Poncho Tarp 101 with bug bivy (SUL)
Sep 27, 2020 at 4:41 pm #3677667
I’ve played around with poncho tarps for years and I never was very fond of them, but I started crunching some numbers for an SUL kit and the weight savings just couldn’t be denied (in temps above 50* F). Of course poncho tarps are best for when rain chances are lower and winds under 20 mph. I’ve suffered a lot trying to make poncho tarps work in an A-frame configuration and I have come to better understand how to go about doing it in a manageable way that keeps the time of setup and misery level to a minimum. I’ll go through all the steps I take to make it livable. This is a 55″ X 8.5′ GoLite 15d poncho tarp (6.9 oz)
Front view with MLD Bug Bivy underneath. Note 3/32″ shock cords attached to mini biners on corners to keep bivy in place and the bivy’s perimeter raised up.
First I’ll start off with the prepared lines because that’s the main thing that makes everything workable. The poncho tarp is 8.5′ long so the 2.75 mm diameter ridgeline is 9′ long with loops tied on each end and 2.25 mm prusik knot loops also close to ends. They are an absolute must IMO. The next 5 pics might seem mundane, but I’ve found they are very important.
Here are all of the lines used. The 6 lines for the 4 corners and middle sides are 1.25 mm spectra cut 42″ long with ZPacks mini biners attached to make setup much quicker. I surely don’t want to use in poncho mode with lines attached and what’s more the biners allow me to quickly attach the bivy shock cords at the optimum height. The 6 spectra lines are tied at different lengths to go from higher pitch on front to lower on back (all can be made same length though for higher even level pitch). Trucker’s hitch with slippery knot is preferred over mini linelocks to cut weight and allow more flexibility if I want to pitch poncho low to ground in storm mode. The 2 black ridgelines are 9′ long and have mini linelocks on them. No biners for the ridgeline.
Also on the ridgeline I tie a small metal ring 12″ from end to hang FRONT bivy shockcord line onto.
Just a simple spectra loop 36″ from back end of ridgeline to attach rear bivy shockcord line to (that one stays secured unlike the front which has to be unhooked and hooked to enter and exit).
I use 6.5″ Toaks V titanium stakes for ridgeline and 4 corners and 6.5 inch shepherd hooks for middle sides.
I start the setup with a 27″ X 84″ polycro laid out on the ground.
Next I lay out the bug bivy and put my sleeping pad and quilt in BEFORE I set the poncho up because it’s hell trying to put them in the bivy AFTER the tarp is up, since it’s so small.
You can see how the bivy shockcord easily attaches to the corner biners. Worth the 2.8 gm weight penalty each for the biners.
A simple dowel pin is used with adjustable prusik loop to keep poncho taught (pic isn’t very clear though).
For a rear pole I use a ZPacks .292″ diameter carbon 32″ long pole (1 oz) wih a clove hitch (I use a clove hitch on front with trekking pole too. Only carry 1 trekking pole).
Total weight for poncho, bivy, stakes, lines, shockcord, polycro and rear pole is 20.5 oz (without pad and quilt). It’s hard to enter and exit, but it allows me to get SUL. The green color and low profile also make this the ultimate stealth shelter.Sep 27, 2020 at 5:51 pm #3677673
Oops, thread title was supposed to say “bug” bivy. Oh well.
[fixed! -MK]Sep 27, 2020 at 6:33 pm #3677676toddBPL Member
@funnymoLocale: SE USA
Thank you for putting in the time & effort to share this with us! You did a great job.
I enjoyed it thoroughly.Sep 28, 2020 at 3:21 am #3677704James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Looks good. I was wondering about the 20oz weight, though. My typical setup for UL (not SUL) is a 17oz tarp/line/stake combo. ‘Corse, I haven’t weighed it in many years and it might have grown some weight (I recoat every 2-3 years.) I don’t bring a bivy, simply a small piece of net(maybe a 1/2-3/4oz) and shape the tarp down in front and rear. I have ridden out some mean wind/thunder storms in that. What do all the components of your set-up weigh?Sep 28, 2020 at 3:33 am #3677705John S.BPL Member
Nice work, Monte.Sep 28, 2020 at 6:01 am #3677706Brad PBPL Member
Looks like a nice setup. My biggest concern would be setting up, and to a lesser degree, tearing down in rain.Sep 28, 2020 at 6:25 am #3677708
Yea Brad, of course in the event it’s raining you’d have to set the tarp up first and that just means it’s going to be a lot harder to get the bivy situated underneath. I usually carry a 3 oz wind jacket with DWR coating when I pack this setup not only to deal with rain while erecting the shelter, but also to help keep me warm sitting around camp or while hiking if it’s a little chilly. I can also sleep in the wind jacket if temps dip a little lower than my quilt can handle.
1) Golite Poncho Tarp 6.9 oz
2) MLD Bug Bivy with .51 DCF suffsack 6.6 oz
3) Shockcord 0.5 oz
4) Stakes and stuffsack 3.1 oz. The 6 titanium V stakes with finger cord pullouts are 0.4 oz each and the shepherd hooks are 0.3 oz each. DCF stuffsack is 0.1 oz.
5) Lines and biners 1.4 oz. The 6 mini biners are 0.6 oz for all and the lines are 0.8 oz. Forgot to mention in OP that the 2 black lines which tie to ridgeline are also 1.25 mm spectra.
6) ZPacks .292″ carbon pole 32″ long 1.0 oz.
7) Polycro 1.0 oz.Sep 28, 2020 at 7:04 am #3677711Mike MBPL Member
nicely thought out shelter :)
I used a poncho tarp (it’s been a few years now), I used mine with a MLD super light bivy- it had bug mesh built into it on the head portion, the bottom was dcf so no need for polycro under and found the bivy itself legitimately added at least 5 degrees to my sleep system.
but now I’ve gone soft and use a Aeon Li- about 18 oz w/ stakes :)Sep 28, 2020 at 7:33 am #3677715Jason McSpaddenBPL Member
@jbmcsr1Locale: Rocky Mountains
It seems to me that where this strategy excels, at least on the spreadsheet, is that the poncho shelter is also your rain gear. So no additional weight to add in for a rain jacket.Sep 28, 2020 at 1:03 pm #3677750JCHBPL Member
Awesome work Monte. Thanks for the education. It’s not going to turn me into a tarp guy, but I appreciate knowing how it is done, and done well.Sep 29, 2020 at 5:38 am #3677815
The Aeon Li looks supreme Mike. I like its smaller footprint than the other 1P DCF trekking pole tents on the market. I still have my trusty old Solo Hexamid and it weighs about the same as the Aeon, however, it doesn’t have anywhere near the space and headroom.
As Jason says, not only does the poncho tarp allow you to leave the rain jacket at home, but a pack cover and rain kilt aren’t needed either. And the poncho with bivy is double wall, meaning of course less condensation on your bag/quilt. Yet with the very confined space of the poncho tarp this is easily negated by touching up against the fly.
The weight difference of the material on the .51 DCF Aeon Li and the 1.05 oz 15d silnylon GoLite poncho tarp is dramatic though. Unfortunately the only DCF ponchos I know about are MLD’s and they are just 52″ wide.The DCF MLD Pro Poncho is much much wider, but the cost is astronomical ($344). Even if cost weren’t an issue though I wouldn’t feel secure with the low abrasion resistance of DCF when rubbing against brush in poncho mode. The 8.5 oz MLD silnlon poncho tarp would probably be the best choice. It’s 5 inches wider than the GoLite (and most others) and is a 20d X 20d silnylon.Sep 29, 2020 at 6:55 am #3677820Mike MBPL Member
I had a Golite and a Integral Design poncho tarp; iirc correctly they were very similar in design, size, fabric and weight. I looked at the MLD Pro one as well, but the steep price turned me away as well.
I do still have a Gatewood Cape, the went to 15d and it weighs 11 oz; I had to lengthen the guy lines which allows me to get it a little higher with better air flow (but can still batten it down if need be). Actually a pretty solid shelter, with good coverage.Sep 29, 2020 at 10:27 am #3677838
What do you do for a midnight pee or early morning poop when it is raining and your poncho is being used as a tarp? I used to think that I will need to carry those cheap 1.5 oz plastic ponchos from Amazon for that purpose……also, I was allocating chaps for keeping my hiking pants dry. If I add DCF chaps and 1.5 oz plastic poncho – then it adds another 2.5 oz’s.
I also felt that having dedicated rain pants/rain jacket can be used as insulation layer early in the morning when it gets real cold.
My setup is Zpacks Altaplex tarp (7.8 oz) which provides 360 degree protection + 3.5 oz Zpacks solo plus bath tub groundsheet. – 11.3 oz. My rain jacket + rain pants comes to 10.85 oz – so total of 22.15 oz – so, very close to your setup in terms of weight.
I find that I am completely covered from head to toe in the night and do not need any bug nets or whatever – they seem to disappear once sun has set. Also, it seems like bugs do not enter the tent when it is completely enclosed like the Altaplex tarp is. (I bought the tent and then felt I liked having a tarp better – so, got rid of the net etc – Zpacks doesn’t sell Altaplex tarp anymore….).Sep 29, 2020 at 11:04 am #3677841Matt DirksenBPL Member
@namelesswayLocale: Mid Atlantic
“What do you do for a midnight pee or early morning poop when it is raining and your poncho is being used as a tarp?”
As a Gatewood Cape user for many years, creating redundancy in multi-use items is important. Nowadays, I bring along an Norval SL hoody along and/or an 86g Montbell Travel Umbrella (which I use to nudge out the length of the Cape.)
Oh, and an groundsheet which doubles as a rainskirt.Sep 29, 2020 at 11:53 am #3677849obx hikerBPL Member
Like that bivy suspension. Now I’ve got to learn and practice prusiks.
Like Murali I’ve been using the 3.5 oz Zpacks solo plus bath tub groundsheet. Your set-up looks like a great way to keep that in the right place with the sides taut.Oct 3, 2020 at 12:37 am #3678244Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I eschew ponchos but do have a Notch Li 21 oz. solo tent.Oct 3, 2020 at 6:04 am #3678247Erica RBPL Member
Nice! 20.5 oz! And silnylon too!
I’m at 19.5 for the Protrail Lithium with a few extra stakes. The Zpacks DCF poncho adds 6 oz; mostly used as a ground sheet. I do love a light pack.Oct 5, 2020 at 7:58 pm #3678585MJ HBPL Member
I first used my Gatewood Cape this weekend and the midnight pee was a problem. I had intended to bring a small travel umbrella, but at the last minute looked at the forecast and decided it wasn’t needed since I had my Houdini. Then it rained for three hours straight (at least) starting at about ten-ish. I tried to wait it out but the rain won. I tried to see if I could discharge out the back of the tent, but couldn’t get into a position where that was possible without covering the quilt in condensation. I decided against getting the Houdini wet because there wasn’t enough room to put in under the cape and keep everything else dry. It wasn’t raining hard, so I sprinted to the shelter of a tree and back without getting too wet.
The bigger problem was I could not find perfectly flat ground and I kept sliding to my feet stuck out of the tent. Fortunately, the bivy held long enough that I noticed and moved.Oct 5, 2020 at 8:57 pm #3678589jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Staying dry, especially in cold or even freezing conditions, is a priority. And so it’s one area where I don’t want to skimp. A ponchotarp always struck me as being not the best design for a shelter, or rain protection. It seemed to be a compromise in both areas. But I’ve never used one, so I don’t know for sure. In any case, I can understand the case for a poncho, but not a huge, floppy one that can also be used as a shelter; or a small, functional one that would barely cover my bag.
So I use a dcf netted shelter and a 6 (8?) ounce three ply rain shell. It all weighs about 6 ounces more than a ponchotarp, likely, but it includes netting, a floor, and is a more weatherproof combo–especially the shelter. It also keeps my bag clean.
Far easier to enter and exit as well.
I understand that the bug net/poncho set up has netting and a floor as well. I wonder: if you need to bring an umbrella to block the entrance to a ponchotarp, is there any weight savings at all?Oct 5, 2020 at 9:46 pm #3678591
I never liked A frame designs because it seems rain can come in if you don’t know the wind/direction etc. My tarp is an Altaplex tarp which provides 360 degree protection. My setup is 25.15 if I include the stakes which I forgot the last time I gave the weight.
Monte’s setup of 20.5 oz will go up to 23 oz if I include a cheap poncho for midnight pee etc plus some chaps for protecting the legs. So, 23 oz or 25.15 oz is light. I know he said that he will use his windshirt at 3 oz for cold temperatures or when setting up tarp when it is raining. I want better rain protection – so, I will take the extra 2.5 oz to his setup.
The lightest tent from Zpacks is around 10.4 oz (Hexamid solo with netted floor – add a ground sheet – which is 3.2oz) for a total of 13.6 oz. Or take the Plexamid at 15.3 or Altaplex tent at 15.4 oz. Add rain gear from Zpacks – medium sizes will be 8.55 oz. Add in 3 oz for stakes.
Total will come to around 25 oz with Hexamid solo or
27ish with Plexamid or Altaplex.
So, I guess, you are saving 2 to 4 oz’s with Monte’s (setup + poncho for midnight pee + chaps for lets). Or 4.5 oz to 6.5 oz with just Monte’s setup without poncho/chaps etc.
To me, it seems simpler to take the tent and separate rain gear. But, sometimes it is the challenge of making things work which is fun I suppose. Though 6.5 oz (close to jscott’s 6 oz number) is a good amount of savings for Monte when you are counting oz’s with some trade offs. But as jscott said, if you add in an umbrella, those savings disappear and you come out even.
The simplicity of a tent and separate rain gear should not be underestimated. Separate rain gear is also helpful for added insulation and when doing laundry.Oct 5, 2020 at 9:52 pm #3678593
The one advantage of Gatewood cape is the volume….it is extremely small. But, I found it a little too small for me….Oct 5, 2020 at 10:30 pm #3678595Jason McSpaddenBPL Member
@jbmcsr1Locale: Rocky Mountains
I regularly use an older MLD silnylon Pro Poncho (it one of the blue ones) along with a variety of lengths of cord which I girth hitch to stake the poncho out. (With cord it weighs 10 oz.) It certainly is a minimal shelter but its always been enough. I may need to pitch it in a sheltered location but because of its size that works. I like it as my rain gear with a shock cord belt if its windy. I don’t need an umbrella because I have the poncho.
If I need to stand under a tree when it’s raining for my obligatory 2:30 a.m. pee–no problem.
To me its about simplicity. I like having fewer things in my pack.Oct 6, 2020 at 8:45 am #3678606jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I forg0t to mention in my post that Monte’s set up is really impressive. I totally get the attraction of the poncho tarp.Oct 6, 2020 at 9:24 am #3678607Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Nice weight. That should work if you aren’t expecting a lot of rain. Thanks
I just use a 1 yard circle of netting that I lay over my head if there are bugs. Where/when I go there aren’t usually any bugs.Oct 7, 2020 at 12:07 pm #3678708Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I used a poncho tarp for decades, although not always with a bivy. A light and inexpensive shelter and rain gear solution. It does take some experience to get food at pitching the tarp and developing a system when it is raining.
Since I always carry a windshirt and fleece mid layer in cold windy weather, these help when setting up and taking down in poor weather, or bathroom duty. What is nice about a poncho is I am always warmer and drier when I get to camp vs. a rain jacket, which helps when setting up the tarp.
Towards the end of this article is my poncho tarp setup from a trip in 2009. Very similar set up as Monte’s.
In really poor weather a water resistant bivy is needed because a poncho tarp is a small shelter. A bivy can introduce a new problem — condensation between the sleeping bag/quilt. So we have a bandaid for an in adequate sized shelter, requiring more thought and effort. On one trip in 2008 I faced daily sleet and/or rain. No matter what I did, each day my sleeping bag got wetter and wetter, until I finally had to bail. The bivy was the problem, but things would have been worse without it.
Around 2010 or so, I was able to put together an even lighter solution with a larger shelter and a separate poncho, but it was much more expensive since both my shelter and poncho were made from Cuben.
Since then bivies have become obsolete for me.
Given this, an inexpensive poncho tarp setup is a viable option, although it requires more skill, experience, and knowledge than more expensive and easier to use shelter and rain gear solutions. But isn’t this important, to improve our skill and knowledge? Selecting a viable spot to camp is less forgiving with a waterproof bathtub shelter vs. a poncho tarp setup.
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