The Observer Plus, by Carinthia European Cold Weather Specialists, is a simple, intuitive shelter that is less a bivy bag, and more of a tent. It's easy to use, versatile and very well constructed.
Two tent poles form a small dome at the head end which provides enough space for the user to handle a rifle lying in the prone in an overwatch position. The design slopes down from the shoulder to the foot end to prevent straight lines which are easily spotted, company officials maintain.
The Observer Plus features a large opening at the front that allows a 180-degree field of view. It has an L-shaped, zipper opening that allows the user to enter and exit from the left side. Both the observation opening and the access opening are fitted with a mosquito net. All zippers are protected by a specially designed storm flap to make them absolutely waterproof, company officials maintain.
The bag is made of Gore-Tex and is well put together. As I stated before, this is more of a tent than a pure bivy bag, as it uses tent poles, and has loops to stake it down. The whole system is very simple to use; it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to put it up, without using a picture. Anyone could use this with minimal spin up time.
Upon finishing the set up, I began to inspect it, noting all the various features. While this bag is designed with snipers and observers in mind, this could be useful for anyone who needs to pull overwatch on a position, or for sentries.
While its stowed size is compact for a tent, it's still very large for a bivy bag. Compared to the bivy bag for the Army sleep system, it stows in the stuff sack and takes up very little space. It also did not come with tent stakes. While they are easy enough to get, Carinthia should include them if they are going to charge $711 for this bivy.
Now, that the bad is out of the way, time for the good. The Observer Plus is versatile and with a little knowledge of camouflage, it could be used as a blind, for nature photographers or hunters, a tent for backpacking, or it's intended use as an observation blind for snipers and recon elements.
It is very well constructed, and lacks some of the rough edges that the Army sleep system's bivy bag has. The bottom of the bag has a rugged, canvas-like material that seems like it will withstand some punishment.
Set up was a breeze, even under stress, it took maybe five minutes. I was dry and warm all night, even with the temperatures nearing freezing. It takes a bit longer to roll back up and put in the sock, but it's still relatively quick.
Since it is larger than the standard issue bivy sack, it is very roomy. There are 5 loops on the back of the Observer to hold the insulating mat in place. The trapezoidal foot was very nice, as it allows a natural foot position. The second night I used the issue bivy sack, which did not allow for that, causing severe leg cramps during the night.
Still though, there is no vestibule on this bivy, so you have no place to put your ruck.
This is an outstanding piece of kit, and I would highly recommend it -- if you don't mind spending $711 for one.
-- Thomas Forrest has served as a battlefield weather forecaster for the past four years. Forrest said he is always looking out for new gear to make his job easier and ease his burden in the field.