Ever used a bivvy bag instead of a tent?

I’d like to camp on the Great Sand Dunes, which means it’d be a backpack trip, albeit only one or two nights.

All water would have to be carried up and down the tall dunes. I’m considering how to minimize other weight since the dunes are a tough hike with anything on the back.

First item to reconsider is the tent itself. But I’d hate to wake up with sand in my ears, nose, and eyes, so I need some kind of windproof shelter. A bivvy bag comes to mind as being lighter than any tent. (There are no trees, so don’t anybody suggest a hammock.)

Is it even possible to rent a good bivvy bag? And has anybody here slept in one? I don’t want to buy one because this is the only place where I would prefer to use it instead of a tent.

Second, I’d skip cooking and just bring cold food: no stove, fuel, or cookset that way. Pretty simple.

Third, if I went in early autumn with a full moon I would not need a headlamp or bug protection.

Fourth, clothing would be a lightweight shorts-and-teeshirt combo, with long underwear for the evening. Pick weather carefully, but with such a short trip that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Any more ways to minimize? I thought of ditching the sleeping pad, but the sand at GSD is often fairly damp under the very top layer. And when it’s not, the walking is much, much more strenuous.

Here’s a wild idea!

– Last Updated: May-06-10 12:31 AM EST –

I wonder if you could make the walking easier. Bear with me while I ramble for a moment. I've noticed that when wearing snowshoes in winter, there are certain situations where even with only three or four inches of snow on the ground, it's much easier to walk with snowshoes than without. One situation is on frozen lakes with somewhat 'crunchy' snow, and the other is on well-packed snowmobile trails. In both situations, I find that walking in just my boots feels just like walking in loose sand. My feet slip a bit on every step, in kind of a circular arc, with the center of the arc digging deepest into the snow or sand, as the case may be. I just betcha that some really small snowshoes would be the cat's meow for hiking long distances in sand! Either that, or about a 14-inch long section cut out of the center of a cross-country ski, then widened with a series of cross bars to be about 8 inches wide. Actually, half that width might do the trick.

Yeah, that's got nothing to do with saving weight, and I've never used a bivy sack, but I'd LOVE to know if anyone has pursued this easier-walking idea. I'm sure it would work.

Bivy sleeper
I sleep in a bivy, mostly in the winter when the bugs subside. I usually bring a tarp and ground cloth, which won’t fit in your go-light scheme. Bivy sleeping isn’t a big deal, it’s just a bag over your sleeping bag.

If you go with just the bivy, I think you will have to embrace sand in your life. Even with a tent I think you will end up with sand everywhere, but without a tent, there’s gonna be a lot of sand everywhere.

I just looked up Great Sand Dunes. Looks very cool. I never knew of it.

If you find an ultra-light back-packer site, I’m sure they’d have lots of advice for you.



Great Sand Dunes …one of my favorites

– Last Updated: May-06-10 1:35 AM EST –

We used to visit every year when I lived in Colorado. It was a ritual to climb the highest dune, I've carried my Sheltie to the top because she hated the sand, and I've snow boarded down the face - also cracked my tail bone doing it . Mendano creeks is very cool with the standing waves that form from the sand load.

In the 80s I used a bivy bag on a climbing trip -it worked but seemed like an expensive solution, I would suggest just taking a polar tech blanket and a light tarp in the summer time or just using a light summer weight washable sleeping bag. I have done that in the desert in Arizona - just to keep the scorpions out at night. I don't think there are venomous scorpions at the Great San Dunes there are rattlers though. I've slept direct on the sand on California beaches, it gets cool at night in the summer at that altitude though, so best to have some insulation. Unless the wind is strong you are not going to get a lot of sand blowing at night. Hiking a long way in the dunes is going to be a bit of a pain if you have to do much climbing. There are spots where the sand is hard. Water is a big issue, take a lot.

Lots of bivy sack exp!
I don’t know about renting. Let me get that out of the way.

But if you are travelling solo a bivy sack is awesome. It is soooooo easy, and if you want to add to “dry space” just carry an ultralight tarp for rain cover for gear, eating, etc.

Nice for solo
I used one a fair bit while travelling solo. Mine was Goretex on top with a single pole hoop to hold mosquitoe netting and, if needed, the rain flap away from my face.

The netting was nice extra security too. One time at Pt Reyes, I did it up even though there were no mosquitoes. I woke up looking at a skunk inches from my face trying to get in. I lay very still and hoped I didn’t smell too much like a skunk of the opposite sex.

NOT picking on you …
But how heavy is your tent ??? Two nights ? Not a real long time. Sorry but I gotta assume you have some good stuff already … A couple pounds for the tent = yea so ? And Yes, have used double hooped ‘one mans’ a single hoop bivy and a sack. Already done GSD, misc. beaches, stupid stuff in Death Valley / Sierras etc. and the Ca. coast via Bike. The latter with only a plastic garbage bag. wool jersey, t-shirt and cut off levis.

No one mentioned how hot bivys are. The double hoop is worth it IMHO if you have to pick one.

Is it liable to rain there?
if so, a bivy is no fun !



bivy sack
I use an outdoor research bivy sack, with the single hoop. I think it is just fine in the rain, there is even enough room to read a book. I love it it is quick easy and lightweight. Look up keith jardin ( I’m 90% sure thats right) he is an ultra light backpacker. I learned alot from his book.

hennessy hammock
Okay, just kidding. But seriously, do you need a bivy sack? There are other options, equally good and even lighter. If you’re taking trekking poles and it won’t be raining, there’s this http://www.rei.com/product/799411. Just over two pounds. If it will be raining (or even not), how about just a ground cloth and a tarp? With a couple of trekking poles and tent stakes, you could set up something like this http://www.bozemanmountainworks.com/images/stealth_nano_x_tarp_0_lg.jpg. All a bivy sack does is keep off the dirty and dew, and raise the temperature a few degrees. Go without a bivy sack, put your sleeping bag on a tent footprint under a tarp and you’re good to go! Either way, you’re going to want a sleeping pad.



I got one of these…

Good price and works great!

Crescent Moon
Made in Boulder Colorado tests their snowshoes in a sand desert for durability. So yes, I would think lightweight racing snowshoes would be an excellent solution to a long trip on sand.

Sand, sand, sand
I camp on it a lot. I have a Eurika Solitaire which isn’t far from being a bivvy.

Some thoughts on going light:

Skip the sleeping pad. There is no better sleeping surface than sand, in my opinion. Use a light waterproof nylon ground cloth under you and scoop out a shallow depression for your shoulders and hips. Sand will form to your body and feel better than a Tempurpedic. I wish I had something as comfortable to sleep on at home. (A water bed filled with sand? Heated? Extra floor braces?)

A bivvy or small tent like the Solitaire serves only two purposes in summer - protection against a)mosquitoes and b)rain. Dew can be slept with given a decent bag. If you’re in sand for a few days, you will get sandy. I’d advise acceptance of that. Life is still worth living, even with sand in our, well, everything.

Open sand is usually pretty breezy and mosquitoes are, for me at least, really only a problem for an hour or two around dusk and dawn. One way to avoid trying to sleep with them is to stay up a little later and get up a little earlier. Take a nap in the day when you find some shade. (Perhaps there may be sand flies or some other annoying insects where you’re going that might be worth considering, though.)

A second, larger, light nylon tarp is sufficient to rig something up for a rain shelter if you really want to go light. You’ll want a couple of sticks to hold it off you, though.

Another sandy thought; Stakes don’t hold well in sand, especially if gusty winds are a possibility. Minimally, take longer stakes than you would normally use to rig your tarp, tent, or bivvy with. Better yet, rig “dead man” attachments - sticks or sand-filled bags buried at appropriate locations with P-cord tied around them. You can then attach your tent or tarp ropes to the P-cord sticking up through the sand over where the “dead man” is buried. You can usually get decent tension with your knotwork… trucker’s hitches and tarbuck knots are handy.

Whether bivvy or tarp, hope you don’t get a long rainy spell. It can get pretty claustrophobic in any small space for a long time. I usually think getting up and going about my business in a good rain poncho is preferable to cowering in a too-small shelter.

The tarps, P-cord, and dead man bags combined should weigh about as much as the poles for many tents.

Happy trekking. Drifting sand is as beautiful as snow, but much hotter… :slight_smile:

Desert Night Temps
are usually much cooler…no real problem for the bivy…BUT…

Remember the crawlies are out at night…think there won’t be any? think again…

Tent offers protection from the crawlies, shelter from blowing sand etc…2 days may turn into three or four in an emergency…weather turns bad…(Sand Storm/high winds…)

Take a lightweight tent and cut weight elsewhere.

Different idea
How about carrying your supplies on a sled instead of on your back. This is how most winter hikers and camper carry their supplies in the snow. I also like the idea of racing snow shoes. Maybe the combination of the 2 would make the hike a lot easier. In any case I would suggest you diffently use hiking poles.

My personal experience
I’m not big on bivvy’s, but I bought a Eureka Soitaire solo several years ago from Dick’s and have spent many nights in it, some nights in driving rain with no problems, much nicer and extremely lightweight.

Cold food seems logical until it turns nippy at night and something warm would be desired. I bought this little single burner that runs off butane lighter refills back in the mid 80’s and still use it today. Folds up in a cloth pack the size of your hand. 2 butane refills will last you a week and light most anywhere (do not let that refill can turn over, you’ll have a blaze). I take Ramen noodles and chicken in the pouches. Lightweight and good eatin’.

I could offer to test them for them
Hah, they probably already did it.

Two gals of water = 16 lbs alone

– Last Updated: May-06-10 12:17 PM EST –

I plan to climb the biggest dunes as part of the trip, so it's not just a matter of deep sand but also the very steep inclines. Have climbed them quite a few times with just a day pack and would like to get rid of ALL unnecessary weight.

The mostly-mesh tents suck in sandy environments with wind. Been there, done that and don't care to repeat. The two tents I own are both over 4 lbs each. Figure I could save 3 lbs right off by using a bivvy bag instead.

It’s not about rain
I’d pick weather to avoid that.

It’s about wind-blown sand, and possibly, creepy-crawlies.

Gore-tex was what I had in mind, for breathability, and I do want the head hoop and netting.

Now I just have to either find a place that’d rent one, or convince myself I would use the bag for other trips.