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What's the perfect poncho tarp?
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Pete Clarke
(Calapidder) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
What's the perfect poncho tarp? on 09/03/2009 22:05:45 MDT Print View

All I want is perfection. Why is that so hard? I'm leaning toward a gatewood cape, but my current setup uses silnylon and I'm not a big fan. It stretches when it gets wet, so throughout the night your shelter is gently collapsing. Also, I decided long ago that if I ever got a new poncho tarp, I would want a catenary cut model to really maximize the tautness. What can I say? I like them tight like a drum. And finally, if at all possible, I would like a shaped configuration instead of a flat tarp. Everybody says the flat tarps are more flexible, and they are, but when it is coming down hard, all I care about is escaping the wet and wind from all directions.
So in short, I want a cat cut spinnaker poncho tarp that is shaped to provide excellent protection.
Any ideas? Thanks for any help!
Oh yeah, did I mention that I want it light as well? ;)

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
MYOG on 09/03/2009 22:44:16 MDT Print View

With all those wishes it nearly sounds like you should make it yourself =) I think there are a few MYOG articles available here how to make a poncho, that would be a good first stop.

If that's not an option, then just from the sound of it you could try to contact MLD and ask if they could help you out. They know how to handle those lightweight materials and make beautiful stuff out of it.

Troy Ammons
(tammons) - F - MLife
What's the perfect poncho tarp? on 09/03/2009 23:17:49 MDT Print View

I would think a gatewood cape is about as good as its going to get.

I modded a campmor tarp/poncho into this,
the sketchup tarp.

but its really long. 5'x12' with a beak. Sets up nice though. Think I will build one in cuben one day, only at 11 feet long.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: What's the perfect poncho tarp? on 09/03/2009 23:32:21 MDT Print View

Hmmmmm. You might try self tensioning lines, they will help with your stretching problem. JacksRBetter sells them:

Or you can make them yourself:

Take care,


Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
I know this guy... on 09/03/2009 23:37:35 MDT Print View

I met a guy on the PCT who has been making simple UL gear for decades but has no website. He had a clever cape design (silnylon) that was stunningly simple to use in either poncho or tarp mode. I'm trying to find out his contact info at the present. If you're interested, PM me.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
What's the perfect poncho tarp on 09/04/2009 00:29:12 MDT Print View

FWIW, my Gatewood Cape stood up to repeated wind gusts that easily hit 60 mph at times for two consecutive days and nights last month along the PCT. It got really wild for those two days as we hunkered down at 9200 feet in the Sierra. It had to be much worse up higher. Other shelters did not fare real well.

I've not had it out in the rain yet, but unless it gets rainy AND very windy (in which case I'm told all poncho tarps flap around a lot), I'm sold on it. It has replaced my Lunar Solo and rain jacket in my pack unless I'm sure to face days of continuous cold, wind-driven rain (like the north Cascades in September and October).

Pete Clarke
(Calapidder) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Gatewood Cape ??? on 09/04/2009 01:36:40 MDT Print View

Wow! You guys are on the ball! Thanks for all the quick replies. I don't know how to make anything, and don't have a sewing machine. However, how hard would it be to find a decent spinnaker tarp, then cut a slit in the middle to use as a pop-goes-the-weasel hole for your head so you can wear it as a poncho? Of course you'd have to reinforce the slit on the sides, and wear a rain hat because you'd have no built-in hood. But, when set up as a tarp, maybe just have a snap or velcro or something to hold the slit closed. Wouldn't that be flippin simple? I love simple.

I'll probably get a gatewood cape. The thing is, I would tend to use this as a rain poncho only in emergencies. And, when I sleep, I tend to sleep under the stars if possible. So, I would sleep in it only in emergencies. This will probably work fine.

For any owners of the cape, I've got some questions. For one, every picture i see has the right-side beak half folded back to make a door. Why won't the left-hand side fold back? i would love to set up the tarp, with two huge front doors open, and only close them up tight if a storm's-a-brewin'. Also, is the only color grey? I like grey, but was just wondering. And finally, would Mr. Ron Moak maybe make me a spinnaker model without the pocket if I was real nice to him and paid him handsomely? And honestly, there just HAS to be a better way to secure the top of the trekking pole than that crazy rainbow octopus thingy. Sorry--it had to be said. :)

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Gatewood Cape on 09/04/2009 02:14:44 MDT Print View

"... every picture i see has the right-side beak half folded back to make a door. Why won't the left-hand side fold back?"

One side or the other has to connect to the guyline to keep things taut. The right side has a built-in loop & toggle to allow the door to be rolled up and thus kept out of the way, so I expect that folks get used to always using that as the door.

In terms of keeping it taut, if you extend your pole long so as to have it at an angle (not straight up and down), then you can tighten things up later from within the cape/tent by just straightening the pole.

I've only had it up a couple of times in my backyard thus far, but I'm quite impressed by the design, look forward to using it on a trip next week.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: spinnaker cape on 09/04/2009 09:36:49 MDT Print View

"And finally, would Mr. Ron Moak maybe make me a spinnaker model without the pocket if I was real nice to him and paid him handsomely?"

You can ask him, but I suspect not. The various shelter designs are based on the width of the fabric, and if I understand it correctly, spinnaker fabric is narrower than silnylon, and thus requires a very different design to maximize fabric use and minimize seams and cuts.

Edited by ken_bennett on 09/04/2009 09:38:13 MDT.

Ron Moak
(rmoak) - F
Re: Gatewood Cape ??? on 09/04/2009 10:01:13 MDT Print View

The Gatewood Cape is designed to maximize the 65" width that Silnylon comes in. Since spinnaker is narrower, a redesign of the patterns would be required to make it work. Also the spinnaker is about twice the material cost of silnylon.

In terms of opening both sides of the cape, that's not a problem. You can easily add a tieback to the other door to secure it in an open position. I didn't on the design, simply to save a tiny bit of weight.

As to the "crazy rainbow octopus thingy", what can I say. It works and works well. I toyed with several designs, none of which worked half as well. If you can design a more efficient method, be my guest. I'm always enthralled by peoples ingenuity.

Six Moon Designs

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Gatewood Cape on 09/04/2009 13:18:50 MDT Print View

I just got back from a JMT thru-hike. We had a complete night of rain (not thundershowers). I stayed completely dry in my Gatewood. No wind to speak of but with a good pitch location one should always stay dry. I also place my pole at a bit of an angle and then later can pull it straight. Also, silnylon needs to rest a bit after setting it up. I usually set it up and go on to other things. Later, I go back and tighten things up a bit.

My son wore it the next day as a poncho and I wish I hadn't let him use it. It covers the pack and all of his body real nicely.

Perfect? I don't know. But, for me, it's a real nice piece of equipment.

Erik Graf
(VanGo) - F

Locale: Southeast
Nice on 09/04/2009 13:49:17 MDT Print View

I've had a GC and have used it for years from the desert to the Rockies to the east coast. I second everything said above.

My $.02 worth:

Tent mode:

* you'll want to practice set up a bit before you hit the trail.
* once set up it does "relax" so making it taut is a little chore you have to do which is no big deal.
* you can open both sides but I like to keep one closed b/c I think it is more sturdy
* I think the "octopus" is ingenious - I keep mine cliped in and only unclip a couple of them when wearing it as a poncho
* verrrrrry roomy - surprisingly so.

Poncho mode:

* works like any other poncho - I wear my "ball cap" under the hood just to keep it off my brow and keep the rain off my glasses
* even when I snap up the sides it hangs low - so, I cross snap (ie. pull the long material off the outside of my right leg and cross behind me to the snap on my left hip) and vice versa - works perfect.

The only problem you'll have if you only take this as your tent and your rain gear - is if it is raining while your in tent mode and you have to get out to whiz. Normally I just get "damp" but I did have to go out once when it was coming down. I always carry a Hefty bag - so, I tore a "head hole" in the bottom and slipped it over me like a rain vest. No arm holes - worked perfect for me (a guy) b/c, well, my hands were where they needed to be for what I was doing.

Bottom line - one piece of light weight gear that does the work of potentially two heavy pieces of gear - it's the staple of my 6lb 3-season pack weight.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
sil-nylon tautness on 09/04/2009 14:18:35 MDT Print View

Do folks just not like carrying the extra weight of self tensioners, or have you tried them and found they didn't work? Or is the "put pole at angle at setup and then straighten to tighten later" the easiest and lightest option? I haven't used self tensioners, but have considered buying them, so I'm curious as to y'all's experiences/thoughts on the matter.



Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Gatewood Cape Pitch on 09/04/2009 15:33:00 MDT Print View

I'd like to affirm all the positives about the Gatewood Cape - it's truly a great piece of gear. I also leave the "octopus" and my guylines attached unless it looks like rain in the morning.

In terms of pitching it I start with my pole at an angle as well and then (at least in the middle of the night if there's any sag) I just straighten the pole a little and we're back to the same taut pitch.

I just can't see adding the weight of the self-tensioners when this process works so well.

Pete Clarke
(Calapidder) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Sounds promising! on 09/04/2009 23:21:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the insight!
Ron, if you're reading this, I was only poking fun at the crazy rainbow octopus thingy. My most humble and sincere(ish) apologies. It seems to work well for everybody. Upon closer inspection, it appears to be more of an insanely vibrant tentacled doohickey. :) I sent you an email the other day. I'm the guy who lives in Beaverton, and I'd still like to see one, if at all possible (or at least see if it is possible to have a few alterations made to one).
If I used fixed length 45" poles, would that be long enough to do the "set at an angle then straighten" method to re-tension the tarp?

I appreciate all the feedback!

Edited by Calapidder on 09/05/2009 02:03:02 MDT.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
in-camp raingear on 09/05/2009 09:08:36 MDT Print View

"The only problem you'll have if you only take this as your tent and your rain gear - is if it is raining while your in tent mode and you have to get out to whiz. Normally I just get "damp" but I did have to go out once when it was coming down. I always carry a Hefty bag - so, I tore a "head hole" in the bottom and slipped it over me like a rain vest. No arm holes - worked perfect for me (a guy) b/c, well, my hands were where they needed to be for what I was doing."

I'm sure a lot of us have had occasion to make a sort of poor-man's raingear out of a trash bag (though I'll generally cut myself some armholes too ...). Slightly better and only slightly heavier might be what you can find if you do a web search for the term "disposable poncho". These are about the thickness of a yard waste bag but made to be a poncho, sometimes you see these given away or sold at outdoor events. Here's one example:

It has a hood and better sleeves than a trash bag; I have one from some past event that weighs 1.7 oz. For a lot of trips I just get into the tent and stay in when it's raining (a pee bottle helps), but some trips you find group dynamics keeps you hanging around camp a fair bit; something like this is probably worth carrying in that situation.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Hmm, nice if could buy disposeable poncho from SMD ... on 09/05/2009 09:16:28 MDT Print View

Hmm, and Ron --- since you're tracking this thread (thanks for doing so!) --- a suggestion. IMO it would be great if SMD were to buy a bunch of really lightweight (2 mil or perhaps even 1 mil) disposable type ponchos and sell them as a sort of accessory to the GC, perhaps in a 5-pack (with accurate weight per unit listed). In briefly poking around, I mostly found these sold in bulk (min. order of 20 or 50 or more depending on the source). I can buy a cheap poncho in a local store, but these are fairly heavy.

I think it would be great if SMD made it easy for GC buyers to pick up a very light for-camp-use-only piece of raingear, "for those cases where your friends keep you hanging around a while in camp".