Gear Review: Borah Gear Snowyside Bivy

“I woke up this morning and thought someone left a body bag in the front yard!”

-My Grandmother

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I was going to wait until long-term durability really started to show, but people are absolutely itching for a review of the Borah Gear Snowyside Bivy. With two full seasons of use, I’ll give you my impressions.

First off, for the uninitiated, there are three types of bivy bags:

Bugnet Bivy:

Examples:

Outdoor Research Bug Bivy

Kelty Bug Shield Bivy

Sea to Summit Mozi Mosquito Net

These bivy bags are just a bugnet, or mostly bugnet, with a waterproof floor. The floor acts as a groundsheet. They’re designed to be used in conjunction to a full-coverage shelter or tarp. You just save weight since it’s smaller than a full tent inner net.

Water-Resistant Bivy:

Examples:

Outdoor Research Highland Bivy

Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy

TiGoat Ptarmigan Bivy

These bivy bags are super light and super breathable, but not 100% waterproof. They’re also designed to be used under a tarp, but you don’t need a full-on pyramid shelter. Deflected rain and spindrift won’t penetrate the DWR-coated shell. The bottoms are waterproof to act as a groundsheet.

Waterproof 3-layer Bivy:

Examples:

Mountain Hardwear DryQ Bivy

Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy

Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Soul Bivy

And of course… the Borah Gear Snowyside Bivy

A 3-layer Bivy is the only kind of bivy that is truly a standalone shelter. Any cheaper “waterproof” material won’t be breathable enough to withstand the condensation from your body heat and breath, and you can’t really seal them up against rain without stifling yourself. There are cheap waterproof bivy bags like the SOL Emergency Bivy that you can use to survive in an emergency, but only 3-layer bivy bags pass the test for comfort over repeated use.

A 3-layer bivy allows water vapor to pass through from the inside out, but won’t let liquid water permeate from the outside in. The advantages of this type of shelter are ease of setup (I tie a single cord), low weight, packability, and stealth.

So, without further ado, my review:

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The Borah Gear Snowyside Bivy

I used this shelter all winter and all spring, and I continue to use it as summer is just getting started. I always used it as a standalone shelter, and I slept out multiple times in snow, frost, cold rain, warm sunshine, bugs, and various ground conditions including saturated ground.

Here’s the specs of my bivy:

  • 96in length
  • 74in girth at shoulders
  • 64in girth at feet

Weight:

The listed weight of the bivy without any additional features is 20oz. I opted to get my bivy bag with a full eVent floor, which Borah Gear estimated at 4oz extra (24oz total). I also opted to get the full side zip. Unless you’re a contortionist or militant ultralighter, I suggest this option. Next, I added two 3-inch zipper pulls to the outer and inner zipper on my side zip, and I added 8 feet of reflective Kelty TripTease Lightline and about 4 inches of shock cord to the top loop to hang the bag off my face. All these extras certainly added some ounces. Still, my bivy comes in at a burly 1lb 14.4oz on my not-so-accurate scale.

If you opted for a 70D urethane coated nylon waterproof bottom and no side zip, you’d probably lose between 5 and 7 ounces.

So, weight-wise, this bivy ends up being about the same as a $300 tent like the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1, which weighs 2lbs 1oz.

Packability:

This bivy packs down well. Wrinkling seems to be a non-issue with the eVent fabric, and it doesn’t look like creases from compression are ever going to damage the zipper or the storm flap. I can fit the entire bivy bag easily in a Sea to Summit eVent Dry Sack size small, and it chinches down all the way to the size of a large grapefruit. This packability is also, incidentally, the perfect size for a Revelate Design Viscacha Seat Bag, which I run on my bike.

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Comfort:

This bivy bag is big. It’s longer than my body, wider than my mummy bag, and has plenty of room to let even my deep winter sleep system loft with an inflated pad underneath. I think if you find this bag to be constrictive, you’re either using a -40º bag and two pads, or you’re a football player who should talk to Borah about custom measurements. Constriction was never a problem in all the nights I slept in this bivy.

The tie loop on the top of the bivy is, in my opinion, not ideally placed. As it is, it’s smack in the middle of the head section, which allows the storm flap over the entrance to droop closed. There is no configuration to tie up the bivy bag so you’ve got a “window” of bug net by your face. This isn’t an issue for me yet because of the breathability of the bag, but I’ll get to that later.

eVent fabric is supposedly the most breathable 3-layer fabric, among others like Gore-Tex, Neoshell, and properietary fabrics like Mountain Hardwear’s DryQ. I found this bag to be highly breathable, and comfortably cool inside. It never really heats up like you might expect. However, don’t sleep in; the black color absorbs sunlight, so this bag gets hot during the day.

There are two other tie loops on this bag, but they are single loops dead-center at the head and foot. I would suspect that four loops at each corner would be better, since it would keep you from rolling, but I’m sure Borah gear is open to small customizations like that. As it is, I never use those stake-outs and will probably cut them off. They’re made from heavy, durable cordura and are securely attached to the eVent.

Waterproofness and Condensation:

Here’s the big question. Did I stay dry?

Yes.

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I only experienced condensation in this bag at very cold temperatures, well below freezing. This condensation was all around the mouth area of my sleeping bag. HOWEVER, I experience condensation around the mouth area of my sleeping bag in open hammocks! It wasn’t any more or any less than what I’m used to for deep-winter camping, temps between -18ºF and 30ºF.

Condensation on the inside of the bivy itself was no more than a small nuisance in deep cold. I only got a slight film on the inside, not a soaking or dropping and no wet spots on my sleeping bag, which is synthetic. Even when I had frost over the outside of the bag, I was dry and warm inside.

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Waterproofness was better than expected. I thought I was going to need a tarp setup to supplement the bivy, but it does the job on it’s own. Water beads off the outside even in a thunderstorm, and I never had anything soak through. If you close the velcro on the entrance and you have the top tied up, the storm flap makes it impossible for rain to get in, even on accident if you move around at night. That was a big plus. The waterproof zipper does dampen on the inside, but it doesn’t leak. No water ever seeped in the bottom.

With my synthetic sleeping bag, I have 100% confidence in this bivy for all storm conditions.

I opt to remove the bugnet in heavy rain and instead just close the bivy all the way. Even in a thunderstorm that drenches the outside of the bivy, I still don’t get condensation during warm temperatures inside the bivy bag. In the Northeast, it’s rare for evening temperatures to get above 70. I haven’t been able to test the comfort of the bivy when I’m sweating, because it’s always 60 or lower at night this time of year. I’ll update this if we get a heat wave.

Usability:

Since my bag came in black, this makes a great stealth shelter, when I don’t want to draw attention to myself. It’s not always legal to camp in empty land or public park, since inviting a gypsy caravan would hurt nearby property values. In my experience, if you can camp very quietly from dusk till dawn without making a fire, you’ll never bother anyone. This shelter is good for this.

The bugnet is velcro’ed to the inside entrance, and is fully removable. The top of the bivy is male velcro, and the bottom is female velcro, and the bugnet has a strip of each on the top and bottom. It’s about 1 inch longer than the bivy’s velcro on both velcro strips, so it’s relatively easy to attach in the dark without a headlamp by feel with a bit of practice. I never had any bugs get in, as it seals up great. No matter how I tie up the hood, I have bugnet to spare.

The Snowyside comes in green, black, and brown, but you can’t choose your color. I would have preferred the nice green, but black is very useful, so I’m happy.

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Durability:

I’ve never used a groundsheet with this bag. Instead, I move any debris before laying it down (sharp sticks, rocks) and then I go ahead and sleep. The bottom still looks 100% perfect after a few weeks worth of camping nights. That’s right, there’s NO damage at all. Cuben fiber bottoms and silnylon bottoms are easy to tear if you aren’t careful, and a lot of used bivy bags I looked at had repairs made to the bottom. The eVent fabric feels super-bomber and I would gladly pay the 4oz weight penalty for the eVent floor again if I had the choice, just for durability.

The zipper is very small, but it’s metal, and appears durable enough that I don’t baby it when I zip up at night. I’ve never had it jam, and I don’t expect it to.

The seams are all very good, and the craftsmanship is immaculate, especially around the storm flap, which makes a perfect crescent around the entrance. It’s not seam taped, so I’ll have to seal it with Seam Sealant eventually. I’m lazy, haven’t done it, and haven’t gotten wet, so I’m not prioritizing it.

Score:

92/100

Positives: More waterproof and livable than expected, good size, durable, and simple; no fiddling with stakes, poles, ropes, or nets.

Negatives: Hang loops and stake loops aren’t intuitive, slightly heavy overall (there are lighter shelters)

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