The Backpacking Poncho: An Ultralight Alternative to Rain Jackets
Apr 8, 2022 at 9:00 am #3745645Drew SmithBPL Member
@drewsmithLocale: Colorado Rockies
Companion forum thread to: The Backpacking Poncho: An Ultralight Alternative to Rain Jackets
Drew Smith makes the case for backpacking ponchos. They provide more ventilation vs. rain jackets and can also function as ultralight tarps.Apr 8, 2022 at 2:31 pm #3745673
I really like the Sea to Summit Nano Tarp Poncho, but the available colors of lime and pacific blue are just so darn unstealthy. Even though they’re not available in North America yet, the Bach Tarp Poncho has virtually the same dimensions as the Nano. It’s also made with a 15D silnylon, however, the Bach is a high-grade Gorlyn silnylon 6.6 and I’m not sure about the S2S. Nano is quality though. Anyway, the Bach’s willow bough green color is perfect for stealth. Weighs 7.55 oz. Ulog has them for $140 and I’m not sure how much shipping from UK would be. https://www.ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk/equipment-c3/tents-shelters-c25/tarps-c43/tarp-poncho-p16765Apr 8, 2022 at 2:53 pm #3745676JCHBPL Member
“Standard Sipping (not tracked)” to a US address is free. Tracked is ~$15.50.Apr 8, 2022 at 3:14 pm #3745678
Hey thanks John. I still have my GoLite Poncho. It’s somewhat stealthy, however, the quality isn’t that good. Temptation. I rail against consumerism and materialism, yet I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all.
And as far as pure quality, the Exped Bivy Poncho UL is probably the best. Sure, MLD Pro Poncho is supreme, but like the SMD Gatewood Cape, it’s so big it’s like wearing a tent when in raingear mode. Anyway, the hood visor on the Exped is top-notch, far better than most. Also it has a lot of quality snaps and can quickly be made into an emergency bivy. Of course there are 8 tieouts for tarp mode as well. Exped is couple inches wider at 59″, but it’s only 94.5″ long. Made with 15D silnylon and listed weight is 10.9 oz, however, I’ll bet the actual weight is lighter though. The Bivy Poncho is hard to find right now with supply chain issues. https://www.exped.com/en/products/ponchos/bivy-poncho-ul
Bivy mode. All the extra snaps and smart design make it possible, whereas the other tarp ponchos don’t lend themselves to becoming a bivy as near as well.Apr 8, 2022 at 4:18 pm #3745697Dustin VBPL Member
I accidentally became a poncho fan when I worked in Yellowstone park for two summers as a teenager. The $8 one I picked up a couple of days before being shipped off for the summer was the cheapest raingear at the surplus store. Knowing I’d be working outside with shovels, pulaskis, etc., I knew I wouldn’t cry if I tore it, which I did. Even so, I didn’t feel the need to bring anything else. I spent another $8 the next summer.
Like everyone here, I have tried and keep trying wpb jackets that always seem to not quite satisfy, so I keep dragging out the ponchos and making them work.
One advantage that I think doesn’t get mentioned enough is that your whole pack is protected. A pack with wet straps and back-panel is unpleasant and can cause irritation, like carrying a wet toddler on your back.Apr 8, 2022 at 5:22 pm #3745702jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I love the idea of a poncho; for me, the reality is another matter.
I mostly hike in California. More: I’ve had the flexibility to choose when I go. So I never go when the forecast is for extended rain. Still, afternoon thunderstorms (or sometimes all day and night t-storms) happen. They might last four hours, usually less. So I’ve never had the issue with WPB jackets wetting out. Frankly, even when I’ve been in day long rains, I’ve not had this issue. But I’m usually at altitude, where the temps are cool and I don’t “sweat out” from inside. Humidity is low in the Sierra.
Ponchos snag on brush and gust in the wind. Given that I use a Snozzle to hold all my down and clothes–and my bag and jacket are in waterproof stuff sacks–I have less need to cover my pack. I also usually have a garbage bag for inner and/or outer protection. And again, that poncho tends to flap badly in wind when it cover a pack. A jacket goes on and I’m done fiddling, except perhaps to zip and unzip. It conforms to my body, unlike a poncho.
It’s possible that in a rainier, more humid environment I might find a poncho attractive.
As for using a wet (or dry) poncho as a (non breathable) bivy–I’d rather not.Apr 8, 2022 at 6:50 pm #3745741RatatoskBPL Member
I’m a little curious that so much emphasis in that article was on how ponchos looked. I tried hard to make a UL poncho work for a few years, and mine still goes in my bag on just-in-case days in the summer or warmer weather. The shock cord belt concept worked for me, sort of, but silnylon is very slippery and I’d spend all my time fidgeting with the material to keep it closed against wind and rain, or adjusting it as my pack or movement shifted it under the cord. Having said that, my prime money-sink in backpacking is raingear. I have yet to find something I really trust, and I’ll most likely snap at the Next Best Thing I see when it comes along.
I think a cagoule is a good marriage of jacket/poncho in terms of ventilation and wearability, but again, only in warmer weather. Ponchos don’t keep much heat in.
A lot of it boils down to how wet you’re willing to get in exchange for convenience, as the article said; a poncho being 100% waterproof doesn’t keep you any drier than a UL jacket if water can find its way into the sides and sleeve areas.Apr 8, 2022 at 7:03 pm #3745742DanBPL Member
Multi-use, but not great for anything. I tried to like them for years, but ultimately gave up.Apr 8, 2022 at 7:37 pm #3745743Rex SandersBPL Member
Drew covers most of the good points of ponchos well. Thanks!
I’ve posted about my love of ponchos once or twice before :-)
Tried using ponchos as shelters, didn’t work out for me. And after too much Type III fun, I’m sticking to trails, so bushwhacking isn’t an issue, either.
I’m partial to umbrellas too, like my original GoLite ChromeDome.
One, the other, or both works for me. YMMV.
— RexApr 9, 2022 at 5:02 am #3745755
I apologize to the OP for concentrating too much on gear earlier in the thread and not enough on philosophy, yet I meant to also include the Equinox Poncho Tarp (UL Terrapin version) that Rex mentions. The extended version is 104″ X 58″ and is made with a 30D silnylon, so definitely more robust. Weighs 10.9 oz and can be had in a willow green as well as other colors. The Rab Silponcho is another choice.
I see poncho tarps strictly as an SUL piece of gear that are for warmer temps above 55* F, and for shorter trips where no big weather is predicted. I actually prefer a rain jacket and rain kilt, but it’s the multi-use weight savings which draws me to poncho tarps (shelter, rain gear and pack cover).
In cooler temps I often use my “breathable” rain jacket to stay warm around camp or even to hike in. I’ve also slept in my rain jacket many nights to keep warm enough when my bag/quilt isn’t quite enough. I know many will scoff at the notion, but I don’t have a problem with it. You obviously can’t do that with a poncho tarp, especially when it’s your shelter.Apr 9, 2022 at 5:39 am #3745756Niko Z.BPL Member
@niko-zLocale: SE Asia, Europe
I just finished a four day hike to 11,500 feet. I wanted to try the poncho concept without spending too much money, so picked up a cheap model for $22 on AliExpress. It has a belt, snaps, and Velcro on the sides, so did not snag. The inside has a silver colored reflective surface, which made the poncho too hot for me above 15 C despite ventilation. It was a bit cumbersome to put on quickly, but I got a lot of use out of it as an additional groundsheet and emergency shelter. I also planned to wrap it around the sleeping bag at the high camp, as the reflective surface would boost the insulation value of the sleeping bag. However, the temperatures were much higher than forecast, so didn’t have a chance to try it.
The poncho compacts to a tiny size, so I have taken to packing it for a daily walk to the office, as it rains every afternoon in my location and I tend to loose umbrellas. Even though I got much use out of it, I am still unsure whether I should take it on the next climb. Silver foil makes for a lighter groundsheet and putting on the poncho can be cumbersome when alone and while carrying a larger backpack. OTOH it is easy to deploy with a smaller office pack, so perhaps it would work as a part of a truly UL system.Apr 9, 2022 at 3:20 pm #3745788Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
I also planned to wrap it around the sleeping bag at the high camp
I tried something like this a very long time ago. In the morning the inside of the cover was covered in condensation, which was steadily soaking into the sleeping bag.
CheersApr 9, 2022 at 3:33 pm #3745790RatatoskBPL Member
^ Made that mistake with an emergency blanket one time. :/Apr 9, 2022 at 4:32 pm #3745795Niko Z.BPL Member
@niko-zLocale: SE Asia, Europe
Good to know! Do you think that just laying it on top of two bags as a loose blanket would provide sufficient ventilation to avoid condensation issues?Apr 9, 2022 at 5:00 pm #3745798Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Ask why most bivy bags have mesh or unproofed tops.
Warm air rises. Warm moist air from you and your SB will rise.
It will still hit the cover and it will still condense if it can.
You need ventilation! This has been a recurrent theme here at BPL for decades.
CheersApr 10, 2022 at 8:45 am #3745821Stanton SmithBPL Member
I suspect I am about the same age as Drew and went through all the same trials and tribulations that he did with rain gear. As a major sweat hog, WB gear never worked very well for me. In scouting and later the military, ponchos were pretty much all that was available. I spent many rainy nights under one. One morning it was still raining. I packed up underneath, poked my head through the hood, had a friend pull the stakes and I stood up ready to go! Nowadays I use a lightweight tent (bugs) but still carry a silnylon poncho. If I have to make an evening bathroom break, just slip it on, go out and do your business, staying dry. While hiking, I use a wind shirt as long as I can, then switch to the poncho with a shock cord belt. Yes it will flap. Not the best for high altitude exposed hikes. But no rain gear is perfect. Don’t mind looking like a dirtbag. 😊Apr 10, 2022 at 10:41 am #3745827Bill (L.Dog) GarlinghouseBPL Member
@wjghouseLocale: Western Michigan
I’m wondering if the MLD SilNylon Pro, with it’s catenary seam, would work well as a hammock tarp.
I’ve been using a HammockGear, cat-cut DCF hex tarp for hiking the Appalachian and Green Mountains in summer & shoulder seasons for years now, and have become one with it. I carry a Montbell Versalite Jacket in those same seasons, but I don’t generally hike in it. When it rains, I prefer to get wet with rain water than sweat. When I get to camp I change into my sleep clothes, and the Montbell helps keep them dry.
Of course all that changes with the weather, and the threat of hypothermia. a poncho seams like a solution to getting soaked in sweat. And if it works well with a hammock, all the better!Apr 10, 2022 at 10:54 am #3745828Drew SmithBPL Member
@drewsmithLocale: Colorado Rockies
A lot of opinions here. This being BPL, those opinions are thoughtful and well-informed. A few more thoughts and responses:
“Multi-use, but not great for anything” – this is pretty much true of any multi-use item. You are trading performance for a lighter load. Everyone will have a different preference for what trade-offs are acceptable and that’s fine. The point of this article is not that everyone should wear ponchos but that ponchos should be considered as a viable option, especially if you are looking to hike light. Here is my weight budget for shelter and rain protection when poncho-tarping:
MLD Pro Poncho-tarp 12 oz
Stakes and guys 3 oz
MLD BagLiner bivy 3 oz
Tyvek ground cloth 3 oz
That’s 21 oz for a kit that has kept me dry on the trail and in camp through dozens of storms, and allows me to cowboy camp in fair weather.
“what if you want to leave your shelter for some reason while it is raining?” An extension of this question is what if it is raining when you are setting up/taking down your poncho-tarp? A solution to this very real issue is to bring a windshirt. My Montbell Tachyon (2 oz) will keep me dry for about 5 minutes, long enough to pitch/take down/answer the call. It also is a fine sleeping garment for extra warmth/draft protection. That system works in a fast-and-light hiking scenario, where I do little more in camp than eat, drink whisky, play my uke, write in my journal, and sleep. If you are planning to spend time hanging around camp, then a poncho-tarp is a poor shelter choice, not something you want to spend any leisure time in.
Related tip: attach line-locs to the front corners and peak of your tarp. That way you can tighten/lower the tarp without getting out and getting wet.Apr 10, 2022 at 11:05 am #3745829Tyler RBPL Member
1.) I could use it to cowboy camp on clear nights
2.) I could still setup my pocket tarp in the rain without having to take my raingear off
3.)It has a much tighter fit and is less prone to snags while hiking.
I modified it with some snaps so I could attach a MYOG bug net to turn my setup into a legitimate tent (because S2S pyramid sucks with the pocket tarp). The entire setup with bug net tent is less than 14.5 Oz, which is pretty darn good for a single person tent, excluding the fact it’s also my rain gear!
Con: towards the end of the hike I got pretty tired of having to undo every snap in the morning so I could have my poncho accessible if it rained that day.Apr 10, 2022 at 1:42 pm #3745857AK GranolaBPL Member
Having wet arms sucks, especially at 40F. Cold and wet.Apr 10, 2022 at 4:06 pm #3745901Chris BellBPL Member
@hobbitLocale: PA Wilds
I’ve used an MLD Pro Poncho as a diagonal Asym Tarp above my hammock. I utilize this primarily in warmer weather and when strong wind is not expected. Keeping it fairly flat for most coverage it has worked well. Corner to corner length can be excessive in comparison to the ridge line length of the chosen hammock. Obviously the closer they match the closer the tarp can be to the hammock set up. In the photo this is only a 9 foot hammock so it is suspended quite a distance away from the poncho tarp.Apr 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm #3745904Dustin VBPL Member
Similar to ChrisBell, I have used a GoLite poncho diagonally over a short hammock. I put the foot-end into the wind almost touching the hammock. It was okay in mild rains, but there wasn’t much margin for error. It won’t fit over my current, longer hammock.
For ground-sleeping, I keep going back to the Gatewood because it’s much better as a shelter and a little better as raingear since it’s conical and your arms go through the sides.Apr 10, 2022 at 5:28 pm #3745906Ferrell MoultrieBPL Member
Umbrella + rain skirt handles the conditions where a poncho might be useful, but in my experience (I have a drawer full of ponchos that I tried), they are superior. I carry an UL “breathable” jacket for when the conditions aren’t favorable for either the umbrella, or a poncho. Use of a small cover like a poncho for shelter may be fine in an area where rain isn’t blowing and heavy and bouncing off the ground. Here on the East Coast, even good tents suffer in the summer rains and t-storms. YMMV, HYOH, et al, but been there, tried that, won’t go back.Apr 11, 2022 at 4:20 pm #3745993Drew SBPL Member
While not technically a poncho, I use my 6MD Gatewood Cape almost exclusively as my rain gear and shelter. I carry a “disposable” poncho that weighs next to nothing in the event that I need to take off my cape to set-up my shelter in the rain.Apr 11, 2022 at 5:36 pm #3745995
I can see the advantages the MLD Pro Poncho has over a traditional rectangular poncho tarp, but I also see how the Equinox (extended version) or the S2S Nano allows for a lot more versatility. Yes the MLD will give you a superior A frame pitch and it increases your coverage, however with cat cuts, a trapezoid shape and being 2″ shorter on long side edges than ridgeline, you can rest assured that the Pro Poncho is pretty much a one-trick pony. MLD website says: it can also be pitched in other configurations depending on your skills.” Maybe that’s true, but you better be good with tarps and patient.
A hiking buddy of mine in Florida carried a Pro Poncho and man that thing looked big when he wore it in raingear mode. It seemed a little beyond what’s optimal size really, however I know many would disagree and I understand.
Below is a quick, crude drawing I did (to scale) comparing the 58″ X 104″ Equinox ands S2S Nano with the 5.5′ X 9′ X 5′ Pro Poncho. As you can see the MLD has 0.6 square yards more surface area (or 13%).
The Flying V or Plow Point is one of the best pitches you can do with a rectangular poncho tarp and that’s because of the way you can use the hood as a panel tieout.
Short 1:09 video
And if you get caught out to where the rain and wind end up being a lot more than what was forecasted, you can also go with the Vietnam Hooch pitch. Hard to enter and leaves little room, but you have 360 degree coverage, which allows you to hunker down and stay dry. Keep in mind that the military poncho in the video below is at least 10″ shorter than the ones I mentioned above, so you’d have more length.
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