Black Diamond Big Wall Hooped Bivy Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, extremely large
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Our Analysis and Test Results
This is a huge bivy sack, being almost the size of a lightweight backpacking tent. What the Black Diamond Big Wall Bivy lacks in a slender profile it makes up for in a strong design, tested by Black Diamond over decades on some of the formidable mountains on Earth. There are some issues we didn't appreciate, like wrestling a finicky wire to keep fabric away from the face in a storm, but overall the model is ideal for the realities of sleeping on exposed rock ledges - or anywhere weather resistance is worth a few extra ounces of features.
Some bivies are designed for casual use, being able to withstand a light sprinkling or beating before thin fabric fails — this is not one of those bivies! This product is incredibly water, wind, and bug resistant, built with heavy-duty fabric, an integrated mosquito net at the entrance, and taped seams. When fully zipped-up and encased in the fabric, there is complete protection from the elements, an important feature when perched on the side of a cliff. We felt that this was one of the most weather resistant sacks we tested, second only to the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy, our Editors' Choice award winner.
All the seams are taped but not sealed, however Black Diamond includes a tube of Seam-Grip and a small applicator with this product so that you can seal the seams yourself for even more reinforcement. Anything being brought up a big wall climb needs to be a bit more durable than average, and we feel that this product stands out exceptionally well, as the ToddTex fabric didn't snag on sharp rock crystals or tear when being dragged across sharp edges on a porta-ledge.
One downside to this sack is that sufficient air-flow can be hard to control at times in this sack, and so we had issues with condensation more often than with other similar products in this group. Instead of a tent pole, there is a thick and bendable wire sewn into the headspace area. While this saves weight when compared to a pole, it did not hold a shape very well, creating less ventilation compared to the OR Alpine Bivy, which does have a pole. Overall, the bivy will protect well in any storm at the cost of a small amount of breathability.
Where the Black Diamond Hooped Bivy is heavy, it pays off in comfort. The ToddTex wall fabric is soft and fleecey-feeling on the inside while the DWR treatment on the outer shell keeps water out. This model dwarfs the other bivies reviewed, coming in at 99 inches long and 35 wide at the shoulders, allowing ample room for some climbing gear and things that need to remain dry to be stowed away inside without sacrificing elbow room. While the wire running along the zippered entry can sometimes move around and collapse , if you are willing to deal with adjusting it periodically, it can be more versatile than the pole adjusted to keep the bivy off of the face decently well in various situations.
This is the second-heaviest model we reviewed, at 26 ounces. However, compared to the OR Alpine, which is the only other bivy we tested that provided complete weather protection, it came in close to ½ lb lighter, regardless of the fact that the regular sized BD Big wall is still longer and wider than the OR Alpine. The wire that adds head room also adds weight, and the waterproof fabric is on the heavy side. The long size option will put you at 30 oz., which is still slightly less than the OR Alpine, but only by 1 ounce.
Storage space is a huge concern for big wall climbers and backpackers alike. A bivy is an excellent space saving alternative to a tent or porta-ledge fly, especially is a storm is in the forecast. We had difficulty finding space on overnight walls for all the necessary equipment, but for larger, expedition-style walls, bulk was less of a factor. On many nights the bivy was never deployed, and you never feel the weight of equipment more than when it isn't being used. We recommend bringing products this hard core anytime being dry in a storm is an absolute necessity, like on a big wall climb or an alpine summit. The built-in wire prevents the bivy from being stuffed tighter, as a compression sack might allow. However, it is possible to remove the wire and store it in your pack separately, similar to a regular pole.
Alpine or big wall climbers looking to stay warm and dry in the event of a storm would do well to pick up this product, as it weighs less than a tent or porta-ledge fly yet is exceptionally strong and waterproof.
The BD Big Wall Hooped Bivy is one of the most expensive and feature-heavy bivies at $300, but can be a great way to save money rather than purchase a traditional but heavier expedition tent or less versatile porta-ledge fly. Though with this method, care must be taken to ensure gear stays dry by storing inside the bivy sack. However, the price point isn't that much different than the OR Alpine, so if you are both a climber and a backpacker, this might be a great versatile option for you.
It should come as no surprise that the Big Wall Hooped Bivy is a specialist item for climbers, as the tie-in loop and expedition strength materials are a bit much for your average backpacker. Anyone looking to climb mountains and stay safe and anchored through the night would do well to add this bivy to their next expedition. For a non-climber, the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy will give you proper protection from the elements and for ultra lightweight options, check out the MSR AC Bivy.
— Greg Davis and Sarah Hegg
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