The Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp is the only poncho/tarp available with a catenary ridgeline, and hood set into the ridgeline. It also has more generous dimensions than other poncho/tarps, while keeping weight to a minimum. Are the extra features (and cost) really worth it in terms of field performance, and how does it stack up against a lighter spinnaker poncho/tarp?
- Catenary ridgeline allows a tight pitch, which reduces flapping
- Hood set into ridgeline slit closes when taut
- Better coverage than most silnylon poncho/tarps
- Good-fitting hood with front and rear adjustment
- Perfect size for a tall person
- Each poncho/tarp is custom made
- Tarp pole options, including a novel rear hoop system
What’s Not So Good
- Heavier than a spinnaker poncho/tarp
- Catenary ridgeline limits pitching options
|Mountain Laurel Designs|
|2005 Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp|
|Poncho/tarp, waist bungee, stuff sack, stake sack, repair tape and fabric swatch, 30 ft (9 m) twisted Kevlar and nylon guyline (250 lb/113 kg breaking strength)|
|1.35 oz/yd2 (46 g/m2) silicone-impregnated ripstop nylon|
|Measured weight 9.6 oz (272 g); manufacturer’s specification 9.25 oz (248 g)|
|Front width is 66 in (168 cm), rear width is 54 in (137 cm), length is 114 in (290 cm)|
|Internally taped center catenary ridgeline, hood set into ridgeline, billed hood has front drawcord and rear volume adjustments, reinforced rear corners, two snaps on each side, seventeen ¾-in wide grosgrain tieout loops (the two on ridgeline are color-coded and have grommets for tarp poles or trekking poles), four inside hang loops, sleeve for optional rear pass through pole|
|Front and rear poles, 0.38 in (10 mm) Easton aluminum, $35; rear pass through pole (creates arched rear), 0.34 in (9 mm) Easton aluminum, $30|
To be frank, Mountain Laurel Designs is a bit modest (and incomplete) in the product descriptions on their website. Standard sizes are listed, but all products are made to order, so you are actually getting custom-made gear. The Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro is the only poncho/tarp available with a catenary ridgeline, and the hood set into a ridgeline slit. It’s loaded with usable features, its dimensions are larger than most, and it still weighs less than many other poncho/tarps. To illustrate, the following table compares the dimensions and weights of several available silnylon poncho/tarps.
|Manufacturer||Model||Front Width (inches)||Rear Width (inches)||Length (inches)||Manufacturer Weight (ounces)|
|Mountain Laurel Designs||Silnylon Pro||66||54||114||9.25|
|Equinox/Campmor||Regular Ultralight Poncho||58||58||90||7|
|Equinox/Campmor||Extension Ultralight Poncho||58||58||104||8.5|
|Sea to Summit||Tarp-Poncho||57||57||106||9.8|
So what are the advantages of a poncho/tarp with a catenary ridgeline? Unlike a flat tarp (rectangular), it has a seam down the ridgeline where two tapered panels are sewn together. The center seam provides the strength for a tight pitch. The catenary curve makes it easy to get a taut pitch with less tension and less effort, resulting in a tarp with better wind resistance, better water shedding, less potential for stakes pulling out, and less flapping in high winds. For technical information on the catenary curve, see Ryan Jordan and Alan Dixon’s article on Catenary Curvature as an Element of Ultralight Tarp Design. For an expanded discussion of tarping techniques see Ryan Jordan’s article on Advanced Tarp Camping Techniques for Inclement Conditions.
Another unique feature of the Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp is the hood is set into the ridgeline, which is a stronger design than the hood sewn into a circle cut into the center of the poncho. In tarp mode, a snap in the seam is fastened to close the ridgeline, and the hood is rolled up and secured with a small strap and buckle. This worked nicely to create a watertight seal and hold the hood down so it doesn’t leak or flap in the wind.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Poncho Tarp has a sewn ridgeline with the hood set into the ridgeline (left). In tarp mode, an inside snap closes the seam and the hood is rolled down and secured with a small strap and buckle (right).
The Silnylon Pro is wider (5.5 feet) at the head end where you need the extra width, and narrower (4.5 feet) at the foot where width is less important (because the foot is usually pitched lower). The tarp is extra long (9.5 feet) so it provides plenty of overhang at both ends, even for a tall person.
The guyline provided with the tarp is a twisted Kevlar and nylon hybrid with a breaking strength of 250 pounds. Because it’s not braided it has a tendency to unravel, and it does not sear well by holding the cut ends to a candle. I solved the problem by putting a little silicone adhesive on the ends and letting it dry.
The poncho/tarp I tested is a prototype made of a slightly heavier silnylon (1.35 oz/yd2). It is 5 inches shorter and has a more voluminous hood than the production model. In tarp mode, it worked best in an A-frame pitch because of its catenary ridgeline. It was difficult to get a taut pitch in a lean-to configuration to keep it from flapping in overnight breezes. The tarp provided good protection from mountain thunderstorms and overnight drizzles when pitched low. I did get some spray on my sleeping bag on occasion. In windy weather, I pointed the foot of the tarp into the wind and staked it to the ground with its five tieout loops. The extra length helps a lot in that situation. There is an extra tieout loop on the ridgeline 20 inches from the foot end for pitching the rear as a closed box.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Poncho Tarp works best in an A-frame setup because of its catenary ridgeline. I found it easy to get a taut pitch. On this trip I carried the Mountain Laurel Designs optional front and rear vertical tarp poles because sticks are scarce above 12,000 feet.
Mountain Laurel Designs offers two different types of optional poles for the tarp. Vertical front and rear poles are 0.38-inch Easton aluminum, weigh 4.7 ounces, and cost $35 extra. Another pole system (2.8 ounces, $30) is available that slips into a sleeve and detachable grommets at the foot end, creating a Tarptent-like arch at the rear. I used both pole systems and found them very handy for tarp camping above timberline. I liked how the rear arch creates a more solid structure. It sheds rain and spray well in that configuration, and presumably snow although I did not get a chance to test it. With the foot end open, wind and breezes readily pass through, so you don’t want to point it into the wind. I found staking the foot end to the ground works better in windy conditions.
Mountain Laurel Designs offers an optional Easton aluminum rear pole that slips into a sleeve and detachable grommets at the back of the tarp, creating an arched rear and eliminating the need for a pole or stick at the ridgeline. This creates a very sturdy shelter.
In poncho mode, the Silnylon Pro provides excellent coverage, especially in combination with silnylon chaps or lightweight rain pants. There are two snap sets on each side to create “sleeves,” and the extra width at the front end translates into good arm coverage. The extended rear completely covered my pack. I found that the tarp’s ridgeline has a tendency to slide to one side of my pack, so it was essential to use the provided bungee waist cord to hold the back of the poncho centered over my pack.
The poncho’s hood is deluxe for a poncho/tarp. On the front it has a foam-stiffened bill and thin elastic drawcord with mini-cordlock. The back has a clever system to snug the hood and keep the bill from obstructing vision. My prototype poncho had too much volume in the hood, but that has been corrected in the production version.
The poncho’s hood has a foam stiffened bill, elastic front drawcord and mini-cordlock, rear volume adjustment, and a clever system to hold the hood in place (top left). The hood on the test poncho/tarp had too much volume, which has been corrected in the production model. The poncho completely covers a medium-sized pack (top right). The center seam had a tendency to slide to one side of the pack (bottom left), but using the provided waist bungee (bottom right) did a good job of holding it in place and pulling in the excess fabric. The bungee was invaluable in the wind.
Hiking in the rain, the Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro poncho plus a pair of lightweight chaps provides complete rain protection for me and my pack. I like using the bungee waist cord to pull in the extra fabric and keep the poncho positioned over my pack, especially in the wind. It also helps for off-trail hiking in the rain, because I can see my feet better and there is less of a tendency for the poncho to catch on limbs and stubs. For convenience, the bungee cord can be attached to a small loop on the lower back end of the poncho.
Overall, the Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp is near perfect for providing both shelter and rain protection, all for about 11 ounces with stakes and guylines. It’s a little heavier than a spinnaker poncho/tarp, but it's stronger and larger, providing more coverage in both shelter and poncho modes.
Why get a silnylon poncho/tarp rather than spinnaker?
The common wisdom is that spinnaker poncho/tarps are lighter, so they are better. Well, yes and no. Most spinnaker poncho/tarps are flat tarps (rectangular), and are smaller in size, barely providing enough coverage for a taller person in either tarp or poncho mode. For example, the Bozeman Mountain Works SpinnPoncho LITE (6.4 ounces) measures 51 inches wide by 93 inches long. That’s fine if you are a shorter person and privileged to have good weather, or use a lightweight bivy (6-8 ounces) to ensure that your sleeping bag stays dry under the tarp. In contrast, the Mountain Laurel Designs silnylon poncho/tarp is 66 inches wide at the front and 114 inches long, and weighs 2.8 ounces more.
A lot of the weight savings from a spinnaker poncho/tarp comes from its smaller dimensions. Spinnaker fabric is expensive and is available only in a narrow width (54.5 inches), so manufacturers tend to make a flat tarp using one width of material. In comparison, silnylon is cheap and comes in wider widths. Using spinnaker fabric at about 1 oz/yd2 instead of silnylon at 1.3 oz/yd2 saves only about 1.5 ounces for the poncho/tarp in this review. Spinnaker fabric is stiffer and crinkly when dry (softer and quieter when wet), and not as strong as silnylon. The extra strength, softness, quietness, and coverage of the silnylon poncho/tarp may justify its extra weight, and is worth considering. Getting a poncho/tarp with larger dimensions to provide adequate shelter reduces the need to carry a lightweight bivy. So, silnylon is not necessarily “old technology” just yet.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp is the only one available with a catenary ridgeline and hood set into the ridgeline seam. It is also larger than most other silnylon poncho/tarps, providing good coverage while keeping weight to a minimum. Mountain Laurel Designs makes custom ultralight gear, and will tailor their products to your preferences.
Recommendations for Improvement
- The pole provided for the optional rear hoop system is very stiff. I recommend going to lighter aluminum tubing to make it easier to assemble and lighter weight.