After searching through various tent reviews, I decided that the Terra Nova Saturn Bivy was for me. Today it arrived and as there’s precious little info out there about it, I thought I’d provide a few first impressions.
Well for starters the bivy arrived in a tiny box measuring 155x155x400mm. Whilst signing for it, I found it hard to believe this was what I’d ordered and that I could fit inside it! After rushing upstairs and getting into the box itself, I found a perfectly ordinary tent bag, all be it small. Rather than me inaccurately measuring something cylindrical, suffice to say it fits nicely within the aforementioned box. No doubt my usual problem of getting everything back into the bag will apply. This also applies to my self-inflating mat and sleeping bag, but I can partially do those under the shelter of the bivy bag whilst cursing and trying to roll them tighter.
Taking the bivy out of the bag highlights the usual tight fittedness of these things and I had to partially untie the knot in the bag’s draw cord in order to get it out. With this done, I can start to unroll the bag and the quality of it is immediately apparent. It has a tough feel about it that suggests it’s considerably more rugged than the ultra-light tents it competes with. A small tent bag contains seven aluminium pegs and three guy ropes. Two of these will tie to the front of the bivy and one to the rear. The two poles are supplied in a throw-away polythene bag. When laid out flat and upside down, the groundsheet component measures the stated 2400mm; should be big enough for me and my mostly unpacked at night rucksack.
One element that’s notable by its absence is any form of instructions on pitching or care. I’m not sure if this is normal or just missing in my case. Terra Nova have online instructions for most of their tents and bags but seemingly not for the Saturn. Admittedly it’s not that hard to figure out but I do have a couple of things to ponder over. Foremost of these is the pegging. The tent has four obvious pegging points that live on the same webbing points that the poles slot into. The internal hole on each accommodates the pole and the outer the peg. At each end of the bag there are two further webbing loops but these are just loops, without metal eyelets to stick the peg through, as per the other four. I’m not really sure if these are pegging points or just for hanging up the bag when drying. As the bag only comes with seven pegs, and there are four obvious pegging points plus three guy cords, for now I’m going to assume the latter.
The other less than obvious feature is an elasticated draw cord that sits within the outer seam of a tiny porch. I’m calling it a porch for want of a better name as it only extends 120mm out from the front pole. It’s to this seam that the front two guy cords also attach by way of two webbing loops. Attach is probably the wrong word as they appear to just knot on to the loops. I’m guessing the draw cord in the seam is there to tension the porch and stop it flapping in the wind.
After writing the above couple of paragraphs, I’ve studied the tiny picture on Terra Nova’s website and it appears that the head-end webbing loops are indeed pegging points and they share a peg with each of the front guy cords. This introduces another question as the cords are far too long unless I cut them to length or double them up. I’ll go for doubling up, it’s too early for hacking at things! At the rear this still poses a slight question as there’s a single guy cord and two loops. Unlike the front, the guy cord is nowhere near the loops so sharing a peg isn’t an option. So I make that, 4 x pegs for the eyeleted sides, 2 x pegs for the front loops and guys and 3 x pegs for the back loops and guy. A total of nine when I’m only supplied seven so I suspect I’ve got it all wrong. All these points are minor nitpicks but they would be instantly solved with an A4 sheet of instructions.
Next I’ll take a look at the poles: Unlike many bigger tents, each section of the pole is pre-shaped into a slight curve so that when the five segments are slotted together, a semi-circle is formed. This means the poles slot easily into their eyelets without placing much tension on them. In a normal tent this would be undesirable as that tension keeps the skin taught and the fly away from the inner. For a single-skin bivy, this isn’t an issue. The segments of each pole are kept together by a length of shock cord inside them, same as with all my other tents. That’s about all I can say about them, they look perfectly suited for the job they do. The same is true of the aluminium pegs. Pity they aren’t titanium but for a little bag like this, I can’t see it being an issue.
In terms of ventilation, the Saturn has a tiny vent at the feet end. This is permanently open and should be enough to supply a draught without turning the bag into a wind tunnel. The head end is a different story. Here there’s a huge vent in the form of the net outer door. On dry nights this will provide a nice view of the sky whilst also ensuring that most of the carbon dioxide I breath out can escape instead of ramping up the humidity and dampness inside. The outer attaches to the body of the bivy via the usual two zip fasteners so that a gap can be left between them if desired. The inner door is made of Gore-Tex, the same as the bivy itself. It’s fixed to the groundsheet at the bottom and then by a zip to the outer door, once again with two fasteners on the zip. The fasteners themselves have blue cord loops instead of the usual metal tags for working them. I’m quite happy with this as the tags seem to frequently break on some zips. Only time will really tell if this is actually better. One point to note is that owing to the shape of the head end, if I want to peer out at the night sky, I’ll need to have my head right up in the nose of the bag. Probably not an issue, although this is also the logical place to put any kit that can’t stay outside. I’ll experiment with this when I get around to pitching it and climbing in.
I think that’s enough time spent on grumbles as the standard of this bivy makes them all seem like petty niggles. The quality of it really is outstanding and it oozes a sense of durability beyond even some of my mountain tents that weigh five times as much. For me what sets it apart from a tent is the sheer unobtrusiveness of the Saturn: Mine is green so it blends in nicely with the landscape without attracting unwanted attention. Add to that the simplicity of pitching it and the ruggedness and it’s surely a winner. Later on (when it stops raining) I’ll put it up, climb inside and make some more observations. For now though, I’m content that my exchange of cash for Terra Nova Bivy was not a poor one.