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  1. #1
    Grateful Tread brawny's Avatar
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    Stealth camping using a bivy?

    Hi All,

    I'm toying with the idea of using a bivy for stealth camping this spring/summer/fall, and was wondering if those here would mind sharing their experience and expertise.

    My thought is that for stealthing, a bivy would be a lot easier to set up and conceal than a small tent. I've just ordered a new LHT, and I'm hoping to try some solo S240's this year, and cut back a bit on the amount of gear I schlep. Using a 2 lb bivy and a summer weight bag might be a step in the right direction.

    On a related note, a local surplus store has these Chinook Summit bivy's for sale , and I wondered if anyone had any experience with them. The price seems reasonable, and at a glance, they seem to be reasonably well made, but I can't find much in the way of reviews.

    Thanks in advance to all!
    Brawny
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  2. #2
    ah.... sure. kayakdiver's Avatar
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    I'm all for a bivy unless........................... The weather turns to poo. I can handle a day or so but if it gets to be a regular thing the bivy just sucks. If I did a bivy without tent I would only do it if I had a nice sil tarp I could pitch as well. Having something to hang out in during a rain storm is pretty much required for me.

    That being said... I've done what you plan. It works but.. I only use a bivy mountaineering light and fast these days. Anything longer than a few days I'm bringing a tent. YMMV.

    They do work great for stealth camping though. Pretty much fit anywhere and you stay hidden very well.

    If you've never used one for an extended period of time... I suggest taking a short weekend trip with one when it's raining. If you still like the idea after that... You are tougher than I.

    So.... bivy+tarp=yes bivy-tarp=no again... my opinion only.
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    No personal experience with a bivy but I can imagine it would get a bit miserable with a few consecutive nights of rain.

    If you're open to other solutions that weigh in around 2lbs, check out Tarptent for lightweight single wall fully enclosed tent options (I own two and love them, esp. for lightweight touring) or Hennessy Hammocks for the ultimate stealth option when in wooded areas (no need to worry about smooth, flat ground).

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    I've only used a bivy a few times and moisture collected both times. A friend had one in the rain and said he had a miserable night. I'd look for tarp, ground cloth and good drainage before a bivy.

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    If you're really planning on doing a lot of stealth camping then you might look into the small camo military-style tents. They're significantly heavier, but low-profile and camo for staying hidden. And, most importantly, the material is fully opaque so you can have some lights on inside the tent and they won't make it glow on the outside like a normal tent. Here's a description of one Eureka model:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXivRSG6fEI

    They would make it much more comfortable to be able to sit out some bad weather periods and be able to read, eat, etc. inside the tent while remaining well hidden.

  6. #6
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    DONT DO IT. I tried and even during light to medium rains i got zero sleep. Get a one man tent or some other kind of tent. Save you from being miserable.

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    Go bivy + tarp or hammock + tarp. They both are hard to see and both are very light. A small lightweight siltarp weighs pretty much nothing and adds huge rain protection.

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    I used a Bibler Bipod Bivy a few years ago while canoe tripping.
    It has more volume than many bivys but still pretty compact and light.
    Did get a couple of rain storms - it was fine.
    My tripping was later in the summer when the nights started cooling a lot,
    so there was a lot of condensation on the outside in the morning. So the bivy
    did get pretty damp - when we stopped for lunch I would unroll the bivy and let
    it air out. For me, this bivy was a good choice.

  9. #9
    Grateful Tread brawny's Avatar
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    I think the general consensus is about what I expected:
    • bivy's are a pretty minimalist way to travel, and they're not particularly comfortable, particularly if the weather is wet
    • bivy + tarp is a better option than bivy alone.


    The Tarptent looks like a good piece of gear, as does the Eureka tent (albeit a bit heavy). One of our kids has a solo Eureka tent, much like the camo one in the video link, minus the camo, so perhaps I'll consider it as well, since it's a piece of gear I already have access to.

    I have a good lightweight tarp (not a siltarp, but the next grade up, from MEC, our Canadian version of REI), and whatever I do, the tarp comes with me anyway, along with a good length of strong, lightweight cord to string it up as needed.

    I'm also considering a Hennessey hammock as a good way to stealth camp, but without a good bush lot, I think might be a bit harder to conceal a hammock than a bivy, although that's more of a gut feel than anything. I've done a lot of reading on them, and they certainly look like an interesting option, and they're not much more than the bivy I was looking at.

    Thanks,
    Brawny
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  10. #10
    Senior Member emarg0ed's Avatar
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    +1 on the TarpTent. I have a Contrail and LOVE it. Packs down very small and it's incredibly light. Does great in all types of weather and is very roomy for a small single person tent. Maybe not as 'hidden' as a camo tent but I've never had any issues w/ stealth camping in it

  11. #11
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    I toured a month in a bivy. Like others have said though, if it rains for a lengthy period of time, they really suck to be stuck in one. I use a 7x5 tent now for stealth camping. I've never been discovered yet, the key is NOT to be seen when going into the spot you choose from the road. Once it gets dark, the odds you're be discovered in the woods is minimal unless you're right next to a house with a dog. Best wishes.

  12. #12
    BWF
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    I use the Wild Oasis floorless tent by Six Moon Designs. It weighs less than one pound and has plenty of room for one plus gear. If you need a tent floor the Lunar Solo is the same thing but with the floor. I own both, but like the weight savings of the Wild Oasis. The owner of Six Moon Designs is awesome. I highly recommend it. Like what others have said, bivy's are only comfortable when you don't need to be in it.

    http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/shop/shopexd.asp?id=48

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    I first used a bivy back in 79 when I hitch hiked across country and I'd say they are a good way to go for small and light but like others have said when the weather turns bad it's no place to hang out. A good addition to a bivy is a good tarp like the MSR. If you trench the area around the tarp you can keep the area dry in a down pour and move about. The other nice thing about a bivy is that you can get into it quickly if you find your self swarmed by mosquitos like I did on many occasions without repellant. Keep in mind also that a bivy adds about 10 degrees to a sleeping bag so if you're going to be in a cooler climate you can scale back on the bag or if in a warm climate you may be able to use a sheet or blanket alone. I have an Early Winters Gore Tex Bivy which is the same one I've had since that trip and it still performs well though it's no longer my primary shelter and it's small enough to carry as a backup or an alternate if I just want to camp quickly.

  14. #14
    Acetone Man
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    If you want to stealth camp get yourself a stealth shelter. Size is only one element of stealth design; the B2 bomber is huge, but it is stealth. A rescue-me orange bivy sack will stand out like a sore thumb in any environment.

    I have a 10x10 foot square tarp made of BLACK silnylon. I can get my bike and all my gear under it as well as my bag. Black, being the absence of light and color, is something our eyes naturally pass over, and a black tarp at night is for all intents and purposes invisible to anyone who isn't deliberately looking for a hidden black shelter. This is true stealth, even moreso than that silly camo patterned stuff for the soldier of fortune poseurs.

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    I'm a summer bike tourer. That means hot weather and mosquitoes.

    I hate mosquitoes. I hate DEET even more. If you're going to limit yourself to a bivy or a bivy with a tarp, make sure you have a plan for hot steamy nights with lots of mosquitoes. I can't imagine sweating in a zipped up bivy on a hot, humid night and being unable to open it up because of the mosquitoes.

    I'm sticking with my tent that has good mosquito netting.

  16. #16
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thasiet View Post
    If you want to stealth camp get yourself a stealth shelter. Size is only one element of stealth design; the B2 bomber is huge, but it is stealth. A rescue-me orange bivy sack will stand out like a sore thumb in any environment.

    I have a 10x10 foot square tarp made of BLACK silnylon. I can get my bike and all my gear under it as well as my bag. Black, being the absence of light and color, is something our eyes naturally pass over, and a black tarp at night is for all intents and purposes invisible to anyone who isn't deliberately looking for a hidden black shelter. This is true stealth, even moreso than that silly camo patterned stuff for the soldier of fortune poseurs.


    yes, ninja.

    that's why militaries all use black gear and equipment and not colors and patterns like MARPAT camo.

    However you do it, bring a drab or ninja black or poseur camo tarp and ground cloth in addition to a bivy. your flexibility in sheltering will be great.

    I can forgo the bivy and just wrap in my tarp for the night if lo profile is an imperative.

    my best shelter system, one i've honed for decades, is a siltarp, a suspended bug tent and a ground cloth.

    packs the smallest, best airflow, most room and most versatile. A tarp with sewn on mosquito net perimeter would be even more spacious.

    not the stealthiest, I've often thought about a voyageur shelter made of siltarp. there was a canadian company churning these out for canoe packers, but their stock colors were all bright.... you could have a three pound siltarp with mosquito netting that could be used in a host pitching ways including the stealth bivy roll, and a spacious bug free tent with room for bike when stealth lopro was not an absolute imperative.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 03-01-10 at 09:18 AM.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    Touring is supposed to be enjoyable. Like Kyakdiver, I've only used my bivy sack for mountineering, and only when I had to. No matter how you do it I think you will end up with a damp bag in the morning, especially in rain. It is hard to get out of your sleeping bag, get dressed, stuff you bag while confined in a bivy during a rain storm. I think I'd opt for a 3-4 pound one person tent which would give you about 10 times the comfort for the extra weight. Wrapping in anything that is coated leads to condensation between the coated fabric and your sleeping bag. Even breathable fabrics do poorly in certain conditions.

    Why the fixation with "stealth" camping. I've been touring for over 30 years and have done a lot of "primitive" camping, but very seldom had or felt that I had to sneak into a camping spot. Maybe it is because I live in the west were there is a lot of public land. I have also had good luck asking people about camp spots and usually came up with something that was useable without resorting to what is essentially trespassing. The few times that I have had to resort to it was because I had no other choices. Again bike touring is about having fun, and if I was nervous about sneaking into a campspot and having to use camo, I think that would definately reduce the relaxation factor.

    Having said all that, we live in free countries, and everyone sees things a little differently. Enjoy!
    Last edited by Doug64; 03-02-10 at 12:27 AM.

  18. #18
    Grateful Tread brawny's Avatar
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    Hi Doug64.

    Thanks for the feedback on bivies and condensation. Having never used one before, that's the sort of feedback I'm after. I have a couple good quality small tents (2 man Eureka, and a 3 man MEC Tarn), and completely agree with you that tents would likely be a LOT more comfortable than a bivy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
    Why the fixation with "stealth" camping.
    My fixation stems from not wanting to have to pay for accommodations for short, overnight tours. I've read some interesting articles on 'stealth' camping over the years (Allan Stokell's article at crazyguyonabike, and Ken Kifer's pages on bike touring/camping to name a couple). I've also been following Kent Peterson's blog and as a result of seeing the gear he takes on tour, I'm interested in trying to cut back on the amount of stuff I need to take when doing a short tour.

    In Southwestern Ontario, the terrain is pretty varied, and there is a good mix of farmland and small to medium-sized wood lots interspersed with small towns. There isn't much in the way of 'public land' around here, or I would do as you have, and simply set up there.

    My thought was that it shouldn't be any trouble to find unimproved, unfenced, unposted wood lots at the side of the road within a day's bike of home so that I could bike for the day, find a quiet place to 'camp' for the night, and in the morning, get up and bike towards home again. (I've heard these types of trips called S240's before). I could take one of my tents, but it seems to me that they're not only much more visible but time consuming to put up - and take down in a hurry, if necessary. My gut tells me that I'd be a lot more likely to be spotted and roused than in a smaller, darker bivy.

    I've also considered a Hennessey hammock, as Allan uses, as they're dark coloured, quick to put up, and rain proof, but without ever having slept in a hammock before, I'm a bit hesitant to shell out a couple hundred bucks for gear that may or may not suit my needs. They seem like a good idea, although they have cool weather issues that would need to be addressed as well.

    As for tresspassing, from reading the trespass page that Allan put up on crazyguyonabike, it sounds like you're not trespassing if you leave when asked, provided that the property is un-improved, unsigned etc. Obviously, this is Allan's interpretation of the laws of Ontario, but I think he's pretty close to the mark. Probably laws are different in the US, but I know there are others that stealth camp there as well.

    For longer tours, when my wife and I travel together, we go deluxe. Tent, tarp, two stoves... Heck - we even take plates and silverware, and a change of clothes! We also plan those tours in a lot greater detail, and typically stay in campgrounds or provincial parks, or occasionally look for couchsurfing or warmshowers hosts.

    What I'm really looking for here is a way to go exploring on my own by bike for a day or two - without having to pay for a place to rest my head. It sounds to me like a bivy would work, albeit with a lot of drawbacks and tradeoffs in comfort.

    I think I'll continue to weigh my options for a while yet. The snow won't be off the ground here until April, so I still have some time to ponder my choices!

    Brawny
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  19. #19
    This user is a pipebomb brotherdan's Avatar
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    I've done a fair amount of touring with a bivy. Condensation is an ever present issue. Never been a problem, but it's there. As long as you're using a synthetic bag it shouldn't be any real concern.

    I use an Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy. Sets up in a matter of seconds. I feel comfortable camping in all kinds of places that I'm not allowed to be in. I use it in all four seasons.

    Never have been able to get the pole to stand up when the rain fly isn't covering my face, though, which means that the mosquito net drapes over my face, and the mosquitoes bite me through the mesh. That's my one gripe, because sometimes it's just too hot close the bag over your head in the summer.
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  20. #20
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    the sticky wicket in concealed camping is the bike and pannier reflectors. any bits of flecco or silver stand out like a shooting star when in front of a headlamp/flashlight.

    you'll need a tarp to conceal the bike with anyhoo. just duck under the tarp, propper' up on a few sticks or whatnot, or guy out if its going to rain.

    mosquito net of a sort, add a groundcloth, and you're set! bivy, eh. good in the mountains while climbing.

    you can often hide in the middle of the day in sight and not be seen if you do it fairly well.

    all these 'stealth' bike campsites below were within 50-75 feet of a road and pretty much undetectable from that distance/direction by a person looking from the roadway.

    for those critical of the camo or (conversely) the lack of effective line concealment, i'm staying hidden from casual observers and park ranger types, not enemy combatants.

    i'm not going to spend time arranging foilage to stay on the down low, but use camo tarps because i've got some, and find they work concealing bike & body better during light conditions than solid colors if they tones match close enough.

    i don't always roll in after dark or leave at first light. i enjoy my evening brewup and morning coffee while stealthing it.

    i'm still recommending tarp/net/ground cloth as much more versatile, cheaper and packing lighter than a bivy and better for tucking in bike AND self well.
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    Last edited by Bekologist; 03-03-10 at 12:18 AM.
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  21. #21
    This user is a pipebomb brotherdan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    the sticky wicket in concealed camping is the bike and pannier reflectors. any bits of flecco or silver stand out like a shooting star when in front of a headlamp/flashlight.
    I never have had a big problem with that. I usually just lay my bike down on it's side.
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  22. #22
    Senior Member Cyril's Avatar
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    Hennessey hammock......my wife and I have used them for years.
    Great nights sleep.
    bit of a learning curve , tho.
    I camp in southwestern Ontario and its all I use.

    sometimes a provincial park( the Pinery is a fav!) and sometimes just a spot off the side of the road.

    works for me.

    cyril

  23. #23
    Grateful Tread brawny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyril View Post
    Hennessey hammock......my wife and I have used them for years.
    Great nights sleep.
    bit of a learning curve , tho.
    I camp in southwestern Ontario and its all I use.

    sometimes a provincial park( the Pinery is a fav!) and sometimes just a spot off the side of the road.

    works for me.

    cyril
    H Cyril,

    We spend a good deal of time in the Pinery as well. Great park, and close to home.

    What sort of learning curve is there with the hammocks? I'm interested in them but not sure I'm ready to make the $200 - $300 leap of faith that they're as good as folks have said without trying one first. MEC carry them now, and we're planning a trip to Toronto this weekend to go to the bike show. We might swing by MEC to see if they have one set up.

    Do you use your hammock in colder weather? As I understand it, one of the downsides of the hammock is the amount of heat loss through the bottom. Hennessey are now selling some sort of insulation system, but its relatively new, and additional $$$ over and above the cost of the hammock.

    The other thing I wonder about hammocks is the availability of suitable trees to hang them in. Has this been an issue for you? Have you had to set yours up in 'tent mode' before? I've seen pics of folks doing just that, and it didn't look very comfortable or waterproof...

    Brawny
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  24. #24
    Grateful Tread brawny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    the sticky wicket in concealed camping is the bike and pannier reflectors. any bits of flecco or silver stand out like a shooting star when in front of a headlamp/flashlight.

    you'll need a tarp to conceal the bike with anyhoo. just duck under the tarp, propper' up on a few sticks or whatnot, or guy out if its going to rain.

    mosquito net of a sort, add a groundcloth, and you're set! bivy, eh. good in the mountains while climbing.

    you can often hide in the middle of the day in sight and not be seen if you do it fairly well.

    all these 'stealth' bike campsites below were within 50-75 feet of a road and pretty much undetectable from that distance/direction by a person looking from the roadway.

    for those critical of the camo or (conversely) the lack of effective line concealment, i'm staying hidden from casual observers and park ranger types, not enemy combatants.

    i'm not going to spend time arranging foilage to stay on the down low, but use camo tarps because i've got some, and find they work concealing bike & body better during light conditions than solid colors if they tones match close enough.

    i don't always roll in after dark or leave at first light. i enjoy my evening brewup and morning coffee while stealthing it.

    i'm still recommending tarp/net/ground cloth as much more versatile, cheaper and packing lighter than a bivy and better for tucking in bike AND self well.
    Bekologist - it looks like you've got a pretty good system going for you. Lightweight, rain and bug proof (with a mosquito net), and camoflaged as well.

    I agree with you about reflectors on the bike - and clothes! My windjacket has great reflective stripes - perfect for being seen in traffic, but also a dead give away with a headlight/flashlight in the bush. I have a lightweight tarp (beige/brown coloured) that'd I'd use to cloak the bike. Just have to remember to wear a different jacket around the camp. :-)

    BTW, your pics are great - those look like some awesome camping spots. I can see why you want to arrive early and stay late! They look to be off the beaten path a bit - even if there is a road within 50 - 75 feet. Where abouts are they? Northeastern US somewhere?
    TV Sucks. Ride Your Bike!

  25. #25
    Senior Member mattbicycle's Avatar
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    I'm a fan of Stokell's trip reports and information. I wouldn't have bought my Trangia stove it it weren't for him praising them so highly. I seem to remember he also has a page about keeping warm in a hammock during cold weather.

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