Black Diamond Equipment Company makes tents as well as high-end mountaineering, technical rock climbing and skiing gear. Black Diamond’s Bipod Bivy is a top-of-the-line bivouac bag containing a hoop with a micromesh screen to foil winged predators. It weighs 1.9 pounds, has a four-season rating and retails for $269.95. The company also sells a PIEPS Bivy Bag Alien Double that retails for $109.95 and weighs 18.5 ounces. The advantage is that this bag sleeps two, which combines body heat in an emergency. (blackdiamondequipment.com; )
Mountain Hardwear manufactures a wide variety of quality outdoor gear. The Dry Q Bivy retails for $185 and weighs only 12 ounces. The Ethereal Bivy features a breathable membrane shell and mesh bug protection. It retails for $230 and weighs 25 ounces. (mountainhardwear.com)
Mountain Safety Research has been innovating for four decades. MSR manufactures a full line of products for adventurers. Cascade Designs, MSR’s parent company, markets over 1,000 items including the MSR lineup. The waterproof and windproof E-Bivy and AC Bivy are made in Taiwan and retail for $99.95 and $199.95 respectively. The E-Bivy is amazingly light at 9 ounces, and the AC Bivy weighs only 16 ounces. (cascadedesigns.com/msr)
Outdoor Research makes a full line of clothing, packs and gaiters. OR’s bivy sacks feature three-layer Gore-Tex exteriors and mesh protection against insects. The Aurora Bivy retails for $200 and weighs 23.5 ounces. The Alpine Bivy retails for $240 and weighs 32 ounces. The Advanced Bivy retails for $320, weighs 37 ounces and features a zippered foot vent. (outdoorresearch.com)
Recreational Equipment Incorporated is a co-op that sells countless outdoor products and related items, ranging from food bars to travel services. REI’s imported Minimalist Bivy Sack weighs 15 ounces and features a breathable, waterproof and windproof shell. Regular models retail for $99.50, and long models retail for $109. REI also sells bivy bags made by other manufacturers. (rei.com)
Snugpak is a British company that makes a variety of high-end outdoor equipment including packs, clothing and hammocks. Proforce Equipment exclusively represents Snugpak in the United States. Snugpak’s Bivvi Bag is made from Paratex Dry, a lightweight, durable, waterproof, breathable fabric, and weighs 12 ounces. The Bivvi Bag is available in olive drab, black and desert tan and retails for $159. Snugpak also makes a Special Forces Bivvi Bag. (proforceequipment.com)
Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL) makes inexpensive products including tools, shelter and survival kits. SOL’s Emergency Bivvy retails for $17. This inexpensive bivy bag, like an emergency blanket, features a metallic reflective coating on one side (to reflect 90 percent of body heat) and is orange on the other. It weighs 3.8 ounces and is windproof and waterproof. The Thermal Bivvy 2 retails for $30. The metallic bag features four-ply, non-woven construction, reflects 80 percent of body heat and has a foot vent. It weighs 8.9 ounces. The Escape Bivvy retails for $50 and weighs 8.5 ounces. The orange, windproof and water-resistant sack is made from a breathable laminate, reducing the likelihood of condensation forming. The quarter-length side zipper eases entry and exit. (surviveoutdoorslonger.com)
U.S. military surplus bivy bags are constructed in the U.S. to demanding military specs using a breathable membrane (Gore-Tex). To enable troops to exit quickly on the battlefield, the 1-plus-pound bivy bag features a rugged, three-quarter-length, two-way zipper. Used bags can be purchased in surplus stores and online (Amazon and eBay) for between $22 and $70. I’ve bought a couple of used bivy bags and attest to their ugly woodland camouflage and their toughness. I suggest buying one locally so that you can inspect it.
For years North Americans have been awash in information about the need for and composition of bug-out bags and get-home bags. To be practical, such bags must optimize weight and bulk. While tents and tarps make great shelters in most situations, consider the following.
You keep your in-case bag on your motorcycle because you travel to remote rural areas. During a trip in the intermountain West, an unpredicted snowstorm overtakes you. Your bike slides off the road and down a moderate slope, coming to a stop near a small outcropping of rock. You dismount to assess your situation. The big bike is hopelessly stuck in mud and snow—more importantly, it can’t be seen from the road because of the hill’s angle. You know the area enough that traffic is unlikely, but an overland hike of 3 miles will get you to a small town where you can wait out the storm. You should make it before sundown.
When you’re halfway to the town, the wind doubles, causing you to lean forward into it. Then it triples, driving snow into your face and sucking heat from you. You turn your back to the howling wind to form a plan. Shivering, you realize the storm is now a blizzard, and you must bivouac to survive the night. Removing your gloves, you feel your fingers become stiff and clumsy in the frigid wind. Opening your bag, you understand that seconds count. Given the wind’s speed, a tarp or emergency blanket will be difficult to hold onto, much less rig into a shelter. Only a mountaineering tent that can be pitched from the inside will stand up to the whipping, furious wind.
A lightweight alternative is a bivouac bag (bivy, bivvy or bivvi sack) or shelter, usually featuring a covered head space. It can be used by itself or to enclose a sleeping bag and pad to keep them out of the elements, which helps you to keep warm. Unlike an emergency blanket, a bag has no edges to let out heat and let in water.
Depending on temperature, humidity, elevation and time spent in a sleeping bag, people perspire and exhale moisture in different amounts. This moisture can condense inside a bivy sack so take this into account when buying a non-breathable bivouac bag. Condensation can be dangerous when using a down sleeping bag that loses its insulating properties and can clump when wet.
Less Is More
Some minimalists carry a lightweight (about 1-pound) military poncho liner or Kifaru’s Woobie or Woobie Express (kifaru.net) instead of a sleeping bag to use with a bivy sack for use in moderate temperatures. If you drill holes in your toothbrush handle to lighten it, consider the preceding combination of products in non-freezing weather.
If you’re used to sleeping in a tent, a bivy bag or shelter may feel confining or claustrophobic, so experiment before buying. Like most outdoors products, bivy sacks and shelters are available in numerous and diverse configurations. So, before buying, do sufficient research, including reading reviews, to discover all features, benefits, advantages and price points.
Author’s note: Be forewarned that bivouacking in stormy winter weather can be life threatening even when you have the appropriate gear.
More Bivy Resources
If you’re new to the world of bivy bags, visit rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bivy-sack. To view a comparison of bivy bags plus reviews, visit outdoorgearengine.com
**Note: The way you abbreviate “bivouac” will influence search results. Bivy, bivvy and bivvi are all used.
For More Information Contact:
www.mountainhardwear.com, (877) 927-5649
Mountain Safety Research
www.Rei.com; (800) 426-4840
www.snugpack.com; +44 (0)1535 654479
Survive Outdoors Longer
www.surviveoutdoorslonger.com; (800) 324-3517
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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