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Tarp vs. Bivey
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Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Tarp vs. Bivey on 11/22/2010 23:13:19 MST Print View

I have always been a tarp guy. Lightweight, very cheap, easy to set up, and I have been camping out with my own tarp and light rope system for a little over a decade now. But I have been thinking of buying a Bivey, especially because of all the rain/snow in my area, and because there seems to be potential to be just as (or more) effective plus very easy to set up.

What does a Bivey bag have that a tarp and some rope do not have?

Do you have to spend big bucks to get a Bivey?

I never went with tent because they can be heavy, expensive, and a pain in neck to set up (and often not possible if the ground is too hard). Just want to make sure that biveys are not the same way.

In case you are curious about how I roll, I will either tie a rope between a few trees then throw the tarp over (this takes less than 5 minutes). Or if there is a chance of a storm or heavy rain I will build a improvised shelter out of sticks and brush, then put the tarp on top of that. This of course takes longer, but I have slept out in thunderstorms before and been dry as a bone using this method.


Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Tarp vs. Bivey on 11/23/2010 14:37:24 MST Print View


The best way to look at a bivy is that is it used in conjunction with your tarp to provide you with additional protection and warmth in foul weather.

When it is raining hard and the wind is blowing sideways, the bivy can give you some protection from any rain that might blow in under the edges of the trap. (If your tarp is not very a poncho tarp).

The bivy can also add 3-5 degrees of warmth to your sleeping system by reducing drafts and capturing some warmth in the bivy bag...micro environment.

In weather where there is little to no chance of rain, I find it nice to simply sleep in my bivy without setting up the tarp. (I think that just as the bivy can add warmth to a sleeping system, I think that the tarp can add to the warmth of a bivy).

Once nice advantage of a bivy is that there are spots that are too small to setup a tarp, but can just fit a bivy. Example, sleeping on a tiny spot of flat ground on a stretch of granite that overlooks a lake.

That said, I would always take may poncho tarp with me in conjunction with my bivy to give me peace of mind that I can stay warm and dry.

As for which bivy...I am very partial to MLD/Mountain Laurel Designs.

The Superlight bivy is $155.00 and weights only 5.5 oz., has a waterproof bottom, bug netting, and a water resistant and very breathable top.

Hope this helps.


Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
ah, so it's bivy... not bivey ;) on 11/23/2010 15:01:26 MST Print View

Thanks for the feedback man! It does help. So what you are saying is that you should use tarp and bivy both. Hmm. I have been using tarp and only tarp. I don't know if you noticed, but I posted my gear list. I am very happy with my gear system, but what I had thought might be a good option, however, was to replace my tarp/rope for a bivy.

So perhaps what I could do then to make up for the weight is to use a smaller tarp. The one I use is pretty big, when I set it up two adults plus gear can fit under it. And when I have gone solo, I simply used the extra area to put under me as added insulation from the ground.

But as of last year I introduced a much nicer sleep mat, which has made things much better.

But thanks again for the info. I will have to meditate/research (especially weight and cost issues) on this whole small tarp + bivy system in place of big tarp no bivy.

Funny that you mention a rock overlooking a lake! A few months ago I found the perfect spot just like that. But no trees around to set up my tarp, which got me thinking into alternatives. Nice thing about this spot is... noooooo one else knows about it. It's pretty deep. It will be the first spot I hit come spring.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Bivy,bivvy,bivi... on 11/23/2010 15:15:36 MST Print View

"A bivouac sack (also known as a bivy sack, bivvy bag, bivi bag or just bivy) is an extremely small, lightweight, waterproof shelter, and an alternative to traditional tent systems"
From Wiki

David Loome
(DavidLoome) - F

Locale: American Southwest
bivy vs bivy on 11/23/2010 16:07:04 MST Print View

I think we might be talking about two different things- There are bivy sacks which are used as stand-alone waterproof shelters, and there are bivy sacks which are just water resistant and intended to be used in conjunction with a tarp shelter.

I think the latter are great, and I almost always carry my Titanium Goat 'Ptarmigan' bivy with my tarp for extra weather protection, warmth, and for bugs.

I would not recommend the more heavy duty waterproof bivy sacks for your primary backpacking shelter- They are prone to condensation problems, are often heavier than tarps, you cannot cook inside them, it's very difficult to keep your gear dry when getting inside them during a rain storm, etc. I used one ONCE years ago when I first started backpacking. Never again.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
first spelling issues, now semantics?! :D on 11/23/2010 16:20:33 MST Print View

Yeah, perhaps I should have been more clear about what kind of bivy, with the whole bivy shelter vs. bivy bag.

Never used either of them. But if I do get one, I will go for the bag. Keeping bugs out is a plus, as is the added protection from wind, rain, etc. The bivy shelter seems like it's just like a really, really small tent. One of the reasons why I opt for a large tarp is for the space inside, especially to keep gear out of the rain.

Another issue that I have noticed is that you guys seem to all be talking about tarps differently than I am. I checked out some pics and other threads and stuff, and what I gather is that by "tarp" most of you mean your rain poncho or a very, very small tarp. Most of you guys use stakes and guy lines and such. I only use rope or build an improvised shelter to put my tarp on top of after.

Most of the time just tying up a rope between two trees works great for me. If it is really windy or rainy I will get lots/rocks to weigh down the tarp.

Maybe I ought to check out this whole poncho tarp thing too... but then again, there is the old saying of "if it ain't broke, don't try and fix it."

David Loome
(DavidLoome) - F

Locale: American Southwest
tarps on 11/23/2010 18:28:13 MST Print View


By "tarp" I think folks here are generally referring to any single-wall shelter that does not use poles or a framed structure to set it up (like a tent). This might be a tarp you buy at the hardware store, but there's some really great "tarps" out there for backpacking that look a lot like tents, and offer excellent weather protection. Check out something like the Six Moon Designs 'Wild Oasis' or the Golite 'Shangri-La'- A lot of hikers carry this kind of tarp, but whatever works for you is great too.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Tarp & Bivy on 11/23/2010 19:01:52 MST Print View


Poncho tarps tend to be a bit smaller than a standard 10 Ft X 8 Ft tarp....9 Ft x 5.5 Ft, in the case of the MLD Poncho Tarp. (They run smaller so that they don't drag on the ground when worn as a rain poncho).

I agree with you, for "us", a tarp is secured to the ground with stakes & guy lines. We tend to use hiking poles at either end to support them vs. using a rope between trees and pulling the tarp over the rope. (Sometimes we don't have trees for the rope you are using).

Frankly, if the system that you are using works for you, then not sure if a bivy is something that will do much for you.

Sounds like you were hoping to replace the tarp with a bivy, which generally does not work unless you are facing a situation without the possibility of rain.

Perhaps, if you are able to replace your rain gear (jacket and pants) with a poncho tarp, then perhaps a bivy and tarp combination will yield a weight savings for you?

The only other gain for you might be additional warmth and bug protection by using a bivy.

Poncho wise, you might want to look at the GoLite Poncho Tarp...I think that it is pretty inexpensive and does not weigh much.

Good luck to you on your quest to refine your kit.


Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
lots of shapes and sizes for "tarps" on 11/23/2010 20:12:15 MST Print View

Here is a site with lots of pictures and options for a variety of traps.
Look, too, at their description of a bivy.:

What you have would be called a "flat tarp"

A bivy wether you are inside it or outside of it can also double as a ground cover under a floorless tarp.

Edited by rambler on 11/23/2010 20:16:07 MST.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
RE: MLD Bivy on 11/23/2010 22:34:55 MST Print View

I never really considered a bivy, but looking at the MDL Superlight, seems like the price is right.

Aside from the obvious (wind, rain protection) is there any other reason not to get the full head mesh, if one was primarily using it with a shelter/tarp... maybe for mild/reasonable winter use?

Stupid question, but your mattress pad goes on the inside of the bivy?

How is it for side sleepers?

Thanks.. hope this isn't a thread hijack.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: RE: MLD Bivy on 11/23/2010 23:43:14 MST Print View

We use the Oware drawstring bivy which has about a fourth of the top mesh. Haven't had a problem under a tarp with rain (Southeast Alaska is wet) and, though we tend to use our Pyramid in the winter, it doesn't seem to dramatically reduce the temperature inside the bivy. It does assist in ventilation.

Pad goes inside the bivy

Plenty of room for side sleepers.

This is from last winter/spring along the coast.

Tarp Camp

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Nice buzz going on 11/24/2010 01:19:03 MST Print View

Thanks all for the feedback. Good stuff to think about.

And yeah, the tarp I use I did get at the hardware store!

Glad to see that it seems like you guys actually go out and use your gear and know what you are talking about. On another forum I got into a debate with a guy about sleeping systems for camping... and then at the end of the debate he admits to not camping at all in over a year! Not just that, but he's not really camped all that much in his life. And he's trying to tell me how to do things. Annoying.

Oh, and if you are wondering at his brilliant suggestion: dig a hole in the ground and sleep in it. Yup, nothing like sleeping in cold, damp earth, without any mat under you, I might add. And nothing to protect from rain.

So how much (in grams, if possible) do these tarps and bivys weight? I thought I was saving a lot of weight with my old school tarp and rope system, which is about 920g, but looks like you guys have really taken weight to a whole other level.

Duane Hall
(PKH) - M

Locale: Nova Scotia
Tarp and bivy on 11/24/2010 02:32:14 MST Print View

Well, with MLD's tarp and bivy set up, you could be looking at less than a pound (454 grams) for both. You can also be looking at some major expense.


Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Depends on 11/25/2010 07:05:11 MST Print View

If I use my large flat tarp or fully enclosed pyramid type or if it is summer time, I use the SMD Meteor Bivy.
The whole upper half is one big mesh section.

It doesn't protect as well as full coverage bivys, but can be way more comfortable.

I even use it in winter to act as ground cloth and it actually adds a little warmth by reducing the breeze.
The open design makes it so condensation isn't that much of a problem as can be in bivys sometimes.

Jason Newkirk
(WarKittens) - F
add groundsheet? on 07/08/2011 22:22:21 MDT Print View

I'm a poncho tarp and bivy user as are many of you. Why do some use a groundsheet in combination with the tarp and bivy? I don't use one and have never had a problem. Very interested in scenarios where it helps.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Ground Cloth on 07/09/2011 04:24:38 MDT Print View

A bivy doesn't need a ground cloth of course, but I use a polycryo ground cloth as a rain skirt.
So I do use it as a ground cloth for some added protection.
Also good when taking a break on wet ground.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: Tarp with Bivey on 07/09/2011 08:48:40 MDT Print View

Two conditions I can think of in Sweden where you would greatly want a bivy.

1. Bugs. If you are camping above the arctic circle after the melt, you will need
something besides a tarp to keep the millions of bugs (that look like dust coming out
of the ground with each step) out of your ears at night.

2. High winds. Not talking drafts but ferocious winds that make a zero degree bag
feel like a thin sheet.