(OR Helium) Bivy under Stars

Review: Outdoors Over Night with Outdoor Research’s Helium Bivy

Going by other reviews I’ve seen, there seems to be quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the Pertex Shield “Helium Bivy” from Outdoor Research.

I can add quibbles of my own, and I think I sound less than excited (and less excited than I am with it) in my video review…

… but the ultimate verdict is this: I have yet to find another bivy that is so functional in such a small and light package; and had I not had the Helium Bivy, I would have missed the nights on the mountains I experienced and thoroughly enjoyed through the last year.

The winter isn’t great for bivouacking (especially as my sleeping bag isn’t great for it), but I’m sure there’ll be more nights outdoors to come, with that same bivy.

I have had some small tents and another bivy that is somewhat similar to Outdoor Research’s, but they have long since gone out of use for their weight and hassle alone.

(Three poles, more than 2 lbs. of weight?… Yeah, not for my light-and-fast at-home-making tours.)

The Outdoor Research Helium Bivy, in contrast, is so light and packs so small that it can work with a 20 liter running pack.

It easily fits in the 40l Arrakis backpack that has become my lesson in minimalist hiking and travel all in and of itself, and the pack I always take when I move into the mountains for longer than just a few hours (but that’s a different story).

The “problem” I’ve seen with the Helium Bivy is that it’s either closed near-completely (when it can – logically, it’s still basically a bivy sack – get rather claustrophobic) or it lets the mesh netting over the entrance fall on one’s face, which doesn’t feel right and would make it possible for mosquitoes to bite right through.

There have, of course, also been issues with condensation, but those are the same I’ve seen with a Gore-Tex bivy (just fewer) and with tents, whenever they couldn’t be ventilated too well. And of course, sometimes, they just have to be closed – and I used the bivy in places and at times where I wouldn’t have gone and pitched a tent.

(OR Helium) Bivy under Stars
(OR Helium) Bivy under Stars

That’s just the thing.

The bivy would stay in form better if I simply brought two tent stakes, let alone if I also fixed its apex to something.
(There is a loop up there, on the top of the curve formed by the one ‘tent pole’ keeping the ‘roof’ suspended above one’s head – if it doesn’t fall closed because it’s not fixed to anything. I did support it with one of my trekking poles at times, and that already worked quite well…)

However, I just didn’t pitch it so much as get it ready in the dark and crawl into it for a few hours of sleep when that became really necessary.

When sleep really became necessary, with praise for the Pertex Shield material used in Outdoor Research’s Helium Bivy, but also their Helium II jacket (which I reviewed here) and e.g. Montane’s Minimus jacket and pants, I have also found myself sleeping off the side of a forest road during an ultramarathon, just wrapped into jacket and pants…

Having gone out and up a mountain to cross that over night and hopefully see the “blood moon” from up there, not having properly pitched the bivy had the advantage that I could stay swaddled in my sleeping bag, in the bivy, and turn everything and myself around to face other directions.

That way, I could keep myself warm(er) bivouacking beside some of the first snow patches of the year, while getting my camera into better positions for astrophotography.

Bivy on the Sarstein
Bivy on the Sarstein, Obertraun below, Dachstein in the distance, ‘eclipting’ moon above

With the Helium bivy, I went to another mountain peak and staid over night to enjoy the view of the stars and the sunrise.

Morning View from Bivy
Morning View from Bivy

All in all, then, the conditions the Outdoor Research Helium bivy provides for its user are not perfect – but if you want perfect comfort, you should be in a five-star hotel, not in a bivy.

For the intents and purposes of a bivy, for light-and-fast adventures and adventurings to make oneself more at home, however, OR’s Helium bivy is a great piece of gear to grab and go.

Hiking in the Höllengebirge
Hiking in the Höllengebirge

OR bivies, including the Helium, are available from REI and Backcountry.com, for example – and if you buy any following these links, you’ll help me get a commission and be able to get out more (and review more things for you).

Thank you!

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