Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW

A poncho/tarp is a good choice for SuperUltraLight backpacking. With this one you get a good shelter, rainwear, and pack cover for only 7 ounces.

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by Will Rietveld | 2006-01-03 03:00:00-07

Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW

Introduction

The Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp is made of silicone impregnated spinnaker fabric weighing only 0.97 oz/yd2. Its center seam (four layers of fabric plus silicone-specific double sided tape) is designed for extra strength, and its tapered shape and length give the Spinntex Pro better coverage where it counts. But, this is not the lightest poncho/tarp around.

What’s Good

  • Seam on the ridgeline provides extra strength and allows a tighter pitch
  • Hood set into ridgeline slit closes when taut and is water tight
  • Stronger and larger than competing spinnaker poncho/tarp
  • Reinforced corner, ridgeline, and mid-side tieouts
  • Good-fitting silnylon hood with front and rear adjustment
  • Perfect size for a taller person
  • Lighter than most silnylon poncho/tarps
  • Mountain Laurel Design custom sews each poncho tarp
  • Tarp pole options, including a novel rear hoop system

What’s Not So Good

  • Spinnaker fabric is stiff and noisy compared to silnylon
  • Narrower than silnylon poncho/tarps
  • Not the lightest spinnaker poncho/tarp available

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Mountain Laurel Designs

  Year/Model

2005 Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp

  Style

Poncho/tarp

  What’s Included

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)

  Fabric

0.97 oz/yd2 (33 g/m2) silicone impregnated spinnaker cloth

  Weight

Measured weight 7 oz (198 g); manufacturer’s specification 6.9 oz (196 g)

  Dimensions

Front width is 57 in (145 cm), rear width is 48 in (122 cm), length is 108 in (274 cm)

  Features

Internally taped center ridgeline; silnylon hood set into ridgeline; billed hood has front drawcord and rear volume adjustments; two snaps on each side; sixteen ¾-in (2 cm) wide grosgrain tieout loops (two on ridgeline are color-coded and have grommets for tarp poles or trekking poles); corner, ridgeline, and mid-side tieouts are fabric reinforced; five inside hang loops; sleeve for optional rear pole

  Options

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

  MSRP

$155

Performance

Many readers may not be familiar with Mountain Laurel Designs, a small shop hidden away in Maine that specializes in made-to-order gear for the ultralight adventurer. Their website lists an array of SuperUltraLight shelters, packs, and bivys, often without a full description and photos to depict the product features and quality. In actuality, most products are made to the buyer’s preferences of size, fabrics, and features.

The Spinntex Pro reviewed here is a premium poncho/tarp. It’s loaded with usable features, its dimensions provide good coverage, and its weight is still low. It weighs less than most silnylon poncho/tarps, but more than spinnaker poncho tarps made by Bozeman Mountain Works, their only competitor. To illustrate, the following table compares the dimensions and weights of available spinnaker poncho/tarps with a hood. The Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro poncho/tarp is wider at the head end, longer, and weighs 0.5 ounce more than the Bozeman Mountain Works poncho tarp.

ManufacturerModelFront Width (inches)Rear Width (inches)Length (inches)Manufacturer Weight (ounces)
Mountain Laurel DesignsSpinntex Pro57481086.9
Bozeman Mountain WorksSpinnPoncho LITE5151936.4

For a 6-foot tall person, the Spinntex Pro in tarp mode has 18 inches of overhang on each end, while the SpinnPoncho LITE has only 10.5 inches of overhang. The Spinntex Pro is a better fit for a taller person, while a shorter person can save weight and still have good coverage with the SpinnPoncho LITE.

In contrast to the Mountain Laurel Designs silnylon poncho/tarp, the Spinntex Pro poncho/tarp does not have a catenary ridgeline. It’s a flat tarp that is tapered to provide more coverage at the head end (4.75 feet wide) where it is needed more, with less coverage at the foot end (4 feet wide). The ridgeline is a modified flat felled seam designed to provide extra strength when the Spinntex Pro is pitched. (The edge of each panel is folded over and sewn, then the two panels are sewn together with a layer of silicone-specific double sided tape sandwiched between them.) According to Mountain Laurel Designs, their 0.97 oz/yd2 spinnaker fabric is silicone impregnated (not polyurethane coated), does not stretch as much as silnylon, and the tarp is smaller in size, so it doesn’t need a catenary curve to help maintain its tautness.

Another unique feature of the Spinntex Pro poncho/tarp is the hood, which is set into the ridgeline rather than sewn into a circle cut into the center of the poncho. The hood is silnylon rather than spinnaker cloth, because silnylon is softer and quieter (spinnaker fabric is crinkly). 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 works well in the field to create a watertight seal and hold the hood down so it doesn’t leak or flap in the wind.

Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW - 1
The Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro has a silnylon hood set into the ridgeline slit (top). In tarp mode (bottom), the hood rolls down and is fastened with a small strap and buckle.

The guyline provided for pitching 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.

In tarp mode, the Spinntex Pro worked best in an A-frame pitch because of its tapered shape. It also performed adequately in a lean-to pitch for fair weather tarping, but that configuration makes it more difficult to get a taut pitch to keep it from flapping in overnight breezes. The sewn ridgeline and corner, ridgeline, and mid-side tieouts are all reinforced and sealed with adhesive to provide extra strength so the poncho/tarp can be pitched tight with less concern about fabric failure. The use of expanding thread plus adhesive eliminates the need for seam sealing.

One thing that is a hassle with a poncho/tarp is the guylines need to be taken off in poncho mode. I resorted to using plastic clips for quicker attachment and removal, as shown in the right photo below. However, six clips add 0.18 ounce to the weight, so for those who are counting, that’s 5 grams!

Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW - 2
The ridgeline tieouts (left) are color-coded for front and rear, and have a grommet for tarp or trekking poles. Ridgeline, corner, and mid-side tieouts are reinforced with fabric and adhesive (right).

The tarp pitched low provided decent protection from mountain thunderstorms and overnight drizzles. When the weather forecast was generally favorable I used the tarp by itself for summertime shelter in the Southern Colorado Mountains, but during our monsoon season I usually slept in an ultralight bivy under the tarp. With a tarp this small, you definitely get some spray during a mountain thunderstorm, or any rain accompanied by wind gusts. In windy weather, I pointed the foot of the tarp into the wind and staked it to the ground (it has five tieout loops). The tarp’s extra length helps a lot in that situation. Although my prototype poncho/tarp didn’t have it, the production model has an extra tieout loop on the ridgeline 20 inches from the foot end, which enables pitching the rear as a closed box.

Mountain Laurel Designs has two optional tarp pole systems available for the Spinntex Pro. The first is a “pass pole system” ($30, 2.8 ounces), which is an aluminum pole, detachable grommets, and a base line that enable the foot end to be pitched as an arch rather than an A-frame. This configuration does not require a trekking pole at the rear ridgeline, and holds the tarp securely to the ground or close to it. I was not able to test the pass pole system with the Spinntex Pro prototype because it didn’t have the pole sleeve, however I did report on it in my Mountain Laurel Designs Silnylon Pro Poncho Tarp Review. I found that the poncho/tarp sheds rain and spray well in that configuration, and presumably snow too. With the foot end open, wind and breezes readily pass through, so you don’t want to point it into the wind. Staking the foot end to the ground or using a closed box configuration works better in windy conditions.

The second option is a pair of vertical poles for the front and rear ($35, 4.7 ounces). The poles are sturdy Easton aluminum and can be purchased separately. I found the vertical poles to be the right height for a fair weather pitch, but too tall for a rainy weather pitch. The two pole options are very handy if you don’t use trekking poles and like to camp where tree branches are not available to use for tarp poles.

In poncho mode, the Spinntex Pro provided full coverage for me and a medium sized internal frame pack (Osprey Aether 60), and work well in combination with silnylon chaps or lightweight rain pants. There are two snap sets on each side to create “sleeves,” however the sleeves were a bit short due to the narrower width at the front. 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/tarp centered over my pack.

Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW - 3
Several views of the Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp. The included elastic waist cord worked well to hold the poncho in place.

Hiking in a steady rain in New Mexico, the Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro poncho/tarp plus lightweight GoLite Reed Pants provided complete rain protection for me and my pack. The spinnaker fabric is softer and quiet when wet. I especially liked the bungee waist cord to pull in the extra fabric and keep the poncho positioned over my pack. It also helped a lot for off-trail hiking in the rain, because I could see my feet better and there was less of a tendency for the poncho to catch on limbs and tree stubs. For convenience, the bungee cord can be attached to a tieout loop on the lower back end of the poncho.

The poncho’s hood fits well and is full-featured for a poncho/tarp. On the front it has a foam-stiffened bill and thin elastic drawcord with mini-cordlock. Although my prototype didn’t have it, the production poncho tarp has a small strap and elastic cords on the back of the hood to adjust volume and keep the bill from obstructing your vision.

Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW - 4
The Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro has a silnylon hood with a front drawcord and foam-stiffened bill. Although my prototype didn’t have it, the production model has a rear volume and tightness adjustment.

Overall, the Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp provided adequate shelter and good rain protection, all for about 9 ounces with stakes and guylines. It’s lighter than a silnylon poncho/tarp, but it’s also smaller, providing less coverage in both shelter and poncho modes.

Why are Spinnaker Poncho Tarps so Narrow?

If you’re a SuperUltraLight backpacker, the quest is never ending to save a few more grams. For poncho/tarps, the move to spinnaker fabric has reduced weight a few more ounces compared to silnylon poncho/tarps. The lightest hooded spinnaker poncho tarp is the Bozeman Mountain Work’s SpinnPoncho LITE (6.4 ounces). But look at the width - a little over 4 feet - a lot of the weight reduction comes from making it smaller. You better have a good lightweight bivy to go with a 4-foot wide tarp in foul weather!

The problem is that spinnaker fabric is only available in 54.5-inch wide rolls. The fabric is pricey, so manufacturers tend to use one width for a poncho/tarp rather than make it 5.5 to 6 feet wide and incur excessive cost and waste.

So, how did Mountain Laurel Designs manage to produce a 57-inch wide (at the front) spinnaker poncho/tarp? They cut it to length (9 feet) then cut it on a diagonal that gives two identical halves 26 inches wide at one end and 28.5 inches wide at the other. Then they flip one side over end to end and sew them together to create a tapered tarp with a center ridgeline. Clever, eh?

What’s Unique

The Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp is the only poncho/tarp available with the hood set into the ridgeline seam, which avoids a common problem of poncho/tarp hoods collecting water (or needing to be staked out) during rainstorms. It is also larger than the Bozeman Mountain Works spinnaker poncho tarps, providing better 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

Since spinnaker fabric is so light, it would be nice to have a larger size spinnaker poncho/tarp available, mainly to provide more coverage in tarp mode. However, spinnaker fabric only comes in a 54.5-inch width and is expensive, so the cost really goes up to make a wider poncho tarp. One possibility would be to add a 15-inch strip in the middle. However the extra seams would almost negate the weight savings from using spinnaker cloth (using spinnaker at 0.97 oz/yd2 rather than silnylon at 1.3 oz/yd2 only saves about 1.5 ounces per poncho tarp), and makes silnylon look more attractive. Thus the dimensions of the Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro are as good as you are likely to find, without excessive waste and cost.


Citation

"Mountain Laurel Designs Spinntex Pro Poncho Tarp REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/mountain_laurel_designs_spinntex_pro_poncho_tarp_review.html, 2006-01-03 03:00:00-07.

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