Bivi bag, bivvi bag or bivvy bag? Why there are so many accepted spellings for the same thing we’ll never know. We could just stick to their Sunday name – the bivouac sack – but that seems overly formal for such a down-to-earth product (literally), so simply for the sake of consistency, we’re going to use bivvy.
Anyway, let’s first look at what a bivvy bag is. It’s quite simply really; it’s a thin, lightweight, weatherproof sack that slides over your sleeping bag, making a dry night’s sleep possible without a tent.
And why on earth would you use one when tents exist? Well, such an approach – with your head open to the elements – offers an even more intimate interaction with the wild. The sounds of night creatures are unmuffled, the stars dazzle above you, and your senses are highly attuned to every raindrop and every gust of wind.
Fancy it? If you do, then you’re in the right place. We’ve done the hard work for you, putting several products – ranging in design, style, size and price – through their paces on wild camping trips to Scotland, the Brecon Beacons and the Lake District. So, whether you’re looking to venture into bivvying for the first time or if you’re a seasoned pro at sleeping under the stars, there’s something for everyone here.
Below are our recommendations for six of 2019’s best bivvys. Or should that be bivis?
Outdoor Research Interstellar
Packed Size: 30cm x 12cm approx
Price: Circa £315
Outdoor Research offer a fresh take on the traditional hooped bivvy with the Interstellar. The most versatile bivvy on test, it’s a 4-season shelter using AscentShell technology – ‘a higher-performing blend of air permeability, breathability and superior stretch in a waterproof package’, according to Outdoor Research. A super-lightweight, basic pole, which creates the hoop around your head, slides into a reinforced sleeve and is secured in place with a Velcro tab. When sleeping, the hoop helps keep the fabric away from your face and provides added comfort.
The most notable feature of the bivvy, however, is that you can wear it. Yes, you heard right… you can have the bug net closed around you, but sit up and perform camp chores with just your hands on the outside of the bivvy. Cooking, reading and organising your gear are all easily performed, whilst your head and body are protected from bugs and inclement weather. Remarkably, the pole that creates the headspace when you’re laid down, turns into a sombrero hat rim when you sit up. In light rain, this enables you to stay dry for as long as possible before leaving camp.
In dry conditions, you can sleep in the bivvy with the mosquito net only, whilst the outer is toggled down. Or in poor weather the outer zip can be fully closed. There are two points where the bivvy can be pegged down or guyed out, but no pegs or guy lines are provided as standard and in most circumstances they won’t be needed. As with many of the bivvys on test, the Interstellar tapers to the foot end; a side zip ensures it’s easy to get in and out of; and no fewer than 12 zip toggles enable versatile, fine tuning of your set-up.
At 596g, the Interstellar is pretty heavy, while at £315 it is very expensive. But it doesn’t really matter. This is a very, very cool bivvy, with a raft-full of features and the ability to wear it. Buy this bivvy bag and you’ll be the envy of the wild camping scene.
Pros: Wearable; versatile; hooped top is comfortable
Cons: Relatively heavy; expensive
AscentShell 3L 20D ripstop upper / 100% nylon 40D Ripstop floor / 82″ x 26″ x 17″ – length x top width x top height
Packed Size: 15cm x 13cm
The first thing to say about the Hunka is its price-tag. No, we didn’t accidentally leave a one off the front of the price in error. At £47 it is the cheapest bivvy under test by a long way – an absolute bargain, by anyone’s standards. The second thing to note is that, unlike any of the other bivvy bags on test, the Hunka has an internal stuff sack pocket. The sack is integrated into the body of the bivvy, so that’s one less thing to worry about blowing away in the wind. We admit it – we’ve been there, chasing a fly-away stuff sack around a blustery mountainside on more than one occasion. But it’s never a concern when you’re using this Alpkit bivvy.
The Hunka comes in three different colours: green, red and blue. It isn’t the lightest, but at 330g it’s still a big weight saving on any tent. It has a hood that goes nicely around the outside of your sleeping bag hood, with a simple drawstring at either side so it can be tightened around you and your bag. It has no additional venting or faffy zips and the bag tapers towards your feet. You can pair it with a tarp for added protection from the elements, if you like, but many choose not to. And that’s it. There’s not much else to say. The Hunka is a simple product with no-frills. But, on a clear summer’s night, where your aim is to feel at one with nature with your face exposed to the fresh air, then it’s absolutely the best value product on the market.
Pros: Cheap; internal stuff sack
Cons: Low on features
2.5 layer Ripstop nylon upper / 10,000 mm hydrostatic head / 10,000/m2 breathability / width: Shoulders – 80 cm; Foot – 50 cm