chops from a glistening-wet cod wielded by a big sadistic bruiser; then, one day, he runs out of cod and can only muster little sprats thereafter…you’d be GAGGING for that daily sprat every day for the rest of your life knowing what the alternative could be.

So in that same spirit of relativism it was considered the pinnacle of Hedonistic indulgence the day we learned how to tuck a couple of donkey jackets under the brolly ribs to form a rain and wind-break; well-informed anglers from up the bank would ‘casually’ saunter down to see our creations and briefly experience the joy of the Brollyjacket. Why we didn’t see the possibilities and immediately form the world’s first fishing bivvy company I don’t know, but I suppose it was because the novelty of being only damp and fairly cold was seen as the ultimate pleasure!

Fishing Bivvy

And seats! Oh, those seats! It beggars belief that quality-control officers (or whoever made the bloody things) deemed our seats ‘OK – A1’ or whatever they labelled them prior to distribution. Even the luxury longer-legged versions of the things we spent our lives perched upon should, by rights, have been marketed as ‘back destroyers’ – ‘Can also be used as a handy fishing chair!!’  They really were diabolical contraptions comprising a green-painted iron frame and a length of candy-striped nylon. A more torso-friendly tubular seat did become available but the user was compelled to sit high and straight for the duration of the session – which could have been 17 hours of damp and darkness. We did it though…for years we regularly fished around the clock from the relative comfort of these things! Still…we had a 1 pint flask of tea and a pack of sandwiches to sustain ourselves so it wasn’t too bad was it?

The thing was, fishing equipment was never designed by anglers, or so it seemed. Indeed, when good tackle eventually became available it was marketed as being ‘Made by Anglers for Anglers’ so we really do owe a debt of thanks to those guys who put their money where their mouths were. Today the tackle market is quite enormous and there’s very little you can’t buy to enhance the angling-experience. I ask you…PVA bags…twin-skinned bivvies…luxury beds…carp bite alarms…polyphonic alarm receivers…boots that keep your feet warm in sub-zero temperatures! What a bunch of (lucky, warm, well-fed) cissies we’ve become!

Leafing through the latest TF Gear catalogue this morning I came across the Hardwear Pod; at just £19.99 it allows you to fish effectively on ANY surface. Honestly! What was wrong with a small pile of bricks and a couple of milk bottles? I found a – get this – ‘throwing spoon’. Now will somebody tell me what was wrong with the throwing arm? It’s true that I regularly came near to dislocating my shoulder and that I could never hurl a ball of cheese-paste further than 40 yards but I mean…we didn’t need a super-duper, accurate, effort-free throwing spoon for Pete’s sake! And what about this on page 49? A bloody ‘poncho’!! Ok, it’s only £9.99 but why fork out nearly a tenner when you can brave the pouring rain in a pair of denims and a Pacamac? I mean….the Pacamac never tore or split under the arms did it!!!  Why would anyone need a good quality, green, hooded, sleeved, all-enveloping, totally waterproof Poncho – for NINE whole pounds and 99 pennies – just for when they’re caught by surprise? And what’s this? Page 34…’Stalking Belt’ Pah!! What was wrong with stuffing a farmhouse loaf down your trousers and filling your jacket with leads, binoculars, scales, camera, chocolate bars, hook-packets, floats and split shot, eh? Nothing at all! But now you can have all your stalking stuff neatly and comfortably worn around your waist in a TFG ‘Stalking Belt’ for heaven’s sake!! Who’d want one!! Ok, it’s only about twenty quid and it does enable you to spend entire summer afternoons exploring the upper river with everything you need – but what was wrong with the way I did it??

Really…you can peruse this decadent, self-indulgent catalog and find item after item that’s cleverly designed to make your fishing life ‘better’…’easier’…’more successful’!  There’s reams of stuff that “…takes out the hard work… “and “catches you more fish” but really? Wouldn’t you rather ‘ave it ‘ard?

From hook to plate in 20 minutes

Fishing is a hungry business, so what better way to keep yourself topped up than by cooking and eating your catch as it comes in?

Here we’ve come up some fish dishes you can prepare and cook in your bivvy on the river bank or at the beach – from hook to plate in under 20 minutes – delicious fish freshly caught and cooked. What could be better?

Mackerel sushi

Sushi mackerel

As fresh as it gets
Source: The Delicious Life

Oily fish is best eaten fresh, and what fresher way to enjoy a mackerel than served up raw?

You’ll need: a sharp knife and a clean chopping board.

To get the best from your fish, bonk it on the head, then bleed it by slicing its gills. Next take off the fillets and slice into finger wide strips. You can serve these immediately, sashimi style, with soy sauce and wasabi to taste.

For a little more finesse, come prepared with some sushi rice cooked at home. Push the rice into an ice cube mould and bring it with you in a cool box or bag. When you’re ready to eat, simply squeeze out neat blocks of rice and drape a piece of mackerel over each. Simple, neat and classy food.

Hot Smoked trout

smoked trout

Cook until flaky and perfectly pink
Source: Girls Guide to Butter

Fresh trout tastes fantastic smoked. While we’re pushing the 20 minute envelope here, we’re sure you’ll appreciate one of the greatest taste sensations ever to grace a bivvy on the riverbank.

You’ll need: salt, clean water, a kitchen towel, your smoker and some oak chips.

First gut, and clean your fish. Rinse it in clean water, then butterfly it.  Add two tablespoons salt to two cups of water. Put your fish in the water to soak for 20 minutes while you get back to your fishing.

Now, light your smoker, and deploy your oak chips in line with manufacturer’s recommendations. Retrieve your fish from the brine and pat dry with the paper towel. Smoke your fish for 20 mins, or until cooked. Serve with freshly buttered brown bread, salt and pepper.

BBQ Bream

bbq bream

BBQ’d fish isn’t just for summer
Source: Girl Interrupted Eating

For a great taste of the sea cooked right there on the shore, you can’t beat a nice barbequed sea bream.

You’ll need: a lemon, pepper, salt, olive oil, a newspaper, string.

First, gut, clean and scale your fish. Open out your newspaper to the centre fold. Sprinkle with pepper and salt. Scatter a few slices of lemon. Pepper and salt the fish and put it on the paper. Add more slices of lemon. Drizzle with olive oil.

Fold your newspaper so the fish is at the centre of the parcel. Secure with string. Soak briefly in a bucket of sea water. Put the parcel  on the barbeque. Cook for about ten minutes a side depending on the size of the fish and the ferocity of the flames.

Foil cooked chilli bass

sea bass

For those with sophisticated tastebuds
Source: Sandie Go Food Stuff

For something a little more sophisticated, you can’t beat a nice freshly caught bass, cooked in the fire and eaten snug and warm in the bivvy.

You need: sticks, matches, tin foil, a sea bass, spring onion, a fresh chilli (fireyness to suit your taste), ginger, lemon, pepper and salt, olive oil.

First light your fire down wind of your fishing spot and bivvy. Gut, clean and scale your fish.  Rip off a length of foil suitable for making a roomy parcel for the fish. Slice lemon, chop onions, ginger and chilli and put them in the cavity and round about. Apply pepper and salt, drizzle with oil. Fold the foil around the fish. Put it in the embers of the fire. Leave for about eight minutes a side.

Unwrap, eat.  

Herrings in rolled oats


Get back to basics
Source: Plumstead Hall Farm House

The old ways are the best – herrings rolled in Scotch oats.

You need: herrings, seasoned porridge oats, butter, a frying pan, whisky.

Kill, gut, clean, scale your herring. Light a fire or ignite your camp stove. Cut off a knob of butter, add to the frying pan and set to the heat. Open out your herring and press it into a tub of pre-seasoned oats until both sides are well coated. Fry until cooked.

Repair to your bivvy. Serve with a wee dram.

Wild west shelters

For most of us, a fishing bivvy is just that: a place to hang out while waiting for the fish to bite. But in times past, canvas has played a huge role in the daily life of millions of people.

And nowhere more so than the United States of America.

Here we stray from the river bank to take a look at some of America’s original bivvies – wild west shelters…



Birchbark wikiup – nature’s canvas’
Source: The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary

Otherwise known as a wigwam, the wikiup is a dome shaped shelter made from flexible spruce boughs or other available wood. It was the preferred means of shelter for nomadic native Americans. The structure could be erected very quickly, occupied for a few days or weeks, then left behind.

The type of covering varied according to the time of year. In winter, it would be covered with thick brush to keep the inhabitants warm. During the summer months, hides or canvas offered lightweight protection from the elements.

While a wikiup might look thin and flimsy, in fact, its dome shape offers incredible wind resistance, and for backwoodsmen out hunting or fishing, they’re still used from time to time.



Lightweight and portable, the perfect shelter
Source: Little Feather Indian Center

Synonymous with the tribes of the plains indians, the tipi is iconic. But to the Native Americans who used them, they were simply home. Lightweight, transportable and quick to erect, tipis are warm, dry and perfectly adapted to their environment.

Native Americans followed the food. Their tent villages were part housing estate, part hunting lodge, part fishing bivvy. In summer, the canvas or hide walls could be rolled up for ventilation. In winter, they were lined and insulated.

The central hole is covered by adjustable flaps for optimum draft, allowing smoke to escape. During the harshest winters, the tent could be staked to the ground – with no flat surfaces, it’s almost impossible to knock over.

Covered wagon

Covered wagon

Transporting your home doesn’t get easier than this
Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The arrival of white settlers spelled disaster for the indigenous inhabitants of the land. The settlers believed in ‘manifest destiny’; their God given right to occupy the land, and exploit all its natural resources. From mineral deposits to game and fish, as far as they were concerned – it was all theirs for the taking.

For modern Americans, the archetypal settler’s wagon, the  ‘Prairie schooner’, represents the great trundle West in search of opportunity. To native Americans, that same canvas covered wagon serves as reminder of the ruthless extermination of a people.

Wall tent

Wall tent

Whole streets were made of wall tents
Source: Cline David, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The wild west was a lawless place populated by people on the make. But while few were the gun toting desperados of movie shoot ‘em ups, all were in search of land, and wealth.

For some that meant settling on the banks of a good salmon river, for others it meant trapping for furs in the far North. For yet others it was the gold fields of Colorado that fired the imagination, for still more, staking out a land claim and tilling the earth was the dream to follow.

With money in short supply, uncertain relations with native neighbours, and the constant temptation to up sticks and try their luck elsewhere, accommodation had to be cheap, easy to erect and portable.

That’s where wall tents came in. A simple pitched roof, with side walls to add height. And they weren’t only used as homes. Many main streets were constructed entirely of wooden facades – behind which lay nothing but a tent.

Tent city

tent city sacramento

A side effect of the 2008 property crash
Source: Matt Walton

Tented accommodation  is making a comeback in the United States. The land of the free is also the land of the desperate, and never more so than since the property crash of 2008.

Failing banks and staggering levels of foreclosures have turned some areas into ghost towns. But on waste ground and in woodland areas, it’s another story.

Newly destitute people are moving in droves to, ‘tent cities’. Former teachers, factory workers, tradesmen and women – all sections of society are well represented.

When is a fishing bivvy not a fishing bivvy? When it’s your home.