The BivyStick is a category-shaking entry to a field of locator beacons and satellite messengers that is in the middle of a Richter-scale-breaking maelstrom. The Bivy works real well and offered the promise of an alternative to the entrenched regulars. The catch is that the entrenched regulars and other start-ups are all working to shake up the market. The result, in mid to late-2018, was the nearly simultaneous release of four products, each offering intriguing improvements in the market space. Among those, the Bivy stands out for being slick, simple and affordable. However, it is also larger, heavier and carries a subscription plan that is slightly eclipsed by other options. Nonetheless, if you are one of the many users of the Bivy App (for outdoor adventure identification) you will enjoy its seamless integration with the Bivy hardware. You need a good reason to not carry two-way satellite communications into the wild. The Bivy expands your options and offers a low-commitment subscription service. If you already use the Bivy App for navigation and outdoor social networking, the seamless integration of the Stick is just what you need. For others, starting from scratch, other products are more compact with the same (or greater) functionality.
Cons: No functionality without your smartphone, large and heavy device
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Using a secure network and dispatch service, a fairly simple phone app, and a suite of features that we've come to accept as standard, the Bivy scored pretty well overall. Prior to the great sat comms shake-up of 2018, when four products were released with fairly similar features and essentially quintupled the market, the Bivy would have been a revolutionary alternative to the long-standing options. Thrown into the mix with the other new launches, though, the Bivy is somewhat underwhelming.
The Bivy is a brand new product from a relative upstart in the wilderness electronics business. We find it to be reliable and functional, and take further assurance from the fact that the Iridium satellite network is long-proven and that Bivy uses the same SOS dispatch service as its more established competitors.
The BivyStick is essentially a modem that acts as a conduit between the Iridium satellite network and the Bivy App on your smartphone. Through the app and the associated hardware and networks, one can send and receive messages, activate an SOS call to a 24-hour dispatch service, perform automated tracking that is web-viewable, and get weather forecasts. This suite of features is what we now consider standard for wilderness communications.
With other products and services, one can arrange for more robust communications (e.g., voice or data) or for fewer features (e.g., SOS only or SOS plus one-way "Ok Message"). All the options Bivy offers are easy to access and affordable.
When you truly need help (with a life or limb-threatening injury or health condition), you can use your Bivy and its App to summon help. The app SOS button tells the Bivy to tell Iridium to tell GEOS (a for-profit dispatch and monitoring service) to find local assistance to come to your aid. When you need it, this can save lives.
Once local assistance is found, the type and timeliness of a ground (or air) response depends on a whole host of variables. The communications may take seconds, but the response will take hours if not days. The Bivy is a new product, but the chain of command is proven. The only specific drawback of the SOS messaging feature on the Bivy is that you must use the phone app to activate SOS.
Once SOS is activated on any of this hardware, the signal and response should be the same. As you compare services and sort through your options, simply realize that every satellite SOS message routes through one of only two monitoring/dispatch services. All direct the call to the same local resources. There isn't very much difference between the SOS functionality of the different options.
Non-emergency services on the Bivy and App include two-way messaging, weather forecasts, and tracking services. All are coordinated through the app, and all depend more on the function of the Iridium network than on anything about the Bivy hardware or software. The network's function is influenced by your location, the terrain, and satellite timing issues.
There are a few universal truths that affect the signal coverage of any emergency location device. First, and most importantly, all satellite communications are subject to the same inherent issues. Your device needs to have a clear view of the sky. Buildings, trees, cliffs, and steep valley walls all impede signal transmission. This is true for all the devices we tested.
Secondly, a growing number of devices are using the same satellite networks. Many options now, including the BivyStick all use the Iridium network. Our testing shows no statistically significant difference between the signal coverage of these Iridium-enabled devices. The Iridium network is definitely better than the GlobalStar network that some other devices use. This difference is even more important if you plan to visit the most remote corners of the globe. If your travels are limited to low or mid-latitude terrestrial venues, you will notice little real difference between GlobalStar and Iridium. In short, the network your device uses affects signal coverage more than the devices themselves. The Bivy's signal coverage is as good as it gets.
Ease of Use
Modern electronics users have high standards. We like slick apps and fast processing. The Bivy is good enough. Other apps are a little simpler to set up than the Bivy and its App. Still, we got the Bivy working in mere minutes. Once you configure it, it's easy to use, as long as you consider and plan for inherent satellite communication issues.
The Bivy weighs 7.3 oz and is 5.6 inches long. For what it does, this is remarkably small. Especially when you compare it to the options available just five years ago, it is tiny. However, recent product releases have realigned our expectations.
The Somewear Global Hotspot is half the size and weight of the Bivy and offers nearly identical services. The one perk of the Bivy over the Global Hot Spot is that it has a USB port you can use to charge your phone or other electronics. This isn't particularly appealing to us, as we don't like to drain battery power from crucial emergency equipment. The Garmin InReach Mini is also half the size and weight of the Bivy and has greater functionality.
The Bivy's initial purchase price is competitive with the other options available, but the subscription services are what really matter if you're looking for a good value. The newcomers definitely offer better values than the established products. Bivy and Somewear offer lower commitment and lower cost plans than SPOT and Garmin InReach. The Bivy's subscription plans require no commitment. You prepurchase what you anticipate you will need for a coming trip.
The downside is that you're out of luck if you end up wanting or needing more messages than you anticipate while in the field and away from wifi or cellular data. Other services have overage fees that kick in if you go over your prepaid or contracted allotment. You get billed for it, but you can keep sending and receiving messages. No such option exists with the Bivy.
The Bivy launched into a full-on maelstrom of new satellite communication device innovations. All the shake-ups are good for wilderness travelers, but not great for the Bivy. Basically, all the other products and services exceed it in one way or another. The good news is that Bivy uses proven technologies. These start-ups are nimble and can adjust software and subscription services very quickly. We may see a price war where the companies compete, prices drop, and the consumer wins. Watch for changes and consider grabbing a good contract at the right time.
— Jediah Porter