SGT Rock's Hiking H.Q.


Moonbow Poncho Tarp


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Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links
Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links


Using a poncho as rain protection and a pack coverA poncho is a great thing to carry. I used ponchos as my only rain gear for years and loved the versatility. I probably would never give up a real rain suit because of their ability to serve as a wind breaker, but in rain with little wind, the poncho will allow greater ventilation, especially if you use it as a pack cover as well.

roomy tarp set up - lots of cooking room!But besides the ventilation a poncho offers, it is also allows you to have a nice place to set up and cook under if you're in a camp without a shelter. Lots of ventilation means you can sit under it without being closed in, you can cook under it without killing yourself, and you don't have to worry about cleaning your feet off or tracking in water to where you plan to sleep.

An interesting piece of trivia about poncho tarps is the fact that Earl Schaffer used one for all his AT thru-hikes. On his very first hike he started with a tent and a poncho for a shelter. He ended up sending the tent home and kept the poncho as both his rain gear and his shelter for the rest of the trip, and used it again as the only rain protection and shelter for his next two trips, that includes the one he did in his 70's.

Tarps can make a very lightweight and versatile shelter. They are so convenient and can be adapted to a variety of pitches depending on the site, the need, and the weather. I have put together a list of pitches and pictures of them on the Tarp Page.

Any poncho could be used to make a shelter, but some are better than others. After using an Army poncho for years, I found the best looking plan was the ID Sil Poncho, but I wasn't totally happy with that one either. What I wanted was a poncho that fit the following:

1. Was big enough to serve as the fly for a Hennessy Hammock. Important because it is my shelter 90% of trips. I figured about 5'8" x 8'

2. Had snaps on all sides for effectively making a taco wrap.

3. Had a neck that could be effectively closed for a tarp.

4. Had a drawstring for the waist, but on the back side so it would work when wearing a pack.

5. Had a good visor to serve as a "porch" to keep water off your face.

6. Was made of lightweight and durable sil-nylon.

7. Use tie outs instead of grommets for better reinforcement, but didn't' have too many and in the wrong place.

8. Wasn't in some bright color, I prefer subdued.

Poncho/tarp sketchI didn't want to mess with learning to sew while trying to get the design correct. Luckily I was introduced to Jonathan McCue of Moonbow. Moonbow makes custom stuff to order. So I drew up a plan:

 A slight modification I ended up making was the diagonal seam because sil-nylon doesn't come in the right widths for what I wanted. If there was going to be a seam, I wanted it diagonal where the tension from a diamond pitch or using it as a Hennessy fly would be.

The end result was this:

As a poncho As a poncho and pack cover As a hammock tarp
Diamond tarp set up Trapezoid tarp set up A-frame tarp set up Above: Lean to

Below: The original Hennessy Tarp compared to the poncho

And all it cost me was $100, it would have been $60, but the extra material I needed to make the crosswise seam and the sealable neck ran the price up. Seam sealed this poncho/tarp only weighs 10.6 ounces!

I added four mini carabineers with two 6' cords on two of them so I could rapidly change where I had the string tied without leaving them on the poncho. the benefit is I only need two long lengths of cord for all 6 attachment points and they don't get tangled in everything when I use it as a poncho. Total weight for these was 0.8 ounces. I also need four stakes to set it up, using four 0.5 ounce gutter nails as stakes. For a ground cloth (when I'm not carrying a hammock) I use some light plastic sheet, 6 ounces. Total added stuff is 8.8 ounces

Think about it. If your trying to go light and are packing solo, then a poncho/tarp like this could serve as your rain gear, pack cover, and shelter for just 10.6 ounces weight (plus stakes, ground cloth, and cord).

If you're interested in one, contact Moonbow. I highly recommend it.

Hall of Honor recipients for this page
Jonathan McCue
Earl Schaffer