Review by: j_ung, 2005-06-08
[b]Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this equipment LOANED it to Rockclimbing.com to review. This company does not currently advertise on RC.com.[/b]
When I say, “inflatable,” what do you think of, a kiddie pool? How about water wings? Helium balloon? Blow-up doll? Certainly not tent.
Well, let me introduce you to another term: AirSupported™. That’s NEMO’s proprietary language for what you may call an “inflatable tent,” but they call serious shelter for serious outdoorspeople.
Founded in 2002 (keep the finding-Nemo jokes to yourself, please), NEMO aims to change the way we think about tents. In the Sako, they’ve taken simple shelter back to the drawing board and produced what many think is revolutionary. Indeed, a peek at NEMO’s littany of design awards is enough to turn even the most obstinate head: 2004 Summer OR Best of Show Pick; 2004 ISPO BrandNew Award; the Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Award and an ID Magazine Design Distinction Award.
Here’s one more: the J_ung No-Really, It-Actually-Works Award. The Sako’s simplicity and ease of use are right in line with what I expected when
Chris Dickey, NEMO’s Director of Marketing, told me flatly, “it’s simple and easy to use”. And its AirSupported™ tech is only part of the story.
[i]Sako's main airbeam, inside the tent.[/i]
[i]And its redundant airbeam on the outside.[/i]
According to Dickey, who used to serve as Marketing and Circulation Coordinator for Alpinist Magazine, NEMO’s vision at it’s inception was to examine the humble (and not-so-humble) tent and then make the best solutions possible for the problem of portable shelter outdoors.
That’s all well and good, but my first thought when I heard about AirSupported™ tents was very basic: “How sturdy are these things?” And indeed, despite reading all the hoo-ha about design awards and engineering genius, the true truckliness of this tent isn’t fully apparent until one sees it in person and sets it up. This is no toy.
I erected my Sako (sounds dirty, I know) and circled it warily, like a wolf sizing up prey. My dog, Louis, looked on in apathy. “Damn…” I muttered as I prodded an airbeam. Louis seemed unimpressed. “That’s pretty cool…” I mumbled as I fingered a zipper. Louis was unfazed. “I wonder…” I mused as I glanced sidelong at Louis. Still, she didn’t seem to care until I swept her off the ground and approached the tent. Resigned to her fate, she sighed as I placed her gingerly atop the Sako. Slowly, I released my grip on the dog. “Stay, Louis. Stay. Good girl.” I let her go and the Sako… collapsed.
What did you expect? I put a 25-poung dog on top of it. But here’s the cool part. As soon as Louis scrambled off the Sako – pop! – it righted itself completely. The Sako’s a three-season tent, so if you’re in a blinding blizzard with it, you probably didn’t check the weather report. But if snow does accumulate on the Sako, just smack it around a little and the tent regains its shape, one hundred percent. In high wind… I’m talking huff-and-puff, blow-your-house-down wind… Well, let’s just say it’s not an issue. The Sako isn’t going anywhere.
The Sako’s only weakness here is the fact that it isn’t free standing. Under normal conditions, it isn’t a problem, but this tent needs good ground to be as solid as possible. In soft soil or on rocky terrain, support from below isn’t a given. The brawny YKK water resistant zippers – a necessity for single-wall tents – are actually strong enough to yank a stake out of loose soil when pulled carelessly.
NEMO designed stake loops specifically to hold a stake firmly sideways for placement under rocks. Just make sure those rocks are beefy or sacrifice some peace of mind.
My second thought when I heard about the Sako was, “What happens when you pop an air bladder?” The Sako’s airbeam is actually two airbeams, a small one stacked atop a large. If one pops, the theory is that the other will lend enough support for you to still get a good night’s sleep. All NEMO’s AirSupported™ tents come with replacement bladders, which are shockingly easy to install. The sleeves that house the bladders have openings at both ends. Simply tie the new bladder onto the old and pull it through. Truthfully, though, you won’t need to replace a bladder. The sleeve is tough enough to resist an errant pocketknife, not to mention tent stakes and your dog’s teeth. You’d have to try to pop one.
To set the Sako up, stake it out, affix the pump and let ‘er rip. And here’s the kicker: NEMO was thoughtful enough to design the inflation valve to be accessed from both inside and outside the tent. Driving rain? No problem! Stake it out, crawl inside like it’s a bivy bag and start pumping.
Since human lungs are not capable of inflating the Sako to its required PSI, a pump is required equipment. However, NEMO does not include a pump with their tents, which seems a little thoughtless for such a thoughtful design house. With a couple different pump models available, they opted to let folks choose which one best suits their needs. Personally, I think the foot pump is the way to go; it’s hands down faster than the “integrated pump”.
With all of the high technology the Sako employs, it’s easy to overlook a few features that also go into making it such a thoughtful shelter. The
Sako is a single-walled tent, which makes it even easier to set up. NEMO attacked the single-wall condensation problem with aggressive ventilation (four vents) and three entry points, all of which double as mesh windows under clear skies and mild temps. It’s got a generous vestibule and ample internal storage for gadgets, water bottles and midnight snacks.
With its obvious craftsmanship and thoughtful simplicity, it’s hard not to imagine the Sako becoming a popular tent. Still NEMO is playing it a little safe by producing only a small first run – 250 units of each model. Currently The Sako is available at IME in North Conway, NH, Marmot Mountain Works in Seattle and on NEMO’s own website, which really shouldn’t be missed if you want to dive deeper into their AirSupported™ technology.
Just to set the record straight, the Sako is too expensive to use as a kiddie pool. I don’t know if you can use it as a personal floatation device, but I assume so, and I’m not sure what would happen if you filled it with helium instead of air. Feel free to use it as a blow-up doll if you’re into that sort of thing, but don’t go crying to NEMO if you pop an airbeam.