As the ice crinkled on my bag and water melted from around my face and dripped into my eyes, I pondered on the fantastic claims many gear manufacturers make about their excellent products.
The great paradox of backpacking gear has always been the balance between weight, comfort and durability; comfort and durability often equal bulk and weight, while a lack of weight and bulk often result in the sacrifice of comfort and durability. As I settled into the SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Escape Lite Bivvy, I hoped that, here, I would find an ideal balance of the three, but it turns out that – at least in this case – you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
The SOL Escape Lite Bivvy is meant to function as either a liner to enhance the warmth of a sleeping bag, as an ultralight summer sleeping bag, or as an emergency shelter. It weighs only 5.5 oz and squishes down small enough to fit into a large coat pocket. The bivvy’s proprietary “Escape” fabric is breathable, weather resistant and reflectively coated on the inside to retain body heat. It is 32” wide by 82” long – large enough to fit you plus a sleeping bag.
On paper, it sounds ideal, but major issues become apparent quickly. The stuff sack is the first problem; it’s so small that every attempt to return the bivvy to it is an epic struggle, a fact which is not helped by the nature of the stuff stack’s materiel, which leads us to the gravest issue of all. The “escape” fabric, responsible for the many miraculous qualities the bivvy is said to have (lightweight, breathable, etc.) is very delicate, so much so that the seams began to rip the first time I crawled into it. This is a major concern in a bivvy sack marketed as a survival shelter; in a survival situation you might very well be forced to shelter in an area with many sharp or abrasive rocks, sticks, pine cones and such. In those conditions, you don’t want to have your shelter rip apart in the middle of the night!
Test 1: Survival
For this test, I braved a late fall rainstorm in the bivvy with nothing more than my clothes and a hooded sweater – standard hiking gear for me. I was unable to pull my head under the bivvy, and the rain seeped in under the upper layer. I might have been warm enough in the high 40s temperatures alone, but after an hour of constant rain, I could feel the damp and the chill setting in, and after about three hours, I bailed (somewhat literally).
Test 2: Cold Weather Liner
For this test I picked a cold, clear night in early November, using the bivvy as a liner for my summer sleeping bag – rated at 32ºF (the liner is advertised as being able to increase a sleeping bags ratings by 15º). Ice formed on the outside of the bivvy, which tells me that there was some insulation going on there, but the ice around the upper edge melted onto my face and head. I made it to dawn, shivering through temperatures that plunged to 22ºF and below. It wasn’t fun, but I believe it was the bivvy that made the cold survivable.
Test 3: Hammock/Sleeping Bag Liner
I started using a hammock for camping last summer, which I found to be colder than sleeping on the ground. I had tried using a space blanket as a liner, but the condensation was such that I woke up soaked. The Escape Lite Bivy sounded like the ideal solution, since it is both insulating and breathable. It performed its job admirably, but was a bit too breathable when a strong night wind kicked up, bringing with it a wind chill of at least 15º below freezing. As this frigid wind whistled around my hammock, I imagined that this must be how a popsicle feels when it is converted from liquid syrup to frozen treat. I was sure that the local bear population would come upon my frigid, immovable body and start munching! In warm summer weather, this bivvy might be very effective as a hammock liner, but it offers little protection from arctic winds.
Test 4: Ultralight Summer Sleeping Bag Simulation
I finally gave up on cold weather survival, and my final test occurred in my basement, which stays an even 52º; a fair estimation of summer nights in the high mountains. With my only protection other than the bivvy bag being a light sweater and my clothing, I was able to keep from getting too cold, though even at this temperature, it was far from comfortable. If you really want to go super, super light, and if you don’t care at all about being wet, cold, and uncomfortable, the Escape Lite Bivvy might be a possible alternative to a traditional sleeping bag.
In conclusion, the SOL escape Lite Bivvy doesn’t live up to its potential. It is not rugged, waterproof, or warm enough to be used for many of its intended purposes. That said, it is not totally useless. It packs down so small and light that it can easily be thrown into a day pack as an emergency shelter. And despite my many complaints, I will likely get some use out of the Escape Lite Bivy as a sleeping bag liner. It is a fine replacement for the large trash sacks I had used previously to keep dirt and moisture off of my sleeping bag. However, $40 is a lot to ask for an emergency bivvy sack or even an ultralight sleeping bag liner that rips as easily as this.Tech Specs: Price: $40.00 Item #: 0140-1227 Materiel: Escape fabric Weight: 5.5oz Dimensions: 32” X 82” Website: http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com/survive-outdoors-longer-escape-litetm-bivvy-1.html