Bivvy sack: A guide to lightweight shelters

When it comes to outdoor adventures like hiking, mountaineering, or camping, having the right shelter can make all the difference. While traditional tents are popular choices for camping, there’s another minimalist option that has gained traction among outdoor enthusiasts. A bivy bag (aka bivvy sack) is a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. Sometimes spelt ‘bivy’, sometimes ‘bivvy’, both these terms are short for ‘bivouac’ meaning a temporary (usually minimalistic) shelter. In this post, I’ll explore the basics of bivvying, including what it is, when to use it, and why it’s worth considering for your next hiking trip.

What is a bivvy?

A bivvy is a small, lightweight, and portable shelter that provides basic protection from the elements. It is typically designed for one or two people and is made of waterproof or water-resistant materials, such as nylon or Gore-Tex. Bivvies are designed to be compact and minimalist, with minimal features and amenities, making them an ideal choice for those who prioritise traveling ultralight or need a backup shelter in case of emergencies.

When to use a bivvy?

Bivvies are typically used in situations where carrying a traditional tent may not be practical or when you need a lightweight shelter for short-term use in the wilderness. Here are some common scenarios when using a bivvy might be appropriate:

  1. Emergency situations: Bivvies are often used as emergency shelters in unexpected situations where you need protection from the elements. For example, if you’re caught in a sudden rainstorm or snowstorm during your hike and need shelter to wait out the bad weather, a bivvy can provide you with a quick and easy solution to stay dry and warm.
  2. Ultralight backpacking: If you’re a minimalist backpacker who aims to reduce the weight of your gear to the minimum, a bivvy can be a great option. Bivvies are incredibly lightweight and compact, making them perfect for backpackers who want to cover long distances or tackle challenging terrains where every ounce matters.
  3. Remote or exposed areas: If you’re hiking or mountaineering in remote or exposed areas where setting up a traditional tent may not be feasible, such as rocky ledges, narrow ridges, or high-altitude summits, a bivvy can provide you with a simple and practical shelter option.
  4. Backup shelter: Even if you’re carrying a tent or other shelter, a bivvy can serve as a backup option in case of gear failure or unexpected situations. Having a bivvy in your backpack can provide you with added safety and peace of mind during your outdoor adventures.

Why choose a bivvy?

There are several advantages to using a bivvy for your hiking adventures:

Lightweight and portable: Bivvies are incredibly lightweight and compact, making them easy to carry in your backpack without adding significant weight to your load. This makes them ideal for long-distance backpacking trips or expeditions where weight matters.

Quick and easy setup: Bivvies are designed for quick and easy setup, often requiring minimal or no stakes or guy lines. This means you can set up your shelter quickly when you need it the most, such as during an unexpected rainstorm or snowfall.

Minimalist and close-to-nature experience: Bivvies provide a minimalist shelter experience, allowing you to be close to nature and enjoy the sense of adventure that comes with it. Sleeping in a bivvy can be a unique and immersive outdoor experience, allowing you to fully appreciate the natural environment around you.

Emergency shelter option: Bivvies are often used as emergency shelters in unexpected situations, providing you with a reliable and portable option to stay safe and protected from the elements when you need it the most. Having a bivvy in your gear arsenal can be a valuable safety measure during your outdoor adventures, giving you peace of mind knowing that you have a backup shelter option in case of emergencies.

Versatility: Bivvies can be used in a variety of outdoor settings and conditions. Whether you’re hiking in the mountains, traversing a desert, or exploring a dense forest, a bivvy can provide you with basic shelter from the elements, making it a versatile choice for different types of outdoor adventures.

Cost-effective: Compared to traditional tents, bivvies are often more affordable, making them a budget-friendly option for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a cost-effective shelter that doesn’t compromise on quality and functionality, a bivvy can be a great choice.

Tips for using a bivvy

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using a bivvy during your outdoor adventures:

  1. Check the weather forecast: Before heading out, make sure to check the weather forecast for your hiking area. Knowing the expected weather conditions will help you determine if a bivvy is suitable for your trip and what other gear you might need.
  2. Practice setting up: Bivvies are designed for quick and easy setup, but it’s always a good idea to practice setting it up before your trip. Familiarise yourself with the setup process and make sure you know how to properly secure it to the ground to ensure stability.
  3. Choose a suitable location: When setting up your bivvy, choose a flat, elevated, and well-drained spot to avoid water pooling around your shelter. Avoid areas with loose rocks, sharp objects, or potential hazards.
  4. Bring appropriate insulation: Bivvies provide minimal insulation, so be prepared with appropriate insulation, such as a sleeping pad and a warm sleeping bag, to stay warm during the night. Layering your clothing can also help regulate your body temperature.
  5. Be mindful of condensation: Condensation can be an issue in bivvies, as they are designed to be compact and minimise ventilation. To reduce condensation, try to keep your head and feet outside of the bivvy, if possible. Using a bivvy with good ventilation features can also help mitigate condensation.
  6. Follow Leave No Trace principles: Just like with any outdoor adventure, it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles when using a bivvy. Leave your camping area as you found it, pack out all trash and waste, and respect local regulations and guidelines.

Is a bivvy worth considering?

A bivvy is a minimalist shelter option that can be useful for hikers, mountaineers, backpackers, and other outdoor adventurers who need a lightweight and portable shelter for short-term use in the wilderness. While it may not offer the comfort and amenities of a traditional tent, a bivvy can provide basic protection from the elements and can be a valuable addition to your gear arsenal for emergency situations, ultralight backpacking, or when camping in remote or exposed areas. By considering the weather conditions, practicing setup, choosing suitable locations, and being prepared with appropriate insulation, a bivvy can be a reliable and versatile shelter option for your outdoor adventures. So, if you’re looking to simplify your camping setup or need a backup shelter for emergencies, a bivvy might be worth considering for your next hiking trip.

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1 thought on “Bivvy sack: A guide to lightweight shelters”

  1. I always carry a bivvy as an emergency tool. You never know when something might go wrong and you need to keep warm. Space blankets are also a great idea to always have in your pack.

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