By Jane Marshall


It’s something I’ve wanted to do for decades. It speaks to my minimalist tendencies. My need to connect with the mountains. My distaste of carrying a heavy load.

What am I talking about?

Bivy Camping.

Finally, this summer, my wish came true.

First of All, What is a Bivy?

A bivy is also known as a bivouac. Put simply, it’s a waterproof cover that goes around your sleeping pad and mat. It’s a single person shelter that’s much smaller than even a one-person tent. Some think of it as an emergency shelter; others think of it as camping in its purest, most hardcore form.

Okay. So Why Would Anyone Want to go Bivy Camping?

That’s what a friend said to me when I told him I wanted to try it. Others have commented that it looks like a nylon coffin. Here are my personal reasons:

  • They’re extremely lightweight (mine is only 19.9 ounces!)
  • They hardly take up any space in a pack
  • There is little or no set-up required, so you can conserve energy
  • You don’t need as much flat ground as a tent, so you have WAY more options when choosing a site
  • You feel profoundly connected to your environment
  • It offers a great alternative to overcrowded campgrounds
  • Great for climbers and backcountry skiers/boarders
  • Great for emergencies, when you’re out longer than planned


In the Field (Actually, on the Mountain)

My son Ben and I have similar minimalist tendencies. We like to pack up fast and be quick and light. So for his 17th birthday, I bought him an Outdoor Research Interstellar bivy. (I bought myself one too!) Then our family of 4 went random camping at Mist Ridge in the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis.

We spent an amazing day hiking Mist Ridge. At day’s end my husband and daughter tucked into the tent, while Ben and I ascended a stunning ridge laced with uncountable summer flowers. Once we summited, we looked for a good flat spot on the ridge top. The wind had been bellowing and howling for weeks, but lucky for us, the air stilled that night. We put the hoops through the head end of the bivies, slid in our sleeping mats and bags, then crawled in. At first, we both left our head zippers open and drank in astounding views. The view was so intensely beautiful that eventually I had to zip up the mosquito netting. That dampened the view just enough to let me fall asleep. We were in a mountain dream world.

All through our ridge top dreaming, my son and I were held by the earth. Our bodies were dwarfed amongst the rock and sky and it allowed the stressors of COVID-19 to unravel and dissolve. We remembered that we, too, are part of nature.


A Few Tips For Bivy Camping

  • Find a safe site away from rock or snow hazard
  • Move sharp stones and twigs to avoid ripping your bivy
  • Wear extra layers to stay warm (we found the bivies colder than the tent)
  • Pour hot water into a Nalgene bottle, test for leaks, then put it in your sleeping bag for extra comfort
  • Bring a garbage bag to store your pack in (as there’s no fly for protection!)