Bivy in the Backyard – Findings

I slept out in my bivy in the first big rain of the season. Be sure to get the full story here!

The East Bay Bike Camping group on Facebook snowed over yesterday with a flurry of posts. The discussion was over whether to go with a bivy sack or a lightweight tent for bike-packing. In fact, it wasn’t much of a debate — everyone else seemed to prefer tents over a bivy!

Since I’ve been ultra-light cycle touring the last several weekends with a secondhand bivy sack, I decided to go to bat for my new favorite piece of equipment. One person asked whether there was a bivy out there with:

“solid waterproofing that will keep a down bag dry in a small puddle (ha!) and has a mesh for dry buggy nights.”

My bivy is identical to this one by Chinook, who copied it from my North Face bag. It has a mesh (check!) but I had no idea how waterproof it is. Fortunately, the forecast last night was “100% chance of precipitation” — so I took the opportunity to sleep out in the wet.

Findings after Bivy Rain Test #1:

1. The bivy floor was fairly wet in the morning. This might be solved with a Tyvek footprint or fancy silicone impregnated tarp.

2. The sleeping pad was also damp in the lower body area. Some of this may have been wicked up from the bivy floor, but it was mostly because I used the sleeping bag as a sponge (like I said, you’ll have to read the full report).

3. Climbing back into a damp sleeping bag (a.k.a. sponge) was not a big deal. However, I was only comfortable and avoided hypothermia because it was in the mid-50s Fahrenheit last night. Also — I’ll skip the cotton sleep gear next time. Wet t-shirts are for contests, not the bivy!

4. The top of my sleeping bag was a bit damp. The GoreTex can definitely be renewed on the bivy. It’s also a fact of life that GoreTex sticking to my bag is going to wick moisture inwards.

General Conclusions

I still think the bivy is ideal for fair weather camping and optimal for short weekend bike-camping trips. I would hesitate to recommend the bivy as rain-season kit for anyone but experienced campers. The problem of soaking through the bottom is about the same as I’ve seen on any previous lightweight backpacking tent I’ve used in the wet, with or without a footprint. However, the problem of soaking through the top is unique to the bivy and definitely a compromise.

As for the other major concerns of the bivy:

1) Sleeps one. (Great! I got the darn thing cuz I got dumped…)

2) Claustrophobic. (Cozy!)

3) No place to stash gear/wet clothes.

This problem is highly dependent on the style of bike-camping. I sleep in all the gear I carry (bedroll, sleep bag, bivy) and have room to stash my fanny pack/feed bag and stuff sack at the head of the bivy. I think I would throw the (wrung-out) wet clothes into a trash bag and leave them outside — they’re not going to dry anyway, whether I’m in a bivy or a tent.

To address the original question:

You won’t get solid waterproofing on anything unless you sleep inside a giant rubber banana — watertight and airtight! Every breathable, spacey material (GoreTex, eVent) that gets soaked through will let moisture in. I plan on trying out the bivy again in a downpour to test the “waterproof” shell on my down bag — that would be the proof of pudding on whether I can extend bivy use into the Bay Area wet season.

Anybody joining me in the bivy camp after this report?

6 thoughts on “Bivy in the Backyard – Findings

  1. Thank you for experimenting with your bivy in the conveniently timed rain and writing a thorough report! I’ve been really impressed at how useless my down bag gets with the slightest bit of wet. When wet it is more like cotton than a sponge.

    Since you think the wet in the bivy came through the floor I would say it failed the puddle test. I’ve used light tents with floors that kept everything dry inside during a rain storm. Do you think heavier material would have worked better? A bivy under a tarp sounds like a good idea; it’d provide shelter while setting it up, though that is approaching tent weight and complexity.

    1. Tom — you’re right, it failed the puddle test. It’s a fairly well-used, secondhand bivy — I’d say this is a gear test 2/3 the way through the life of the sack. I’m curious to hear though, what tents have you used?

      I’m an rational-optimist in the rain-gear/waterproofing department. While I don’t trust any gear to stay dry in prolonged wet, I do trust in sun or a warm house showing up to periodically dry everything out.

      1. I haven’t tried lots of gear but these tents that proved themselves through much rain: a heavy ~1998 dome tent with floor material similar to blue poly tarps and the REI Quarter Dome.
        One has to have really bad luck to get soaking wet and deal with sub 32F temperatures 😉
        This weekend I should be near a warm house so a tarp for an emergency will do. Going to the same area that Brooke got caught unprepared in a snow storm…

  2. I’m far from an experienced camper, but it seems like it would not be unreasonable to make a more integrated bivy, i.e. the bottom is a thermarest, and there’s a sleeping bag sewn to that. When I looked at bivys vs. tents, the weight savings for a bivy were smaller than I cared about. Having something that let me pack one roll instead of three (tent, bag, pad) would pique my interest.

    1. I’ve read that people do pack these things together. No need to attached them, though a few buttons or velcro may have kept flamingbike dry last night.

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