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Bivy advice from you, the BPL experts
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J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Bivy advice from you, the BPL experts on 12/25/2013 16:23:55 MST Print View

I've previously started a bivy thread and received tons of great info. I ended up buying a Borah Gear side-zip long length, regular girth, with M90 upper and silnylon bottom. Long story short, I ended up selling it before using it due to an injury and new job.

I borrowed a friend's last year and enjoyed the closer-to-nature experience and not setting up a shelter/tarp in nice weather. However, I am a noob in regards to bivys, so I'm seeking some additional advice.

I've looked at offerings from Zpacks, Katabatic Gear, MLD, and Borah Gear again. My one reservation regarding the Borah Bivy is the lack of bathtub floor. The other 3 bivys seem to offer more protection from the elements. Also, I want to keep the bivy sub 8 ounces. MLD Superlight bivy appeals the most right now.

This brings me to my last point: I'm also looking for a new tarp, sil or cuben, to pair with the bivy.

I'm 6'1"ish, 185 pounds and where I live in the Bay Area, CA, a 4-season hiker, though I would be regarded as a 3-season hiker most everywhere else. This system should not see snow except for an emergency situation. I'm looking for a modular system I can use for the majority of my trips.
I mostly hike solo and my partners would have their own shelter.

Other relevant gear details:
1)Montbell UL SS #3 Long sleeping bag
2)NeoAir Original sleeping pad
3)Polycryo GS from MLD

All advice is welcome. I apologize for the length of this introductory post, but more info seems to lead to better responses.

Edited by Damager on 12/28/2013 10:55:08 MST.

Rick Sutton
(rickcsutton) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re:Bivy on 12/25/2013 18:50:53 MST Print View

I'm not an expert by any means, however, I was in a similar place as you several years ago and ended up getting the MLD Superlght Bivy in conjunction with a MLD Patrol Shelter. I opted for the Patrol Shelter because this was going to be my first tarp and I figured since the Patrol had a tent back end and tarp front end, it would be easier for a novice to set up.

The MLD bivy was a great piece of gear, I just didn't like the small space so I sold that and bought the MLD silnylon Serenity Shelter with a solid front door. The Serenity gave me complete bug protection and weighs in around 8 oz. It was heavier than the bivy, yet for several oz more I felt I was getting a ton more.

I am 6'4", 190 pounds and can even change clothes in there which I love. Because I now set the back end of the Patrol directly on the ground (no guy lines), this shelter (with the addition of the Serenity with solid front door) has allowed me to use a much lighter sleeping bag then what I needed under the Patrol with both ends off the ground and in the bivy. I know the Patrol and Serenity in cuben fiber are not cheap, yet I think their silnylon versions are very respectable to other units out there.

Best wishes with your search.

Edited by rickcsutton on 12/25/2013 18:52:33 MST.

sean grim
MLD stuff is great quality on 12/25/2013 20:12:51 MST Print View

I personally am not sure of what I think of waterproof bivys honestly. I have had good and bad experiences with them.

I firmly believe in cuben tarps and do use a bivy sometimes. The flexibility of this combo is hard to beat in many situations assuming you know what you are doing.

From MLD, I own their grace tarp and their bivy, and several other shelter items. MLD makes great shelters with excellent quality you can depend on when it's hypothermia weather - 35 degrees, raining hard, and windy. If you look at the tarps you mentioned and compare them 1:1 in person, you can see MLD has excellent quality. They have a long consistent track record of doing it right and working with you more than fairly if there is a problem. I want to mention this since many people buy online without being able to compare them in person and some manufactures' quality is spotty in my opinion. I've purchased and used MLD shelters in Thailand, Mongolia, and around the US mostly in VA and WV and trust them with my life.

I am experimenting with goretex shell sleeping quilt/bag this winter (with a tarp) instead of a bivy and tarp. I'm thinking that there is no reason to have a water resistant sleeping bag shell, like pertex, and then a waterproof bivy over it. Having a goretex shell for each quilt/bag is cost prohibitive for many people, but I am giving it a try this year for my winter setup. If I was not experimenting with this, I would be using a trap/bivy, probably from MLD, but so far I am liking the setup.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: Re:Bivy on 12/25/2013 23:27:15 MST Print View


Thank you for the response. I have had great experiences with MLD gear thus far. I have never owned one of Ron's shelters, but they always seem to have glowing reviews here on BPL.

Another aspect I like to purchasing an MLD tarp, is if the bivy doesn't work for me, I can buy a Net-tent for bug protection and pair it with a tarp, just like the set up you have mentioned. It's good to know the Patrol works with a Net-tent.

Edited by Damager on 12/26/2013 19:55:12 MST.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: MLD stuff is great quality on 12/25/2013 23:39:56 MST Print View


Thanks for the response. I agree in regards to MLD build quality. I have owned several of their products and always been impressed with the attention to detail.

Even before I posted this question, I was leaning towards an MLD Superlight bivy. Since it's water resistant, not waterproof, I would definitely be pairing it with a tarp in inclement weather. The real draw for me is cowboy camping on pleasant evenings. I like how versatile the tarp/bivy combo can be, as you said, when you know what you're doing. It will take some experimentation and real-world experience to get my system dialed in, and I anticipate making mistakes in the meantime. It's part of the learning process.

In regards to the Grace cuben, did you find it provided adequate storm protection when paired with a bivy? I'm guessing yes from your continued use of it, but I still would like to hear more details if you don't mind.

John Frederick Anderson
(fredfoto) - F

Locale: Spain
Bivy combos on 12/26/2013 03:07:57 MST Print View

I have a MLD Superlight bivy, and can't fault it at all. If you are looking for a system approach, try pairing it with a 10x8 tarp, cuben or sil. This should give you plenty of options for pitching styles in different conditions. Works for me below tree line. Above the tree line, I use a Cuben SoloMid, which might be too small for you (YMMV) with the height of the NeoAir mat. Maybe a Trailstar or DuoMid would work, and be less of a learning curve in terms of setting up than a 10x8 tarp. I also have a Golite ShangriLa 3 for when I want extra space on a longer hike.
For the cost of one cuben shelter, you might be able to get yourself a range of sil shelters for different conditions.

Christopher Graf
(cgraf) - M

Locale: So Cal
Bivy and Tarp on 12/26/2013 05:38:38 MST Print View

Here is a MLD Grace Solo in Spinnaker and if still available, is a very reasonable price.

Joe A
(dirtbaghiker) - M
bivy tarp combo on 12/26/2013 11:09:16 MST Print View

I am really really happy with my setup. I use a BearPaw Wilderness bug bivy in the warmer months and for colder/wet months I use a Katabatic bristlecone bivy. I also carry a MLD Patrol Shelter(cuben)in case of rain or some snow. This setup leaves me full of options depending on the weather or how Im feeling at the end of my hike. It is very lightweight and packs down to almost nothing taking up little space in my pack. It sets up and breaks down simple and extremely fast. It also blends in with my surroundings nicely which I personaly like. For me, this setup is by far the best and lightest I have used over the past few years and I plan on keeping it this way for many more to come.

Joe A
(dirtbaghiker) - M
no expert on 12/26/2013 11:14:54 MST Print View

after rereading your post..I am by no means a BPL expert, but I do stand by my choice and I would recommend it through my experience useing it and thru all of my research I did before buying it.

sean grim
grace has good protection on 12/26/2013 16:23:29 MST Print View

I am totally comfortable with the protection of my MLD solo grace tarp in storms. I am a 6 footer and no problem. My experience is that a good tight storm pitch works and the bivy is just gravy.

The problem comes in if you randomly pick a site and throw a cuben tarp up all sloppy. Cuben tarps do not have that much margin for error in storms. Stressed people- cold, wet, tired, dehydrated, hungry, whatever- take shortcuts and make mistakes.

Looking at setting up a storm pitch as a skill that needs to be practiced has really helped me get the protection I need from the solo grace in storms.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
sell your bivy on 12/26/2013 16:24:23 MST Print View

My advice: sell the bivy and use the funds for a quality tarp and/or future BPing vacation.

You are using a bag, rather than a quilt, and thus the need for draft protection is minimal. A bivy with a DWR top will add a little dew/mist protection, but at the expense of condensation. Overall warmth gain will be very inefficient for the weight, when compared with just adding oz of down to your system. Splash concerns can be addressed by an appropriate (read big enough) shelter and good site selection. Bugs are best addressed with an innernet if necessary.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: sell your bivy on 12/26/2013 19:53:09 MST Print View


First off, I have read many of your articles and I really appreciate your in-depth reviews and attention to detail. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

I recently acquired a MB UL SS #3 for an excellent price, so that is my current bag, but I'm planning on purchasing another quilt in the next 2 months. I have owned Katabatic and EE quilts, and only sold them because of an injury/new job/moving and needed extra cash. I'm building and reconfiguring my new set up at this point, hence this question.

I'm definitely struggling with this decision. I've previously owned several sil shelters from SMD, including a Gatewood Cape, which I ended up selling. Sil has treated me well for several thousand miles on 4 continents. A basic blue tarp is what I used several times when I spent 2 years traveling through much of Asia.

I have spent ~5 months recovering from a seriously broken ankle recently and spent way too much time reading BPL and other sites and I think that's where the idea of a bivy came from. Maybe I went a a bit stir crazy and started developing bivy envy out of the blue.

I'm now starting to narrow my tarp choices. Sil is still an option, though I am drawn towards trying cuben. I'm still debating if the $ are worth the ounces.

In no particular order
1) MLD Patrol
2) MLD Grace
3) YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform
4) Zpacks Hexamid

Edited by Damager on 12/29/2013 17:44:38 MST.

(onthecouchagain) - MLife

Locale: Sunny SoCal
+1 for the MLD Patrol shelter on 12/26/2013 20:05:26 MST Print View

Nice compromise of weight, function and ease...can't go wrong with that one!


J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Thanks to all posters on 12/26/2013 20:08:45 MST Print View

Your point about buying several sil shelters for the price of one cuben is well taken. Especially with some of the deals on Gear Swap.

Thanks for the link.

I'm glad you have found a set-up that works for you. It can be such an interesting journey to reach a point where you are completely satisfied with your shelter system. I'm still wandering down that road.

Great advice about practicing techniques before being caught out in the cold. One thing I always do when I get a new shelter is pitch it enough times in my yard so that I feel comfortable taking it out in the field. If I can pitch it in the rain before actual field use, even better. Like you said, when you're cold, tired, hungry, exhausted, you make mistakes and get lazy, and with certain tarps you have much less room for error. Luckily, most of the mistakes I have made along this path have occurred in weather that did not dole out severe consequences for my missteps.

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Re: sell your bivy on 12/26/2013 20:11:08 MST Print View

Are you coming to the GGG? I can almost guarantee would will see at least 3 of the 4 tarps you listed and an assortment of bivies. If you throw out a post in the GGG thread asking to try out a piece of equipment, I bet you would have success. I have a MLD Grace and a Superlight you can try out if you would like.

I wish you success with your ankle recovery.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Bivy advice from BPL experts on 12/26/2013 20:31:23 MST Print View

I've been using a MLD Grace Solo Tarp since early 2008 and the MLD superbivy since 2009 (after losing my previous Titanium Goat bivy in an unexpected slide down a snow covered slope). No problem using a solo sized tarp in rain after some practice with some trial and error (hoepfully in safer conditions). Both the Tarp and bivy have held up well with 3500+ miles on them. I've seen high winds, snow, and heavy rain without any major issues. You do adjust the pitch depending on the amount of wind you expect.

As for whether a bivy is the right thing depends on the person and how you want to camp. I use the bivy more than 65% of the time, while the tarp gets very little use. I normally cowboy camp unless the weather is bad so I like the ease and simplicity of just throwing a bivy on the ground with my sleeping bag and pad. As I get up and hike early in the morning, being able to pack up quickly is a big plus. I like hiking, but I hate camp chores so I do things to minimize them as much as possible. Those that say that bivies provide minimal worth don't camp like I do where I feel they add more value than almost anything else I carry. When I contributed to a well known person's PCT handbook in 2010, I rated my bivy sack as my favorite piece of gear on my 2009 thru-hike.

Edited by Miner on 12/26/2013 20:34:31 MST.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Bivy advice from you, the BPL experts on 12/27/2013 02:00:03 MST Print View

I have recently been favoring a couple shelters, but I am splitting hairs There are others that do basically the same thing and you have some good ones listed as possibilities.

If I am always ground camping on a trip, I will bring the Patrol Shelter with a bug bivy/net. The Patrol has enough coverage that a UL bivy isn't really needed. A bug bivy/net does provide a bathtub floor, extra warmth and some weather protection.

The Patrol is quick, easy and very storm proof.

If I am going to be using a hammock most of the way and also go to ground on some nights, I prefer my Zpacks 8.5x11 rect tarp.

It has good coverage for the hammock and many pitch options for ground camping.

If I only had one shelter, it would be the rectangular tarp because it does everything. It just takes a little more effort to get a good comfortable storm pitch than the Patrol Shelter.

Edited by brooklynkayak on 12/27/2013 02:03:10 MST.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Re: No GGG for me on 12/28/2013 10:54:03 MST Print View

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your view of 'real' jobs, I was recently promoted at work into the the operations/engineering department of my water district and frequently am on call. Since I am the noob in the department, many of the on-call shifts land in my lap now. Plus I'm back in school, so the next few months will be hectic.

Also, until your post, I had only vaguely heard of the GGG, and now will be marking it on my calendar for 2015. What a cool way to spend a weekend.

I sent you a PM for more detail. This is the exact reason I was envisioning using a bivy.

Thanks for the reply. The more I look at the Patrol, the more I think I'll be making a post on Gear Swap soon, or just pay for a new one. Then the choice will be cuben or sil.

Edited by Damager on 12/28/2013 10:56:00 MST.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Setting up my bivy on 12/28/2013 14:39:03 MST Print View

Rather then responding in PM, I put it here for everyone. Here are a couple of my experiences (probably will break it into several posts since this will be long).

First off lets talk ground cloth or not. Depending on the terrain, I sometimes use a GG polycro sheet as a ground cloth under the bivy sack. Sometimes its to provide extra puncture resistance, othertimes its to protect against tree sap from that pine dropping it everywhere. Other trips I just throw the bivy sack straigt on the ground or even on top of my GG 1/8" foam pad (though my torso pad goes inside the bivy sack). Whether you use one or not depends on personal preference and where you camp. Many bivies have a bathtube like floor so a ground cloth isn't necessary for water protection unless you are in a puddle (bad campsite selection).

When setting up a cowboy camp, I stuff my quilt inside with my sleeping pads and put it on the ground and then pile the rest of my gear on top of it. In strong winds, it may go flying 10-20ft away otherwise. I will usually grab a few rocks laying around and use them for ballast when necessary.

Hanging the bug net. If bugs aren't an issue, then I don't bother. At least out in the western mountains, the lower humidity means the temperatures will drop after it gets dark so after an hour or so, the mosquitos are gone and you can emerge from inside the bivy sack with no fear until near dawn. So most of the time I'm only hiding until an hour or so after dark. In lower elevations or back east when the nights don't get cold, then you have a few options. One is to just ear a hat to bed that holds the netting off your face. If sleep sideways, just turn you hat sideways (if a baseball cap). Or you run a line over a branch. I've made a x with my trekking poles with the line wrapped around the point of contact (the top part of the x is short compared to the lower part) and then run that to a stake or large rock. You want some sort of cord that stretches attached to the bivy with regular line attached to that so that the line will stretch some as you move around and get in/out. otherwise it may pull loose. When hanging the line off a branch, you can just tie a rock or stuff sack to the other end hanging over the branch so that the netting will stay tight as you move around since the weight at the other end will always keep it pulled.

Edited by Miner on 12/28/2013 14:43:29 MST.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Bivy in rain on 12/28/2013 14:39:37 MST Print View

I'm really bad about not wanting to set my tarp up. I often push my luck and hope any rain will hold off until morning or not happen at all. Most of the time I get away with it. However, I have had showers come through in the night. Sometimes I just wait it out if it doesn't look like its really going to do more then just drop a few drops or lightly rain for a few minutes since the biy will protect me. If it looks a little longer lived or its getting near the time to get up, I just grab my tarp and throw it over me like a blanket until it stops or I get up. A few times, I moved under a nearby tree with a thick canopy (or just choose to camp under one in the first place) and went back to sleep, the rain didn't pentrate much and the bivy though slightly damp, kept me dry. If the rain started near dawn, I figured setting my tarp up that that point was a waste of effort and just packed up early and hiked a little in the rain with my flashlight until dawn. Otherwise, I actually have to get up and set my tarp up in the dark. Fortunately I haven't had to do this more then once or twice. Though if I'm sure its going to rain over night or its already raining when I get to camp, obviously I just set the tarp up.

Tarping in the rain: Pick a camp spot where water won't pool. Any site that has been heavily used will pool water since years of campers will have compacted the ground there into a shallow bowl shape and the harden ground won't absorb water very fast. Pick terrain where you can see how the water will flow away from you. I like slightly sloped ground. Try to find sheltered sites from wind like behind boulders or in the trees or shrubbery. If there isn't a lot of wind, you can set your tarp up high and wide to maximize space under it. The stronger the wind is, the lower down you have to stake the tarp; or at least the lower you have to stake the sides of the tarp which makes it narrower and shorter. If you know the wind is only going to come from one direction, you can put that side down low while leaving the opposite side up higher to give more room.

Bivy in rain under tarp. A water resistant bivy is not water proof. It will resist water for awhile but eventually it will saturate and let the water soak through to your sleeping bag. So if you are only getting a little water on it or very light rain, there isn't a problem. It won't handle prolong rain. Most of the time, the bivy sack won't get wet if the tarp is properly setup. But there will be times where it does get wet when using a smaller tarp like my solo size one due to wind. I once had a small amount of water pooling at the foot of my tarp but the bivy kept my sleeping quilt dry since it wasn't too deep. I've had mist and light rain blow under my tarp due to the wind shifting and it got the bivy lightly wet. At that point you have a few choices. Can you ignore it and remain dry (ie. its not happening enough to worry about)? Do I need to get up and change my tarp setup (lower it or rotate it)? Or can I block the rain with something. Like using my pack with packcover, or using that reflective umbrella I brought for desert hiking, or using my rain jacket hanging off my pole somehow. I sometimes set the head of my tarp tied to a large tree instead of using a treking pole for that very reason since the tree will block the wind and rain from that direction. I normally stay dry or only slightly damp in rainstorms.

However, I did have 1 time recently (2012) where I got very damp. The water didn't soak all the way through my sleeping quilt but the top part got very wet. Read here:
What I learned from it was to not camp on tent platforms that are raised up in the air more then a few inches. Well wooded tent platforms suck when using a non free standing shelter anyway, but I didn't want to deal with all the wet leaves on the ground at the time. Big mistake. So even after years of successful use, you can still find that there is more to learn.

Edited by Miner on 12/29/2013 16:35:04 MST.