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Advice from experienced poncho tarp users
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Pedro Arvy
(PedroArvy) - MLife

Locale: Melbourne
Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 04:36:03 MDT Print View

I am thinking of getting a poncho tarp and the Mountain Laurel Designs 1.35 Silnylon Pro seems the best because of its length and catenary ridge line. The review here seems very favorable. However, even in this longish poncho tarp it seems that the base of the sleeves are above the wrists and therefore exposed to rain which could soak an insulation layer.

I am imagining a scenario where the temperature is below 50, it's raining hard and I need to put on an insulated layer over my thin top. The rain will get to my lower arm, absorb into the insulation layer and then soak up my arm. This does not sound pleasant! (By the way, I am 5'10").

In even shorter Poncho Tarps like the Intergal Designs or BMW models I imagine this problem must be even worse.

Not having used this setup before, I was wondering if any experienced poncho tarp users could tell me if this is what actually happens and whether a poncho tarp is suitable for cold rainy conditions.

Also, there are a few poncho tarps that seem to be recommended, anyone with strong views on one of the below:

a) Mountain Laurel Designs 1.35 Silnylon Pro

b) Brawny Ultralight tarp

c) Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape

Edited by PedroArvy on 05/07/2006 05:35:46 MDT.

Antonio Abad
(tonyabad) - F
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 05:57:24 MDT Print View

Petras, that scenario almost exactly describes the experience that soured me on the poncho/tarp option. I tried the ID Silponcho for a while. Not only did the wetness wick up my arm, but it also pooled into my shell gloves after a while. It was miserable.

Bob Gabbart
(bobg) - F
staying dry in a poncho tarp on 05/07/2006 06:03:20 MDT Print View

I haven't been able to stay dry under a poncho tarp. I now only use them as my just in case shelter/rain gear when I don't expect any rain. I also find that they snag on brush on the side of the trail way to easily and I quickly overheat on ones that have belts (like the ID one.) The sleeve thing is also an issue. Make sure to roll your sleeves up so they are under the tarp.


paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 07:36:06 MDT Print View

I've used a P-T (and now a cape instead) as primary rain gear and occasionally pitched over a bivy shelter.

Often, a lot of rain where I hike.

A highly water resistant, yet breathable, hoodless zip-pullover Wild Things Epic by Nextec fabric windshirt keeps my forearms dry when wearing the P-T or cape. The windshirt goes over base, mid, and hi-loft insulating layers. Though, usually, the insulating layer is unecessary when on the move due to body heat generated.

I don't use P-T as a primary shelter without a WPB bivy shelter or bivy sack (Epic or eVENT so both more water -resistant or -proof than your typical UL DWR bivy sack), so I can't really comment on P-T use with a DWR bivy.

Edited by pj on 05/07/2006 11:00:09 MDT.

Michael Freyman
(mfreyman) - MLife
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 08:47:04 MDT Print View

Another nice poncho is the GoLite Poncho/Tarp. has them on sale until the 11th for $38 and change.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 10:35:02 MDT Print View

I think poncho tarps are the best thing going. I use a cape/tarp (sortof a poncho without a hood) for my primary shelter and raingear.

Of those you listed, I would pick the Brawny. It has all the basics and will be more versatile than the Mt Laurel. I can't evaluate the Gatewood.

I find ponchos/capes to be drier under more conditions than any other rain gear. All bets are off for hard freezes, of course, but that should be obvious.

Notice, I said 'primary raingear'. I use a lightweight w/b windshirt (Sportshell for milder conditions or Durafab for truly nasty, near freezing weather) The w/b windshirt keeps my arms dry. With ANY raingear, if you use poles, you get water down to the elbows. This is true of ponchos as well. Notice Brawny's poncho has thumb loops - a very good feature. The shirts also help during forrays outside the tarp in the rain.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 12:50:48 MDT Print View

Two thumbs up on the Gatewood Cape. It will provide much better weather protection as a shelter and works fine as rain gear.

Pros and cons on poncho-style rain gear:

*Good ventilation
*light weight
*covers to knees or lower
*protects pack too
*can be used for primary or emergency shelter

*flaps in wind
*catches on brush
*exposes lower arms

Take a look at the photo of Ryan Jordan wearing a BMW poncho tarp. He is wearing gaiters to protect his lower legs and what appears to be some sort of wind shirt to cover his arms.

In this case he is wearing a hat, but with most poncho-style arrangements, you can use the hood as a "gasket" around your neck and wear a brimmed hat (my preference), or wear the hood, or wear a baseball-style cap under the hood. This last arrangement has cured a lot of poor hood designs!

Note that he has a cord tied around the waist to keep the sides under control. This is simple, cheap, and very light weight. It can help with wind and brush both.

To cover the lower arms a water repellent wind shirt works well. If you are carrying a pack and walking at a fair pace, you are good to near freezing with a wind shirt and some sort of base layer under. Gloves will be needed as the temperature drops with any rain system and poles. If you aren't using poles, you can keep your arms well covered under a poncho. Some poncho systems have thump loops to help keep things under control. I was walking in cold rain and sleet (~40F) with a SMD Gatewood cape with a Montane Lite-Speed wind shirt, a polyester long sleeve base layer, and water resistant gloves. The cape left my lower arms exposed from a couple inches below the elbow and the DWR qualities of the wind shirt kept my arms dry. I tend to perspire heavily and rain jackets rarely ventilate enough to keep me dry inside. I had no problem with the windshirt/cape combination. My lower legs got a little damp and the rain ran off my arms.

Keep in mind that UL hiking works best when you have a coordinated system. Most of the gear lists you will find here use some sort of light wind protection with variable layers under. One thing that I had to grasp was that with internal frame or frameless packs, you have one side of your core very well insulated-- sometimes too well! I'm saying that you have a pack up against your back, keeping cold wind off and heat in. Keep in mind too, that a poncho style system does cover you to the knees and does add another layer of wind and convective heat loss protection. At any rate, you need insulation more when you stop for break or to camp than you do when you are moving-- particularly above freezing.

Getting back to coverage with the poncho-- the lower legs may need some coverage. In light rain, it is easiest to let your synthetic hiking pants do their DWR thing. Gaiters can cover up to the knees and may already be part of your system. Chaps are another option. I elected to use light rain pants (Marmot Precip) and make them part of my overall system, using them as more heat retention or teaming them with a pair of long polyester underwear if I'm just wearing shorts and need more wind and temp protection or my regular hiking pants are too wet, etc. Rain pants will allow you to sit on a wet surface in camp or rest stops too.

Brush and wind:
These are weak points for poncho style systems. Any loose fabric is a pain with brush and the brush will get you as wet (or wetter) than rainfall can. If I were doing coastal hiking, I would rather have a rain jacket and pants. I don't do a lot of bushwhacking and it would be a summertime side trip if I was, but it is just common sense that a poncho isn't as handy in heavy brush. That doesn't mean that you can't handle occasional trail brush-- you could catch any gear on brush if you aren't paying attention. I worry more about piercing or ripping my pack.

In high winds I don't think ponchos are as effective and this is a compromise point. A cord around the middle will help a lot. In moderate cold wind, I think they are better as they have more coverage. If you have ever worn a trench coat, you know how warm they are as your upper legs are covered and there is a lot of body mass and blood flow there. The poncho gains there, but loses when the wind really picks up and starts flapping. If I were traveling in areas consistently windy and rainy (like the Olympic beaches), I would want better shelter as well as rain protection, so my system would take a shift--- and the weight would go up a couple pounds!

Ponchos as shelters:
In general, I don't like flat ponchos as shelters. None are really large enough to afford much protection and require using a bivy sack of some sort for heavier weather and convective heat loss from the added exposure to your sleeping bag. IMHO, tarp systems work best when they are fairly large-- like twice or more what a poncho tarp covers. I think needing a bivy sack is one step forward and one back-- more weight, cost, and complexity in the system.

Which is why I went with the SMD Gatewood cape. I got good rain protection, 360-degree coverage when sheltered and 11oz for my rain and shelter systems. I was able to drop a 12oz rain jacket and 4oz off a shaped tarp shelter, and the pack cover I was using was 6oz, for a total of 22oz saved. I could pay a lot of money and put up with other hardships to knock 22oz off my system in other areas! The cape uses one pole (or stick), six stakes, and has one guy line. I could drop another 8oz for summer use if I want to go without rain pants.

One other item about poncho-style shelters: you need to remove your rain gear to put up your shelter. I've come up with several options:

*Get wet. With my system, this would just be my top and it would probably need to come off in camp anyway as it would be wet with perspiration. It only takes a few minutes to pitch my shelter, so its not like I'm going to be exposed for a long time.

*Rely on the DWR properties of your wind shirt. Again, this is part of my personal system and will work for light rain just fine.

*Use a temporary backup. I carry a couple low-density polyethylene 45 gallon garbage bags (1.4 oz each). They are great for wet/dirty clothes and large enough to go past my waist for an emergency bivy. A couple minutes with a knife can turn one of those garbage bags into a nice rain jacket-- a slit in the top seam of my head and on each side seam for my arms. This is quick and easy, and I can knot off the cut section of the bag for other uses after. Cut completely open, they are large enough for a ground sheet.

Finally, poncho-style systems are great for day hiking. You can throw in it in your pack with a space blanket (or bag) and get yourself out of a real tight spot of you find yourself hurt or lost or the weather turns on you. It might not be the best night of your life, but you will be back to tell about it.

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/07/2006 13:33:35 MDT.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 15:48:39 MDT Print View

I've found that ponchos make good shelters - although, as you point out, a bivy is handy - as it with any smaller tarp - in case the ground is slopey. Perhaps some situations in the PNW are tough enough to warrant using something else, but I've used poncho/tarps there, too... just not on the beach. On the shore of assorted islands, though.

Antonio Abad
(tonyabad) - F
RE: Advice... on 05/07/2006 16:03:00 MDT Print View

Maybe I did something wrong, but I remember the arms of my wind shirt (Montane Featherlite) wetting out pretty quickly under my poncho with temps in the 40's and moderate precipitation. A more water-resistant (and less breathable) wind shirt might have yielded better results, but I prefer the more breathable kind in all other conditions.

Also, I think terrain deserves some consideration. I wasn't using hiking poles, but I did have to use my arms for balance walking uphill and downhill. I couldn't help but have my arms exposed for a good amount of time.

With all of that in mind, I'm interested in giving a cape a shot.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 19:23:10 MDT Print View

Vick said: "I've found that ponchos make good shelters - although, as you point out, a bivy is handy - as it with any smaller tarp ...."

I guess that's why there's more than one kind of shelter on the market-- we all have different needs and levels of desired comfort.

On a warm summer night, sleeping under an open tarp is almost like playing "fort" with bankets and a card table when we were kids. If it's cold and wet, it kinda takes the play part out of it and I'd rather be warm and dry. I can see getting by with a large tarp with lots of overlap -- like 8'x10', but no poncho is going to get close to that.

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/07/2006 19:27:26 MDT.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 20:13:38 MDT Print View

Sure, an 8x10 can be pretty snug, but so can a 6x9 in an A-frame or A-frame high-low, or a 5x8.5 set up in a pyramid. Of course, snug is the operative term here. Not a lot of extra space when the edges are on the ground. And in screaming nasty weather, a good bivy is a nice extra with any tarp, although I agree that a properly handled 8x10 shouldn't require a bivy.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: wind shorts and ponchos on 05/07/2006 20:45:44 MDT Print View

Antonio wrote: "I remember the arms of my wind shirt (Montane Featherlite) wetting out pretty quickly under my poncho with temps in the 40's and moderate precipitation...."

I'm not familiar with a lot of wind shirts but I've read a few comments in the forums regarding the differences in DWR and breathability between models and manufacturers. I had an EMS wind shirt that was quite waterproof but for the unsealed seams and it was a sweatbox too. The Montane Lite-Speed evidently has more water repellency and is generally less breathable than the Featherlite. The Lite-Speed does have panels of a different fabric that add ventilation.

I was wearing Mountain Hardwear Tempest gloves with the cape and wind shirt. The the gloves have a gauntlets, so there was just a hand-span of the wind shirt sleeve exposed. That and the shirt is brand new, so the DWR is as good as it will get. At any rate, it isn't like your core is going to get wet and cold, just your forearms.

Someone on the forums mentioned finfing Tyvek sleeve guards made for medical/biological use-- like gaiters for your arms. Something like that with a cowl covering your knuckles and a band under your palm could go along with a cape or poncho, but I think it's just more fuss, expense, weight, and complexity. After a while we get ourselves so insulated from Nature that we might as well stay home and watch a documentary!

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 20:58:22 MDT Print View

Vick wrote: "...And in screaming nasty weather, a good bivy is a nice extra with any tarp, although I agree that a properly handled 8x10 shouldn't require a bivy...."

That's why I use closed tarps-- floorless tents really. The Gatewood cape can be fully enclosed and battened down tight or raised and the door opened for a nice night. My other tarp-tent is the GoLite Hut1 with exactly the same qualites-- and a lot more living space. With either, the only weather that is going to get in is under the edges in the form of running water, which proper siting, pitching and perhaps a little trowel work should take care of.

Antonio Abad
(tonyabad) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/07/2006 22:14:39 MDT Print View

Same here, Dale. I've been using the SilShelter as my primary shelter for the past couple of years. While it takes a little more time to get a good, taut pitch (it was designed before the cantenary designs really took off), I love it's versatility and all-weather protection. If I were in the market for a shelter these days, I would probably look at the Gatewood cape and Gossamer Gear's shelter (I forget the name).

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: wind shorts and ponchos on 05/07/2006 22:32:48 MDT Print View

I think the montane lite-speed and featherlite are both made of pertex microlight. The different fabric on the lite-speed may be pertex quantum.

Pedro Arvy
(PedroArvy) - MLife

Locale: Melbourne
Sounds like a poncho is not for me on 05/08/2006 00:06:55 MDT Print View

I have the BMW bivy so that's not a problem. But I would be freezing if it was below 50, a strong wind was blowing and it was raining with just a windshirt over a base layer!

I think you guys are saying that a poncho is not really for me.

Edited by PedroArvy on 05/08/2006 00:07:54 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: wind shorts and ponchos on 05/08/2006 00:13:20 MDT Print View

I checked on Montane's Web site (smack, drooooool) and both jackets are made of Pertex Microlight. The "Enhanced Breathing Panels" in the Lite-Speed model are something they call Peaq Air--- I would call it light, uncoated ripstop nylon. It does work, regardless of the name.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/08/2006 09:21:53 MDT Print View


Do you use poles? If so, then your best bet will be to roll your sleeves up and endure wet arms. Some ponchos (like Brawny's) have "finger loops" to keep the poncho over your arms. I found that this didn't give my arms adaquate extension/reach when using poles.

As to which poncho... it really depends on what you are looking for and how comfortable you are using a small tarp. I use brawney poncho for a couple of seasons as shelter and rain gear. I don't have personal experience with the others. I selected Brawney's because it had more coverage than any of the ponchos made at the time. I found that it worked well in moderate conditions, but I didn't like the pitching options went facing really nasty storms because whatever pitch I selected, wind-blown rain kept me damp. My vote would be for the Gatewood Cape because it provides coverage which is simular to the GG Spinnshelter which has worked well for me without the need of a bivy.

[BTW: I am not currently a poncho user. I started out backpacking using a poncho, but after a number of years switched to a rain jacket because the poncho just wasn't working well for me. Years later I tried use a poncho/tarp for around two years as a way to lighter my load, but found that I prefered good rain jackets to ponchos, and that I liked shelters with more coverage than what most poncho/tarps provided. I found and combination of rain jacket and shelter which was not heavier than my tarp/poncho+DWR bivy and made the switch. I won't go back to a poncho/tarp again.]

A number of people have talked about various DWR windshirts keeping their arms dry. This would work well if you aren't constantly using poles. I have not found using DWR windshirts kept my arms dry when using poles and a poncho. I have yet to find a highly breathable windshirt which wouldn't wet out in an extended rain. If such a garment existed, we would all be wearing it and ditch classic rain gear. The best winshirts / DWR only garments can survive something like 15 in a serious storm, 45 minutes in a constant solid rain, a few hours in a light drizzle. Some softshells can keep the wet at bay for longer, though most don't.

Edited by verber on 05/08/2006 09:26:30 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Advice from experienced poncho tarp users on 05/08/2006 09:42:31 MDT Print View

Mark, give the Wild Things Epic windshirt a try. It works well for me to keep my forearms dry for hours. BigSkyProducts also makes one, though i haven't used theirs.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Sounds like a poncho is not for me on 05/08/2006 10:18:07 MDT Print View

Petra wrote: "I have the BMW bivy so that's not a problem. But I would be freezing if it was below 50, a strong wind was blowing and it was raining with just a windshirt over a base layer!"

That's where I was comfortable, but any comments on clothing need to assume that your mileage may vary. There's no reason you can't wear whatever you like under a poncho. An insulated vest added to a wind shirt (or your top of choice) would be very workable. I use a microfleece long sleeve 1/2 zip if a silkweight base layer isn't working for me and I carry a polyester fill vest for more insulation (Moonstone Cirrus). I've found that I only need the added insulation in camp or a long rest. These are the basic layers I work with for three season stuff. For Winter, I add a polyfill sweater/jacket.

A rain jacket will block the wind, but so will a wind shirt at 25% of the weight. Think systems to get your selection of clothing and whether your shelter is part of the system or not. If I were going with two people, I would switch shelters for more room and my raingear could change to a jacket. My Marmot Precip jacket and the Gatewood cape are 1oz apart in weight, but the cape replaces my pack cover and gives me some emergency coverage if I were seperated from the person carrying the larger shelter, and so on--- compromise is everywhere!

I'm sure there are several "camps" when it comes to aerobic activities. I've always perspired heavily and comfortable outside with little insualtion if I'm working. As I've aged and added some pounds, that extra insulation has made me more so-- sweaty and warm-blooded. I have to keep that in mind when hiking with my daughter who is very much the opposite.

I've been outdoors with some folk who have low body fat percentages and I noted the differences in metabolism, clothing needs per temperature and food intake. I see it all the time in my work as a facilities manager and trying to keep office temperatures balance-- when I'm comfortable, there are people on the staff turning blue!