Manufacturer’s Website: www.ortovox.com/
The German company Ortovox, well known for its search-and-rescue and avalanche safety equipment, has a product that just might raise eyebrows among lightweight US hikers: an 11-oz nylon poncho and bivy sack designed for emergency weather protection in exposed conditions. The BivvyPoncho is priced at around US $80.
The unique feature of the BivvyPoncho is that it is both raingear (in poncho mode) and an emergency shelter (in bivy mode). The BivvyPoncho has an excellent performance-to-weight ratio that provides nearly bombproof emergency raingear and shelter protection in the worst of conditions.
The BivvyPoncho is made from a lightweight synthetic ripstop material, trade name “Powernet-Thermolight.” This material has an aluminized inner surface for counteracting radiant heat loss. The construction is simple: two rectangular pieces of fabric approximately 40″ x 80″, sewn on the two sides and top, with openings for arms (to which are attached short “sleeves”) and neck (to which is attached a roomy hood). All openings, including the foot end, can be controlled with ultralight draw cords and toggles.
To use the BivvyPoncho in poncho mode, slip it over you and stick your arms and head out the appropriate openings. You control the ventilation using the neck, arm, and foot drawcords. Ventilation control is important since the garment is made from a non-breathable, coated material. The poncho easily fits over a large backpack. Depending on your height, it may extend down below the knees. To shorten the poncho and keep it out of the mud, you can cinch the foot drawcord around your waist.
We found that using the BivvyPoncho as a poncho provided excellent weather protection, at the cost of some ventilation. Due to its more “closed” construction, the BivvyPoncho is not as well ventilated as a traditional poncho like the Integral Designs SilPoncho. It would be more than adequate for a short escape from a rainy deluge during a hike.
To use the BivvyPoncho in bivy mode, climb in, stick your head (and arms if desired) out the appropriate openings and control ventilation with the foot, neck, and arm drawcords. Small loops are sewn at all openings so that the openings can be tied to trees, bushes, rocks, a backpack, etc. for added ventilation. Because of the non-breathable fabric, we don’t advise you use the BivvyPoncho with a sleeping bag (especially a down one!) for several nights in a row. Condensation could quickly degrade the performance of your sleeping bag.
However, the BivvyPoncho is ideally suited for dry areas where it could be used as a ground cloth on most nights but as a temporary escape from the occasional midnight thunderstorm. The BivvyPoncho is long enough to accommodate comfortably someone up to about 5’10” tall.
We found that the real strength of the BivvyPoncho is in the day hiker’s equipment kit. Adventurous day hikers and climbers in mountainous areas often keep moving in wet conditions, and they prefer more breathable wind shells over waterproof raingear while moving fast. However, if conditions worsened and the hiker or climber needed a temporary refuge from a driving rain (either as a sit-and-wait shelter or as stay-moving-raingear), the BivvyPoncho fits the bill as well as any product on the market.
Finally, as emergency gear, it is well designed, using bright red fabric with “HELP” imprinted in large letters on one side of the poncho.
The BivvyPoncho fills a unique niche — there is nothing like it on the market. For the day hiker wanting to carry emergency raingear and shelter into the mountains, the BivvyPoncho is hard to beat. The BivvyPoncho is extremely light and provides excellent protection from rain for both hiking and as a shelter.
For overnight backpacking, however, we still prefer the more versatile and better-ventilated poncho-tarp designs available from several manufacturers. Also, the bright colors and non-breathable fabric of the BivvyPoncho may prevent its widespread acceptance as either raingear and/or shelter for the typical lightweight backpacker.