HOME  |  BLOGS  |  PRODUCT REVIEWS  |  SHOP FOR OUTDOOR GEAR  |  FREE GEAR  |   NEWSLETTER  |  ABOUT US
 
 


Comparative Review of Bivy Bags
By Matt Smith

Last fall, I found myself seven hundred feet down in the bowels of a cold, wet canyon. It was in the early morning hours and had been raining off and on all night. In my ongoing effort to shed needless weight I had not packed a tent. I had only a light down sleeping bag, which was quickly getting soaked. Anyway you look at it, tents are heavy, and besides, if you get rain while you're in a slot canyon, a wet sleeping bag is probably the least of your worries. Lying there shivering in my miserable condition, I determined that that morning to get a bivy bag.

Fast-forward 12 months and here we are, reviewing bivy bags. This review takes at look at the latest bivy bags on the market. Each of the bivys tested weighs in close to two pounds, and costs in the neighborhood of $200-$300. Here are my impressions and experiences with the bivy bags.

Bibler Tripod
Integral Designs Unishelter
Kelty Dart II
Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy
Moonstone Nada Tent
Mountain Hardwear Etheral Bivy

Bibler Tripod

Bibler Tripod The Tripod is an attractive bivy bag, looking similar to a torpedo. The foot of the bivy is held off your sleeping bag by a short pole and guyed out with the included stakes. The freestanding head of the bivy consists of an ingenious design using two poles. With the exception of the Kelty Dart II, the Tripod had the most usable headroom.

The Tripod has a basin style bottom and a durable fly made of ToddTexTM, Bibler's waterbroof/breathable fabric. The tripod fly allows a good portion of the mesh window to be exposed during a rain, without drips coming down on the zipper or the exposed mesh. The fly was quite durable, and I found it easy to clean. Dirt and trail grime wiped off easily with a warm cloth.

Half length zippers on the mesh and fly make for reasonable ventilation, though even with the mesh fully open there was some condensation on the inside of the bivy in the morning. Getting into the bivy required no special effort, but it was not quick and easy either.

The Tripod packs into a fairly tight package (5" x 15"), though the pre-bent poles are a little awkward to get in the storage bag. The Tripod weighs 2 lb. 6 oz. and retails for $325 online.

Summary: This bivy is the "Real McCoy". The Tripod is a durable, self-supporting bivy that is very functional in the rain and is equally at home in the mountains. It is relatively expensive, and probably not the best bivy for a beginner.

For more information please contact:


Back to list


Integral Designs Unishelter

Integral Designs Unishelter Integral Designs hails out of Calgary, Alberta. Their bivy bags are designed to keep out what my wife, a native Albertan, describes as Alberta's serious weather. If the high price of the Bibler Tripod is too expensive, then the Unishelter is a practical, affordable alternative, without sacrificing performance.

The mesh panel on the Unishelter is the largest of any of the bivys tested. The fly can be unzipped all the way to the waist, allowing lots of moisture to escape on warmer nights. On wet nights, leaving the zipper open enough to allow ventilation allowed some water to drip onto the mesh. I don't imagine this would be much of a problem unless you are camping in an environment with heavy rain and wind. The single hoop pole at the head requires a stake to stay upright, and provides ample headroom without the weight of a second pole. I found it very easy to get into the Unishelter. The tall hoop at the head and slightly-longer-than-half zipper made it one of the easiest bivys to get in.

The Unishelter has a basin style bottom that surprisingly accommodated my extra wide Therm-A-RestTM with no problem. The fly is made with Integral Designs own waterproof breathable fabric, TegralTexTM. Weighing 2 lb. 6. oz., the Unishelter adds a little to your pack, but it's 5" x 18" package fits easily into an overnight pack. The Unishelter retails for $235 online.

Summary: The Unishelter is an excellent bivy for 3-season protection. The reasonable price and competitive weight make it a good option for ultralight trips.

For more information please contact:


Back to list


Kelty Dart II

Kelty Dart IISlightly more than a standard bivy, the Dart II is the largest and roomiest bivy in the group. You could squeeze in another person, as long as you are good friends but I found it just right for me, and a few essentials. The Dart II is the only bivy in the group with a vestibule, a handy extra for keeping your toilet paper and boots dry.

Mesh panels in the roof of the vestibule and sleeping compartment allow moisture to escape. Two small vents near the bottom (face level when laying down) let the cool night breeze in and aids in air circulation.

A large hoop pole and short foot pole kept the fly of off my sleeping bag, even my fluffy 0 degree down bag. Getting into and out of the Dart II is quick and easy. I could easily zip the vestibule shut while laying comfortably in my sleeping bag.

Weighing 3 lb., the Dart II is heavier than the other bags in the group, but sports much more room. Surprisingly the Dart II packs into a 7" x 22" bag. I found this size to be somewhat conservative and was easily able to compress it into about half the provided stuff sack.

Summary: The Dart II quickly became my favorite multi-purpose bivy because it is much more roomy than the other bivys, yet it only weighs slightly more. At $140 the Dart II is very affordable, and an excellent option for beginners who don't want to spend several hundred dollars on a one-man shelter.

For more information please contact:


Back to list


Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy

Outdoor Research Advanced BivyThe Advanced Bivy is one of the most unique bivys we tested. The movable pole at the head of the bivy allows a quick, easy conversion from stargaze mode to rain mode, with out having to fuss with zippers. If the weather gets really serious, the lid can be zipped in the closed position for additional protection.

Also unique to the Advanced Bivy, is the snap system used to connect the poles to the fly. Rather than using grommets or sleeves, the poles on the Advanced Bivy snap directly into the fly. The snaps allow the lid to rotate into the open or closed position without the obstructions that grommets might cause. To be honest, I was a little worried about the snaps ripping though the fly or damaging the Gore-Tex, but it never did.

Velcro straps in the floor of the bivy hold your sleeping pad in place while you toss and turn trying to avoid getting out of your warm bag to visit nature. While this is a nice extra, there's no place for your pad to go if it were to escape.

Getting into the Advanced Bivy is a struggle. Thank goodness once you are in, there is plenty of room to operate your sleeping bag zippers. At less than 2 lb. (1 lb. 15 oz.) the Advanced Bivy is one of the lightest, and smallest packing bags in the group. The Advanced Bivy retails for $290.

Summary: A nice, weather friendly bivy that adjusts from starry skies to thunder storms with a flick of the wrist. Light and compact, the Advanced Bivy is an excellent choice for ultra-light backpackers.

For more information please contact:


Back to list


Moonstone Nada Tent

Exactly, this is not a tent! By far the most compact and ultralight design in the group, the Nada Tent instantly became my choice for canyoneering. The freestanding poles at the head require no stakes, an essential quality when you're sleeping on a bed of slickrock.

The opposing poles are tiny, about the size of shish-kabob stick. They look fragile, but I found that because they are very flexible, they are quite durable. The poles hold two mesh panels tight, and away from your face. On a clear day, the ventilation is moderate with the rain flaps over the panels the airflow is dramatically reduced. A small flap allows the fly to be open a little, while still keeping the rain out.

Getting into the Nada Tent takes some practice, but by folding the poles flat on the ground, you can slide into your sleeping bag. Once inside, there is a little room to move around, and adjust your zippers, but don't plan on getting dressed in this bivy.

Packing into a bag only slight larger than a folded T-shirt, and weighing 2 lb. the Nada Tent is by far the easiest bivy to fit in your pack. The Gore-Tex top and basin style bottom help to keep you dry, though if you have sweaty feet when you get in, expect some condensation on your sleeping bag in the morning. The Nada Tent retails for about $250.

Summary: The Nada Tent is compact, effective and light. Though not a good choice for a claustrophobic, the Nada Tent will fit anywhere you can lay out a sleeping bag, and won't take up much room in your pack. It is small enough to throw in a daypack for emergencies.

For more information please contact:


Back to list

Mountain Hardwear Ethereal Bivy

Mountain Hardwear Ethereal BivyPerhaps the most interesting feature of the Ethereal Bivy is that the zippers on your sleeping bag (all Mountain Hardwear and some others) can zip onto the zipper of the bivy, basically giving you one zipper access into your sleeping bag. Because the zipper on the bivy is full length, the Ethereal Bivy gets my vote for the easiest bivy to get in.

The Gore-Tex XCR shell allows water vapor to escape, while protecting you from the elements. A small window lets you see outside even when the fly is zipped shut. Thankfully, Mountain Hardwear included a vent window at face level to help with circulation when the fly is zipped shut. The mesh panel is average size, and when used in conjunction with the vent, provides adequate ventilation. This improved airflow during foul weather, and would be a nice improvement on similar bivys from other manufacturers.

The pole system needs some work. The poles neither oppose each other, nor have tabs to guy them out. The end result is a droopy mess that hangs down instead of being taut between then poles. I have to admit, this disappointed me coming from Mountain Hardwear.

Weighing 1 lb. 12 oz. the Ethereal Bivy is the lightest in the group. Although the bivy packs into a fairly small bag, the pre-bent poles make it awkward to pack in your backpack. At $315, the Ethereal is one of the more expensive bags in the group.

Summary: If you have brand loyalty to Mountain Hardwear, or are smitten by the window, this is the bivy for you, otherwise you might want to wait for a re-design.

For more information please contact:


So next time I find myself getting drizzled on in the middle of the night, I won't be miserable. Instead, I'll be warm and dry inside my bivy, even if the raging torrents of a flash flood are just a few feet away.

Back to list

Matt Smith is the canyoneering specialist at GearReview.com.


Shop for Outdoor Gear @ GearReview.com

dirt jump