If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best bivy sack is, we recommend the GEERTOP Ultralight Bivy Tent.
Ah, the bivy sack. A backpacker’s best friend, and an item that you might never have even heard about unless you’re an extreme trekker, or happened to catch wind of it in passing. Once thought of as the shelter for crazies, bivy sacks have steadily been gaining in popularity, especially in the ultralightweight backpacking community. We’ll cover some of our top picks below to help you find your next minimalistic shelter.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the following bivy sacks:
What is a Bivy Sack?
Bivy is short for “Bivouac,” a word that’s used to describe any improvised shelter for temporary use. These handy sacks allow you to roam freely through the wild without carrying the extra weight that comes with a tent. This isn’t an issue for people who don’t mind rolling their sleeping bag out on the ground and calling it good for the night, but for those of us who like a little more protection, bivy sacks are a lifesaver.
You can think of this item as a sleeping bag for your sleeping bag. It’s a sack that slides over your sleeping bag to provide a weatherproof layer between you and the open wilderness. Some come with a hooped rod that lifts the fabric around your face, so you don’t feel like you’re going to suffocate during the night. They definitely don’t make the most comfortable sleeping arrangements in the world, but they do the trick if you’re trying to shave a few pounds off your pack and still want something of a shelter.
Bivy Sack history
Bivy sacks were originally created for rock climbers spending the night on the wall. Since it isn’t possible to pitch a tent several hundred feet up the side of a cliff, bivy sacks were necessary for climbers who wanted shelter against the elements. Some brave campers would occasionally use them on long backpacking trips as well, but this was very much seen as an extreme (and slightly crazy) course of action for a long time.
It wasn’t until these sacks were adopted for use in the military that they finally started to gain popularity. Now they’re widely used by anyone wanting stay lightweight and mobile as they move from one location to the next.
The Pros and Cons of Bivy Sacks
Bivy sacks are incredibly useful, but they certainly aren’t for everyone. If you’re wondering if this is something that’s right for you (or a friend, if it’s a gift), take into consideration this list of pros and cons.
To start, the primary reason why outdoor enthusiasts use bivy sacks is because of how lightweight they are. When put side by side next to a tent, there’s really no comparison in this regard. Many of them don’t have a frame adding weight, unlike the poles that you’ll find in every tent, and the fabric is as minimalistic as you can get while still being protected.
They’re also efficient, in the sense that they take almost no time to set up and take down. If you need a fast, emergency shelter, a bivy sack is what you’ll want to have on hand.
In terms of insulation, many campers comment on how quickly they warm up inside of a bivy sack. The extra layers typically add about 8 more degrees to the temperature rating for your sleeping setup. That means, if your sleeping bag, pad, and liner can keep your comfortable down to 25 degrees, the addition of the bivy sack will typically keep you warm down to 17 degrees.
Needless to say, I don’t recommend this product for people who suffer from claustrophobia. If you don’t mind tight spaces when you enter the sack, you might find yourself developing a fear after a few hours feeling trapped like a mummy with nothing but a few holes for your eyes and mouth. There won’t be any room to sit up, and rolling over during the night can be a struggle. I would not suggest getting a bivy sack if you expect this lack of space to cause problems for you.
Also, good luck finding space to store your other gear. The bivy sack will barely be big enough for you, so don’t expect to have any extra space to put your backpack, shoes, or other items that you might want to keep out of the elements and away from animals. This can be a deal breaker for some, but for others who were looking to be ultralightweight anyway, it’s not as big of an issue.
Best Bivy sack Reviews
This bivy tent isn’t exactly the same as a sack, but they’re close enough where I feel comfortable putting it in this review. At 2 pounds, 9 ounces, it has a lot of the same features as a tent while cutting back on weight. There’s a full coverage rainfly that helps you stay dry and insulated in cooler temperatures – during the summer, feel free to remove the rainfly for excellent ventilation and a great view of the sky above.
It comes with 2 aluminum poles to help keep the fabric raised above your body. At its full height, you should be bend your knees upward without them brushing the ceiling, which helps alleviate any sense of claustrophobia you might have. The tent floor and rainfly are also sufficiently waterproof, giving you a durable shelter for one that you can take anywhere with minimal effort.
– Hooped poles to help alleviate claustrophopia
– Under 3 pounds
– Durable and waterproof
– Additional storage options inside
– Not exactly freestanding (stakes need to be in place to keep the bivy from collapsing)
– Not really suitable for people over 6 feet
More along the lines of what you’d expect out of a bivy sack, Dibbatu made something that’s about as minimalist as you can get without sacrificing what you need. Essentially a waterproof sleeping bag, you could get away with using nothing more than this on hot summer nights when you’re trying to stay really lightweight. However, pairing it with an actual sleeping bag (and maybe a camping pillow) is what I would recommend.
It’s a thermal bivy sack, which means it’ll reflect back a lot of your body heat. Because of how light they are, and how easily they pack down, they make for great survival shelters. For day hikes, or other outdoor excursions, I would recommend brining one of these bivy sacks in case you need protection in an emergency. They do smell a little funny, but that’s a small price to pay for a solid barrier between you and the elements.
– Very light and minimalist
– Convenient carry case
– Surprisingly warm
– Versatile and cheap shelter
– Smells funny
– Protection isn’t as thorough as a bivy tent
Leaning toward the fancy side, GEERTOP’s bivy tent is a great option if you want a little more than just a thin bag to slide into at night. At just over 3 pounds, you’ll still be able to pack light without completely giving up on any semblance of comfort while camping.
It’s double layered (tent + rainfly), which helps you stay warm and insulated, as well as dry in a sudden rain storm. Considering the two aluminum poles and small tent body are all you have to worry about, it doesn’t take very long to put together. Expect to have your shelter all ready to go in under 10 minutes – or under 5, if it’s not your first time doing it. And if you don’t like re-breathing the same air all night as your tent walls start to drip with condensation, you’ll enjoy the 2 windows and doors that come built into this structure. On comfortable summer nights, especially, there’s nothing better than letting the breeze come in while looking up at the stars.
– Under 4 pounds
– A bit more spacious than your typical bivy sack
– Internal storage options
– Waterproof tent floor and rainfly
– Packs down small
– A bit tight for folks over 6 feet
– Zippers aren’t the greatest
Our final selection for this review, the Tact Bivvy 2.0 is a fairly impressive product. Made out of thermal polyester, it’ll reflect your body heat back at you in a constant effort to help you stay warm on cold nights. The material is tear proof, windproof, waterproof, and basically any other kind of “proof” you can think of, so durability will be the least of your concerns.
Naturally, it doesn’t provide much in the way of comfort, but what else would you expect from a thin sack that only weighs 4.8 ounces? It’s not much, but makes a big difference if you like to make a habit out of staying warm and dry. Feel free to use it with or without an actual sleeping bag inside. If you find yourself sleeping in the car, slip inside this sack to regulate your body temperature during the night.
The drawstring can be used to tie down your gear, and the inside of it is a para-tinder cord. In case of emergency, when you need to build a fire, the cord can be used to get your blaze going.
– Heat reflective
– Drawstring can be used to start a fire
– Versatile design: can be used as a tarp, sleeping bag, or ground sheet
– The condensation build up is no joke. You’ll wake up wet.
This is the part where I usually give my final thoughts on the generally agreed upon winner by the Untamed Space team. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to do that, but I feel like I need to preface it with a minor disclaimer.
Bivy sacks are very personal, and some of the options we’ve listed are drastically different. Some are literal polyester bags that you can pull around you, while others more closely resemble what a tent should look like. There is no right or wrong answer, and what works best for you is entirely dependent on personal preference and the situation you find yourself in. With that in mind, we liked the GEERTOP ultralight bivy tent. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of sleeping in a sack, so the two aluminum poles were a sight for sore eyes. Unfortunately, it is heavier than 5 ounces, but I don’t think that’s a deal breaker for most of you. For reduced weight backpacking, you’re still going to love this bivy tent, and the barrier it creates between you and nature.