There are three different types of ultralight bug shelters suitable for cowboy camping, sleeping in a lean-to, or underneath a flat tarp: bivy sacks, bug bivies, and net tents. They all have their pros and cons, but that’s true of all ultralight backpacking gear. While bivy sacks are confining, they provide excellent insect protection. Bug bivies usually offer more living space, but are generally harder to get in and out of and must be used with a tarp or trekking poles. Net tents offer the most living space, but also tend to be the heaviest option. For a deeper discussion of these considerations and tradeoff, see our Ultralight Bug Shelter Selection Guide below.
With these factors in mind, here are our top 10 recommended bug shelters for ultralight backpacking:
|Make / Model||Weight||Opening|
|Katabatic Gear Pinon Bivy||7.3 oz / 207g||Top|
|Borah Ultralight Bivy||5.0 oz / 142 g||Chest|
|Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy||5.5 oz / 156 g||Side|
|Paria Outdoor Breeze Bivy||13 oz / 369g||Top|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 Insert||14.8 oz / 419g||Side|
|Mountain Laurel Designs Bug Bivy||6.5 oz / 184g||Top|
|Six Moon Designs Serenity Net Tent||11 oz / 312g||Side|
|Outdoor Research Bug Bivy||16 oz / 454g||Front|
|SlingFin SplitWing Mesh Body||11.2 oz / 318g||Front|
|Yama Mountain Gear 1P Bug Shelter||9.3 oz / 272g||Front|
1. Katabatic Gear Pinon Bivy
2. Borah Gear Ultralight Bivy
3. Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack
4. Paria Outdoor Breeze Mesh Bivy
5. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid Half 2 Insert
6. Mountain Laurel Designs Bug Bivy
7. Six Moon Designs Serenity Net Tent
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Six Moon Designs
8. Outdoor Research Bug Bivy
9. SlingFin SplitWing Mesh Body
10. Yama Mountain Gear 1P Bug Shelter
Ultralight Bug Shelter Selection Guide
Bug Shelter Types: Pros, and Cons
Ultralight bug shelters can be bivy sacks (intended for warm weather use), bug bivies, or net tents. You can also repurpose the inner tent of a double-wall tent although it will be much heavier and awkward to use in more constrained spaces.
Ultralight bivy sacks do not have waterproof tops because they intended to be used in dry conditions under a separate waterproof shelter in non-winter conditions. Most have mesh hoods for insect protection and comfort with a solid, highly breathable fabric, covering the torso and legs. A waterproof floor is often included as convenience along with a zipper or drawstring closure. Grosgrain loops are usually included to suspend the mesh overhead with cord and to stake out the bivy sack corners. Bivy sacks made entirely with mesh tops can be problematic because insects can bite through the mesh if you are sleeping on top of your quilt or sleeping bag in hot weather instead of inside or under them.
- Provide wind and splashback protection under tarps. (Splashback is when water bounces off the ground near a tarp and back at you.)
- Good for insect and dew protection when cowboy camping under the stars.
- Easy to use in a lean-to because they can be suspended from rafters and take no additional room.
- Provide inflatable sleeping bag protection when a pad is used inside bivy sack.
- They can be used like a sheet for insect protection in hot weather.
- More claustrophobic than alternatives
- Low to the ground so less waterproof against pooling water
Bug bivies (not to be confused by all mesh bivy sacks that some manufacturers call bug bivies) are similar to bivy sacks but have sidewalls and must be suspended overhead using trekking poles or an overhead shelter. They’re usually offered with a waterproof floor. Many come with top zippers on the ridgeline which can be a little difficult to get in and out of depending on your stand and ability to balance while stepping out of them.
- More living space
- Must be suspended at the ends using trekking poles or covering tarp
- Higher sidewalls provide better insect and water protection.
- Top door access can be awkward.
- Heavier than a bivy sack.
- More difficult to use in a crowded lean-to.
Net tents are the equivalent of an inner tent from a double-wall tent but are usually designed to be set up using trekking poles and staked out at the corners. instead. Net tents have waterproof floors and a zippered entrance. If you are planning to combine a net tent with a tarp, it’s important to make sure that the door locations align properly for ease of access.
- Lots of headroom so you can sit up inside and change clothing.
- Heavier than bivy sacks or bug bivies.
- More difficult to use in a crowded lean-to, especially if they have a side door.
On bivy shelters with zippers, it’s often more convenient to have a side zipper or one at the head end than a zipper that runs lengthwise down the center. If you’re sleeping under a tarp, there’s going to be limited headroom underneath it, particularly in inclement weather when it’s pitched low to the ground for more wind and rain protection. Bivy sacks with side zippers and big bivies with end doors are easier to get out of compared to bivy sacks with center zippers or bug bivies with top zippers in the ridgeline.
Bathtub Floor and Sidewall Depth
If you have to sleep on top of your sleep insulation on hot nights, insects can still bite you through the mesh if you come in contact with it. If you sleep on a 2″, 3″, or 4″ high inflatable pad, you might consider choosing a shelter with higher sidewalls made with solid insect-proof fabric instead of mesh,
When choosing a bivy sack, try to get one with a highly breathable top fabric to help reduce the chance of internal condensation inside the bivy back. Avoid buying a bivy sack with a waterproof/breathable top fabric for warm weather use because they’re much more prone to internal condensation.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
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