Does anyone use a poncho as a shelter? I was wondering what you use to cover the ground with and what kind/how much cord do people mostly carry. The setup I will probably use is the half pyaramid with a trekking pole. How do small tarps, 5x8, hold up in rain? Does someone have actual experience stuck in one all night in rain? Im not really worried about bugs, i was thinking about just clipping on a net if i wanted to.
Im going for a week trip on the AT next month. Im bringing my tent with but some nights i'll use my poncho to see if I like it. I really like the idea because it would knock off 3 pounds and add a lot more room in my pack.
Loc: California (southern)
I have used a poncho as shelter, but not in heavy rain. It wouldn't be my first choice in that situation, but if I were caught out with a poncho, I would seek a naturally sheltered spot and improvise from there. My ground cover has always been lightweight plastic or mylar sheeting, trimmed to size.
I am tempted by the Gatewood Cape, which looks like it might do a bit better than a standard poncho.
Loc: San Diego CA
Like oldranger, I have used ponchos as shelters. But I was guessing that I would not be caught in a hard rain. A bivy may be a good alternative. I have used those as well. There are emergency bivies available that weigh less than 8 oz and are multiple use. There are plenty of regular bivies available also. When I went out counting on a poncho, I took two and used them together. Using a bivy is better.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
When I think of the number of times I've had to set up or take down my shelter while it's raining hard, and of how many times I've had to leave the tent during the night when it's raining, and of how many times I've had to hike in horizontal rain.... No thanks, I'll endure the extra weight of separate shelter and rain gear, and use a jacket, not a poncho. It also would be pretty hard to fit both my dog and me under such a small tarp.
Your mileage, of course, may vary!
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Loc: San Diego CA
The Gatewood Cape does look pretty interesting, but (usually) anything this minimalist takes some trial runs to get dialed in. With my poncho setup I had a number of nights where people thought I was a genius, and others where 1/3 of my sleeping bag was soaked . As an alternative, a tarp set up can be very light and reliable. To be honest, most trips I spend the nights in a tent now.
I used a GI-type poncho tarp and relatively little else for about 35 years in the Sierra and the North Cascades. I had a tent (8 lb) if we anticipated camping on snow.
If the weather appeared to be nice, I would just lay on top of the poncho and if it started to rain I would just pull it over my bag and head. That would work OK, sorta. The bag would get a bit wet from condensation before dawn and would need to be aired out the following day.
If the weather was windy and rainy/sleety/snowy then I would pitch the poncho low on the windward side and hope that the wind didn't shift during the night. It usually did though and if I was awake I would be out dancing around in the rain in my underwear revising the pitch. Glad they didn't have cell phone video cams in those days.
I used a piece of poncho fabric about 25" x 80" as a ground cloth. Not light by today's standards but it was cheap.
Needless to say, I now prefer a tent. I use a BA Fly Creek with a sil-nylon awning added to the rain-fly to keep water out of the tent during rainy exits. The Fly Creek weighs less than did my old poncho setup and it is more weather-tight. Like Ringtail, I prefer the quality of life under a tent now more than that under a tarp.
I have used a poncho as a primary shelter. I use a spinnsheet ground cloth which is no longer offered by Gassamer Gear, but their polycryo ground cloth should be OK.
The call of nature is no problem. Either use a pee bottle or figure out the downhill side.
A WalMart* emergency ponsho weighs 1.9 oz. and cost 88 cents. No reason not to carry one.
You can stay dry. BUT, on rainy days when you might be in your shelter for more than 12 hours there is not much room to move around or read. The issue is not staying dry, it is life style.
Which is why I stick with my tarp. I love having all that room to cook, move around, spread out in the hammock... and I can invite a guest under it too, in case their poncho tarp falls over when their trekking pole collapses.
As for peeing out the side of the shelter? only if I'm hammocking on a steep hill, thanks. Some of us don't quite have your range, clearly.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
Yes...If I'm trying to cut weight to an absolute minimum or am desert hiking, I'll use my Robinson Poncho Shelter as a shelter. I'm mostly a hammocker and still haul the poncho to be used as a bigger fly, a ground shelter, or to wear in the rain. I've used space blankets, tyvek, and coated nylon as ground cover. All three work great with the exception of mylar space blankets shredding after the 3rd night. And yes, I've been stuck in rain. As long as the wind is blowing at your back, it's fine. If you have a friend with a second poncho shelter, you can put the two halves together and end up with a sizeable tent. I use contractors braid as guy line.
Skysail, (was your dad a studding sail? Sorry, couldn't resist)
I'm pretty late to this party, and you have already gotten pretty much the same advice I would have given (the good part of it, anyway). I'll just confirm from my own experience.
I have used ponchos as shelter since the late 1940s (no money for anything else, and mil surplus was easily available, plus, tents in those days were godawful heavy). Used them often as Pica describes (and still do sometimes if I trust the weather), once in awhile with a friend we used two like shelter halves (snapped together, military poles). Later there were lighter military ones, and then syl nylon.
The one I use now is slightly oversize custom from MLD. Weighs a bit over 300 grams (about 12 oz). In some cases of hard rain I use it for rain gear, but mostly it's my shelter. I have dedicated lines with tighteners and quick snaps and I carry titanium stakes. I can have it up in the half-pyramid mode in a goodly wind (with a hiking pole) in about a minute.
But as others have noted, I actually carry a very light rain suit and a very good bivy. The top of my rain gear is also my windshirt, and the pants I wear at the laundramat (as well as in driven cold rain--which the poncho handles poorly), plus they are the only long pants I have (important in cold wind). And the top allows me to get back into my sleeping bag dry after a midnight trip in the rain.
The bivy, also from MLD allows me to pitch the shelter lean-to even when I'm not dead sure that wind direction will hold. Also keeps out condensation if I pith the poncho low and tight. Wouldn't want to use just the bivy alone out in the open in rain (how do you get in and out, change clothes, cook, etc.--though I did do an AT thruhike with one of the heavier ones alone) but I think it's necessary with a very small tarp. The bivy weighs 180 grams (about 6 oz.).
The whole shelter system (including cords, stakes, plastic ground sheet and stuff bags) comes to 660 g (about 24 oz). Today, one could find a real tent for the same weight (though at frightful expense), but, like Lori, I like the openness and flexibility of my system, and hell, I'm used to it. Never really could get used to tents. best, jcp
Loc: Washington State, King County
"Does anyone have any thoughts on a poncho vs. regular rain gear? Is it neccesary to hang food on the AT in VA?"
Poncho vs. "regular" rain gear --- personal preference. I found two issues against a poncho on the AT last year. One likely won't be a problem for you, but I started the trail (from Georgia) quite early, so apart from snow there were lots of blowdowns in the first month or so, always an issue when your raingear is also your only shelter (well, apart from the AT shelters). The other was that as the seasons progressed, I found along the AT there were a lot of times when it was too warm to want to wear raingear (even when raining), but nice to have the pack covered. Out west I've not used a pack cover much, but it was a nice thing to have for a good part of the AT.
All that said, I'm a big fan of ponchos in general.
Hanging food along the AT: yes, if you sleep in or near shelters, to keep it away from rodents. I used an Ursack Minor, an explicitly rodent-proof food bag, and did well with that just sleeping with my food, but otherwise I would have hung it in the shelters every night like most folks do.
Yes - I have an Integral dynamics Silponcho - which pretty much becomes a 5x8 tarp.
You can stay nice and dry under it, even in very foul weather, but I have found that doing so takes some work - you have to be careful about site selection, and with a 5x8, if it's really bad, you have to pitch it pretty low, i.e. low enough that I can't sit up in it. None of this is a dealbreaker, it's just an issue of comfort. if you're ok getting dressed and ready lying down in a thunderstorm, ok.
Realisticly, my silponcho I think weighs about 250 grams. The big weight saving is that it *is* multi use.
but to put it in perspective, my SMD lunar solo tent weighs about 680 grams, with room to sit up, sit out a tstorm, and bug netting.
The other possibility is a bigger tarp. it is *MUCH* easier to stay dry under a larger tarp in foul weather. I have an integral designs silwing that isn't much heavier than the poncho, but has a lot more coverage. an 8x10 silnylon tarp shouldn't weigh much more than 350-400 grams and will be MUCH easier to rig for foul weather than a 5x8..
So really, it's about plain old comfort.
But yes, for absolute lightweigh, IMO. a dual use poncho is about as light as you can possibly go. I did it for "fun" (and actually it was) - but doing so was instructive enough that I was willing to (myself) carry a few hundred more grams for a bit more comfort and versatility of site selection in bad weather.
If you were packing inhigh desert or Az,I would say go for it. On the AT no thanks. I recently was there April 4 to 10. I was camped out in the storm that washed the levee out side Gatlinburg out. I was using my homemade silnylon Cat tarp 8ft 6in x 10ft 6 in. I also had smaller stock hennessey Hyperlight tarp pitched under it. I think siltarp would have been enough, but it would have been a Longgggg Night with just my small tarp. It poured and high winds and was snowing by mornin! I dont know what part of the AT you are hitting,But in the smokies it rains often! Carry 4 or 5 more ounces and be comfy and Non Hypothermic! Happy Trails