Gear Review: Macpac Bush Cocoon Bivy Bag

P1030820

This is the first instalment of a long-term test of the Macpac Bush Cocoon. I have only used it for one night so far but I will update this review after I have tested it out in a range of conditions.

Why bivy?

When you want a lightweight solo shelter there are 3 main options:

  1. Tarp
  2. Lightweight 1 man tent (normally double walled)
  3. Bivy bag

If you want it to be tough, provide shelter in nasty weather, be easy to setup and offer protection from bugs and critters you might find yourself considering a bivy bag. It is sort of a high tech, lightweight version of the Aussie swag.

Emergency Bivy vs Hooped Bivy

The most basic bivy bags are little more than a waterproof bag that should keep you alive if things turn pear-shaped. They are cheap, lightweight and you will probably wake up in a pool of condensation.

Then you move into basic bivys made from waterproof/breathable fabrics that offer reduced condensation, higher weight but still a fairly uncomfortable shelter experience. These don’t always offer insect protection and you will have fabric resting on your face when its closed up. These are best suited for emergency, military or occasional use or hard core hikers trying to keep the weight down.

At the top end of the bivy spectrum you get hooped bivys that feature a pole to give you some headroom, insect protection, ventilation and high quality waterproof/breathable fabrics. I am happy to carry a few more grams for a higher level of comfort (and a better night’s sleep) so a hooped bivy is the way to go for me – and it certainly beats carrying my 3kg two person tent on solo trips.

The competition

There are a number of hooped bivys on the market – but arguably the 4 best and most readily available in Australia are:

Product Claimed Weight Top Fabric Pole Access Insect Mesh
Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy 1106g Gore-Tex Respiration Positive 3L Dual Delrin (plastic) Head end Yes
Rab Ridge Raider 1033g eVent 3L DAC 8mm Alum Head end Yes
Macpac Bush Cocoon 970g eVent 3L DAC 9mm Alum Left side Yes
Black Diamond Bipod Bivy 892g ToddTex Easton Alum Top/Right Yes

Is the Bush Cocoon the best hooped bivy out there? I couldn’t say without using the other bags but it seems to tick all the boxes for me.

Key features of the Bush Cocoon

The key features of the Bush Cocoon that are important to me are:

  • Side entry – I haven’t tried the head end entry versions but I expect it is more awkward to get in and out
  • High quality waterproof breathable fabric – you can’t go wrong with eVent.
  • Generous size – this has plenty of room.
  • Low weight
  • Ventilation even when fully zipped up
resized_P1030809
The foot of the bag has a clever socket/mini-sleeve where you can insert a stick to provide some height for your feet when used in conjunction with the attached guy line. I am not sure it’s essential but it is a nice feature.

You don’t need to peg it down in most conditions, but if you do I recommend that you don’t peg out the foot end too tightly as it could impact the height available for your feet inside. So keep it loose.

resized_P1030811
There is a vent at the head end which is well designed and won’t allow rain to get in – even if it’s blowing in sideways. You need to peg it out if you want it to be fully effective.

What you get

resized_IMG_0983
It comes with fabric repair patches and a pole repair sleeve.

Poles and pegs

resized_IMG_0986
7 aluminium pegs. Nothing fancy but they do the job.
resized_IMG_0997
One pre-bent 9mm DAC Featherlite NSL Green pole. It makes the hooped section of the bivy very sturdy – which is not surprising when you consider that 9mm poles are widely used to hold up normal tents but are probably 3 times longer.

Size

Shown next to a 1 litre drink bottle for scale. The compression sack is quite large and you would have no problems stuffing away the bivy bag if you didn’t have the time or conditions to roll it up.

 

resized_IMG_0998
The footprint of the bivy easily accommodates a normal size sleeping mat [Exped Synmat UL M shown 183 x 52 x 7cm]
You can fit a larger mat in here such as the Exped LW mats [197 x 65 x 9cm] but the width of the mat reduces the height available for your feet. I did a home test with my winter sleeping bag and found it was a bit tight and impacted the loft at my feet. If you wanted to pair the Bush Cocoon with a large mat you couldn’t go wrong with the new Exped DownMat Winterlite LW or SynMat Hyperlite LW which are both 197cm long, 9cm high and 65cm wide at the shoulders and tapers to 40cm at the foot end. But most people will be happy with a standard size Thermarest or inflatable mat like Macpac’s Insulated Air Core Standard as a 50ish cm wide mat will give you plenty of foot room even with a big sleeping bag.

resized_P1030831
I am 6ft tall and wear Large and XL clothes and I have plenty of room inside. My feet and head weren’t touching the ends and you can sleep on your side without the bag getting tight.

There is enough room to read a book or play on your phone – but don’t think about doing any cooking inside or entertaining friends.

Weight

resized_IMG_0984

Macpac claim a weight of 970g but I found it to be a bit lighter. Total trail weight of 934g on my uncalibrated kitchen scales includes:

Bivy bag 700g

1 pole in bag 103g

7 pegs in bag 75g

Compression sack 56g

If you are serious about shaving grams I would take the bivy rolled up with a lightweight strap, the pole and 3 pegs for a total of only 836g.

If you were only carrying the bivy bag in case you don’t make it to  a hut – you could also ditch the pole and either tie it up to a tree for some headroom or harden up and deal with the fabric on your face/head. But if you are actually planning to sleep in it I would recommend taking the pole.

Nice Details

resized_IMG_1012
The zips are YKK and smooth running. I didn’t experience any snags (so far). The cord zip pulls might not seem very exciting -but if you have ever spent a night listening to metal zip pulls jingling together in the wind you will appreciate these bits of cord.

There is a few discrete reflective details on the bag – just enough to help you find your camp in the dark – hopefully not enough to give away your position if you are camping somewhere you shouldn’t be.

resized_IMG_1017
The bag is fully seam sealed, and looks just like the inside of an eVent rain jacket. You can also see the mesh of the vent and a loop for securing a small item above your head.

Test – Night 1

Conditions: No wind. No rain. About 5-10 degrees C. Ground very wet. Location: Victorian High Country.

I set up the bivy bag in the rain which only took a few minutes and then it rained steadily for a couple of hours while I was in a hut. By the time I went to bed (if you can call it that) the rain had stopped. It was completely dry inside the bag.

I slept with the insect mesh closed and the door 80% open. I had a pretty decent sleep and had plenty of room to roll around and sleep on my side. At no stage did I feel claustrophobic.

In the morning the inside of the eVent was completely dry from about my knees up. Where there was less airflow down near my feet there was a very small amount of condensation on the eVent- but not enough to dampen the outside of my sleeping bag which was only partly touching the eVent due to the stick holding up the foot of the bivy bag. No water had seeped through the floor.

Maybe it’s a dumb idea but I thought it might be better if the insect mesh was on the outside and the solid eVent door panel was on the inside. Then you can adjust airflow and rain protection during the night without having to unzip the insect mesh?

resized_P1030819
The shape of the bag is asymmetric and the pole is diagonal. It might look a bit unusual but it maximises the internal space in the places you want it (shoulders and above your head).
resized_P1030829
You could sit up and cook some bacon for breakfast while keeping warm in your sleeping bag.

Test – Night 2

P1040099

Conditions: Dead calm. No rain. About 5-10 degrees C. Dry ground. Location: Frenchman’s Cap Tasmania @ 1400m.

When I planned this trip I was expecting the bivy bag might be seriously tested with an exposed night on Frenchman’s Cap.  But the weather couldn’t have been better.  I pegged it out with 3 pegs but didn’t use the foot-stick option. The bivy bag kept me dry from morning dew.

I slept with the insect mesh closed and the door fully open.

Similar to Test night 1, in the morning the inside of the eVent was completely dry from about my knees up. Where there was less airflow down near my feet there was a very small amount of condensation on the eVent- but not enough to dampen the outside of my sleeping bag (which had a water-resistant shell anyway).

While the perfect conditions didn’t allow me to test the Bush Cocoon in terms of it’s technical performance in bad weather – the bivy bag really excelled in terms of weight, pack size, ease of setup, comfort and compact footprint. For this 2 day trip to Frenchman’s Cap the Bush Cocoon was ideal.

Test – Night 3 20160703_Gwinear_024

Conditions: Wind 20-25km/h gusting to 40+km/h. No rain or snow.
0 to 1 degrees C. Firm snow. July 2016.

Location: Mt St Gwinear, Victoria @1500m.

I was really looking forward to testing out the bivy in the snow – partly because I wanted to see how it performed but mostly because I was keen to lighten my normally excessive winter pack weight.

It was moderately windy so I chose a reasonably exposed campsite so I could see how the bivy handled the wind. I put the feet end into the wind and I am pleased to report the bag didn’t really flap around or make any significant noise.

I pegged it out with snow pegs to stop it blowing away while I set it up – but there was only a few inches of snow and the pegs were partly in the dirt.

20160703_Gwinear_019

Given the location of the integrated pump on my Exped mat [Synmat 7M for this trip] it would be quite awkward to inflate the mat inside the bivy so I inflated it on top of the bivy before I inserted the pole. This worked well for me but it it was raining you might want a different program.

20160703_Gwinear_060

The bivy seemed a bit more snug on this trip since much of the internal space was taken up by 900 grams of goose down.  I didn’t use the foot-stick-pole option. I still had plenty of room in the head area but from the waist down me and my sleeping bag took up most of the internal volume. I was still able to sleep comfortably on my back, sides and front.

A bonus feature of a side zip is the ability to answer the call of nature during the night without having to get out of your sleeping bag and tent. Utilising this feature would be more difficult for ladies or anyone who has the zip on the right hand side of their sleeping bag.

20160703_Gwinear_052

I was surprised by how well protected I was inside the bivy. I had quite mild weather conditions (for the high country in winter) but by the time I had been skiing for a couple of hours in the dark I was keen to get inside the bivy. Setting the bivy up only takes minutes – but it took me a while to organise my clothes and gear – something that I would normally do inside the tent but is more difficult in a bivy. I started getting a bit cold and was relieved to get out of the wind and retire just before 11pm.

20160703_Gwinear_058

I managed condensation by keeping the zip partly open near my head. It was a balance between my desire for fresh air while keeping out the worst of the cold wind that was chilling my face. When I got up about 8 hours later I found that the inside of the eVent fabric was damp but not dripping, both near my head where there was respiration and ventilation – and along my body where there was little/no ventilation. My winter sleeping bag has a Pertex Endurance shell which was damp but not wet – but in fairness to the bivy bag I normally find most of the shell a little damp when snow camping in a tent. And most tent campers would be familiar with having the feet end of their sleeping bag damp in the morning from contacting the moist tent inner. I am no expert on dew points, water vapour and condensation – but I expect that some condensation is to be expected in any bivy bag in some conditions – and eVent is reportedly one of if not the best fabrics to minimise condensation. Perhaps if you live somewhere drier and colder then condensation is less of an issue?

For one or two nights, the amount of condensation I experienced would be no problem and if you have a newer sleeping bag with water repellent down (mine doesn’t) then a bit of condensation isn’t likely to worry you. For a multi day trip you might want to try and dry out your sleeping bag and bivy bag during the day if conditions permit. The floor of the bivy did a good job of keeping the snowy moisture on the outside.

So I had a comfortable night’s sleep in the bivy bag. Sure it would have been nice to have the interior space of a tent – but when you consider the 2kg weight saving (over my 2 man, 4 season tent) and the ease of setup a it makes the Bush Cocoon a very attractive option.

I think that the best use of the Bush Cocoon for me will be:

  • Lightweight/fast solo trips
  • Snow camping where there is a nearby hut to cook and hangout – and just sleep in the bivy
  • Trips where you plan to stay in a hut – but need to carry a shelter in case the hut is full or you can’t make it
  • Summer trips in nice weather where you will spend most of your time outside the tent/bivy bag.

I don’t think it would be fun to wait out a storm for a whole day inside a bivy bag as you would feel cramped and can’t cook or organise your gear. But in an emergency situation in cold weather I reckon this bivy bag could save your life.

The verdict

I will reserve judgement until I have tried it out a few more times – but my initial thoughts are that this is a cleverly designed piece of gear that is well suited for solo trips. I am looking forward to seeing how it handles snow and rain and will be updating this gear review over the next year or so.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts you want to share on your bivy bag experiences.

For the official specs and info check out:

http://www.macpac.com.au/bush-cocoon.html

http://www.macpac.co.nz/bush-cocoon.html

Note: Macpac supplied the bivy bag for evaluation purposes.

 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Gear Review: Macpac Bush Cocoon Bivy Bag”

  1. Thanks for the reviews. Just bought one for a brevet style bike trip through the NZ North Island. Chose it for pretty much the same reasons as you – lighter than my MacPac Microlite and more comfortable than my Vaude bivvy bag. Only used it one night in the end but agree with your analysis. It was a mild night and I got a bit of surface dampness on my feet. Found there was enough space to stash a little bit of kit at the head end. To stash it on the bike I had the tent rolled in the Exped mattress in a dry bag and carried the pole and 5 pegs separately on the bike. I note it comes on and off the MacPac catalogue so availability can be an issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s