Review: Rab Ridge Master Bivi

wild camping
Rab Ridge Master bivi in action last weekend up Kinder Scout, Peak District.


“The Ridge Master has had a total thrashing from me, it’s covered in filth now (on the outside), has proven durable and extremely strong. More over, it’s quick and easy to pitch, and has more than enough space for most backpackers. No leaks, no punctures and no condensation issues – despite the varying weather conditions it has seen. In a word, it’s ‘excellent’. I’d be very much inclined to say it’s the best all round bivouac I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It just has so much going for it on many levels.”

I’ve been using the Rab Ridge Master bivi for several months now and in a nutshell, it doesn’t disappoint. Before I reveal my thoughts on this latest bit of kit sent in from the Derbyshire brand, here’s some words I posted elsewhere in this blog concerning the use of bivouacs, if you’re new to the game….

Ahhhh, bivouacs. I love them. Some don’t admittedly and I can see why. Essentially, you’re cocooned within a large waterproof bag and it can feel somewhat claustrophobic. But the beauty of bivvies is you can literally make your camp anywhere. If you can find a place to lie down and sleep for the night, then you’re onto a winner. No restrictions on your footprint – a la tents.

And of course if the weather turns foul, you don’t have to worry about the shelter being damaged in high winds. The downside to such scenarios is you do sacrifice the luxury of a porch to potter about in, store wet clothes, cook or even sit up in comfort admiring the sound of the rain hammering down and the winds blowing a hoolie all around.



Sure some tents out there can weigh the same as most bivouacs now. But as always there’s pros and cons to all shelters when it comes to them being used in vain.


Personally, I like the fact that bivvies pack down next to nothing, affords me a simple and easy to pitch shelter for the night – often in places I could never position a tent. I enjoy being cooped up within them and lying in bed admiring the night sky, feeling the breeze (and occasionally drizzle) flowing around my face. Of course, if the weather decides to throw all it can at me then my love for these sort of shelters diminishes somewhat! But with some practice you learn to adapt and manage such situations accordingly (dry sacs are a must for keeping gear dry if there’s no room within the bivvy!).


Rab Ridge Master bivi, wild camping
A night out under the stars late last winter – with a bit of light pollution thrown in for good measure!

So, now we have that out of the way how have I found this Integral Designs influenced bivvy from Rab (the latter bought out the former some time ago and so it’s nice to see the two marry their expertise)?

All in all, I’ve found it an absolute joy! In truth it’s more of a miniature tunnel tent, but it does address some of the quirks with such shelters that can be annoying. For example, there’s side entry/exit access now. The door is more than ample in size (with a very generous storm flap), the zip hardly ever snags and you even have a mesh inner door thrown in for good measure.

At either end of the door, you’ll discover two small loops which help you tie it out to make an awning if you wish. I’ve not personally used it but I love the fact the option is there as it can act as a mini-tarp in inclement weather when trying to cook food. Tell a lie, I have tried using this novelty but unsuccessfully with some cord and a couple of tripods!

Ridge Master bivouac, Rab
Two small loops are available to tie out both the outer door and inner mesh door.

The bivouac measures 270cm (nearly 9 feet!) bang on in length with a width of 80cm and a high point  inside of close to 60cm. This is a large bivvy. It’s so large in fact, on one God awful stormy morning I actually got changed, and packed away all of my gear into a rucksack (except sleeping mat) from within the confines of this coffin. No joke! I don’t really know how I did it in truth. I recall sliding along the floor of the shelter on my stomach and then painstakingly and patiently reaching and fumbling around for kit and stuffing it all in my pack.

Not ideal, I know but it’s doable.

Which leads me to the depth or height of the Ridge Master. Not only is it long and reasonably wide but it’s got great volume too. This is great news for those of us who prefer to use one of the many air mattresses now (which are easily 6cm thick) for comfort and warmth on the hills. For example, you can fit an Exped Synmat UL inside, with a winter down bag and yourself no problem at all. The bivvy doesn’t constrict the loft of the down as is often the case with such shelters.

The two DAC poles help of course to create this volume. A large one props up the head end which affords ample space to move around and perhaps potter about with some essentials from within, and a smaller looped pole lifts the foot end. The latter can be tricky to slip through it’s sleeve and insert into the eyelets, but the consequence of this means it’s all pretty damn well ‘bomber’. Guylines compliment stability but often you don’t need them.

Pegging out the generous bathtub floor and then inserting the poles (with some minor adjustments to make pitching quicker and easier) produces a shelter that hardly moves. Though if you need the foot end to really be roomy, it’s naturally wise to peg out the rope that’s attached to that, as it prevents any wobbles and flapping.

Inside the Rab Ridge Master bivi
Snug as a bug  and dry after a long dark night of heavy rain.

With a taught pitch, and bearing in mind this is a bivouac/mini-tunnel tent hybrid, it’s worth noting how the rest of the shelter performs when it comes to ‘sag’.

There’s nothing worst than being out in a storm (more so winter) and the wind pressing the bivouac against your sleeping bag – thus compressing any warming loft you have gained inside. I’m pleased to say, this isn’t really a problem with the Ridge Master. There is some minor ‘flapping’ in some respects but you’ll learn it doesn’t push up against you inside. It more gently caresses you, for want of a better description!

And this all helps when it comes to relaxing during stormy weather. Position the length of the bivvy into the wind, and along with the awning you’ve almost got rid of the need (as some prefer) for a tarp as shelter to cook. I’ve got on by just fine without the awning in truth but some may differ from me in that respect. The Ridge Master weighs 1.13kg so a lightweight tarp of some type wouldn’t drastically up your pack weight. But then again, I cannot help but think you’re in the realms of tent territory and if you’re that desperate to lie under the stars – then you ought as well use a tent, and position your bed half in and half outside.

Then of course, you lose out on the versatility of a bivouac to pitch literally anywhere. Compromises! Compromises!

Roomy Rab Ridge Master bivi
5cm self-inflating mattress plus winter sleeping bag -still roomy inside.

As expected with Rab, the bivvy is made with the tried and trusted eVent fabric. Breathable and certainly waterproof though you must be mindful that even Rab will warn UK users that it can ‘wet out’ eventually in prolonged downpours (which wouldn’t be good for breathability if you’re cooped up inside). But I think it’s fair to say, they’re being overly cautious on that front as I’ve yet to come across an eVent bivouac that ever has wetted out or suffered terribly from condensation, never mind a leak!

I’ve used Ridge Master for several nights in a row on occasion and suffered no ill effects, as some would have you believe with bivvy use in the UK. It’s been no different to using a tent, though after a few nights of crap weather, I must admit I’ll long for the roomier comforts of a tent.

PROS

Pitch anywhere, lightweight solo shelter, small footprint – 1130g
Packs small and into it’s own roll top drysac
Great entry and exit thanks to the long side door (which doubles up as an awning)
Very generous headroom and inner
Proven to be extremely tough and durable. It’s pretty ‘bomber’ make no doubt.
Door can be adjusted into an awning

CONS

Claustrophobic shelter compared to a tent
Not the lightest of bivouacs but this has more features and benefits
One side door can limit choice of view
No viewing option above head when lying within

A lot of folk emailed me when they learnt I was using this shelter desperate to know what it was like upon it’s pre-release. And I’ve withheld my thoughts up until now, only to give it a good test and see if it’s worth every one of one’s hard earned pennies.

Yes, it is. The Ridge Master has had a total thrashing from me, it’s covered in filth now (on the outside), has proven durable and extremely strong. More over, it’s quick and easy to pitch, and has more than enough space for most backpackers. No leaks, no punctures and no condensation issues – despite the varying weather conditions it has seen.

In a word, it’s ‘excellent’. I’d be very much inclined to say it’s the best all round bivouac I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It just has so much going for it on many levels.

But…..I do have one gripe. After all, nothing is perfect eh?

Rab Ridge Master bivi, Ingleborough, Yorkshire Dales wild camping
Looking out to Ingleborough at dawn.

Even though the door is large, you are limited to it being on one side of the shelter. This limits your choice of views somewhat in inclement weather. Plus, as nice and large a scope you see I do miss terribly lying in bed and looking up at the night sky.

A small window or vent to open up above your head would be a great compromise for little extra weight. Just to lie there wrapped up snug as a bug in the cold night air gazing up to the heavens above. Because at the moment, you have to lie on one side and peep out.

I’d take a vent above the head area over an extra side door any day. Least of all I wouldn’t want the Ridge Master to gain too much weight from the extra feature. There be no real point in it being a bivouac then in my opinion.

Even so, this shelter affords more benefits than cons over most other similar shelters – but at a price. You are looking at a current RRP of around £200+ for this. And you can get a lightweight tent for that! But as always there’s pros and cons. It’s all swings and roundabouts. I for one enjoy bivvying in the main, and this would be the one I’d happily part cash with. Certain climbers will look at this over a tent any day of the week, of course but I’m talking about all this from the point of view of a backpacker.

Aye, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I know. And some may prefer something simpler and others will nevertheless prefer a tent. But as I’ve said before, as an all-rounder – the Ridge Master is an excellent shelter. Roomy and bomber.

Review Rab Ridge Master bivi
A cracking all round bivouac – the Rab Ridge Master.

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