REI Co-op Superlight Review
Cons: Difficult setup, zipper/entrance frustrating
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Our Analysis and Test Results
While the REI Superlight has many redeeming features, there are a few issues that need to be ironed out before we would strongly recommend it to a friend. To start with the positive attributes first, at a reasonable weight, it is the roomiest bivy we tested. It has plenty of space for a bigger-than-average adult, and we didn't feel overly claustrophobic during a protracted weather event. The areas that could be improved would be the ease of setup including a pole with grommet feet which are adhered inside the pole (so they don't continuously pop out), a design that doesn't require being staked out for optimal performance (think rock ledge in the alpine), and an entrance zipper system that doesn't snag. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get into or out of your bivy and having the zipper continuously catch.
While we found the Pertex fabric utilized by the REI Superlight to be an excellent barrier against the elements, we had a few issues with the protective flaps surrounding the zipper. They were easily blown to the side, which exposed the zippers. A bivy like the Outdoor Research Helium has tackled this problem with a clamshell opening and flaps that make it nearly impossible for the elements to expose the zippers. As the REI bivy seems to be oriented towards longer-term use and expedition-type adventures, it needs to be more focused on these small details around vulnerable points like zippers.
We don't want to be too harsh on the Superlight Bivy as it performed acceptably with only a few nagging issues which were illuminated when compared to ultra weather resistant bivys like the OR Helium. Beyond the zippers, this sack seems quite well protected from the elements and even the zippers, while vulnerable, let in a minimal amount of moisture.
With a name like the Superlight, we expected grand things from this bivy. They must have known we get excited at the thought of superlight outdoor gear… When we dropped this thing on the scale in registered right at 24.8 ounces (703 grams) which puts it about 8 ounces (240 grams) heavier than our Editors' Choice bivy. Considering the REI Superlight comes with four aluminum stakes and an aluminum pole, it isn't that wild of a weight difference. When you consider the overall performance difference, however, the added performance and weight savings of the OR Helium make it the obvious choice.
Comfort is another area where the Superlight Bivy did quite well. Once the bivy is set up and staked out, it's roomy and doesn't flap incessantly in the wind. One of our testers tends to sleep on his side with his knees bent, which proved to be a bit of an issue when the bivy is staked out, as it is rigidly held in place. Though this wasn't a huge issue, it could be for some individuals and worth mentioning. As the rest of the bivys we tested don't require stakes to attain their full functionality, moving and bending knees isn't hindered.
Ventilation and Breathing
This model is an exceptionally breathable and well-vented bivy. One of the highlights is their zipper overhang at the top of the entrance which allows you to open the zipper several inches without welcoming in the rain. This, in conjunction with the ample space inside, allowed for excellent airflow and venting.
While we found similar venting and breathability in the Superlight Bivy as we did with the other top bivys in this round of testing, the one shining point, the zipper overhang, utilizes some extra fabric that the Outdoor Research Helium doesn't, as it incorporated its clamshell design into the same ventilation feature.
The Superlight Bivy is just about the largest bivy, in terms of packed size, that we tested. It has the largest included pole and is the only bivy to include stakes. The roomy floorplan, while comfortable, requires more material. The result is a packed size that rivals many single-person tents.
If you're looking for a comfy bivy and packed size is highly important to you, check out our Editors' Choice, the Outdoor Research Helium as it retains excellent comfort while offering a much more packable design.
While the Superlight Bivy might not be one of our award winners for 2019, we could see it being a nice companion for three-season backpacking, bikepacking, or really any adventure that necessitated having some extra shelter. We feel that the spacious and well-ventilated floorplan might work well in extremely buggy environments where you want protection from the insects but also don't want to simulate a sauna.
If the Superlight Bivy were $50.00 cheaper, it would certainly be more appealing. As it is currently, our Editors' Choice Outdoor Research Helium is priced within 30 bucks and offers either equal or better scores in every metric we tested. This isn't to say the Superlight isn't good value for money and if you're looking for a bivy that blurs the lines between a single-person tent and bivy sacks, this might be worth taking a look at.
The REI Co-op Superlight Bivy didn't win any awards this year, but it has potential! Considering the four stakes and aluminum pole were part of the weight, it has a pretty high space-to-weight ratio. With a few tweaks, it could be excellently weatherproof, and similarly, some small changes would allow it to be set up and packed away quickly and easily. As it stands, it is functional but a bit frustrating at times.
— Brian Martin
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