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bivy & tarp vs. tent
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Craig Greenlee
(greenleecca) - F
bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/25/2008 04:03:35 MST Print View

I'm new to the light backpacking arena. I have always done it the heavy way, comfortable, safe and well prepared, but heavy. I've become tired of carrying all of that weight, and am looking at ways to at least cut back if not being truly light. Recently scrapped my tent and changed to mosquito netting which was excellent for the weight savings, but the unexpected storm that rolls in effectively ends my trip. I am considering going with an UL bivy & tarp. Does anyone have any personal experience with the Equinox ultralight bivy cover? Would it be effective when used with the tarp? Does it breath as the company description claims? I have done a lot of research regarding what is available in the way of bivvies and tarps, but what are the "real world" considerations associated with their use? Condensation, set up, wind whipping the rain and tarp around, etc.
I would appreciate feedback from the experienced.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Tarp and bivy versus tent on 01/25/2008 05:23:03 MST Print View

I used a tarp and bivy for quite a few years, and did so successfully. However, a big issue for me was finding a bivy that was weatherproof when battened down, but still offered the option of great ventilation combined with bug protection for hot, muggy August nights in Ohio. Also, strictly as a matter of personal preference, I was never comfortable under any tarp smaller than 8x10. The combination I came to like best was an Integral Designs Silshelter and Salathe bivy. As you read what follows, keep in mind that those were the choices I was most comfortable with; I never liked the extremely light bivies now available because they lacked the bug protection when the top was opened up.

I recently got rid of my tarp and bivy, and now use a tent. The reason is that many of the solo tents now available offer more space for less weight, and the full-mesh inners featured on some are the ultimate in great ventilation and bug protection when you don't need the fly. The tarp and bivy combination was always lighter than any tent I had; that's no longer true, so I went with the lighter option. My own choice is the Seedhouse SL1 tent: I can pitch it without the fly to effectively sleep under the stars; I can pitch it with the fly for storm protection; or I can pitch only the fly and groundcloth for the lightest weight when bugs aren't a problem (i.e., when the anatomy of brass monkeys is extremely susceptible to abrupt alteration.)

Other good choices include any of the TarpTents (the Rainbow is a personal favorite and close second to the SL1) and the Hubba (my third choice.) I've also heard good things about SixMoonDesigns, though I've never actually seen or used their products.

I'm offering this not as a criticism of the tarp-and-bivy plan, but merely as a different perspective to consider before you spend a not-insignificant amount of money. If you're able to find the blend of features you need on an ultralight bivy and small silnylon tarp, it will probably be even lighter than the tents I mentioned above.

Good luck in the search.

Edited by garkjr on 01/25/2008 05:28:36 MST.

Mike Hinsley

Locale: England, UK
Bivy & tarp vs. Tent on 01/25/2008 06:40:41 MST Print View

A lot depends on the climate.

A simple thing you can do is throw away your tent inner and sleep under it on a groundsheet and see how you get on.

In the UK after a lot of playing around I'm more-or-less finalised on a MYOG Single-wall tent with a groundsheet or a DWR bivy bag for lowland use and a WPB bivy bag + diamond micro-tarp for mountain use.

However, on the next overnighter if the weather holds I'll be using a DWR bivy bag with a tarp packed as backup.

There's no easy simple answer.

Of course, if you MYOG in Cuben Fiber you could take several options with you and still save weight...

Michael Febbo
(febbom) - F
tarp and bivy on 01/25/2008 08:53:18 MST Print View

I almost always use a tarp, sometimes with a bivy... and have used the Equinox bivy about two dozen times. I have the older version that lacks a hood, but I believe the fabric is the same.

The advantages of a good tarp, for me, outweigh the slight loss of weather protection and longer setup times. For one, a large (at least 8x10) tarp offers alot of space for one or two people, and the fact that there is no floor means all of that space can be used to sort wet gear, cook, or dig out for seats/sleeping platforms in snow. This is great. It is why I love tarps in the rain- set them up, get inside with no worries of soaking your floor.

A well setup large tarp (I use a Golite Cave 2 mostly) negates the need for a fully waterproof bivy, or any at all if you have a good shell on your bag. Thus, the DWR top of the Equinox is suitable. It will handle a bit of moisture, but it's real suitability is in how it breathes. If I used a smaller tarp, I'd use an Epic or Event bivy for better water protection.

Even though the Equinox breathes well, I always get a layer of frost between the bivy and my bag when sleeping out below freezing- always. Of course, this occurs for me regardless of what bivy I use.

The silnylon floor of the bivy is very slippery and you can end up sliding around alot if you do not do something to mitigate this issue... the zipper is a non-locking type that allows you to simply yank on the fabric and it will open.

However, this setup lacks bug protection, and is not suitable for above treeline. I have a few netting options (A16 bug bivy, another bug bivy from Equinox, bivies with netting) but all are a pain to use and restricting. If bugs are a serious concern- seriously consider something like a tarptent.

David Passey
(davidpassey) - F

Locale: New York City
Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/25/2008 09:05:46 MST Print View

I have used the tarp/bivy combination for a couple of years. I use the Gossamer Gear Spinntwin tarp (shared with my wife). For bivies, I have used the BMW nano, and homemade bivies, which I actually prefer. I have never used the equinox, but think it would be adequate. You might try Titanium Goat, which has in the past carried lower priced bivies that seem very functional.

I have encountered very heavy rain and wind with my setup and was perfectly comfortable, although spindrift is inevitable. (I have found good pitching and windbreak locations.) I may be crazy, but I enjoy the storms more under the tarp. There is nothing like witnessing a storm roll in and explode over your head when you're at high elevations under a tarp. I have used the tarp above treeline, but never in a storm or high wind.

I haven't encountered a lot of bugs, though. For my part, if I knew in advance that mosquitos/etc were going to be very heavy, I would think twice about the tarp/bivy combination. (I probably wouldn't go at all, but in such cases I think a tent would be a better refuge than crawling into a bivy.)

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/25/2008 09:21:51 MST Print View

There are a number of people here who using a bivy and tarp combination. This is especially populate with quilt users.

I am not a big fan of bivy. Fully waterproof ones aren't sufficiently breathable. The DWR top ones I haven't found that useful given adequate tarp protection and reasonable DWR on the bag / quilt with the exception (maybe) of snow camping to keep spin drift at bay.

For a season or two I used a poncho/tarp + DWR bivy because I thought it would be the lightest and most flexible system. I eventually realized that the other option was to use a tarp that could be pitched in such a way that I didn't need to worry about side blown rain, etc. In many cases a larger tarp can be lighter than the smaller tarp + bivy, and is more pleasant in severe weather because you have a bit of room to move and manage things. So normally, my recommendation would be a 8x10 or larger flat tarp, or a modest shaped tarp like the gg spinnshelter, smd gatewood cape/wild oasis.

The only conditions I won't want to use a tarp (or tarp/bivy) would be locations that I expected standing water on the ground. In most locations, good site selection can eliminate this problem, but I have been some places where the only option for camp would end up with standing water if it rained. In these cases I would want to talk something with a decent sized, sealed, bathtub floor.

I also and very found of SMD / Tarptent shelters for their simplicity of use and and reasonable bug free space. When I am sharing a shelter with someone else, it often a tarptent.


Edited by verber on 01/25/2008 09:24:40 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/25/2008 11:00:49 MST Print View


You've obviously formed your preference from a thoughtful eval after a reasonable number of poncho-tarp field trials ... just the kinda guy I want to hear from as I'm planning on trying poncho-tarp+bivy this year.

In addition to shelter from weather I want insect protection, mostly flying/biting type. We do have very real tick concerns but there are so many ways to pick up ticks when outside the shelter that they have to be dealt with using other measures.

Carefully located and pitched floorless HS TarpTents or MYOG from his plans have worked well for those needs. I'm also content with a poncho as raingear

My conclusion has been that a poncho-tarp plus a bivy from the plans available at SMD will be lighter than my MYOG tarptent plus the 30x80 silnylon groundcloth I use plus my ID Poncho-tarp rain gear and also lighter than an 8x10 tarp plus a bug net similar to golite's nests (partial coverage bug nets have performed poorly for me) plus poncho raingear.

Is there anything in your experience that blasts holes in my conclusion?

Also, I'll be test driving a silnylon/momentum full coverage bivy under a 5x8 tarp for winter use next month.

Edited by jcolten on 01/25/2008 11:02:19 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Bivy on 01/25/2008 12:02:28 MST Print View


Edited by FamilyGuy on 11/12/2013 08:45:57 MST.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Re: Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/25/2008 19:17:49 MST Print View

Your weight comparison seems to hinge on getting double use from your poncho tarp. Having to remove your rain gear to set up your shelter when it's already raing is a drag, and it also makes middle of the night bio-breaks & guyline tightening trips trickier.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Re: Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/26/2008 07:57:55 MST Print View


The secret to double use of the poncho as both rainwear and shelter is a windshirt (3.5 oz.).

It is true that the poncho (9.3) and windshirt are heavier than a Marmot Precip (12.1), but the extra .7 oz. provides many additional options.

Edited by food on 01/26/2008 07:58:35 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: bivy & tarp vs. tent on 01/26/2008 09:28:13 MST Print View

Your weight comparison seems to hinge on getting double use from your poncho tarp. Having to remove your rain gear to set up your shelter when it's already raing is a drag, and it also makes middle of the night bio-breaks & guyline tightening trips trickier.

I failed to mention that I'll construct the bivy so it'll double as a rain cape while I setup the tarp.

In 35 years of camping I can recall needing two middle of the night bio-breaks. And I'll have lineloc adjusters on the guy lines and will be able to adjust most of the lines from under the tarp.

Edited by jcolten on 01/26/2008 09:28:58 MST.