Vaude Bivibag Active Review

Just as I was sorting through some old files, I came across a blog post that I wrote in December 2011 on my phone. It is a review of a recently-acquired bivi bag made by Vaude. Here goes:

27 Dec 2011: Sleeping in the car

I’m writing this review while taking shelter in my car from the steady drizzle outside. Before getting to why I’m here, I’ll tell you a bit about the bivi bag itself. As a hiker, I’m always looking out for ways to reduce the weight and volume I carry on trips. The idea of a very lightweight shelter instead of a tent is quite appealing, as well as the added bonus of being able to sleep under the night sky. Enter the “waterproof”, “breathable” bivi bag from Vaude – the Bivibag Active. At 600 grams and only a few litres of pack space, this sounded ideal. Up until now, I’ve used it twice (more like once and a bit). The first time was great, under clear skies on Mt Taranaki, watching satellites fly overhead and the occasional meteor flash by. Although there was a cold wind blowing, inside the bag was warm and comfortable. Everything worked great. The next morning, packing it away was as quick and easy as expected for what is essentially a large sack – much less hassle than a tent. From this experience alone, I would fully recommend it.

The next trip is to be canoeing down the Whanganui River, over the next four days. Since the canoe will take all the weight, the low weight is not an advantage – but the easy set up and view of the sky makes it well worthwhile. The trip is to be four days long, with the first night being at Wade’s Landing, which, by the way is a great place to stay. I figured that camping outside was a good idea since I would have my camping equipment already for the next few nights on the river, and the setup is easy enough. Then it started raining.

Not a problem, I thought. The bivi bag is waterproof and breathable. About 45 or so minutes later, I quickly learnt that Vaude and myself have very different definitions of both these terms.

As usual, setup was quick and painless, even in the rain. Within minutes, I was nice and warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the gentle sound of rain. Not long afterwards, the inside of the bag became slightly damp, then quite wet. At the same time, it became very hot and generally not a good place to be. After a while, it became clear that everything would be thoroughly wet by morning, and that’s no way to start a four day trip. Luckily my car was not too far away, so I picked up the bivi bag, with everything still inside, and ran for it. You can only imagine how great the shelter of a vehicle feels after enduring the bivi bag for an hour in the rain. And here I am now writing about it. There’s no cell coverage here, so this will have to be published a bit later on.

What am I really getting at here? The bivi bag does not deserve to be called waterproof, or even water resistant for that matter. Breathable is also loosely used, as it seems to be quite air tight and is certainly not possible to breathe inside it (edit: in good weather, it hasn’t yet had any condensation problems, so maybe that last statement is a bit unfair). Bottom line is that you can’t rely on it for your primary shelter. It is great in good weather, but rain is a whole different story. Now to get some sleep…

30 Dec 2011: Not sleeping at all

Following the first wet night, the next two were dry and relatively comfortable. The bivi bag held up well, and even gave a clear view of the stars when there was a break in the clouds. Come the third night though, the rain is back. It had been raining fairly consistently all day, but at about the time I went to bed, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, in the early hours of the morning, the rain was back.

Rain really does make the bag useless – it’s not generally possible to breathe inside the bag, so it needs to remain open at the top. This means sleeping on one side (since the breathing hole is off-centre), and gets quite uncomfortable before long. And no matter how hard you try, water still gets in. If not through the opening, then through the material itself. After a few hours of fighting the water, all you really want is out. The time is now 0346, and I’m taking shelter at the campsite’s dining area. I don’t think I’ll be getting any more sleep tonight. I just hope that the river doesn’t rise too much and force our stay to extend another night, since my sleeping bag and pillow are now quite damp. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Aftermath

Fortunately, the river was fine the next morning, and we were all out later that day. I can highly recommend the Whanganui River Journey;¬†even when raining it is still very enjoyable. Just make sure you have a decent shelter. I think the bivi bag would be fine if used under a¬†tarpaulin or tent fly, but I have yet to try it. All in all, it does a great job as a good-weather shelter against cold and wind, but don’t count on it to keep you dry. In fact, you’d be lucky to get any sleep at all if it’s raining.

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