Using a bivy or tarp is common when getting close to nature, but using them together adds pack weight that you may not like.
Using a bivy with a tarp is wise as it adds an extra layer of protection in the case of weather changes and bug-infested areas. However, using one or the other works well too.
I’ve done some research on the topic, so let’s quickly go over the benefits and drawbacks.
Pros of Using a Bivy with A Tarp
Bivys add plenty of benefits to your camping trip. There are a few positives about them that may entice you to use this combo.
Sleeping in a bivy keeps bugs at bay. You can use a bug net when sleeping with just a tarp, but they’re not 100% effective. Sleeping inside a sealed bivy will keep the bugs away from you.
I recommend having some form of bug protection even if it’s not a bivy. Bites are painful, have unpleasant symptoms, and can get infected.
A tarp can shield you from light rain, but you may still get wet depending on the direction of the rainfall. Sleeping in a bivy, which is water-resistant all over, will ensure you stay fully dry all night long.
You can track the weather forecast for days, but there’s always a chance that there’ll be a sudden change. Surprise rain showers are a very real thing.
Having a bivy with you ensures you’re ready for a sudden weather change, and sleeping in one makes sure you’re prepared in case that change comes in the middle of the night.
Safe From Dew
Dew is a pest that’s difficult to get rid of, even when it’s the dry season. Sleeping in a bivy under your tarp will ensure you wake up dry even when the air and ground are moist.
You should always make sure you have access to extra warmth, even in summer, just in case. A bivy adds that extra warmth, so you’re unlikely to end up chilly.
Cons of Camping with a Bivy and a Tarp
The cons of using a bivy are few, but they can still influence your decision to use one. Let’s examine that.
If you’re backpacking then you’re going to want as light a pack as possible. Tarps and bivys don’t weigh much, but even a pound of their combined weight can make a difference.
Condensation tends to build up in your bivy because you’re in a warm, enclosed space. There’ll be no condensation buildup if you sleep with just a tarp.
Can Be Too Hot
Sometimes you’ll bring a bivy for the extra warmth but you’ll end up too hot. You may feel as though you’d have been better off going without your bivy.
A bivy is a tight sack that doesn’t give you much room to move around. If you’re claustrophobic at all, then this won’t be good for you.
You’re Not As Close to Nature
Sometimes the point of sleeping without a tent and under a tarp is to stay close to nature, but you won’t be able to get as close to nature while in a bivy.
Alternatives to a Bivy Sack
Sometimes you’ll want something instead of a bivy under your tarp, and that’s fine. The options below can be more comfortable.
If you don’t want to sleep in an enclosed bivy, then consider a hammock. You’ll be more comfortable as you’re off the ground, and you can add an underquilt or a sleeping pad for extra warmth.
Are you looking for a hammock and to avoid bug bites? Be sure to check out the 10 best hammocks with mosquito netting.
Mummy Sleeping Bag
A mummy sleeping bag may feel more natural than a bivy. They have more padding and don’t fully enclose you. They have hoods, but your face isn’t obscured. However, you can still burrow down into the bag if needed.
Emergency blankets tend to be neglected and ignored when talking about outdoor activities, but they go well with a tarp and a highly insulated sleeping pad.
You have the freedom to move around in your sleep, but you’ll be warm and cozy while using one.
Do You Use a Groundsheet With Your Bivy?
A groundsheet is a good idea, but it’s not necessary, especially while using a sleeping pad. A groundsheet will add bulk to your pack. It’s a good idea to bring one if you’re sleeping somewhere with very wet grounds, otherwise you can go without it.
I don’t recommend bringing a groundsheet, as your pack space is better used for bringing extra water, clothes, or an emergency blanket if needed.
Speaking of which, I recommend reading all about using an emergency blanket vs bivy next, as it may be of help to you while camping with very little gear.