My own passion for camping with a bivy sack has less to do with saving weight and much more to do with its aesthetic appeal. Camping in a bivy sack seems to allow me to more deeply engage with the backcountry experience with simpler gear, greater mindfulness and intentionality in choosing and using my campsite, and the feeling that I'm closer to the natural world rather than separated from it by opaque layers of nylon.
In the old days, before there were many options for lightweight shelters, the bivy sack might have been considered an essential component of a lightweight backpacker's kit. A waterproof bivy sack can be used as a standalone shelter (especially when you pay attention to naturally-available overhead shelter options), or in combination with a small tarp.
The tarp-bivy combo in particular grew in popularity in the lightweight movement as lighter and more breathable materials became available. A small tarp made with Cuben Fiber and ultralight bivy sacks (i.e., those that are water-resistant and highly-breathable and not necessarily appropriate for standalone shelter in inclement conditions) comprise a combination that can easily weigh less than a pound.
When camping with a bivy sack, I prefer to do so without a tarp. In inclement conditions, of course, this requires a bivy sack that is fully waterproof. Many options exist, and are distinguished primarily by the type of floor and upper fabrics, whether or not they have taped seams, and the amount and type of pole structure used to increase livability and interior comfort.
Examples of luxury bivy sacks include the Integral Designs Nestor Bivy and the Nemo GoGo Elite Bivy. These types of bivy sacks include pole structure at both the head and foot end and are more like tiny tents than conventional bivy sacks. They typically weigh in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 lbs.
At the other end of the spectrum are bivy sacks with minimal or no pole structure, such as the Integral Designs eVENT Micro Bivy and the REI Minimalist Bivy. Such minimalist bivy sacks weigh in the range of 1.0 to 1.5 lbs.
It is in this context that we must now consider the Mountain Laurel Designs ("MLD") eVENT Soul Bivy. At 13 oz, the Soul Bivy is not the lightest waterproof bivy sack on the market (e.g., check out the Terra Nova Ultra Bivi which weighs a remarkable 50 g), but to my knowledge, it's the lightest bivy sack available today that provides some important features to the serious bivy sack camper:
- Fully Enclosed - a waterproof zipper system that prevents water entry into the bivy in inclement conditions;
- Highly Breathable - the use of highly-breathable eVENT fabric to minimize condensation (a common challenge with bivy sack camping);
I'll address both weather protection and breathability in this review, but first, let's start with a more detailed description of its feature set.
- Features and Specifications
- Field Use
- Weather Protection
- Product Strengths
- Opportunities for Improvement
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