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 personal locator beacon review
Credit: Bivy
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $250 List
Manufacturer:   Bivystick
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 19, 2023
77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 11
  • 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.
REASONS TO BUY
Compact
Great network
On-device basic controls
REASONS TO AVOID
No on-device message viewing or composition
USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)
Editor's Note: Bivy Stick was acquired by ACR in early 2022. They 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. We checked over this review for accuracy and added buying advice recommendations on January 19, 2023.

Compare to Similar Products

 
acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review
This Product
ACR Bivy Stick
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $250 List
$249.95 at REI
$286.42 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$200 List
$200.00 at REI
$280 List$330 List
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Pros Compact, great network, on-device basic controlsSmall, comprehensive, reliableExcellent 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, compact
Cons No on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)Not the absolute lightest, tiny screen, button useNo 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 messaging
Bottom Line A small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heapFor how most people actually use their satellite communicators, this is the best product on the marketThis 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 pocket
Rating Categories ACR Bivy Stick Garmin inReach Mess... ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
1
Signal Coverage (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Portability (10%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
Specs ACR Bivy Stick Garmin inReach Mess... ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? No Yes Yes Yes No
Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device? No Yes No No No
Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web) Yes Yes No Yes No
Weight w/ Batteries 3.6 oz 4.0 oz 5.3 oz 4.1 oz 4.0 oz
Battery Life (hours) Up to 120 Up to 28 days with a message or location sent every 10 minutes with full sky view 200+ when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages 24
Waterproof Rating IP67 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP68 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion at least 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) No Formal Rating. Likely exceeds rating system. Claimed "Up to 15 meters"
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
On Device Functions (if you lose or disable your smartphone) SOS, check-in, tracking. All texting requires smartphone. All, but very slow to text SOS, check-in. All texting requires smartphone SOS. All texting requires smartphone app All.
Satellite Network Iridium Iridium Iridium Iridium COSPAS/SARSAT
Dispatch service Global Rescue Garmin Response Team GEOS GEOS COSPAS/SARSAT
Dimensions 1.9" x .9" x 4.5" 3.1" x 2.5" x 0.9" 3.5" x 2.6" x 1.0" 3" x 3.6" x .8" 3.0" x 2.0" x 1.3"
Cubic Inches (L x W x H) 7.7 6.9 9.1 8.6 6.8

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


acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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.

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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.

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon 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?)

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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.

All Bluetooth/app-enabled devices and services can come disconnected. This could happen with the Bivy Stick, theoretically. In that case, you cannot reconnect the device while in the field. If that happens (or if you lose/break your phone), you have very limited functionality on the Bivy Stick. As compared to other options we have tested, the Bivy Stick seems less likely to lose connection between the device and app, but the consequences are greater because you can't view or compose messages without your phone.

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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.

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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

Should You Buy the ACR BivyStick?


This is a good budget option, especially if you will use it infrequently. The current flexible subscription model employed by ACR/Bivy is great for activating and discontinuing service. Other products/services don't make it so simple to turn your device on and off.

acr bivy stick personal locator beacon review - 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

What Other Personal Locator Beacons Should You Consider?


As other companies add "seamless messaging" to their satellite devices, services, and apps, the limited functionality of the Bivy Stick text threads stands out more and more. Garmin, with their Messenger App (accessible with the inReach Messenger, inReach Mini 2, and GPSMAP 66i), is the latest to add the ability to correspond with one text thread across satellite, cellular, and WiFi. Zoleo and Somewear Labs products also do this. Bivy Stick is behind, but a solid choice for flexible budget use.

Jediah Porter
 
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