As someone who has spent many a wet night in the field Im always on the lookout for something that would make my love comfier and I think at last my long search is at an end. This review is going to be in several phases that I will keep adding to as time and my usage of my TERRA NOVA SATURN goes on, which will end with a test in the sands of Afghanistan.
TERRA NOVA who make the SATURN bivi bag have been around for well over a decade making top end camping equipment and especially tents, bivi bags and sleeping systems. What their big claim is above all other companies that are in this market is that they strive to make the lightest and most durable kit as possible, and the SATURN bivi bag is a fine example of this. All their kit is made in the UK which in my eyes means you are not going to get any cheap foreign made rubbish where all possible corners have been cut to keep the price down.
It took about 2/3 weeks for my SATURN to arrive as I was informed that mine was still being constructed and would be with me as soon as it is made, however within 2 days of being told it would be with me in 10 days then I had the SATURN in my hands. The first thought I got when I saw the size of the package was that they must be sending it to me in 2 parts as this is too small to be what I had seen in the pictures, but on opening the stuff sack it came in I soon realised that I had the complete item. I could not believe the size and weight of the thing as I was expecting something allot bigger and heavier but would I had was smaller and lighter than a issue MVP bivi bag !!!
On my cheap scales at home the SATURN weighed in at 1.1kg which is exactly what TERRA NOVA say on their website, this breaks down to 100g for the pegs and 200g for the poles with the remaining 900g being the bivi bag itself. As for pack size TERRA NOVA say it can be packed down to a size of 40x13 cm, with a bit of squashing down I got it down to 38x12cm so a little smaller than they say but I would imagine that once wet/damp it would probably end up a bit bigger anyway. The pegs that come with the SATURN are not cheap bendy pegs but some very strong and lightweight titanium ones, I tried to bend one and could not even remotely get a bend in one so I would imagine that they are near as damn it indestructible and again an excellent sign of quality if that is the pegs that are supplied. You get two poles with the SATURN and each one breaks down into 5 sections to keep the size down, the poles have a length of shock cord running through the middle like most modern tent poles do that helps when joining them up. These again look well made and I would imagine would take a fair amount of punishment before failing.
Now to get on to the bivi bag itself, it comes in 2 colours (red or green). I have the green one which is fine for military use as it is quite a dark green and is not shiny so from a tactical point of view this would be fine. The upper part of the SATURN is made from rip stop gore-tex FLO 2 material, this differs from normal gore-tex material in the fact that it allows oxygen and carbon dioxide to be released so you dont get condensation building up when you are inside it. The base is made from a 100% waterproof material PU type material which from my initial inspection would be more durable than having a gore-tex base. At the foot end is a small vent to allow air to circulate through, this is covered by a small flap which a small guy rope attaches to so it can be covered up from the elements (There are also another 2 points on the front where guy ropes are attached to secure the bivi bag). The SATURN comes with 3 pieces of small cord complete with cleats to attach to these points; these did take me a while to figure out how they fit together though. A small set of instructions printed on the stuff sack would solve this minor point though. From a military point of view I will be changing the cord to some thin green paracord as the supplied cord has a reflective thread sewn through it (like the sort of thing you find on high vis vests) and I will probably do away with the cleats as well if Im honest as they would be a bit to awkward to be messing around with if I was putting the thing up at night with no light.
You access the SATURN by means of a zipped flap which sits just in front of the front pole. On the outside of the flap is a very fine mosquito net which is attached by another zip to the gore-tex flap on the front, what the double zip means is that in you can have the thing fully sealed up against the elements or just the mossie net up when the weather is not so bad and you want to have a nice view of the stars. Both the mossie net and gore-tex flap have 2 zips on so you have a back up if one breaks, the cord that is attached to these zips has the same reflective thread in it as the guy cord but being inside the bag is not so much of a problem in a tactical sense as it is inside but is something to consider.
Terra Nova have asked for this review to be from a military point of view so to start off I thought what better to test the SATURNS durability and general ability to take a bit of a beating than to take it on a military parachute jump. I packed the SATURN in my container (Bergen) exactly as I would do for real, It wasnt packed in a way the it would avoid any sort of knocks but as I would as if I was going to pull it out to use in a tactical situation. To be made suitable to jump with my Bergen was strapped in a lot of harnesses which wrapped around the whole thing, now these straps are pulled very tight compacting a lot of what is in the Bergen. To get these tight enough involves a lot of hands (and boot) on brute force to get them on right, it is not unknown for things to break and bend during this stage and it would be a good test to see how much of a beating the poles can take. Once packed the containers get thrown (literally) onto a vehicle to make the journey to the airfield and then chucked around a bit at the other end. Now the real test would be how it would survive the actual jump, and in my view if it could survive that it could take most forms of military use in its stride, for those that dont know the container is strapped to the individual until exiting the aircraft where it then gets released and hangs on a 10 foot long equipment rope underneath. The container hits the ground with a lot of force, probably the equivalent of being dropped from a height of 20 feet. This particular jump was quite windy so I and the container were dragged around for a bit before I released the parachute so again a bit more punishment for it to take. Once I got a chance to unpack my Bergen to see how it had done I was pleased (although not surprised) to see the Saturn was undamaged if not packed a little smaller due to the harnesses. This test leads me to believe that the Saturn would be fine in a Bergen strapped to a vehicle getting bashed around or getting chucked around a heli etc.
The SATURN is very simple to put up and the first attempt took me 4 minutes to put it up from scratch, it is simply a case of putting the poles together sliding them through the slits at the head and foot end and then pegging it down. It takes up about the same amount of ground as a issue bivi bag does so there is no problems of not having room to put it up in woods/forestry blocks, it also has quite a low profile (about the same height as a camelbak motherlode daysack) so this is again a good point if you are thinking of using it in a tactical environment. For what it is there is quite a lot of room inside however there is no way you would be able to get in there with a Bergen, daysack and webbing, you might be able to SQUEEZE a set of webbing and daysack in but this would be very tight indeed. I managed it by putting it at the bottom of the bivi bag but then I had dramas getting it out again as I had to crawl right down to drag it out this would be a big problem in a tactical environment in my opinion. The only other option is to push yourself as far down as possible then pull the it in after you and leave it at the head end, this was slightly more workable but still far from ideal as I found myself struggling to get out because the kit was blocking my way, the other downside to having kit in the SATURN with you is the fact that you likely to get the inside it wet which would work against everything the Saturn is designed for. In conclusion bringing kit into the SATURN is a no go especially if you are working in a tactical environment as there is neither the room to store it or the time to drag it out if you need to be away in a hurry. The SATURN is designed for use by one person however at a push and if the need really dictated it you could get 2 average size people in it. However you need to be very friendly with that person as you have to spend the night in a position that the bloke who wrote the Karma Sutra would be proud of and I would only suggest doing it in a survival situation and never in a tactical environment.
I choose my first night in the SATURN carefully as I didnt believe there was any sense in testing it in perfect weather so I waited till the weather turned a bit, and the prediction of sub zero temperatures was a good opportunity to see how it stood up in cold conditions. In conjunction with the SATURN I was using a THERM A REST inflatable mat and a softie 12 sleeping bag (comfort rating down to -10) I bedded down for what I hoped would be a comfy night. I woke up at some ridiculous hour of the morning feeling unusually cold which I thought was odd as I had trousers and a t shirt still on, so I shrugged it off and drifted back off to sleep. Later I work up again still cold and upon checking my sleeping bag I was very surprised to feel that it was very damp on the outside (verging on being wet ), I got an ever bigger shock when I felt along the top of the SATURN and realised that the inside was all frozen. What I think happened was that due to the sub zero temperature the outside got a layer of frost on which stopped the material breathing like it was supposed to, this caused a condensation to form inside which then in turn froze. This meant that I found myself sleeping in a damp sleeping bag in what was in essence a freezer, the problem that lead on from this is that at some point in will melt and leave the inside wet and if you pack your sleeping bag away inside the bivi bag it will get soaked through. Bearing in mind the weather that has happened in the UK these past few winters and also that in Afghanistan in the winter it drops to way past -10 most nights this could be a major issue, the only way I can think to solve this would be to sleep with the entrance open to stop the condensation build up but by doing so you are leaving yourself even more exposed to the elements. The other thing I noticed on this initial test was that it was quite hard to locate the zips to open the hood in the dark as there are 4 of the things in that same area, this is not a problem in a non tactical environment where you can use light however using light is a no no then trying to find them in a hurry could become an issue. I have solved this though by simply attaching 2 small beta lights/markers to the tags on the zips which have made it a lot easier to get out in the dark.
My second night in the SATURN was a lot more pleasant than the first Im pleased to report, the weather was wet and very windy so again any failings would soon come apparent. When setting up the SATURN I took a little more time to make sure everything was perfect, this still only took me just over 5 minutes even with all the fine tuning. I made the whole thing as tight and ridged as possible and this made a huge difference in the weather especially the wind and from a tactical perspective this cut down the noise it made in the wind (no more rustling than a poncho would make in similar weather). During the heavy rain I checked to make sure it was not leaking anywhere especially around the zips and rear vent and I was very happy to see that the thing was bone dry inside. After a good 8 hours inside I was relieved to see no condensation build up inside which reinforced my thoughts on why it had failed in the in the cold. To get out without letting water inside I found quite difficult because the way the front opens up, my tip would be to get anything (sleeping bag in particular) away from the entrance and then make the exit as quick as possible. To be honest Im not sure how to solve this problem without adding excess weight to the thing and I suppose that is one of the sacrifices you have to make to have something this lightweight, although for the military user you could solve it by sticking a poncho above you. It was very easy to pack away and even though it was quite wet it still easily fits into the stuff sack with the pegs and poles, it does take a little time to tie the tensioning cords away so they dont get tangled up (a problem that I highlighted earlier that could easily fixed).
The TERRA NOVA SATURN is by all accounts an excellent piece of kit and would be perfect for the military user in most areas both in the UK and on ops. You do have to make some adjustments though to make it more suitable for use in a tactical environment (change the tensioning cords/add beta markers to inner zips etc). In fact the only down side I can think of is the price, but you are in this case paying for a quality product. At £350 it is very steep and is a large wedge of cash for what is in effect a bivi bag, all be it a very good bivi bag. All in all I cannot recommend the SATURN enough and I know the people i work with who have seen this one are now thinking about getting them, 10/10.