When it was introduced in Spring 2006, the Gatewood Cape generated a lot of interest among ultralight backpackers because it promised to provide the same advantages of a poncho/tarp while hiking, but be a much better shelter. At 11.65 ounces (with tieout cords and pole harness), the Gatewood Cape weighs about 7 ounces more than the most minimalist spinnaker poncho/tarp. However, many users routinely use a poncho/tarp in conjunction with a lightweight bivy sack or sleeping bag with a waterproof/breathable shell for extra protection from rain spray and spindrift. If the Gatewood Cape offers enough weather protection in the shelter mode that no added protection is required, the weights of the competing systems are comparable. Here, I report on the performance and weather worthiness of the Gatewood Cape based on five months of intensive testing under alpine conditions, including a lot of wet weather.
The Gatewood Cape in shelter mode after a rain and hail storm at 12,000 feet in the Weminuche Wilderness, Southwest Colorado.
- Better ventilation than a typical poncho or poncho/tarp
- Much better shelter than a poncho/tarp
- Converts to a roomy one-person shelter with vestibule
- Eliminates the need for a supplementary bivy sack or bag cover
- Zippered pocket does triple duty – stuff sack, tent pocket, rainwear pocket
- Good fitting hood with drawcord
- Adequate space for a taller person in shelter mode
- Covers a backpack in rainwear mode, eliminating the need for a pack cover
What’s Not So Good
- Does not eliminate the drawbacks of a poncho
- Does not fully cover the arms in rainwear mode
- Available in only one size that fits a taller person
- Length adjustment snaps are difficult to use
|Six Moon Designs|
|2006 Gatewood Cape|
|Cape, braided nylon guyline, pole harness|
|30d 1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silicone impregnated ripstop nylon|
|Measured weight 11.65 oz (330 g) with guylines and pole harness; manufacturer’s specification 11 oz (312 g)|
|Width 96 in (244 cm), overall depth 72 in (183 cm), end depth 30 in (76 cm), rear depth 43 in (109 cm), beak extends out approximately 29 in (74 cm). All measurements are approximate, depending on how the shelter is set up.|
|35 ft2 (3.25 m2), manufacturer specification|
|Integrated pocket, full height front zipper, arm slits, removable pole harness, snaps for shortening the cape in rainwear mode|
The Gatewood Cape is based on the same principle as a poncho/tarp, but the implementation is much different. For rainwear, the Gatewood Cape is like a poncho with a full front zipper for ventilation. But that’s where the similarity ends. In shelter mode, it converts to a one-person single wall shelter somewhat similar to the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (and very similar to the new Wild Oasis), but without the mesh entry. In other words, it is a better poncho and a much better shelter than a poncho/tarp.
Several views of the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape set up to create more interior space. The front (top left) has an extendable beak with a zippered entry. The back (top right) is solid, and can be staked to the ground or raised. The side view (bottom left) shows the beak extended. And a top view (bottom right) shows its overall proportions.
I followed the instructions to set up the Cape the first time using one trekking pole set at 45 inches, which creates a rectangular shelter with a low front beak, adequate headroom only at the center, and a flat-sloped backside that limited interior usable space. I quickly discovered that the Cape pitches more to my liking using a 50-inch long trekking pole at the center and a second trekking pole to extend the beak. The resulting shelter, as shown in the photos above, has much better headroom, more usable interior space, and a large sheltered area under the beak. My modifications require a 30-inch extension to the front guyline. Overall, the Gatewood is very easy to setup. Six stakes are required for a secure pitch.
The Gatewood Cape is held upright by a trekking pole inserted into a grommet supported by a harness in the hood opening (left). The plastic hook connectors in my sample Cape have been replaced with mini-buckles in the current version. Although the harness is removable, I found it easier to leave it in while wearing the Cape in poncho mode. The Cape’s zippered pocket (right) serves triple duty as a stuff sack, chest pocket in poncho mode, and inside storage pocket in shelter mode.
Dimensions of the Gatewood Cape set up for expanded interior room, as shown in the photo gallery above. The sleeping area (back of white line) is approximately 96 inches wide and 30 inches deep at the ends. The shelter’s overall depth (red line) is approximately 72 inches at the center, of which 29 inches is under the beak and 43 inches is in the sleeping area. Headroom is about 45 inches at the center and about 22 inches in a sleeping position. The front of the beak is about 23 inches above the ground. (Note that the dimensions will vary depending on how the shelter is set up.)
Performance in Rainwear Mode
In rainwear mode, the Gatewood has all the advantages and disadvantages of a normal poncho (See The Poncho Tarp: Techniques and Gear Systems for Inclement Conditions for an in-depth discussion.) On the plus side, the Cape serves as rainwear, pack cover, and shelter for only 11.65 ounces. On the negative side, it flaps badly in the wind, limits visibility of your feet, and has poor ventilation in the chest area.
In poncho mode, I wear the Gatewood Cape with silnylon chaps. The Cape works well as rainwear for showers, but heavy condensation accumulates inside while hiking uphill in prolonged rain. On this very wet 6-day trip I often wore a lightweight rain jacket (GoLite Virga) under the Cape to stay dry.
For rain protection, the Cape is easy to don and extend over my backpack. It is nice to retract my hands to the inside to keep them warmer, and I can open the front zipper to increase ventilation when conditions permit. Unlike many poncho/tarps, I can leave the Gatewood’s 6-inch guylines attached while in poncho mode when hiking on trail, and have minimal problems with guylines catching on vegetation. However, the Gatewood (or any poncho) is a pain for bushwhacking. The guylines frequently catch on vegetation, and foot visibility is poor. I would much prefer to wear a rainsuit off-trail.
In rainwear mode, the Gatewood best fits a taller person, about 5 feet 10 inches or taller. On a shorter person it will be dragging on the ground. The Cape has some snaps and loops inside to shorten the sides, but they are difficult to attach and often come loose. It would be nice to have a shorter version of the Cape.
I donned the Gatewood Cape for protection from all types of precipitation, including hail and snow. On one occasion, at 13,000 feet on the Continental Divide Trail in July, I waited out a violent “thundersnow” storm by sitting down and covering myself with the Cape. On many other occasions I hiked with the Cape on briefly for showers or downpours, or on for hours in drizzle or intermittent rain. The Gatewood Cape works very well for showers, but gets very damp inside when walking in prolonged rain. When hiking uphill in very damp rainy weather, the Cape gets as wet on the inside as it is on the outside! This problem while carrying a pack uphill in damp rainy weather is not unique to the Gatewood Cape.
Performance in Shelter Mode
The summer of 2006 was a wet one in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado, so the Gatewood got plenty of testing under rainy conditions. The majority of the time I managed to set up the Gatewood with the back in the direction of incoming storms, or there was no really strong wind with the rain, so I stayed dry and warm under the Gatewood as a solo shelter.
However, on one occasion (shown in the top photo) I set up the Gatewood to take a siesta during an afternoon hailstorm which hit the backside of the shelter (so far so good). Then, after midnight I was hit by a thunderstorm with 30 mph winds from the front side (not so good). Wind-driven rain hit my sleeping bag as I huddled in the rear of the shelter, and in the morning I was sleeping on a puddle of water. Fortunately my sleeping bag (MontBell Alpine Down Hugger) has an excellent water-resistant shell and my down stayed dry. In retrospect, the Cape would have provided better protection from wind-driven rain if I had pitched it lower (as per the Six Moon Designs instructions), but this was one of those occasions where I was caught by surprise and just had to hunker down.
On most of my trips I had gentle rains and the Gatewood did a superb job as a solo shelter. On this particular trip it rained off and on all day, so I camped at an alpine lake at 12,550 feet and went fishing between squalls.
Under rainy conditions, and cool nights following a rain, the Gatewood shelter is as prone to condensation as any other single wall tent. When moving around in the Gatewood, such as when dressing, it is easy to brush the walls and get clothing damp. The best solution I found to minimize condensation is to raise the sides of the Cape, open the beak, and open the hood at the top as much as weather will allow. In wet or damp conditions when condensation is inevitable, I wipe the inside walls with my bandana to remove condensation.
Finally, note that the Gatewood Cape does not have any bug netting, so it provides little or no bug protection.
Especially where bugs are not a big problem, the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape is a SuperUltraLight or ultralight backpacker’s dream come true. For less than 12 ounces, the Gatewood provides rainwear, pack cover, and shelter in one piece of gear. As rainwear, the Gatewood performs better than a normal poncho or poncho/tarp, but still has all of their disadvantages. Core ventilation is somewhat improved with the Gatewood’s full front zipper, but the zipper is of limited use when it’s raining. As a shelter, the Gatewood performs much better than a poncho/tarp, offering full protection from rain and spindrift (unless you get hit from the front with wind-driven rain). The front beak can be dropped down some to minimize that problem, if you plan ahead or have time to do it before you get blasted.
Overall, the Gatewood Cape is weight efficient when you factor in that you don’t have to also carry a lightweight bivy, bag cover, or use a heavier waterproof sleeping bag. It enables me to routinely and confidently camp in the alpine zone without these extras, much to my delight.
In rainwear mode, the Gatewood Cape has a full front zipper to provide some core ventilation. In shelter mode, the Gatewood is a full-fledged solo shelter, providing much better storm protection than a poncho/tarp.
Recommendations for Improvement
The Gatewood Cape is an outstanding concept and design, and is a huge improvement in integrated rainwear/shelter gear for ultralight backpackers. A few details that could be improved are:
- Offer the Cape in a smaller size for shorter people.
- Improve the attachment for shortening the sides in rainwear mode.
- Offer an optional clip-in bug screen.