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Bivystick Review

Reliable, standard wilderness communication in a robust but bulky package, though we wish it was smaller and didn't need a smartphone for everything
Bivystick
Photo: Bivystick
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Price:  $350 List | Check Price at Amazon
Pros:  Reliable network and dispatch service, solid construction
Cons:  No functionality without your smartphone, large and heavy device
Manufacturer:   Bivystick
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 3, 2020
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64
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 11
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 6
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 5
  • Portability - 10% 4

Our Verdict

The Bivystick Orange stands out for being slick, simple, and affordable. However, it is also large and heavy, with a subscription plan that is 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 this piece of hardware. That being said, there are other more compact products with the same (or greater) functionality.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Bivystick
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Bivystick
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $350 List
Check Price on Amazon
$315.79 at Amazon
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$349.99 at Amazon$199.95 at Amazon$350 List
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Pros Reliable network and dispatch service, solid constructionSmall, two-way textingCompact, great network, on-device basic controlsExcellent network, seamless communication, some on-device functionalitySmall, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simple
Cons No functionality without your smartphone, large and heavy deviceComplicated to compare costs, texting on device is very slowNo on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C chargingNo on-device message viewing or composition, no tracking, heavier than close competitorsOnly supports SOS on the device itself
Bottom Line Offers now-standard wilderness communication options, with a slick app and a robust but big and heavy piece of hardwareText correspondence to and from the wilderness, wrapped up in a diminutive formA compact, full service satellite messenger that has all you need, and is close to all you would wantThis is a smooth, comprehensive two-way communicator that relies on a proven satellite network and brings innovations that raise the barA small, basic device that employs established network, dispatch, and hardware systems through affordable subscription plans
Rating Categories Bivystick Garmin inReach Mini Bivystick Blue ZOLEO Satellite Communicator Somewear Global Hotspot
SOS Emergency Messaging (30%)
7
7
7
7
7
Non Emergency Messaging (25%)
6
9
8
8
6
Signal Coverage (20%)
8
8
8
8
8
Ease Of Use (15%)
5
6
7
7
7
Portability (10%)
4
9
9
7
8
Specs Bivystick Garmin inReach Mini Bivystick Blue ZOLEO Satellite... Somewear Global...
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? No No No Yes Yes
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 Yes No Yes
Weight w/ Batteries (ounces) 7.3 3.5 3.6 5.3 4.1
Battery Life (hours) Up to 500 Up to 50 Up to 120 200+ when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages
Waterproof Rating IPX6 IPX7 (splashes & weather proof, nonsubmersible) IP67 IP68 (water resistant) IPX7
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Satellite Network Iridium Iridium Iridium Iridium Iridium
Dimensions (inches) 1.6 x 5.6 x 1.13 3.9 x 2 x 1 1.9 x .9 x 4.5 3.5 x 2.6 x 1 3 x 3.6 x .8
Cubic Inches (LxWxH) 10.1 7.8 7.7 9.1 8.6

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Bivystick Orange uses a secure network and dispatch service, a relatively simple phone app, and a suite of features that we've come to accept as standard. Before the "Great Sat Comms Shake-up of 2018", when four products were released with fairly similar features, (drastically increasing options on 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, this device is somewhat underwhelming.

Performance Comparison


We carried and tested the Bivy on ski mountaineering day trip...
We carried and tested the Bivy on ski mountaineering day trip excursions in Wyoming's Tetons. Here, we are on a trip to Cloudveil Dome's "Nugget Couloir."
Photo: Jediah Porter

SOS/Emergency Messaging


The Bivystick Orange 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, though you still have choices. With other products and services, one can arrange for more robust communications (e.g., voice or data) or 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's 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. This chain of command for the Bivystick Orange is proven with the only specific drawback being that you must use the phone app to activate SOS.

While on a service trip to remote Puerto Rico, our lead test editor...
While on a service trip to remote Puerto Rico, our lead test editor employed the Bivy for basic communication with everyone back home.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Once SOS is activated on this kind of hardware, the signal and response should be straightforward and predictable. 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. However, the type and timeliness of ground (or air) response will vary based on a whole host of variables. Communication itself will take seconds, but a rescue response will take hours, if not days

This photo shows the entirety of the Bivy's on-device interface...
This photo shows the entirety of the Bivy's on-device interface. There is a USB power port that charges other devices, a port to power the Bivy, a power on button, and LED indicators. Notably, there is no SOS button.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Non-Emergency Messaging


Non-emergency services on the Bivystick Orange 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 hardware or software specific to the Bivy. The network's function is influenced by your location, the terrain, and satellite timing issues.

We hadn't used the Bivy app before this test. We have grown familiar...
We hadn't used the Bivy app before this test. We have grown familiar with it now and find it to be a curious and useful navigational and inspirational resource. Paired with the Bivystick, it is a nearly comprehensive outdoor nav and communication tool.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Signal Coverage


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 much 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. However, the Iridium network is definitely better than the GlobalStar network that some other devices use. This difference is even more critical 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.

While testing these devices for signal transmission, we ran a series...
While testing these devices for signal transmission, we ran a series of timed tests. We found that message transmission times depend way more on satellite positioning and timing than on device differences.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ease of Use


Modern electronics users have high standards. We like slick apps and fast processing. The Bivy is good enough, though other apps are a little simpler to set up. 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 is waterproof and dustproof with ruggedized construction.
The Bivy is waterproof and dustproof with ruggedized construction.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Portability


The Bivystick weighs 7.3 oz and is 5.6 inches long. For what it does, this is remarkably small, especially when comparing it to options available just five years ago. However, recent product releases have realigned our expectations, and the size of the Bivy isn't nearly as competitive as it used to be. It does offer a USB port you can use to charge your phone or other electronics, but this isn't particularly appealing to us as we don't like to unnecessarily drain battery power from crucial emergency equipment.

The Bivy's clean lines are nice, but the overall package is heavier...
The Bivy's clean lines are nice, but the overall package is heavier and larger than we prefer.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The Bivy, on the left, as compared to the category award winners...
The Bivy, on the left, as compared to the category award winners. From left to right, here are the BivyStick, SPOT X, Somewear, Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1, and InReach Mini.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Value


The initial purchase price of the Bivystick Orange is competitive with the other options available, but the subscription services are what really matter if you're looking for a good value. Newcomers to the world of beacons definitely offer better value than many of the established products. That said, the Bivy's subscription plans require no commitment. You prepurchase what you anticipate you will need for a coming trip. The downside of this 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.

It isn't just your typical human-powered wilderness adventure that...
It isn't just your typical human-powered wilderness adventure that will benefit from satcomms. On a long road trip in the Chilean Andes, satellite communications were invaluable, helping us coordinating logistics beyond cell signal.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The Bivystick Orange launched in 2018 amidst a full-on maelstrom of new satellite communication device innovations. All the shake-ups were good for wilderness travelers, but not great for this original Orange Bivy. Most of the other products and services exceed it in one way or another. The good news is that Bivy came out with a second generation offering that addresses many of our complaints. This BivyStick Orange is still currently available, but it will likely be fully replaced by the BivyStick Blue, which scored much higher in our review.

Jediah Porter