My new disguise

Note: “porche” is spanish for “porch”. We can’t seem to stand the consonants on their own…

Background

The combination of poncho and tarp is as straightforward as multifunction goes: both are basically the same thing and they’re not meant to be used at the same time so it seems obvious to join both in one only piece and save quite a few grams. The poncho-tarp kind of became the landmark by which one would measure the shift from just lightweight to ultralightweight and so became the symbol of a certain status, that of the ultralighweight hiker.

It’s certainly tricky to get below that non-official barrier (5 lbs. base weight) for the UL category without somehow re-using your rain cover for more than just shelter or just clothing. The poncho-tarp is indeed an efficient, elegant solution to the protection from the elements issue and the theory seems solid but I hadn’t tried it yet. Not in the long run. It’s easy to go with a poncho-tarp for a weekend of predictable weather but that’s not the point. To go the distance, you need to trust your rain protection for the expected conditions and know it will somehow handle whatever the weather throws at you. I can summarize the issue as follows:

  • As rain clothing, a poncho works but it’s not always the best solution. It will all depend on the conditions but sometimes a poncho will make a poor job and may compromise our comfort and even our security. The problem is, in the long distance, if something can happen weather wise, it eventually will.
  • As a shelter, a poncho is just the old, trusted rectangular tarp… but a small one. Forget about those huge (yet still lightweight) tarps under which comfortably wait a storm. Tight quarters and a close relation with the elements.
  • The transition from poncho to tarp may not be that straighforward. Sure, you won’t need both functions at the same time but apart from the occasional need to get out of your shelter, it may be tricky to set up or down camp if it’s raining hard.

I still wanted to try the poncho-tarp idea for the long distance trips but didn’t feel safe enough with the traditional aception of a poncho-tarp so I tried to go for a different, easier to use version…

Requirements

The basic requirements would go like this:

  • I want to use a poncho as rain clothing for the long distance trips
  • I don’t want it to be my only shelter, but…
  • I need it to be a piece in my shelter system

The latter point is there because lightweight, efficiency and multi-function are still among the main criteria for the whole system. I need it to be an optimum set where the poncho-tarp is a piece that fits perfectly.

So my main problem with the traditional poncho-tarp approach is it’d be too small as a tarp. That’s actually the same issue I have with some of my smallish tarps I use for short trips but haven’t dared to take on longer ones. That’s the case with the Siltoldo that I built thinking specifically on the big trips but was always left behind eventually. I didn’t feel comfortable with such a small shelter, no matter how versatile I tried to make it, and that’s not a good starting point for a trip when one needs the confidence of being able to trust your instruments.

One of the most solid configurations for a rectangular tarp is the half pyramid: it’s spacious and it offers great protection against wind and rain but… only for 180º.

It’d be wonderful to be able to close the open side, preferably with another pyramidal shape so space and protection are maximized. So I already have a place for a poncho in my shelter system.

Roughly twice the space, no weak side: Siltoldo + Poncho Porche

The aim is building a poncho whose main function will be as rain clothing but can also be used to supplement the shelter. It should be as optimal as a poncho can get when used as clothing and it should be easy and quick to effectively attach to the main shelter when needed.

As rain clothing, these would be the basic requirements:

  • Big enough for good coverage, hiker and pack; not as big as to being cumbersome or somehow odd for hiking
  • Eccentric: longer at the back to compensate for the pack’s volume
  • Adjustable hood
  • Closable sides for windy and/or very cold weather

Poncho design can be greatly optimized but for this time (being my first) I’ll stick to the classic, easiest one: just a simple rectangle.

The making

Base fabric:

  • 1.3 silnylon. The right balance between weight, durability and waterproofness

Other materials:

  • 100% polyester Guttermann thread
  • 1″ flat webbing
  • 1″ hook & loop tape
  • 2 mm. polyester cord
  • Two cordlocks
  • Silicone and mineral spirits

The construction is quite simple: cut a rectangular piece of silnylon and sew along the perimeter folding the edge over itself twice so the raw edges are hidden and we get a three layer, 1″ stripe all around where to sew all the accessories.

The rough tarp as starting point

The hood is probably the trickiest part; I had never built a hood before but this feature also means making a hole in the tarp right in the middle… not a good place to do something wrong.

For the hood design and size, I’ll just copy another one I have. I’ll go for a two symmetric piece hood even though I know a three piece fits better but I’ll prefer to keep things simple. Building a flat-felled seam over a bend proved challenging and the end result was far from pretty but it will hold.

Early version that didn’t make it (don’t ask…) but the pic is still representative

The scariest part is piercing the tarp. It’s difficult to guess the hole size needed for one’s head so as with the hood I’ll just copy from another piece I already have. I’ll go for a round hole. As mentioned above, the hole is lengthwise eccentric so the back piece is longer to compensate for the pack volume.

Joining hood and tarp means another flat-felled seam on a bend and again the output is not very nice looking but solid enough. It won’t break.

The hole is just big enough to go around the neck so some kind of opening is needed to put the thing on or take it off: a vertical slit over the chest area, closable with velcro and with an inner flap so it can be left open while the poncho is in use for some more ventilation.

The tie-out loops are no different from anything I’ve already sewn for other tarp shelters so no surprises here. One for each corner, two for each long side and one for each short side for a total of 10

Hook & loop tape has been used throughout the whole thing everytime I needed to be able to open/close some part. It’s also been used for the attachment to the main tarp in shelter mode. Hook & loop tape is my friend but also my enemy: it’s so easy to add shape and functionality to the main object but when used massively as was the case for the Poncho Porche it’s a bit odd to deal with such a mess of sticky stuff that tends to hold on to everything around, including itself. Oh, well…

Hood adjustment is by the typical cord around the perimeter with a couple of cord locks at the ends. I eventually added a couple of patches of hook & loop at the back of the hood for volume adjustment (I took the pattern out of another hood with a known tendency to block my eyes. I see I copied it well).

 

Voilá, Poncho Porche

Hiker in preacher shock

Specifications

Raw silnylon piece size: 245.5 x 160 cm.

End size: 237.5 x 153.5 cm.

Final weight: 242 gr.

In use

At the time of writing, Poncho Porche is just born so it hasn’t seen any serious use as a porch… but it’s been with me in some nasty weather as a poncho. I rushed to finish the poncho part in time for my most recent trip of some length and what better place to test rain gear than the Scottish highlands… and what a tough place for a poncho.

Scottish crazyly variable, windy weather is probably not the best of environments for a poncho but the test was still useful. It felt great to go inside the poncho and feel the protection when the rain inevitably started falling but it didn’t feel as good when the wind started to blow in apparently every possible direction, lifting the lower edges well above their place and leaving me exposed quite often even if the sides were completely closed. It’s made me seriously consider adding some kind of waist adjustment by I’m kind of reluctant to add yet more hook & loop patches.

Poncho Porche in Strath Spey valley, Scotland

Waterproofness was fine and coverage was adequate even though less than it would seem from the sewing table. Real life is always different from expectations. Scotland was a tough scenario but it wasn’t that what I had in mind when I thought of the Poncho Porche…

How about those mountains where summer rain is not that common? Particularly those continental hills where thunderstorms hit with timely precision and sometimes it’s just better to hunker down and wait… before, I used to use my tarp or ground cloth for this but I kind of missed a more easily closable piece and here is a good place for a poncho. Together with the aforementioned Siltoldo, it’ll be my perfect team for a trip along the north american continental divide in the Colorado big hills