In 2021, NEMO Equipment announced a new tent material called OSMO. The fabric, a polyester/nylon composite that took two years to develop, is sustainable, ultralight, and a little out of this world—but what else would you expect from a brand founded by a spacesuit designer?
Before starting NEMO Equipment, CEO Cam Brensinger was working on spacesuit design for NASA with a team at MIT. One weekend, during a winter bivy in particularly bad weather, he realized that he could revolutionize tent design by making an ultralight shelter that supported itself via inflatable beams. That prototype eventually led to the founding of NEMO, now one of the industry’s most iconic brands.
While most of NEMO’s tent designs today use modern aluminum poles, Brensinger has continually been behind some of the tent industry’s biggest innovations—particularly in the realm of sustainability. In 2008, the brand launched a fully recycled tent using bamboo poles. A few years later, it started a program to upcycle old tents into bags and wallets. The company also monitors its carbon emissions and the impact of its supply chain, and plans to be carbon neutral by April 2022. But OSMO represents a new era where environment and performance go hand in hand.
For years, camping tents have been made out of one of two materials: nylon or polyester. Nylon is light and strong, but tends to stretch and sag when wet. Polyester doesn’t absorb water or stretch out, but ultralight polyester fabrics aren’t as strong as ultralight nylon.
Enter OSMO. The new fabric, which NEMO will pilot in its Dagger and Hornet Elite tents in 2022, offers the best of both worlds. It’s made by weaving nylon and polyester together, which has never been done before in tents at commercial-scale. This might be because it was surprisingly difficult to do.
“The two different yarns have different shrinkage rates in the weaving process and different stretch,” explains Gabi Rosenbrien, NEMO’s product development manager. “So we had to tinker with that quite a bit.” After hundreds of iterations, the team came up with OSMO, which offers three times less stretch and four times better water repellency than the nylon fabrics traditionally used in lightweight tents. And, importantly, NEMO was able to use 100% recycled fabric (the polyester is recycled from water bottles and the nylon from post-industrial waste). The material is also free of PFC, PFAS, and fire-retardant chemicals, all of which can be toxic to the environment. After one year, NEMO will make the OSMO’s recipe available to other brands, as well.
“Sustainability was a big target for us, but we knew it couldn’t come at the cost of performance,” says Rosenbrien. With the OSMO, NEMO has achieved the holy grail of fabric performance: both.