Are you looking for a sleeping tent that is compact, lightweight and packs up super small? If yes, the best solution for you is a bivy sack. These portable shelters were originally invented to serve adventure-seekers who wanted a lightweight and highly compressible gear.
Today’s bivy sacks have evolved into closeable and breathable gear that can fit the entire human body. Some modern bivy sacks feature hooped tent poles that allow for extra space and better ventilation.
This article will explore the advantages of bivy sacks and how to choose a perfect bivy sack. Additionally, we will review the best bivy sacks for backpacking.
Who uses bivy sacks?
A bivy sack can be used by anyone who:
- Desires to reduce his/her overall pack weight as much as possible.
- Plans to climb a big-wall route that requires more than a single day to complete.
- Frequently travels solo in the countryside.
- Camps during long distance bike tours.
- The military
Why Invest in a Bivy Sack?
If you are embarking on a mountain expedition, whether climbing or trekking, bivy sacks are the way to go. Below, we have discussed the top reasons why you should get a bivy sack for your next adventure in the great outdoors.
- Portability – The sleeping system is smaller and lighter thus allows you to reach your goals faster and easier.
- Small packed size – Perfect for anyone taking a lot of gear or those aiming for a minimalist solution.
- Warmer sleeping – The sleeping system can enhance the temperature range of a sleeping bag by up to 5F. This aspect allows ultralight hikers to use lighter weight sleeping bags. This will allow a hiker to shed a few ounces from their overall pack weight.
- Sleep anywhere – With a bivy sack, you can sleep pretty much anywhere including on small clearings, ledges and any other place where pitching a tent would prove difficult.
Why You Shouldn’t Invest in a Bivy Sack
Here are some of the cons of bivy sacks.
- Poor comfort – A tent allows you to sit up comfortably and keep your stuff inside. With a bivy sack, your gear will be fully exposed without any cover.
- Only for solo adventurers – As mentioned above, the bivy system offers just enough space for one person. Therefore, if you had more than two individuals, an ultralight tent will serve better considering the weight and size of two bivies.
Types of Bivy Sacks on the Market
Bug Net Models
These shelters are meant to protect you in areas where weather is less of a concern than insects and bugs. Bug net models are more compact and lighter when compared to other models on the market.
They are not waterproof or windproof, therefore, are recommended for use in dry climates. It is also worth mentioning that they are one of the cheapest bivy options on the market.
These shelters are simple. They are constructed with no additional features such as poles; therefore they weigh less compared to other bivy models on the market. Minimalist bivy models are perfect for occasional backpackers who are looking to shed some weight or those who don’t venture out in severe weather conditions. They are the lightest and smallest of all the bivies on the market. Like the bug net models, minimalist models are also fairly priced.
One of the impressive features of these shelters is that they are highly weather-resistant. These models come with a wire or pole that helps keep the fabric off your face. Even though four-season models are heavier and highly priced when compared to the other two bivy models, they offer more comfort and protection from the elements, especially when the temperature is low.
Choosing a Bivy – What to Consider
When it comes to choosing a bivy sack, it is important that you select one that offers real value for money. After all, why spend your hard-earned cash on a product that doesn’t do what it claims? Here are some key considerations to make:
Weight is arguably the most important factor to consider when shopping for a bivy sack. If you are an avid hiker or camper, you know as well as we do that lightweight gear allows you to get to your destination faster. On average, a low-quality one-person tent weighs about 5 pounds while a high-quality bivy sack weighs less than 2 pounds.
Space is also another factor to consider when choosing a bivy sack. Space means two things: the room inside the bivy bag and the room the bivy system takes in your backpack. Bivy sack can only fit one individual and might feel claustrophobic. This problem is, however, countered by the sack’s light weight and ease of use. It’s a give and take you’ll need to figure out if its worth it to you as an individual.
Some bivy sacks feature a pole system or flexible wire system that allows the user to suspend the fabric above the head region. This reduces the claustrophobic effect of the sack.
Waterproofing and Condensation
Ventilation in bivy sacks can be a challenge. As with any raincoat or waterproof gear, the higher its waterproof performance, the less it breathes. Therefore, how well a bivy ventilates and the measure of condensation that builds up inside greatly determines its value and performance.
Manufacturers of bivy sacks are always trying to find the right ratio between breathability and water resistance. Unfortunately, they have not been able to find the perfect ratio between the two qualities. It’s a never ending struggle, but there are a few ways to reduce condensation
Key Accessories for Bivy Sacks
Adding a few accessories will ensure that you get a good night’s sleep when you are camping in the countryside. Here are some of the accessories:
- Sleeping pad – The bigger and inflated types are good for mountain environments as they provide more comfort and insulation. However, non-inflatable foam pads are perfect for rocky and desert areas.
- Sleeping Bag – This should be obvious, but a sleeping bag is the best way to stay warm when spending the night in a bivy.
- Pillow – If extra weight is a concern to you, use your hiking boots as a pillow. However, if weight is not a concern, an inflatable pillow will offer you more comfort.
Note: The decision to add these accessories to your pack lies entirely with you though we strongly recommend the sleeping bag and the sleeping pad.
Best Bivy Sacks for Backpacking
Yes, it’s an emergency bivy, but it’s a great into bivy for someone who isn’t sure if they can handle the small space for a whole night. It’s also great for a minimalist trying to cut as much gear and weight from their pack as possible.
This bivy is popular among mountaineers and hikers as it is light and provides good comfort.
One of the flagship features of this bivy is that it is made of proprietary fabric which allows moisture to escape from the shelter. The fabric offers one of the highest level of waterproofing, breathability, and comfort. But as with all bivy sacks, condensation is an issue if you completely close it.
Additionally, it offers great resistance to tear and abrasion.
The SOL Escape Bivvy comes with a drawstring hood closure, a side zip and a foot box for comfort. It also comes with a reflective interior that helps to retain about 70% of body heat.
- Is lightweight (only weighs 241g)
- The bivy is very comfortable
- It packs down so small
- Not ideal for large and tall people
- Is costly compared to other lightweight bivy sacks
- Condensation in the bivy leaves you wet
The MMS bivy sack is a high end bivy thats specifically designed to cover the Black Intermediate and OD Green Patrol Cold Weather sleeping bags. However. the sleeping system can be used with other sleeping bags or with nothing at all.
The MMS bivy sack is perfect for extreme campers and hikers, family camping trips and recreational scouting. The bivy is very basic in design. It has no pockets, no hoops, and no netting, therefore, weighs less compared to the two other bivies that we’ve reviewed.
The bivy is made of Gore-Tex fabric which is breathable, waterproof and windproof. The fabric ensures that you stay warm, dry and comfortable in all conditions.
The bivy has heavy-duty YKK zippers that allow you to customize the amount of ventilation. The YKK zippers are double-sided and can be accessed from the inside of the bivy.
- Has a boxed foot that accommodates shoes
- Can be used in all four seasons
- Is lightweight and easy to pack
- It is durable
- It is quite heavy for backpacking
- Is not suitable for tall people
The Outdoor Research Alpine is a relatively lightweight hooped bivy bag ideal for hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering. The bivy sack is equipped with a three-layer Gore-Tex Respiration Positive fabric which provides great abrasion and tear-resistance. The fabric allows moist air to escape but blocks outside elements from getting into the bivy sack hence minimizing condensation.
The bivy sack’s floor is made of a resilient and waterproof Hydroseal polyurethane coating for increased durability and water resistance. Additionally, the coating has fully taped seams that further prevent rain and snow from seeping through the bivy.
A No-see-um mesh zippered window at the base of the bivy improves airflow on humid nights and prevents bugs from getting into the shelter. The Outdoor Research Alpine has straps on the inside to secure your sleeping pad. It also features an internal mesh pocket to store your GPS watch, smartphone or alarm clock.
- It is relatively light (weighs only 2 lbs)
- It is usable in all four seasons
- Is extremely compact
- Is very durable
- It is spacious
- Setting it up can be difficult
- Zipper snags easily
- The hood flops a bit
Bivy Sacks: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our best-rated bivy sacks are the Military Modular Sleep System Bivy Sack, the SOL Escape Bivvy and the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy. Each of these bivy sacks has impressive features such as extra boot room, lightweight and breathability among other features.
If you need a high-performing shelter that isn’t too harsh on the wallet but still offers the features and practicality you need, the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy is a great option.
A bivy sack is an essential piece of gear to have in your survival kit. You can setup a bivy sack and be inside of it in just a couple of minutes. Therefore, if you’re in the market for the best bivy sack, check out our guide to help you choose the one that will meet your needs.