Bombproof shelter. Comfortable as a Bivy, Uncomfortable as a Tent
I bought the Black Diamond Tripod Bivy specially to use on my winter trip to Ladakh. I wanted the bivy for 2 main reasons.
- First. I read online that a bivy sack can add some 7 to 10 degrees (C) of warmth inside the shelter. My sleeping bag was rated to only 0F (-18C) and i was worried that it might not be enough to keep me warm in the extreme cold of the Ladakhi winters. I could not afford to buy a new -30 C or -40C sleeping bag. So I bought the Tripod Bivy for 160$, hoping that its added warmth would help me.
- Second. My other tent was rated only for 3 seasons. I wanted a true 4 season shelter inorder to survive in the Ladakh winter. And once again, owing to my budget constrains, I could not buy a proper 4 season tent and settled on this bivy instead.
I took the Tripod Bivy to Ladakh this winter (Feb 14 to Mar 31 2015). I used the Bivy to camp in Hanle, Tsomoriri lake and in Puga. Overall I spent close to 2 weeks camping in the bivy and what follows is an account of my experiences using the bivy.
Pitching and Getting In and Out
One of the common complaints about the Black Diamond Tripod Bivy is that it can be a bit hard to setup. It is true, setting up the bivy can be a bit tricky the first few times. But with practise it does get easier. I'am sharing the pitching instructions from the manual along with a few of my notes.
- (1) There are three poles. One short, one long and one middle length. The short pole with two arch connectors goes at the foot end under the black awning with the ends inserted into the stake out loop grommets.
- (2) The mid-length pole (with an arch connector near one end) is inserted thru a small reinforced hole at the peak of the bivy under the door awning. Insert the long end into the pole pocket at the head end inside the bivy. Leave the short end loose for now.
- (3) The long pole (with one arch connector in the middle) is inserted through the slots at the bottom of the awning with the arch connector at the peak of the bivy under the door awning and the ends inserted into the grommets.
- Now insert the short end of the mid-length pole into the grommet at the end of the door awning.
- Three stakes anchor the bivy to the ground. Two at the head and one at the bottom. For extra stability stake out the other four loops as well.
Issue : Inserting the poles into the pole pocket and into the grommets needed some finger dexterity and I often had to remove my gloves to accomplish this task, exposing my hands to the cold. So for me, this is a negative.
Getting in and out of the bivy can be tricky at first as well. But with regular it will get easier and soon become a non issue. I believe that everyone with develop their own system of entering and exiting the bivy, based on their body type and their flexibility.
Strength and Stability
With its low profile, the Bibler tripod bivy can handle very high winds with ease. You can see in the above video, the bivy handled the blizzard like winds of Ladakh with ease. Properly staked, I believe that the bivy can easily handle any kind of bad weather that mother nature can throw at it.
The three-layer ToddTex fabric is very strong and cannot be easily cut or torn. When we were camping in Hanle a couple of dogs ripped open my friend’s Quechua tent to get at the food inside. After that incident my friend was very wary about leaving his tent alone, but i had no such reservations as I knew that the tough ToddTex fabric would keep the dogs at bay.
We have established that the Black diamond tripod bivy is a reliable bomb proof shelter. But what about its camping comfort? Could you camp out of multiple days with the tripod bivy as your sole shelter. That too in inclement weather conditions.
My short answer is no. It is not a practical shelter. Especially when the weather turns bad.
You saw the video of the storm above. The blizzard blew for over 24 hours straight. Imagine cooking out in the open in that weather. Forget cooking. We had to melt snow for our drinking water. My MSR dragonfly stove does not work properly even in a slight breeze, I could never get it working in a blizzard like this.
I would have been severely dehydrated, if i was camping alone with the tripod bivy in those conditions. Luckily my friend had a different tent and we used its vestibule to do all our cooking and melting water.
Also in heavy rain or snow, getting in and out of the bivy would be a major issue. You would let in a lot water or snow and could end up getting your sleeping bag wet. A wet sleeping bag is no fun. Trust me.
Condensation in the Extreme Cold
I had to deal with a lot of condensation. Condensation in terms of ice crystals that formed when the warm moist air from my breath hit the walls of the bivy. The outside temperatures were so cold that when the moist air hit the walls of the bivy it froze instantly.
The entire inner surface of the bivy near door opening and along the side walls (I'am a side sleeper) would be covered with ice crystals and they would fall on my face and into the sleeping bag whenever i moved and shook the bivy a bit.
I believe that this problem is unavoidable in single walled shelters like this. By my reckoning even double walled shelters should suffer from this ice crystal formation in extreme cold conditions.
To summarise. The tripod bivy is sturdy and can handle any weather conditions. It is quite comfortable for a bivy sack. I would recommend it for these reasons alone.
My major issue, and the reason why I may not use it again, was that It was difficult for me to operate my stove in the open without any protection from the elements.
The tripod bivy is a specialised piece of gear. To use it properly, you would need to pair it with other specialised cooking and camping equipment. For example, the MSR Reactor Stove system is designed to work in extreme cold and windy conditions. So it would be a better fit to go camping with the tripod bivy instead of the MSR dragonfly stove. Also a tarp like the MSR e-wing would help keep the wind and the rain out for cooking. But then the combined weight of the tarp and the bivy would be about 1.6kgs and you would be better served with a different shelter like the Hilleberg Akto.
I made the mistake of assuming that the Black Diamond Tripod bivy would fit in with the rest of my gear. It did not work out for me. But it doesn't mean that it would not work out for everyone else. Just make sure that you have the right equipment to go with the bivy and you will not be sorry.