Every since I was a young boy I have slept with the covers pulled up and over my head. Completely covered by the blanket. When I am unable to do this I often position a pillow so it covers the top of my head all the way to the tip of my nose so that just my nose and mouth are exposed. I have no explanation for this and have been derided by every single girlfriend who was witness to this behavior. Sleeping in a bivy sack comes quite naturally to me.
I had never even seen a bivy sack until about 2000. I have a good deal of experience with tents and tarps but upon first seeing the bivy I knew it was for me. It is an oft debated topic online that gets clouded by opinion. Words like “claustrophobia”, “restrictive”, “breathability”, and “condensation” get tossed around, people profess an almost kinship to materials, bug netting and pole structure get involved sometimes to a point where it is no longer a bivy and more of a tent, and they all further take us away from the one truth involved. Some people have the bivy-suited personality and some just do not. I don’t think anyone would argue that the bivy isn’t a great emergency shelter for all. I just see a certain slice of the hiking-camping-cycling-whatever community that doesn’t truly appreciate the bivy sack. I don’t expect to convince anyone because my strongest point is “It just feels right” which is immediately countered by the opposite sentiment. So I feel quite lucky in being able to say that this lightweight, poless, non staking, instant shelter — “just feels right” to me and I love them. Let me break down why.
Space/weight factor of a bivy sack
The heaviest bivy I have ever used was the 15 ounce Rei Minimalist Bivy Sack and packs down to the size of a 5X8′ tarp. I see bivys online that are below 7 ounces that pack down even smaller. By eliminating a tent I can also eliminate the need to use large pannier bags so the weight savings here is compounded and bolstered by reducing air drafting. The heaviest bivy I would consider is the Integral Designs Salathe Bivy sack that comes in at 2.1lbs. Ideally I would like to see someone take the design of this bivy and make it using a lightweight material with less zippers. The closest thing I have seen to this is the Zpacks bivy sack that weighs in at 6.3 ounces with the detachable mess screen.
Flexibility of a bivy sack
The Bivy is part of a sleeping system that I am creating. It is simply a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, 5X8′ tarp, ground cloth, and a bivy. This allows me to dial in the protection I need based on the weather conditions and space I have to make camp in. It takes minutes for me to set up my complete campsite. If I don’t need a tarp I can set camp in less than 2 minutes. I am going to add a layer of bug protection to the mix in my next point.
Bug Protection with a bivy sack
I like having a mesh no-see-um screen to keep the bugs away on the bivy but after looking at Mountain Laurel Designs bug bivy I am thinking that the amount of comfort added for an additional 5-6 ounces works. This would integrate into my tarp set up well and would allow me behave as if I were in a small tent reading, looking at maps, even washing up using my Hygiene Kit. The Six Moon Designs Meteor bivy seems to offer a lightweight combination bug shelter and waterproof foot-box. Oware bug netting could also be integrated into my system but it doesn’t seem as roomy as the Mountain Laurel Designs product. I could also just buy a standard ‘bug net’ and tuck it into my existing bivy to kind of create a ‘Poor Mans’ Meteor style bivy.
Added Warmth of a bivy sack
I use a fairly light bag and appreciate the extra warmth the bivy gives me. They say it can add up to 10 degrees of warmth.
I am in the process of looking at new bivy sacks for an upcoming adventure. Poles are out. I would like mosquito netting. Breathability and weight factor into the equation. Most of the camping it will be used in will be +40 Fahrenheit and I will pair it with a tarp as an outer shelter. I am in the process of researching and will share the final results as I prep for my next trip. I will take a lot into consideration before I purchase, but I know that I am happy and comfortable while in a bivy and that is the main issue here. I can make this decision because I know the facts about how I am.
If you have never spent the night in a bivy sack I would borrow one from a friend. A good first step would be trying to sleep with the covers pulled over your head. I just get happy saying bivy sack! Bivy sack :).