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New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips!
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J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips! on 06/13/2013 21:30:06 MDT Print View

Greeting BPLers,

I’ve decided to give bivy sacks a try and have narrowed my choices down to MLD Superlight, Katabatic Bristlecone, and Borah Gear’s bivy. I have several products from MLD and they are top-notch quality, including my Exodus backpack. I’ve never owned anything from Katabatic, but their quality seems phenomenal as well. I’ve had trouble finding any reviews on the Borah Gear bivy, so I’m curious if anybody out there has tried one.

My specs: I’m 6’2”, 185 pounds. I’m a side sleeper, and I toss and turn. My 3-season BPW is 7 pounds, and I sometimes drop to SUL, part of the reason I’m experimenting with bivy sacks.

Sleeping gear/shelter: I have a SMD Gatewood Cape for tarp/rain protection. I also bought a SMD Serenty NetTent to pair with it, but have not used it in the field yet, so it’s still brand new. I mostly use an EE 40 degree Revelation quilt, a CCF pad cut in half, and a polycryo groundsheet I bought from MLD. I’ll be getting rid of the Serenity and the groundsheet when I buy the bivy.

Location: Currently I live in the redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts, southwest of San Francisco. The lowest winter temps I encounter are around freezing. We receive between 50-100 inches of rain a year, with 60 being normal. I’m also planning an AT thru-hike in the next 2 years, and believe this bivy will be with me.

I’m leaning towards the Borah Gear bivy because the price is better, and the turnaround time is quicker. When I ordered my Exodus pack from MLD, I had to wait 8 weeks. I e-mailed Borah Gear and can get a bivy in about 2 weeks. I’m not using cuben, since for me the 1-1.5 ounce weight reduction is not worth the price. I think the M50 upper is the best choice for my needs. The Borah is a side zip with full head bug net, which probably makes the most sense for where I do the bulk of my trips. I want to order a large for enough extra space to stash some gear inside if need be. Honestly, the specs and materials on all 3 look the same.

I’m also seeking some bivy advice from experienced users. It seems a bivy is a great choice with a quilt because it blocks drafts. What kind of warmth do you gain from a bivy? It might be minimal, but you should gain a few degrees.

I miss cowboy camping. That’s the real appeal after a 20-30 mile day. If it’s a beautiful night, I can just roll out the bivy and forget setting up my tarp.

I apologize for the long post, but it seems you get better responses with more detailed info this way. I appreciate any and all feedback. Thanks.

J Dos

Edited by Damager on 07/09/2013 12:48:19 MDT.

Jeffrey A.
(Jeff81) - F
borah bivy is great on 06/13/2013 22:43:59 MDT Print View

I loved my borah gear bivy and John is great to deal with. I'd highly recommend it.

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Re: New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips! on 06/13/2013 23:04:07 MDT Print View

Own a MLD Superlight Bivy which I like very much but I would not hesitate to buy the Borah Gear as a suitable alternative. I have seen a few of the Borah bivies up close and they look like a nice product. I recall reading others estimate an increase of approximately five degree with a zipped up bivy. Five degrees seems reasonable based on my experiences.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 06/13/2013 23:13:42 MDT Print View

My advice, get a bivy with insect netting. Anything else will be to hot or have condensation. Pair it with a cuben tarp.

David Miles
(davidmiles) - F

Locale: Eastern Sierra
Re: Bivy on 06/14/2013 00:37:44 MDT Print View

Are you looking for a weatherproof bivy or just under tarp splash?

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: borah bivy is great on 06/14/2013 01:59:56 MDT Print View


Thanks for the reply. I'm glad to hear from a satisfied Borah customer. I think I'll be placing an order after I hear back from John on a few specs. I prefer supporting cottage companies and I'm excited to order from a company I've never used before.


The Borah bivy has a full head net, much like the optional one on the MLD Superlight. For the climate I will be primarily using the bivy in, netting seems like a must.

David W,

I'm also glad to hear from somebody who owns an MLD, and has seen a Borah for comparison's sake. I feel you can never go wrong with an MLD product, but if I can save almost 100$ and 2 months of waiting, I'm willing to try another company's quality product.

David M,

No, I don't need a truly weatherproof bivy, just protection from under tarp splash and something I can use to cowboy camp on nice nights. I'll be using it with my Gatewood Cape on trips when I expect weather.

Do you experienced bivy users ever use a groundsheet with your bivy, or do you find the silnylon durable enough to leave the groundsheet at home? I expect most of you don't use a groundsheet in order save weight and simplify your gear list. Just curious. Thanks.

Edited by Damager on 06/14/2013 02:07:55 MDT.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips! on 06/14/2013 02:36:27 MDT Print View

J Dos,

I am a huge fan of the tarp/bivy combo, and my shelter system is a modified Borah Cuben bivy, Zpacks solo Hex tarp, Ti stakes, and ground cover (garbage bag) for a total of 355g. I can't recommend it enough to people, and have written about it a bunch on other threads, if you do a search about tarp/bivy combo you can find them. You can get super-light weights with this shelter style, plus it gives you flexibility to use trail shelters and cowboy camp. Bivy is also nice to block wind and keep your pad and bag/quilt all together, and of course total protection from bugs/critters plus rain splash protection is great too.

There are of course a few limitations and shortcomings, as with any choice of gear. The big one for me was condensation, but I wanted such a great system to work so bad, that I opted to modify my bivy by having a friend put in a vapor vent down the middle of my bivy. You can read more about that mod and see some pics of my bivy in action in a trail shelter here:

EDIT: I should also include a link to a post I did after I tested my un-modified bivy and got LOTS of condensation. My bivy has the newer M50. Check it here:

I am sure that if you ask certain cottage guys to make the mod for you, they will. I had asked Borah Gear if they could do such a mod, and they said no problem, but then I found a Cuben bivy for sale on gear swap that I had to have :). If you don't opt for some extra netting as a vapor vent, I then suggest you go all bug net bivy. All net won't get you much (if any) wind/rain protection, but you won't get a single drop of condensation either and full bug/critter protection.

As far as the warmth you ask about, there is a bump, but it's hard to measure how significant it is. I have a Zpacks 40F/5C bag that I use with my bivy, and have taken it down as low as -3C with extra clothing of course. But having the wind blocked so that warm air stays in your bag/quilt (especially down bags) better does make a difference. I would give a crude estimate of adding maybe 2-3 degrees C of warmth to my sleep system, but again it's hard to tell. Using very thin fabrics like M50 or M90 are not going to bump things much more than a few degrees, but if you use a quilt (as I see you do) having drafts blocked is a whole other nice bonus to using a bivy.

Hope this was helpful, and good luck with whatever you go with :)

Edited by PrimeZombie on 06/14/2013 02:42:38 MDT.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: Re: New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips! on 06/14/2013 06:35:50 MDT Print View


I have a borah M50 top/silnylon bivy side-zip. Great workmanship, excellent bivy, but I too have had quite bad condensation problems with it. I was planning on putting a strip of netting down the middle of the top exactly as you have done. I was planning on going maybe twice as wide as what you have shown, and maybe down towards the foot a little bit more, but I'm glad to see that you reported that this really helped with the condensation with the size of strip you added.

Edited by eatSleepFish on 06/14/2013 06:36:50 MDT.

Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
+1 on the bug bivy on 06/14/2013 07:28:21 MDT Print View

J Dos,

I have a long/wide bug bivy from Borah and am very pleased with it (I am 6', 245 lbs). As others have mentioned it is great under a tarp in inclement weather and great for cowboy camping and still getting some bug relief. I use a polycro ground cover to keep it clean. Absolutely no condensation problems as you would expect. Workmanship from Borah is excellent.

Edited by smeier on 06/14/2013 07:29:40 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Two different worlds on 06/14/2013 08:04:16 MDT Print View

Up until a year ago I was hiking exclusively either west coast (Sierra) or cold conditions in the east. I used to come on here like many others and declare tarp bivy to be the ideal setup. And for those conditions it was ideal. Fast forward to last July in New Jersey on the AT. It was hot and cooled very little overnight and the mosquitoes were bad. This was one of the worst nights i have had on the trail and i realized how different conditions were and equipment should be in different regions. Heat and bugs are the Achilles heal of tarp bivy and in my mind a show stopper for summer east coast hiking.

To address this outage I'm building a new shelter system. It will be essentially a tarp, more like an MLD solomid, and a net inner. Add in my bivy and you have a very flexible system that you can pick and choose components based on season and conditions. In the colder seasons i will use the bivy instead of the bug inner. Also 90% of the time I cowboy camp because I am incredibly lazy after hiking a long day and the last thing I want to do is setup anything in the dark.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: New to the bivy world. Looking for advice and tips! on 06/14/2013 08:34:41 MDT Print View

This is a very good article,and so is this one. This is a good book.

Edited by annapurna on 06/14/2013 08:37:22 MDT.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Thanks for the feedback on 06/14/2013 11:54:00 MDT Print View

Yet again, I'm always amazed by the quality of the responses I receive on this forum.

I've encountered quite a few of your posts regarding a bivy/tarp setup and if I'm not mistaken, one of your posts was my initial catalyst into researching bivy sacks. Cowboy camping, use in a shelter, and added protection against the elements are my primary reasons for making the switch. I miss sleeping under the stars. Plus I'm in the process of redefining, at least for myself, what is UL/SUL/minimalist. I'm no longer as panicked about my BPW, which is always sub 7.5 pounds anyway. I think the bivy perfectly complements my minimalist ideal, in that on a summer trip on familiar trails where I'm not expecting inclement weather, I can completely ditch a shelter and rely instead on a bivy and proper site selection. In fact, I might be able to push that ideal deeper into the shoulder seasons as well.

Condensation is a funny issue to me because two people can have the exact same bivy and report such widely differing results even under the same conditions. Of course, I know condensation differs based on environment, climate, time of year you hike etc etc. Even in this thread, some people report no condensation issues. That will be part of the ongoing experiment for me. I always applaud customizing gear and I hope that change works better for your system.

Steve M,
Thanks for the reply! It makes sense to use a modified groundsheet I suppose. I have plenty of polycryo, (or is it polycro, polyco?) leftover from a recent MLD shopping spree. I could cut the groundsheet to fit my bivy, giving me extra protection and cleanliness for less than 1 ounce weight penalty. I'll experiment with it.

Hiking Malto,
I agree that no one shelter system is perfect for every condition and I could see how on a very hot, bug heavy night, a bivy might suck. But it seems to be a great choice for 80% of the backpacking I do. Also, I do have a SMD Serenity NetTent, and maybe I'll keep it for the time being. I 100% agree that after a long day of hiking, I don't always want to hassle with setting up a tarp, even though it usually takes me less than 3 minutes nowadays.
I'm still experimenting with ideas for an AT thru-hike. What gear works best for me in California might not work as well on the East Coast. I'm originally from Virginia and venture back every few years to visit family, so I'm well aware of the bugs and humidity.

Thanks for the links! I just read the first article and will read the second one tonight. I highly recommend these articles to anyone contemplating using a bivy with their sleep system.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
bivy on 06/14/2013 13:30:35 MDT Print View

Most bivies are not completely water proof... the problem even on an advertised bivy with waterproof fabric is the entry/exit... something there is very likely to leak... zipper, fabric sloping down from your chest to your head where the entry/exit is... etc.... at least I've never seen one that didn't...


If you have a down bag and there is rain in the forecast... would be wise to either take a synthetic bag or a tarp to shelter the entry/exit of the water proof bivy...

that's my approach anyway...


Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Polycro on 06/15/2013 08:36:13 MDT Print View

I wouldn't personally cut down the polycro to just the shape of your bivy but rather keep it oversized so it is not only under your bivy but a clean place to put your toiletries, etc as well as provide some leadway should your bivy move in the night due to tossing and turning. The difference between a modified polycro groundsheet and a larger one can't be more than a few grams.

Jeff Sims
(jeffreytsims) - MLife

Locale: So. Cal
great thread on 06/15/2013 09:46:42 MDT Print View

Thank you for starting this thread, there is lots of good info here.

I have been thinking of moving from my enclosed shelter to a tarp bivy set up and found John at Borah most helpful. He is great at answering questions and full of suggestions on how to get around concerns.

I spend most of my time in the Sierra Nevada and was very concerned with condensation. I wanted the lightest thing I could find but in the end John actually suggested using the M90 over the M50 as it breaths much better and is less prone to condensation

A little heavier but that can be offset by using the Cuben :)

Fitz Travels
My exp with bivies on 06/15/2013 11:29:35 MDT Print View

Ive given up on tradition bivies because of the condensation issues and comfort level - and i dont live in a humid climate.I use a bivy tent hybrid, NF Asylum Bivy, which is heavy for BPL standards but much more comfortable and more room to move around in. When it comes to traditional bivies,, i have always wanted it to work, but using a down bag is just worrisome in them in random situations. I spent three nights in one in basically the same conditions and on the third night, had major condensation and minor down bag failure. It was only around 37 or so, but i was extrememly cold.

Im not a scientist, but it seems to me that condensation is a vicious circle... Once you get some, it creates more. I am actually quite surprised that my NF bivy is quite usuable in the shade in the evening in low 90 degree temps, as long as i cool down and stop sweating before i get in.
Dont know how hot or humid your area gets, but ive LIVED in a traditional bivy for a while in summer.... Its no fun.

Ive always liked bivies because i do stealth camping at times, and so i like the low profile. I think basically people have to use them in their environments to see if it works for them or not, everyones experiences seem to be different.

Ive never done the AT, but grew up in the Appalachian mountains. I cant imagaine using one during late spring and summer there, ev
With a large head bugnet.

The issue with getting a larger tarp is now you are slightly defeating the purpose of the bivy (perhaps except wind blocking) and could get a 6 oz bug tent instead and be able to move around and throw off your sleeping bag when its too warm. One of the advantages of the bivy is you pick a spot, throw it out, and get in. Now when uou add in the tarp, you need to set it up which defeats the convenience of a bivy, not to mention having to get it in if you have to pit the tarp low.. Adding in putting your pad and DOWN sleeping bag into the bivy which in itself is aggrevating at times.

Not saying it cant be done. Just things to think about.

As a side sleeper and using a down bag, if you ever need to shift the down back up tomthe top,in the middle of the night because of continous baffles that are considered a feature, its not impossible, but just not as easy unless you have a lot of room in there.

If you roll around a lot, you mit need to stake the bivy down and or not be close to anything that can puncture it. Prob not an issue to most, but in stealth camping, sometimes flat hiddeni spots are a premeium and you take what you can get.

Also you must provide full rain protection for your backpack, even with a large tarp IMO. got mice? They love to nibble on those bags in the middle of the night for entertainment sometimes. You can hang it on a tree prob in your area though.

If its very very cold, breathability becomes reduced because of frozen moisture on the inside. If you use an synth overnag for moisture management in extreme cold, good luck with fitting that in with a lot of bivies.

Got bears or mountain lions? Im here to tell you, a tent provides far more psychological safery then a bivy, and although both wouldnt stop either from attack, which i hear is rare for mountain lions, what if you did have to scramble fast? Ive had a mountain lion walk right next to my tent.... I cant imagine the dread being stuck in a coffin , i mean bivy, in that circumstance.

Also, this is totally my opinion... But i just dont think traditional bivies add much warmth. I just dont. My hybrid bivy, which has poles at the head and feet, provides an area for air to be warmed and i think provides far more warmth then a traditional bivy. Not a scientific evaluation but i am quite confident in the assertion.

Im not against traditional bivies. But these are my experiences with them, and for me, after long term use with them, i just got tired of it and basically switched back to a tent style one. Its not perfect either, but i am much more comfortable, breathes well, room for my synth overbag, no condensation issues so far (using in rain with tarp not tested yet), easy entrence in and out, headroom to lay on my pack and watch a movie on ipad mini, eat, drink, etc..., foot vent, so far in the shade is decently comfortable in low 90 degree, low humidity, weather....

I say test it out for yourself. It just seems people have different experiences and comfort levels when it comes down to it.

P.S. yes eric chan.... I use a 2lb bivy. im one of "those" people! Lol... In my defence, its more like a stream lined tent.

Edited by fitztravels on 06/15/2013 12:03:22 MDT.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: great thread on 06/15/2013 12:43:34 MDT Print View

Steve M,

Thanks for reminding me not to be overzealous when I bust out the scissors. I've done so in the past and regretted it. I have an Osprey Stratos 24 daypack that is my international/domestic/laptop travel bag. Yes it weighed 30 ounces when I bought it. A 30 OUNCE daypack. But it's not for backpacking, I promise. I must of cut off 30 feet of straps from that pack. Long story short, I cut off too much from the hipbelt, and had to further customize it to make it useful. The pack is now a mutant lovechild of traditional overbuilt techniques and MYOG UL ethos. It's ugly, but I like it as only a proud parent can.


I'm glad this thread can provide useful information to others. It's also great to hear about another positive interaction with John from Borah Gear. I've heard back now from several people and have decided to buy a Borah bivy. The only question I have left for John is do I use M50 or M90 upper fabric? I'm going with the bug head net, side zip, regular width, long length, silnylon bottom (to save money). It seems to me the biggest complaint regarding bivy sacks is moisture management, aka condensation. So if I have to take a slight weight penalty with the M90, but it's a more comfortable alternative to M50, I'm willing to do so.

Fitz Travels,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You bring up a lot of valid concerns for using a bivy.

I'll be using the bivy with my SMD Gatewood Cape, which I've come to love as a shelter. It's not a large tarp, so I'm not incurring any additional weight penalty for pairing it with a bivy. The Cape provides ample coverage and protection for me as a solo hiker, and it doubles (triples?) as my rain gear/pack cover. Silnylon isn't the most comfortable material to hike in, but I've had poor experiences with most hard shells in true rain, and now adjust my pace accordingly. Basically my Gatewood comes with me on every trip because it's such an all-around useful piece of gear. However, if it's a nice day, I like the option of cowboy camping. So I can leave my Cape in my pack unless weather suddenly pounces on me. No need to set up both a tarp and a bivy.

As for the psychological comfort of a tent, that's obviously different for every person. It's been years since I've used a traditional backpacking tent. I've used several different types of tarps over the years, a couple from MLD paired with an innernet, and sleeping in a tarp took some adjustment. I was initially more jumpy, but now I value the open space and in my opinion, have a better feel for my surroundings. If something is coming at me with nefarious intentions, I like having the extra 2 or 3 seconds to pee on myself before it attacks, because hopefully the overwhelming scent of terror urine will drive it away:)

But in all seriousness, switching to a bivy might certainly be a new adjustment for me. You bring up a great point about experimenting in different environments. To me, every trip is a chance to experiment, since no 2 trips are exactly alike. And that's the best I can do -- is keep experimenting and remain flexible since there is no perfect set up for every condition.

Edited by Damager on 06/15/2013 17:32:06 MDT.

Chad B
(CenAZwalker) - F

Locale: Southwest
Borah Gear on 06/15/2013 13:24:45 MDT Print View

Another vote for Borah Gear. John has great communication and customer service. John also told me the M90 breathes better than the M50. So if it was me, I would take the small weight penalty for more breathability. Over at sticksblog, he has a video review of a Borah Bivy.

Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Bivy on 06/15/2013 14:22:44 MDT Print View

I have done a month long and a 9 day (bicycle) trip using an REI bivy and it worked out OK. It was kind of heavy and pretty sticky inside if and bugs forced me inside on a hot night. I managed the water or ice inside fine and never found it to be a big problem. The moisture was mostly at the feet and under the pad. There were sometimes a few drops on the sleeping bag, but since it had a DWR shell the drops brushed right off.

I have since bought a Ti Goat Ptarmagin bug bivy and a Borah side zip, but have not had much chance to use them yet.

I used the Borah side zip only one night so far and my impression is that it will be less of a problem on hot buggy nights due to the larger expanse of mesh, the full cut, and the loop to guy the mesh up with a piece of 1/16" shock cord. It is very light and seems well made.

The Ti Goat Ptarmagin bug bivy looks good, It is light and seems well made, but I have yet to use it so I can't say too much.

Depending on the weather and the bugs, I often just sleep on top of the bivy and without pitching a tarp. If it gets chilly I climb inside and zip up. If it starts to rain, I sometimes just pull the tarp loosely over the bivy. If I think rain is likely I do pitch the tarp.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: Borah Gear on 06/15/2013 14:51:52 MDT Print View


Thanks for the reply. I think this is the review you are referencing. I found it on Youtube.

I've received feedback on the upper fabric and M90 seems like the best choice for a blend of protection and breathability. I'm waiting for John's reply, then I'll make the purchase.