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GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp REVIEW

Just because Skurka and Coup chose this raingear/shelter for their record-setting thru-hikes, that doesn't mean it will work for you. Here's the scoop on a tough poncho that makes a great shelter but suffers a little in raingear mode.


by Will Rietveld | 2005-10-25 03:00:00-06

GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp REVIEW


Publisher's Note: Andrew Skurka wore and slept under this poncho tarp on his 7,780-mile C2C hike spanning North America from Cape Gaspe to Cape Alava, and Demetrious Coupounas chose it for his raingear-shelter on his recent unsupported thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. Andrew was sponsored by GoLite on that hike, and Coup, well, he sort of owns the company, so it's no surprise why they chose the GoLite product. The purpose of this review is simple: did these guys make a good choice or did sponsorship/PR-goggles cloud their judgment? - RJ

It’s hard to beat a poncho/tarp as part of a SuperUltraLight backpacking system — one piece of gear serves as rainwear (including pack cover) and a tarp shelter. New for 2005, the GoLite Poncho/Tarp at 11 ounces may not be the lightest one around, but it’s probably the strongest, and its size makes it one of the most versatile. It’s made of GoLite SilLite fabric, which is 1.76 oz/yd2 compared to ordinary silnylon at 1.3 oz/yd2, and claimed to be ultra-tough and ultra-waterproof. For an extra ounce of weight you get a premium fabric with added strength and durability.

What's Good

  • Very durable
  • Good-fitting hood
  • Perfect size for a 6-foot tall person
  • Adjustable length
  • Snap side closure
  • Can be pitched in A-frame or lean-to configurations

What's Not So Good

  • A little heavy
  • Tie out loops are not fabric reinforced
  • Not sized for shorter hikers
  • No elastic waist band
  • Difficult to get on in wind


Year, Model 2005 GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp
Style type Poncho/tarp
Fabric 30d 1.76 oz/yd2 (60g/m2) SilLite silicone-impregnated ripstop nylon
Weight Measured weight 11.0 oz (312 g); manufacturer’s specification 10 oz (283 g)
Dimensions 58 in x 102 in (264 x 147 cm) extended for covering a pack; 58 in x 88 in (147 x 224 cm) shortened for wearing without a pack
Features Sewn-in hood with drawcord and cordlock, snaps on arm openings and sides, 3 Velcro patches and snap to adjust poncho length, 8 nylon tie out loops
MSRP $45


The GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp weighs 11 ounces (Backpacking Light measurement) by itself, and 13 ounces with guylines and titanium stakes. That’s a little high by poncho/tarp standards. The Integral Designs SilPoncho weighs 10.2 ounces, the Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro poncho/tarp weighs 9 ounces, and spinnaker fabric poncho/tarps weigh about 6.5 ounces.

The difference is in the fabric, features, and dimensions. The GoLite Poncho/Tarp is made of SilLite fabric (also used on other GoLite shelters), which is a slightly heaver silnylon than the standard (1.76 oz/yd2 compared to 1.3 oz/yd2). The difference in fabric weight is readily apparent when you compare a swath of each; GoLite’s SilLite is a distinctly heavier weight fabric, and is claimed to be ultra-tough and ultra-waterproof. The GoLite Poncho/Tarp is 6 inches longer than the Integral Designs SilPoncho.

GoLite uses heavy bar tacks to attach the tie out loops to a triple layer of the SilLite fabric at the corners and side hems. There is no extra reinforcing fabric at the attachment points. The snaps are mounted through the side hem, and are reinforced with two extra layers of SilLite (five layers total).

The GoLite Poncho/Tarp has corner tie out loops bar-tacked to the hem (top left). This construction seems sufficiently strong for the corners and long sides, but it’s worrisome that the ridgeline tie outs (top right) have no reinforcement. Note that there is no center seam. The snaps (bottom left) have fabric reinforcement (five layers total), with a loop of fabric remaining that could be trimmed. The hood (bottom right) is easily tied off with the drawcord to prevent tarp leakage. It creates a small puddle in the ridgeline, so be sure to seal the seams.

I tested the GoLite Poncho/Tarp in some mountain thunderstorms. When I knew rain was coming, I pitched the tarp (A-frame style) tight and low for good water-shedding ability (which is a plus, because an A-frame pitch is not recommended for spinnaker poncho/tarps). When I had a nighttime wind or convectional breeze, I pitched it lean-to style to provide better wind protection and easy entry from the side. The tarp (and me) came out unscathed on all occasions. I found the tarp size (58 inches wide x 102 inches long) to be about right to provide good protection from rain and moderate spindrift. I’m 6 feet tall, so I had 15 inches of overhang on each end.

The tarp is a simple rectangle, with no catenary curves and no center seam. For that reason, it was less stable in the wind and tended to flap more than a catenary tarp. Getting a tight pitch helped to lessen the flapping.

Pitched A-frame style, the hood is in the center of the ridgeline, and a puddle forms there during rainstorms. GoLite uses hydrophobic thread that expands when wet, and claims that no seam sealing is necessary. I sealed the seam around the hood (with silicone diluted three parts to one with mineral spirits) just to make sure, and had no problems with leakage. I tied the hood closed with the drawcord.

Worn on-trail as a poncho, the Poncho/Tarp made me want to sing in the rain while tramping down the trail. It was a delight to wear in the rain, and provided good ventilation. The hood is sized right and fits well, with or without a cap. The poncho covered my small pack and kept me dry above the knees while crashing through wet willows overhanging the trail. For leg wear, I wore shorts, silnylon chaps (2.9 oz), or GoLite Reed Pants (4.5 ounces, size L).

On my 6-foot frame, the poncho extends down to just below my knees, which is about right. Assuming knee height is the upper limit, this poncho would fit hikers between about 5 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 4 inches. It is not available in shorter or taller sizes.

Off-trail, wearing a poncho was cumbersome for stepping over downed trees or scrambling. In a stiff wind, the poncho was difficult to get on over a pack, but once in place the side snaps helped reduce flapping and shifting. Tip: an elastic waist cord helps a lot in the wind, and works well in the rain too. GoLite does not provide one with their Poncho/Tarp.

The GoLite Poncho/Tarp functions properly as a poncho. The hood has a simple drawcord on the front. It fits with or without a cap, and seals well. The poncho covered my small pack, with the length in the back matching the front. I’m 6 feet tall, and the upper-calf height is about right. Snaps on the sides create “sleeves,” but they are a little short for my long arms.

The GoLite Poncho/Tarp’s tough SilLite fabric easily deflected brush. The weight penalty for more durability is about 1 ounce. I am a little nervous about the lack of reinforcement fabric around the tie out loops that form the ridgeline of the tarp when pitched A-frame style. However, I did not experience any durability issues despite taught pitches and moderate winds. GoLite is placing a lot of trust in the strength of their SilLite fabric! The corner and side tie outs seem secure with bar tacking only, and are comparable to many other tarps.

What's Unique

The GoLite Poncho/Tarp uses a heavier/stronger grade of silnylon than other poncho/tarps, which increases its weight about 1 ounce, and makes it more durable than comparable products. The sizing is right on, and the hood is nicely designed.

Recommendations for Improvement

I won’t recommend going to a lighter fabric to save weight. The SilLite fabric used in the GoLite Poncho/Tarp significantly increases the durability while adding only about 1 ounce to overall weight.

I would like to see some reinforcement fabric used at the two tie out loops on the tarp ridgeline. This is a high stress area. Also, a lighter cord and cordlock could be used on the hood to save a little weight.

Publisher's Note: The GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp seems to be a solid product, according to reviewer Will Rietveld. It's missing some of the niceties from other brands, such as a hem drawcord to control flapping, but the long length is attractive to tall guys and those wanting a little more coverage in their shelter. Will was kind in saying the tarp was "a little heavy" - but such is the nature of gear that has to meet fire retardancy guidelines for maximum distribution to the masses. With waterproof-breathable rain jackets now dropping below the half pound mark, GoLite would do well to sell the poncho's merits as well-ventilated and comfortable rainwear to complement its application as an ultralight shelter. - RJ


"GoLite Ultra-Lite Poncho/Tarp REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-10-25 03:00:00-06.