Bivouac or mountain refuge: what's the best choice for a night at altitude?

By Lucile
May 23, 2023

Bivouac or mountain refuge: what's the best choice for a night at altitude?

Spending the night at altitude is a tradition at Captain Wild. Whether in a bivouac or in a refuge, the whole team has already tasted this unforgettable experience. But how do you decide between these two options for your next mountain outing? If you're still on the fence about your next few days in the mountains, BINGO, you've come to the right place. We'll weigh up the pros and cons for you!

No matter how you choose to spend your time: whether in a bivouac or in a hut, under the stars or on a cliffside with a portaledge, there are certain parameters you need to take into account to ensure your adventure goes off without a hitch.

Bivouacs, an experience far from snorers

Exchanging comfortable 4-star hotels for a breathtaking view of the stars is what attracts the most adventurous. Bivouacs offer a unique sense of freedom, where you're alone with nature. Sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere is an authentic adventure, without the snoring of your bedmates!

There are a few things you need to consider before setting off on a bivouac. You need to find out what the regulations are and where you can pitch your tent. Local tourist offices can provide valuable information on this subject. You'll also need to carry food, water and warm clothing for the duration of your stay. Make sure you pack the necessary quantities, adapting your bag to your physical abilities.

Another aspect to consider is the weather. Mountain conditions can change rapidly, so check the weather forecast before you leave.

You'll also find a lot of information on this article about the regulations.

The refuge, the "full comfort" nature experience

Who hasn't dreamed of a good fondue one evening after a hike, freshly arrived at the refuge and having unfolded their sleeping bag? That's the comfort of a refuge: you only have to bring the bare minimum, you travel light, you don't have to worry about planning your food in advance, and you know that a bed will be waiting for you that very evening.

To avoid looking like a 6-week-old rabbit, be sure to book your nights in a refuge in advance. Most refuges have limited availability and may be closed at certain times of the year. Check the hut websites or contact the Fédération française des clubs alpins et de montagne(CAF) for details and book your nights.

In the face of nature's unforeseen events, the security provided by a refuge is essential. If you're not comfortable with the idea of bivouacking on your first trek, spending your nights in a refuge is probably a more sensible choice.

And what about the budget?

If the question of budget comes into play in the final decision, the future of your expeditions will give you the answer. Sure, buying the equipment you need to bivouac is expensive, but all the gear you've acquired will serve you many times over. On the other hand, if you don't necessarily want to repeat the experience, a night in a refuge will undoubtedly be cheaper!

Another solution is to rent. After all, there's no need to invest in professional gear right away if you don't know what the future holds for your outings in the great outdoors! What's more, many sites now offer equipment rental, from tents to stoves. You'll find everything you need!

Bivouac or refuge?

For a first experience, you need to weigh up the pros and cons. Bivouac or refuge? In short, there's no perfect choice, and different occasions will influence your decision. It's up to you to decide whether the lake water is too cold for your daily shower, or whether the idea of waking up to the sound of marmots makes you wince with anticipation!

A night in a portaledge?

But we can see you coming, you intrepid bivouac-lover, always on the lookout for adrenalin! At Captain Wild we know all about that. In fact, that's why we went looking for the rare pearl. Do you know what a portaledge is? The principle is simple: a suspension system on the side of the cliff that lets you sleep... on your playground after a day's climbing on Multi-Pitch ! But rest assured, it's safe and we guarantee the sensations.

Now you're all set for your next mountain outing!

See you at the summit!