The Important Information to Poncho Tarps

Yearly I obtain a handful of emails about poncho tarps. Particularly, whether or not or not I feel they signify a viable shelter and rain gear possibility for thru-hiking. The quick reply is sure, however with some pretty giant caveats.

For the handful of gearheads who’re within the whys and wherefores of those multi-functional items of kit, this text is for you. For everybody else, be happy to both try the remainder of the web site, or make your self a quadruple espresso and skim on……………

Poncho Tarping on the Florida Path | January, 2012.

What’s a Poncho Tarp?

A Poncho Tarp is a light-weight, minimalist piece of backpacking gear which, because the title suggests, doubles as each rain gear and shelter. As a bonus, it additionally makes for a superb pack cowl. 

What expertise do you’ve got with poncho tarps?

Roughly 18,000 miles (28,968 km) and 700 nights in whole, together with the primary 11 of the 12 Lengthy Walks. Throughout this journey I used a poncho tarp in a variety of environments, together with the Pacific Crest Path, Continental Divide Path, Southwestern Horseshoe and Pacific Northwest Path. Moreover, over time I’ve repeatedly taken poncho tarps on in a single day wet season excursions in Mexico’s Sierra Madre.

With reference to which fashions I’ve used, the lion’s share of my poncho tarping expertise has been with two completely different tarps; specifically the Integral Designs 8×5 Sil Poncho* and the Mountain Laurel Designs Professional Poncho. The latter has been my go-to possibility since 2010.(* Observe: As per RJ within the feedback part, the previous Integral Designs Sil Poncho is now made by RAB).

Yours actually with the MLD mannequin in Poncho mode | Southwestern Horseshoe, Utah, February, 2012.

What kind of hikers are suited to utilizing poncho tarps?

The gossamer weight and multi-functional nature of poncho tarps has an simple enchantment to ultralight hikers. Shelter and rain gear for a cumulative whole of 8 oz (0.23 kg); throw in a cuben bivy and you’re nonetheless speaking sub-14 oz (0.40 kg). Nonetheless, as my outdated mate Greg “Malto” Gressel is fond of claiming, “all the things seems good on a spreadsheet.”

The fact is that poncho tarps aren’t for everybody, they usually actually aren’t an acceptable possibility given sure circumstances (see under). Listed below are a couple of bins you must tick in case you are pondering of taking the poncho tarp plunge:

  • Prior expertise with utilizing small tarps. There isn’t a approach round it, in shelter mode poncho tarps are removed from palatial. If you’re driving out a prolonged storm beneath certainly one of them, it would be best to be sure that it’s pitched tautly and in an applicable location. There may be little room for error when utilizing small tarps in inclement circumstances.
  • On-Path Vs In-Camp: Attributable to their spartan character, poncho tarps aren’t made for lazy days round camp. They’re most suited to hikers that take pleasure in spending extra time on path, and fewer time hanging out.
  • Adaptability: Attributable to their inherent limitations, hikers selecting to make use of a poncho tarp needs to be able to doing massive distance days when circumstances dictate (e.g. Prolonged above tree-line sections in sketchy climate).
  • No Snivelling: In the event you are usually a kind of hikers that moans and groans at a little bit discomfort, chances are high a poncho tarp isn’t for you.

Mike “The Gambler” Towne utilizing the Integral Designs SilPoncho on the Hayduke Path | February 2012.

What mannequin and measurement Poncho Tarp do you suggest?

There are fairly a couple of cheapo poncho tarp choices obtainable on-line. Whereas I think a few of these are okay, most of them look disposable in nature; one thing you may take to a three-day music competition within the UK, slightly than on a multi-week journey into the backcountry.

As I discussed above, my go-to poncho has lengthy been the Mountain Laurel Designs Professional Poncho. If you’re concerned about giving poncho tarps a attempt, I can’t suggest it extremely sufficient. Once I first used the MLD mannequin again in 2009 I believed it was a well-made, extremely practical piece of substances. 9 years and lots of nights within the boonies later, I nonetheless assume the identical, although I can now add “sturdy” to its checklist of endearing qualities.

In a nutshell, I’m a fan of the MLD Professional Poncho for the next causes:

  • Measurement: The 9’x5.2′ (at entrance) dimensions is adequate to supply respectable safety in tarp mode. For reference, I’m 6’1″ (185cm), medium construct, and weigh round 180 lbs (82 kg). Through the years I’ve ridden out loads of storms in relative consolation underneath a low-pitched Professional Poncho (mixed with an UL Bivy). For medium and larger-sized hikers, I wouldn’t suggest going any smaller than the MLD mannequin. Certainly, in my view poncho tarps which can be 8’x5′ (or smaller) ought to solely be thought-about by of us which can be  5’6″ or much less.  (Observe: I made do with the 8’x5′ Integral Designs Shelter in some fairly nasty climate over time due to a mixture of excellent campsite choice, sleeping within the foetal place, and quite a lot of tarping expertise. That stated, I can inform you for a incontrovertible fact that the additional protection supplied by the MLD mannequin, makes a world of distinction in while you encounter actually dodgy circumstances).  
  • Catenary Lower: The catenary lower ridgeline is spot on. The slight curve makes for a straightforward and taut pitch in A-Body, however isn’t so pronounced that there are points pitching it in different configurations such because the Half Pyramid.
  • Hood Design: The patented hoodslit design is what actually units the MLD Professional Poncho other than different fashions I’ve seen and tried. In poncho mode, the drawcord/cordlock system makes it straightforward to regulate the hood’s quantity, and the stiffened brim is large enough to maintain the rain out of your eyes (Observe: You’ll nonetheless want a cap beneath to cease the hood from drooping when the rain is admittedly coming down). In tarp mode, the hoodslit is ready into the ridgeline, and seals shut when taut. I’ve by no means skilled any of the pooling or drippage points which can be widespread with the usual round-hole / twist-and-tie-off ponchos.

All smiles on a chilly, moist and misty winter ramble on the Ouachita Path | January, 2012.

What pitches do you employ with a Poncho Tarp?

I prefer to hold issues so simple as I can when within the backcountry. Through the years, 95% of the time I’ve used simply two configurations with my MLD Professional Poncho:

1. Half Pyramid – Employed in gentle circumstances, when there may be little likelihood of precipitation, (6 or 7 stakes), and;

2. A-Body – Used when medium to heavy rain and wind is on the playing cards. Pitched low and with the again corners pegged on to the bottom (9 stakes minimal). The A-Body gives extra safety per sq. foot than the Half-Pyramid, however is much less roomy and cozy.

The MLD Professional Poncho in low A-Body with the again corners staked to the bottom (Picture courtesy of MLD web site).

What environments are appropriate (and unsuitable) for a Poncho Tarp?

For established lengthy distance rambles such because the Triple Crown trails, the place there may be little to nothing in the best way of bushwhacking and two weeks straight of inclement circumstances could be very unlikely, I feel poncho tarps are a sensible choice for knowledgeable tarpers who aren’t too fussy in relation to area and luxury .

That stated, I wouldn’t take into consideration taking a poncho tarp for prolonged journeys in constantly moist and windy environments (e.g. Scotland, Tasmania, South Island of NZ, and many others). Identical goes for routes in which there’s numerous rugged cross-country terrain or overgrown path, through which circumstances, ponchos usually tend to snag on a department or bush than an everyday rain jacket.

Lastly, I’d additionally depart the poncho tarp at dwelling for solely above tree line hikes. In such uncovered environments, I’ll often take a bigger sq. (8.5’x8.5′) or rectangular (9’x7′) tarp, however most of the time I’ll go together with a fully-enclosed light-weight shelter comparable to a Mid.

MLD Professional Poncho on the Grand Enchantment Path part of the Southwestern Horseshoe | April, 2012.

Do you at all times mix your Poncho Tarp with an UL Bivy?

Sure. For a weight penalty of between 4.5 to 7.5 oz, a bivy minimizes drafts, gives an additional 5 to 7 levels of heat to your sleep system (like a windshirt to your quilt), a sanctuary from no-see-ums / midgies / mossies throughout bug season, and safety to your quilt from splash again when it’s bucketing down. In the event you so select, you’ll be able to even depart your groundsheet at dwelling due to the bivy’s waterproof (ish) backside. Certainly, if I’m utilizing any tarp that’s smaller than 9’x7′, I’ll at all times mix it with a bivy. The 2 bivvies I’ve utilized in mixture with my poncho tarps since 2009 have been the MLD Superlight and the Katabatic Bristlecone.

Poncho / Bivy Combo | Southeastern Serpentine Path | South Carolina, USA, 2011.

How do you cope with the flapping when mountain climbing with the poncho in moist and windy circumstances?

I at all times use a little bit of bungee twine round my waist, joined collectively on the entrance with a mini-cordlock. This easy and ultralight accent weighs virtually nothing and eliminates numerous the flapping points. If you’re occupied with giving ponchos a attempt, some type of makeshift belt is a should.

On a associated aspect word, the “breezy” nature of poncho tarps in rain gear mode, is definitely one of many issues I like most about them. Until you’re rocking an umbrella / windshirt combo, I feel ponchos are powerful to beat in relation to moist climate air flow.

What about setting it up when it’s raining, and extra particularly, making the change from poncho to tarp mode in these circumstances?

This is without doubt one of the greatest considerations hikers have about giving poncho tarps a attempt. Nonetheless, in case you have practiced the transition beforehand, have all the required parts able to go, and are adept at pitching your tarp shortly, it isn’t as massive a problem as many hikers imagine. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

1. Campsite Choice – Greater than half the battle when mountain climbing with a poncho tarp in inclement circumstances is choosing the right campsite. Small tarps aren’t as forgiving as tents or bigger tarps. You have to to up your planning sport; this significantly holds true in case you are mountain climbing via an uncovered and/or above tree line part. Earlier than setting out, determine sheltered campsite choices in your maps, estimate how lengthy it would take you to get there, and have a Plan B in case Mom Nature throws you a meteorological curveball. Above tree line driving out the mom of all storms just isn’t the place you wish to be when utilizing a poncho tarp.

2.  As soon as you’ve got arrived at your spot, stand underneath a tree, take your pack off and take away your guylines and stakes out of your pack. Each these things needs to be simply accessible when there’s a likelihood of precipitation (i.e. aspect or again pocket of backpack).

3.  Take off your ponchogive it an enormous shake to take away as a lot extra water as doable.

4.  If you’re chilly, shortly put in your windshirt. This merchandise is waterproof slightly than waterproof, nonetheless, it would hold you heat and dry for the couple of minutes it takes to arrange a poncho tarp. As with the guylines and pegs, you should definitely have it simply accessible and able to go.

5.   Join your guylines to the ponchoI take advantage of mini carabiners to attach my guylines to the poncho. It takes lower than a minute or so to connect them. For a weight penalty of virtually nothing, I desire this technique to messing round with knots when your arms are chilly and moist. If it’s not raining or precipitation is very unlikely, I depart the carabiners hooked up to the Poncho.

6.  Pitch your poncho the identical as you’ll your tarp. Some hikers will inform you that they’ll pitch the shelter while nonetheless sporting it. Neglect about this concept. It takes longer, is extra difficult and chances are high you’re going to get simply as moist (most likely extra). Maintain issues easy. If you’re proficient in pitching tarps, your entire setup will be executed in lower than two minutes.

7.  Below Cowl – Seize your pack – which has been patiently ready underneath a tree, bush or groundsheet –  and crawl underneath the poncho. Wipe off any remaining water from the within of the shelter with a bandana.

8.  Breaking Camp – Bummer. It’s nonetheless raining the next morning. To not fear. Pack your bag in order that all the things is stashed away other than the precise poncho. As soon as that is executed, take down your shelter, disconnect the carabiners/  guylines, retailer them in an simply accessible dishevelled, give the poncho a shake, put in your pack, placed on the poncho and away you go.

9.  Nearly forgot………….attempt to not get flustered no matter how a lot the weather are raging, and concentrate on performing every of the steps intentionally and effectively. Through the years I’ve seen extra of us than I can keep in mind lose their poise whereas making an attempt to pitch their shelter in inclement circumstances. Maintain cool, don’t rush, breathe steadily, and get it proper the primary time.

Throughout an enormous storm on the Colorado Plateau in late February, 2012, the Gambler and I arrange this “Double Poncho Tarp Fortress” (i.e. combo of MLD Professional Poncho and Integral Designs Sil Poncho).


Personally talking, I just like the multi-functionality, together with the burden and quantity financial savings of a great poncho tarp. For sure varieties of environments and journeys I feel they signify a strong possibility. That stated, they aren’t and by no means might be for everybody. If you’re eager on making an attempt a poncho tarp, and extra importantly truly having fun with the expertise, listed below are some last suggestions:

  • Hikers and Chippies: Perceive and settle for the constraints of poncho tarps earlier than setting out. Good hikers are like good carpenters. They by no means blame their instruments.
  • Measurement Issues: Select a mannequin that’s applicable to your measurement. In the event you’re properly over 6′, and also you head out into the boonies with a 8’x4′ tarp in something however bone dry circumstances, you’re probably asking for issues. This holds doubly true for those who achieve this with out a bivy. I do know numerous UL hikers get obsessive about base weight and going as little as they presumably can, however this specific level actually is simply widespread sense.
  • Follow: Earlier than setting out on a visit, observe making the transition from poncho to shelter mode. If doable, attempt doing it within the rain. With repetition, the transition turns into simpler and faster.
  • Perspective: Chuckle within the face of discomfort, and embrace and be taught from adversity. Regarding the backcountry, it has at all times been the difficult instances which have taught me probably the most and made me a greater hiker. Utilizing poncho tarps efficiently isn’t at all times straightforward, however once I give it some thought, that’s one of many issues I like about them probably the most.




Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles