Finally! A manufacturer has produced a dual use item that serves as both raingear and shelter and is made with waterproof-breathable fabric. The Hilleberg Bivanorak weighs 23.6 oz and serves as both a cagoule and a bivy sack. The purpose of this review is to assess how well it performs both of those functions, and to see if its weight is competitive with other shelter-raingear combinations.
The Bivanorak is a seam-taped cagoule manufactured with waterproof-breathable fabric. Drawcords at the hood, hem, and cuffs provide flexibility when worn as raingear or the necessary closures to seal it up as a bivy sack.
- Length: 94 1/2 inches
- Weight: 23.6 oz
Overview of Field Testing
We have been waiting for a waterproof-breathable bivy-cum-poncho for a long time. We were pretty excited when Hilleberg finally decided to make one. We put it through the ringer in Washington’s rainy Northwest Cascades and Montana’s spring snowstorms.
The Bivanorak as a Raingear
The Bivanorak is very long, even for a bivy sack (94.5 inches). Thus, in order to wear this as raingear, the hem must be secured with the drawcord around the waist in order to prevent the garment from dragging on the ground. Worn in this configuration, all ventilation is effectively sealed off at the hem, and you quickly notice – the interior becomes a sauna rapidly! This can be alleviated somewhat by loosening the cuffs and unzipping the very deep neck zipper, but we felt that for a waterproof-breathable garment, it accumulated more moisture than it should have.
In addition, the voluminous nature of the garment (required in order for it to function appropriately as a bivy sack), was not suitable for scrambling, bushwacking, or other situations where you might like to see your feet. Wearing the Bivanorak with a pack was a trick in adjustment, in order to tuck the hem under the bottom of the pack so it could be securely drawn around the waist.
So How Does it Compare to a Regular Cagoule or a Poncho?
The Bivanorak has to have three times the interior volume of a regular cagoule. It offers far less ventilation than a poncho, and we found that under most conditions, the Bivanorak accumulated more moisture while hiking than a poncho, which affords the hiker with excellent ventilation from below. To its credit, the Bivanorak is superior to a poncho in the wind. Despite the extra volume, the garment did not flap excessively and kept us significantly drier than a poncho in wind-driven rain.
The Bivanorak as a Bivy
The Bivanorak makes a suitable fair-weather bivy sack. Its drawstring foot end (the hem) and its very deep neck zipper offered terrific ventilation and this was one of the most condensation-resistant waterproof-breathable bivies we’ve tested.
However, beware when the night time rains let loose. You have to turn over to prevent rain from entering the hood end, and there is some risk of leakage through the drawstring closure of the foot end (albeit, we experienced only minor amounts here if care was taken to cinch the foot drawstring tightly). When sealed up in such a configuration, the bivy breathed as badly as the rest of the waterproof-breathable offerings on the market, so we encountered no particular surprises there.
At 24 ounces, the Bivanorak is suitable light to be considered as a serious shelter/raingear option – but only if you consider rain to be a minor threat. It takes a bit of practice to use the garment properly in a steady rain, but the persistent die hard will find the knack in due time. One of the more miserable experiences we encountered in using the Bivanorak – and one that was repeated often by both of our field testers – was the inability to transition from "oh crap it’s raining and cold and I really want to go to bed" to "oh crap now I’m in bed and everything inside this bloody bivy is soaking wet." You can just imagine the scenes that occured between those two states of being that involved the switching of the sleeping bag from the pack to the bivy…
OK, it sounds cool enough, should I go for it?
Before you shell out your hard earned cash on another piece of gear that has a high likelihood of collecting dust in your closet a year down the road, please compare this system to the gold standard of lightweight shelter-raingear combinations. The Bivanorak can’t touch a silnylon poncho-tarp (about 10 oz) for weight but it does offer better storm protection in both cagoule and bivy modes (at the expense of some ventilation).
Even a solid performing, lightweight waterproof-breathable rain jacket (like the 12.5 oz Marmot Precip) coupled with a lightweight waterproof bivy (as in one of the Outdoor Research basic models for 16.0 oz), is a lot more functional and only 4.5 oz heavier than the Bivanorak. But then again, the Bivanorak offers a sense of simplicity and elegance that might be enjoyed by the lightweight backpacker.
The Bottom Line
Final Grade: B
It’s a cool piece of gear – very innovative, and there is nothing else quite like it. However, the fabric needs to be a tad lighter in order for us to bite the bullet. We all agreed that a Bivanorak style garment that weighed less than 18 ounces would hit the sweet spot that would motivate us to pull the trigger with our pocketbooks. And we thought we struck gold – Hilleberg claims a weight of 18 oz on their Web site. We should have known better, we suppose…