Bivy Sack vs Tent: How to Decide Which One to Buy

Bivy sack vs tent
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

The ultimate bivy sack vs tent shopping guide is something to keep in mind before purchasing the needed gear for your upcoming adventure. For first time backpackers or campers, a tent may seem as a big expense, while the bivy sack might not provide them with the same sense of security or comfort.

Only by taking into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of both camping gears, one can make an appropriate decision. It doesn’t matter whether you are a seasoned hiker or just a rookie as camping gear plays a crucial part in how pleasant and safe your experience will be.

See also: Camping Alone: All Things A Solo Camper Needs to Know

If you’re new to camping and backpacking, it is normal not to know what a bivy sack is used for. You should know that this is a protective equipment used over a sleeping bag. This camping equipment is also called or spelled as bivouac, bivi and bivvy. Its main property is to protect against light rain and to make it more comfortable to sleep in tighter or unknown areas.

Bivy and tent

Some people might  that a bivi is a type of tent because it covers your sleeping bag and can sport a net against insects. Others will argue that a tent differs from a bivy sack because the former needs some form of support and is usually attached to the ground. However you want to classify this camping equipment is up to you, but you most likely will need one or the other.

For example, backpackers everywhere wonder what to choose between a tent and a bivy sack when they take into consideration the convenience factor. Before deciding whether to go for a bivy sack or a tent, take a few minutes to think about your needs.

Bivy sack or Tent?

Are you a light packer or prefer comfort over luggage space? Will your trip be short or an extended one in an area with unfavorable weather conditions? These are just some the questions you need to consider before making a purchase.

If you have companions coming along, think about them as well

If you go camping alone, you could think there is no reason to buy a tent and would purchase the bivy sack in a heartbeat. But, would you really do this if you knew that tents can be as small as to fit one single person? Probably not.

Camping with group

However, there are some downsides to getting a bivy sack, such as comfort. If you want more comfort when you sleep, you might want to get the tent over the bivy sack.

If you are not traveling solo and your companions didn’t bring their own sacks, only one item will not suffice. A bivy sack is made for only one person and thus not the best idea for group traveling which makes a tent the better choice. Depending on the size of the group, an even better idea is to discuss the possibility of bringing more tents, and some bivy sacks.

The relation between those joining you on your outdoors adventure is also important. For instance, if your parents join you and your partner on this trip, having separate tents is something to consider.

If children are involved, you might prefer to have them under the same roof. It is not unheard of for two different couples to share a bigger tent. Several smaller tents are ideal for larger groups of people who are not very close.

Camping with kids

There is one more thing to keep in mind: as long as you’re not traveling alone, the sleeping arrangements must satisfy everyone. At the same time, remember that everyone else is also compromising the comfort they’re used to, not only you. It is for these reasons that all the aspects of the adventure should be discussed before leaving.

Pay attention to the price and what it is influenced by

Maybe you heard before that the higher the price, the better the item’s quality is. For most things in life, this is true, including for bivy sacks and tents.

Think of it this way: do you want for your tent or bivy sack to rip right when you try fall asleep because of the wind or a wrong movement? This is what happens most often to items that use bad quality materials or were poorly crafted.

The outdoors is the perfect environment for insects and other small creatures, and most sacks available on the market right now do not come with a net. This can prove to be highly inconvenient for a hiker, so make sure to double check whether the bivy you plan on buying is netted or not.

Blue black bivy tent

The same can be said regarding the tents as well. Some tents include a floor to better insulate against cold and keep crawlers out. Be careful though because these features will only make the price go up.

The brand of an item plays an important role when things like quality and price are involved. It is well known that we usually pay more for the label itself than for the item or the materials used in making it. Arguably, many well known brands made a name for themselves because they provided the highest possible quality. This is also true for camping gear.

Check out: Cheap Backpacking Gear: Backpacking Without Breaking the Bank

You will have to pay attention to the brand’s name and, if possible, purchase the authentic version of it. Counterfeit products can be found everywhere, especially online. Usually the differences are rather easy to point out when checking the price tag.

One person tent

The price of an item could be higher based on the location of the store: many people claim that buying online is cheaper. Off the beaten road brick and mortar shops are places where the price of an item is generally lower. This is especially true when it comes to lesser known brands that are not in demand. Keeping an eye open for special deals or seasonal discounts is another way to buy gear for less.

Other factors that influences the price of an item are its size and how many purposes it serves. In this regard, a bivy sack will always come off as cheapest. A tent on the other hand can get quite pricey especially if you need one with compartments to allow more people in.

Compare, compare and compare

Today’s society encourages us to have our own opinions and not go by what others say. When it comes to buying camping gear it is important to read reviews about what your desired product.

This will help you find useful information about the item’s durability, actual size, or offered comfort level. This simply means that when it comes to making certain purchases, learning more about its features can help with making better decisions.

Bivy tent

There are many types of bivies as well as tents available on the market, each featuring its own specific details. Things like weight, size, and materials should all be taken into account when making a purchase.

If you have something in mind but are unsure whether the item fits the bill, read the description and compare until you have reached a satisfying conclusion. Making an informed purchased will prove to be less stressful.

Customer support and return policies are something everyone hopes won’t have a need for. Just to put your mind at ease, it is important to find out about these two departments before you become a client of a company. How can you learn more about them? Easy: by seeing what others have to say. A good customer service is backed up by positive reviews and you can be sure your future problems, should you have any, will clear quickly.

Consider the item’s size and weight

Most times the size of an item has a big impact on its weight. Depending on how big or small your bags are, they’ll be more or less difficult to carry. Consider this factor if you’re going up the mountain because not only will you get tired faster when carrying something heavier, but your health could also get compromised.

Lightweight bivy and tent

A bivy sack is typically light and serves well on very short trips. The sack can be used to sleep in, as it will protect your sleeping bag from various weather conditions and offer some comfort during sleep.

For instance, in case of light rain, the bivy sack also provides protection against getting all soaked – which can be very unpleasant for a hiker. You will not need a lot of extra space in your luggage for this particular item – you can find bivies weighing anywhere from 6 to 25 ounces, at most. When it comes to packability, bivy sacks are unmatched.

Due to their size, tents definitely take more space in your bags and are considerably heavier. Beginner backpackers will definitely not like this aspect and risk deciding against another future attempt. Those who already have been in a few camping or backpacking expeditions will most likely ditch the bivy sack for a decent tent.

The duration and frequency of use are also important

This point refers to the duration of your camping experience: will camp for one or more nights? Will you go camping just this one time, or do you want it to become a regular thing? You might be able to survive just fine in a bivy sack for up to three nights, especially if you’re on your own. However the situation will change if you have to spent several nights out there.

Long time camping

You’ll have to consider the weather conditions as well during your trip: a tent will protect you better in rough conditions. The sack does not always protect well against heavy rain, as the top opening can and will allow the rain in.

If a bivy  is your desired option, you might want to add some extra layers of protection by using a jacket or blanket over your head while you sleep. If the weather allows it, consider leaving your bag unzipped for the night – you will be able to breathe better and your sack will also stay dry.

Another aspect you’ll have to consider is for how long you want to use your bivvy sack or tent. This refers strictly to how many trips you want to expose your gear to. Many experienced campers and backpackers prefer to get stuff that lasts longer, as it can be seen as an investment. The advantage of this is that they get accustomed to the gear, which makes packing and setting up camp easier.

Think about how easy it is to set up

Consider the location of your trip before making the final decision. Will you stay in a single spot for a longer time, or move around every day?

Depending on how “nomadic” your trip is, you’ll have to set up and disassemble your sleeping space every evening and morning, respectively. A tent is more difficult to set up often, especially if you are a beginner or a light traveler.

Setting up bivy

On the other hand, the bivy does not require much preparation or camping experience. This aspect is important if you are to face a situation in which setting camp or packing up really fast is needed. The bigger the tent is, the more complicated it is to set up or take down. The bivy sack will usually just need unrolling or rolling back up.

You should know that those that set camp in a single location for a longer time prefer buying larger tents that can be transformed into a “home away from home.” At the same time, these folks will usually pack a bivy or two as well, for the nights they want to really sleep outdoors.

Bivy sacks make great shelters and their waterproof qualities cannot be dismissed. If you plan to go on a day long hike and be back by the evening, the sack can be a good option as a precautionary measure. You will not have to worry about being stuck on the mountain without any shelter if needed, and you can set up the sack much easier than you would a tent – even on a ledge.

Camping with bivy on snow

In addition, sleeping in a bivy sack will also keep your body warmer by as much as 10 degrees, which is definitely a plus during cold nights.

Tents are bigger, heavier and can be difficult to set up, especially when you’re alone. They do offer better protection against the elements, and come in many different types and serve a variety of purposes. Furthermore, several people can share one especially when these have room-like compartments.

Final thoughts

What you need to ultimately remember is that each person has different needs and these needs are met by different products. Only when you narrow down your needs and the items satisfying them you can really start shopping for either a bivy sack or a tent. Hopefully, this article has made your search a lot easier.

Camping with bivy and tent

So which one do you prefer for your camping trip: a bivy or tent? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Before your next adventure, check out our piece on how to choose the best bivy sack to help you.


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.