Want to travel lighter on your next overnight? Ditch the tent and pack a bivy sack instead.
Even the lightest of tents can’t match the sheer portability that traveling with a bivy sack offers; it’s the closest thing you can get to “sleeping under the stars” still having a roof over your head, something offering at least a layer of protection against bugs, rain and even snow.
Bivys are smaller than tents, as well as quicker to setup – which can be a real lifesaver when you’re caught out in bad weather. And while you may not realize it right away, the reduced weight can make all the difference in how much stamina you have after a day (or several) hauling weight on the trail.
Sure, you won’t have all the spacious “luxury” that a tent offers – and you can’t exactly share a bivy sack with another person. But as a solo biker or backpacker, you can probably live without those features. Make the switch, and you may never go back.
And if you’re on a budget, you’re still in luck – there are some great cheap bivys out there to choose from. We’ve rounded some of them below, compared them all side by side and let you know what we think. Keep reading to see our picks for the Best Cheap Bivy Bags of 2019.
No, Sierra Designs’ offering isn’t the cheapest biyy – but it’s definitely one of the best, and at a price that is totally worth it. The Backcountry Bivy strikes the perfect balance between weight, size, warmth and shelter; it’s got an opening large enough to fit Sierra Designs’ Backcountry Bed (zipperless sleeping bag) as well as a 2.5” thick sleeping pad. This way, you get a comfortable night’s sleep, every time.
Other features we like include the waterproof top fabric layer, which does an excellent job of keeping moisture out while remaining breathable and comfortable, as well as the fully-taped seams – which are also PVC-free. We really like the tab on top of the bag, which lets you attach a rope or cord with which to tie it to a nearby branch, raising the “roof” for a bit more space as well to help rain run off the top. The mesh panel means there’s plenty of ventilation and that you can look up at the night sky.
Lastly, it’s very spacious. At 80” long, it can fit all but the tallest of us, and there is plenty of room to move around inside. At the same time, it remains very light, coming in at only 13 ounces – much less than a pound.
The only con? It doesn’t have waterproof zippers. Adding those would elevate this thing from “awesome” to “The Best Bivy Shelter Ever Made.”
They really don’t come cheaper than the SOL Escape, so this was a no-brainer addition to our list. It’s not technically waterproof – made from a “highly water-resistant fabric” as opposed to waterproof fabric – so it’s really only meant for use in drier climates, or on nights that you’re confident there’s no rain in sight (or you simply don’t mind getting a little wet).
The Escape also doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of features; there is no bug net, no fancy sealed zippers or even poles to elevate the pitch. But, what it sacrifices in luxury, it makes up for in packability and light weight; the Escape clocks in at a mere 8 ounces on the scale, and packs down to a 4”x7” – smaller than your water bottle.
It’s also comfortable and warm; the inner lining reflects up to 70% of heat. Pair it with a good sleeping bag for all-night warmth and comfort. The exterior fabric (the same material as Tyvek) is thick and tough, and if the weather gets bad, will keep you comfortable and safe inside. It’s also effectively breathable; some condensation may build up overnight, but no so much as to make it an uncomfortable or cold and wet place to sleep.
All in all, the SOL Escape is an ultralight, ultraportable bivy sack that’s perfect when you don’t need a ton of shelter or don’t want to carry a ton of weight. It’s also a bit small and tough to move around in, but weighs – and costs – practically nothing.
Tennier manufactures gear for the US Military, which means everything they make is (relatively) cheap, reliable, and built to last decades of heavy use; you can snag this fully waterproof and weather-resistant bivy cover for almost half the price of Sierra Designs’ Backcountry Bivy, and for not much more than the SOL Escape.
The Tennier Bivy is made from a 3-layer laminate fabric, with a completely waterproof, windproof exterior – akin to Gore-Tex and other waterproof layers. If you’re looking for the sheer best and most powerful protection from the elements, this is definitely the best bivy on our list. We would have no reservations about sleeping in it in a variety of harsh weather conditions – from wet and damp to snowy and windy. It traps in body heat effectively, and when paired with a winter-ready sleeping bag, makes a formidable and comfortable shelter in virtually any element.
It’s also nonflammable (usually required by military regs), as well as a machine-washable. In fact, it may be the only machine-washable bag on our list. We also really like the 2-way zipper, which allows you to choose between ventilation at the top or bottom – a convenience that seems superfluous at first but turns out to be very welcome.
When it comes to weight and packability, you might say the Tennier Bivy is the opposite of the SOL Escape; bulky and heavy instead of packable and light. It weighs 1.6 pounds (more than three times that of the SOL Escape) and doesn’t compress nearly as much as a sleeping bag.
Instead, it makes the conscious sacrifice of size and weight for sheer durability and protection from the elements. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you want – and this is the bivy to grab in those situations.
We’d never heard of Aqua Quest before, so we were also a bit skeptical of their Mummy Bivy Bag – which claims to be 100% waterproof and ultralight, but is still firmly placed in the budget bivy sack camp; you can pick one up off Amazon for about as much as the SOL Escape. But we were pleasantly surprised with this offering; it features a 70D ripstop nylon exterior coated with PU laminate coating to repel water.
It does a pretty good job of that, too – the downside being that it this PU laminate doesn’t breathe all that well. Condensation definitely builds up inside, even though they advertise a breathability rating of 3000 gr/m2. The seams are heat taped and you’ve got zippers on both sides.
Other things we like: it’s pretty spacious – 6.5′ long and 33” wide at the shoulders – so there is plenty of room to move around. It’s also relatively light, weighing only 1.26 pounds. And, Aqua Quest includes a 2-Year No Worries Warranty for any defects.
Downsides include the lack of breathability, as well as build quality; it could be sturdier and better built, and zippers tend to jam or snag. It also appears that the zippers are not waterproof.
It’s not the heaviest-duty bivy bag out there, and the lack of ventilation means it’s really best used only as a shelter in cold, inclement weather. But it’s still a great budget option and worthy of a spot on our list.
Survival Frog’s TACT Bivy is more like a heavy-duty emergency blanket that you can climb into than an actual bivy sack. It weighs a minuscule .28 pounds and packs down to the size of your fist, stashing away into any pocket for quick access any time. It doesn’t offer much, but keeps wind, rain and snow off you more-than-adequately, and the inner reflective layer reliably traps in heat in when you’re trapped out in a storm.
So, don’t look at it as a true bivy bag, but as an effective emergency blanket that lets you crawl inside to get out of the elements, the TACT Bivy gets the job done. It’s as cheap as can be, too.
What To Look For in A Bivy Sack
Weight and Packability
Weight is likely the first reason you decided to get a bivy sack, so this is the first place you’ll likely want to look. Our lightest bivy bag choice (apart from the TACT Bivy, which doesn’t really count) is the SOL Escape, which tips the scales (just barely!) at 8 ounces. The heaviest was the Tennier Bivy, which clocked in at 1.6 pounds. Most normal bivy bags weigh somewhere between those two numbers.
Packed size is just as important; the less room it takes up in your pack, the better. We like bivy bags that pack down to the size of water bottle or smaller, though some good options on our list do come in a bit bulkier. Just make sure you’ve got the space in your pack.
A shelter is no good if it doesn’t actually protect you from the elements. At the least, your bivy should be waterproof and completely windproof; this is usually achieved through a nylon with PU laminate, or a synthetic material like Tyvek or Gore-Tex. Waterproof zippers and sealed seams are all part of the waterproof/weatherproof picture. There may be cases where you sacrifice this waterproofness for lighter weight and packability, however, depending on your own environment and use; say, if you’re going out biking on a clear day but want something just in case.
The one drawback of waterproofness is that it often results in stuffy bags lacking breathability and good ventilation. If your bag can’t breathe, not only will it be uncomfortable, but there will also be a good deal of condensation buildup inside.
Try to find a bag with good, breathable fabric, but also look for vents; many bivys have zippered vents or mesh screens that can be opened in good weather to let air and moisture work their way out.
Length and Comfort
Make sure whatever bivy sack you choose fits you comfortably. This is most apparent with length, but width and shoulder room are also important; you want at least some room to move around and roll inside the bag, without being too constricted.
Most bivy sacks are well over 6 feet long, but some – like the SOL Escape – can be uncomfortable for taller sleepers.
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