Category Archives: Equipment

The Survival Poncho and Tarp


Ponchos and Tarps

Lightweight tarps, ponchos, and poncho liners are critical must-haves for easy and effective temporary shelter. When I was climbing White Mountain a few years ago with two of my kids, the weather turned a little colder than what we had dressed for (I was in shorts in early Spring with snow still on the ground). In addition to water and my EDC, the only other item I packed for the quick 8-hour climb was a 25-year-old poncho liner and a Patagonia Houdini Jacket. If it wasn’t for that liner, it would have been much more difficult if not impossible to summit that day. The liner kept all three of us sheltered during breaks and was surprisingly warm and windproof. We simply huddled together near a rock outcropping and tucked the edges under our legs and bodies. The dark camouflage material soaked up the intermittent sun and seemed to easily shed the gale force winds blowing through valley all the way to the summit.

The “Ray-Way Tarp Book: How To Make A Tarp And Net-Tent, And Use Them In The Wilds” is a little overkill but is an excellent source of information related to tarps, their uses, and how to construct your own with lightweight materials. Be advised, the book can get expensive depending on availability (its popular among trail hikers looking to save an oz. for the AT or PCT). Link to AMZ.

Poncho. Common military ponchos are made of coated nylon and are waterproof. It can be used as a rain garment, ground cloth, or sleeping bag. It can also be used to make a shelter or tent. Two ponchos can be snapped together to make a two-person shelter. If possible, air-dry the poncho before folding it up. Ponchos can also be used as an expedient raft, hammock, or stretcher.

Back to basics for basic

Good livin’ in a two poncho shelter. US Army Photo

Ponchos and tarps are available in many styles, qualities, and features. US and German military ponchos are usually the best and least expensive. More expensive alternatives use breathable but waterproof materials. A simple waterproof layer with a strong backing, hood with draw string, and corner grommets is all you need. Large contractor grade plastic bags are an expedient alternative. Pack two or three.

Ponchos have many uses including rafts, stretchers and hammocks. See THIS post for detailed poncho raft instructions.

Best Sapper Competition 2010 Wisconsin Guard soldier a top finisher in 2013 Best Ranger Competition

Some materials degrade and waterproof coatings delaminate over time. How long depends on use and storage. Periodically inspect all water resistant equipment and replace or repair when needed.

Poncho Liner. The poncho liner is a lightweight padded panel about the same size and shape as the poncho. It can be attached to the poncho with its tie tapes and snap fasteners. It can also be used as a blanket. The liner can be hand-washed with warm soapy water. It should not be dry-cleaned.

Poncho Shelter

The poncho shelter, or tarp tent, is a reasonable shelter for most wet/semi-wet climates. This type of shelter does not provide any real insulating qualities or heat conservation. A poncho or tarp with grommetted corners (eyelets for tie down cord) works best but any sheet of waterproof material will work. Lay insulating bedding on the shelter site then string a stout length of cordage between two anchor points. This is called a ridge-line. The ridge-line should be about three feet off of the ground (approximate). If using a poncho, the hood must be “goose necked.” This is simply twisting the hood until it gathers into a tight bundle, closing the hole in the poncho for your head. Then tie the twisted bundle with any available cordage, (the drawstrings in the hood are good) so that it will not unwind.

Poncho Shelter

The poncho is draped over the ridge-line lengthwise, one half on one side, the other half on the other. The ridge-line is pulled up through the grommet, producing a loop that a small stick can inserted into. The tension on the stick (“cobbler peg”) will hold the poncho in place on the line and can be easily and quickly removed. A length of cordage can be tied to the hood of the poncho and secured to any over-head anchor point (branch or another ridge-line). This helps give the shelter sag relief during a hard rain or snow. Whittled out stakes can be driven through the grommets on the edges. This will draw the poncho down tight to the ground. If you need more room in the shelter, loops of cordage can be tied into the grommets (6-8 inches long). Stakes are driven through the loops, which raises the poncho edges off of the ground. If you are using a tarp, the corners can be twisted a few turns and cordage tied to the comers.

If Moderate to heavy rain is expected a trench six inches wide and six deep, should be dug. The trench should trace the shelter edges just at the dripline. Lead the trenches away from the shelter a few feet, preferably down hill. Drainage trenches are critical if you expect even moderate rain.

Poncho Lean-To

The poncho lean-to is another method that can be used in rains or heavy morning dew. The lean-to can be constructed from any large piece of sheet material (plastic, canvas, etc.) Natural insulation should be laid down for bedding. Two anchor points are selected and a ridge-line is tied about 3 feet off of the ground. The poncho is then secured to the ridge-line, with “cobblers pegs.” Stretch the poncho out to full length and stake it down to the ground. If the ground is rocky and you are unable to drive a stake, tie a 6-8 inch loop of cordage through the grommet. Place a stake through the loop, then lay the stake flat on the ground. Now place a large rock on top of the stake and the cordage.

Expedient poncho shelter. Photo by MC1 Roger Duncan.

A fence can be used for the ridge-line because this shelter can be entered from the sides. Of course the cobblers pegs cannot be used with the barbed wire, so it will need to be secured with cordage at the grommets. The shelter can be constructed without the ridge-line, by placing the edge of the poncho on a solid object (log, dirt mound, tailgate, etc.) and weighting down the comers with rocks.

Using a length of cordage, goose-neck the poncho hood and pull out the sag in the middle of the shelter. Attach the hood line to any close anchor point. If you don’t have an anchor point for the hood, two stout ridgepoles can be used. Cross the ridgepoles and lash them together with the hood line, then lean them out and away from the shelter. The pole’s weight will pull the sag out of the poncho. If the poles are stout enough and lean out at a steep enough angle from the shelter, they will weather most storm conditions.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Life Preservers


To Do Today:

Staying Afloat With a Life Preserver

The best form of flotation is to find any kind of floating object that will keep you and your equipment out of the water or minimize your exposure to the water. Life preservers are the best method, as they allow you to wear your clothes for heat retention and sunburn

There are many types of life preservers: inherently buoyant life preservers and inflatable life preservers.

Inherently Buoyant Life Preservers. Inherently buoyant life preservers are either vest-type (worn like a jacket) or yoke-type (worn around the neck). The preserver’s outer envelope is either a cotton or water resistant material that encloses a removable fibrous glass or plastic foam filling. The most common type of inherently buoyant life preserver is the vest-type with collar, known as the kapock preserver. The kapock consists of collar straps, upper front chest straps, leg straps, and waist drawstrings that secure the preserver to you. The leg straps, which are fitted on both sides of the life preserver, ensure that the preserver remains around your chest while you are in the water. A chest strap is attached to the life preserver to facilitate lifting you out of the water. The strap can also be attached to other survivors or to lifeboats to reduce the fatigue that results from holding onto a floating/secured object by hand.

Inflatable Life Preservers. All US and most international aircraft and sea-going vessels have inflatable life preservers on board. Inflatable preservers are capable of both oral inflation and CO2 cartridge inflation. The preserver consists of buoyancy chambers, CO2 inflator, and an oral inflation tube. Inflatable life preservers must be stored in a cool, dry place. Heat, moisture, and light cause deterioration of the life preserver material. Do not stow CO2 cylinders near steam lines or radiators. Heat can increase the pressure inside the cylinders causing them to explode. Avoid sharp edges in stowage. Sharp edges increase wear and tear on the life preservers and may also puncture inflatable buoyancy chambers.

CAUTION: Do not inflate the life preserver until you are clear of the aircraft, ship, or vehicle.
Torn life preservers will not inflate and inflated life preservers can block you, and those behind
you, from exiting the aircraft, ship, or vehicle.

Review the listed links in To Do for additional description and instructions for common life preservers. Learn to don, properly wear, and/or inflate both types of preservers and familiarize yourself with on-board equipment when on, or over, water.