Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Bivy Kit

“Bivy” – (also "bivi") – short for bivouac, which is French for “Oh no, we must sleep outside tonight!”

There are different kinds of bivies out there in the climbing world. Sometimes we use the expression to mean crashing in your truck bed the night before a climb (i.e. “Let’s bivy at the trailhead and get an early start tomorrow”). But really, bivy’ing is about climbing. A winter bivouac may include a snow shelter or snow hole to insulate from cold and the wind. Bivy’s on rock climbs often entail some kind of rock pile or cave if you’re lucky, or sleeping in slings if you’re not. There are shiver bivies, the kind where it keeps you up all night huddling next to your partner for warmth (note that it’s not romantic if it’s a survival situation).  A few of the Leavenworth boys coined the term “shiverer bivering” when putting up Gorillas in the Midst a few years ago . There are also “moving bivouacs,” which means you just keep walking all night until the sun comes up ‘cause it’s too darn cold to stop. Planned or unplanned, bivouacs are a part of climbing’s heart and soul.

Often on long routes you run the risk of a bivouac. To bivy or not to bivy? If you bring the extra gear, the weight will guaranteed slow you down, making the night out inevitable. But if you forgo the gear, you might end up out and unprepared. As one climber told me, “Light and fast” quickly becomes “cold and f****d!”  Charlie Fowler even made a scale for bivouacs, based on how much you suffer.

I’ve included a few different versions of what to bring to make the overnight a little more comfortable. It’s a warm-weather edition. A different setup is needed for going into the mountains in March!

#1. The “I really hope we don’t bivy but if we do I won’t be totally miserable” kit:
  • Emergency blanket
  • Hand warmers
  • Lighter
  • A few papers for fire starters
  • Iodine tablets (or other water purification tabs
  • 2 caffeinated Gu packets
  • Light puffy with hood
  • Light hat
This kit is especially appropriate in the spring, summer, and fall trips where you’re doing a long, weight-conscious route and only want to bring the bare minimum survival gear. It is really good if you’re not going to encounter really cold temperatures. Long routes in Zion and Red Rocks, and summer routes in the Cascades and Sierras could be perfect for this kit. Besides the puffy and hat, this whole kit can fit into a sandwich-size Ziploc bag.

The emergency blanket can act as a wind or rain barrier if you really need it, though it doesn’t breathe, so it’ll drip like you’re in the jungle after a few hours. But hey it’s really light and warm for the weight. I often roll an upper body layer around my feet, wrap myself in the emergency blanket and stuff my feet into my pack (if it’s big enough). This will keep your feet warmer and will keep your whole business from unraveling as you toss and turn on that tiny ledge 500 feet off the deck. The two Gu packets are for the next day. You’ll probably need em.

A note about the hand warmers: Put the hand warmers everywhere the package says not to. On exposed skin – go for it! While sleeping – that’s the only way you can get to sleep! On sensitive areas? The more sensitive the warmer it’ll feel, right? Just remember, if it burns, stop. Seriously. (For legal reasons, we can’t actually recommend you do this. Always follow the instructions and manufacturer’s warnings. Seriously.)

#2. The “I really think we are going to bivy, but let’s go light, shall we” kit:
  • Kit #1, plus:
  • Sil-Tarp
  • Bivi pad that comes with your backpack (Cilo Gear, Andinista)
  • 1-lb. 32-degree down sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering)

This kit is great if you’re going to hike in and sleep at the base of the Ridge of Doom, and are going to come back down and sleep at the base of the climb afterward. This also works as a light bivi kit if you are going to bring one.

The Sil Tarp is great. They’re expensive, but a super lightweight barrier from the elements. Twice, now, my buddy Matt and I have hunkered under that thing, strung out with cordelettes and trekking poles. It worked great.

Many packs these days are made with a foam pad as the framesheet. It can be removed and used as a lightweight (read: uncomfortable) bivi pad. It’s not the Hilton, but it’ll work. Cilo Gear’s packs have em. (LINK)

#3: The “Mt. Baker Special”
  • Light sleeping bag
  • Jetboil (shared with your partners)
  • The shell of a Hilleburg Unna (up to 3 climbers)
  • Full-length Neo Air sleeping pad
  • 1-lb. 32-degree down sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering)

I use this one all the time in the summer alpine routes in the Cascades, where we will want a bit more protection from the elements and will be camping in snow. The shell of Hilleburg tents can be removed and used independently from the rest of the tent. So you have just 2 poles and the exterior tarp of the tent. This works great in the snow –  “mid-style” – like a Mega-Mid, just a lot lighter. You can stake your tent with pickets, ice axes, wands, and other climbing gear. Try to avoid bringing stakes.

The Jetboil is for heating up dinner and melting snow for water. You can use the foil pouch from a freeze dried meal as a high camp bowl. It’s light and folds flat! The full-length sleeping pad is great on snow. It’ll keep you insulated and dry. You can also use a half-length pad (i.e. RidgeRest or Neo-Air) and the framesheet bivi pad from your pack. This option is lighter but won’t insulate as much. Make the call based on the weather.

Other tricks and tips that I’ve learned:
  • When setting up for sleeping (if you’re lucky), always be the big spoon.
  • Always check above you if you’re sleeping on route or on technical terrain. Be aware of rock/ice fall or avalanche potential.
  • An extra little bit of food usually doesn’t weigh that much and can really help if you go long.  Throwing in four extra Gu packets is probably not going to be the difference between sending and failure.
  • I hear there’s a few half-length sleeping bags out there (from Brooks Range?) – they’re really lightweight, and meant to be used with a puffy jacket.
  • There are emergency blankets that are shaped like sleeping bags. They’re great for wrapping yourself up in.
  • Get a sturdy emergency blanket. I’ve seen some that tear just from removing them from the packaging. If it’s sturdy, you can reuse it, too.
  • Try taking pictures of your friends during bivy’s. They’re guaranteed to look their worst and can serve as really good practical joke material later on!
  • Remember to bring a headlamp. Otherwise, you’re definitely going to bivy!

Okay, that’s all for now. Happy sleeping!

--Mike Pond, AAI guide and instructor. 


Anonymous said...

Feathered Friends makes a lightweight 3/4 length bag designed to go with a warm coat, called the Vireo.

Anonymous said...

Feathered Friends makes a lightweight 3/4 length bag designed to go with a warm coat, called the Vireo.

Anonymous said...

The SOL breathable bivy is said to be a 50 degree rated sleeping bag and is rain proof fairly light and not a sweat box. If the puffy jacket is only for a bivy consider instead carrying a light sleeping bag or quilt wit bivy. If risk of rain a light tarp is nice. Fire starter and light saw is nice below tree line, can have saw and fire starter can be light as 6oz. As a bare min I carry something for warmth either puffy, bivy, fire making, one or more depending on situation of group and climb.

For instance, silnylon tarp 7x7 ft 8oz with tie outs no stakes, SOL Eescape bivy 8 ounces, glossimer pad 6oz , jacks are better quilt , (no puffy) quilt can be used as cape due to head hole, 1.5lb to 2lb. Note quilt only works well with bivy sack, lastly 6oz fire making kit. Total is less than 4 pounds, tarp is for up to three people. Can throw out items and weight when wanted.