bivy for the desert
Sep 26, 2020 at 11:44 am #3677524
I’m considering a desert trip in December (haven’t settled on where). I live near and backpack on the AT in Virginia mostly. I usually use a small tarp (mld monk) or a mid tent. When I took a trip in Joshua Tree a few years ago, I found the mid difficult to pitch a couple of nights. There aren’t as many rocks in the desert as I thought there would be! And digging anchors was more trouble that I wanted. I’m thinking a bivy is what I want for just a few nights in the desert. A freestanding tent as light as I’d like is too expensive for this folly.
Any advice for the best bivy for this purpose? I wouldn’t be using a tarp, so something fully enclosed.Sep 26, 2020 at 2:03 pm #3677540John S.BPL Member
For a similar trip with clear weather I have just used a sleeping bag cover and headnet (if needed) and brought my tarp to throw over me in case the forecast was wrong. I also have a rab alpine bivy to use this way. Outdoor gear lab has a best bivy article. I wish Big Agnes still sold their hooped bivy.Sep 26, 2020 at 4:07 pm #3677554rOg wBPL Member
I rarely use a bivy in the Canyonlands in winter but when I do it’s the OR Helium bivy. It is really compact. The only time I needed it was when a frigid windstorm blew through Chesler Park in the Needles District. Glad I had it in the pack.Sep 26, 2020 at 4:11 pm #3677557Chad LorenzBPL Member
@chadlLocale: Teton Valley, Wydaho
Consider a drawstring closure bag cover, Oware or similar. Any prolonged desert use of small (#3, 5) zippers quickly destroys them…Sep 27, 2020 at 3:57 am #3677584
Over the past 40+ years I’ve done the majority of my backpacking in the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona.
I winter, even in the low desert, temps often drop below freezing. Winter is also the rainy season.
One winter in Joshua Tree I slept inside my huge Chouinard Pryamid. Clear sky, but the temp plummeted to 17 F. In the morning the inside of my shelter was covered in a sheet of thin ice.
In the photo below, I was camped in December with clear sky. Low temp around 32 F. I woke about 3 am and the top of my bag had condensation on it. It was dry when I packed up in the morning sun. I would have had some wet down had I used a bivy. I haven’t used a bivy in 10 years or so, when I bought an approximate 8’ x 10’ Cuben tarp that weighed less than my bivy. My Cuben mid is barely heavier that my bivy, which is a MLD Soul model or some similarly named item.
Most of the time I just sleep under the stars without a shelter.
I’ve never had a problem pitching a single wall shelter or tarp. However on rare occasions I have search for a suitable spot. Often I bring snow stakes to deal with soft soil or sand — and never need to bury anchors.Sep 27, 2020 at 5:34 am #3677588
Guess I’m crappy at pitching tents. Nice photos of how good you are at it!Sep 27, 2020 at 5:39 am #3677589ArthurBPL Member
Nick have you had any unpleasant experiences with crawling critters in the desert with your setup? Snakes, scorpions, mice, etc. I am guessing not in the remote places in your photos. But what about overrun campsites like the Grand Canyon where mice and minibears are epidemic?Sep 27, 2020 at 6:25 am #3677591Matthew / BPLModerator
If you are concerned about bugs and condensation, maybe a bug bivy would make sense?
MLD’s is a nice choice under a flat tarp or set up without a tarp. I don’t care for how it pitches under a mid.
Look at Borah Gear’s bug bivy for an option that works well under a mid.Sep 27, 2020 at 7:30 am #3677592Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
nice pics Nick
don’t worry about creatures walking on you. As soon as they figure out you’re a human they run away.
somebody, a mouse?, nibbled on the end of my quilt. Down started to come out a little but I was just more careful and fixed it when I got back home.Sep 27, 2020 at 9:45 am #3677599W I S N E R !Spectator
Nick is on point. We’ve walked together and I can vouch for his knowledge of desert camping.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that the bivy is a solution to a problem in the desert that doesn’t exist. In fact, one of the worst, coldest nights I’ve ever had in the desert was because of my bivy and the condensation inside of it freezing over.What I wouldn’t have given for a tarp…or not using the bivy at all.
I’m no longer convinced a bivy adds anything to the equation that an appropriately rated bag can’t do. Your bag’s shell will handle wind just fine.
Try carrying some snow stakes if you’re concerned about pitching your shelter on sand/soft ground.Sep 27, 2020 at 10:54 am #3677608Matthew / BPLModerator
“don’t worry about creatures walking on you. As soon as they figure out you’re a human they run away.”
As a person who once looked down and saw a scorpion crawling over my shoe, I respectfully disagree with this characterization. Maybe it didn’t have enough time to figure out I was human?Sep 27, 2020 at 11:11 am #3677610Mike MBPL Member
Also be very aware of your selected site; the night Craig is talking about we found a beautiful flat wash in a draw- pancake flat and soft sand, perfect! Well it wasn’t perfect because in this draw there was a lot of vegetation (for a desert anyways!) and no breeze and what that equalled was enough dew on our bivies/bags that it looked like it rained a 1/2″!
Next night I went up on a little high ledge and never had any issues whatsoever- lesson learned.
I think next go in the desert will be with a very light, shaped tarp and no bivy. The tarp will remain in my pack unless there is a threat of rain. AND I will no longer be camping in any vegetated draws! :)Sep 27, 2020 at 11:48 am #3677615W I S N E R !Spectator
“I think next go in the desert will be with a very light, shaped tarp and no bivy. The tarp will remain in my pack unless there is a threat of rain. AND I will no longer be camping in any vegetated draws! :)”
Yes on all counts!
It looked like someone dumped a bucket of water inside my bivy, completely soaking and flattening my down. Without a bivy, the moisture would’ve just frozen on the exterior and I would’ve been fine; I’ve been there before.
Seek Outside DST is my desert go-to now. Versatile, and big enough for some airy shade for two or three in the heat of the day if needed. 9″ Y stakes haven’t failed me yet.
As for critters, it’s part of the fun. I have photo buried somewhere of a kangaroo rat sniffing a friend’s beard as he slept. Best encounter I’ve had was hearing noise and waking up to find myself in between a coyote and a jackrabbit. When the rabbit bolted, the coyote almost jumped me. That was a cool night.Sep 27, 2020 at 12:33 pm #3677625
Nick have you had any unpleasant experiences with crawling critters in the desert with your setup? Snakes, scorpions, mice, etc. I am guessing not in the remote places in your photos. But what about overrun campsites like the Grand Canyon where mice and minibears are epidemic?
I have never backpacked in Grizzly country and the idea frightens me somewhat. Yet a lot of people do it without fear, but use proper precautions. I don’t give much thought to critters in deserts — finding water is a much, much higher priority. At first I was concerned.
I probably see 10 times as many rattlesnakes in the mountains than I do in deserts, even though I spend much more time in the desert.
The only problem I have ever had in the desert was a raccoon got into my pack back in 1971. Since then, I sleep with my food. I do have a steel mesh rodent bag, but quit using it. Not needed. I quit going to the Grand Canyon when the permitting system was put into place. I did get a citation years ago in a remote section of the Canyon. It was worth it because I ran into Harvey Butchart and had a nice 30 minute conversation. At the time I didn’t know who he was. This book is highly recommended:
There is only one species of scorpion to worry about in the southwest, the Arizona Bark Scorpion. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia:
Joyce and I have probably spent close to 1,000 nights in desert campgrounds in the past almost 20 years. The problem is so few creatures to photograph compared to mountains, swamps, marshes, etc. And I’m pretty good at finding wildlife. Here is a habituated coyote in a Joshua Tree NP campground about 15 years ago.
Believe it or not, here is a beaver lodge on the Colorado River near Blythe, CA. We saw 3 of them. I couldn’t take a good picture of them because I was steering a raft and when I got into position they disappeared.
These were nice encounters . . .Sep 27, 2020 at 12:37 pm #3677626
Guess I’m crappy at pitching tents.
Most mids and tarps just take a little practice in the backyard — essentially figuring out how to lay it out on the ground then staking it. Ti hook stakes are often a bad choice. Snow stakes, ground hogs, or Easton 9” stakes work the best for me and I usually don’t bring snow stakes unless I’ll be in places with sand dunes.Sep 27, 2020 at 1:26 pm #3677635ArthurBPL Member
I have been stung by a Bark Scorpion. It was right up there with kidney stones pain. But, pain went to numbness in about 4 hours. Not camping, helping a friend clean out his pool skimmer after dark. Dumb. But, I think about them every time I lay on the ground in the desert.
Harvey was the real think.Sep 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm #3677647obx hikerBPL Member
“Look at Borah Gear’s bug bivy for an option that works well under a mid.”
Looks good to me. Looks really good for cowboy camping.Sep 27, 2020 at 3:12 pm #3677653
I mostly use mids and flat tarps. Have never owned a bug bivy or felt the need to carry the extra weight. Sometimes I use a headnet. I’ve backpacked in 48 states. Never hiked in Alaska or Minnesota.
Given that, if one is going to get a better night’s sleep with the idea a bug net will protect you, then by all means use one.
Is using a bug bivy cowboy camping?
:-)Sep 27, 2020 at 7:52 pm #3677685
Thanks for all the advice, some puzzling (I am not worried about critters at all and have no intention of using a bug bivy.) I’ll consider different stakes.
kSep 27, 2020 at 9:10 pm #3677689jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
“As for critters, it’s part of the fun.”
Craig’s speaking of bugs, and scorpions, and poisonous spiders, and…cripes! No. Snakes! Are you kidding me?
I bow to Nick’s knowledge of desert camping and now know not to bring a bivy. I will bring a shaped tarp that hopefully will remain in my pack.
I will also roll out a bug bivy. Sorry! I hate the ‘fun’ I guess.
“Once they figure out you’re a human…” oh come on. Once they figure that out they’ll bite twice as hard. We’re full of juice and deserve everything we get for wrecking the world. They’ll bite us just to get even!
on a more serious note: being open and vulnerable to the night world does allow you to experience animals and stars and smells and…the touch of insects. A bug bivy keeps the latter out, but also is just a little, fine veil between you and the world. Maybe I’m just inexperienced with the desert and anxious and feel I need the ‘protection’.
Protection from the stars? No. Protection from scorpions? that’s reasonable.
In the mountains, I never worry about bears or other critters that bother people. except bugs!Sep 27, 2020 at 11:36 pm #3677695Rex SandersBPL Member
For real desert entertainment, take a UV light, maybe one of these lightweight models:
Scorpions glow under ultraviolet. Scary how many of them are active at night in certain areas, but mostly they don’t bother people.
— RexSep 28, 2020 at 7:31 am #3677714
Protection from the stars? No. Protection from scorpions? that’s reasonable.
In the mountains, I never worry about bears or other critters that bother people. except bugs!
I rarely sleep in something fully enclosed — snakes and bugs are welcome to join me! The mosquitoes have to be fierce before I’ll bring the big bivy.
In the desert scenario, I was worried about rain ( infrequent but possible in the winter) and wind (which in my extremely limited desert experience can be fierce) and, too a lesser degree, cold. (Lesser degree because my stuff is pretty warm and without fierce wind, I’d be ok.) From what I have read, scorpions are there but probably not going to sting me if I take reasonable precautions. I put them in the same category as black bears. Real but not in my top worries.
Cowboy camping feels fun and exotic to me. The nights I’m fully sure there won’t be rain are relatively rare in the mid-Atlantic where I spend most of my time. And the combo of a clear view of the sky *and* no prospect of rain is even rarer — so my half baked plan was most minimal shelter possible used only if really needed.Sep 28, 2020 at 1:21 pm #3677751obx hikerBPL Member
Well I use either an old hexamid or a MLD Mid. A tarp if I’m using the hammock. The new pocket tarp with doors looks pretty nice too.
I have a bit of a paranoia about flowing water getting under my shelter. Bad night in the North Cascades. Since the mld inner-net weighs at least 9oz per the website the Borah bug bivy looked like a reasonable alternative at half the weight or less. And then it could be used in the open for ‘cowboy’ camping.
Also no problems with condensation.
Waiting for a trip report on those backpacking jaunts in Rhode Island and Delaware, Iowa whatever.
HYOH. I bow before the amazing acuity.Sep 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm #3677774David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
I cowboy camped with my Boy Scout Troop in Lake Chabot Park in the SF East Bay. When I woke and turned to get out of my sleeping bag, I felt a prick on my arm. Not painful, just a prick, but it felt “sharper” than a needle could be. I thought, “must have been a weed seed”. I went and made breakfast, started to pack things up. I grabbed the bottom of my sleeping bag and shook it to knock out any dirt or pine needles and two scorpions flew out. I then looked at my arm again and there was a red spot and inch-long path of puffiness going from that spot towards my trunk.
We were car camping in Hawaii. We’d seen on some tourist info that “there are no poisonous insects in Hawaii”, but we still shook our boots out in the morning, because that’s what we’ve always done (before moving to Alaska). And a scorpion fell out. Okay, that’s not an insect, but I still felt misled.
But grizzly bears? Here in Alaska? Pffft. There’s only an average of one death each year (and this year’s happened last week to a moose hunter in Wrangell-Saint Elias NP & Preserve) so I worry much more about hypothermia, highway accidents, etc.Sep 28, 2020 at 4:46 pm #3677780jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Another thing is, it’s my habit to read when I get into my bag. It’s a ritual and a pleasure and helps me sleep. The few times I’ve gone net-less I’ve found that my headlamp is a beacon for insects from all over. Not cool! and then there’s ants and mice.
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