Rating: 5 / 5
Mountain Laurel Designs Soul Bivy Side Zip with eVent top, Silnylon 2.0 bottom, built in hoop wire, regular size, but in the wide option, which allows for a sleeping pad thicker than 1".
Weight: 13 oz.
The bivy arrived with long strips of fabric/ribbon that was attached to the pull zipper of the side zip.
This was very helpful to have in closing the bivy while wearing snow gloves and the zip rarely snagged.
This zip extents all the way to the head area where there is another zipper on the opposite side, allowing you create a small blow hole for air while limiting exposure to rain.
The hood area does incorporate a short brim area over the zipper to help deflect moisture from the waterproof zipper.
Despite being waterproof, in a moderate to heavy rain, the brim would not be sufficient to prevent water from entering the bivy. A tarp would be highly recommended.
The hood area incorporates a second set of zippers that lays just under the first set. The second set of zippers being for the built in bug mesh.
The zippers for the bug mesh are very small and are difficult to impossible to use with gloves.
This should be easily solved by simply cutting some of the fabric/ribbon attached to the side zip and using it to create zipper pulls for the bug netting.
There are two sets of sleeping pad loops to prevent your pad from shifting out of place. One set on the floor of the inside and one on the underside of the bottom.
The exterior loops on the bottom included adjustable elastic cord to hold a pad in place.
I have yet to use these and have removed from from my bivy to save weight.
As I have the wide version of this bivy, I find that I have plenty of interior room for my 1.5" Thermarest Prolite 4 pad and my Marmot Helium EQ 15 Degree bag.
If I were an active sleeper or used my pad on the exterior of the bivy to allow more interior room, I might find this feature useful.
There are two loops incorporated into the design of the hood. One of these just above the brim on the top and the other would be located on the lower zipper near the chin area.
I have used the loop attached to the brim as a guy line attachment point to pull the hood up higher off my face to create more head room.
I presume that the loop at the chin area is for the same purpose, but I can not see why someone would use it over the loop on the brim as attaching at the chin area would seem to create less head room and might interfere with opening and closing the bivy.
The bivy included a small stuff sack for storage, tube of seam sealer, and some scraps of fabric for possible repairs for tears in the bivy.
I have had an opportunity to use this on four trips so far, two of them in a snow trench winter camping and one of them in the rain using the MLD Silnylon Poncho Tarp for overhead cover.
Ron's workmanship is simply top notch.
His sewing shows a clear attention to detail.
I spent 4 hours seam sealing the entire bivy and the stitching was straight and clean.
Note: I found that by stuffing the bivy with 6 sleeping bags allowed me to easily seam seal the whole bivy by myself on my dinner table with a minimum amount of mess and without excessive use of seam sealer. I used an extremely thin fabric brush that was just slightly wider than the stitching. Having the bivy stuffed fully of sleeping bags allowed me to press the thin amount of seam sealer into the stitching.
My first time using this was in the winter of 2007 near Kirkwood ski resort in CA.
I slept outside on the snow under a MLD silnylon poncho tarp in an A frame shape, using snow blocks to seal up the back end and creating a 4 ft tall windblock/wall at the head end. Snow was applied along the side edges of the tarp to prevent any drafts inside.
I used two sleeping pads: blue foam pad and a prolite 4 self inflating pad.
I slept with 5 layers of clothing on the upper body and four on the lower and slipped into my 15 degree Marmot Helium EQ bag.
Starting temperature at midnight was 8 degrees F.
Lowest temperature was 5 degrees F.
The wire hoop does help create an adequate head space to sleep in and to store a few items above the head. (I am 5 ft 6 in tall).
I was able to sleep comfortably in the bivy and even was able to lay on my side quite easily. As I sleep cold, this was impressive to me. The only part of my body that was chilled during the night was my head. I was only wearing a light fleece hat.
Admittedly, I did have one incident that night where I felt clausterphobic and had to open up the bivy to give myself some air and space.
I had zero condensation in the bivy despite only having a 6 inch wide blow hole for air.
Two additional snow camping trips in Jan & Feb 2008 with the Sierra club in Yosemite in which I slept in a snow trench, using the MLD poncho tarp as a cover yielded the same results....no condensation.
Oddly, the only time I had condensation inside was in May 2008 in Yosemite at Lake Vernon, after the snows melted.
The inside of my bivy was just raining and my sleeping bag was completely wet to the touch.
The 2nd night, I sleep with the bivy completely zipped open with just slightly less condensation forming.
I can only conclude that the moisture problem was the environment vs. any failure of the bivy.
Two friends of mine on this trip had the Double Rainbow Tarptent and experience similar problems with condensation raining on them.
Observations: The wire hoop on the bivy is helpful to keep the shape of it the hood of the bivy but not needed as an option. I found that using the exterior loops on the hood of the bivy to pull the hood area off of my face worked better and provided more space than using the wire hoop alone.
The bivy is well made and with the 2.0 Silnylon bottom, I have noticed no damage at all to the bivy.
The eVent fabric works as advertised, though I did have one instance in which I had massive condensation, which probably has to do with dew point and no breeze vs. a problem with the fabric.
Ron makes a great product, which I expect to get many years of use out of.
I wholeheartly recommend this bivy as a "bomber" shelter.