One of the biggest issues facing any fan of backcountry hiking and camping is weight. As in, the amount of weight they have to lug around on their back all day. One of the single biggest contributors to weight is the tent. But for most folks not bringing a tent is simply not an option. They need something to protect themselves from the elements. And if not a tent, then what? Well, how about a bivy sack? Bivy sacks have been around for decades. Though until recently they’ve been the more or less exclusive domain of the military and extreme mountaineers. But why should they have all the fun? Below are the best bivy sacks on the market today.
The Best Bivy Sack
The SOL Lightweight Emergency Bivy Sack is the perfect piece of emergency kit to bring along into the wild. But it’s not just an emergency bivy sack. If you’ve reached the end of your day’s hike and still don’t see a great place to put up a tent just take it out and you’re good to go wherever you are. The shell is highly waterproof and should prevent invasive moisture from either above or below. The high-quality side zipper makes for easy snag-free access and it’s light as can be, so it’s not going to hold you back if you take it along as a backup for the tent.
Some would say “Why not just take a couple of those space blankets or camping blankets and leave this behind?” Well, you can take a couple of them too. That way you’ll be covered in any eventuality. But what the SOL provides that they can’t is a sealed environment that’s designed to repel wind and water. The SOL does a good job preventing condensation by letting moisture out without letting rain, snow or heavy morning dew in. While the drawstring hood lets you seal yourself in should the need arise.
Reflects up to 90% of body heat.
Revolutionary Sympatex Reflexion material.
Waterproof and windproof construction.
Outstanding emergency bivy sack.
Side zipper for easy access.
Draw cord hood closure system.
- BrandS.O.L Survive Outdoors Longer
- Weight8 ounces
It weighs next to nothing so it’s easy to bring along.
Can be used as your primary bag or strictly for emergencies.
Multilayer construction keeps the heat inside.
The drab olive-color exterior hides you from wildlife.
Durable and reasonably priced.
Might be too minimal for some people.
The armed forces have long led the way in the development of all types of outdoor gear and this Tennier Woodland Camouflage Waterproof Bivy is a good example. With plenty of military DNA in its lineage it’s a no-nonsense waterproof bivy bag that’s built tough to withstand the harshest conditions. The shell is completely waterproof, there’s plenty of room inside for even your fluffiest winter bag and the same Gore-Tex that provides that protection against the rain also makes this bivy sack impervious to wind.
This bivy sack weighs a bit more than some others but the fact that it delivers such dependable waterproof, windproof comfort makes carrying the extra pound or so worth it. When you’re sleeping like a log under the stars you’ll understand. We appreciate that there’s plenty of room inside for a winter bag because who wants to have to buy separate warm weather, cold weather bivy sacks? We also appreciate the sheer toughness of this sack. It’s bound to provide years of dependable service. Make sure you also check our guide to the best sleeping bags.
Genuine Gore-Tex shell.
100% waterproof and windproof.
Camo finish for enhanced stealth.
Copious internal space.
- Weight2.4 pounds
Plenty big enough for even a bulky winter bag.
The Gore-Tex shell keeps the rain at bay.
Doesn’t allow wind to penetrate and compromise comfort.
Large enough even for tall boys and girls.
Weighs more but also provides more comprehensive coverage.
Good luck getting in and out in the rain.
Exhibits typical military disregard for aesthetics.
Aqua Quest might turn off some people looking for a bivy sack by calling this a “bivy tent”. But we’ll leave marketing snafus for them to figure out. The fact is this Hooped Bivy Tent is an outstanding alternative to the traditional tent and it sleeps 2 people with relative comfort. It sports all the characteristics of the best bivy sacks in that it’s waterproof, highly breathable, relatively light and has a tough as nails 70D ripstop nylon base.
The fact that it can accommodate 2 average size hikers is a real plus when you’re on the trail with your sweety and there’s no room to set up a standard tent. We’d recommend using it as a 2 person backup because hey, if there’s 2 of you a traditional tent should be option #1. This puppy will slip into one of your packs easily and since it only weighs 2.4 pounds it’s not going to be an anchor on the trail. There’s a TPU window for viewing the night sky when all zipped up. And in the warm weather, you can replace it with no-see-um mesh. If you like a good nights sleep while camping, check out our guide to the best camping mattresses.
Deluxe hooped bivy sack.
Accommodates 1 or 2 people.
Highly waterproof and breathable.
Includes a single collapsible shock pole.
Fast set up and take down.
Plenty of internal space.
- BrandAqua Quest
- Weight 2.43 pounds
It would be tight but you could fit 2 in here.
The loop pole construction provides headroom to read.
Lots of room for 1 person to move around inside.
No-see-um mesh and TPU window.
Accommodates anyone up to 6’ 6” tall.
All that extra space means extra weight.
The SnugPak Stratosphere One Person Bivy Shelter features an innovative design that essentially recreates a tiny tent, complete with crisscrossing shock cord poles, over your head. From there a little waterproof fly extends outward and provides protection for the no-see-um mesh window. Inside this setup provides plenty of head space so you don’t feel like you’re in a nylon coffin. And you can read, write or surf the web to your hearts content.
This is a minimalist bivy sack with no insulation. So if you plan on using it in the winter make sure you’ve got something more than a 3 season bag. But while it won’t provide any standard insulation its high degree of windproofing and waterproofing will go a long way toward allowing your bag to realize its true potential. The whole thing packs down into a tiny little stuff sack that disappears neatly into your pack. But if there’s a downside here it’s that you really need to keep track of all the different components, from the stuff sack itself, to the Velcro strap that goes around the sack when it’s rolled up, to the stakes and the shock cord poles. Lose any of them in the dark and it could put a serious crimp in your trip. Our handy guide to the best double sleeping bags features more great products like this.
Innovative 2 pole headspace.
Tape sealed seams throughout.
Packed size 12 x 5 inches.
Full length side zipper for easy access.
Corrosion resistant aluminum poles.
- Weight2.8 pounds
Provides 7 lightweight stakes to keep it in place.
The mosquito netting rolls away to allow greater air flow.
The innovative design provides plenty of headroom.
Has the preferable side zipper configuration.
Displays excellent windproof and waterproof abilities.
Heavier than we’d like to see.
When you absolutely need to stay warm and dry in the face of the elements the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy is here to answer the call. It’s highly breathable, features factory taped seams all around, sports a hydroseal floor and is treated with an anti-fungal coating to keep mold and mildew at bay.
The body is wrapped in waterproof, windproof Gore-Tex. There are straps to hold your sleeping pad fast. There are also 5 stakes to keep this waterproof bivy bag where you place it on the ground and a single pole system to keep the top of the sack off your face while you sleep. With a good winter bag installed this is one of the warmest bivy sacks on the market. It won’t let one breath of cold air in and it retains nearly 90% of any body heat that might escape your bag. The storm flap will keep you dry and snug regardless of what Mother Nature has in store and there’s plenty of room inside to move about in your sleep. Tough, attractive and effective it’s our Premium Pick. Find more great products like this by checking out our guide to the best wearable sleeping bags.
Waterproof, windproof Gore-Tex shell.
Hydroseal flooring with anti-fungal coating.
Velcro straps hold sleeping pad in place.
Internal mesh pocket for phone etc.
- BrandOutdoor Research
- Weight 1.9 pounds
An impressive level of waterproof, windproof performance.
One of the warmest bivy sacks on the market.
Internal pole system keeps the sack off of your face.
Accommodates thick sleeping mats and thick winter bags.
Anti-fungal coating prevents the growth of mold on the floor.
It’s fairly big even when stuffed into its bag.
Aqua Quest makes a second appearance on our list with their Mummy Bivy Bag. This is another high quality piece of outdoor kit from Aqua Quest and one that represents a significant value for the budget minded camper. It sets up in less than a minute. Although truth be told there’s no “setup” involved. You just take it out of its stuff sack and lay it out. With its PU laminated coating it’s completely waterproof. And when you use it in conjunction with a sleeping bag it will not only create an effective seal against water and wind, it will also raise the internal temperature by up to 10 degrees.
The fact that there’s no way to create any vertical space around your head is about the only downside we see here. Some will consider that a pretty significant downside while it won’t affect others one way or another. Especially if you’re using this as an emergency backup and not your primary means of shelter from the storm. On the other hand it’s one of the few bivy shelters out there that’s actually long enough to accommodate people over 6 feet tall. If you love camping, check out our guide to the best camping chairs as well.
One of the lightest bivy sacks.
70D ripstop nylon base.
Laminated PU coating.
Accommodates anyone up to 6’ 6”.
Sets up in about a minute.
- BrandAqua Quest
- Weight 1.27 pounds
The bright red coloring helps ensure you’ll be spotted in an emergency.
Its ability to comfortably accommodate tall people is a rarity.
There’s no debating the effectiveness of the waterproofing.
Its extreme light weight means you can take it anywhere.
The optional Aqua Test tarps seem pretty pointless.
The last item on our list of best bivy sacks is the RAB Alpine Bivy. This is one of the more expensive bivy shelters on our list but not for no good reason. It features one of the most robust and effective shells around with 3 layers of waterproof eVent fabric, another layer of DVStorm weatherproofing and a rugged 70D ripstop nylon floor that scoffs at stones, twigs and tree roots.
It’s relatively light and comes in a 12 x 5 inch stuff sack. While that’s not exactly tiny it is small enough to lash easily to some molle webbing or tuck into your backpack. The company says the “trail weight” is 1.4 pounds but the actual weight is more like 2. So keep that in mind. This waterproof bivy bag deploys quickly and seals up effectively against the worst weather. In fact it’s likely that, during a heavy rain, you’ll stay warmer and dryer in here than you would be in a standard camping tent.
eVent and 70D nylon shell.
Stuffs down into 12 x 5 inch sack.
Waterproof and windproof.
Durable ripstop nylon floor.
Limited lifetime warranty.
- Weight2.37 pounds
The shell is highly waterproof and tough.
It stuffs down into a small 12 x 5 inch bag.
It will add several degrees of warmth to your bag.
Does a great job blocking wind.
The pinched design inhibits free movement inside.
Bivy Sack Buying Guide & FAQ
How Do We Chose Our Selection of Bivy Sacks
Many of us are outdoor types with vast experience. So this is a topic that’s in the fat part of our wheelhouse. With some products we may have to reach out to professionals in a particular field to draw on their experience or expertise when formulating one of our “Best of” lists. In this case however, we were able to keep everything in house.
When determining which bivy sacks deserved a place on our list we considered all of the factors laid out below in the “Things to Look for in a Bivy Sack” section. Those factors include weight, packability, materials and more. Branding was not as big a consideration as performance. Because if the bivy sack has a great name attached but doesn’t perform you could wind up in a life-threatening situation.
As always we keep our ears to the ground in order to stay in touch with what customers are saying about this bivy or that. But at the end of the day we draw our own conclusions based on experience and testing. As for pricing; bivy sacks run the financial gauntlet from less than $50 to more than $300. But again, the most important consideration is performance. If you buy a bivy sack based solely on its low price you can expose yourself to dangerous situations. So if the bivy sack is well made and cheap, then great. But if it’s just cheap you should avoid it like the plague.
Features To Look For In A Bivy Sack
Material - When it comes to bivy sacks it all comes down to the materials. Since you’re going to be laying directly on the ground the bivy sack needs to be able to handle all the duties and responsibilities of the tent, and the ground cloth, and in most cases, also accommodate your sleeping bag. It has to do so effortlessly or your night on the ground is going to seem like a night in hell. Not to worry though, because today’s best bivy sacks are made from cutting edge materials such as:
- Gore-Tex - The mother of all outdoor materials Gore-Tex has been keeping the wind and the rain at bay for decades. While other materials have come along in recent years to challenge it none have surpassed it for its lightweight effectiveness. If the exposed face of your bivy sack is swaddled in Gore-Tex you start from a position of strength.
- Silnylon - As the name implies this is a hybrid material made from silicone and nylon. The two materials are combined using a ripstop weave that prevents tree roots and the like from ripping open your bivy sack and letting the outside in. Silnylon is not very breathable but it is an excellent choice for the underside of the bivy bag.
- eVent - This fabric has been around awhile but has only recently migrated to outdoor recreational gear. It’s highly breathable, waterproof and washable. As an added bonus it’s also fire resistant. eVent makes a good material for the topside of the bivy sack.
- Epic - Epic is another hybrid material this time combining silicone and polyester. It will block most wind, is highly breathable and washable as well. If it has a weakness it’s that it’s water resistant rather than waterproof. Which means it can handle some light sprinkles but if it starts to rain hard while you’re sleeping you’re going to get wet.
- ToddTex - Though the people at ToddTex don’t like to hear it the fact is their material is essentially a clone of Gore-Tex. But we have no problem with that. Because if you’re going to copy somebody you should always copy the best. ToddTex even takes things one step further than their mentor fabric by being fire-retardant as well as waterproof and windproof. A great choice for the top of the bivy sack.
- Sympatec - This material is windproof, waterproof and highly breathable. It uses a wicking mechanism to remove condensation rather that pores. Because it lacks pores it is highly waterproof. A good material for the entire bag, though it may need a bit of reinforcement on the bottom.
Size - People don’t want to feel like they’re in a body bag. So the size of the bivy sack is important. Basically the size/space issue is one where both sides have to give a little. Designers have to understand that people don’t want to feel too confined and campers need to understand that the whole point of the bivy bag is to save space. Also, keep in mind that in the summer you may not use a bag at all. But in the winter you’re definitely going to need a high quality winter bag. And winter bags are, by nature, bulky. So if you plan on using your bivy sack year round make sure you get one that can accommodate your bulky winter bag.
Packability - As we’ve mentioned the driving force behind the bivy sack is to allow you to save space in your backpack by leaving the full size tent behind. Therefore the bivy bag must not be too bulky when packed away. If you’re angling toward getting a bivy sack with a pole or poles remember those poles have to be packed away somewhere. The bottom line: don’t undermine the reason for getting a bivy sack by getting one that’s too big.
Weight - Bivy sacks are typically used by those who hike well into the backcountry. Anyone who engages in such exploits understands the need to keep the weight of their backpack down. A standard tent and sleeping bag combined can add up to as much as 30% or more of the overall weight of your pack. By replacing the tent with the bivy sack you should be able to reduce the overall weight of the pack significantly.
Warmth - There are a lot of things that factor into how warm a bivy sack is. If it’s not made from windproof materials you’re going to freeze on cold nights. If it’s not fully waterproof and it rains you’re going to be both cold and wet. And if the material underneath you is not durable it could be torn by tree roots and the like allowing heat to escape and water to infiltrate. So a warm bivy sack is one that’s windproof, waterproof and thick skinned.
Weatherproofness/Condensation - Your bivy sack is your only protection from the elements. A poorly made bivy is no better than just plopping your bag on the ground. As we touched upon above the ability of the bivy sack to keep nature at bay - in other words its weatherproofness - plays a significant role in whether the sack will actually keep you warm or not. Another issue related to the internal environment of the bivy bag is how well it handles condensation, especially if you have your bag stuffed inside on cold nights. A damp, dank bivy can be worse than just putting your bag on the ground. So you want your bivy sack to be breathable, while still being waterproof. Which is what materials like Gore-Tex and its many imitators provide.
Pole or Poleless - Finally, you’ll need to consider whether you want your bivy sack to have the tent-like aspect that comes with poles. Now, we’re not talking about regular tent poles here. But rather just one or two short poles that lift the top of the bivy sack off your body or bag so you can move around a bit easier. Lifting the top of the sack off you in this way provides room to read. Or, if you have your smartphone with you (and you can get a signal), you can watch videos or update your social media status while you lie on the ground in the middle of nowhere. Be mindful though that poles mean more weight.
Bivy Sack FAQ
Q: What is a bivy sack?
A: A bivy sack is the one-man tent reduced to the absolute minimum. Essentially it provides a cover for your sleeping bag during the cool and cold weather. While during the summer it can allow you to leave both the tent and the sleeping bag behind. Which really reduces the overall weight of your pack. The bivy sack needs to be breathable, waterproof and durable so that it can be laid directly on the ground and prevent wind and water from penetrating. Some bivy sacks are little more than form fitting waterproof shells for your bag. Others have short poles that allow you to create a bit of separation between the sack and yourself so things don’t feel so claustrophobic inside.
The upside to bivy sacks is that they allow you to save space inside your pack and they’re lighter than carrying a bag and a normal size tent. They also allow you to set up camp in places where large areas of flat ground are hard to come by. The downside is that they can be a challenge to get in and out of when it’s raining. Some folks may want to take one along in addition to their tent for those occasions when they can’t find a large enough clearing to set up a traditional campsite.
Q: Why pick a bivy sack instead of a tent?
A: If you’re the kind of person who aspires to make a minimal impact on the environment when you camp the bivy shelter a great idea. You won’t have to look for a large clearing to set up a tent or clear underbrush. If you’re the type that likes to keep moving they’re also great because they set up and break down quickly. But the most obvious advantage of the bivy sack is that it allows you to reduce the weight of your pack, and free up space inside for other things like additional food and clothes. Even the best bivy sacks however, are not designed to accommodate multiple people in the event of an emergency. Nor are they intended to replace the tent on family outings. They’re for lone wolves that like to travel light, whether they’re traveling on foot, by bike or by car on an epic road trip.