This article gives a detailed comparison of all the best and most common bivvy/bivi bags available.
I have been a lover of the bivouac for years and with the recent interest in microadventures, now seemed like a good time to give some guidance on which bivvy bag you should buy.
Below are a basic buyer’s guide, brief reviews of
12 23 basic and hooped bivi bags, and ‘The Ultimate Bivi Bag Comparison Table’ with size, weight, fabric and price details for all bags. Finally, there are a few recommendations for what I consider to be the best bivvies.
This review is based on over a decade of bivouacing across the UK and the world, from winter in the Scottish highlands, to summer on the Cornish coast, at 5,000-metres in Kyrgyzstan and roadside on Korean cycle paths, in ditches underneath dual carriageways to the summits of mountains through sunset and sunrise. I’ve read Ronald Turnbull’s Book of the Bivvy cover to cover and wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Bivouacing so hopefully have some useful knowledge. More input is welcome though so do add your comments and questions.
The Ultimate Bivvy Bag Comparison Table 2015
If you think I’m missing any key bivvies or would like one added then just let me know in the comments section below.
UPDATED MAy 2016:
Six Eight new bivvies added to the table from Alpkit, Vaude, Terra Nova, Snugpak, Highlander and Outdoor Research. Plus, hydrostatic head (HH) ratings included for all non-Goretex/eVent fabrics.
UPDATED JULY 2016: I’ve added some new software to make the table sortable by e.g price, weight and whether it’s hooped or has a mosquito net. It should also display properly on mobiles. I hope it’s helpful but let me know any problems.
Scroll down for a proper review of each bag.
|Orange Survival Bag||No||No||290g||10oz||Plastic||30,000||Not breathable and no closure but cheap enough there’s no excuse not to bivi.||£4|
|Vaude Biwak I||No||No||300g||11oz||Nylon||3,000||Cheap, light but not very waterproof.||£23|
|Hi Gear Adventure Bivvi Bag||No||No||400g||14oz||Nylon||5,000||Poor breathability so sweaty. Ex-army and Hunka are better.||£25|
|Ex-Army Bivvy Bag||No||No||800g||28oz||Goretex||20,000||Specs vary. Best budget bivvy. Find on Amazon or Ebay.||£25+|
|Vaude Biwak II||No||No||600g||21oz||Nylon||3,000||Double (two-person) bivi!||£26|
|Alpkit Hunka Bivvy||No||No||376g||13oz||Nylon||10,000||Excellent. Best cheap bivi after ex-army.||£35|
|Highlander Hawk Bivi||No||Yes||921g||18oz||Nylon||4,000||Wire-supported mosquito net to cover face.||£49|
|Alpkit Hunka XL Bivvy||No||No||503g||18oz||Nylon||10,000||Extra large version of Hunka.||£50|
|Vaude Bivibag Active||No||No||500g||18oz||Nylon||10,000||£59|
|Aqua Quest Hoopla||Yes||Yes||1.1kgg||39oz||Nylon||10,000||Very sweaty. Not recommended. Go hoopless or Snugpak.||£85|
|Rab Storm Bivy||No||No||664g||23oz||Hyperlite Storm||3,000||Good quality bivy but army and Alpkit are cheaper.||£90|
|Rab Survival Zone Bivy||No||No||320g||11oz||Pertex Shield||1,000||Lightest waterproof/breathable bivi.||£99|
|Rab Survival Zone LITE Bivy||No||No||200g||7oz||Pertex Endurance||10,000||Lightest bivi but not waterproof.||£99|
|Snugpak Stratosphere||Yes (2)||Yes||1.1kg||39oz||Nylon||8,000||Probably cheapest decent hooped bivi. May not be very breathable.||£115|
|Vaude Bivi 1P||Yes (2)||Yes||910g||32oz||Nylon||7,000||Decent hooped bivi but no longer manufactured. Try eBay.||£135|
|Outdoor Research Helium Bivy||Yes||Yes||510g||18oz||Pertex Shield+ 2.5L||20,000||Lightest hooped bivvy. Review coming soon (May 2016).||£135|
|Terra Nova Discovery LITE||No||No||300g||11oz||Goretex Paclite||20,000||Lightest full length zip bivy. Very short and no longer made.||£169|
|Rab Alpine Bivy||No||No||495g||17oz||eVent||20,000||Good quality bivy but army and Alpkit are much cheaper.||£190|
|Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy||Yes||Yes||907g||32oz||Goretex Respiration Positive||20,000||New, extra breathable Goretex material.||£199|
|Terra Nova Discovery Bivy||No||No||530g||19oz||Goretex FLO2||20,000||Very expensive for a hoopless bivy||£200|
|Rab Ridge Raider||Yes||Yes||1kg||35oz||eVent||20,000||Similar to Jupiter but bigger hoop/door||£245|
|Terra Nova Jupiter||Yes||Yes||840g||30oz||Gore-Tex||20,000||The original and best. Had mine 10+ years and still love it.||£279|
|Terra Nova Saturn||Yes (2)||Yes||1.1kg||39oz||Goretex FLO2||20,000||Double hooped version of Jupiter. Big.||£350|
*Waterproof rating is the ‘hydrostatic head’ of the fabric. 10,000 is fully waterproof.
‘Net’ refers to whether or not the bag has an integral mesh mosquito net.
To sort table by weight, use the ‘Ounces’ column. It works better.
What is the best bivi bag?
If you’re in a hurry though then here’s a couple of quick recommendation. For reviews of each bag, scroll down.
The Alpkit Hunka is also an excellent choice: a bit smaller and not quite as tough or breathable but much lighter.
The Terra Nova Jupiter is an excellent bag. High quality, waterproof and breathable triple-layer Goretex, a solid waterproof ground sheet and a simple hoop system complete with mosquito net.
You can’t beat the original (although the Rab Ridge Raider is excellent too).
The next best thing would probably just be an orange survival bag.
Bivy Bag Buyer’s Guide
Now, if you have a little more time to spare, this should help inform your purchase so you know what to look for in a good bivi.
If it’s Goretex or eVent, then don’t worry, you’re fine. If it’s not, check the hydrostatic head rating. 10,000 or more means you’ll stay dry in all but the worst weather; lower than that and it’ll probably start to seep through in heavy weather and puddles. I have a bag with a rating of 1,000 which is fine for spills and brief showers but lets water through in anything more. Goretex and eVent tend to be rated 28,000 or more.
Branded fabrics will all be fine (e.g. Goretex, eVent and Pertex) but cheap, non-branded materials can be a problem, leaving you feeling sticky at best or with pools of water inside at worse. Some bivvies will give you an MVRT measure (moisture vapour transmission rate). 10,000 or more is fine. Goretex and eVent should be 25,000+. Less than 10,000 becomes damp and sweaty.
If a bivi bag is cheap then it is very likely that it will either be not very waterproof or not very breathable. A bit of reading between the lines will usually tell you which. It’s a pay-off between breathable but leaky; and waterproof but sweaty.
Hooped or not hooped
Hooped are good in the rain; non-hooped are cheaper, lighter and quicker to use but can be miserable in wet weather.
Entry and exit
Non-hooped bags may have velcro, zips or draw-cords at the top closure where you get into and out of the bag. This is a matter of preference though I’d probably opt for the simplicity of drawcords.
Ex-army bivi bags have space for a rucksack and your boots inside with ease whilst ultra-lightweight ones might not even fit your mattress. My table below gives an idea of internal measurements for most bags.
Fancy hooped bivvies and some ex-army bags can weigh a kilogram or more, as much as a light tent, whilst ultralight bivvis can weigh in at just 200g, so it’s worth paying attention before you commit.
From £4 for a survival bag, £30 for a budget bag and £200+ for a fancy hooped model.
Basic Bivvy Bags – Reviewed
Your basic non-hooped bivvy bag is just a big waterproof sack that you get inside. Their beauty is their simplicity: no poles, no pitching and, usually, no zips. Their biggest downside is that they’re a pain in the rain: the best you can do is to flap a hood over your face and breathe Goretex until it passes. Here is an overview of the most common types of bivvy sack and the best:
>> Tested by the author
Available for less than £5, the orange emergency survival bag is lightweight, 100% waterproof and a viable option in some circumstances (e.g. if it’s breezy and/or you don’t really expect much rain).
The problem, of course, is that it is 100% *not* breathable so all the moisture and sweat from your body gets stuck inside the bag, runs down the sides and pools at the bottom. Not very pleasant. It also has no fastening at the top, just a huge hole. The best option is usually to sleep on top of it until it rains or you anticipate a heavy dew. Sleeping somewhere breezy and keeping the bag open will help circulate air, and lying downhill may help drain the moisture.
Summary: cheap enough that there’s no excuse not to bivouac but only a long-term option for the hardiest.
2. Hi-Gear Adventure Bivvi Bag (and other cheap nylon bivvies)
A big step up from the orange survival bag, the Hi-Gear Adventure Bivvy from GO Outdoors – and other similar ones – are breathable as well as waterproof meaning less sweatiness inside. At least in theory.
Bivi bags this cheap will almost certainly be a little lacking in either waterproofing (meaning if you sleep in heavy rain or on wet ground, water will seep through the fabric) or breathability (meaning it will be sticky and a little unpleasant inside). They are usually fairly small, light and cheap and a perfectly decent entry level bag.
Summary: probably leaks in wet weather and feels quite sticky inside but will do the job.
From here onwards, with one exception, you start getting quality bags and just need to choose your features and budget. British Army bivvies are the bench mark for bivi bags. They’re usually found on Amazon, Ebay or similar (try army, ex-army, british army, army surplus etc). They are big enough to fit your rucksack inside, tough enough to sleep on stones without tearing, waterproof enough for heavy rain and breathable enough to be comfortable.
All in all, they are excellent. The downsides are that they are surprisingly big and heavy (you can get one-man tents that weigh less) and, being non-hooped, just leave you to flap the Goretex hood over your face during the rain.
(N.B. “Ex-army” these days may not mean it’s ever actually been used by the army, which is fine, but just watch out for cheap imitations that are not Goretex. These will be more like the previous Hi-Gear-type bivvies described above).
Summary: big, tough, waterproof, breathable and cheap. An excellent bag. Quite big and heavy though and no hoop for the rain.
It’s basically a smaller, lighter version of the army bag but a little less roomy, tough and breathable.
(N.B. Alpkit are currently out of stock but reckon they’ll be back by the end of August).
Summary: really good. Smaller, lighter version of the army bag though not quite as tough or roomy.
eVent is the main rival to Goretex. Its key selling point is superior breathability. I have not used these Rab bags myself (I’ve used their other bags) but I suspect they are very similar to the Alpkit Hunka but more breathable, particularly the Alpine Bivy, and probably better quality i.e. will last longer.
Summary: good quality bivvies, more breathable than Alpkit’s Hunka but more expensive.
>> Used and recommended by the author (full review here)
Rab’s Survival Zone bags are sometimes described as “sleeping bag covers” rather than bivi bags. They are very thin, a much tighter fit and not as waterproof, particularly the Survival Zone LITE. However, they are extremely lightweight and pack down very small. The regular Survival Zone’s Pertex Shield has a hydrostatic head of 10,000 whilst the Survival Zone Lite’s Pertex Endurance is only 1,000.
I would recommend them for protecting a sleeping bag from dew, spills and other damage; for Alpine climbing where you’ll sleep on snow and want wind protection but are not worried about rain; for ultra-running or other activities where every gram counts; in addition to a tent for extra warmth in winter or so you can bivvy outside when the weather looks good.
(My wife and I have been carrying two Survival Zone Lites for 11 months cycling around the world. In winter we used them for warmth, year-round when camping to protect our inflatable mats and in summer to bivi outside. Read my full review here).
Summary: light enough to carry in addition to a tent and excellent for Alpine climbing or ultra-running. However, the Survival Zone Lite is not waterproof.
Hooped Bivi Bags – Reviewed
The luxury option for bivouacers is the hooped bivi: these bags have one or more poles, like a tiny tent, which mean that you can zip yourself in during the rain and still sleep comfortably. They also allow better air flow meaning less stickiness inside. Pegging the bags out means they stand up on their own, stay in place and improves airflow for better moisture management. The downside is that they are no longer instant to pitch and strike, and they weigh a little more too.
9. Aqua Quest ‘Hoopla’ (and other cheap plastic hooped bivis)
>> Tested by the author
Beware false prophets. Good hooped bivi bags tend to be expensive. The cheap ones I’ve seen use a nasty nylon material which is really not very breathable meaning lots of condensation inside and wetness even without rain.
If you can afford a more expensive one then splash out. If you can’t, then you’re better off buying a decent bag without a hoop.
Summary: not breathable and not worth buying in my opinion. Pay more or get a hoopless bivi.
This is the cheapest, good hooped bivi that I know of and have used. It’s slightly more elaborate with an extra pole running perpendicular over the hood which gives a small free-standing tent effect over your head with lots of room and even a small vent and window. It also allows a long side entry which is neat. Finally, there is a tiny vertical pole at the end with a guy line to keep the bivi raised from your sleeping bag.
I wanted to dislike this bag for its over complication – and some will – but it’s actually really good in the rain with a lot of space. It’s a bit more effort to pitch though and the fabric is definitely not as breathable as the Terra Nova Jupiter. No longer manufactured.
Summary: not as breathable and more effort to pitch but really spacious inside and great in the rain.
The template hooped bivi: simple design, good Goretex on top, tough waterproof plastic on the bottom and a single bent hoop at the top.
A simple but excellent bag that I have been using for over a decade in all sorts of conditions. The entry/exit takes a bit of getting used to but otherwise the design is great. The mosquito net hood option is a nice touch. Highly recommended.
The latest iteration (July 2015) now comes with a whopping £300 price tag though.
Summary: the industry standard hooped bivi. Hard to beat.–
>> Tested by the author
The big, square sided hoop makes getting in and out of the bag much easier than the Jupiter and allows more air in and out. It does increase the profile though so makes it a little more intrusive and may even suffer in high winds – not something bivviers usually have to worry about.
Summary: great bivi, good simple design, same as the Terra Nova Jupiter but with an extra large hoop and door.
Finally: is it bivi, bivy, bivvy or bivvie?
Bivouac is a real world that’s been hijacked, conjugated (e.g. bivouacing, bivouacking, bivouaced, bivouacer), abbreviated (bivvy, bivvie, bivi) and sometimes both (bivvying, bivvier, bivvied). I don’t think there’s any particular spellings that are “right”. I tend to go with bivi and bivvying but include all sorts of spellings to help people find these articles on Google. Similarly, they are sometimes referred to as bivy bags, bivy sacks, bivy tents and, simplies, bivvies.
For more comparison articles such as camping mats and base layer materials, see here.