To Bivy Bag or Not to Bivy Bag

My brother Christian recently asked me in the Comment section, “sleeping question for you: when do you set up the bivy, as opposed to the big tent? Is weather a factor, time?”

Bivy morning. from an article I wrote Hay Field Breakfast about starting the day in a bivy bag. The bivy bag is the blue, sack-looking thing Cracker is staring at.

Here are some answers bro.

The Bivy

A bivy (bivouac) bag is just a sack that keeps the elements and bugs off your face and sleeping bag at night. I describe mine to people as a body bag with a mosquito screen. A collapsible hoop – like a miniature version of a tent pole – keeps the bag and screen off your face.

It lives on the top of Brick’s pack saddle, between the Army rucksacks and my top hat.

Bivy police escort: the bivy bag lives inside this green dry bag. Here, getting a police escort in Vincennes, Indiana.

If I had to choose between sleeping in the bivy or the tent, I’d choose the bivy.

The decision comes down to 2 factors – weather and time.



The bivy bag is perfect in cool (75 to 32 degree weather). It can be used in much colder weather. Mountaineers use them in hella cold conditions. The only trick then is to make sure you breather out through the bag, in to the open air (as opposed to pulling the whole bag over your head). Even though most bivy bags are made of breathable fabric (Gortex, etc) in really cold air, your breath and body moisture condenses inside the bag. This can lead to a soggy bedding.

Chilly bivy: here on a frosty Tennessee morning.

They’re not so great in hotter weather. Anything above 80-degrees and they turn in to an oven roaster bag. It’s no fun lying in your bivy bag sweating up your sleeping bag….then deciding you need to pitch your tent to cool down. By then, the mosquitoes will have a field day with your exposed flesh as you fumble with your dome home.


Unless you’re exposed to a long soaking, the bivy bag will keep you dry through showers and light rain and fog. If I think it’s really going to storm, I often stretch my army poncho over the head of my bivy. Or I just go ahead and set up my tent.


The bivy is quicker to pitch then a tent.

My tent

I store my sleeping bag in my bivy bag. So I need to open it up every night regardless of whether I sleep in my tent or not. That’s why, often, I just go ahead and pitch the bivy and forget about the tent.

Pitching the bivy is quicker than the tent. One stake to keep the hoop pulled taught. 2 stakes at the foot if you feel you need them. 2 stakes at the head if you really plan on thrashin’ the night away. Takes me no more than 5 minutes to pitch the whole setup – and that’s using all the stakes.

The real gain in time is breaking the sucker down. Mornings, I pop up a few stakes and roll the bivy up. Jam it in to the stow bag and I’m done.

Early start: the camo ponch covers my saddles and saddle bags. This keeps the dew off them.

Again, if I had the tent pitched I’d have to do all this anyway.

Those few minutes saved, crazy as it sounds, really help the mules and I get a good early start. That’s especially important in hot weather.

That’s a Wrap

Hope this answers your question bro!


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[…] in heavy dew, frost or snow. Here, my camp on a frosty morning. The saddle is on the left, my beloved bivy bag, where I’ve spent the night, is on the right. (Sweetwater Station, Wyoming) Okay, if the […]

Christian Harberts
4 years ago

Thanks for the explanation! Setting up the tent, even a pretty “evolved” model like that MSR, does take time (and patience), especially alone. Well – actually it may take more time to set up an MSR with a companion, because you have to factor in squabbling and out-of-whack stakes galore… Don’t ask me how I know this ;-).


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