Bivy Camping

1:06 a.m. on June 16, 2009 (EDT)
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63 forum posts

I have only done tent camping. I have yet to experience hammock or bivy style. So in the spirit of investigation, I am curious about getting into "bivying."

If you have ever camped with a bivy bag, you may share your experience here and hopefully give some good pointers.

The questions in my head are-

Do you buy a higher temp sleeping bag cuz the bivy adds warmth?

How do you breathe if it is raining and you need to close it?

Where do you store your gear?

and I'm also curious about those who have done both tent and bivy and what the pros and cons of each are.


11:29 a.m. on June 16, 2009 (EDT)
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First thing about bivuoacing is that it is just that - a bivuoac, an emergency camp, intended for a very short stop. It is something you do when you are caught out without full camping gear, either by choice or in an emergency. A bivy is not intended to be a comfortable rest and is often in a location where you normally would not stop. As such, you may be on the cold side and scrunched into an uncomfortable position. In any case, you do not have all the amenities of a standard backpacking, climbing, or backcountry skiing camp in terms of gear, location, choice and preparation of campsite, cooking and eating facilities and gear, etc.

That said, there is a school of thought, related to ultralight backpacking, that goes even beyond the ultralight practice, carrying nothing in the lines of camping gear except a bivy sack, the clothes on your back (maybe plus some layers, maybe with a down jacket, maybe with an elephant's foot), a small amount of food, and maybe a small stove to heat some water for tea. You travel until you run out of daylight and/or energy, haul out the bivy sack, climb inside, sit down or lay down where you are (maybe using your pack for a bit of insulation from the ice), tie into a belay anchor (depending on the terrain), nibble on your gorp, try to catch a few winks, then start moving as soon as it gets light. You do not change into your 'jammies. You sleep in all your clothes. Your gear stays outside (no room in the bivy sack), in the weather (many bivies are in storm conditions, due to being overtime and caught out), possibly also tied into the same anchor as you are. That is, except for your boots. You may or may not take your boots off, but you keep them inside the bivy with you so they don't get buried in the snow drifts or fall off the ledge (but be aware that you might have a hard time getting them back on in the morning). Been there, done that.

Then there are the would-be ultralighters who decide this is the lightest way to go. These folk usually add a siltarp, maybe a full cooking outfit, and a fancy sleeping outfit (a full sleeping bag and a sleeping pad). They even take a pack cover or a plastic garbage bag to protect their gear (hey, the gear was made for the outdoors. It better be able to take a bit of snow and rain). Thing is, if you are going to take the sleeping bag and pad, you might as well carry a full tarp and dispense with the bivy sack (yeah, the bivy will protect the bag from the dirt or snow, but a small tarp or plastic sheet is lighter and protects the bag just as well under the tarp, and you end up with less weight).

Your questions -

Do you buy a higher temp sleeping bag cuz the bivy adds warmth?

If you are using only the bivy to sleep in, it is the same as a tent, so the bag is the same rating as if you were sleeping in a tent. But keep in mind that the material of the bivuoac sack is waterproof and nominally breathable (Goretex or some other wpb, usually, though some bivies are make of silcoat or other non-breathable material). It isn't really very breathable, so you can get condensation on the inside of the sack material.

How do you breathe if it is raining and you need to close it?

If you close up all zippers and velcro, you die in about 1-2 hours by suffocation. Well, no. Some bivies (Integral Designs makes the best) have a wire or plastic rod and mesh so you can have the face area open while shielded from rain and snow. Besides, you often bivy sitting up on a ledge or leaning against a rock or tree, so unless it is blowing rain or snow (common in a real bivy situation), you will not get any more water through the face opening than with your outer rain shell.

Where do you store your gear?

On the ground, snow, ice, ledge, next to you and within easy reach. Keep everything in your pack unless actually using it so it won't accidentally get kicked off the ledge. If there is any danger of that, you should anchor the pack (and yourself).

Bivy sacks are for bivuoacing. They are not tents. You want room for the gear? Get a tent. A good bivy sack is about 2 pounds (except for the ultralight emergency bivies, such as the one Integral Designs makes). You can get high quality small 1-person tents that have room for putting your pack inside at 3-4 pounds (Black Diamond's silcoat version of the Megamid is 1.5 pounds, plus use an adjustable hiking pole or tie to a branch to pitch it - even the non-silcoat version is 3 pounds and each will sleep 4 people). Or you can get a siltarp that weighs 2 pounds or less that is sufficient for 1 person. So there is only a tiny weight saving, if any, with a bivy sack.

Some people use a bivy sack inside a tent in the belief that it will keep them warmer. Aside from the condensation problem, the increase in warmth is no more than 5 degrees. If you have a leaky tent, it might keep the sleeping bag dryer.

pros and cons of each

Tents, hammocks, tarps, and bivy sacks are for different purposes.

7:54 a.m. on June 19, 2009 (EDT)
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8 forum posts

Great reply by Bill and I totally agree that all the various shelter have different purposes. Your sleeping bag requirements should not change much (take whatever weight bag you need for the weather).

I have all four and use them at different times depending on the situation. I am not really concerned with weight, I pack as light as I can, but still like to have some degree of comfort when backpacking. I usually use my bivy when I go out alone and for 1 or 2 nights. I carry my tarp and set it up over the top half of the bivy, providing coverage for getting in/out of the bivy and protecting my pack in case of a downpour. Using the tarp allows the top of the bivy to be open, which I almost have to have being somwhat claustrophobic. Also it ususally provides a small area to cook in. The few times I have used the bivy in the winter, I don't bother with the tarp and leave my pack just outside. In these cases, I am doing just what Bill said, just stopping at dark, eating something really quick and getting in the bivy (clothes and all), waiting for daylight and get moving again.

The advantages of the tent are space. The downside (at least where I do a majority of my backpacking) is good place to set the tent up.

The advantage of the bivy is the smaller space requirements. The downside is the inability to store much inside with you - if you that is what you want to do.

If you do much backpacking, over the years, you will find that each type of shelter has it's place.



3:08 p.m. on June 19, 2009 (EDT)
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1 forum posts

Well personally, I prefer Bivy camping on a fine weather night at the coast or in the mountains. I love how the night air fills my lungs with fresh air. I love waking up to the morning sky. I bought my bivy sack probably 15 years ago - a goretex bivy by Wild Thingz (I still think they make it basically the same way they did then). I use it every chance I get. It's a bit spartan and I had to rig a little wire support to keep the material off my face when it's zipped closed.

So I have been caught in all night moderate rain and remained dry. I have camped in buggy areas and have remained bite free (my bivy has a zip in bug screen), while my friends in a tent couldn't keep the bugs out. It's versatile and very light for backpacking, kayak camping, horse camping or even to bust out during day just to get out of the wind and cold for a break.

Backpacking, I pack 5 days worth of gear in 35 pounds and the bivy sack is an integral part of that formula. I would usually go lite like this when packing solo in lightly used areas. If in heavily used areas, I would prefer the privacy of a tent.

Next week I'll be doing 5 days in the Rockies on my horse with just the bivy, sleeping pad and a down sleeping bag = 4 pounds. Plus about 25 pounds of other gear and food. No pack horse needed!

7:34 a.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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241 forum posts

From a tent to a bivy alone is a big switch. I would suggest going to a tarp first. You will find that a tarp can provide more room than a tent at half the weight, but set up does require practice. In colder weather add a bivy under your tarp to add some warmth to your bag. Bivies add rain protection under a tarp, too, but are not necessary if you are diligent. Tarp/tents are a nice option because they add bug protection. My favorite one person shelter is currently the Wild Oasis from Six Moon Designs. It weighs 13 oz., has plenty of room for gear and has bug protection. For Tarps alone browse: Mountain Laurel Designs, Gossamer Gear, Golite, Equinox, Granite Gear

April 21, 2018
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