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To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp
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Thomas Knighton
(Tomcat1066) - F

Locale: Southwest GA
To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/05/2007 15:24:43 MST Print View

I'm new to backpacking. I've spent probably hundreds of nights camping, but backpacking was not an option for many years. Now, it is and I'm getting my gear together to hit the trail. However, I see no reason to carry 20-30 lbs of gear alone if it's not necessary, which led me to ultralight backpacking.

Now, with that said, I've been looking at going poncho/tarp for raingear and shelter. However, I've read a time or three that poncho/tarping should be left to the more experienced backpacker. I'll admit it, I'm a bit concerned about not pitching the tarp properly and getting wet, which is why a TiGoat bivy is on the purchase list.

However, I'm curious about the BPL community's feelings about newbies going poncho/tarp. I feel I should mention that part of my pre-trip plan is to practice several types of pitches until they are near automatic, and campsite selection is something I've been studying up on as well.

Your thoughts?


Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/05/2007 16:36:27 MST Print View


This is just opinion. I think there are many levels to your question.

Some people need to be enclosed to sleep.

Inexperienced people tend to take a lot more gear than they need and there is not enough room under a poncho for them and all their gear.

I look at each piece of gear as a part of a system. I would not use a poncho shelter and carry a white gas stove.

Testing a variety of pitches is good, but take advantage of the shelter that mother nature provides. A mound of thick duff behind a good windbreak is the ideal spot, but there is seldom enough room to make a text book pitch.

Do NOT set up in a dished, compacted site just because there is enough room.

You need a bail out plan until you are comfortable with your skill.

Yes, a bivy/poncho combination is appropriate for a beginner.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/05/2007 16:56:40 MST Print View

There are certainly enough articles and other resources here on BPL to point you in the right direction for pitching, site selection, orienting and other aspects of tarp use, so if you read through those and set up the tarp in the back yard (or wherever) in the wind and rain several times then you should be set. The bivy would come in useful in blown rain or snow, since you don't have a lot of coverage with a poncho-tarp. After more experience you may decide you can leave that at home (or not), but it's not a huge weight burden anyway. There's no reason to buy a tarp now and then replace it with a poncho/tarp next month, unless you plan on buying a tarp anyway.

An alternative to the poncho/tarp is the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. It can be pitched very low to the ground and eliminates the need for a weather-protection bivy. (You might want a bivy of some nature for warmth, bug protection or sleeping without shelter, but those are separate issues.)

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Just do it on 01/05/2007 17:00:36 MST Print View

Hi Tom

Putting it simply just do it, but use common sense.

Try setting up in the backyard and sleeping out, perhaps in windy wet weather. Or otherwise head to your local State Park and do an overnight where the focus is on Tarp and bivying and not on doing lots of miles.

Take plenty of stakes and cord so that you can try many different set ups and become master of a few.

There is not a lot of risk in an overnight and with a good bivy and tarp you really cannot go wrong and more importantly you will love the experience.

Finally you are an experienced camper and bivying is the next logical step

mark henley
(flash582) - F
Re: Re: To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/05/2007 17:43:16 MST Print View

Douglas has an excellent point here ... I use a Bivy with a Gatewood cape and a poncho tarp for the warmth and the bug protection. I've used the Gatewood without the Bivy as well, have used the Bivy without the Gatewood, and sometimes just toss the pad and bag down on top of the bivy and get some sack time. I can't remember using the poncho without the Bivy, however.

A lightweight bivy gives you a lot of options. A lightweight bivy with a 30 degree bag instead of just a 20 degree bag also gives you a lot of options as well IMO.

Also ... if you're new to tarping, I wouldn't recommend just jumping into a poncho tarp ... either the gatewood or take along an 8x10 tarp to start with. You learn a heck of a lot about tarping within the relative safety of an 8x10. Remember .. a Poncho tarp is not very forgiving if you don't have the techniques down and a heavy downpour in 40 degree temps is not the time to figure out good site selection or pitching options.

With that said ... I'd do quite a few bag nights near the car, so you can bail easily if you get soaked or cold, with a good headlamp in reserve if you decide to go ahead and do the poncho tarp thing.

Lastly, has a great article about the pros and cons of the poncho tarp ... you should give it a read.

Thomas Knighton
(Tomcat1066) - F

Locale: Southwest GA
Thanks everyone on 01/05/2007 18:55:53 MST Print View

Thanks for the feedback folks. I'd love to get a Gatewood Cape, though I figured it to be out of my price range. However, a bivy isn't actually needed for the GC due to the coverage, right? If that's the case, I can take the money I was going to use on the TiGoat Bivy, and the poncho/tarp, and get a Gatewood cape instead.

Definately something for me to think about. Thanks again folks.



Locale: Pacific Northwet
Re: Thanks everyone on 01/05/2007 20:24:35 MST Print View

The Gatewood cape is currently (until Jan 15) 15% off.

Thomas Knighton
(Tomcat1066) - F

Locale: Southwest GA
Re: Re: Thanks everyone on 01/05/2007 20:31:05 MST Print View

Is that 15% off of the $110 shown on the website? If so, great! I get paid on the 12th :D


mark henley
(flash582) - F
Re: Re: Re: Thanks everyone on 01/06/2007 05:55:29 MST Print View

Remember two things about the Gatewood ...

No bug protection

No Floor so ... you have to carry a groundsheet

Remember two things about a Bivy

In addition to limited storm protection, you get 5 to 10 degrees of warmth out of a bivy.

Can act as bug protection and a ground cloth.

You can get by with a Headnet and a Polycrow ground sheet for a couple of oz, but you'll be shopping for a bug net after you use it a few times. (The first time I ever saw a Black Widow spider was when she crawled over my hiking shoe when I was sitting outside my tent in the Sam Houston National forest just north of Houston (I would have sworn that she was as big as a hamster at the time), I've been real big on bug protection when sleeping ever since).

You'll be warmer in a GW cape than out under the open, most tents add 5 to 10 degrees on their own.

A Titanium goat bivy, at 6 oz, can replace the need for the bug net and the ground sheet (if you're not using Nano), plus add another 5 to 10 degrees to your bag. If you haven't bought a good down bag yet, this system can stretch a Western Mountaineering 16 oz. 35 degree Highlight to almost a 20 degree bag (at around $250)(I sleep warm, so my 32 degree Montbell number 3 will go down to the teens with my insulated jacket on and a decent pad under me, in my GW cape and my Bivy).

The point of all this is that I'd suggest that you take a look at your insulation, shelter, Bag, Pad, Ground Sheet, and Bivy or no Bivy as part of a total system.

I bought a Coleman Canyon 32 degree bag (more like a 45 degree bag) at 2lbs 10 oz, made a homemade bivy out of $1 a yard nylon and some $5 Silnylon 2nds on my mom's old sewing machine, a campmor 200 weight fleece jacket (on sale for $25) and then bought the Gatewood cape. I had bought some less intelligent purchases along the way as well, but this was the strategy I settled on. I then went to a Montbell # 3 bag for $260 (I need a 67 inch girth bag for my wide shoulders) at 23 oz, found a Patagonia micropuff pullover on summer clearance, and am working on a new Bivy now. (the fleece and colman bag, although heavy, act to take my system down to the single digits if I need it now)

(I have a $70 Jetboil for when I take my wife or son out, but 95% of the time I use a great little Alcohol stove and a Ti cup, I have a TarpTent for when I take my son with me, but I use the Gatewood/Bivy for solo)

The next piece of my system will be a Bivy Liner quilt and a light Climashield Blanket. The Blanket will be used for warm Texas spring hiking and the Bivy and Bivy Liner will be used with my bag to extend my system down into the single digits for only an additional 8 oz or so, over what I normally carry. (3/4 of an inch of loft plus 1 and 3/4 inches of loft (2.5 inches of loft) plus the effect of the pullover, bivy and the tent, with a fleece balaclava)

So ... if you plan ahead, add up the prices for each into a grand total, and then make planned purchases when you catch things on sale, as you save up some money. But also remember that a good bag in the 30 degree range will cost less than a good 20 degree bag.

Ryan Jordan has a great article for premium members on this site on Sub Ultralight hiking .... which, even if your not looking at jumping into a 5 lb baseweight will give you a LOT of things to think about. It's worth the price of the subscription alone I think.

One last point. GossamerGear has Glen's Ultralight makeover DVD on sale for $5. He helps a (pretty good looking at that) young lady move from her normal 35 lb pack load to 8 lbs with strategic gear replacement. It's well worth the viewing IMO and cheap at $5 for the info you can gleen from it).

Good Luck and Happy Trails

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
My reasoning on 01/06/2007 11:37:18 MST Print View

I am going with a normal poncho and bivy combo for a couple of reasons:
Like everybody said, the bivy can offer bug protection.
The combo gives me the fexibilty to not pitch anything on a clear night and still keep off the dew/bugs.
I camp with a guy who uses a blackdiamond lightsabre, so a lean-to set up with the poncho gives us both a place to hang out.
I am also at the base of the poncho-tarp pitching learning curve, but I figure you have to start sometime.

Thomas Knighton
(Tomcat1066) - F

Locale: Southwest GA
Thanks again on 01/06/2007 17:36:13 MST Print View

Thanks again everyone! There's definately a lot for me to think about. I still like the Gatewood Cape for shelter, and it's a great weight savings over my previous plans overall, but I see the point about bug protection. Granted, I'm from South GA where bugs aren't just a problem, but a way of life :D


Jeffrey Kuchera

Locale: Great Lakes
Poncho Tarping It on 01/06/2007 23:55:25 MST Print View

Don't forget it is either gonna be a poncho or a tarp. It can't be both a poncho and a tarp at the same time. All that means is that you might get a little wet when setting up your shelter after you take it off. You may also want to plan camp chores properly. For example if you need to get water you may want to get water before you remove your poncho and pitch it as a tarp. I am currently considering a poncho tarp as part of my fair weather system.

Thomas Knighton
(Tomcat1066) - F

Locale: Southwest GA
Wind Shirt on 01/07/2007 05:48:45 MST Print View

I've thought about that, but I plan on using my DWR wind shirt (GoLite Wisp) for any "extra vehicular activities" I might have to perform after setting up. Not as great as actual rain gear, but it should work for short periods. Basically, it serves, for me at least, as another dual use item. Can't have enough of those :D


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Used Gear Option on 01/07/2007 08:23:28 MST Print View

Ponco/tarps come up for sale on the Used Gear section you can get one below retail price, and can recoup some of the cost if it doesn't work for you. It's amazing how often some people turn over equipment.

Good advice from the others:
- read on the site about its use and limitations
- practice in your backyard and on quick overnights
- take a rain jacket as back-up if rain is expected and your not sure about the dual use when setting up camp.


Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Wind Shirt on 01/07/2007 08:49:37 MST Print View

Tom, what I use is this: At first I did the tarp/bivy thing. Worked well but I still wanted to get my weight down. I then purchased the Gatewood Cape. Look at BPL for the review and different pitching options. BPL has extensive photos of the product in real usage situations. That is what sold me. I used a poncho this year for my raingear. That and a windsirt with a pair of Gossamer Gear Sil Chaps had my whole raingear package down to 10 ounces. Sure the Gatewood Cape weighs in at 11 ounces but if you combine that with a lightweight ground cloth you are golden. I would go for the Gatewood Cape for this simple reason, for the $110 you are getting both a poncho and a shelter. YOU are actually saving money my friend!!

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Wind Shirt on 01/07/2007 08:53:28 MST Print View

Take a look at this. And on the right you will find some other poncho tarp combos. MLD has one that is around 7 ounces and Go Lite has one for 10 ounces that costs $45. Dunno how effective they are but that is some options that are available

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/07/2007 11:14:46 MST Print View

As to whether or not tarp camping is for you I think many of the earlier posts would echo my comments. I'll say that it's not for everyone. I have friends that are definitely ultralight hikers that just can't do it. That doesn't "diminish" them in any way (I don't believe in such concepts... to me that's kind of like thinking less of someone because they like the color blue over red) it's just that they enjoy the closed shelter aspect. There are a lot of great ultralight tents out there and who can fault anyone that enjoys an evening in an Henry Shires Tarptent, for example?

That said, for sure I would "try it before you buy it". That means go cheap for your first few trips meaning borrow gear from a friend or something. Even "go heavy" on some of the components. Buying used is an EXCELLENT idea that you or someone else posted. Most ultralighters baby their gear as a matter of necessity. The only difference between new and used in many cases is that the used stuff has already been seam sealed by a pro! :)

Also, be sure to try all this out in a variety of conditions. You'll find out quickly if you like or don't like sleeping under a tarp in hard rain, for example. Be patient. A lot of factors in making a change like this are driven by experience and practice. I can't speak for a lot of the hikers here, obviously, but for me most of my enjoyment from tarping it comes from "habits" that I have built over years... little things that just come natural to me now like how I place my gear so it's ready for me when I get up or how I deal with that late night bathroom break.

I personally don't like hiking with a poncho so I only played with the poncho/tarp combo thing for a short while. Campmor has a ponch made of silnylon that has loops for pitching that is fairly cheap, made by Equinox. Here is the BPL review:

Campmor (Equinox) Silnylon Poncho-Tarp

I don't know if this is still sold but it's a great "starter" tarp/ponco combo.

Peter McDonough
(crazypete) - F

Locale: Above the Divided Line
Re: Re: To Poncho-tarp on not to poncho-tarp on 01/07/2007 14:31:07 MST Print View

Start with a 5'x8' sheet of 3 or 4 mil plastic with duct tape tie outs. Use a cheap Wal-mart poncho to see if you like hiking in a poncho. If this doesn't work out for you then you're only out about $15 or so, and you can still make larger tarps out of the roll of plastic sheeting.

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
poncho tarp on 01/07/2007 16:27:21 MST Print View

If you decide you don't like the poncho-tarp, you will still have a light, cheap, durable peice of rain gear that doubles as a pack cover, and get whatever shelter system you want to. I would have to agree that it is good to jump into the SUL arena if thats where you plan to get to. I've wasted a lot of money (to me anyway) on unsuitable stuff. Also, learning to sew can save big money. Rayway quilts, backpack kits, tarps, stuff sacks, fleece hats, gloves, and socks, ponchos etc are all great ways to get into MYOG areas. It definatley takes a while to get into, but is totally worth it.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: poncho tarp on 01/07/2007 16:59:58 MST Print View

My best advice is learn to make a half pyramid shelter with your poncho. It is bombproof and gives a secure dry area as long as the poncho and half as wide - no spindrift. Just stake out one long side and put a pole at the center of the other long side. Stake and guy the rest as needed - you will figure it out.