Buying The Best Bivy Sack – What You Need To Know When Preparing To Go Minimal

If you want to cut down on weight and you don’t want to take a tent or maybe if you just want to be prepared for any eventuality, a bivy sack can be a great solution. Here’s my guide to help you understand what do look for in a bivy so you can choose the best bivy sack for you.

**You'll find our more detailed reviews below, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.

Buyer’s Guide

What Is A Bivy?

Woodland Camouflage Waterproof Bivy Cover

Woodland Camouflage Waterproof Bivy Sack

Let’s start with the basics, what is a bivy sack? Originally, bivies were essentially waterproof sleeping bag covers for military use that allowed soldiers to strike camp quickly and protect themselves from the elements without the need for a tent.

Nowadays, their use is no longer restricted to the military and for many, modern bivies have become an option that has replaced the traditional tent, especially among the more minimalist backpackers who are always looking for ways to reduce the amount of kit they carry.


Bivy Or Tent?

Yellow Bivy Sack For Minimalist Solo Expedition Camping

A Yellow Bivy Sack With Mosquito Net And Foam Sleeping Pad Inside

Before thinking about how to choose the best bivy, why you would choose a bivy over a tent in the first place? The main advantage is that a bivy is usually lighter and smaller than even the most lightweight tents. This is an advantage if you are trying to keep the gear for your trip to an absolute minimum.

They are also easier to set up than tents. They are essentially a person-sized bag that you crawl into so all you need to do to set it up is unroll it and get in. Bivies are actually warmer than tents in many cases and so are suitable for use in cold climates.

However, bivies are small and claustrophobic and it is not particularly pleasant to zip yourself inside one to wait out a storm as you can’t really move or do anything. You should consider the weather conditions before choosing between a bivy and a traditional tent for your trip.

Another reason you may choose to carry a bivy is as an emergency shelter. Perhaps you don’t plan to spend the night outdoors but you want to be prepared for all eventualities. Carrying an emergency bivy sack could be a lightweight option for emergency survival.

  • Check out my full guide to choosing between bivies and tents here.

Features To Look For In Bivies

Size And Weight

Aqua Quest Mummy Bivy Sack - Waterproof

Image: Amazon.com

The main reason why people opt for a bivy is to reduce the weight you have to carry on your back as well as to cut down on the bulk of what you have to pack. For this reason, it makes sense to go for a bivy that provides the lightest and most packable option.

There are other features that might mean you choose a slightly heavier or larger bivy but you should consider the size and weight of the bivy you want to buy in relation to the advantages gained from other features.


Space Inside

A Girl Sleeping In A Big Green Bivy Sack

Girl Sleeping In A Big Bivy - Image By Joseph

Separate from the size of the bivy when packed up, you should also consider how much space you will have inside. Bivies are not designed for luxury but if you are a larger person or you dislike enclosed, claustrophobic spaces. You might consider choosing a slightly larger one.


Waterproofing vs. Breathability

Ultralight 1-Person Waterproof BIVY Tent For Camping & Hiking

Image: Amazon.com

At the beginning, bivies were simply waterproof coverings for you to crawl into to keep you and your sleeping bag dry, even in the rain. The problem is that any moisture generated from your body could not escape and this resulted in condensation.

Nowadays, modern bivies can be made of breathable waterproof materials, similar to those used in raincoats, that can keep the rain out but also let moisture generated within the bivy escape. However, there is a trade-off between waterproofing and breathability.

The more breathable a material is, the less waterproof it becomes. If you choose a highly waterproof material, much less moisture will be able to escape from inside. This means you may well end up soaked in your own sweat, especially in warm conditions.

On the other hand, if you choose a highly breathable material, moisture from your body will able to pass through the material but you may end up getting wet from the rain.

This means you need to choose a bivy adapted to the conditions in which you plan to use it. If you will be camping in cold, dry conditions, a breathable material will be best as it will let moisture escape. If it is cold and wet, you should probably favor a more waterproof material.

Hot and wet conditions are the most unpleasant for bivy camping since you will either get wet from the rain or from your own sweat. In hot and wet conditions, you might consider taking a tent instead!


Hoop

Man In Bivy Is Warmed By First Light Of Morning

Hooped Bivy - Image By Kevin Teague

Some bivies now include a hoop at the head end which increases air flow, gives you extra space for your head and makes the bivy less claustrophobic to sleep in. The downside is that you hoop requires a pole which makes a hooped bivy slightly heavier and means you have to carry more kit.

Reviews

**You'll find our more detailed reviews below, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.

Chinook Summit Bivy Bag

Chinook Summit Bivy Bag

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The Chinook Summit bivy has a top made of waterproof, breathable fabric, a bottom made of waterproof ripstop nylon and it features a facial ventilation system using aluminum poles. Its dimensions are 17”x32”x91” and it weighs 2lbs.

I really like this bivy for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very spacious inside and with the facial ventilation, it’s not too claustrophobic. Once you’re inside, there’s plenty of room to move around and change position.

The hood is well designed and works well open in light rain. This bivy is light and small when packed up making it easy to transport and the mosquito net works well. One of the biggest positives is that with all these great design features, it’s still very affordable.

If I have one niggle about this bivy, it’s that there is no way to close the mesh vent at the top. There is no problem with rain coming in but it does allow a certain amount of wind to pass and you can lose some of your heat this way.

Overall a light but spacious bivy that performs well in most conditions and all for a reasonable price. Perhaps not suitable in cold and windy conditions, but even then, I think it would probably be ok.

I Like

  • Light and small when packed up
  • Spacious inside when set out
  • Good hood and canopy design
  • Great value

I Don’t Like

  • Can’t close mesh vent

Woodland Camouflage Waterproof Bivy Cover

Woodland Camouflage Waterproof Bivy Cover

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This military-issue bivy sack is made of tough Gore-Tex and comes in a woodland camouflage color.

Being military-issue, this is a durable bivy sack that is built to last. The material will stand up well to scrapes and scratches and it also features heavy duty zippers that won’t break easily. The material is also quieter than some other bivy sacks on the market.

This bivy sack does exactly what is supposed to do, it will keep you warm and dry at night and the Gore-Tex is very breathable so it will let most of the condensation out. It is also windproof and works well in cold conditions. It packs down very small and is sold at a very reasonable price.

The disadvantage of this military-issue bivy is that it is larger and heavier than some other commercial bivies that are available.

This might be a good choice for someone looking for a reliable and functional bivy that will keep you dry and warm at a reasonable price. This is not one for those looking for the smallest, lightest option and if you are willing to spend more money, you might be able to find something better.

I Like

  • Breathable
  • Keeps you very snug and warm
  • Tough and durable
  • Reasonable price

I Don’t Like

  • Heavy
  • A little bulky

Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This is a high-end bivy from outdoor research made of three-layer Gore-Tex Respiration Positive fiber. It features a dual-pole system that allows for multiple configurations to increase space and ventilation, weighs around 30oz, is 15.25”x4”x4” when packed and 84” in length when unrolled.

This bivy will keep you warm and dry in challenging weather conditions including snow, sleet or rain. It is also spacious inside and the pole system allows you to customize the space around your head to maximize air flow and keep you comfortable.

One great addition to this bivy is the zippered vent which you can use to further increase the passage of air in warmer, more humid conditions.

This bivy doesn’t really have any drawbacks, it does exactly what a bivy is supposed to do and it does it well. That said, it doesn’t come cheap and if you want a bivy such as this that performs well in a range of conditions, you need to pay for it.

This is a great option for someone looking for a high-end, high-performance and lightweight bivy they can rely on. It is probably not the right choice if you are on a budget.

I Like

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Head hoop offers versatility
  • Warm and dry in all conditions
  • Zippered vent

I Don’t Like

  • Not cheap

Snugpak 92860 Stratosphere One Person Bivvi Shelter

Snugpak 92860 Stratosphere One Person Bivvi Shelter

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The Snugpak 92860 uses aluminum poles for canopy support to give you space for your head and shoulders and to increase breathability and protection. It also features a roll-away bug net. It weighs 39oz.

I really like the canopy in this bivy created by the pole system. It gives you more room and feels less claustrophobic that many other bivies. It is also well designed and well made to offer great ease of use and maximum comfort.

It is very lightweight which makes it perfect for minimalist backpacking or camping trips and the bug netting is a good feature to keep flying pests away from you while you sleep.

This bivy tries to combat condensation through the canopy and increased ventilation rather than through use of a breathable material like Gore-Tex. This means it performs less well in both warmer and colder conditions and is at its best when used in temperate climates.

This is a good medium-priced option that will protect you from the elements and allow you a certain amount of comfort. It is lightweight and suitable for minimalists but is probably not the best option for very hot or very cold regions.

I Like

  • Well-made and well-designed
  • Light
  • Less claustrophobic than other bivies
  • Good value

I Don’t Like

  • Not suited to very hot or very cold conditions
  • Not breathable

Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Bivy

Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Bivvy

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This emergency bivy is extremely small and lightweight and is designed as a backup if things go wrong. It’s made of tear-resistant polyethylene and can reflect 90% of your body heat to keep you warm. It can protect against rain, wind and snow.

I wanted to include this bivy in my review because it’s different from the others. It’s not designed as a bivy for regular use, it’s designed as a lightweight bivy that won’t take up much too much space for use in unexpected emergency situations.

The main advantages are that it’s much lighter and smaller than the other bivies I’ve reviewed. You can put it in your bag and you’ll hardly know it’s there. It is also very cheap.

The problem with this bivy is that it’s not designed for comfort or regular use and doesn’t make for a particularly pleasant camping trip if you use it as your main sleeping option. This bivy is not breathable and you will end up wet from sweat. It’s also hard to fold up again.

This is a good choice if you want a small and lightweight emergency bivy. I wouldn’t recommend this for regular use unless you absolutely have to cut the size and weight of your kit to the bare minimum.

I Like

  • Tiny, lightweight
  • Practical survival option
  • Keeps you warm in an emergency
  • Inexpensive

I Don’t Like

  • Not breathable
  • Not a comfortable camping option

Conclusion

If you opt for a bivy over a tent, any of these could be good choices. The military-issue bivy is a good option for someone who wants a cheap and functional shelter for all situations while the SOL emergency bivy is ideal if you want to be prepared for the unforeseen.

The Outdoor Research or Snugpak bivies are also good options at slightly higher price points but for me, with the combination of great functionality, good design and affordable price, the best bivy sack for all-round use is the Chinook bivy sack and that’s the one I choose as my winner.

Do you do bivy camping? Which bivy sack do you use? Do you have any tips about which kit to take or what configuration you use? I’d love to hear from you so why not leave a comment? And if you liked my article, please don’t forget to share!

Julie McClain
 

Chief editor here at Outdoorzer. I'm an outdoor lover and ever since I was a little girl, I've worked hard to learn all I could from my Dad about Camping, Hiking, RVs and surviving in the woods.

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