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 InReach Explorer. Thrown into the mix with the other new launches, though, the Bivy is somewhat underwhelming.
It is similar in size and weight to the older InReach but relies entirely on your smartphone for its functionality. Newer offerings like the Editors' Choice InReach Mini and Best Buy Somewear Global Hotspot are more compact with essentially the same functionality. The InReach Mini adds the option of sending and viewing text messages on the device itself.
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.
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."
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.
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.
While on a service trip to remote Puerto Rico, our lead test editor employed the Bivy for basic communication with everyone back home.
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.
All the devices we tested, except for the GoTenna Mesh, have SOS messaging services. The ACR ResQLink and Best Buy rescueME PLB1 use a government-sponsored satellite and monitoring service called "COSPAS-SARSAT." Our research indicates that this is the most reliable and most proven SOS service available. Both InReach products, the Bivy, and the Somewear Global Hotspot all use the Iridium Network and GEOS monitoring.
Once SOS is activated on any of this hardware, the signal and response should be the same. The SPOT devices use the GlobalStar satellite network and GEOS monitoring. 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. There isn't very much difference between the SOS functionality of the different options.
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.
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.
The Somewear Global Hotspot has the same non-emergency services as the Bivy. The InReach Mini offers these functions and allows you to do some rudimentary texting through the device itself. The SPOT X sends and receives messages only through the device itself. There is no smartphone app with the SPOT X.
We never used the Bivy App before this test. We have grown familiar with it 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.
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. The Bivy, InReach Mini and Explorer, and Somewear Global Hot Spot 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 the SPOT devices use 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 no 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.
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.
Ease of Use
Modern electronics users have high standards. We like slick apps and fast processing. The Bivy is good enough. Garmin and Somewear 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 is waterproof and dustproof with ruggedized construction.
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 Bivy is similar in size to the InReach Explorer, but the Explorer has far more features.
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. Essentially, the Bivy is eclipsed in portability by new products released around the same time.
The Bivy's clean lines are nice, but the overall package is heavier and larger than we prefer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.