Best bivy sacks

10 Best Bivy Sacks and Why Every Adventurer Needs One

Bivy sack, bivvy sack or bivvie sack? The outdoor world might not have decided on the preferred name and spelling just yet, but one thing we can all agree upon is that these versatile little wonders are mightily useful. From emergency shelter to substitute tent, bivy bags have a wide range of uses and for some are an absolute ‘must-bring’ item whenever leaving behind the comfort of brick and mortar for a day, night or month or two in the wild. Just as potentially confusing as the name, however, is what makes a bivy a good one and what type is best for your outdoor adventures. To help you decide and shed some light on the matter, read on for our insights and reviews of the best bivy sacks of 2017!

ProductsType of bivy sackWeightWaterproof?Cost
MSR AC BivyMinimalist16oz (454g)Yes$$$$
Alpkit HunkaMinimalist11.6oz (330g)Yes$
Outdoor Research Alpine BivyWith poles32oz (907g)Yes, Gore-Tex$$$$$
Chinook Summit Bivy BagWith poles32oz (907g)Yes$$
Rab Alpine BiviMinimalist16oz (454g)Yes, eVent$$$$$
Black Diamond Twilight BivyMinimalist10.7oz (303g)Yes$$$
Snugpak Stratosphere Bivvi ShelterWith poles39 oz (1105g)Yes$$$
US Army Military Camo BivyMinimalist40oz (1133g)Yes, Gore-Tex$
Sierra Designs Backcountry BivyMinimalist14oz (397g)Yes$$
Rab Survival Zone BiviMinimalist15.5oz (439g)Yes, Hyperlite Storm$$

More about bivy sacks and why they’re great

Before we get down to our review of the best bivy sacks, let’s take a look at why you might want to get your hands on one and what to look for.

I’ve already got a tent. Why do I need a bivy sack?

Whether you have a tent or not, taking a bivy along with you on your hike, climb, cycle or kayaking adventure is never a bad idea. At the cost of very little weight, a bivy will give you – and this is perhaps their most important benefit – a very light, effective emergency shelter than can be set up in seconds in extreme weather conditions.

For those who want to travel fast and light, a bivy might not afford the same roominess as a tent, but can perform much better in very cold conditions by containing your body heat and offering better waterproofing. The only downsides to choosing a bivy over a tent are the amount of room you have inside your shelter and, in some cases, the degree of weatherproofing.

Bivy sacks are ideal for anyone who:

  • Wants a more advanced, comfy, high-performing emergency shelter
  • Wants to travel ultralight
  • Is planning alpine ascents
  • Is an extreme minimalist
  • Has no friends and/or prefers traveling solo
  • Has issues with poles (many bivy sacks are pleasingly pole-free)
  • Wants an easy-to-setup, cosy nighttime nook at the end of long days in the backcountry
  • Wants to fall asleep watching the stars

Types of bivy sacks

Bivy bags generally fall into the following three categories:

  • Bug bivy

    Bug nets

    Super light and compact but offer diddly squat in the way of weather protection. Good for the fair weather bivier venturing into terrain renowned for mosquitoes, midges or other mini, human-munching pterodactyls.

  • Minimalist bivy

    Minimalist bivies

    Pole free, ultralight and easy on the frills, these are ideal for the long-distance or three-season bivier who wants to travel light or bring along a just-in-case shelter for emergency situations.

  • Bivy tent

    Four-season bivies

    These bivies are usually much more tent-like in design and thus offer a more spacious, weatherproof shelter ideal for more extreme conditions or claustrophobic campers. They’re usually made of tougher materials but, on the downside, can weigh more than double the lighter minimalist models.


What to look for in a good bivy sack

01Waterproofing

All bivies come with a different degree of waterproofing, which is measured on the ‘hydrostatic head’ (HH) scale. The higher the HH a bivy is, the more waterproof it is. The maximum HH you’re likely to find is 20,000, which means your bivy is not dissimilar to your average house in terms of its ability to keep of the wet stuff. A 1,000 HH bivy, on the other hand, will deal with a very light shower but not a lot more. Anything from 12,000 HH and up the way will keep you dry in even the heaviest of downpours. Although not all manufacturers mention the HH of their bivy, if you find one made of Gore-tex or eVent it’s sure to be waterproof.

02Breathability and ventilation

Your bivy can become a sticky, sweaty place without good breathability and ventilation. Gore-tex, eVent and Pertex are all examples of materials that offer great breathability in stickier conditions. Cheaper fabrics are likely to compromise on either breathability of weather resistance. Bivies with poles and more space inside are usually better breathers than those that lie on top of your body. Those with zippers instead of drawstring closures, moreover, allow you to ventilate manually on dry nights.

03Poled or poleless?

Back in the good old days, a bivy bag was a $1 plastic sheet you wrapped around yourself prior to several hours of suffering in a sweaty, airtight nest with straightjacket-like comfort. These days, poleless designs follow the same principle but, thankfully, offer far greater breathability, comfort and general convenience. They offer, essentially, a weatherproof cover for your sleeping bag.

Bivies that use poles or hoops, on the other hand, offer a lot more storage and wriggle-room, shed water and snow, and essentially function like mini tents. On the downside, they usually weigh and cost a lot more and take longer to set up than their poleless cousins.

04Packed size/weight

For lightweight campers, a bivy that isn’t saving you at least a few ounces on the weight of a standard tent isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. Even if you simply want an emergency shelter to throw in the bottom of your pack, finding the lightest bivy available has to be high on the tick list. Before buying, however, make sure your would-be bivy hasn’t sacrificed any ‘musts’ (such as breathability, space, waterproofing) in order to cut down on weight. At the other end of the scale, if the bivy you’re considering is particularly heavy, then it’s time to weigh up whether or not you might be better just opting for a lightweight tent.

05Comfort

The comfort of your bivy depends on a variety of factors, some of which we’ve already covered above. In addition to waterproofing and breathability, however, size is also a key factor in making sure you don’t feel shrink-wrapped while you sleep. For taller users, aim for a sack over 90” in length. For those of a claustrophobic disposition or who do a fair amount of shifting in their sleep, a sack that it at least 30” at the shoulders and 25” at the feet will be most comfortable.


The best bivy sacks of 2017

Got all that? Good! Now, let’s get down to our review of the best bivy sacks of 2017.

MSR AC Bivy

MSR AC Bivy

With its tiny pack size, very light weight and outstanding weatherproofing, the MSR AC Bivy gets us off and running with a true contender for the best lightweight bivy sack of 2017. This is a robust, high-performing little sack that can handle just about anything the elements can throw at it. It’s pricey, sure, but your extra $ get you a whole lot of extra quality and a comfortable, three-season work-horse. The only real downsides to this bivy – other than the price – are its lack of a zipped closure, thin fabric and the fact that it lays against your face while sleeping. Not a ‘bomb-proof’ bivy, but a great all-rounder for ultralight adventures anywhere.

Pros

  • Weighs only 16 oz
  • 4 x 8” pack size
  • Great weatherproofing
  • Good breathability

Cons

  • Pricey
  • No zip closure
  • Thin fabric prone to ripping

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | Backcountry


Alpkit Hunka

Alpkit Hunka

If lots of awesomeness at a very, very reasonable price is your thing, it’s well worth taking a better look at the Alpkit Hunka. This no-frills, super functional and wallet-friendly little sack does everything you need a bivy bag to do. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also the cheapest and the second lightest bivy in our review! It’s waterproof, breathable, and features a nicely tapered shape, a sculpted hood with dual drawcords and fully taped seams.

The only downsides to this sack are the lack of a side zipper for easy entry/exit and a slight lack of width and length. The first problem can be overcome with a little bit of wriggling, the second by upgrading to the Hunka XL, which weighs only 17oz and will set you back just £15/$20 more.

For more info read our full review of the Hunka.

Pros

  • Weighs a tiny 11.65oz
  • Very small pack size 5 x 6”
  • 2.5-layer Ripstop nylon fabric
  • Breathable
  • Waterproof (HH 10,000)
  • Hunka XL available for taller biviers
  • Awesome value for money
  • Wide at the shoulders (31.5”)

Cons

  • A touch narrow at the feet (20”)
  • A bit on the short side (85”)

Find the latest price at:
Alpkit


Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

It’s tough, it’s durable, it’s completely waterproof, and we’ll get back to you soon on whether or not it’s actually bombproof (we sent the IT guy to check it out)! TheOR Alpine Bivy is a beaut of a sack for those who want year-round, reliable, all-weather protection. While this might be overkill for a summer night in a moderate climate, in extreme weather conditions you can’t really do much better.

There are, however, a few downsides. Firstly, it’s very pricey. Secondly, the pack size and weight are around double that of competitors such as the MSR AC Bivy and Alpkit Hunka. Finally, it’s a little bit on the short side for very tall users (84”) and a little narrow at the shoulders (26”) for broader backed biviers.

Pros

  • 3-layer Gore-Tex “respiration positive” fabric
  • Durability
  • Great weather resistance,
  • Breathes well
  • Features a mosquito net, storm flap and internal pocket

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy (32 oz)
  • Bulky
  • A touch short and narrow

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Outdoor Research


Chinook Summit Bivy Bag

Chinook Summit Bivy Bag

A year-round kind of bivy sack that packs plenty of features into a spacious, robust design. The Chinook Summit is made with multi-day and extreme adventures in mind. This heavy-duty, well-made bivvy is a touch on the heavy side, but offers a very spacious sleeping area in addition to great weatherproofing, ventilation and comfort. It features a handy facial ventilation system, a duo of windows and enough head space to avoid insanity on longer trips. Ideal for the extreme adventurer who doesn’t mind a carrying a little extra weight!

Pros

  • Plenty of head space – ideal for bedtime readers!
  • Made with waterproof Ripstop nylon fabric
  • Breathable
  • Features facial ventilation system
  • Very comfortable
  • Tough and durable
  • Spacious (91” long by 31” wide)
  • Room for a sleeping mat
  • Two windows

Cons

  • Quite expensive
  • Heavy (32 oz)
  • Bulky

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Rab Alpine Bivi

Rab Alpine Bivi

When the weather’s doing its best to spoil your good time in the outdoors, the Rab Alpine Bivy comes into its own. This minimalist, 3-layer, fantastically weather-proof sack takes protection from the elements to a whole other level. Made for extreme alpine and mountaineering adventures, the Rab Alpine is very light, very tough and offers great breathability to boot. It features tough, Ripstop materials, eVent fabric, a reinforced underside for rocky surfaces, and a mummy-style design to fit technical sleeping bags. The only real downside to this bivy sack, in fact, is the cost. If you’ve got money to burn or it just happens to be payday, however, this just might be the bivy for you!

Pros

  • Outstanding weather protection
  • Great breathability
  • Light (16oz)
  • Comfortable
  • Reasonably spacious

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Overkill for summer conditions
  • Large pack size (4.7×12”)

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Black Diamond Twilight Bivy

Black Diamond Twilight Bivy

For the ultralight bivier, the BD Twilight offers a well-made, functional, superbly compact option for fairer weather outings. The NanoShield fabric on this sack isn’t as waterproof as other materials, but can deal with lighter showers and breathes reasonably well. Weighing in at a mere 10.7oz, this is the lightest sack in our review, but with that low weight come a few compromises…This bivy won’t keep you as dry as competitors like the Rab Alpine, the Chinook Summit or Alpkit Hunka. It’s also a little on the small side at just 82” long. However, for those of a minimalist persuasion and averse to bad-weather outings, the Twilight just might be your bivy!

Pros

  • A solid 3-season sack
  • Performs well in light rain
  • Incredibly lightweight (10.7oz)
  • Tiny pack size (3 x 5”)
  • Ideal for ultralight backpackers
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Not as weatherproof as rivals
  • Material not suspended from face while sleeping
  • Not the most breathable
  • Tricky to get in and out

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | Backcountry


Snugpak Stratosphere Bivvi Shelter

Snugpak Stratosphere Bivvi Shelter

More of a happy medium between a tent and a bivy sack, the Stratoshpere combines the features of both to form a beast of a bivi bag or a very miniature tent. Let’s start with the drawbacks – it weighs, quite frankly, a heck of a lot! At 39 oz, the Stratosphere is comparable to many one-person tents. But don’t be put off just yet! For all those added ounces, you really do get something very versatile and unique. This Bivvi Shelter is a gap-bridger between a tent and minimalist bivy bags. It’s very spacious, very robust, tough, and offers great weatherproofing. For those seeking an emergency shelter or lightweight nook for a few summer nights in the outdoors, this may well be overkill. For long-distance trekkers who fancy a bit of space at the end of the day without the weight of a tent, however, it might just be the solution you’re looking for!

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Very spacious (42”W x 90”L x 37”H)
  • Roll-away mosquito net
  • Good water resistance
  • Very well made

Cons

  • Very heavy (39oz)
  • Not the most breathable
  • Large pack size (14 x 4 x 6”)
  • Did we mention that it’s heavy?!

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


US Army Military Camo Bivy

US Army Military Camo Bivy

When an item of gear carries the tag ‘military issue’, this usually suggests it’s a heavy-duty, frill-free workhorse. The Camo Bivy is just that type of bivy. It’s mightily heavy and not the most spacious sack out there, but contends with other ‘all-in’ bivies like the Stratosphere and Chinook Summit in terms of quality of build and value for money. It’s made of Gore-Tex fabrics for year-round weatherproofing, offers decent breathability and boasts some nice touches such as heat-sealed seams and a handy, bad-weather storm flap.

Pros

  • Gore-Tex materials
  • Military issue
  • Reasonably priced
  • Heat-sealed seams
  • Solid weatherproofing
  • Storm flap prevents the build up of snow or rainwater

Cons

  • Very heavy (40oz)
  • Not the most spacious (84” x 35” x 23”)

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy

The SD Backcountry has a lot going for it given its very wallet-friendly price. It weighs a tiny 14 oz, packs down to 3 x 10 inches and features both great breathability and awesome waterproofing. It also boasts a very useful bug mesh netting which allows you to pull down the hood on summer nights without worrying about your face becoming a midnight snack for peckish, airborne locals. On the downside, this isn’t as tough as other bivies such as the Rab Alpine, Alpkit Hunka or the OR Alpine, and its poleless design means the fabrics will be against your face while you sleep. Nevertheless, this bivy offers fantastic reliability and value for money.

Pros

  • Cheap!
  • Weighs only 14oz
  • Very reliable waterproofing
  • Small pack size (3 x 10”)
  • Made with Ripstop nylon materials
  • Great breathability
  • Bug netting

Cons

  • Poleless design means the fabric is on your face
  • Regular size (large is available) only 82” long
  • Ripstop nylon is fairly thin (20D on the shell, 30D on the floor)

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Rab Survival Zone Bivi

Rab Survival Zone Bivi

Light, waterproof, spacious and breathable, the Rab Survival Zone is a true box-ticker of a bivy’s most desirable and ‘must have’ features. It’s also exceptionally well made, featuring tough, 70D Hyperlite Storm fabric and a zipless design to minimize weight and potential zip malfunctioning and/or fabric rippage. On the downside, the lack of a zip means a fair amount of wiggle-work to get yourself in there and, you guessed it, it’s pricey!

Pros

  • Very light (15.5oz)
  • Small pack size (4 x 10”)
  • Made with 70D Hyperlite Storm material
  • 95” long
  • Very breathable
  • Great weatherproofing

Cons

  • Tricky to get in and out (no side zip)
  • Pricey

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | Backcountry


We’ve seen pretty much all the shapes, sizes, specs and features a bivy sack could possibly offer. Whether you’re looking for a bottom-of-the-pack emergency shelter or a nigh-on bombproof sack for more extreme adventures, we hope the above list has revealed your future bivy-to-be and that the pair of you spend many a happy, cosy night together out in the wild!

If you’d like to take your wild camping adventures to higher places then it’s worth exploring hammock camping. It offers all the flexibility of bivying but with more options of where to set up camp (or less, depending on where you are!)

hammock gear guide

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