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staehpj1 01-06-12 07:27 AM

Bivy for Lightweight Bike Touring?
I would be interested in hearing from folks who have tried using a bivy rather than a tent. I know that Rowan has mentioned it.

I am thinking of a hoop-less bivy since most of the ones with hoops weigh almost as much as my tent (2 lb 9 oz). I am also not interested in one if I have to add a tarp that makes the weight as much or nearly as much as my tent. I like the idea of lighter weight and the ability to roll the whole sleeping system up allowing it to just be rolled out to set up camp. I also like the ability to see the stars at night.

I am curious about the following:
  • Can you manage to dress and undress in your bivy?
  • Do you have condensation problems?
  • If you have condensation how much and how do you manage it?
  • What conditions do you use your bivy in?

I am considering the REI Minimalist Bivy Sack. I figure that in light rain I can lay on my side and shelter the mesh. In harder rain I think maybe my rain jacket can be rigged to cover the mesh. I would probably use it in conditions where rain was fairly infrequent and might have the tent mailed from home if the long term outlook was for a long wet period.

I am toying with going with a bivy for my upcoming southern tier tour, but would be set to abandon it in favor of a tent if it didn't work out for me. I could see using it until the Gulf coast and then maybe switching to a tent if the weather was wetter.

Derailed 01-06-12 07:52 AM


Originally Posted by staehpj1 (Post 13683534)
I would be interested in hearing from folks who have tried using a bivy rather than a tent.

We're in the same boat -- I haven't used one yet, but I'm interested for when I want to tour really light, such as on a folding bike coupled with using Amtrak to my start and end points. I also have the same thoughts about not wanting to need a tarp to go with it.

I've been considering the REI Minimalist Biby, but I'm currently leaning toward the MSR AC Bivy (also hoopless). It's considerably more expensive, but seems to get consistently good reviews. That said, I haven't found all that many reviews...

Mr. Jim 01-06-12 08:07 AM

I've used a bivy for backpacking, I haven't taken it bike touring yet but am considering it for this years trip.
  • I cannot dress and undress in mine it's not much bigger than a sleeping bag
  • Condensation has been a problem if I do not leave it open at least a bit to vent it. Not sure if being in the dryer south will help. (mine has mostly been used in Michigan and north of here)
  • Mine is a hooped bivy, although I usually leave the hoop home and use a convenient over hanging branch to keep the canopy up. I then leave the "door" open as much as weather permits to allow for condensation to evaporate. Having to close it almost all the way one rainy evening resulted in my having to mop out the inside next morning.
  • Mine was originally purchased for use in Yellowstone park in early spring with 3 feet of snow still on the ground. It has seen extensive use on Isle Royale NP, the beaches of Michigan and all over the rest of the state.

Personally I would not use a non hoop bivy. Just my own experience speaking. You cannot comfortably change clothes in one, you cannot read in one (mine has enough headroom to get up on one elbow), and if it does rain and you are forced to take some time off there is no where to go and stay dry except the bivy, in which you can do nothing but lay there. Packed sizes of small tents are not that different than packed sizes of bivy's. I have been looking for a new tent for this years trip and will probably go with something like this.

A pound or two extra on the bike is not as bad as it is when hiking, and the ability to move around a bit in the tent on longer trips is priceless. Beside one of my favorite parts of sleeping out is to roll over in the morning stick the stove out from under the vestibule and have my first mug of coffee whilst still in the sack as I contemplate the new morning. I might be getting old and set in my ways, but I can't give that one up. :cheers:

MassiveD 01-06-12 09:18 AM

  • Can you manage to dress and undress in your bivy?
It might be possible, but it is a bit like asking can you dress in your sleeping bag, same answer.

  • Do you have condensation problems?
Big time. Mine was goretex. Under the conditions for which they are designed they basically add warm to a sleeping bag, and the idea would be that one is sleeping the the head exposed. Once it rains, it gets pretty unpleasant.

  • If you have condensation how much and how do you manage it?
I don't recall anything epic, just that there was some. Living in Canada, it was mostly a cold weather thing, due to the bugs. One way to manage it in cold weather is with a vapor barrier. That way the moisture never escapes into the bag and you are warmer to boot. In snow one can just throw everything on the ground and sleep anywhere there is a pile of snow, or build a snow cave.

  • What conditions do you use your bivy in?
Semi survival alpine, ski touring.

When I got mine it was a lot lighter than alternatives for fair weather, but as you point out, today we have a lot of alternatives. Though I would caution that one should take a real scale to the store, and actually compare weights with one's own scale.

I think that a tarp is a far better idea. I would particularly like to try one in a somewhat benign environment bug wise. Ray Jardine's, 300 page tarp book is actually well worth while, and very much promotes the idea that a tarp is a better way. Not saying I fully believe it, but I am giving it a second chance. I did use one once and was not sold on it. But the system he has designed is both cheap and supposed to be more comfortable than a tent. And is certainly light.

Tent weight is one thing I am willing to splurge a little on. I use a small tent that is hardly better than a bivy, and I would like more space. The tarp might give the best of both worlds, but if not I will probably move up to a 4 pound budget. I will not similarly loosen up on my other gear. But a tent really does have a bigger effect on comfort.

Bekologist 01-06-12 09:34 AM

- cannot dress in a bivy, big problems with condensation.

leaving your sleeping bag inside your bivy on an extended trip is a recipe for funkness.

bivy excells at fast and light trips into the alpine zone, anywhere else its not a sound choice.

using a siltarp as bivy OR tarp is my suggestion.

wiiiim 01-06-12 10:30 AM

I've used a bivi bag on several 1 week treks in the Alps

* if you are serious about camping with a bivi in the rain, don't buy a cheap one with frabric that isn't breathable! they will try to convince you it is, but in my experience anything that isn't GoreTex or some other pro (expensive) material will have you soaking wet in the morning

* your mattress will be out in the rain, they will get muddy and dirty, or get one that is large enough to put your mattress inside

* if it rains hard, water can start to collect on your mattress, the weight of your body can cause water leaking in from the bottom

* in most bivis the bottom cloth is made from much thicker material than the upper, the bottom should always stay on the ground to prevent leakages, easier said than done when you turn a lot during your sleep :-)

* I'd look at one of those that has a thin bendable metal wire that keeps the fabric out of your face

* Mornings and evenings can be harsh, when using the bivi I tend to hike longer days, if its rainy and cold the lack of a comfortable space can be quite hard after some time

* if you do happen to buy a cheap one, its still usable as a simple protection from cold and moist (not rain), if you don't close it all the way up

if weight is not of the utmost importance there are probably better alternatives for less money, I mean just add half a kilo and you have a more comfortable minimalistic tarp or tent

wiiiim 01-06-12 10:48 AM


Originally Posted by staehpj1 (Post 13683534)
I figure that in light rain I can lay on my side and shelter the mesh. In harder rain I think maybe my rain jacket can be rigged to cover the mesh.

that's what I thought too :P, but in reality you're there all groggy from having no sleep, rain is poring down and there you are with a smelly jacket on your face which is getting soaked and muddy and you have to wear it the next day
my best solution was to curl up my mattress into a hoop, lying inside and using that as a roof
you will survive just fine but its no fun, after the third night I adapted and started to look for abandoned huts, big trees, caves or rock piles, anything usable to cover the top half of your body
its adventure alright, I had a great time, but I learned :-)

staehpj1 01-06-12 11:26 AM

Great comments all! I will have to mull them over a good bit.

I have a strong preference for buying a bivy from REI for a few reasons.
  1. I can go look at them.
  2. I can very easily return it if it doesn't work out.
  3. I get a credit toward my REI dividend.

In order for it to be worth the weight savings it would have to be at least a pound lighter than my tent which is 2 lb 9 oz with 6 MSR Needle stakes replacing the 8 heavy steel ones it came with.

Those two preferences limit it to three candidates:
  1. REI Minimalist Bivy Sack at 15 oz and $89.50
  2. MSR AC-Bivy at 1 lb and $199.95
  3. Outdoor Research Aurora Bivy at 1 lb 8 oz and $199

The Aurora is iffy on the weight criteria and price. Also one reviewer who had used the Aurora and the Minimalist said the Minimalist breathed better. So scratch the Aurora.

That leaves the AC and the Minimalist. Given that the AC is well over twice the price and that neither discloses what the breathable fabric they use is, I think I might spring for the Minimalist.

I am not terribly concerned about the confined space since I tend to get right in my mummy bag when I get into the tent any way. I also tend to exit my tent as soon as I exit the bag as well.

The biggest reservation I have is :
I am guessing that my beloved NeoAir will not fit inside :( I am also not keen on putting the NeoAir directly on the ground some places that I might camp or adding the weight of a ground sheet. I may go with a blue foam pad cut to go inside the bivy and some thick bubble wrap to supplement comfort.

I guess the next step is to go to REI and actually get in one and try it out.

fuzz2050 01-06-12 11:35 AM

If you really want a bivy, try the TiGoat Ptarmigan, It has all the normal problems of a bivy, but at least it only weighs 6 ounces.

I'd go the other way, ditch the bivy entirely and just use a big tarp. I've been lusting after a Mountain Laurel Design Trail Star. Sure, it's a whole 17 ounces, but you get a massive amount of space.

ks1g 01-06-12 11:44 AM

Since you plan to shop at REI anyway, ask the sales help for advice. Many of them are quite experienced using what they sell. Also what the folks above said about a tarp tent if weight/volume/cost is #1 concern (and you don't have to deal with insects in the summer!) or get a lightweight 1 or 2-person tent for the additional space at minimal weight/volume penalty. For me, a now older 1-person Sierra Designs Flashlight is small enough, and I still had to be a bit of a contortionist to change.

prathmann 01-06-12 11:49 AM

Haven't tried one myself, but one of my touring partners used one and quickly decided that he wouldn't do so again. We didn't have any rain on that trip, but he still got wet from condensation. His bivy was actually more of a bother to pack up in the morning than our tents due to the need to dry it out thoroughly. A difference from backpacking is that when bike touring I'm in organized family campgrounds much of the time - and he had issues with any clothes changing in the bivy. A real tent provides you with much more privacy in such settings.

Doug64 01-06-12 12:19 PM


I am curious about the following:
Can you manage to dress and undress in your bivy?
Do you have condensation problems?
If you have condensation how much and how do you manage it?
What conditions do you use your bivy in?

Can you manage to dress and undress in your bivy?
I guess you can, but it would not be easy, at least for me.

Do you have condensation problems?
Nothing major, but in hot, buggy conditions you may not find a comfortable combination of bag/bivy.

If you have condensation how much and how do you manage it?
I have only used a bivy when needed for unanticipated overnight shelter in cold weather, and not for prolonged periods, so no major issues. I'm a back-country ski patroller, and carry a bivy sack in my pack "just in case".

What conditions do you use your bivy in?
For what they are designed for, situations when a bivouac is necessary. Usually for "emergency" shelter while mountaineering. Insulation is usually provided by insulated pants and jacket. Nights were tolerable, but not comfortable.

I would not think weight saved would make up for the inconvenience of a bivy sack, especially on a bike.

This "bivy" was just for fun. Not the Southern Tier!!

bud16415 01-06-12 12:51 PM

I don’t think my bivy is what you are looking for but it is a setup without anything else will keep you alive in a super wide range of conditions. The bivy is just the outer layer of the 3 piece sleep system. In conjunction with the bivy rather than a tarp I like a lightweight military poncho. Many more uses than a tarp. The minimal setup would be a poncho and a poncho liner. I modified my liner by adding a slit that matches the head hole in the poncho. You can wear the poncho for rain protection wear it with the liner for wet and cold and open it flat and folded over for a simple sleeping bag and bivy cover. Won’t provide much comfort but it’s better than nothing. I have a sling hammock and also an Army surplus covered hammock with sealed top and net sides. I tried it out a couple times without hanging it as a bivy on the ground and the top tied up and it didn’t work too badly was great at keeping the bugs out not so good for staying dry. On a side note I have used the poncho a couple times while on the bike in rain with mixed results I had it over the bars in the front and anchored somewhat in the back kind of a tent over me with air movement inside. I thought there might be some usefulness in trying that out still not sure but it did work although blaze orange would be better than digital camo for that usage.

Here is a link to the MSS bivy bag I have.

fietsbob 01-06-12 01:05 PM

when you emerge you will be a butterfly .. :lol:

robow 01-06-12 04:28 PM

Imo, the silnylon tarps have made the bivy almost obsolete. Did the bivy thing while biking many moon ago and will never go back. If I'm counting ounces and not pounds, it's a tarp.

lhendrick 01-06-12 04:43 PM

If it rains all night and into the next day, with a bivvy you lose the option of laying in and waiting out the storm with a good book and a bottle of hootch, unless you are a hamster.

phughes 01-06-12 05:01 PM

If you want another lightweight option, you might consider a hammock. My setup including a rainfly is a little under 3 pounds. I have a Warbonnet Blackbird. It's extremely comfortable and some people set them up as a bivvy when they cannot find something to hang it on.

staehpj1 01-06-12 05:09 PM

I stopped at REI to check them out and wound up buying one. I found the following:
  • The Minimalist packs really small.
  • It is surprisingly roomy. The 20x72" NeoAir fits inside of it nicely and there seemed to be enough room to accommodate my sleeping bag without compressing it..
  • It appears to be well made.
  • It can be folded lengthwise into thirds with the NeoAir inside and rolled up. The rolled combination still fits in the provided stuff sack!
  • There is enough room inside that, with my minimal load, I could probably bring all my gear inside if I wanted to. I am not likely to bring in the kitchen gear or some of the other stuff, but my shoes and clothes can come in.
  • I have enough room to dress inside of it.

I will try sleeping in it before the tour, but I think I will like it enough to keep it even if I wind up not taking it on the tour. I will probably take it but even if I do I'll have the tent set out for my wife to mail to me if needed.

My biggest concern is how it will be if I get warm weather where I need to be zipped up to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but will be hot in the bivy.

markf 01-06-12 10:10 PM

I've used a bivy on climbing trips in Rocky Mountain National Park, where bivy sacks are allowed but tents are not in certain areas. Mine kept me dry in a couple of pounding downpours and one snowfall, but getting dressed in a zipped up bivy bag in a rainstorm is difficult and time consuming at best. There's also the problem of where to put your gear to keep it dry, and how to keep dry when preparing or eating food. I also found that I had to sleep with the zipper opened a few inches or I would wake up gasping for breath.

I will continue to use a bivy bag on short (one or two night) trips where the odds of rainfall are minimal and where weight and space are at a premium. Any other time I will use my Black Diamond Megamid tent. It's not as light as your tent, but the ratio of interior space to weight is really impressive.

hueyhoolihan 01-06-12 11:50 PM

i did a circumnavigation of us on bike using a bivy (gortex top and polyethylene bottom) starting in dec 1995 at San Francisco airport and ending nine months later in Sacramento.

1) yes i could dress inside the bivy, but i didn't do it voluntarily.

2) yes there is condensation, but it was not a deal breaker. i've had worse in a tent on occasion.

3) i dealt with it. yes it wasn't pleasant, but, honestly, the mileage and hills were less pleasant at times.

4) winter cold in New Mexico and spring rain in New England.

staehpj1 01-07-12 10:02 AM

Thank you to all who responded.

Derailed 01-07-12 10:39 AM


Originally Posted by staehpj1 (Post 13688212)
Thank you to all who responded.

Thanks for starting the thread -- please keep us updated as you experiment.

At 6'2", I think the REI Minimalist is out for me, but I'd still be interested to hear what you find.

I'm also considering a bug bivy [possibility from Mountain Laurel Designs] coupled with a lightweight tarp, as others have recommended, but as I suspect is the case with you, I'd prefer to avoid the necessity of staking and tying.

staehpj1 01-07-12 12:40 PM


Originally Posted by Derailed (Post 13688315)
At 6'2", I think the REI Minimalist is out for me, but I'd still be interested to hear what you find.

Maybe, but it does come in a regular (82") and a long (88"), so it might work.


Originally Posted by Derailed (Post 13688315)
I'm also considering a bug bivy [possibility from Mountain Laurel Designs] coupled with a lightweight tarp, as others have recommended, but as I suspect is the case with you, I'd prefer to avoid the necessity of staking and tying.

That might be a great setup for hot weather touring. Wet weather protection, bug protection, and maximum ventilation.

ka0use 01-07-12 12:42 PM

bivvy sack
i had a EUREKA! hooped bivvy sack and used it for years. dragged it all over europe
on hitchhiking trips for months at a time. used it in early winter, too, with snow.

getting dressed- i didn't, i kept my hiking shorts and t-shirt on.
condensation- none, it had a roll back fly over mesh, and a vestibule.
wear- i had a groundsheet, so no wear.
weight- a lot lighter than my EUREKA! 2 person timberline a-frame (which i equally loved).
didn't use a mattress. had a 1/4" thick army surplus closed cell foam pad that weighed next to nothing.

top row l-r: goblin valley, utah, alps?, belgian campground
bottom row l-r: checklist prep for europe, somewhere on the western slope of the rockies (you can't see 'em, but i nested on a bunch of baby barrel cactus- it was dark when i got there).

Derailed 01-07-12 12:47 PM


Originally Posted by staehpj1 (Post 13688719)
... it does come in a regular (82") and a long (88") ...

I was not aware of this -- thanks! (I erroneously assumed a long version would show up on the website's pulldown menu of options, but now I see it as a separate entry.)

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