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Bivy Stick For Hikers:
Pros and Cons For
Communication On The Trail

By Diane Spicer

Communicate with folks back home while on a hike using a Bivy Stick. But it's not for every hiker. Find out why. #bivystick #hikingsafety #hikingSOS #backpacking #satellitecommunication

The Bivy Stick for hikers solves some communication problems you might face on a trail.

But it doesn't solve all of them.

Let's take a look at this technology to see if it's right for your hiking plans.

What's a Bivy Stick?

It looks like this:

Yup, it's a stick.

And it's designed to work with your cell phone to eliminate the problem of uncertainty, or lack, of network coverage when you're hiking.

It does so by communicating with an overhead network of satellites, meaning if you can get lined up to see the open sky, you can send or receive messages using your cell phone as an interface. 

Hiking For Her is a Bivy Stick affiliate and will earn a small commission if you purchase. It costs you nothing extra, and you receive the detailed information and tips you're about to read free and clear!

Detailed Hiking For Her review coming soon

Notice the sync cable, to connect to Android or iOS mobile devices.

Bluetooth connection is also an option.  

Also note that you can attach the Bivy to the inside of your backpack for storage so it's always handy, or clip it to the outside when you want to communicate.

  • The carabiner and lanyard are there to give you attachment options.

But the Stick does more than send and receive messages. It can recharge your phone if needed, and it can help you navigate.

But before we get into features, it's time for a close look at the specs.

Bivy Stick specifications

The Bivy Stick's specifications for size and weight won't horrify you unless you're an ultralighter:

  • Dimensions: 1 5/8 inches  x  1 1/8 inches
  • Weight: 7 ounces

If size and weight are absolute sticking points for you, there are smaller, lighter devices on the market:

However, before you make a binding choice, the interface and satellite coverage reliability should also be compared in addition to the initial cost of the device and its ongoing operational costs.  

More weighty thoughts

If you always have your cell phone along on a hike (photos, GPS app, downloaded maps, music), the additional 7 ounces for the Stick shouldn't be a deal breaker unless you are a ruthless ounce counter (and you know who you are, so stop reading).

Do your weight research before you commit to any satellite communication device!

More specs you need to know
about the Bivy Stick for hikers

You want reliable battery life.

  • 5200 mAh battery
  • Charge lasts up to 400 hours or 1-2 re-charges of your smartphone (not verified by Hiking For Her)
  • Holds a charge up to 3 months when power is turned off

The price might give you pause: hundreds of dollars.

  • You can check the current price here.

It's an investment piece of hiking gear, that's for sure.

Do you really need one?

Let's find out!

Purpose of carrying
a Bivy Stick

You're thinking "Communication, duh!"

Indeed, the Bivy Stick allows you to communicate with other human beings, or your very talented dog at home on the couch, via cell phones.

  • A smart phone allows you to tap into a powerful network of 60+ communication satellites circling the globe.

Let's look a little harder at the ways hikers might need to communicate using this technology.

Just say no to SAR,
until you have to say yes

One of the prime directives of a hiker is to stay found and safe, no matter what.

But sometimes life on the trail takes a darker turn, and you need to set into motion a Search And Rescue operation for yourself or a trail buddy.

The Bivy Stick saves time because you initiate a search directly with local authorities, rather than waiting for someone back home (your dog?) to notice that you've missed your return window.

This saves critical chunks of time when you're dealing with an injury, or you happen to find yourself in a perilous situation that is getting worse.

Everyone knows what's up

Here's another reason for carrying the Bivy Stick for hikers.

You might have nervous loved ones wondering where you are on the trail, and whether you've reached your intended destination.

  • If you can be tracked, you give them a powerful tool to deal with anxiety. It's humane to eliminate worry, isn't it?

And if you've been on the trail any length of time, you know that plans change.

  • If your rendezvous time is delayed, you can communicate directly with your hiking buddies to let them know what's up
  • If the campsite you planned on is already occupied or unavailable due to a flood, wind storm blow downs, or some other natural event, your location will show up and everyone will know the score.

Keep the peace

Satellite communication is a wonderful way to keep your friends, and hang onto amicable relationships with your family.

  • Is it just me with some mighty upset folks waiting on me at one spot while I was in an entirely different spot, thanks to a misunderstanding?
  • Am I the only hiker scrolling through a pile of text messages once I get back to cell phone coverage, asking me where the *!X# I was all day?

What I'm getting at:

Can you put a price on peace of mind & peaceful relations?

What your investment in a
Bivy Stick for hikers will buy

Here's the list:

  • versatility: communication, recharging, navigation
  • known interface
  • pay as you go
  • weather updates on the fly

Now let's tackle each of them.

Versatile communication options
with a Bivy Stick for hikers

If communication is the aim of a device, you want it to cover all of your bases, everywhere, all the time, and in a red hot hurry.

  • Not asking for much, are you?

With the Stick, not only can you send a text message on your phone, you can also receive a text wherever you are on the planet as long as you have an unobstructed view of the sky.

Folks back home can receive your text, or find your location, via text message or social media channels.

And if you get into trouble and need assistance, an SOS message can be sent to establish a dialog with first responders directly, without going through a third party.

  • Speed + efficiency are the most compelling reasons to pay for this device, in my humble opinion.

As already mentioned, this device allows you to coordinate with other hikers for rendezvous times and locations on the trail, or to arrange for help or get advice from them.

The app is the key

On a hike, you'll need the free app loaded onto your phone, of course, along with Bluetooth capability.

So will everyone else in your hiking group.

  • Make sure your phones have room for it, and the juice to run it along with the dozens of other apps you have. 

You're already familiar with your own device's screen and keyboard, so there's no learning curve except for navigation of the app.

  • No tiny little keyboards that are nearly impossible to use with cold fingers.
  • No small screens that are hard to read in bright daylight.

Instead, use the Bivy app and a large screen interface you're already familiar with, and bingo! you're in the business of communicating.

Your contacts are always accessible. 


This sounds obvious, but take the Bivy Stick out of the barrier of your backpack when you intend to use it.

In order to do your bidding, it needs to seek those satellites!

Payment for services rendered

Now we get to the heart of the matter.

Satellite communication costs money!

So what will it cost you to use the Bivy Stick for hikers?

You are charged to send and receive messages, but you don't have an annual contract. 

  • That's in stark contrast to using some of the other satellite communication devices on the market.

Instead, you're on a monthly credit system, which you set up according to your hiking itinerary or trip schedule.

When you activate your device (that's free, by the way), you purchase 10 credits for $17.99.

This buys access to the satellite network for 30 days.

  • You can also purchase unlimited credits for $59.99/month if you've got a really wild adventure coming up.


Think of credits in terms of actions: one message sent or received, 1 location share, 1 weather report, 1 tracking hour.

Let's say you have a big hiking trip coming up soon but won't be doing much trail time until then.

  • Purchase enough credits for the month of your trip, letting the device sit unused until you need it.
  • Don't feel pressured to use it, because there are no annual contract fees chugging along.

Just remember to buy enough credits before you leave!

  • Put it on your checklist :)

The backup plan

What if, after all of your careful estimating, you run out of credits mid-hike, maybe in an emergency when a flurry of texts are required?

You can still send and receive texts, 50 cents per message.

Yes, buying credit packs ahead of time is cheaper.

But until you're in a real emergency and know the value of time, you won't believe me when I say that 50 cents is trivial when you need to communicate your status.

What you're actually paying for

You're paying for personal access to the Iridium LEO satellite network, which covers most of the globe. (LEO is Low Earth Orbit)

This is mind blowing when you sit down and think about it: you're trackable anywhere on the planet.

Benefits for you?

  • Great coverage regardless of where you roam (unless you go somewhere remarkably remote or with no open sky)
  • Strong signal when compared to other networks
  • Direct communication channel with anyone you choose
  • SOS response capability

Bonus: You can use credits to download weather reports.

  • Useful in areas unfamiliar areas, or when conditions are constantly variable or deteriorating.

Only you can decide if this is an affordable option to provide communication capability on your hikes.

Remember, if you don't hike on a regular basis, the Stick won't ding you for fees while you are off the trail.

Navigation features

The Bivy app offers a map database with access to 40K+ trails, waterways and climbing routes. This could potentially eliminate carrying a GPS device, if you are thorough in your pre-hike research.

As you might expect, you can put in waypoints as jumping off points for future explorations.

You can also:

  • track mileage and pace along with elevation
  • mark your favorite locations
  • leave yourself breadcrumbs to retrace your steps when you're on unfamiliar routes

Because safe navigation is dependent upon weather conditions, having access to weather forecasts in the field is also a plus.

If you're using your cell phone for navigation (GPS app or preloaded maps) or photography, you can recharge it with your stick. Remember to bring the cable!

BivyStick for communication while hikingPhotos courtesy of BivyStick

Weatherproof case: is it?

When I'm relying on an electronic piece of gear to get me out of a jam, I always encase it in its own waterproof case (okay, sometimes just a plastic bag) and give it a place of honor in a dry bag within my backpack until I need it.

Sounds like overkill?

It might be, if you haven't hiked in the soggy Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, B.C. - all of my favorite hiking spots. (Read more here.)

In the case of using a Bivy Stick for communication, make that two electronic devices which need to be kept viable in dirty, wet, or extreme temperature conditions.

My cell phone already has its own waterproof case which is touch screen compatible.

My Bivy Stick for hikers review will go into the case details (coming soon) and tell you if I double bag it.

Customer service

When you purchase a Bivy Stick, it's not over. You need to keep interacting with the company to purchase credits.

A few things to know:

Your account can be canceled without penalty at any time. 

  • But if you're planning to use the Stick again soon, keep it active with the monthly base plan so your unused credits roll over.

The device carries a 1 year warranty.

You may return it within 90 days for any reason.

Drawbacks to the Bivy Stick

Every piece of technology a hiker carries has drawbacks.

A Bivy stick for hikers is no exception.

Here are a few things that might give you pause.

The sky is your communication lifeline

If you're going to carry a satellite communication device of any kind, ask yourself:

  • Will I ever be in terrain which blocks my view of the sky?
  • Is my route primarily in dense vegetation, unrelenting forests, deep canyons or valleys, and/or rocky overhangs?
  • Am I a good tree climber or rock scrambler?

In reality, you need
four things to communicate

Not only do you need an open view of the sky, you also have to carry the Bivy Stick, plus your cell phone with the app, in order to get or send messages.

You also must know how to use the app, and how to quickly send an SOS message (there is no panic button in bright red letters on your phone).

Is that too much for you?

All charged up and activated?

That's another question to ask yourself before you leave for the trail.

When you first receive your Bivy Stick, you'll have to activate it and purchase credits. 

Both your cell phone, and the Bivy Stick, need to be fully charged if you plan to rely on them for communication.

  • Ready to add another USB cable to your life?
  • And add another pre-hike box on your checklist?

Cost considerations

Bivy Stick does not require a long term commitment via a contract.

You skip an activation fee, but need to maintain an active monthly account at the price of $17.99. In return, you get 10 more credits which will roll over as long as your account is active.

So the initial non-trivial cost of the device, plus your credit fees, need to be added into your hiking budget.

Don't forget to factor in intangibles like peace of mind, peaceful relationships with loved ones who don't hike, and safety.

Adjust your expectations

The near instant sending of a message when you're sitting at home isn't realistic when you're on a hike and using this device.

It can take tens of minutes for your message to be delivered, depending on what the satellites are doing.

So don't panic if you don't instantly get a reply. This bears repeating: you're not in your local coffee shop, so take a deep breath.

Familiarize yourself
before you need to use it

The cell phone app you need is free and easy to install on your phone, whether Android or iOS.

If you're going to rely on this technology, you owe it to yourself to be conversant with the app.

  • Sit down and give yourself a tour.
  • Make mental note of the features you're most concerned with.
  • Know how to get an SOS message out, if nothing else.

Is a Bivy Stick right
for your style of hiking?

If you're a hiker who loves established trails through well traveled areas, do you need to carry a Bivy Stick?

  • While cell phone coverage is not guaranteed, in busy hiking areas it might be available.
  • You don't need to put in waypoints because you're on an established route.
  • A phone app can give you GPS coordinates and record your pacing and distance.

Ask yourself: are you willing to rely upon the kindness of strangers?

  • Assess your comfort level of a Plan B if you get in trouble and need to get a message out: another hiker who happens along in a few moments (or hours) AND has communication with the outside world.

Decisions, decisions:
who needs a Bivy Stick?

If you're a back country, off trail hiker, only you can decide if you're headed into territory that increases your risks while decreasing the odds of a Good Samaritan rescue.

If you're a hiker who prides herself on self sufficiency, a Bivy Stick puts you firmly in control of your communication options, giving you a back door to bail if things get out of control.

Do you like to remain in constant contact with your kids, friends, older family members via text?

Solo hikers, here's some tough love: always have a way to get help if you need it. 

Older hikers, could it be time to add a satellite communication option to your gear list to increase your safety margin?

Maybe the Bivy Stick is your solution.

Maybe it's not: other solutions here and here.

Bivy Stick for hikers:
a final word

It's designed to make communication on a hike reliable and easy.

  • But as with everything in life, there are drawbacks along with the convenience.

Now you have the information you need to make a final decision about this type of satellite communication device, thumbs up or down.

Safety as a hiker is important, so don't neglect your ability to quickly communicate your location and status.

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