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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask a Bear: Bivys in Bear Country?

When I sleep in my beloved bivy, am I just wrapping myself up like a six-foot bear burrito?

by: BEAR


Q: On the trail, I don't carry a tent because I am extremely fond of my bivy sack: It weighs almost nothing, it keeps my sleeping bag dry, and on a fine night I fall asleep with my eyes on the Milky Way. I try to keep the clothes I wear to cook in the bear canister (with the exception of the down jacket that I need to wear when I cook but also need to wear in the sleeping bag). That being said, when I sleep in my beloved bivy, am I just wrapping myself up like a six-foot bear burrito

I spend most of my time in black bear country.  Would your advice for me be different in grizzly country?
--Bivouac Jack

A: Hoo boy, I can appreciate a good bivy—as a bear, I pretty much do it all the time (minus the sack) until bedding down for winter. But there are some risks involved when you bivy camp in bear country.

While it's true that in most cases I would leave you alone either way, a tent provides a serious psychological barrier when I investigate potential food sources. Most data shows that people are far more likely to be attacked when sleeping outside a tent than when within. I'm opportunistic, and you being completely exposed creates more opportunity than hiding yourself behind a barrier, however flimsy.

Not that a tent is perfect protection: If I'm curious or hungry enough, I've been known to claw at the walls and sides of a tent. This is why it's important to keep yourself away from the walls (one to two feet is usually good).

If you've followed proper food storage and prep precautions (which it sounds like you do), the likelihood that I'll mess with you even in burrito form is small, especially in black-bear country. But in heavily populated grizzly country, I'd ask you to consider taking a tent or at least a tarp. I could be bigger and less easy-to-scare grizz, and in that case, you'll value that extra layer of protection. Bivy camping is still OK, you just need to know that you're taking a bigger risk. Either way, make sure and camp smart: Stay away from brushy areas near human or game trails, and don't camp near travel corridors like river banks. Choose open areas, and you may want to keep an eye on an escape tree you can climb in case an aggressive grizz does show up.

Enjoy the view—I know I do.

—BEAR

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READERS COMMENTS

Star
- Hawg
Jan 03, 2014

"you may want to keep an eye on an escape tree you can climb in case an aggressive grizz does show up." You obviously know nothing about being bear aware, stay away from this article for information.

Star Star Star
Yosef
Jun 26, 2013

bivy, tarp, Smith & Wesson M&P 45

WesternHiker
Feb 02, 2012

Well, the tent does provide more protection than a bivy that is a fact. I've had my tent tapped by a black bear in New Mexico. It wasn't a cute little knock, it shook the whole damned tent, I saw the outline of the thing in the moon light. If I had been in a bivy or my hammock, it wouldn't have just started me in my sleep it would have slapped me in the head or chest with a big paw! I yelled out after the first slap and the curious bear shot off like a freight train into the bushes never to bother me again. I had been sleeping with clothes that had cooking smells baked on after 6 days.

If you are a sleep in a tent you also wouldn't want to use your bear spray in there, a horn would work better probably. Both of those items weigh the same as my scandium snub 357 magnum. I don't care that most other hikers freak out at the "G" word but I carry it concealed to be polite, and not to get lectured about how safe some one "feels".

WesternHiker
Feb 02, 2012

Well, the tent does provide more protection than a bivy that is a fact. I've had my tent tapped by a black bear in New Mexico. It wasn't a cute little knock, it shook the whole damned tent, I saw the outline of the thing in the moon light. If I had been in a bivy or my hammock, it wouldn't have just started me in my sleep it would have slapped me in the head or chest with a big paw! I yelled out after the first slap and the curious bear shot off like a freight train into the bushes never to bother me again. I had been sleeping with clothes that had cooking smells baked on after 6 days.

If you are a sleep in a tent you also wouldn't want to use your bear spray in there, a horn would work better probably. Both of those items weigh the same as my scandium snub 357 magnum. I don't care that most other hikers freak out at the "G" word but I carry it concealed to be polite, and not to get lectured about how safe some one "feels".

Duracell
Feb 02, 2012

I like a hammock tent and have the same issues as a bivy. However, I usually carry a bit of monofilament line and tie a can with pebbles to the line. A bear or anything else that crosses the line gets an alarm clock warning!! That's going to scare anything away unless it is very determined and in that case, KYAGB.

Gregory Petliski
Mar 05, 2011

I don't think one or two layers of sil-nylon is doing anything more than providing psychological comfort. My advice would be to bivy in the densest undergrowth you can find. Why? Like you and I, animals don't want to waste energy taking the hard way, and will usually go around obstacles, not through them.

Griz Gary
Mar 04, 2011

I would be more afraid of the guy carrying the gun with "appropriate chamberings" than the griz. I sleep out on the ground in griz country for weeks in the summers with not a single incident. Perhaps I snore too much. I find all the concerns about bears, cougars and snakes funny. I consider it luck if I see one. Of course as the "bear" says if you are in high density griz country - Glacier, Alaska, Yellowstone a tent might be more appropriate. Carrying bear spray and cannister give a certain degree of "comfort". I find a boat horn also will scare off most "nosey bears" at night. When you consider the huge home range of a griz, there really are not that many out there.

desert shellback
Mar 04, 2011

Tho my experience in griz country is nil compared to yours,for myself the thought of being blind while in a tent as a heavy breathing,grunting griz explores my campsite is a terror I would pass on.
I would want to see my bear.
I always hike with a revolver or pistol in appropriate chamberings with appropriate bullet design.

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