NEMO's Sabre SE features a new waterproof, breathable fabric that significantly masks light sources from inside this compact little bivy. The OSMO DC fabric does not provide full blackout capability, but it is very effective. I tested it using white, blue and red light inside; the only light that stuck out was the white light. I was truly impressed.
Like its big brother -- the Gogo -- the Sabre SE uses an innovative, inflatable rib, or airbeam, for support. It is a strong performer, but I found it difficult to set up and take down in a hurry.
According to NEMO's website, the Saber SE can be setup in approximately 15 seconds, and torn down in less than 5 seconds. I can honestly say that after erecting and tearing down with both the given instructions and with some of my own ideas, I was completely unable to come close to either one of these times.
Even after three practice runs, following the instructions in the stuff sack, it took me an average of 6 minutes and 32 seconds to set-up the shelter and an average of 1 minute and 32 seconds to readjust after inflating the Airbeam support structure. My biggest issues with the instructions is that staking down the bivy before inflating the Airbeam seemed like a complete waste of time. I had to almost redo every single stake to get the frame taught so it would shed rain effectively.
After having such a monumental fail using the instructions, I tried my own tricks and was able to shave the time down to an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds plus one more minute to make necessary adjustments. Following the instructions, the Airbeam developed two kinks, requiring further adjustment. I do not recommend following NEMO’s instructions. I feel that it results in a sloppy-looking bivy that requires a lot of adjustment.
I found that inflating the Airbeam first and then staking down the bivy saved the most amount of time and required the least amount of readjustment. I also used the air pump a different way that drastically reduced the amount of time needed for setup. Pushing against the ground when using the air pump worked much better than just squeezing it with my hand, as directed by the instructions. This cut the inflation time in half, and it drastically reduced the chance of a kink in the Airbeam.
The Sabre SE is, however, very lightweight and packable. The weight advertised on the website states 2 pounds and 7 ounces, and I found that to be very accurate. The website states that the shelter in its fully compressed state is 7 inches x 7 inches in diameter. I couldn’t figure out how they got that measurement, but I will admit I’m not that smart -- too much time with the infantry. After packing it the way I felt was the smallest it could get without having the stakes poke holes in the stuff sack, the shelter measured 9.5 inches tall, 8.25 inches wide, and 5 inches in-depth.
This shelter is very compact, even more compact than what I was issued for my tour in Afghanistan. It fit easily in the bottom of my Mystery Ranch three-day pack.
I have only had limited time and weather conditions to which to test this bivy. I couldn’t make it rain, so I poured water all over it. It seemed to work very well. All the water I poured over this bivy simply beaded up and rolled off. As far as keeping you warm, I can say that with a sleeping pad and a standard poncho liner, I was more than comfortable at night with temperatures getting as low as 50 degrees.
I made sure to check it out in warmer conditions as well. During day-time temperatures that reached the mid 70s sometimes 80s, the small air vent in the roof was not enough ventilation to keep me comfortable. Opening up the inner flap next to the Airbeam or the front vestibule offered more ventilation making the bivy much more comfortable and livable.
I was asked to see if getting in and out of the bivy while in full kit was an issue. I was only able to test this while wearing an Eagle Plate Carrier with a cummerbun, not a fully-loaded, Improved Outer Tactical Vest. With this in mind, I would only enter or exit through the side opening -- not through the front. Trying to enter or exit through the front with just a plate carrier on was just too difficult, so I would have to assume that doing so in full kit would be nearly impossible, and I’m only a 5 foot 6 inches tall and weigh 170 pounds.
This bivy is very lightweight and compressible. It will shield you from the weather, and it offers very good light discipline. The only real con I could come up is I could not even come close to the stand-up or tear-down times stated on the website. However I have never been overly impressed by the info stated on websites.
The NEMO SABRE SE is available for $549.00 in Multicam or $499.00 in Alpha Green or Coyote. While this is expensive, I would definitely recommend this shelter to not only soldiers having to hike the mountains of RC East, but also the simple Alpine Hiker looking for a solid, lightweight shelter.
-- Staff Sgt. Robert Altrich is 68W, combat medic, in the U.S.Army. He's had one tour to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, where he did his share of dismount time with the infantry.