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Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW

Single wall? Double wall? With eVENT and silnylon, the Sarvis may offer the best of both.

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by Alan Dixon | 2005-06-15 03:00:00-06

Overview

Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW - 1
The Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight eVENT tent is a three plus-season tent perfect for a spring ski trip. Similar to the Big Agnes Seedhouse series but larger, and with an additional crossover center pole, the Sarvis is exceptionally stable and storm worthy for a 4 pound free standing tent.

Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW - 2
Stable. The Big Agnes Sarvis pitched and battened down on some ultra-comfortable duff in a stand of pines near the AT, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia. About an hour after this photo was taken the Sarvis weathered violent thunderstorms and powerful wind gusts without the slightest difficulty. The center crossover pole and strategic side tie-outs on the front and middle poles and fly edges all contribute to a strong and stable pitch.

Big Agnes sees their new Sarvis series as a slightly larger version of their popular Seedhouse series of tents. Where the Seedhouse SL2 can be a bit cramped, the Sarvis SL2+ has room for two campers and all their gear. The Sarvis SL2+ has 4.5 square feet more floor area and 8 inches more peak height. In addition Sarvis tents have "a unique hybrid construction, combining the weight savings of single wall with the flexibility and ventilation of double wall." The single walled eVENT rear panels and front double walled portion of the tent along with three strategic vents do a good job of minimizing condensation. One of the joys of the Big Agnes Sarvis is its roll back fly, which affords excellent views and fresh air even with threatening weather.

I see the Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT as more than a larger Seedhouse. Not only is it a hybrid between single and double walled tents, it is also a hybrid between three and four season tents. It is exceptionally stable and storm worthy for a 4-pound shelter. Perfect applications for the Sarvis SL2+ would be a spring ski trip, an early or late season winter trip in windy and iffy weather, or even light mountaineering (not necessarily the recommendation of Big Agnes). The Sarvis uses the same DAC FeatherLite Hub and pole design as the lighter Seedhouse series, but has an additional crossover center pole for stability. As such, the Sarvis is more suitable for harsher environments (especially high winds) than the Seedhouse and other light and ultralight tents. The Big Agnes Sarvis tent is lighter and has less condensation issues than most double walled tents traditionally used for these trips. Compared to heavier, true four-season mountaineering tents (which admittedly Big Agnes never intended the Sarvis to be used for), the Sarvis is probably not up to the rigors of exposed high altitude mountaineering. The Sarvis is heavier than some two plus and three season ultralight and light tents and takes more time to pitch, but these tents are nowhere near as stable as the Sarvis. The Sarvis is about as easy to pitch as a double walled tent with fly, but not as easy to pitch as something like the ultralight Tarptents or Six Moon Designs tents.

In Brief

  • Good condensation management - innovative hybrid single-double wall design with extremely breathable eVENT rear panels and three vents
  • Close to four-season stability and storm resistance
  • Sophisticated DAC pole and hub system with an additional stabilizing center crossover pole
  • Roll back fly allows you to sleep under the stars even with iffy precipitation
  • Roomy with 46 inches of head height - included vestibule adds 6 square feet of storage
  • Complex pitch - it has a number of poles (some with sleeves) and 13 stakeout points
  • Heavier than two plus or three-season floored shelters like Tarptents, Six Moon Designs Europa, or even the Big Agnes Seedhouse 2

Specifications

• Tent Type

Hybrid single/double wall, free-standing tent with floor and built-in vestibule

• Fabric Description

Fly, tent floor, vents and reinforcements: 30d silicone treated outer surface and PU coated inner suface1.94 oz/yd2 (66 g/m2) high-tenacity ripstop nylon, 246 thread count. Rear tent panels: three layer eVENT with a tricot inner surface eV104-3L30d high tenacity, nylon 6.6, triple-grid rip stop, 3 oz/yd2 (102 g/m2). Mesh panels: 20d no-see-um netting.

• Pole Material

0.350 in (8.8 mm) DAC FeatherLite with FeatherLite hub system

• Weight Full Package

As supplied, with stuff sacks, stakes, guylines, etc.

Backpacking Light scaleManufacturer claim
4 lb 7.0 oz (2.01 kg)*4 lb 9 oz (2.06 kg)
*Note: 3 lb 15.7 oz (1.81 kg) body, poles, and attached guylines and cord locks

• Weight Minimum Package

Tent body and fly, minimum necessary stakes and guylines, no stuff sacks or extra hardware

Backpacking Light minimum Manufacturer supplied minimum
Same as Manufacturer Minimum but with: 0.25 oz (7 g) titanium stakes, manufacturer supplied guylines and cord locks 13 stakes, 7 manufacturer supplied guylines and cord locks
4 lb 3.0 oz (1.90 kg) 4 lb 5.3 oz (1.96 kg)

• Floor/ Vestibule Area

Floor area Vestibule area
32.5 ft2 (3.02 m2) 6 ft2 (0.56 m2)

• Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio

0.49 ft2/oz (1.59 m2/kg)
(0.56 ft2/oz (1.88 m2/kg) including vestibule area)

• Dimensions

InchesCentimeters
Width73 (max)185 (max)
Length82208
Height46117

• Model Year

2005

• MSRP

$399.00 USD eVENT

• Options

Sarvis SL 2+ footprint, 8 oz (227 g), $50.00 (not reviewed)

Usable Features / Ease of Use

Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW - 3
Details on the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ eVENT, clockwise from top left: a) roof vent showing strut to keep it open and Velcro closure; b) front vestibule zippered door with storm flap and double tie-backs, zippered mesh font door with tie-backs and inside of tent showing the rear vent; c) toggles that tie back the rain fly to the center crossover pole; d) DAC FeatherLite Hub System and pole clip attachments at rear of the tent.

I like the additional center pole and the multiple stakeouts on the Sarvis. The poles and stakeouts are all in the right places! With the 13 stakeouts arranged just so, I can get a strong and stable pitch on the Sarvis - good enough for light mountaineering. The tradeoff is that the Sarvis takes more time to pitch than lighter shelters that require fewer stakeouts and poles. This is extra time well spent in my opinion. The bent center crossover pole and its sleeve attachment adds a great amount of strength to the tent but takes longer to insert and remove than the more in vogue clip pole attachments. The ridge pole also fits in a sleeve but the front and rear arches attach with the faster pole clips.

One nicety - the rain fly/vestibule is already attached to the center arch of the tent and is a breeze to deploy or roll back - much easier than the full fly on most double walled shelters. The fly includes the vestibule, which makes the tent's weight more attractive. Since pitching the fly is part of pitching the tent, it probably takes no longer pitch the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent than a traditional two-pole double walled tent with its rain fly.

The Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent comes with all necessary tie outs and cord locks already attached to the body. A very nice touch! The provided stakes are V-section aluminum and are not my favorites. There is a stuff sack for the poles, one for the stakes, and a large one to hold the body and all parts. There is an optional footprint to protect the 30-denier floor on rough ground, and it may be a good idea to purchase one or make your own out of Tyvek or similar materials.

Weight / Sizing

The Big Agnes Sarvis is a bit roomier than many two-person tents capable of three plus season use. If you add in the 6 additional square feet of storage for the included vestibule, the Sarvis has a good size to weight ratio for a tent capable of backcountry ski trips or light mountaineering. The Sarvis has about 2 to 4 more square feet than many two-person tents. Its 46-inch peak height is exceptionally generous. The Sarvis has a lower area to weight ratio than the very lightest two plus or three season shelters like a floored Tarptent Squall, Six Moon Designs Europa, or even the Black Diamond FirstLight. But these shelters are not as wind or snow resistant as the Sarvis.

Usable Space

Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW - 4
Good views and fresh air with weather protection moments away. With conventional rain fly tents I'm drenched by the time I get the fly setup, so I usually opt for sleeping under the fly in questionable weather which means condensation, no fresh air, no views, no stars! Not so with the Sarvis. Even in iffy weather, I can sleep out under the stars and have fresh air with little fear of getting soaked by a sudden storm. If a storm does come I can unroll and stake down the fly in a mater of seconds.

The Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent, with its included vestibule, has room for two people and all their gear. As noted earlier it has an exceptionally high peak height. This is in the center of the tent and even a very tall person can sit up inside. Because it is localized, it does not work quite as well for two people to sit up and face each other. Two people can sleep side by side in the Sarvis with room in the side corners of the hexagon to put a fair amount of gear. There are three pockets in the mesh panel at the front of the tent to stow small gear like sunglasses and headlamps. The rear of the tent is fairly narrow and with two occupants it takes some effort to keep the foot of your sleeping bag from brushing against the walls. The vestibule area is large enough for two medium sized packs, semi-empty and stacked on top of each other, and two pairs of running shoes, but not much more. The front opening vestibule limits sheltered cooking options.

Wind Stability

The Big Agnes Sarvis is one of the most wind-stable tents I've used. The four arch structure (three crosswise arches and one ridgeline arch) is stiff. The center crossover pole reinforces the middle of the sidewalls of the tent, an area usually unsupported except for four pole mountaineering tents. When you add 13 stakeouts at all the right points you've got a structure that can handle constant 40 mph winds with higher gusts with surprisingly little deflection. The unsupported front vestibule does flap in the wind unless you get an ultra-tight tension on the front stakes. The high peak is good for room and comfort - not so great for optimal wind shedding, although the Sarvis structure seems to handle the extra height.

Storm Protection

Storm protection from three-season rain, sleet, and hail is excellent with good ventilation coming from the rear vent and under the fly. Views are limited to small peeks from the two upper vents. In very strong winds, some cold air, fine grit/sand, or spindrift (winter use) can get in under the front fly and the rear vent and come through the no-see-um netting. This can be mitigated in snow camping by building a snow wall around the front vestibule - a fairly common practice. Nonetheless, a full nylon inner tent is warmer and provides better protection but is also more condensation prone and heavier than the mesh on the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent. The rear vent on the Big Agnes Sarvis cannot be closed and the tie out for the rear vent cover also acts as a stabilizer for the rear panel of the tent. Both the top vents can be Velcroed shut.

The vestibule could use a side entry. The vestibule is not protected from the rain when entering and exiting the tent so you have to move fast to keep the vestibule area dry. With the front opening you can't leave the vestibule partially open for views and ventilation, nor can you cook under shelter with the vestibule partially open (not a manufacturer recommended activity in any case).

Big Agnes does not bill the Sarvis SL2+ tent as a winter camping tent but it is capable of winter camping and even some light mountaineering. The front mesh is a bit drafty for this type of use but it is certainly not a showstopper. The Big Agnes Sarvis tent did as well or better with snow loading than many heavier two-pole single walled three-season tents I've used. The steep walls and slippery silnylon shed snow well. The crossover center pole is the key to snow load performance and adds a lot of resistance to both roof deflection and sidewall deflection. The front of the vestibule, which is unsupported by poles, is its weak point and deflected considerably along its front edge. The rear eVENT panels moved inward under snow load to make the already narrow rear of the tent even narrower. Even so, the tent did a creditable job and, with a bit of smarts from the user, it is suitable for a spring ski trip. It will be lighter and condense less than most tents used for backcountry skiing.

Ventilation / Condensation Resistance

Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW - 5
Convective ventilation. The rear vent draws cool, less humid air in as warmer humid air rises and exits from the top vents (upper right on photo). A wind blowing in the rear of the tent aids this process. Cool air also enters from under the front and sides of the rain fly.

Condensation resistance is excellent if there is wind, especially from the rear of the tent. In cool, damp weather with little wind I did have condensation. The condensation was most problematic along the silnylon panel forming the roofline of the tent and on the rain fly, especially above my head. Nonetheless, the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent condensed less than most double walled tents I've used. Keeping a gap under the front rain fly helps keep condensation down by allowing convective (chimney) ventilation from under the fly and through the rear vent to exit out the top vents. This is most important with little or no wind. A side entry vestibule would aid with ventilation in rainy and windless conditions.

Insect Protection

Insect protection is great. With no rain the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent has excellent views and is one of the most pleasant and least claustrophobic tents to wait out a cloud of mosquitoes. Just roll back the fly and attach it with the tie back toggles to the center crossover pole. The tent's roominess is also an asset when serving a bug enforced tent prison sentence. With bugs and precipitation the roominess is still an asset but you lose most of your view. Again a side entry vestibule would be a help for ventilation and views.

Durability

The 1.9 oz/yd2 silnylon used on the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent is stronger and more durable than the 1.3 oz/yd2 silnylon used on many ultralight tents. The 20-denier mosquito netting on the Sarvis is very light and prone to pickup a few "blemishes" with use. Big Agnes says this is normal and there is no reason for concern. It is more of an aesthetic issue as the mesh is fairly strong. They have yet to have a tent returned because of a large tear in the netting. The 30-denier floor is lighter but less durable than the 70 denier floors used on many heavier tents. You will likely need to use a footprint or protective ground cloth under it when pitching the tent on sharp and abrasive surfaces. This is not all bad. It gives you the option of leaving the footprint or protective ground cloth at home and having a lighter floored tent when camping on soft surfaces like grass, pine duff, and snow. The swaged ends of the DAC FeatherLite pole set require care to make sure they are fully mated before flexing them. When not fully engaged, the swaged ends can split if you apply pressure. Finally, if you intend to take the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ tent for long periods of time at altitude, be aware that the outer shell of the Sarvis is nylon, which is less UV resistant than polyester fabrics now in use in many tents. Prolonged exposure to UV may weaken the fabric on the Big Agnes Sarvis tent. It's probably better to put the tent up later in the day and take it down in the morning if you intend to spend a while at altitude. Many other ultralight tents which commonly use silnylon and light nylon fabrics, like Tarptents and the Six Moon Designs Europa, will do no better with UV resistance.

Value

If you need a strong and light tent suitable for spring skiing trips or sketchy weather in exposed places, the Big Agnes Sarvis SL2+ eVENT tent is a reasonable value. For $400 you get a very stable tent with lots of room and features. For less severe conditions, you can get a lighter tent and/or less stable tent for less money. Don't expect it to weather the high winds and snow the Sarvis can though.

Recommendations for Improvement

A side entry on the vestibule would make it a lot more useful, adding ventilation and views during precipitation and protecting the area when exiting and entering the tent. For those willing to cook in a vestibule it would give a sheltered area to operate a stove. Breaking the center crossover pole into two pieces would make it easier to insert and remove from its pole sleeve. Even though I never had a problem with the tent in violent thunderstorm gusts, I would prefer a slightly lower peak height just to add a margin of stability to the tent. Finally a minor gripe: It would be great if the Big Agnes Sarvis tent came with titanium skewer stakes. I didn't like the supplied "superlight," V-peg aluminum stakes. They are heavier than titanium stakes, have poor penetration, and require a fair amount of force to place in all but the softest soils. Because they are wider than skewer stakes they do not steer well around rocks. The ends of the V-peg aluminum stakes are small, sharp, and uncomfortable to 'palm.' They are difficult to push in by hand and require that you bash them in using a rock or other heavy object. In comparison, a 0.25 ounce, 7 gram titanium wire skewer is about half the weight, requires less force to penetrate soil, and steers around rocks. The hooked end is comfortable in your palm while you push it in.


Citation

"Big Agnes Sarvis Superlight SL2+ eVENT Tent REVIEW," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/big_agnes_sarvis_superlight_sl2_event_tent_review.html, 2005-06-15 03:00:00-06.

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