Bivy Sacks Vs Tents: Which Is The Better Camping Shelter?

Tents are some of the most commonly used shelters for camping, hiking, trekking and other outdoor adventures. While the other most popular option is a sleeping bag, there is another one that is quickly rising in popularity, it's known as the bivy sack. Here is a comparison between these two popular camping sleeping choices for outdoor enthusiasts and how they differ from one another. Plus, we also cover what categories they each beat each other in. 

Let's start off with the basics on what exactly a bivy sack is. 

bivy sacks vs tents

What Is A Bivy Sack?

A bivy sack, or bivouac sack as it’s also known as is essentially a portable shelter for your sleeping bag or sleeping pad that you can take anywhere you want. It can be thought of like an improvised campsite that is portable. It was initially developed as an emergency shelter and was widely used by soldiers since they had to relocate almost every other day. Today bivy sacks are used by mountaineers, trekkers, campers, or any other adventure junkie.

Bivy sacks are minimalist camping shelters that you can take with you anywhere you want. Almost all of these sacks have a breathable and weatherproof covering so that you can lounge almost anywhere in the wild comfortably. They’re made highly lightweight to make it easy to carry on your back or in your car without any extra effort.

They come in a variety of shapes and forms. Some have zip-able windows so that you can easily breathe the air while comfortably lying in the bivy. In contrast, others have a mechanism that allows you to lift the top layer of the unit a couple of inches away from your face so that you can breathe and sleep comfortably, and some have both.

camoflauge bivy sack

Since the bags are small enough to fit only one person, the sack provides exceptional insulation. You can easily expect almost five to ten degrees of insulation while you sleep. This doesn't include the added insulation provided by your sleeping bag. So this makes them ideal for the winter season or cold nights during the summer.

No matter the features, this type of camping shelter is becoming increasingly popular as time passes. The reason is that it's small, lightweight, requires almost zero effort to set up, and can be laid down almost anywhere.

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Which Is Better?

Here are some of the major differences between these two camping shelters.

4 person tent

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Portability

One of the most significant advantages that bivy sacks have over tents is their size and portability features. This is extremely helpful for all the adventurers who like to travel on their feet. There is no need to carry extra heavy luggage, which reduces the total overall pack weight. These weigh far less than a tent and even hammocks.

Even the lightest of tents weighs more than a bivy sack. Tents can usually accommodate more than a single person, which means it has a lot more fabric and equipment than a sack. So they weigh much more and are harder to carry while trekking or hiking long distances. Although it's important to note that there are lightweight trekking pole tents that weigh a lot less than the average tent.

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Weatherproof

Tents are made from thick materials which help keep the rain out. Tents also have a strong foundation, so they will stand firm in their place during windy weather and keep you safe and secure from the elements. During the warm weather, some tents will have an excellent ventilation system in place to keep you cool. Some specific tents are also built to withstand the rain.

Bivy sacks are made from top-quality fabrics which are usually waterproof and breathable at the same time. They are perfect for the typical summer adventures. Furthermore, they also keep the bugs with bug netting and dirt away from your sleeping place. The sack is fully enclosed from all sides to help keep mosquitoes and other insects out of your bag. If you're going into an area with a lot bugs, you'll definitely want one with a bug net. 

While bivy sacks are made from waterproof materials, that’s not enough to protect you during a heavy rainstorm. The bivy is also only a sleeping area which means that all you can do is lie in it, and that’s about it. You cannot relax or enjoy the heavy rain as you would in a tent. Bivy sacks aren't the most optimal if you're looking for weather protection. 

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Space

Tents are a far more spacious shelter option than bivy bags. Depending on how large the tent is, you can fit in four people to as many as 12 people in a tent. When you’re traveling with a large group of people, tents offer the best shelter. You can not only sleep in them, but you can also place all your possessions in them, cook in them, and still have space to relax. Although to be fair, if you have a camping grill stove, it might be easier to cook outside. 

For a bivy sack, the space is only enough for you to sleep in. You may also be able to keep a few critical items with you, like your phone and wallet, but that’s it. You would have to keep your bag pack and other items outside while you doze off, which can be dangerous and risky. If you’re not comfortable in tight environments, bivy sacks are not for you. 

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Cost-Effectiveness

If you calculate on a per person basis, tents are a lot cheaper than bivy sacks. While you can easily fit many people in the same tent, you cannot do the same with a bivy. Each person would have to bring their own sack, and if the costs are added up, the latter becomes more expensive.

However, if you're just one person then a bivy sack is much cheaper than a tent. While a tent can range up to a hundred or couple hundreds of a dollars, bivy sacks cost significantly less. 

Bivy Sack Vs Tent: Setup

Bivy sacks are small in size, which means they can fit almost everywhere and anywhere. You just have to find a place and then open up the unit. No matter the landscape you’re on, or how much room is available, bivy sacks can be simply be set up anywhere with ease. 

You need to find a perfect camping spot for a tent. Even if you find an ideal location, setting up the tent is a long, tedious, and challenging task. Although there are some tents out there that offer fast, instant setups, that’s not the case for a lot of them. Similarly you might also need to bring tent poles to set them up, which aren't always allowed on airplanes. This makes bringing a tent on your travels difficult. 

With the above in mind, here are our reviews on the top two bivy sacks you can buy. 

Best Bivy Sacks 2021

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy

Sierra Designs’ Backcountry bivy sack has a design precisely to not only fit in a sleeping bag but also a sleeping pad. The unit has a huge u-shaped opening so that any person, irrespective of their weight and height, can enter and exit out the sack effortlessly.

The unit entails three types of materials. The top embraces high-quality 20D ripstop nylon, whereas the bottom comprises 30D ripstop nylon. The seams are fully tapped and PVC-free so that you can sleep anywhere and everywhere comfortably.

The unit also features a mesh panel near the top so that you can get fresh air at all times without worrying about different types of insects, bugs, and dirt getting into the bag. The fabric is breathable, which further enhances the ventilation inside the unit. Besides, this makes the bivy perfect for warmer weather. To ensure comfort, the top layer is composed of waterproof material.

A point is present just below the second opening that allows you to lift the unit up and away from your face to have a spacious and comfortable place to sleep during the night.

MSR’s Quick-Pitch Waterproof Bivy

MSR’s Quick-Pitch Waterproof Bivy

MSR’s Quick-Pitch Bivy is an ultra-light portable shelter to take with you everywhere. Its compact form is only 8 inches in length, 4 inches in width, and 4 inches in height. It’s easy to carry over your back or in the trunk of your car. When fully opened, the unit is 88-inch long and 36-inch wide in size, convenient enough to fit in a sleeping bag.

The small size is perfect because it can fit even on the rockiest terrain and in the smallest of nooks where a tent cannot be put up. The high-quality material is breathable, so you can comfortably sleep in it even during the hottest nights.

The material is weatherproof and has a durable water repellent (DWR) coating that can last almost three times more than a standard coating. Whether you’re going for a hike, camping trip, or a trek through a forest, the bivy will act as a comfortable, convenient, and cozy pit stop.

However, it would have been great if the unit had a small mesh window so that you could easily open it up and breathe in the fresh air during nighttime. So, if you are a claustrophobic person who does not like small enclosed spaces, this bivy is not for you.