User Review: Big Agnes Sarvis SL2
Design: Three season, freestanding
Ease of Setup: Easy, 7 minutes
Weight: 4lbs, 7oz.
Price Paid: $250
I have a favorite cool weather tent, but I found out the hard way, on a section hike of the AT, that it’s simply too heavy to carry for multi-day backpacking and that it lacks the ventilation necessary for muggy Summer nights on the trail. So I went looking for something lighter and more “airy”, and checked out probably 20 possible tents.
I like the idea that, with single wall tents, you can pitch them in the rain and not get the inside wet; but I don’t like the overnight condensation issues. I also like the extreme light weight of certain double wall tents, like the Seedhouse 2SL; but I don’t like their high pricetag, two-step setup and the questionable durability of their mesh, as indicated in many reviews. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I like being different; and so I’m always looking for something unique. In light of all the above, when I stumbled upon the Big Agnes Sarvis, I immediately knew I had found what I was looking for!
The Sarvis is a hybrid tent; half single wall and half double wall. The single wall rear half has three ground level vents and two ceiling vents. The double wall front half has nice sturdy mesh, with a fly attached at midpoint, that you can either roll back for fresh air and stargazing or roll forward for stormy weather and stake out for a nice (but a tad small) vestibule. Since the fly is attached, you cannot use the so-called fast-fly configuration for the Sarvis.
The weight is approximately 1 oz. heavier than the Seedhouse 2 and 1 lb. heavier than the Seedhouse 2 SL. However, the Sarvis is a 73 inches wide at its center, versus 52 inches for both Seedhouses; and the maximum height of the Sarvis is 46 inches, versus 38 inches for both Seedhouses. Also, the Seedhouse SL uses 20 denier nylon on its fly, whereas the Sarvis uses the same 30 denier nylon for its fly as for its floor. As with both Seedhouses, the Sarvis packs down to the size of a football, making it welcome inside your backpack. Big Agnes makes a splendid line of lightweight tents to choose from.
The Sarvis employs a pole and hub system that's a combination of clips and pole sleeves; so setup is a little complicated and time-consuming. You have to shove the longitudinal "spine" pole through a sleeve, then shove the sturdy cross-pole through another sleeve, perpendicular to the first sleeve. It took me about 7 minutes on the first try; and 5-7 minutes on subsequent setups. But once you have the poles in place, you’re done; there’s no 2nd step of applying the fly. So, the extra time at the outset is mitigated by less time at the end.
If you insist on staking and guying every point possible, including the 3 ground level vents in the rear half, you are going to use 13 stakes and it’s going to take you a few more minutes. I think it's advisable to stake open the three rear floor vents and open the two ceiling vents, to mitigate condensation. The cavernous height, combined with the floor and ceiling vents and nice airflow from the front half, handle condensation quite nicely, IMO. There is airflow, but the tent is not “drafty”. I am not sure I'd like to use the Sarvis in 30 degree weather, though; but I got it for Summer use, not Winter use.
Once you are set up and inside, you will notice how wide and roomy the Sarvis feels for a two-person tent. This is especially good if you are friends with your camping partner, not lovers. And, as previously stated, the height is almost 4 feet, contributing to the feeling of roominess. Two people can sit up and play cards, for example, without bumping their heads.
If the weather is nice or the temperatures are warm the Sarvis will feel very comfortable for you. If you set up the front of the tent to face the prevailing wind, air will flow through the tent beautifully, keeping you cool on warm nights. You can roll the fly back for stargazing, as you prefer; and if it starts to rain, you roll the fly forward and stake out the front vestibule in less than a minute! On chilly nights, close the vestibule, and face the rear of the tent away from the prevailing wind. You'll get some air circulation, but not drafts.
We have used the Sarvis on approximately 4 nights, with temperatures ranging from a high of 65 to a low of 33, but have not had any nights of drizzle or rain. We did not encounter heavy winds either. We think it's important to stake the vents open, to offset condensation with gentle airflow. The extra pole, across the middle of the tent, makes the tent completely sturdy when hit with cross-winds, whereas the Seedhouse 2 SL tent is apparently vulnerable to cross-winds. We own two heavier 3 season tents, and the Sarvis’ sturdiness compares very favorably in windy, stormy conditions.
Big Agnes has discontinued the Sarvis, so you might have to scrounge around to find one. But if you are able to get your hands on one, you’ll enjoy a nice combination of a unique design, relatively easy setup, good ventilation for warm nights and interior roominess, wrapped up in a very, very lightweight package. That’s why I purchased this tent, and it’s why I recommend it to you.