Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy

It's time for another review and I am very excited about this one. There are some things that really clicked with me when it comes to backpacking: the switch from boots to running shoes; the switch from a white gas stove to alcohol fuel; and the switch from using a tent to using a tarp and bivy.

The transition from tent to tarp and bivy for me was sudden. I had been reading about reducing pack weight and as one of the heaviest items tends to be the tent, I knew I could make some progress quickly here. I can also get obsessed with an idea and as soon as decided to try out a tarp, I started working on making it happen.

Long story short, I made myself a tarp out of silnylon and loved it... with some exceptions. Now, I love Nature and that is one of the appeals of the tarp, you can be protected from weather under it but still not feel totally closed off from the environment.

In front of my homemade tarp (Henry Coe S.P.)

 But, I don't love all things found in Nature and some of these things really like me, as a meal. I had a pretty bad tick experience in Henry Coe State Park and that convinced me that I needed a little extra something to keep the bugs and crawly things off me while I was sleeping. I also realized that most of the time I don't want to bother setting up the tarp, I am lazy that way. The problem with this is that under certain conditions my sleeping bag (with all that nice fluffy down inside) would get wet from dew.

I actually made an all mesh "tent" that fit under my tarp. It worked but was a pain to get in an out of and I still had to set up the tarp to make it work. I started just climbing inside it at night, without setting it up and sleeping in it. that worked ok but didnt keep off the dew very well.

Sleeping bag inside my mesh tent (somewhere on the PCT)

In comes the bivy sack!

Bivy sack covered with gear

It is basically a nylon shell that zips over the sleeping bag and sleeping pad. There are tons variations from waterproof/breathable to emergency bivys to all mesh bug bivys. Of course, in my quest to lighten my load, I wanted something lightweight with a big mesh screen over my face so I could breath lots of fresh air.

Campsite on the lost coast trail

After realizing that I didn't have the patience to keep making my own gear, I started looking around for pre-made bivy sacks. I narrowed it down to a couple and then started checking out the gear swap section of backpacking light

Check it out here

Awesome deals can be had and my experience has been very good. People are generally very honest about the stuf they want to get rid of and give very fair prices. I like recycling gear, especially when it is still in good shape. I managed to find a Mountain Laurel Designs bivy for sale and I bought it. Got a pretty good deal too (and I didnt have to wait 8-10 weeks! for them to make me one).

Link to MLD they make some really nice stuff you are just going to have to plan far ahead and be patient.

The first time using it was awesome and I have brought it on every single trip I have taken since. (Except when I go with Lori, then we use a 2 person tent, she is not so into the being one with Nature thing)

Bivy in the foreground, various ultralight shelters in the background (High Sierra)

It keeps the bugs out, the dew off, the sleeping bag warmer and I feel like I am in a warm cocoon. Not everybody is into these things, it can be claustrophobic for some and I admit, I do sometimes think I must make a very enticing human sushi roll for the wandering beasts of the wild. But, the simplicity and the functionality are superb. It has also saved my ass on some damn cold winter trips.

Bivy under home made tarp, during a big dump of snow in Yosemite

The superlight bivy is very well made, I don't know exactly how many nights I have on it, somewhere around 40 or 50 and I bought it used (though it was like new). Still no signs of wear and tear, still fully functional if a bit dirty, I fully expect it to last for many more years. There are different versions of it, I have the one with the silnylon bottom and endurance shell with an event footbox.

Campsite near Castle Peak

Really, I cant say enough good things about this bivy, I highly recommend it to those looking for a simple, light and functional piece of gear.


  1. Hey Adam. I realized last year that I need to get a bivy for winter. The ultralight gear is great when conditions are ok, but when conditions get tough a bare bones setup is hard to cope with (bordering on stoopid in my case a couple times). Adding a bivy is a value trade off in weight vs. utility. My main uses are keeping spindrift and windblown rain off my bag. This winter I'll be using one for sure.

  2. Hi Jacob,

    I am not quite a gram weenie, the weight of the bivy is worth it for my peace of mind and comfort. I am happy with my 3 season shelter set up being in the 12 ounce range. For winter, without an enclosed tent, I would call it essential. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way though!