Before buying the necessary gear for your next adventure, you need to know the difference between a bivy and a tent. For novice camper or backpackers a tent may appear rather expensive whereas a bivy may seem a bit flimsy and not provide enough comfort or security.
In order to make the right decision between buying a tent or bivy, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages of both types of gear. Likewise, the right camping gear is essential for a safe and gratifying experience regardless if you’re a beginner or seasoned hiker.
If you’re new to outdoor camping ventures, it is quite natural to not be familiar with a bivy. Basically, a bivy is a type of protective gear used over a sleeping bag.
Other names for a bivy are bivvy, bivi and bivouac. The main feature of a bivy is protection from light rain and to make it more comfortable to sleep when in the outback or unknown territories.
On the other hand, many say that a bivy is a type of tent because it can protect you from insects and it covers your sleeping bag. However, others will say that a bivy is not a tent because it has no type of support such as poles or guy lines.
Nonetheless, you will probably need a bivy or tent when camping. Deciding which one best suits your needs depends on the type of convenience you desire and the adventures that you undertake.
A tent is a portable shelter that is made of protective material or fabric. With larger tents, the fabric is draped over a frame, supported by one or more poles and then tied down with guy lines.
Smaller tents are either attached to the ground or are free standing.
Traditionally, tents have been utilized by nomadic people from around the world such as Native Americans, Tibetan nomads, Mongolian, Bedouin and Turkic. Today, tents are typically used for recreational camping and as temporary shelter.
The tent offers an array of benefits as well as a few cons.
- Easier access – the majority of tents have a large door for easy access. You can walk right in with large tents. With a bivy you have a tiny opening that you must enter feet first.
- Keep your gear inside– Tents have plenty of room for you to store your valuables and devices. Your electronics and important gear are protected from the elements and thieves.
- Tents have better protection from critters– being zipped inside a tent offers more protection from gnats, mosquitos, ticks, slugs and mice. Sleeping in a bivy is not as protective.
- Not claustrophobic – if it rains or snows and you have to stay indoors for a while, you won’t feel as confined as you would in a bivy. You can certainly stay at camp for a few days quite comfortably.
- Tents offer more room – Even a one-man tent is bigger than a bivy. You can easily change your clothes, read, write, organize your equipment, clean and move around. In large tents you can actually stand up.
- Tents are safer from bears – many believe that since tents are larger than a bivy, a bear is more intimidated. However, a bear could easily tear down a tent and attack. Likewise, a bear can obviously see you in a bivy. Still, a bear generally will not bother you whether you’re in a tent of bivy.
- Tents are trendier– glamping is very popular. A tent can easily be set up for glamorous camping. A bivy does not look like a camp at all.
- Room for family and friends – tents come in a variety of sizes. A bigger tent can accommodate several people, even your dog.
- Tents have better rain protection– A quality tent will keep you dry even during heavy rain storms. On the other hand, a bivy needs to be left partially unzipped so that you can breathe. The bivy opening allows water to splash in.
- Minimal condensation – Unlike a bivy, a tent has more room and better airflow which minimizes condensation. As well, a quality tent will stay dry.
- Tents offer more privacy– even in a jam-packed campground; a tent will offer more privacy and alone time. You can even wash up a little in your tent.
- Tents are more protected from intruders– intruders and thieves are less likely to enter your tent because they cannot see if you are in the tent. Whereas, when sleeping in a bivy an intruder can see from at least 50 yards away if you are laying there.
- Some modern tents are lighter – some of the more modern tents weight less than 2 pounds, most bivy’s weigh between 18 (1.12 pounds) and 40 ounces (2.5 pounds).
- Tents are generally heavier– the average one-person tent weighs about 3-5 pounds. A bivy typically weighs less than 2 pounds. Lighter quality tents are available at a higher cost. But overall, a bivy will always be lighter.
- Tents take up more room – a tent will take up more space than a bivy; you need the tent, a ground sheet, poles and stakes. A bivy is stand-alone and takes little room when packing.
- Tents cost more – the price of a quality tent starts around $200, a good bivy costs about $100. There are less expensive tents but they are of poor quality.
- Tents are more delicate– there are more pieces to a tent, thus more parts can break like holes in the flooring or bent poles. Bivys have a longer life-span.
- Outback camping is more challenging– when compared to bivys, tents are a lot harder to pack into the wild. Not only are tents heavier but they require more open space to set up camp.
- A tent takes longer to set up and take down – tents are heavier, the poles need to be put into place, stakes need to be pounded into the ground and guy lines need tightening. A bivy generally takes less than 5 minutes to set-up and take down.
- Tents are colder– tent can be colder since there is extra space allowing heat to escape. Thus, a warmer sleeping bag is advised (adding more bulk and weight to your gear). In general, bivys are 5-10 degrees depending on the brand.
- Poorer visibility– most tents do not have an opening to look out of other than the door. This limits your view of the stars and approaching animals or people. Your visibility is much greater in a bivy.
- Tents are not allowed in certain areas – today, many campgrounds are prohibiting tents within city limits. This is to stop tent cities from developing, however, there typically are no laws against bivys.
- Tents are less connected to nature– a tent is mainly your own small room, secluded from the elements. A bivy is widely exposed to the environment.
A bivy or bivouac sack is a small lightweight liner that is put over your sleeping bag to protect it from rain and dirt. Many campers also combine a bivy with a tarp for further protection from the rain.
The bivy is often used by climbers, hikers, ultralight backpackers, mountaineers and minimalist campers. There are numerous types of bivys for various conditions like fully zipped for rain protection or with a mesh to keep the bugs out.
- Bivys are much lighter – a bivy weighs between a little over 4 ounces to 2 pounds. The average bivy weighs about 1 pound, half the weight of a tent. A tarp is recommended for more severe weather, this adds to the weight.
- Bivys take little room packing – unlike a tent with a groundsheet, poles and stakes; bivys are stand-alone gear that take up little room when packing.
- Outback camping is a lot easier– when camping in the wild, a bivy is a lot easier and lighter to pack than a tent. It also has a low profile and helps you stay hidden plus finding a campsite is much easier.
- Setting up and take down is a breeze – all that is required to set up camp is unpack the bivy and place it where you desire. There are no poles or stakes to pound into the ground.
- Bivys are legal in most areas – many authorities around the world have laws that prohibit tents within city limits. However, most places do not have any laws for setting up a bivy within a city.
- Bivys are less delicate than tents– since a bivy does not have poles or stakes; there are fewer things that will break. In addition, bivys are made of durable material so groundsheets are not really needed.
- Bivy are more cost effective– a first-class bivy will cost around $100. The basic bivy can be found for half the price. On the other hand, tents are a lot more expensive, especially a durable quality tent.
- Bivys hold up to the wind– bivys have a low profile which makes them better equipped for wind storms. In fact, the wind will generally blow right over a bivy.
- No need for a groundsheet- a well-made bivy has a durable bottom which does not puncture or tear easily. However, a groundsheet can extend the life of your bivy but is not required.
- A bivy adds warmth – a bivy has minimal empty space which will keep you warmer on cold nights. in fact, a bivy will add 5-10 degrees of warmth to a sleeping bag. Moreover, a lighter sleeping bag means less weight to carry.
- Better visibility – while in a bivy you can effortlessly sit up and look around. This makes it easy to see people or animals approaching your campsite. In a tent, you have to step outside to see what was making the noise.
- Sleep system is more flexible– when you have a bivy and a tarp, you are prepared for any weather conditions. If it is hot and numerous bugs, there are no for the sleeping bag. If there is no rain, you do not need to set up the tarp.
- More connected to the stars– sleeping in a tent, you cannot see the stars. While sleeping in a bivy you can enjoy bright starry night sky every night.
- More connected to the environment– in a bivy, you are actually sleeping in nature. In a tent, you’re in a tiny room outdoors.
- Camping in a bivy feels more adventurous– in a bivy you are more exposed to the elements and the wildlife. Because you’re sleeping in wide-open, it can feel like a big adventure.
- Condensation– one of the biggest issues with camping in a bivy is the condensation. The extent of condensations is directly correlated to weather conditions, the type of material used to construct the bivy and sleeping habits. too much condensation will cause a wet mess, you will need to find a way to dry sleeping bag and belongings.
- Very limited space – it is impossible to change your clothes, organize gear or work on your computer when inside a bivy. Basically, all you can do is lie down.
- No room for gear inside – there is no room for your gear inside the bivy. There is only space for small things like your camera, phone and a tiny bag. Everything else will be outdoors exposed to the elements.
- You have to sleep alone– a bivy is designed for only one person, there is not enough room to share.
- No privacy– because there is no room to do anything but lie down, there is no privacy whatsoever. When camping with others, you will have to find somewhere to change clothes or even read a book in private.
- Campgrounds can be awkward– if you are staying in a campground it can feel quite awkward among the large tents and RVs. Also, some place will actually not allow you to camp if you do not have a tent or RV.
- Bivys can be claustrophobic– bivys are very confined and can make you feel claustrophobic. In fact, some people who have issues with confined spaces are very uncomfortable sleeping in a bivy.
- Getting in and out is annoying– climbing in and out of a bivy can be very challenging and bothersome, depending on the type and model. However, some bivys have zipper down the side to make it easier to get inside.
- The bivy needs time to air out– because of the problem with condensation; your bivy will need aired out on occasion. If it gets wet it is imperative that you set the bag in the sun or by the campfire until it dries.
- Does not hold up to the rain – in order to breathe, you need to leave your bivy open a little. The opening allows rain to come in during a heavy storm. In turn, water will splash in even with a tarp set up.
- More dangerous in bear country– sleeping in a bivy leaves you more exposed, including exposure to bears. Generally, bears will leave you alone, but it can be an uncomfortable feeling being out in the open.
- More critters to deal with– since a bivy is open-faced, you have to deal with more critters like gnats, mosquitoes, ticks and slugs. However, some bivys have bug nets that will prevent critters from coming in.
- Less secure – even from a distance, people can tell when you are inside your bivy. With a tent, people do not know if you are inside and cannot see what you are doing. If a person does not know what you are doing, they are less likely to approach or rob you.
- Looks like mummy bag– the design of a bivy is not the best to be desired. Many actually think that a bivy looks like a mummy or body bag.
The best form of camping for all levels and most conditions is by sleeping in a tent. Actually, bivys were originally designed for lightweight emergency shelters.
However, today the bivy is actively utilized by mountaineers, climbers, outdoorsmen and minimalist campers.
Bivys are great for certain conditions such as hiking long distance when the weather is favorable (little chance of rain). They are also good when you want keep the weight to a minimum.
Tents are multi-purpose and are good for most any situation. They are definitely the best choice if there is rain in the forecast.
Tents are definitely more favorable if you prefer glamping and not roughing it.
For the most part, the smart camper knows when to use a tent and when to use a bivy. In truth, one is not better than the other.
Deciding which is best depends on the conditions of your journey and what you want to accomplish.