CAMPING & HIKING

Best Bivy Sack: To Bivy or Not to Bivy

Best Bivy Sack
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

Are you and your outdoor activities anything but traditional? Are looking for a lighter option when it comes to your shelter at night. Does the idea of having a seriously competent emergency shelter as a backup “just in case” sounds appealing? If yes, the best bivy sack the market has to offer will definitely help you.

When you compare a bivy sack with a lightweight tent, the two options offer similar protection, but very different benefits. Bivy sacks are popular with ultralight backpackers and climbers as an alternative to “traditional” tents or for occasional emergency shelter. Given the increased popularity of micro-adventures and quick back-country trips, it is a good idea to compare models and see which are the best models to buy. We are help you with that task.

Pro’s of Bivy Sacks

In this article we will guide you into some of the most important features you should know before you buy a bivy. After that we are going to take a look at some of the best ones on the market. Let’s get to it!

Our top picks

Product NameWeightMaterialWeatherproofSpecific FeaturesPrice
MSR AC15 oz30D nylonYesZippered mesh panel, vents wellCheck price on Amazon
O.R. Alpine30.3 ozGore-TexNoDual pole system, weather resistantCheck price on Amazon
O.R. Bug16 ozNylonYesBreathes well, smooth zippersCheck price on Amazon
B.D. Hooped26 ozNylonNoBug protection, no polesCheck price on Amazon
Aqua Quest Hooped38.4 oz70D nylonNoFolds down, mesh area, windowCheck price on Amazon
S.D. Navassa19 oz40D nylonNoWaterproof walls, taped seamsCheck price on Amazon
Chinook Summit32 ozRipstop nylonNoWaterproof seams, roomy footboxCheck price on Amazon
Tanner Military 36 ozGore-TexNoLight, 4 seasonCheck price on Amazon

Features to Consider Before Buying

So what are the important features of a bivy? Well, you need to consider many things like weight, space, and the type. Read on below to learn all about it!

Type of Bivy

There are three general types. Consider the weight, bug protection, convenience and hassle factors of a combination of a tarp and bivy vs. a super-lightweight tent combined with heavier sleeping gear and an extra ground sheet before you buy.

Here are the various models and their differences:

  • Bug Net models These are for areas where swarms of insects like mosquitoes, or crawlies like scorpions, might mistake you for dinner. Bug net models are very light and compact but not always water- or windproof, and are best used in good weather, dry climates, or augmented with a tarp or natural shelter. These models are usually priced very well.
  • Four-Season models – If you are headed into cold or rainy weather, bugs are usually the least of your concerns. You need a tough, year-round weatherproof shelter, which typically has a pole or frame to keep the bivy off your face. They offer more comfort, but at a heavier weight and price.  A good four-seasons model bivy is more compact and lighter than a small, lightweight tent, but may cost almost the same.
  • Three-season Minimalist models Ultra-lightweight, ultra-simple, no extra features, poles or bulk and suitable for most applications and users. These models are perfect for occasional backpackers who don’t seek out extreme conditions and weather, as they offer protection from most weather conditions and insects, are reasonably priced, and are the lightest and smallest bivies available.

Cons of Bivies

Weight

The point of getting a bivy is to attain a lighter “total sleeping option”, than a tent with equivalent protection. As lighter models have more mesh netting instead of fabric to save ounces, and extra tent poles to add head room will add ounces, you need to balance weight vs. comfort.

As an example, a minimalist bivy, ultralight sleeping bag, and a weather proof tarp, is a lighter gear combination than a four-weather bivy with an ultra-light tarp, but will give similar rainy weather protection. So, make sure you check all the facts and calculate the weight before making the final choice.

Packed Size

Even if light, extra bulk in a backpack can be inconvenient. If your preferred model has extra poles, see if you can hang them on the outside of your pack.

Packs of bivies

You can save 5 liters or more of extra space with some bivy sack models. Also, some models come with tough stuff sacks that can minimize the packed size even further. Make sure the model you choose comes with one!

Ventilation

This is the equation: the better the rain protection, the more condensation. Learn to prevent condensation by keeping the vents open as much as possible. Breathe outside the bivy and don’t overdress to prevent sweating. Work with the features to increase ventilation between your body and walls.

If you choose a 100% waterproof material, no rain will touch you, but you will have to deal with droplets of water condensation inside the bivy. Some bivies are made from a 100% waterproof material, but cannot be closed completely, and needs additional protection with a tarp or should only be used in lighter rain.

Ventilation of bivies

Gore-Tex is waterproof and quite breathable. Ripstop nylon treated with a water repellent (DWR) coating is slightly more breathable but is not waterproof.

Room

Floor space is important – some models are up to 7ft long, but extra headroom and shoulder width can turn a shorter model into a great shelter. Ultralight models are shorter and lower to use less material.

Four-season models feature tent poles or hoops to keep wet fabric off you. Also, if you don’t like enclosed spaces, high headroom will be at the top of your list of requirements.

Best Product on Today’s Market

Now that you’re aware of all there is to know about bivy sacks, here are some of the top rated products in the market.

MSR All-Condition BivyMSR AC-Bivy

Price: Approx. $190

Weight: 15 oz

Dimensions: 88 x 36 in

Specific features: Weatherproof outer is supremely breathable, zippered mesh panel provides excellent ventilation and freedom from bugs, wide

Best use: Backpacking, camping

Description: The MSR All-Condition Bivy provides excellent breathability due to a bug-protected zippered mesh panel that allows for excellent ventilation. The top and bottom is made of 30D nylon rip stop material and consists of a waterproof 2-ply breathable layer.

The floor is made from a waterproof (10,000 mm) thick DuraShield-coated material. The waterproof outer shell is breathable to prevent condensation from building up inside the bivy sack at night.

The MSR AC-Bivy is incredibly light, has a small pack size and offers great protection under all conditions. The MSR AC is constructed with waterproof fabric, but have a ventilation opening that can’t be fully closed, so it is not ideal for torrential rain that lasts for days.

We like such features as the waterproof fabric and the amount of space inside. With such features, you will stay dry and comfortable all night, which is how it should be. This is definitely one bivy to look into.

PROS:

  • For all conditions
  • Waterproof, breathes well
  • Durable fabric

CONS:

  • A little pricey
  • One color option

Related:  If you prefer an ultralight tent by the same manufacturer, the 4-season MSR Fury  2-Person Tent is a great option as it offers a 76-cubic-foot tent volume, but measures only 7” x 20” when packed.

Check the price on Amazon

Outdoor Research Alpine BivyOutdoor Research Alpine Bivy

Price: Approx. $250

Weight: 30.3 oz

Dimensions: 84 x 26 x 15.25 in

Specific features: Dual-pole system enables you to set up several different configurations in different conditions, anti-fungal coating on the floor for humid and wet conditions

Best use: Short or tall users, various weather

Description: Rain is kept at bay with a Hydroseal-coated waterproof nylon floor with fully taped seams. The Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy can be completely sealed in very bad weather.

It has a patented dual-pole system which provides one of the roomiest interior spaces available, and increases ventilation in tandem with the no-see-um netting covers. At times when weight is critical, you can leave the second circumferential Delrin pole behind, though you may then have to deal with condensation at the foot end like with other bivy sacks.

The Outdoor Research Alpine bivy’s internal dimensions are calculated to accommodate thicker than standard sleeping pads and has straps to secure the bedding, with an added handy internal mesh pocket. It is the highest model in our list.

The three-layer Gore-Tex Respiration Positive cover lets warm and moist air escape, while blocking rain while minimizing condensation. It deals with rain with wide storm flaps over the opening and toe-end zippers.

A semi-stiff collar keeps the zippers opened apart slightly, for perfect ventilation during the night, as does the A-zippered vent at the high-volume toe-end. Stuff sack, 5 stake loops and 1 guy line loop are included. The OR Alpine is one of the ‘heaviest’ bivy sacks on our list, but is still far lighter than most backpacking tents.

PROS:

  • No-see-um netting
  • Sleeping pad straps
  • Can fit thick mattress pad

CONS:

  • Pricey
  • Not weatherproof

Related: While camping, you may need a lantern. The Etekcity Camping Lanterns is a 2 pack that is collapsible and takes 6 AA batteries to use, all for under $20.

Check the price on Amazon

Outdoor Research Bug BivyOutdoor Research Bug Bivy

Price: Approx. $85

Weight: 16 oz

Dimensions: 89 x 25 x 18 in

Specific features: Breathable and weather proof exterior with a tough-wearing Hydroseal-coated waterproof nylon floor, excellent protection against bug and crawlies in a roomy interior, which is provided by large, no-see-um mesh netting sections

Best use: Arid, hot terrain

Description: The Outdoor Research Bug Bivy is the best model if you plan on sleeping in aeras that are known for having too many insects. Furthermore, the comfort of this bivy is excellent as the fabric is kept off your face with one bowed overhead shock-corded Delrin pole passed through a Velcro attachment. The pole is supported with additional tension created by lashing the guy ropes tightly.

Smooth zippers allow you to change the configuration for optimum protection against weather, bugs or both. An internal mesh pocket will keep your phone safe, and sleeping pad straps, keep your bedding in order.

The Bug Bivy comes with a stuff sack, 3 stakes and 2 guy line loops, but the support pole section is carried separately. In a very hot country we recommend that you use all the guy lines to help keep the bivy fabric off the lower part of your body to improve airflow and make it easy to get in and out.

Affordable, you can’t go wrong with this bivy. It’s durable, looks good, and does a great job at keeping us dry!

PROS:

  • Internal mesh pocket
  • No-see-um netting
  • Light and easy to use

CONS:

  • Not a lot of space for sleeping pad
  • Small and narrow for some
  • Bug bivy portion doesn’t work

Related:While camping, you need a cooler! The Coleman Xtreme Cooler is durable, strong, and comes in 3 colors!

Check the price on Amazon

Black Diamond Hooped Bivy SackBlack Diamond Hooped Bivy Sack

Price: Approx. $270

Weight: 26 oz

Dimensions: 90 x 35 in

Specific features: Comes in two sizes, comfortable, dual sided

Best use: 3 seasons (spring, summer, fall)

Description: The waterproof and super-breathable Todd-Tex fabric protects against wet weather and prevents condensation. This minimalist single-walled Black Diamond Hooped Bivy Sack has taped seams and comes with a patch kit and some additional seam sealer.

There are no poles, but there is a sewn-in support cable to keep the fabric off of your face and improve circulation which is provided by a mesh covered opening.

There is no foot vent, so we recommend that you make full use of stakes to keep the bivy in place when you enter and exit, and improve the room between your body and the fabric to help prevent condensation on the lower part of the bivy sack.

With this bivy sack, we love the hooped design and the flexible wires that do not get in the way of sleeping. The dual sided zipper is a nice addition, and we don’t feel sweaty because it breathes so well.

PROS:

  • Taped seams
  • Mesh covered opening
  • Sewn in cable, no poles

CONS:

  • Pricey
  • May leak
  • One color option

Related: You can use a camping fan in your site, such as the Portable Camping Fan which is under $40 and works great! It has dual power sources, two speeds, lights, and its 10 inches tall.

Check the price on Amazon

Aqua Quest Hooped BivyAqua Quest Hooped Bivy

Price: Approx. $120

Weight: 38.4 oz

Dimensions: 90.6 x 27.6 x 35.4 in

Specific features: Hooped, zippered, fold-down meshed area for bug protection, clear TPU window in case it rains but you still want to see out

Best use: Warmer climates, backpacking, camping

Description: The Aqua Quest Hooped Bivy is a minimalist bag with good weather protection, and is recommended for casual hikes, backpacking and micro-adventures in warmer climate zones.

The single-wall shelter is made from 70D RipStop fabric with PU coating. The seams are heat taped which gives a waterproof rating of 10,000 mm. The breathability rating is claimed to be 3000 gr/m2/day

It features a lightweight shock cord pole which is collapsible to fit into backpacks. This makes the inside quite roomy with extra-wide foot and shoulder areas, and the long length easily accommodates taller folk.

The meshed air vent in the head section is protected with a fold-down fly and works with the ‘Batwing’ stiffeners in the foot area to promote airflow and prevent condensation. The hooped bivy can be pegged down to ensure easy access.

Slight profile adjustments can be made using guy ropes. It comes with 5 light aluminum pegs.

PROS:

  • Waterproof
  • Compact, light
  • Easy set up

CONS:

  • Needs more stakes in the kit
  • Rain cover does not provide full coverage
  • Water can leak inside

Related: If you expect a lot of rain, you may be snug in your bivy, but your gear needs protection too. You can add a low-profile waterproof tarp like the Aqua Quest Guide Sil Tarp to make sure everything stays dry.

Check the price on Amazon

Sierra Designs Navass BivySierra Designs Navassa Bivy

Price: Approx. $80

Weight: 19 oz

Dimensions: 86 x 28 in

Specific features: Lightweight bivy with an oversize cut and a U Shape zipper for opening either on the left or right

Best use: 3 season, camping, backpacking

Description: The Sierra Designs Navassa Bivy is very light and portable, but not ideal for very cold conditions, and if it rains buckets for days, the Sierra Designs Navassa bivy is not the best choice as the walls are water-proof but the zippers are not sealed.

The waterproof (18,000 mm) minimalist bivy sack is of single wall construction from Drizone 40D nylon fabric, and a 70D Nylon floor with PVC-free seam taping. Breathability is 28,000 mm to prevent condensation. Used with either a bug mesh or a storm shield it will provide good shelter in most conditions.

As the zippers are not fully waterproofed, you may need extra protection in heavy rain and you can set up a tarp or shelter under a tree to prevent water leaking in through the seams at the top of the bivy.

Overall, you’re looking at a comfortable bivy that works for 3 seasons. We like that it is affordable, comfortable, light and PVC free in the seam taping. For this bivy, you can’t beat it!

PROS:

  • Affordable, light
  • Single wall construction
  • Comfortable

CONS:

  • Not fully waterproofed
  • Not for heavy rain or frigid weather

Related: You can combine the Sierra Designs bivy with a lightweight and waterproof sleeping bag for easy, light comfort on your back country trips. Have a look at the 3-season Sierra Designs DriDown Backcountry Bed.

Check the price on Amazon

Chinook Summit Bivy BagChinook Summit Bivy Bag

Price: Approx. $100

Weight: 32 oz

Dimensions: 91 x 32 x 22 in

Specific features: Camping, backpacking

Best use: Humid conditions, light snow

Description: Waterproof but breathable fabric top and the ripstop nylon bottom is also waterproof (5000 mm) with factory-taped waterproof seams. Chinook Summit Bivy Bag has a roomy foot box, but the aluminum poles at the head section provide a lot of extra space in the contoured hood.

It’s a roomy bivy with some space for gear as well. There are two integrated mesh areas on the front and behind the head for ventilation without exposure to the elements. The bivy compresses well, and includes a stuff sack, but no tent stakes. Excellent value for money.

Roomy bug and water protection for taller campers in very hot conditions, and suitable for multi-day wilderness trips and even snow-camping.

This well-priced bivy sack uses two DAC Featherlite aluminum poles to elevate the fabric and keep it away from your face. Provides very good height without exposing you to the elements. Excellent breathability and lots of room for movement and gear.

PROS:

  • Waterproof
  • Breaths well
  • Stuff sack included

CONS:

  • Heavy
  • Stakes can come undone
  • Metal is weak

Related: Heat up your dinner with a camping stove! The Coleman Classic Propane Stove is under $50 and has wind blocking panels as well as adjustable burners.

Check the price on Amazon

Tennier Military Modular Sleep SystemTennier Military Modular Sleep System

Price: Approx. $200

Weight: 36 oz

Dimensions: 78 x 30 in

Specific Features: A very functional ‘layered’ or ‘modular’ sleeping kit which consists of a Gore-Tex bivy sack, a lighter OD Green Patrol Sleeping Bag, a heavier black sleeping bag, and a compression sack

Best Use: Backpacking, mountaineering, camping

Description: The Tennier Military Modular Sleep System is an all-in one system which lets you choose which parts of the system you want to take with you to cut down on weight and bulk.

It is great for backpackers and campers who get to see a little of every kind of weather and seasons, but if you take along the entire system for very cold weather it is heavier and bulkier than other four-season solutions.

This is a four-season system with a canvas bivy and a choice between a lightweight bag on its own when the nights are warmer, the thicker black bag for cold weather, or the use of both in very cold conditions by snapping the bags together with built-in clips.

The mummy-type sleeping bags are narrower than standard sleeping bags with a contoured narrow foot section and an adjustable head system, but will accommodate people up to about 6ft tall in comfort. It is made with heavy duty zippers and durable materials.

PROS:

  • Easy to use
  • Strong materials and fabrics used
  • Choose which parts to use depending on weather

CONS:

  • Pricey
  • Heavy
  • Not for very tall people

Related:  If you love to (literally) disappear into the woods and just need a low-fuss waterproof cover for your sleeping bag you may consider the US Army Woodland Camo Bivy Cover to keep you dry and inconspicuous.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

It’s an elegant and neat way to encapsulate yourself for a good night’s sleep anywhere, anytime. If you are a fan of ‘easy come – easy go’ then a bivy is the fastest and easiest way to spend a very comfortable night in places where you cannot pitch a tent.

A bivy is not just small when folded; the added appeal of being able to take advantage of the slightest bit of natural protection, and the fact that you can squeeze into an otherwise inaccessible natural shelter is a very strong motivator for buying a bivy.

Best Vivy Tent

You can use a bivy on ledges, in shallow caves, under low-hanging trees, small clearings – places where you just couldn’t pitch a tent. However, each model has its own special strong point, and some bivies are inappropriate in the wrong circumstances or climate.

Have you been persuaded by any of our suggestions in this article?  Perhaps both have a place in our outdoor gear cabinet and we needn’t choose between one or the other. What do you think, and what did we miss in this review? Add your experience to the comments section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Sabrina Bell

    Outdoor research’s Alpine is definitely 4-season bivy. I went on a long trip last winter, it rained and snowed – both times I stayed dry and warm. As long as you aren’t claustrophobic, this bivy will keep you protected. An amazing bivy with rock solid construction.

  • Mark Foster

    That’s true. If you dislike being in enclosed places, then by all means get a tent and not a bivy. 🙂
    Some of my buddies use a bivy sack and they seemed to have no qualms being inside, claiming a more comfortable and snuggled sleep. I can’t argue with that – I can even hear them snoring from where my tent is pitched! 🙂

  • Jack Wilcox

    Bought the Military Modular for a winter expedition. A military friend of mine recommended the bivy to me and assured me that I wouldn’t end up neither cold nor wet. Thankfully, he was right! I like the option of removing layers for different temperatures and it is very comfortable. Personally, I prefer my Solo Tent and tend to take that with me on trips instead, but the bivy is a more than capable alternative when you’re running low on space!

  • Mark Foster

    Hi Jack! I agree with you, the Bivy sack is comfortable to use but it’s not for everyone. Most still prefer tents, though. For moderate weather, the bivy will do for me, too.

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