The Pro Bivy knocked the ever popular SOL Escape out of the top position for emergency bivys for 2019. While we still love the SOL Escape, the Pro offers similar warmth but with added wind and weather protection. In addition, the MSR Pro actually stuffs down into a smaller area than the SOL Escape, making it a bit more packable which we find increases the chances that one will actually take the emergency piece of equipment along.
Setting up the MSR Pro at the end of a long day is a snap. Even during long-distance bikepacking events when we were completely exhausted, we didn't hesitate to bust out this model.
While the Pro isn't an ultra-protective bivy like the OR Alpine Bivy, though it does have its place in our gear closet. We found the material of the MSR Pro to be waterproof even after about an hour of constant rain. There were some weak points in the MSR's armor, however. The closure system is simply a flap of material, which does indeed save a lot of weight but also allows wind and water to blow right in. We found that we had to be extremely careful, especially when water would pool on the surface of the bivy. Coaxing these pools off the bivy without draining them into the bivy was, at times, a challenge. Yes, you could keep yourself warm and dry in a downpour, but it would take some effort on your part.
Looking at the Pro Bivy alongside the SOL Escape helps to highlight the benefits. We were able to stay drier longer in the MSR since the SOL material isn't completely waterproof. The MSR is roomier both lengthwise and widthwise, which lets you get comfortable and help the bivy shed water in a way that keeps you dry. The bottom line is if we were told it was going to rain all day and we had to choose between being bagged up in either the SOL Escape or the MSR Pro, we would take the MSR every time. If it was just going to be cold outside with no precipitation, the choice would be a toss-up as both models offered increased warmth.
While the lack of zipper enclosure leaves you vulnerable, the fabric of the MSR Pro was excellent. Even prolonged exposure to moisture didn't penetrate through.
Saving weight is what this bivy is all about. MSR took away all of the creature comforts and slimmed this bivy down to the essentials. What is left is a bivy that offers decent wind, weather, and cold protection without being noticeable in your bag. At 8.9 oz (296 grams), it is barely heavier than our previous top pick for emergency bivys the SOL Escape and offers a larger footprint which equates to more space to move around and adjust inside.
While the MSR Pro does weigh a bit more than the SOL Escape, it offers a significant advantage in comfort and weather protection. Well worth the few extra grams.
Typically, emergency bivys are far from comfortable. They are more comfortable than being left out in the elements, but that's a pretty low bar to hurdle. The MSR Pro's ample footprint and length made it pretty bearable for multiple nights while out bikepacking in the cold. It is big enough to fit a regular length inflatable sleeping pad, 30-degree Western Mountaineering sleeping bag, and a 175-lb person with room to spare. One of our biggest complaints from the SOL Bivy was how constricted we felt inside, even when we left the sleeping pad on the outside.
There is also an important factor regarding comfort that must be mentioned. If you're into fast and light ascents, ultralight backpacking, or bikepacking, this bivy can offer a significant comfort factor at a minimal weight penalty. If you're pinned down in an unexpected storm or get benighted on a remote ridge, the added warmth, wind resistance, and weather protection offered by the MSR Pro will significantly boost your comfort level. Yes, the same could be said of all bivys we tested, but keep in mind the MSR is minimalist and light.
The MSR Pro was a welcome companion on the Pinyons and Pines Bikepacking Race. Around mile 100 our delirious gear tester set up camp and doesn't even remember taking this photo. Good thing this sack is so easy to set up!
Ventilation and Breathing
As it is with every bivy we have tested over the years, it was common to have some condensation form inside the bag, especially on colder nights. This was kept to an extreme minimum in the MSR Pro and was actually pretty rare that you could even see the moisture collected or deposited on our sleeping bag. This is in part to the large open vent at the head of the bivy and also in part to the breathable 20d fabric which comprises the shell.
When stacked up against the SOL Bivy the two bags are fairly comparable regarding ventilation and breathing. They both utilize breathable fabrics and have an opening at the top, which can't be completely closed. The SOL has a bit of an advantage in this department, however, as it has a cinch at the top and a zipper down the side. These closures give you some options for added ventilation, a feature the MSR Pro doesn't have.
As the entire top portion of the bivy is open, we had no ventilation issues. If you pack along some para-cord, you can elevate the front flap over your head creating a little extra space.
The MSR Pro has the smallest packed size of all re-usable bivys tested. The only bivy tested that has a smaller packed footprint was the Frog Tact bivy, which will only last for a few uses as it isn't designed for extended, everyday use. Despite weighing slightly more than the SOL Escape the MSR was able to pack down into a smaller container, and we even found we could still pack it even tighter.
Looking at the MSR Pro and the SOL Escape side by side reveals the differences in packed size. Pretty incredible, considering the unpacked size of the MSR Pro is significantly larger and more comfortable than the SOL Escape
It's difficult to pigeon hole the MSR Pro into a single category. It was a fantastic compliment to our Western Mountaineering HighLite during the Pinyons and Pines Ultra Bikepacking Race. Its lightweight and extremely packable design made it perfect for some added insurance out in the wilderness. If you're going to be on an extended journey like a through hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, this bivy might not provide enough storm protection. However, if you're going ultralight and don't mind the prospect of being a little uncomfortable from time to time, the MSR Pro would certainly get the job done. At its heart, this model is an ultralight emergency bivy but provides enough weather protection and warmth we wouldn't hesitate to take it on a longer journey with the knowledge that we might be a bit uncomfortable in a raging storm.
While best suited for emergency situations or as a little extra backup plan, depending on our comfort level with discomfort, we might take this along for extended trips.
Is this ultralight bivy worth the price tag? Maybe. If we ignore the price and look at the MSR Pro alongside the SOL Escape we would have the MSR Pro. Bring dollar bills into the equation and the answer might be different. With such strong competition at reasonable prices, shelling out those two crisp Franklins would be difficult. The issue isn't that the MSR Pro itself isn't worth the money, it's that you could purchase the Outdoor Research Helium and the SOL Escape for only $40.00 more, and that's retail pricing. As with most niche products, this ultralight product has great value if it fits your needs specifically. Otherwise, your money is likely spent elsewhere.
The MSR Pro Bivy is a fantastic product. It is extremely lightweight and the most packable bivy we have tested. It is a bit on the pricy side, but in our experience, these highly technical pieces are worth the investment. While there are other options for those on a budget, the MSR Pro fills a gap between basic emergency bivys such as the SOL Escape and heavier duty bivys such as the OR Helium and OR Alpine.