Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy Review

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy Sack Review

The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy is a spacious bivy sack that is large enough to hold a thick air mattress and a cold-weather sleeping bag. It has a U-shaped zipper that provides access at the head-end along with a mesh panel that can be exposed for ventilation by rolling down an outer cover. While the bottom of the bivy is seam-taped and waterproof, we recommend using it under a tarp or in a shelter because the top leaks when it gets wet, and none of the hood zippers are taped.

Overall, we found the Backcountry Bivy quite heavy and ungainly to use and would recommend you look at other products if you want a fully waterproof winter bivy or a three-season bivy that provides lightweight insect and wind protection.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 13 oz (actual weight is 12.5 oz)
  • Size: Regular (a long version is also available – see SD for specs)
  • Top Fabric:20D Nylon Ripstop WPB, DWR/10,400MM PeU, 18,300 g/day MVTR
  • Bottom Fabric:30D Nylon Ripstop, DWR/1200mm PeU, FR CPAI84
  • Dimensions: 80″ long x 36″ wide x 10″ deep
The head end of the backcountry bivy can be suspended from above to increase livability
The head end of the backcountry bivy can be suspended from above to increase livability

The Backcountry Bivy is a large bivy sack 80″ long x 36″ wide with a 10″ deep seam-taped bathtub floor that will swallow a sleeping pad and bag/quilt with room to spare. While this can be seen as an advantage, that extra volume makes the bivy ungainly to use because it’s difficult to keep the breathable cover on top when your sleep insulation slides around inside the slick interior fabric.

There’s also just one stakeout point to hold the bivy in position at night and just at the foot end instead of the corners which is the usual norm for bivy sacks. If you toss, turn, or thrash at night, you should expect to wake up in a different orientation or position, relative to your shelter, than where you went to sleep.

Access is through the top of the bivy sack.
Access is through the top of the bivy sack.

Hood/Access

You get into the Backcountry Bivy by sliding in through the hood, which has a U-shaped zipper for access. We found this awkward and prefer bivy sacks with side zippers because they’re much easier to get in and out of, especially at night for bathroom breaks. The lack of a side zipper also makes the bivy more difficult to use with a quilt since it can be difficult to secure a pad attachment system if your buckles are located below the door.

The hood has two parts: an outer cover, which can be rolled down to expose a mesh screen which improves livability and helps reduce internal condensation when open. The hood can also be suspended overhead, which we recommend doing to keep it off your face at night. We found the hood quite spacious and could easily store personal items inside for easy access at night.

The hood is quite spacious and can fit a pillow as well as personal effects.
The hood is quite spacious and can fit a pillow as well as personal effects.

Waterproof/Breathability Rating

While Sierra Designs’ specifications would indicate that the Backcountry Bivy is a fully waterproof and breathable bivy sack suitable for standalone use, we would advise against that if you expect overnight precipitation or morning dew.

The breathability of the top cover is adequate, although we did note footbox condensation, which is not entirely preventable on any bivy sack product made with a solid top fabric. While the bottom of the bivy sack is seam-taped, the entire hood area is not, and the top of the bivy leaks when it gets wet. Frankly, we’re not all that surprised. Sierra Design’s product specifications have become increasingly unreliable over the years.

The U-Shaped zipper isn’t as easy to use as a bivy sack with a side zipper.
The U-Shaped zipper isn’t as easy to use as a bivy sack with a side zipper. Not by a long shot.

Assessment

The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy isn’t a product that we recommend for winter or three-season use because it doesn’t have many of the best-of-breed features offered by other vendors. This is a product that’s been in the Sierra Designs product line for a long time and hasn’t kept pace competitively or with changes in backpacker preferences. The problem with the Backcountry Bivy is that it can’t be used by itself in rain or in winter because it’s not waterproof and it’s not particularly breathable when you just want insect protection in three-season weather. If either of those describes your needs, we recommend that you check out our Winter Bivy Sack Guide or our Bug Shelter Primer which list better products that are optimized for those purposes.

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

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Last updated: 2021-07-27 08:23:13

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