Dear Editor: Thanks for the edits and sorry if I slowed you down with the revised version. I
made the most text changes in the "Why the Lightsabre" Section and paraphrased in the
materials section as (I think) you suggested. The other edits were made as well.
BLACK DIAMOND LIGHTSABRE BIVY
December 2, 2005
Name: Dan Feldman
Height: 5'11" (180 cm)
Weight: 170 lb (77 kg)
Residence: Washington, DC
I am somewhat of a backpacking fanatic. I completed a southbound thru-hike of the AT in
2002. I try to do one middle-distance trip a year (50-100 mi or 80-160 km) and usually
hike in the summer. I was most recently in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina for a
85 mi (135 km) solo trip. I am a lightweight backpacker. My pack weight ranges 15-25 lb
(7-12 kg). A seven-day summer trip I took recently had me at a 30lb (14 kg) pack weight
with food and water.
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Year of Purchase: 2003
Warranty: 1 year limited
Manufacturer URL: http://www.bdel.com
Listed weight, with poles: 22 oz (620 g)
Listed Dimensions: 89 x 33 x 25 in (226 x 84 x 64 cm)
Weight and Dimensions as delivered: same
Poles: 2 DAC Featherlite
Body Material: EPIC and SilNylon
Factory Sealed? No
MSRP: $185 US
I have used the Lightsabre during the summer and early fall in the eastern United States.
I've taken it to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, Caribou-Speckled
Mountain Wilderness in Maine, the Mahoosuc range/AT in Maine, Pisgah National Forest in
North Carolina, and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Temperatures have ranged
from 50-70 F (10-20 C) at night with exposure to moderate rain and clear nights.
Moderate rain defined here is starting and stopping steady rain for the duration of the
evening, sheltered by tree cover. (I normally seek out tree cover for camp.) I slept one
night under gusting winds just below the summit of Tennent Mountain in North Carolina.
This was on a grassy/rocky ledge with exposure to the south and west. I have not used
the bivy in snow or strong winds. I've camped mostly on surfaces that are mixes of dirt,
low roots, pine needles, and pebbles. I've spent a few nights on grass and one on a tent
platform. I have not slept on rock.
WHY THE LIGHTSABRE?
I began looking for a one-person shelter in preparation for a solo summer backpacking
trip in western Maine in 2003. I had previously used a Sierra Designs Ultra Light Year tent,
but was unhappy with the weight and felt I could go lighter and still be comfortable. When
researching shelters, I was interested first and foremost in a shelter that was lightweight
and durable, with price as a secondary consideration. I needed a shelter with a pole
structure as I do not carry trekking poles and some places I plan to hike in the future do
not have a lot of trees (so no hammock). The Lightsabre seemed a perfect fit and I made
the purchase over the internet at the company's website.
The Lightsabre came with two poles, a stuff sack, SilNet seam sealer with application
syringe, and a manual. There is an optional footprint that I chose to forgo due to the
extra weight and pack space footprints typically take up. Without the poles installed, the
shape of the Lightsabre is rectangular. The bivy tapers slightly at the foot and forms a
triangle at the head. It is yellow with an olive green base. The Black Diamond name and
logo are placed tastefully on either side of the head. Two zipper tracks, each with a double
zipper, run in parallel across the head and course along the side, ending approximately 2/
3 down the length of the bivy. One zipper track is for an inner bug net and the other
opens a panel situated directly above the bug net in the main fabric of the tent and allows
access to the outside. The double zipper design allows both panels to be opened and
closed from a variety of locations. Two small loops are attached to the body of the tent,
allowing the user to roll up the unzipped panels. There are two nylon loops attached at the
head and foot of the bivy for staking. There are two additional loops on each side of the
shoulder region. One holds a single and the other a double grommet for the poles. For
best performance, Black Diamond recommends staking the bivy at the head and foot using
The bivy requires two poles. The main pole is horseshoe shaped and runs across the
width of the head. It attaches to metal grommets located on either side of the bivy. A
second pole runs from a sturdy pocket inside the apex of the bivy's head up along the
length of the bivy to a single grommet which intersects with the first pole at the bivy's
midline. This is a little bit tricky to picture in 3D, so check out Black Diamond's website
for a good picture: (http://www.bdel.com)
Both poles fold up to a very manageable size
and I normally carry them inside my internal frame backpack (Granite Gear Vapor Trail).
Pitched, the tent's head is raised 25 inches (64 cm) from the ground and the material at
the head is held stiffly by the poles. A small awning extends forward over the zippered
panel entrance to provide additional protection from the elements. The rest of the tent is
loose and lays on top of my sleeping bag. The interior of the tent is nondescript. Black
Diamond saves weight by eliminating needless pouches and pockets found on many tents.
The bivy is constructed of silnylon and EPIC fabric. The 2 poles are DAC Featherlites. The
following descriptions have been paraphrased from Black Diamond's website:
EPIC is constructed by encapsulating individual fibers with silicon. This type of design
makes the material "extremely" lightweight, breathable, and resistant to washing. Black
Diamond notes that "EPIC is excellent for use in tents when heavy condensation is an issue
and during rain and snow showers."
Silnylon is a silicone-coated ripstop nylon that offers an excellent strength-to-weight
ratio. It is waterproof, resilient in its durability and is very resistant to degradation over
DAC Featherlite tent poles also provide an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and are
extremely durable because there are no glued inserts.
My very first reactions to the bivy were excitement and wonder after feeling how light it
was. EPIC fabric feels very thin. When I rubbed it between my fingers I could make out the
contours of my fingers very well. Small, barely visible squares cross the fabric. The bivy
can fold up as a comfy pillow if I want and doesn't have that characteristic cold crinkle
sound that most tents have when compressed.
My initial elation quickly turned into frustration when I attempted to set up the tent for the
first time. Possessing a Y chromosome, I first tried to set up the tent without reading the
instructions. After a few failures, I consulted the manual. After several more failures, I
STUDIED the manual and the rather vague pictures included. After six or seven tries, the
bivy was up and I crawled in. (Now that I have used the bivy on several backpacking trips,
it takes me just one or two minutes to set up.) Getting into the bivy is a bit of a trick. I
have to unzip the double zippers (opening both the bug netting and the outer panel) and
go in feet first, then hunker down a bit and recline into the bivy. I can't really provide a
entry/exit comparison to other bivys here, but I'll say that this type of entry allows me to
slide right into my sleeping bag, which I usually have set up prior to entry. Getting into
this bivy feels more like getting into a tent than getting into a sleeping bag. Once inside,
the Lightsabre is surprisingly spacious and doesn't feel restricting, something I feared
when opting for a bivy. I toss and turn quite a bit at night and there's plenty of room in
the Lightsabre to roll around without taking the bivy with me. While I can't sit fully upright
with the bivy closed, I can come up on my elbows. With the bivy unzipped, I can sit up
outside the bivy with my legs and feet still inside to eat or stargaze. There is enough
space for a full-length ground pad (I normally use a 3/4 length Ridgerest), sleeping bag,
pillow, and some small gear (camera, extra clothes, headlamp, etc). A pack will not fit
inside. Being 5'11" (180 cm) I had plenty of extra legroom. I think anyone up to 6'4" (193
cm) or so would be comfortable stretched out.
This proved to be a half-day affair. (The bivy does not come seam-sealed, which probably
allows it to be priced lower.) Seam-sealing is the process of applying a waterproof coating
to the seams of the tent. I had never seam-sealed a tent before. Being a member of the
Nintendo generation, I'm accustomed to my shelters coming factory sealed. The sealing
process was tedious and the bivy hung in my basement for a few days when finished, but I
felt proud of my accomplishment and "authentic".
True to Black Diamond's description, the bivy is water-resistant. The few rainy nights I
spent in the bivy (see "testing conditions"), my body stayed warm and dry. Condensation,
however, often formed on the EPIC fabric and I have woken up with the foot portion of my
sleeping bag damp, even when I left the zippers slightly open, as Black Diamond
recommends. (I cannot say whether this was inside or outside condensation as EPIC is so
thin, but the inside of the bivy felt wet to the touch.) This was not very bothersome as I
normally carry a North Face 35 degree synthetic fill mummy bag. The insulating quality of
my bag was unaffected. I usually leave the zipper slightly open at the foot of the bivy, not
at the head. Black Diamond does not say where the zipper should be open, just that it
needs to be slightly open to prevent asphyxiation. I now carry a lightweight REI tarp to tie
over the bivy at night for extra rain protection.
On dry nights there have been no problems with condensation. The tent is well-ventilated
if the zipper is left slightly open as Black Diamond recommends. The one night I was
under gusty winds on Tennent mountain I did not have the tent staked and could feel the
head of the bivy lifting up a little. The wind did not penetrate the EPIC fabric and the bivy
itself did not move.
The bivy does not feel stuffy. I think this is because the EPIC fabric is thin and breathable.
I don't feel like I'm encased in a shower curtain and there's lots of space in the head area.
I have no complaints about the durability of the materials. I don't baby the bivy. After two
summers of use I can see that my seam sealing job has come loose in spots. I'm planning
on re-sealing those. The seams themselves and stitching have remained firm and intact.
The portion of the tent that is under the most strain (the overhead/vestibule where the
poles cross) has held up just fine. I do not use a footprint and the base of the tent is
without rips. All zippers have performed well. There are no tears anywhere in the body of
the tent. Even when I've caught the fabric of the tent in the zipper, no damage has
resulted. I have not washed the Lightsabre and therefore cannot speak to what happens
after it is washed. I take good care of the tent when it is not in use. I store the poles fully
extended and hang the tent from a hanger.
Overall, the Lightsabre is just what I was hoping it would be, an ultralight solo shelter at a
reasonable price that is durable and reasonably water resistant. It has all of the benefits
of a traditional bivy (see "pros"), but without the claustrophobia. It takes some time to get
good at setting the bivy up and the self-seam sealing element is a little bit of a pain, but I
believe Black Diamond has strove to make this tent as light as possible. For that, I don't
mind the initial inconveniences. I'll continue to use this bivy on all my solo trips and may
try it out this winter.
Need to seam seal yourself
Not easy to set up at first