Using A Bivy Bag
Whether you are looking to travel light, camp in tight places or for emergency survival needs, bivy bags can be an excellent choice for the outdoor enthusiast – or maybe, like me, you do a lot of solo trekking and find bivy camping just makes for an easier and lighter experience. I’ve done a fair amount of camping and hiking over the last fifteen years using a bivy bag and I’d like to pass some tips and techniques along, as well as helping you find the right one for your camping adventures.
What Is A Bivy Sack Or Bag?
In it’s most basic form, a bivy bag is just that – a simple water/weather proof covering, usually Gore-Tex or some other material, that slips over your sleeping bag and pad to provide protection from the elements. But you can find more elaborate ones that vary in structure and purpose. Some come with built in hoods and mini vestibules allowing you to store a small amount of gear or be able to read and eat (but not cook!) inside.
Many come with additional bug netting sewn into the opening so on clear nights you can sleep in your bivy bag under the stars without having to deal with insects. In fact, some bivies designed for summer camping are made entirely of bug netting or fine mesh. I often use one while camping in the desert during the spring and summer as I don’t like sharing my bed with snakes, scorpions and spiders, all of which love to wander about during the hot nights!
For more inclement weather I use a larger bivy with a hood supported by a small light-weight aluminum hoop pole. If it’s raining or snowing outside and you’re going to spending more time “under cover” you want that exta bit of room to keep from feeling like you’re zipped in a funeral shroud. It also helps with condensation issues from your breath, especially if it’s really cold out. If you want to see a small article of a camping trip where I used this type of bivy bag you can follow that link.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Using A Bivy Bag?
Okay, so what are the things you should be aware of? Let me go over a few:
- Light weight and easy to pack/store.
- Small foot print. Good for tight places.
- Fast and easy setup.
I tend to do a lot of my camping and hiking solo, so I want something that is fast, light and easy to pitch at the end of a long day. And since I’m not socializing or hanging about with friends, having a full size tent is just a waste of space, both in my pack and on the ground. I also like to sleep out under the open sky and stars at night, so being able to basically just throw my sleeping bag down when I’ve found that perfect spot and crash out is great. And being a fan of mountain and desert hiking, many times I’m on a rocky ledge or small area where you couldn’t pitch a tent even if you wanted to. Plus bivy bags are so small and portable I can carry one even in my day pack and know that should any bad weather come up I’m still safe and able to deal with it for extended periods. They also add between five and ten degrees extra warmth to your sleeping bag’s rating allowing you to also sometimes go lighter in the sleeping gear department and still be safe.
- Can be restricting for long periods.
- Cannot change clothes or prepare meals easily.
- Sizing can be a problem when using a heavy bag or clothing.
Okay, if you’re the type that doesn’t like tight or cramped places, then bivy bag camping probably isn’t for you. Being zipped into a sack for hours on end as rain and snow whip about you can be a trying experience for even the hardiest adventurer. And although some bivy makers claim you can change clothes inside, I find that to be a bit of a stretch. Sure you can wriggle into a pair of pants or long underwear, but getting rigged for popping out into rain or snow can be a challenge. Which brings me to sizing – I’m a big guy and my sleeping bag is also big, so after I climb into my bivy sack for the night there is not a whole lot of room to do anything other than zip up tight and go to sleep.
Which Kind Of Bivy Bag Should I Get?
Which type of bivy is best for you really depends on what your intended camping terrain and weather are going to be. Obviously someone going into the mountains or climbing peaks is going to want a sturdy all-weather bivy bag that has a bit more room to handle heavy clothing and being able to eat or read if confined to quarters for extended periods. If you’re a summer camper and are going to be in areas that have little chance of rain (like the desert) than a simple sleeping bag cover or mesh bug bivy would be fine. But one thing I would recommend to everyone that ventures off the beaten path, is to purchase one of the new ultra-light emergency bivies that have hit the market too. These can pack down to the size of a grapefruit and no wanderer should be without one.
Personally, I own a bunch of bivy bags and just select the one I want that’s right for the season or geography. And since I also do the same for my packs (day, overnight or extended) I also keep an emergency bivy bag stashed in each so I know I got a backup should it be needed. In later articles I’ll share some more tips and techniques specific to each type of bivy sack (dealing with weather, condensation, etc) that I’ve come across or utilized during my various adventures outdoors.