Thursday, 30 September 2010

Bivvy Bug Niche

I spent some time last night looking through old issues of TGO and Trail to see if there was anything about the Bivvy Bug Niche. I didn't find much but there were a few mentions of the Niche together with some ad's for 'Bivvy Bug'. I also discovered that they made a similar type of thing for 2 person use called the 'Broch'

I did get sidetracked a few times in my quest as every other issue seemed to have either an advertisement or feature about the Phoenix Phreeranger, most of the features having a photograph with a youthful Chris Townsend. I also found a 'Lightweight Tent' grouptest featuring both the Bivvy Bug Niche and the Phoenix Phreeranger together with the TNF Tadploe, Vango Odyssey Micro 2 and the Hilleberg Nallo 2.

I discovered that the Bivvy Bug Niche cost £169 back then which was pretty expensive when you consider that my Wild Country (Terra Nova) Quasar cost £245 and my Phreeranger EB cost £190.

Of course I wanted to see how the Bivvy Bug Niche felt in use so tried it last night (in the garden of course!!) I knew that the bivvy bag wasn't waterproof but as there was no rain forecast I decided to go ahead. I didn't use a down sleeping bag for obvious reasons instead using a cheap synthetic Gelert bag. I also wanted to see how easy it was to cook in it so packed a few essentials into an Alpkit Stealthy Gourdon drybag and settled in at around 1.00am.

It was no surprise to find that a methodical approach was required, trying to remove trousers, jacket and fleece in the confines of a bivvy bag is interesting to say the least but not impossible and I managed to avoid too much contact with the tent part. My jeans and fleece were placed in the Alpkit Goudron which was then stashed on the right hand side together with my boots and my Flux jacket was rolled into it's hood as a pillow. The stove, pot and mug together with a brew kit and a flexible water bottle were on my left.

Getting a brew required the same approach as getting undressed, stick to one task at a time and take it slowly, to avoid melting a hole in the tent after using the stove I simply placed the upturned pot over the burner.

There was quite a heavy dew but I zipped up the 'door' and closed it off using the velcro along the top edge. One thing I noticed that I'd change if I was going to use the 'Niche' as designed, i.e. with the dedicated bivvy bag would be to swap the velcro strips around, the Hook part is sewn to the hood while the loop (softer part) is sew to the door but I found that as I was wearing a wooly hat I ended up attached to the tent every time I looked out.

Thankfully it didn't rain during the night and I was warm enough, I wakened at 3.00am to answer the call of nature, 2 things are required in this situation, a Pee bottle and utmost care :-)

With that attended too I went back to sleep and didn't waken until almost 8.00am. My sleeping bag felt dry inside although there was plenty of condensation inside the tent part. I noticed that the outside of the sleeping bag felt wet when I was getting dressed but ignored it and made a brew ( I could have gone indoors but where's the fun in that?) before finally exiting the Niche.

When I removed my sleeping bag it was pretty wet down the sides and at the foot but the reason was clear once I turned the bivvy bag outside in. The membrane has delaminated quite badly and is unfortunately unusable.

Although there isn't much of a weight saving, about 300g between the Bivvy Bug and a Phreeranger Fly/ti Goat bivvy bag combination I'd still like to use it ocaisionaly so I need to decide what to do. There are 3 options that spring to mind, 1 buy an ex army Gore-Tex bivvy bag and cut it up to replace the Sympatex part on the original bivvy bag, 2 make a new door part and use a standard bivvy bag or 3 simply cut the door part off the original bivvy bag and use it with a regular bivvy bag.

To be honest when you consider that for the same weight or less you could have a choice of 2 skin tents all offering better protection and more space it does seem a bit pointless using something like the Bivvy Bug Niche but like using a Tarp/inner net combination or even one of the bivvy bags I mentioned in my previous post there's something appealing that can't easily be defined, logic certainly plays no part in it.


  1. Fantastic post, Mac!!! Enjoyed your sense of adventure, initiative and curiosity. Brilliant!!

    Quite a handy set up actually - bar your bivvi bag of course.

    Very interesting, mate. Like you mentioning not using a down bag, too.

    I conducted some tests recently on a bivvi (can't say which yet) and noted stats like dewpoint and humidity. Bivvi's really are not suited to our climes with a down bag :( But thats another story...

  2. LOL, thanks Terry,

    Bivvi's really are not suited to our climes with a down bag?

    Look forward to that Terry, I imagine it'll be the subject of some discussion. :-)

  3. Yeah, it's to do with temp variations, humidity etc. Here's one example - I sent an hour in 'a bivvi' outside temp was 12c. Within 10 mins sealed up inside temp shot to 25c. Dew point was about 8c and the humidity level shot to 99%!!! Basically, I would be warm but the down bag would have got damp with my sweat, condensation et al.

    That was one test late summer. It comes down to how breathable a bivvi is and even then those stats above are a concern. So, in a nutshell - you need to open the bivvi and then you'd need some mini-tarp for shelter in inclement weather.

    Of course it depends on the conditions and all that and it aint always going to be as I tested in that example. But as a result, I intend to use a synthetic sleep bag.

    Furthermore, it leads you to think whats the point? A tent is then much easier and comfortable with less concern for your down bag etc. Down don't like damp as you know.

    There's some science to it all, granted but to you and me it was noticeable the difference etc.

    Well, it'll be a while now before I test the bivvi again

  4. Some discussion? Ha Ha.
    I haven't had a problem using down in my Integral Designs all eVent bivvy bag, or in water-resistant bivvys under a tarp. :)

    I can remember the Bivvy Bug brand myself. The 'Niche' is a high-tec, heavy version of a torso tarp, really. More protection though.

    Mike fae Dundee.

  5. @Terry, I've used the Ti Goat Ptarmigan and a full gore-tex bivvy with down bags or down jacket/pied d elefant without noticable condensation but both were used under the flysheet of the Phreeranger so a different set-up, it may well be different if the face fabric wetted out though. I'm sure conditions play a part but IIRC in Turnbulls 'Book of the Bivy' mentioned that to reduce condensation it's better to be slightly too cold rather than too warm. That said synthetic has it's plus points, I've worn my Montane Flux when it was soaked and it still provided some insulation and dried off pretty quickly but as you suggest if you end up needing to use a synthetic or worse a Pertex/Pile bag you loose any weight saving you'd gain by choosing a bivvy in the 1st place.

    @Mike, re the Niche, it's a product of it's time certainly due to the weight, a torso tarp would possibly be lighter depending I suppose on whether you use trekking poles or not and almost certainly more spacious but as you say possibly not as much shelter.

    On the other hand the Niche is close as far as weight goes to both the Big Agnes 3 wire and the ID Uni-Shelter, offers more space but of course it needs a bigger pitch. There are a few other similar products around, the Black Diamond Bipod and Tripod bivvys and the Snugpak Stratosphere but all are around the 1kg mark or over.

    I don't really see the Niche as a serious proposition but if I can sort out the bivvy part it'll be a fun thing to try.

  6. Not for me Richard. I'm a down sleeping person and i like a bit of space,
    I suppose i could stand it though at a pinch if i wanted to bag a peak with 1 quick overnight stop and no other gear.
    10 out of 10 for the post and comments.

  7. There is bivy bags used for keeping rain of you and bivy bags that are used for under a tarp or DuoMid. I have used my MLD bivy at -4 with a down bag under the stars and my down bag was fine. I have used it under the DuoMid and been fine with no damp at all. It is very good and others use them on the TGO Challenge with no problems. The issues Terry is referring to come I think when you are using a bivy that is designed to keep the rain of. And the coating on it has less permeability. I don't want to use a bivy under a single skin shelter much and am working on ways to not need one. I could not use such an enclosed place as the bivy bug and would want space to dry kit.

  8. Martin pretty much agree, I wouldn't mind using the Niche on an overnight though but I guess they'd have been aimed at people who at the time were getting into stuff like Pertex/Pile clothing etc where you'd sleep in what you were wearing.

  9. During the Turnbull podcast, I could not help noticing how many times he said, "If it all goes wrong, go back to the car." When I'm backpacking, there is no car, so using a bivy on its own is out for me on anything other than single nights.

    The night before my attempt on the Welsh 3000s was spent in a bivy bag. The rain was inconvenient as I was not happy with that bivy shut, but it was the wind hitting the bivy which prevented sleep. This could be a problem with the Niche. I like a tarp as a wind break these days.

    I didn't understand Terry's numbers. Don't they suggest there would be no condensation inside the bivy? I'm obviously not much of a physicist. Would the humidity have been 99% with the bag open above the mouth and nose? All of my worst experiences with condensation have been in tents. Two up in a Quasar anyone?

    In general, my Cave 1 is excellent in not collecting condensation but I have woken with dew all over my Oware/BPL Epic/silnylon bivy and, in line with Martin's experience, had a dry, down sleeping bag inside. Ditto that night on Snowdon.

    Retro gear is a bit perverse, as most materials and alloys are better now than they were. But it's not totally perverse as too many modern designers just copy what ever's trendy. Also, it brings back memories for us old farts. You have reminded me that the reasons why I decided not to buy a Niche back then are the reasons I should think carefully before buying a fully waterproof bivy and microtarp now. That's quite a few bob you've saved me, Mac E. Cheers.

  10. Hi

    My figures were pointing out that condensation and damp were high in the bivvy - more than I had imagined and therefore would risk my down bag becoming damp (which is not good for long term care). The bivvy was sealed shut, by the way.

    Those figures were based on one of two tests.

    From some info I was given with the bivvy and from what I learned - bivvys are only really ideal for cold dry climes.

    Of which we don't see too often in the UK.

    There are ways around this of course as has been pointed out - and folk will of course point out how they can bivvy in the UK with no problems at all.

    I was just pointing some interesting personal insights out - thats all.

    I've just come back from a 2 nighter spent in the hills and it chucked it down all day on one - but come sunset, it cleared. Having pitched my tent already and noting the now fine weather, I zipped both tent doors back and slept part in the tent and part out with only the starry sky in view as I lay down.


    So, a tent can give you the best of both worlds in a way.

  11. Totally agreed, Terry. I don't know why I so regularly close the doors on a tent when I'm completely happy under an open tarp. At least I don't seal up bivies! And that is almost certainly why my sleeping bag doesn't suffer.

  12. Yeah, well thats the thing - I always plan for the worst case scenario cause I often test gear in it! ;)

    But yes - folk often forget that you don't have to shut up for the night in a tent.

    I figured the other night that if it did start raining - well, it'll wake me up! ;) And so zip the door shut.

    It was really nice I must admit, cooped up in my sleep bag looking up at the I'm reminiscing I want to go back!