SOL Escape Pro Bivvy

SOL Escape Pro Bivvy
Test Report by Coy Starnes
SOL Escape Pro Bivvy
I will be reviewing the SOL Escape Pro Bivvy so be sure and follow along as I update the review.  But first thing first, what is the Escape Pro Bivvy.  SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) has been making survival type gear for many moons but this is actually quite a bit more than just a piece of survival gear.  Honestly, at 8 oz it looks like it was made with fastpackers, adventure racers and ultralight hikers in mind.  Folks who don’t want to carry anymore than is absolutely necessary to survive, or in a race situation, weight which would slow them down.
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In my opinion, the Escape Pro is not all that practical as stand alone bivvy because there is really no head protection from rain other than the hood, and while the hood does cinch down, if I’m asleep on my back my face would be exposed to rain.  Having said that, in a strictly survival situation this might be worked around with the use of a rain jacket or umbrella or even by sleeping on my side with my head pointed slightly down.  Because of this I feel the Escape Pro is more suited for use under a tarp or inside a small shelter like a tent or even a hammock.  The advantage of using it over a typical sleeping bag would be mostly weight and bulk savings since it weighs only 8 oz and packs really small.  I know it’s pretty much standard to show a comparison between whatever the subject at hand is and a Nalgene bottle but in this case they really are almost the exact same size.  The Escape Pro is rated at 50 F by itself or will add 15 F warmth to a sleeping bag.  I should help protect the sleeping bag from rain or spills as well as dirt and grim that inevitably ends up on the bag.
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When I first looked at the Escape Pro on the SOL website I noticed the almost identical looking Escape Bivvy which was priced at slightly less than half what the Escape Pro retails for ($60 vs $125).  The differences were not really highlighted so I had a hard time imagining how the Escape Pro was that much of an improvement.  After getting the Escape Pro the first thing I noticed was that on the packaging it said it was 5X stronger then the regular Escape.  I also found on the bottom of the packaging a graph that compared the Escape Pro, Escape and Emergency.  According to the graph, besides being more durable, it showed the Escape Pro is also more breathable, more heat reflective and more waterproof.  Apparently this means the regular Escape Bivvy is not completely waterproof.  Interestingly, the Emergence Bivvy trailed the regular Escape in all categories except for waterproofness in which it and the Escape Pro were tied.  Of course the Emergence Bivvy was far behind on durability but it only cost $17, in other words, use it to get through an emergency and then replace as necessary.
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So what does this all mean.  I’m thinking that with a little care, the Escape Pro is durable enough to replace a regular sleeping bag.  I don’t put my sleeping bag on the ground.  OK, I sleep in a hammock, but back when I was a mud dweller… I always used a tent and pad.  However, in an emergency situation I would not hesitate to use the Escape Pro directly on the ground.  I would try my best to find a place with lots of leaves and no sharp sticks or pointy rocks underneath.  But back to using the Escape Pro as a stand alone sleep system or in my case, in my hammock sleep system.  A regular sleeping bag is hard to get in but I can do it by standing beside my hammock and getting in my bag beforehand.  I just place a small ground cloth where I need to stand to protect the foot end of the bag.  I imagine I’ll do the same thing with the Escape Pro.  If the zipper was longer (it is 16 inches) I would probably use it more like a hammock top quilt which is basically a sleeping bag made more like a blanket with a sewn in footbox.  On colder nights I would probably go ahead and zip it up if possible but until I get a chance to try it in the field I’m really just speculating.
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I did lay the Escape Pro out on my carpeted floor (see photo below) and get in it.  I found it was fairly easy to get in and zip closed but when zipped closed I felt claustrophobic.  Honestly, there was not much wiggle room inside it.  To be fair, I’m 5′ 11″ and weigh 250 # so I’m not your typical long distance hiker….  and for the record the Escape Pro is suppose to fit individuals up to 6′ 2″.  I will add that I would love to see a few inches added to the girth of the Escape Pro.  Either that or make a wider version (keep this one the same) for us folks who aren’t exactly skinny.
  SOL Escape Pro Bivvy
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I’m not going to go into a lot of the technical aspects of the Escape Pro because frankly, I’m not qualified.  I will say that the Sampatex Reflexion fabric feels substantially more durable than the “space blanket” material I’m familiar with. It is advertised to reflect 90% of the users body heat back to them.  It is also supposed to be highly breathable.  I will focus my review on how warm it keeps me and how much moisture I notice.  I will also report on how or even if I am able to use it in my hammock.  I am currently using a synthetic 50° F top quilt that weighs 2 lb 6 oz.  I am excited at the prospect of shaving substantial weight and bulk from my pack.
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Update: October 18, 2017
I wanted to test the SOL Escape Pro Bivvy at the lowest temperature it was recommended but this did not happen for several weeks after receiving it.  Then I had to work when it did finally drop to 50° F.   Fortunately, it was even cooler the next night and I was able to go on a short overnight hike.  The following will be a pretty detailed report of how the bivvy worked as the temperature dropped during the night.  I was in my REI Quarter Dome Air hammock and was using a Snugpac synthetic underquilt.  I ate a few snacks during the night and also sipped on some calorie laden Tailwind Nutrition sports drink.
 It was 64° F when I left the house.  I hiked 3 miles before stopping for the night.  By then it had dropped down to 57 ° F and was cooling down fast.  I got my hammock setup just before dark and settled down to relax awhile. I started off with my t-shirt under a shirt jacket and sweatpants.  I also had on some fairly thick cotton socks.  I had worked a 24 hour shift the previous day so by 8 PM I was getting sleepy.  I was feeling a little chilly in just the clothes so pulled the Escape Pro out of the stuff sack and pulled it on.  I say pulled it on because that’s basically how I have to get in it while in my hammock.  I ended up getting it up to my armpits but couldn’t get it all the way over my shoulders.   It’s amazing how different this was then on my carpeted floor at home.  And for the record, I normally carry a small piece of Tyvek so I can stand outside my hammock and pull a sleeping bag up before lying down but it has been so long since I’ve needed to do this I forgot to pack it.
Anyways, I could immediately fell warmth and since I was running on sleep deprivation I went right to sleep. I woke up a couple hours later and checked the temp. It was now 54° F and I was still feeling okay but my hands and ears felt a little cool.  I went right back to sleep but woke up again at midnight needing to pee.  I checked the temperature and it was now 53° F.  My body was still warm enough that I went back too sleep easily.  I next woke up at 4.40 AM.  It had dropped to 49° F by now.  My body was warm but now my ears and hands felt rather chilled.  After peeing I took a few minutes to warm my hands and ears by rubbing them as I did some stretching and just moving around.  If an animal were watching they probably laughed.  Anyways, after warming up the best I could I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until 7.07 AM.   It was now 48° F.  I won’t say I felt toasty warm and my ears and hands were downright cold, but I was warm enough to sleep an hour past daylight.
I have to admit, I did not expect to make it all night with just the Escape Pro and in fact, I had the Snugpac top quilt inside a stuff sack in the hammock with me.  I used it as my pillow.  I was tempted to take it out after waking up at 4.40 AM but since I was not in danger of frostbite and had already gotten enough sleep I decided to just see how the rest of the night would go.  I also believe that had I been able to get down inside the bivvy completely and used the hood my ears and hands would have been fine.   I was also pleased to see I did not notice any moisture inside the bivvy and my clothes were completely dry.  I’m sure it helped that it was pretty cool all night.  I’ll probably use the bivvy in conjunction with either more clothes or using a top quilt now that I know it is good for the temperature rating it has been given.
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Final Update: October 30, 2017
SOL Escape Pro Bivvy For this test I wanted to establish what I consider the lower limits of the SOL Escape Pro Bivvy. I’m not talking about survival either, just how cold I could manage without risking making myself sick. After testing it down to 36 F I believe I found my limit.  Put it this way, I will not be trying it in anything colder than this unless I’m in a true survival situation. On the plus side, I was surprised at just how warm I was able to stay on a rather windy and cold night.  I also wanted to use the bivvy under somewhat realistic hunting conditions.  I had to wait for a night when (A) it was cold enough, and (B) I did not have to be at work early the next morning.  On Saturday October 28th I had the perfect storm.  Unfortunately, my phone did not say anything about the high winds in the forecast and I only went by the forecast low of 34° F.  Anyways, I started the evening off by eating supper in town with the wife so I was well fed, stuffed in fact.  We got home in time to catch the second half of the Kentucky/Tennessee football game and I ate a few more snacks while watching the game.  At 10:30 PM I braved the outdoors (my backyard) for a real test of the bivvy.
I decided to wear what I would find myself wearing on a typical late fall or winter hunting trip minus a jacket.  I wore a performance tee-shirt under a polyester fleece button up shirt.  I put on some UA ColdGear thermal bottoms and my UA fleece pant.  I also wore a camo head cover, some thin but insulated hunting gloves and some fairly thick wool socks.  I wore my Crocs so I could easily get them off and carried a very thin yoga mat to lay down under the bivvy.  The ground was very wet from rain earlier in the day.  I had my wife come outside and take a few quick photos before settling in for the night (or however long I could stand it).  Here is what I was wearing.
SOL Escape pro Bivvy
It was 41° F when I first went outside.  I immediately suspected I might be in for an uncomfortable night when I noticed how windy it was.   I laid the SOL bivvy out on the yoga mat and before I could get my Crocs off it got blown half-way across the yard.  After putting my Crocs back on (I didn’t want to wet my socks to negatively affect my test) I retrieved the bivvy and started over.  I had my wife snap a few photos and she remarked how it wasn’t fair that she was standing there freezing while I was in a warm bivvy.   She was correct, for awhile at least.  I wouldn’t say I was toasty, but I felt fairly warm.  The real issue was how tight the bivvy felt, especially on my arms which I had shoved down by my side.  It was difficult to get the bivvy zipped up, and honestly, after I did it felt like I was in a straight jacket.   Now to be fair, I’m not a skinny guy by any means.   I’m a solid 250 lbs on my best day.  This is probably why my arms started feeling chilly almost immediately.  My face was also rather chilly but this was due to the windy conditions. Still, I managed to go to sleep by around 11:15 PM or so and did not wake up until 2:11 AM.  So basically 3 hours.
I woke up feeling pretty cold.  I was not freezing cold, but I was not a happy camper so to speak.  My ears were warm under the hood I was wearing and my hands were fairly warm in  the gloves I had on.    But what really surprised me was the fact that my feet were also fairly comfortable.   My legs felt OK, about like my feet, not toasty warm but not uncomfortably chilly.  My back side was not very cold either but my arms, shoulders, chest and hips were cold.  Basically, anywhere I was pressing against the bivvy fabric I felt cold.  Well except for my face, which felt like it was in danger of frostbite.  It really wasn’t and was not touching the walls of the bivvy, but was rather exposed to the wind and cold air.  I really should have worn a full-face boggin, the type with eye holes, a slit under the nose and a mouth opening.  Anyways, I looked at my phone and it was now showing 36° F.   I laid there about 15 minutes carefully thinking about how I was feeling.  I contemplated getting up and doing a few exercises to warm up, but I’ll be honest, the yoga pad was not very comfortable and I decided to call it a night.  I’m spoiled from hammock camping the past 15 years.
As soon as I got in the house I inspected the SOL Escape Pro for moisture on the inside.  It felt completely dry.  Of course I wasn’t sweating but the body does put out moisture all the time.  For the record my clothes also felt dry.  I’m going to give the bivvy high marks on breathability.
Final Thoughts
I am very pleased with the performance of the SOL Escape Pro Bivvy.  By no means was I in any danger while testing it, but in a true survival situation it is good to have something like this to ensure waking up the next morning.  Once temperatures drop much below the 50° degree rating it may not be the most comfortable nights sleep, but it kept me a lot warmer than I anticipated it would.  The only real complaint I have would be the size of the bivvy.  It is just a little on the small side for me and I think this contributed to the chill I felt.  I think SOL should come out with a husky version.  Another inch or so wider would make it much easier to zip from the inside and allow for layering inside without compressing said layers.  And finally, I know the market might be slim, but a top-quilt version of a similar product would be sweet.   If I am on a backpacking trip with my hammock I will already be carrying adequate bottom insulation.  Something  like this could be used for top insulation as part of an ultralight  kit.  It could also be used to supplement other gear for those nights when temperatures drop more than anticipated.  Making the zipper a few feet longer would actually allow someone to still use it as a sleeping bag but let it convert into a top-quilt.
I have enjoyed (to a certain degree…) this test.   My thanks to 4alloutdoors and SOL for making this test possible!  I trust that my findings have been beneficial to the reader.