Reviews You Can Rely On

ACR Bivy Stick Review

A small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heap
ACR Bivy Stick
Best Buy Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $200 List | $199.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Compact, great network, on-device basic controls
Cons:  No on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)
Manufacturer:   Bivystick
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 14, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 9
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7.0
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 8.0
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Portability - 10% 9.0

Our Verdict

The ACR Bivy Stick is small but with high performance. It isn't perfect, but no currently available device is. We grant it one of our esteemed awards because, on top of high performance, this product's value for those who only want occasional use is impressive. The Bivy Stick does some things that our top award winner, the Garmin inReach Mini, does not, while the Garmin has perks that the Bivy Stick lacks. In balance, both are excellent. All of our criticisms of the original Bivy Stick were addressed, quickly developed, and launched into the current iteration.

2022 Updates

Bivy Stick was recently acquired by ACR. Since this acquisition, they have added an ACR logo to the device and changed its color from blue to yellow, but the functionality and all other aspects remain the same.

Feb 2022

Compare to Similar Products

 
ACR Bivy Stick
This Product
ACR Bivy Stick
Awards Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award  
Price $200 List
$199.95 at Amazon
$149.25 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$280 List$310 List
$309.95 at REI
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
77
75
71
63
59
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Compact, great network, on-device basic controlsExcellent network, seamless communication, some on-device functionalitySmall, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simpleReasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compactSimple, inexpensive, proven
Cons No on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)No on-device message viewing or composition, heavier than close competitorsOnly supports SOS and tracking on the device itself, no custom messaging, occasional hardware issuesNo non-emergency messagingLimited functionality, limited coverage, not a huge upgrade from previous version
Bottom Line A small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heapThis nearly perfect device provides comprehensive, polished, two-way satellite communications at a fair priceCompact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription optionsThis device provides a compact and affordable “help me” button in your pocketThis lower-cost option is good for occasional, one-way communication or for tracking of very long single-push efforts where one needs documentation
Rating Categories ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue... SPOT Gen4
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
8.0
8.0
6.0
1
3.0
Signal Coverage (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Portability (10%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Specs ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue... SPOT Gen4
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes No No
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? No Yes Yes No No
Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device? No No No No No
Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web) Yes No Yes No Yes
Weight w/ Batteries 3.6 oz 5.3 oz 4.1 oz 4.0 oz 4.9 oz
Battery Life (hours) Up to 120 200+ when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages 24 Up to 168 hours of tracking
Waterproof Rating IP67 IP68 (water resistant) IPX7 Up to 15 meters IP68 (water resistant)
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes No No
Satellite Network Iridium Iridium Iridium COSPAS/SARSAT Globalstar
Dispatch service Global Rescue GEOS GEOS COSPAS/SARSAT Focus Point International
Dimensions 1.9" x .9" x 4.5" 3.5" x 2.6" x 1.0" 3" x 3.6" x .8" 3.0" x 2.0" x 1.3" 3.5" x 2.7" x 0.9"
Cubic Inches (L x W x H) 7.7 9.1 8.6 6.8 8.5

Our Analysis and Test Results

Bivy Stick is a next-generation product with affordable and flexible purchase and subscription options. Bivy Stick originally responded to the growing demand for satellite communicators with impressive speed. To offer a second-round, mature product with significant and multiple upgrades is impressive and appreciated. Everything we didn't like about the original has been addressed with the latest version. It isn't perfect yet (no product is quite there, though the potential exists), but it is much better than the previous version and offers excellent value for the right user.

Performance Comparison


When communications really matter, the proven network and so-far...
When communications really matter, the proven network and so-far solid hardware of the ACR Bivy Stick won't let you down. It is small enough to go anywhere with you.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SOS/Emergency Message


When you have an emergency in the wilderness, no matter your experience or other preparedness, you will want someone to know about it. It is ideal if you can communicate nuanced information about your emergency situation directly to emergency services and savvy personnel. With a functional smartphone and the Bivy Stick, you can do all of this. Even without your smartphone, you can hit the "y'all come" button directly on the device. The SOS service of the Bivy Stick is as good as anything on the market.


Bivy Stick tells us that they send your SOS message via Iridium satellite signal to Global Rescue, Inc for rescue dispatch. We best know Global Rescue as the provider of rescue and travel insurance. That they have expanded to dispatch service is logical, but this is the first we've known of them doing this for a satellite messenger. In the past, all private sector entities used a competing service. Recently a few satellite messengers have branched out from that original service. Global Rescue has a long history of being involved with wilderness rescue, so we trust that the service they offer is solid.

The Bivy Stick in action during an early season ski outing in Grand...
The Bivy Stick in action during an early season ski outing in Grand Teton National Park.
Credit: Jediah Porter

You can activate this emergency messaging from the tethered phone app or from the device itself. If you perform the communications using the phone app, you can participate in two-way text messaging with the emergency services through Global Rescue. This is fast becoming the wilderness risk management "standard" among professionals and thoughtful recreationists.

Non-Emergency Messaging


Wilderness travel doesn't just complicate emergency communications. More and more, we and our loved ones at home are expecting and craving two-way communications while we are beyond a cell signal. Lament or celebrate this as you may, but it is a current reality. With the expanding technological possibilities, so increases the expectations. The Bivy Stick enables different degrees of contact.


Through the device alone, even if your tethered smartphone should be lost, dead, or intentionally left at home, you can send a simple "I'm OK" message. This goes a long way. You cannot elaborate in any way, nor can you view responses or conduct more nuanced correspondence without a phone and the associated app. When you and the app are all set up, you can use the Bivy Stick to text much as you would at home, emojis and all. Pictures and other correspondence requiring data signal (emojis are coded as text, behind the scenes) do not work with the Bivy Stick or any of the tested devices in our review.

Text message threads in the Bivy app look just like those in your...
Text message threads in the Bivy app look just like those in your regular text messaging app
Credit: Jediah Porter

We wish you could correspond, in and out of cell, satellite, and WiFi signal, with one unbroken text chain in the Bivy app (or that your phone's native text app or a third-party app like "WhatsApp" could collate a conversation conducted with one person through both cell signal and satellite signal). This may seem basic and like an unnecessary luxury, but real-world usage verifies the value of unbroken communications. Think of international travel, long expeditions, or thru-hiking. All of these involve varying degrees of connectivity. Other products do it, and it seems as though the Bivy app could be readily configured to allow this. We predict that all satellite communications will eventually allow some version of uninterrupted text conversation.

Signal Coverage


Bivy Stick contracts with Iridium for satellite communications. The Iridium network covers the entire world within the limitations of any satellite communication network. Satellite communications are inherently compromised by steep and confined terrain, buildings, and thick tree cover. No device or network is immune to this. Your expectations of satellite coverage and promptness must be aligned. No satellite communications cover every inch of Earth, and none work as quickly as your cell phone in 4g coverage.


Of the available options, the Iridium network employed by Bivy Stick is as good as it gets. It truly works worldwide (we've used other devices on the Iridium Network all over. We haven't yet used the Bivy Stick all over — no one is currently going "all over," right?)

The Bivy Stick is suitable for wilderness travels of all sorts...
The Bivy Stick is suitable for wilderness travels of all sorts. Here, a late season canoe-to-climb mission in Grand Teton National Park.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ease of Use


Setting up and using the Bivy Stick isn't much more complicated than other compact electronics. You have to deal with the subscription, app download, and Bluetooth connectivity. In use, you have to make sure your phone and the device are connected and that everything stays charged.


We had two initial complaints about ease of use with the Bivy Stick. First, it charges with USB-C. We know that this is becoming standard, but so many of our outdoor electronics are still on Micro-USB. Headlamp, external batteries, phones, Steri-Pen, etc., all use Micro-USB. The Bivy Stick requires we carry another cord. The short, fabric-reinforced cord they include is nice and serviceable, but it is still one more thing to deal with. Next, and likely more importantly, we wish there were even more on-device options. The current version is far better than the previous, but it isn't as good as other options on the market. You can send SOS and "check-in" messages from the device alone, but we wish you could view and compose customized messages from the device, even if it required some sort of slow text entry.

After our initial testing of the Bivy Stick (and after the first publishing of this review), we kept using the product and service. Long-term reliability matters to you and to us. We don't let up on our testing. With the Bivy Stick, we found that it began to fail. It would turn itself off while in use. Tracking would stop, and all app messaging would discontinue. We could always turn it back on and conduct at least a little bit of correspondence before losing it again, but this is undesirable at best. Unacceptable, really. We contacted Bivy customer service and received a prompt response and service. They replaced the device, and we have had a great reduction in that issue since then. We will keep testing this second device and report back if anything changes. Bivy customer service assured us that the failure we experienced is rare. They said, "We've only seen a couple of cases of it, and the problem was related just to that device, not all devices."

Another ease of use matter that has come up with longer-term use involves the two-way message threads. Once they are a certain length (roughly 20 messages, total), they stop automatically scrolling to the most recent messages — you then have to scroll to the most recent in and out messages manually. You can delete the thread's contents to mitigate this, but that seems clumsy at best.

The Bivy Stick is even aesthetically pleasing. The design is modern...
The Bivy Stick is even aesthetically pleasing. The design is modern, slick, and follows solid function.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Portability


Bivy Stick calls this the "smallest, most simple satellite communication device in the world." It is indeed very small, but we're sitting here comparing the options directly. Their marketing claim about size isn't true in weight, volume, or maximum length. The shape, thinness, and robust "feel" do enhance portability. All the functions they cram in there are much appreciated. But their marketing claims are hyperbolic.


After "calling out" the exaggerated claims, we have to acknowledge that this is indeed a very compact piece of equipment, especially considering all it does. Further, you can carry it in multiple ways; it is configured for a string/clip carry or for a tripod/action camera style mount. As compared to its closest competitors, it is thinner. Despite "splitting hairs," for most purposes, the Bivy Stick is basically the same size and weight as all the other compact options we have reviewed.

Three top contenders, left to right: Zoleo, Bivy Stick, and inReach...
Three top contenders, left to right: Zoleo, Bivy Stick, and inReach Mini. They are really close in size, but the two on the right are lighter than the Zoleo.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Value


The value of a satellite messenger like this is a combination of the initial purchase price, subscription/service cost, and service flexibility. Your usage patterns will play in as well, of course. With so many moving parts, it isn't easy to make direct comparisons and assessments of value. That being said, the initial purchase price of the Bivy Stick is less than that of close competitors, and the subscription options can be tailored to suit your budget. The best value attribute of the Bivy Stick is that there is no contract or commitment required. If you are game to administer your account closely, you can activate and deactivate from one month to the next with no additional costs. In fact, if you use the device this way — activating as needed/desired and deactivating in between — the Bivy Stick is the least expensive two-way texter to own and operate over multiple years.

Comparison of thickness of the inReach Mini and the Bivy Stick.
Comparison of thickness of the inReach Mini and the Bivy Stick.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The Bivy Stick has improved with each iteration, and we're interested to see if anything changes in future versions now that ACR has taken over ownership. That such a significant upgrade was offered so soon is a testament to corporate flexibility that we hope doesn't change. We benefit whether we choose this particular product or not. The entire business is innovating and progressing. No one product has all the features and performance that we know to be possible, but they are getting closer all the time. As of right now, the Bivy Stick is worth the price and is worthy of one of our value awards.

Jediah Porter
You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More