Sunday, 27 March 2011

Integral Designs South Col eVent bivy review / test

I have been researching and looking for a decent bivy for the last 2 years (at least). All the bivy bags that I have tried always suffered from terrible condensation where upon waking up in the middle of the night you were not sure if you had wet the bed. I have tried goretex, tegral tex and most other types of "tex" fabrics and none really impressed me. I have been hearing good things about eVent fabrics:

and as of yet have not come across a negative review on eVent bivy bags.

Why The Integral Designs South Col?
I am a minimalist at heart and don't dig all the bells and whistles of the more exotic bivy bags. I mean I like the idea of mosquito netting but poles, special vents etc.. just make me think of lost equipment and one muttering in the dark while trying to connect random poles into tiny sleeves. I have been there and tried that and for the most part, was not impressed. This is why I opted for the South Col bivy. Here are the specs:

  • Length = 92" (fits 6'7")
  • Width 32" (81cm) at the shoulders tapering to 22" (56cm) at the feet
  • Girth 69" (175 cm) at the shoulders tapering to 55" (140cm) at the feet
  • Weight 22Oz. (630 grams)
  • Packed size 15" X 3.5" (38cm X 9cm) in a SilCoat stuff sack
  • Lighweight eVent fabric on top, coated nylon floor
  • Wire stiffened hood
  • Seam taped
  • Right or left zip
  • RRP $260 USD
As you can tell it's a light little bivy. I ordered mine online and this is how it arrived:

The Nalgene is included for scale. It had minimal packaging (which I LOVE), and had a simple piece of information included.

Call me old fashioned but I don't dig all the marketing BS attatched to products now days. If I have bought it, then obviously I don't need anymore convincing right? I think Integral Designs (now to be referred to as ID) has nailed it with their packaging and lack of unnecessary marketing.

I weighed the item to see if it was indeed as light as advertised. The bivy plus stuff sack came in at 640 grams.

Next I checked the label to see if there were any important instructions.

I was impressed to see that each item was inspected before being packaged and that the South Col was made in Canada. I considered this a pleasant suprise as more production is moving to the far East each year. I opened the bag and dumped the bivy on the floor. I unrolled it to see exactly what I had bought as I hadn't actually seen one in the flesh.

I started to inspect the seams and zippers to check for any quality issues. Everything seemed to be of a high standard and quality.

The zipper pulls were constructed of fabric to reduce the weight and a spare was included in the bivy bag. The weather proof zippers were of high quality and all the stitching and seam sealing was very neat. I turned my attention to the inside of the bag and only found one thing that wasn't 100%. During storage and transit it appears that the eVent was rubbing on itself or a zipper and was a little worn.

This was no big deal as it can be repaired with a seam sealer like McNett Seam Grip if it shows any signs of leakage. Next I put in my self inflating mattress with my Winter sleeping bag. I climbed in to see how well everything fit and if there was any compression of the loft.

The fit was perfect. There is some extra room so you could store some clothes in the hood or the footbox. Getting in was ok as the length of the zipper is adequate. A little longer would have been better but then you would increase the weight of the bag and likelihood of leaking during rain. Packing the bivy away was straight forward and the stuff sack is roomy enough for everything to stow easily. Some manufacturers ship their products in bags that can only be used once because once the contents are taken out, you need Superman, a tube of lube and a crowbar to get everything back in.

Testing out a product in the living room is not very realistic so I decided to pack my things and give the bivy a proper trial. It was -3 C when I stated out and set up camp. I chose a spot in the woods that had some shelter provided by the trees. I cleared the ground of sharp twigs and sticks that could damage the bag.

During the night, the temperature dropped to -10 C which is prime condensation / ice territory for a bivy. It was so cold that when I couldn't get the zipper open on the bivy I didn't bother to climb out to fix it. It turned out that a cloth zipper pull had jambed the zipper but it required me to climb out of the warmth to clear it. In the morning there was a little condensation on my bag where my breath contacted the sleeping bag.

Because of this, there was some ice in the bivy but it was minimal.

I was stunned at how well the eVent allowed the humidity to escape. There was no ice further down in the bivy which is where all the other bags I had tried failed to impress me. I make a habit of always turning sleeping bags and bivy bags inside out and letting them dry out after use. I did this to the bivy and within about 20 minutes the dark colour of the floor heated the bag up enough to drive out the moisture, even though the temperature outside was -5 C.

Overall I was really impressed with Integral Designs South Col bivy. I believe the design, though minimalist, is perfect and the weight saving is worth the lack of mosquito netting and poles. The materials and workmanship are top notch and it functions as advertised. At last, a bivy that keeps you dry from the elements and from condensation.

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