Q: I've been thinking about switching to a binocular bivy system. I know the main benefit to using this type of harness is that it provides better protection for your optics. What are some other benefits? Also, with so many on the market, which one should I choose? J. Munoz, via e-mail
A: The advantages to using a bivy system are many. As you said, it provides full protection for your binoculars against harsh weather, dust, and trail brush.
However, a well-designed bivy keeps your optics close to your chest as well, so you can hustle and jog without worry of your optics swinging around your neck or chest.
This also improves stalking and crawling ability — no more dragging binoculars into the dirt, rocks, or mud. Glassing in the wind is improved, too. Many elastic chest-strap systems tend to flap around in high winds when binoculars are extended to the eyes, causing flutter and vibration that prevents solid viewing. With a bivy system, the tether straps are narrow and thin, and resist catching in the breeze.
Another small advantage is that the majority of bivy systems include small pockets or compartments to secure ancillary gear such as calls, wind-checker, hunting license, and rangefinder.
Deciding which system to purchase can be difficult, since there are many quality models on the market. However, as with any type of hunting gear, the system must be ultra-quiet, functional, and provide carrying comfort, particularly in warm weather and when shouldering a pack.
I’ve used several versions, and each has its pros and cons. Some models provide additional protection against the elements by encapsulating the optics in fabric or padded material, while others offer less protection to aid in faster access to your binoculars. Great examples of full-protection systems include KUIU’s PRO Bino Harness, Sitka’s Bino Bivy, Alaska Guide’s Bino Chest Pack, and ALPS OutdoorZ’s Extreme Bino Harness. The S4Gear Lockdown X is a great example of a hybrid-type design, where the binoculars are not fully enveloped in material, yet the system provides solid protection for the optics’ exposed lenses.
The new PRO Bino Harness ($99) from KUIU has a moldable case opening and stackable “shims,” allowing you to custom-fit the case to your binoculars and optimize the height at which they are positioned, so you can extract them with ease. The overlapped lid folds forward, and it can be opened and closed silently with one hand. Two side pockets have easy access elastic openings, and the outer material is quiet and, of course, waterproof.
I recently field-tested Sitka’s new Mountain Optics Harness ($149), and I really liked what I found. First off, it provides fully padded protection with a silent magnetic flap. This is a big plus, as now you can pull the optics in and out of the pocket with complete ease using only one hand. I often leave the flap open when glassing repeatedly, such as when tiptoeing the final yards of a stalk. The flap will bend and tuck out of the way. Another great benefit is its special fabric, which the company designed to be as whisper-quiet as possible.
The harness is outfitted with super-thin, low-profile straps, so it rides completely unobstructed with your pack on. When surveying a number of serious hunters, Sitka found that some preferred additional pockets on a binocular harness, while others did not. With that in mind, Sitka tried to satisfy all by creating removable pouches.
While testing this system during a late-season mule deer hunt, I found it easy to get on and off. The straps and buckles are very strong and lightweight. I also liked the main chassis’ zippered stash pocket that rides against your chest — it’s perfect for storing a hunting license, big-game tag, and small knife. There’s also a hidden lens cloth in the main optics pocket.
Overall, if you’ve been shopping for a bino-bivy system and can’t seem to find one that fulfills every requirement, I’d urge you to take a hard look at the ones I’ve mentioned here.