The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy Review

Sierra Designs found what could be the perfect weight, comfort and versatility ratio in a bivy sack.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $140 List
Pros:  Lightweight, versatile, stows easily
Cons:  Leaky zippers
Manufacturer:   Sierra Designs
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 28, 2018
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82
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 8
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 8
  • Ventilation - 15% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Packed Size - 15% 8

The Skinny

We love this bivy sack. Amazingly, the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy offers a generous full zipper for entry and exit, a separate zippered bug screen, ample space for any sleeping pad, and an attachment point so the bivy can be suspended above your face. All of these features are highly functional and don't break the scale. The Backcountry Bivy was the lightest non-emergency type model we tested. Sierra Designs has also made a frustration-free stuff sack, which is something we hope will be adopted by the rest of the outdoor world very soon!

Product Coming Back Fall 2018
This product is temporarily out-of-stock, but Sierra Designs assured us that it is coming back into stock sometime in October. If you want this bivy sack, patience will be rewarding!


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

This year's bivy sack roundup yielded three distinct categories of bivy sacks. We've included ultralight emergency bivies such as the SOL Escape and the one-time-use FROG Tact Bivy, as well as the "all-arounder", the MSR AC Bivy. We've also included the heavy-hitting Outdoor Research Alpine, which is our go-to if absolute protection is critical to your success. Except for our Editors' Choice winner, none were quite as impressive as the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy. For its weight, it outperformed every other model tested, scoring high in every metric. Not only was this a high performing lightweight bivy, but it was packed with extra features that we hadn't even thought to test, such as the stuff sack that cinches down its split long side, making stuffing a cinch, and an attachment point to lift the ceiling of the bivy off of your head, creating more space and comfort.

Performance Comparison


The Backcountry Bivy was a strong contender in this year's bivy lineup. The bivy was packed with features and retained strong weather resistance and light weight.
The Backcountry Bivy was a strong contender in this year's bivy lineup. The bivy was packed with features and retained strong weather resistance and light weight.

Weather Resistance


The weather resistance of the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy is excellent. It landed somewhere between the highest performing Outdoor Research Alpine and the all-arounder bivy sacks such as the Rab Alpine Bivi but closer to the OR Alpine. We stayed dry in all conditions except for rain in extremely windy conditions. This was the only time wind blew rain into the non-waterproof zippers of the Sierra Designs bivy and water made it inside. It wasn't a large amount of water, but the wind subsided quickly. If you were in a prolonged and windy storm, the zippers would prove to be the weak point. If a windy/rainy climate describes your primary adventure climate, the Outdoor Research Alpine offered the highest weather resistance and comfort, thus why it is our Editors' Choice.


The bathtub floor design worked fantastically, keeping us dry from snow underneath; the rest of the body, while made of lighter nylon, proved to be just as water-tight. We also found the weather resistance to be enhanced when using p-cord to lift the roof of the bivy. This allowed water to run off quickly instead of collecting in pools, a common problem with most of the models we tested.

Ventilation


Having used the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy in several climates, we quickly discovered how well it vented excess heat, moisture, and stale air. We appreciated the multitude of different configurations possible with the Sierra Designs model, allowing you to dial in the right amount of ventilation. During warmer times the entire front half of the entry/exit opens and lays to the foot, providing maximum ventilation and the option to quickly button up the shell in case of inclement weather.


During a storm, you can simply unzip the screen for ventilation while remaining dry. While the protective lip wasn't as beefy or as stable as some, it did work well unless a big gust of wind hit it. As with all models we tested, if you didn't have something slightly unzipped for ventilation, the air would quickly grow humid.

The slight difference of having the bug net/ventilation elevated above your face did two things. It paid huge dividends for comfort  and helped the bivy vent more efficiently.
The slight difference of having the bug net/ventilation elevated above your face did two things. It paid huge dividends for comfort, and helped the bivy vent more efficiently.

Comfort


This contender found a way to be the jack of all trades. Not only did we feel protected from wind, rain, sleet, and snow, but we were comfortable while waiting out some gnarly weather. As you probably know, getting a good night's sleep can make or break your day. The whole purpose of bringing along the extra weight of a bivy is to be safer and more comfortable than just "going commando."


If the bivy is annoyingly loud, or cut in a way that you feel like you're wearing a straightjacket, you aren't going to get much sleep. The SOL Escape for instance, is cut much too small for individuals over six feet tall. Odds are those individuals, like our gear tester, will feel like they are slowly being digested inside the stomach of a giant python. Sierra Designs has made a bag that is comfortably sized, giving you plenty of height and width to remain comfortable but not have any dead space in the bag.

An incredibly simple but useful feature. This little tab allows you to lift the bivy away from your face making the Sierra Designs exponentially more comfortable that the competition.
An incredibly simple but useful feature. This little tab allows you to lift the bivy away from your face making the Sierra Designs exponentially more comfortable that the competition.

In addition to the generous space, they provided a tab to elevate the roof using p-cord and a fortunate tree branch. This extra space inside made a large difference when compared with similar models, such as the MSR AC Bivy or the RAB Alpine. After having the headspace with no extra weight cost, we sure didn't want to go back.

The extra space created through this simple system was enough for us to read a book and get comfortable during a rainstorm.
The extra space created through this simple system was enough for us to read a book and get comfortable during a rainstorm.

Weight


This thing is the Floyd Mayweather of bivy sacks — it weighs pretty much nothing and packs a big punch. One of the first things we noticed when unpacking this bivy was how light it felt in hand. We were excited to get it on the scale and surprised to see it register 387 grams or 0.85 lbs. If we exclude the emergency-style bivy sacks, the Sierra Designs is the lightest by 68 grams, which is significant. The next lightest bag, the MSR AC Bivy was a high performing bivy in its own right, but when considering the advantages of the Sierra Designs, it would be a difficult sell.


Keep in mind this weight includes a highly waterproof bivy, an entry/exit zipper and a bug screen vent w/zipper. Compared to the 68 gram heavier MSR AC Bivy, the Sierra Designs is better equipped and higher performing.

Packed Size


We really can't say enough good things about this bivy sack. Other than the weight, the first thing we noticed was the clever storage sack and small size of the bivy. Only slightly larger than the ultralight emergency SOL Escape, the Sierra Designs was just as easy to stow. The Backcountry Bivy while slightly lighter, packs to about the same size as the MSR AC Bivy. One big difference is that the MSR has to be meticulously folded and rolled and even then has a hard time being crammed into its snug stuff sack. The Sierra Designs, on the other hand, can be folded and rolled haphazardly and still fits into the stuff sack.


When it came to packing for an ultralight trip, we found we could store the Sierra Designs bivy anywhere in our Black Diamond Speed 22 bag. (Our tester's go-to bag for ultralight endeavors). We even fit the bivy in the tiny brain of the Speed 22 with room to spare when we had made an early morning packing error. If you're looking for a lightweight, store-anywhere bivy option, you can't go wrong with this bag.

Best Applications


We found the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy to be an asset on every adventure we took it on. From bikepacking, multi-day ridge climbing and backpacking, this bag pulls its weight. Yes, some models are lighter, such as the SOL Escape, another favorite of this year's lineup, but rest assured when there are storms in the forecast you will want the protection of the Sierra Designs over all of the other lightweight options. Sierra Designs has thought of everything, from the half body opening for warmer nights to the half moon bug screen.

We found ourselves stuffing the Backcountry Bivy into our pack most often when the weather forecast was unsure; those 20 percent chances of rain in the mountains when it could be sunny and perfect or a downpour. This bivy gave us the extra reassurance that no matter what, we would be sheltered. Times when the forecast was touting 100 percent gulley washers we opted for the burlier Outdoor Research Alpine, as it could provide complete protection, and maybe even be used as a raft? Just kidding.

Value


To get a sense for how good of a value this bag is we need to compare to the other bags in the review that are most comparable. This would be the RAB Alpine at $265, MSR AC Bivy at $200, and the Tennier Woodland at $138. The Backcountry Bivy retails for $140, and with its massive half body zipper and separate bug screen is much better equipped than any of these other bivies. The Backcountry Bivy also proved to be the lightest of this group of mid-range models, a full 68 grams lighter than the next lightest MSR AC Bivy.

Separate from the rest of the competition, this bivy just performed well. We had no frustrations in any stage of use with this bag. It deploys and stores easily, its warm and protected us from the weather and vented as well or better than the rest. For $140, you can't go wrong.

Conclusion


We thoroughly enjoyed using this bivy. We got the sense that this bag was designed by individuals who actually planned on using it and designed it to be both comfortable and to protect them from the elements. If you're looking for a well-designed, wallet-friendly, easy to use, lightweight, weather resistant bivy, look no further.


Brian Martin