The Interstellar Bivy from Outdoor Research sets out to hit a sweet spot between lightness, protection, and usability – with a “wearable” approach to what a bivy can be.
The bivy caught my eye when OR showed it at the OutDoor trade fair in the summer of 2018 already.
After all, if you want to travel light and fast over trails, you won’t want to burden yourself with an outright tent. A bivy, small and light as it can pack, can have a hard time proving its mettle over a mere emergency bag and against a tent offering room to get camp chores done, though.
The Outdoor Research Interstellar Bivy slots right in between…
Full disclosure: I received the Interstellar Bivy I have been testing from Outdoor Research, for free, without obligations to review it, let alone any influence on my editorial reporting.
Why Change a Bivy?
I liked it well enough, and not only because I had also received that bivy for free to review it if and as I saw fit. Rather, it is light and useful. But, it also has some issues which I didn’t hold back on.
The Interstellar Bivy was built on the feedback of Outdoor Research users – and it shows.
There are still some things to know and consider – and I have only had it since late 2018, i.e. for a few months of fall and winter. Thus, I will still need to add hot-weather experiences to this review (or write a part 2).
That said, I can definitely give first impressions, based as always in my reviews on my own actual use, for the Interstellar Bivy. And with a few caveats, I have come to love this little Interstellar outdoors home.
For a bivy that is no longer preferably just for warmer weather (3 seasons, like the Helium Bivy), the 4-season Outdoor Research Interstellar Bivy first surprises with its size and weight.
Packed, it takes up a little bit more volume than the Helium and weighs a touch more, but the difference is barely noticeable:
Where the (old*) Helium Bivy, made of Pertex Shield+, weighs 18 ounces (510 grams), the Interstellar, made of AscentShell material, weighs 19.9 ounces (564 grams).
Both bivies’ weights given here include the single Delrin pole they come with (which weighs some 50 grams on its own).
[*There is actually an updated version of the Helium bivy out now, which weighs only just over 1 lb. (16.8 ounces) or 476 grams.]
On the first setup, it becomes clear that the Interstellar Bivy will take a little getting used to, but the issues that give that impression are also the elements which increase its usefulness immensely…
How the Interstellar Bivy Sets Up and Stands
Threading the pole through its loop is, at least at first, a bit harder than it was on the Helium Bivy. That happens because the material forming that loop is harder, and for a good reason:
On the Interstellar Bivy, loop and bivy entrance are moved quite a bit, so that the pole/loop sit right above one’s head and form the very end of the bivy (naturally, given that they are above one’s head).
The entrance is no longer at the top part of the bivy (where it remains on old and new Helium Bivy models), “above” the pole/loop, but in the upper third of the bivy’s body.
Consequently, the Interstellar has even less of a tent-like silhouette than the Helium. Rather, it has just become a shell for one’s sleeping mattress and bag – and all the better for it.
Once a sleeping mattress – let alone, a sleeper – is inside the bivy, the Interstellar now stands very well.
No longer does the pole’s loop tumble so that the bivy’s cover and/or mosquito netting end up against one’s face; it nicely keeps the cover up and at a distance.
Interstellar Gazing Options
The way one can now enter/exit and close up the Interstellar bivy (just like its sibling, the Stargazer) is to open it at the top or towards the sides; the zippers reach around so far that the whole upper third of it can be opened up.
This sounds and looks a bit as if rain could just fall in, unlike on the Helium Bivy where the top parts (almost) always fall so that the bivy is closed, but it actually makes for enhancements.
For one, far as the zips go, it is also possible to get in from the side, if one wants to keep precipitation out.
More importantly, this configuration makes it possible to zip open the AscentShell outer material, roll it up and hook it down so only the sides of it will flap in the wind (and if there were so much wind, you wouldn’t open it so wide), lie under the no-see-um mosquito netting alone.
Let the mosquitoes buzz safely at a distance from your face – and kept away by the pole/loop of the bivy – while you gaze at the starry night sky above you.
Exactly what I love bivies for.
Bad Weather Use and the Interstellar’s “Wearability”
I have not had experiences using the Interstellar in more than snow, let alone needing to do camp chores in inclement weather, but it has a peculiar trick for that:
The Interstellar Bivy gives a new meaning to the word wearable. It’s not an app, not any electronic device, but a bivy that you can, to some extent, wear.
Top Weatherproofing’s in the Details
First of all, though, let me mention just how nicely the cover’s zippers are protected.
The stronger material forming the loop already extends to cover the zippers. Then, just underneath them (towards the foot of the bivy), the cover material folds back on itself. And towards the bottom of the loop, that material folds around again to cover the zippers…
In effect, water that flows down from the loop will just flow onto the cover material. Water on that upper is still being held back from the zippers, even if wind were to push it towards them. And water flowing down the sides just flows down the AscentShell material protecting the zippers.
This is just the kind of small details and attention paid to them that I really enjoy seeing in outdoors gear.
The AscentShell material – also seen in the Interstellar Jacket from Outdoor Research, for example – really does seem to hold its own.
Waterproofing and Breathability
The AscentShell has no issues with precipitation (at least, any I’ve encountered so far; we’ll see about downpours), and it is obviously nicely breathable.
I can tell, first of all, simply from rolling up the bivy.
Where the Helium needs to be rolled up from the foot to the slightly opened top in order to blow all the air out, the Interstellar can be rolled up from top to foot.
The air just escapes right through the AscentShell membrane, which it doesn’t do from the Pertex Shield+.
Close and Cover – and Breathe
The great breathability is also noticeable when closing the bivy – and this is a bivy made for 3-4 season use, i.e. also for the winter:
As much as I liked the Helium bivy already, it was absolutely necessary to keep it slightly open to avoid a feeling of being suffocated, not getting quite enough air.
In the Interstellar bivy, I have not had that issue at all.
I shut it against the freezing nights, and there was no issue with breathability at all.
There was only a slight bit of ice having formed right above my mouth and drifting down in the morning, as I opened the bivy back up, but that was it – and it was gone within minutes, if that.
Nowhere (else) did I notice any condensation, ice, or anything (and I had most of the things you can see around the bivy in the video inside the bivy, outside my sleeping bag, during the night).
Hood the Bivy Up
The second part of the Interstellar bivy’s protective nature is where it all becomes “wearable” – and a tad complicated:
The Head Bump
There is a “bump” in the head part of the bivy, where one can put – big surprise! – one’s head in order to “wear” what is otherwise the head(board) of the bivy like a hat.
That makes the whole top like a hood or wide-brimmed hat, kept in shape by the loop that otherwise keeps the top (i.e., the top when one is lying in the bivy) away from one’s face.
Does it Stay Up?
The slight problem with this is that, when wearing a cap or trying to be in one’s sleeping bag as well, and especially with a winter sleeping mattress in the bivy, it will all try to fall back into a supine position.
In the end, then, one only holds up the bivy with one’s forehead pushing against the bivy’s loop.
This may also, at least in part, be a result of how the bivy is made to be relatively snug, so that thicker winter gear fills it close to the brim.
It is a somewhat odd mixture as there is room for putting e.g. one’s shoes and some sensitive gear into the bivy. And, not least thanks to the loop, it does not feel claustrophobic. It still is a bivy, and one that is supposed to be “wearable”, though, and not a tent.
Only having one’s head in that bump, without a cap, and with a lighter sleeping mattress and bag, it all works/wears considerably better – but then, it may be less necessary.
The Head and Arms Zippers
For both the outer cover and the mosquito netting, there are zipper pulls for both arms and for the head. With those, one can open the bivy up selectively – which leads us to the second part of its “wearability.”
In situations with lots of mosquitoes, for example, keep your face behind the mosquito net, leave the protective cover open, and only put your arms out to take care of your cooking.
Or, keep the outer cover closed as far as possible, except for an eye slit and arms outside for camp chores whenever necessary, if there is a lot of precipitation you want to be protected from.
This is all useful and interesting, but it also makes for three sets of double zipper pulls (for head, left and right arms) each on the mosquito net and the protective outer cover.
Advice: Watch Your Zippers!
Some organizational care is highly recommendable, therefore:
Make sure you have the zippers where they should be; the ones for the arms down the sides, the ones for the head at the top.
Or perhaps, slide the mosquito net’s “head” zippers as far down as you want them, to make it easier to just get in or out through the outer cover – in which case, your mattress and sleeping bag can get caught up on the mosquito net when you are at the point during the bivy’s setup where you want to push those in…
Like I said, good and useful ideas which also make for some issues to learn to deal with appropriately.
I have not, of course, made it to warm-weather bivouacking yet (as the bivy has only just been released in the winter of 2019, and even I only got it a bit earlier that winter).
Like the more-simply constructed Stargazer bivy (which lacks the “wearability” of the Interstellar), the Interstellar bivy promises to be great for that, though:
Open up the cover and hook it in so it doesn’t flap around – if the hook and loop you find there are really made for that; they are a bit of a tight fit for that use.
Close down only the mosquito net and you’ll not be seen too much, the netting will be safely away from your face, and you can have a wide field of view into the starry sky above…
The seemingly heavier material made me wonder a bit if I would really be bringing the Interstellar Bivy (rather than my old Helium Bivy) with me in the summer.
After the experiences I have had with it so far, however, I am sure I will.
It will likely be a pleasure for stargazing on warm summer nights, and I will want to see how the material performs in warm (and humid) conditions.
Downpours will also be something where I’d like to see how the “wearability” of the Interstellar Bivy comes into play then, when I don’t have a heavy winter sleeping mattress restricting mobility…
Recently, light tents have tempted me a bit, but my fastpacking overnighters will probably see me out with the Interstellar – and fine with it.