It would be easy to make this a hammock versus bivi bag review, but really these are two different ways of sleeping in the outdoors. So I’ll attempt to confine this to reviewing the bivi bag itself.
As the name implies, a bivi bag is designed as a shelter and to encompass a sleeping bag which will lay straight on the ground. Ideally it should protect the sleeping bag from the rising damp of the ground and be waterproof enough to protect the occupant from the elements. Basically it’s a single person lightweight shelter falling short of an actual tent.
There are a few bivi bags around but the most popular is the ex-Brit army goretex version; a bag I have used on a number of previous occasions. These are certainly waterproof but you pay for it in weight. The other disadvantage is that most bivi bags leave the head exposed. So is the Snagpak bivi bag an improvement on this system?
The bivi bag comes in its own compression stuff sack, which is a good start. There are two lightweight alluminium poles which collapse into 8 inch lengths. There’s also a bag of the sturdiest tent pegs I’ve ever seen (and the heaviest!) They went straight into the great tent peg repository in the sky to be replaced by my normal alluminium pegs.
Setting up the bag couln’t be easier. Thread the poles through the sleeves at the head end of the bag and secure the ends in the holes in the loops provided (a la tent). These loops can then be pegged down. Before you ask, yes it is necessary to peg at least two poles down (one at each side) or the hood part moves about too much and becomes a pain.
It’s also a good idea to peg out the other foot end of the bag with one peg in the provided loop. This make a minimum of three extra pegs you must carry about (or make).
The obvious difference between this and a normal bivi bag is that you now have a raised, supported or framed hood at the head end, which you can only really appreciate once you’re inside the bag. It’s really a self supporting canopy, which can be enclosed, covering your head and shoulders.
Unless you have a very large head there’s surprisingly a lot of space in this area and you can share this space with a couple of small items that you might want to keep dry. I put my hygiene pack in there, spare socks, and Swanni shirt. You certainly have no room to cook (that would be a little dangerous as well) but there’s space enough inside to read a book, nibble on some trail food and listen to the rain.
There’s a nice little touch inside of the roof of the hood where Snugpak have sewn in a piece of zipped, square, white netting. This is ideal for storing your head torch, providing your light and for stroing any loose items from your pockets.
The other mesh vent is at the front of the face if you were laying face up in the bag. Left unattended it would just dangle down in at about chest level, but you have the option of rolling it up or zipping it to the outer material of the bivi bag. This second option encloses you completely yet allows a good deal of ventilation through the hood. I slept like this most of the weekend and there was no sign of condensation in the bag at all.
The alternative to zipping the netting up is to completely zip up and enclose the front or top of the bag in the outer material. I found this very clausterphobic, but if you are used to small tents, it’s probably no worse than that. What it does do is completely keep out wind and rain. It also very quickly increases the temperature inside the bag and as long as the end vent is fully open, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of condensation as a result of this operation, but I didn’t try this out for long.
Size: 230 x 95 x 60cm
Pack Size: 35 x 10 x 15cm
Weight: 1300g / 1.3KG
The size of the bag isn’t a great issue and should be long enough to fit most folk. Width may be a problem for larger people and Unlike the ex-military bivi bag which has ample space inside, I’m not sure whether you would be able to stuff a large rucksack at the bottom of the bag in order to keep it dry. Perhaps a small one.
I haven’t tested fully how waterproof the whole bag is, as on my intial excursion with the Stratosphere, I also had a tarp, but I can say that the damp ground didn’t ingress into the bottom of the bag at all. I’m not sure whether it would stand up to a full onslaught when open to the elements, but other reviewers have stated that they had no problems even in foul weather on open ground.
The nearest rival to this bag has is the Highlander Falcon, which is similarly styled. They’re about the same price and roughly made out of the same material. The Falcon though has the vent at the top of the hood.
The Stratosphere ranges between £75-£90 (March 2008 prices).
All in all I’m quite impressed with the bag as a ground dwelling shelter. It will keep damp off and certainly makes for a cosy and warm environment once you’re inside the bag. It is a litle vision restrictive – but then, I suppose you don’t have to deploy the hood.
In summer it will keep the mossies and midges at bay while providing good ventilation and you should be able to use it without tarp. Add a Thermarest and you should have a relatively comfortable nights kip (if you’re a ground-dwelling that is).