THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

NEXT TIME YOU HEAD FOR THE HILLS LEAVE THE TENT AT HOME AND INSTEAD MAKE YOUR WILD CAMP A TRULY IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE WITH A BIVVY OR TARP.

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

by Ben Weeks |
THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

ALPKIT HUNKA £50

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

Alpkit’s Hunka is a real bargain: a lightweight, waterproof bivvy for just £50. It’s a simple, no-fuss product with minimal features, but it performs well.

A 10,000mm rated hydrostatic head (HH) and fully taped seams ensure effective waterproofing, while the sculpted hood with two drawcords can be cinched tightly around your head – although it’s more effective if the bivvy is inverted with the opening below you. The tapered shape just about accommodates a sleeping bag and mat, but for more room try the XL version.

The weight is an impressive 330g, due to the absence of features such as a zip, and the bivvy packs down very small. There are no additional vents but breathability is adequate and the 2.5-layer, 40-denier ripstop nylon feels pretty durable. A neat touch is the integral mesh pouch into which the bivvy can be stuffed for hassle-free storage. It’s not ideal for gnarly weather, but great for spring and summer.

If we’re being fussy… The interior isn’t particularly spacious. It feels a little constricting with a sleeping mat inside the bivvy and there’s no room to stash a backpack. No zip means getting in and out involves awkward shuffling. Features are minimal and the zipless hood will expose your head to rain.

Size (LxW) 215x80cm (50cm at foot)

Packed size 15x13cm

Weight 330g

VERDICT

A basic, no-frills bivvy bag that does the job at an incredible price – but it struggles in awful weather.

SIERRA DESIGNS BACKCOUNTRY BIVY £140

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

Sierra Designs’ Backcountry Bivy is a high-quality, lightweight bivvy providing comfortable shelter in milder weather. There’s no hooped pole, but there are more features than a simple bivvy.

Entry is via a large, user-friendly U-shaped door that can be fully zipped up, fully or partially opened (to increase ventilation), or closed with a semi-circular mesh window. Stormflaps over the zips improve waterproofing.

A quirky feature is a tab for elevating the roof via a cord connected to a tree branch or similar, thus increasing headroom – but this won’t always be feasible.

The top is a 20-denier ripstop nylon with impressive 10,400mm HH waterproof rating, while the bathtub-style floor is a 30-denier nylon with 1200mm HH rating. Seams are fully taped and the upper’s 18,300g/day breathability rating is very good. There’s ample space for a sleeping bag and mat inside, and a long version offers even more wiggle room. It packs down compactly and the weight is impressive.

If we’re being fussy… Condensation can be problematic in the footbox. The floor’s 1200mm HH rating isn’t particularly reassuring and the zippers may be vulnerable to water ingress. When fully zipped, material will annoyingly sag onto your head. The nylon used is the thinnest on test.

Size (LxW) 203x91cm (70cm at foot)

Packed size 25x10cm

Weight 400g

VERDICT

A lightweight, compact, feature-rich bivvy at a good price – but it’s better suited to fair weather.

SNUGPAK STRATOSPHERE £160

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

Blurring the line between tent and bivouac, the Stratosphere is a spacious, hooped bivvy with bombproof credentials and an attractive price tag.

Two aluminium poles criss-cross to create a freestanding, 48cm-high canopy around the head. This feels palatial compared to other claustrophobic bivvies, while the domed hood’s configurations – fully zipped up, completely open or bug-mesh only – are brilliantly versatile.

Above your head is a zipped pocket for personal items and a mesh vent with rainflap. The materials – a 70-denier, PU-coated ripstop nylon with 8000mm HH rating in the groundsheet and a 50-denier, 5000mm-rated nylon in the outer – are strong, sturdy and impressively waterproof.

Seams are taped and the groundsheet has a bathtub style. Entry is via a three-quarter length side zip, while pegging out with seven stakes ensures a taut structure. Internal space is long and wide enough for a sleeping mat and bag, and for stashing a small backpack at the foot end.

If we’re being fussy… Condensation can be difficult to avoid (as with almost all bivvies), and the multiple zips and flaps are a little fiddly. But the main problem is the hefty weight and large packed size: you can get two-skin tents that are far lighter and more compact.

Size (LxW) 245x100cm (60cm at foot)

Packed size 31x14cm

Weight 1130g

VERDICT

A hooped bivvy with superb durability, waterproofing and space – but it’s very heavy.

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MSR THRU-HIKER 70 WING £185

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

The Thru-Hiker 70 Wing is a simple rectangular tarp that is pitched with hiking poles or hung between trees. Its 460g weight is impressive, including six ultralight pegs and six guylines, and it packs down very small, while the build quality and stitching are premium standard.

Pitching is easy – pole tips fit securely into metal eyelets at each end, with the tension adjustable via guylines; four sturdily-reinforced corners peg out using locking tensioner guys; and two more attachment points are available along each side. This ensures poles are stable and the structure is taut. Internal space accommodates two easily, or is roomy for one plus backpack.

As with all tarps, it offers multiple orientations: it can ‘float’ high above the ground or be pitched flush for added weather protection. It’s made from 20-denier ripstop nylon with an Xtreme Shield PU coating, which sheds water superbly, and can be paired with an optional mesh cabin.

If we’re being fussy… For a simple tarp it’s on the expensive side. The 20-denier fabric isn’t the thickest or strongest we’ve ever seen and the 1200mm HH rating is at the low end of the spectrum.

Size (LxW) 289x244cm

Packed size 23x10cm

Weight 460g

VERDICT

A lightweight, compact, waterproof tarp that’s simple and effective – but is pricey.

NORDISK VOSS 5 ULW £190

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

Comfortably the lightest product on test, the new Voss 5 ULW is ‘one of the world’s lightest portable shelters’, according to Nordisk. It’s a minimalist, ultralight tarp weighing an incredible 180g, or 240g with six removable guylines and pack sack. No pegs are provided, so you will have to add your own, but everything else required for a quick set-up is present.

There are numerous attachment points, including four in the corners and four centred on each edge. Each of the tough, 2mm Dyneema guy ropes has a guyline slider and a mini aluminium hook, as well as a fabric loop, into which pole tips slide. Alternatively an ingenious ‘helmet slide’, an optional extra, can be used as an eyelet holder for each pole. Functionality is excellent and the multiple guylines and loops enable fine-tuning for a taut, sturdy structure with ample room for one plus kit.

The 10-denier ripstop nylon has a 2000mm-rated HH for effective waterproofing.

If we’re being fussy… The tarp is so thin and featherlight, it’s difficult not to be paranoid about tearing it, particularly with a sharp pole tip. It can flap a lot in wind, and headroom and floorspace are less generous than in some other tarps. No pegs are provided and it’s pricey too.

Size (LxW) 250x200cm

Packed size 18x10cm

Weight 240g (excluding pegs)

VERDICT

An incredibly lightweight and compact tarp, designed for the ultralight, minimalist backpacker.

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RAB RIDGE RAIDER £330

THE BIG TEST: SIX OF THE BEST BIVVIES AND TARPS REVIEWED

Rab’s Ridge Raider is a spacious, hooped bivvy offering reassuringly resilient protection from the wind and rain.

A single, pre-bent pole slides into a sleeve, creating a 60cm-high, freestanding arch around the head. This can be fully zipped up, left entirely open or sealed with a bug-proof mesh. Headroom is the best in test, reducing any sense of claustrophobia, while the long, wide bag can accommodate a 35L backpack at the top end.

Eight stakes and two guylines provide good structure to the tunnel shape, while the eVent DValpine three-layer, 40-denier fabric offers impressive waterproofing (20,000mm HH) and excellent breathability.

The floor’s bathtub design increases protection, and a waterproof stormflap enables partial door opening for trickle-flow ventilation without risking water ingress.

Set-up is quick and easy, and the shallow profile and dark green colour are wild camping approved. The zip toggles glow in the dark too, which is useful.

If we’re being fussy… It’s very expensive and far heavier than ideal. Condensation can be a problem, and there’s no integrated venting. Extracting the pole from its tight sleeve is a tad fiddly and the lack of internal pockets is a little disappointing. Head door entry is awkward too.

Size (LxW) 255x80cm (40cm at foot)

Packed size 30x16cm

Weight 1033g

VERDICT

A premium hooped bivvy with spacious headroom and excellent waterproofing – but it’s expensive.

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