Review: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed and Backcountry Bivy

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This summer, I had the luxury of traveling quite a bit for work and spending most nights sleeping outside, staring lovingly at my bicycle shining under the moonlight in five states. For shelter, I brought a Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy and Backcountry Bed 700/35 degree. In Colorado, I was on a guided tour that provided me with a tent, but I imagine the Backcountry Bivy would have been completely in its element there.

This has been a steamy, rainy summer in the mid-Atlantic. Luckily, my trips all avoided the torrential downpours except for one epic night camping along the Youghiogheny River on the Great Allegheny Passage. I had a little lean-to shelter to curl up in my bivy and listen to the booms of thunder and rain on the treetops and river that sounded like highway traffic or an airplane flying close overhead. The rain blew slightly into the lean-to for a while but my waterproof bivy kept me dry and the mist felt cool against my exposed face. Once the lightning moved a bit further away and the rain decreased in intensity, I pulled the Backcountry Bed from the bivy. With the wind and weather blocked from the lean-to, the warm sleeping bed was plenty of shelter and, pulled from the bivy, I had plenty of space to move my legs and stretch out. The cool design of the Backcountry Bed uses the top of the sleeping bag more like a quilt than a sleeping bag, for a more natural sleeping experience. Without a zipper restricting me, I was able to toss and turn and flip around a hundred times, just like at home, without feeling claustrophobic. I stuck my feet out of the bottom of the bag through the little hole made for just such a thing. No more side zipper to struggle with in order to awkwardly stick my feet out when they get too hot, this was possibly easier than kicking my feet out from under the sheets in my home bed. The Backcountry Bed also has a slot to hold your sleeping pad so you don’t find yourself rolling or sliding off your pad in the middle of the night or whenever you are trying to get comfortable. In the high mountains of Colorado, I was fearful that this sleeping bag wouldn’t be warm enough at its 35ºF rating for warmth, but I was very toasty without getting overheated. There are little hand pockets to keep your hands extra warm and tuck yourself in with a seal. 

Both the pad and sleeping bag fit perfectly in the Backcountry Bivy (I have a number of different pads I rotate between, based on a number of neurotic and inexplicable factors, and so far all have worked just fine). The bivy provides a nice layer of protection from weather factors like wind, rain, dew, and snow. There is a mesh cover to zip over your face if it’s buggy, but no pole to keep it off your face; if it’s exceptionally infested with mosquitoes or other pests near where you are sleeping, there is a loop for hoisting it off your face with a paracord, so long as you sleep underneath something that can lift the screen up. There’s an additional flap that can be zipped up if it’s raining or snowing, which also blocks out bugs if you’re really getting attacked, but it also blocks your ability to see out of the bivy. When this external flap is zipped up, the bivy is totally waterproof. The zippers aren’t waterproof, but they do have a flap that wraps around each other them, with velcro to hold those in place. You can’t be completely submerged in an ocean and kept 100% dry in this thing, but if we’re being honest, is that really the life you’re living? I slept in both buggy and not-so-buggy areas with this bivy and found that while I love having the fresh air on my face, I could see the stars perfectly through the mesh, and the mesh provided a bit extra warmth on the cooler nights. Just like with a tent, the inside of the bag got a bit damp from the moisture in the morning air, but I was still kept much dryer than if I was sleeping out in the complete open, and the internal moisture dried almost immediately. I really cherished being able to sleep out in the elements with the raccoons and bears (probably all squirrels) rummaging around me, taking in all the wild smells and sounds of every campground. I felt feral and protected, free but not overly vulnerable to my surroundings.


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Author: Carolyne Whelan

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