Can a bivy sack provide all of the protection of a tent without sacrificing comfort? The OR Alpine Bivy does a fantastic job of keeping the weather out without sacrificing usability and comfort, winning our Editors' Choice award. Whether in a gnarly mountain storm or on a pleasant weekend trip, this product performs extremely well, providing comfort along with superior weather protection. While the $249 price tag rivals that of a full-sized tent, the bivy can stow into a small stuff sack and is considerably lighter than the average backpacking tent. We feel confident that this bivy will keep you dry and warm in the backcountry and enhance your overall experience. Not only did we find this bivy functional, it was comfortable and offered enough head space to read a book and stow extra gear out of the rain.
Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Durable, lots of head room, completely weatherproof.
Cons: Heavy, bulky.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Most bivy sacks on the market specialize in one or two areas while falling short in other performance metrics. Whether they are too big or the material is thin and frail, all the bivies tested had small things we would have liked to see changed…except for the OR Alpine Bivy. This product scored high on each metric and, most importantly, remained waterproof and breathable through each test. A good bivy should be a comfortable home in a storm; under that principle, this Editors' Choice stood far above the competition. With great headroom, an optional bug net and a utterly waterproof system, all weighing only 1.78 pounds, we just can't ask for much more. While some might find it a touch narrow, our tester (5'11" 180 lbs) fit easily with room to spare, even adding in a few pieces of gear that had to be kept dry. We quickly fell in love with the extra features which were well worth the small amount of extra weight.
The OR Alpine and Tennier Woodland were the only bivies tested that utilized Gore-Tex waterproof material, an industry standard and trusted name in the world of waterproof/breathable fabrics.
Three-layer Gore-Tex body is used on top of the OR Alpine bivy with a burly 70D nylon floor coated in Hydroseal for added waterproofness when in the wettest of deluges. During extended stays, our testers found proper ventilation by simply cracking the stiff zipper flaps a few inches near the head. Due to the bathtub design and zipper placement, this technique works even if pitched in a puddle!
Deploying the Gore-Tex fabric over the face during a rainstorm is easy, even in the dark, thanks to reflective tape and a neon green ribbon running the length of the zippers. All seams are taped and five-stake loops, along with a single guy loop, aid in a comfortable pitch. We found that staking and guying out the OR Alpine was essential for maximum comfort and ventilation.
However, the stake loops seemed a little small; they were just fine for softer ground that you can easily get a smaller stake in, but we thought it might be a good idea to have some extra cord to extend the stake loops if you needed flexibility for staking in rocky ground or dead-manning in snowy conditions. While some felt that there were issues with breathability and condensation, most of our testers were able to stay ahead of the tide by being diligent in keeping a portion of the zippers open. If planning to be stuck sitting out a storm in a bivy, one can do no better than this product.
This model performed very well in the ventilation category. While it is made of a completely waterproof fabric that is not known to breathe very well, it has several features that allow for added ventilation, making it easy to keep condensation down. In clear and warm weather the bivy can be left open, allowing warm air to circulate out.
Likewise, during colder nights, leaving a small opening in the zipper when wholly enclosed in the system is sufficient for staving off condensed breath from building up on the inside shell. This bivy can be staked out when ground and space conditions allow, and it also has a pole at the head to give space. These features are crucial to providing space between the bivy fabric and you, which lets air flow around and condensation escape more easily.
As with even the best ventilated waterproof bivies, it's likely you will still accumulate some moisture inside. A feature unique to the Alpine is that the floor is coated with an anti-fungal treatment. On long trips, mildew and mold were not present despite intense moisture and humidity.
A long storm or winter night spent in a bivy sack can leave one feeling like a mummy in a tomb. While more pleasant than a sarcophagus, few campers look forward to a night tucked away in eight square feet of nylon. Luckily for our testing team, the OR Alpine, with ample floor-to-ceiling room and a durable tent pole, felt more like a small backpacking tent than a bivy sack. The pole also keeps the bug net taut and out of the face when the waterproof hood is peeled back, without any collapsing material annoying falling onto the user and keeping the late night mosquitos from biting. One other plus for this product is that it includes straps to hold your sleeping pad in place. This is always a great feature for those that toss and turn through the night.
The one knock we had in comfort was the slightly narrow profile. The 26" width at the shoulder is enough for even a large sleeping pad, but little extra room is available to store gear that must be kept dry. However, our testers had no issues, and only the largest campers should notice — and at the end of the day, a bivy is not meant to store gear. A positive aspect of the space inside is the vertical clearance, plus the ability to toss and turn without disrupting the stiff nylon shell fabric is a bonus.
The OR Alpine is among the heaviest of our test group. There was only one other sack reviewed that weighed in at around 1.78 pounds, and of the two, the Black Diamond Bipod was far less comfortable and breathable. A few ounces can be shaved off the Alpine by leaving the tent pole in the car. However, if any considerable time is expected to be spent pent up inside the sack, we recommend taking it with and dealing with a little bit of extra weight. We would like to see a lighter weight top fabric, as the durability of the 40 Denier Gore-Tex shell was more than sufficient for even the most hard-core use.
While some of our reviewers felt that the weight and features were overkill for average backpacking, many people may appreciate the complete, four-season weather protection of this sack. If you don't need four-season protection, you can find ultra-lightweight tents and tarps that are similar in weight but will give more space and comfort while hanging out at camp.
This bivy runs a bit long when packed up, coming in at 15.25 inches long. This is the second largest bivy in our test group (the Black Diamond Bipod was the largest), and almost as large as some ultra-lightweight tents.
Often we found that the best place to pack it away was in a water bottle pocket or an exterior mesh pocket where the extra length presented less of a problem. Just as easily, the included tent pole can be removed from the stuff sack so that the bivy portion can be crammed wherever you have extra open space, such as a cooking pot, pack lid or in between other items in your pack, while the pole can be slid safely out of the way. Overall, we felt the large packaged size wasn't ideal, but that the versatility and complete protection that the OR Alpine provides makes it worth it.
Anyone looking to ditch a tent and start camping with a bivy sack will come to appreciate the comfortable features, and complete weather-resistance offered in this sack. We found that the Alpine came into its own in frigid, wind, and rainy nights. Given the high rankings in all metrics, any application except ultralight adventures would be appropriate for this bivy. To stretch the abilities of this bivy, you could potentially bring a lighter weight sleeping bag to offset the weight.
This bivy is one of the higher cost options of our test group, at a retail price of $249. High-quality materials such as Gore-Tex and Hydroseal are reasonable luxuries for a high-quality product. Some ultra-lightweight tents or shelters are close in size or weight but are usually not stand-alone or four-season shelters. So given the compactness, durability, and versatility of the Alpine, we think the higher price tag is worth it. It's so comfortable, in fact, you might be able to pay it off by renting it on AirB&B in your backyard when you aren't adventuring. Just kidding.
The OR Alpine quickly became the favorite product that our testing team would reach for on each trip. While not the smallest or lightest of the products in this review, the four-season Alpine was by far the most versatile, most comfortable and best performing. This product is similar to ultralight tents in weight and bulk but costs less than most ultralight tent options. It also offers far more protection from bugs and wind than any tarp. While the weight and bulk of the product might leave a few ultralight enthusiasts looking elsewhere, most will soon love the ease of use and sleep-filled nights to be had in this wonderful design.
— Brian Martin