Bothy or Bivy bag

10 February 2011

Bothy or Bivy bag

Category: Bivy

Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).

Hi, I’m so sorry to bother you about something you’ve probably answered a thousand times already but Im looking to get a lightweight bivy for alpine climbs in Colorado. I’ve looked through most if not all your reviews on bothys and bivys but I’m still just so confused.

My main question is how well would a bothy work for two climbers for planned and un-planned bivys as opposed to the bivy bags below? I am concerned that the bothy bag would not allow two climbers to lie down comfortably. I’m still not completely sold on the bothy as I wouldn’t think that it would be very comfortable for planned bivys instead of a couple of bivy bags. I do like the fact that I would be able to cook and talk during a storm where a bivy bag would be quite miserable.

The bivy bags I’ve narrowed it down to are the MSR E-Bivy, the Marmot Alpinist bivy, the BD Twighlight, the Montbell Breeze dry-tec UL, ┬áthe Terra Nova Bothy 4, and the OR Micronight. Are there any others that I should really consider? And which of these would be the best choice if a bivy is the way to go?

I already have a BD Firstlight and a space blanket bivy. I just need something to fit the gap between the two. I was wondering if the bothy bag in conjunction with space blanket bivys would work well to keep us dry and warm.

Thank you soo much for your all your help. I know you must be terribly busy and If you don’t have time to answer this message I completely understand.

Thanks again,


First off it’s worth saying that a bothy bag is primarily an emergency shelter, were-as a bivvy bag is an all-round piece of sleeping gear.  When you want luxury, like a warm dry sleeping bag, then a bivvy bag is tops.  BUT when the shit hits the fan the added survival points a bothy bag offers are innumerable.  Inside you are sheltered from the storm, with a layer of air between you it (in a bivy bag this is almost nil without a sleeping bag), plus you can cook, talk, plan and keep morale up.  Sat on the same storm lashed ledge - say on the Jorasses or Diamond, in a bivy bag (you won’t be laying, you’ll be crouched in the survival position!), then your survival points are much much lower.  A bothy bag isn’t really a replacement for a bivy tent (Bibler etc) but can be used with bivy bags to keep snow and wind off etc, but it will get wet inside.  To my mind, setting off into the hills without a bothy bag is just stupid, as the weight is so low, and the protection it offers so high, that it’s a no-brainer. 

A BD firstlight is perhaps the best bivy tent at the moment but doesn’t do the same job as a bothy bag, plus it’s much more costly (a bothy bag will get a thrashing as you hunker down on sharp rocky ledges, or kick around inside it with your crampons on).  Put it this way, if I was heading up on a push ascent on some route, and hoping not to bivy then I’d leave the tent and bivy bag, and go with a bothy bag and blanket (rap 2 blankets over you and your partner).  On a big multi-day route, then I’d go with a tent and one bivy bag, both sleeping in the tent when possible, and using it as a bivvy bag when on small ledges (one person gets the tent to use as a bivy bag, while the other gets the bivy bag).  If need be, you can pull the tent over both climbers like a giant bivy bag (sat when sat on a small side by side ledge).

On the choice of bivy bags, for mountain use get one with a good cowl (I’ve brewed up under a bivy bag cowl with a jet boil), and is fully breathable (avoid PU bottomed models).  Quite a few are designed just for camping (no cowl) or are too short for bivvying (you have to be able to sit up and have plenty of room.  Low weight may be down to cutting the bag slim, and many suffer from this problem.  Problem is a fully waterproof bivy bag cost about the same as a bivy tent!  There are very few top-end mountain bivy bags on the market, with the top waterproof one being the Wild Things bivy sack and the BD Twilight, which is probably the top pick for price and weight and like the Firstlight, has been used on some very hard - and hard to sleep on - routes over the last few years.


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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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