Ponchos are an Excellent Multi Use Piece of Equipment



Today everyone is pretty familiar with a poncho.  You have seen them in the movies from the Clint Eastwood westerns to the WW2 movies.

There are two main types of ponchos that we commonly encounter.  One is made from wool or a similar fabric and is designed to keep one warm.  The second type is normally made from a waterproof material and is designed to keep one dry.  Ponchos have been used by the Native American peoples of the Andes since pre-Hispanic times and are a familiar sight in South and Central America and even the US southwest.

In its simplest form, the poncho is a single large sheet of material with an opening in the center for the head and often it has an extra piece of material to serve as a hood.  The first ponchos were used mainly for warmth and were not waterproof.  I don’t know when they first started to waterproof ponchos.

Irregular U.S. military forces operating on the U.S. Western Plains first started to use ponchos in the 1850s.  These early military ponchos were made of gutta percha muslin, a coated waterproof cloth.

Improvised poncho shelters

The poncho has been used by the US military almost continuously since then.  Today almost every military in the world uses some form of poncho.  They are much preferred over a raincoat due to their ability to keep both the wearer and his pack dry, as well as serving as a roof for an improvised shelter.

Today’s military ponchos are waterproof and are fitted with snaps to close the sides once the poncho is draped over the body; they have an opening for the head with an attached hood.  They come in various camouflage patterns so you can find one to fit the terrain in which you live or hunt.

The US military has a poncho liner that fits inside the poncho that provides warmth in mild temperatures and can be used as a field expedient sleeping bag.  The liner can be attached to the inside of the standard issue poncho by means of ties that are attached to the poncho’s eyelets.  The poncho liner consists of two layers of quilted nylon encasing a polyester filling.

poncho liner

The poncho is one of the most versatile pieces of gear that you can carry.  It serves multiple purposes. 

  • It serves to protect you from the rain and is normally large enough to cover you and your pack, keeping your gear dry.
  • A shelter roof: Since the average lean-to or survival shelters are not very waterproof, you can place the poncho over the roof structure to waterproof it.  Just be careful that sticks and thorns don’t poke holes in the plastic.
  • A sun shelter, it can be rigged up to provide you shade in hot climates.
  • A rain catcher: Lay the poncho in a hole, or a similar low spot, to catch the rainwater.
  • Ground cloth: Under a tent, or a survival shelter, a poncho can protect you from the damp ground.  If you are in a cold damp climate, this can help you stay warm.
  • Wind Break: While a poncho without the liner does not have much insulating qualities, you will be warmer if you wrap up in the poncho in windy weather, this will help protect you from wind chill.
  • Water carrier: You can fit your poncho inside a box or other container to make a water bucket.  It will work by its self if folded into several layers.  Be careful you don’t damage the poncho.
  • Butchering game: If you have some meat to butcher, the poncho can give you a nice clean surface to lay out your game meat.  Just don’t cut the poncho.
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Now there are many types of ponchos available on the market, but my favorite is still a good military one.  The new military ones are lightweight and durable.  Many of the commercial ones will not last for more than a few uses.

Now when you go to find a military one, beware of all the knock offs that are on the market.  It can be very hard to tell the difference between them and the real thing.  A few years back I was fooled and my son and I ended up in the rain with ponchos that leaked like a sieve.  We ended up cold and wet.  I will never trust a poncho again until I have tried it, maybe with a hose in my back yard.

Even if you plan on bugging in and never intend to leave your home these will be a great item to have, because you will be spending a lot more time outside on foot.  They will keep you dry.


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6 thoughts on “Ponchos are an Excellent Multi Use Piece of Equipment”

  1. One of the best posts you’ve made!

    As a serving soldier, I don’t go anywhere without a poncho. I still carry the old US Army woodland version (I prefer them to the newer versions).

    They can not only be worn as a poncho, and used for shelter, but can also be used to carry things/people, specifically as a stretcher. It’s best to run some tubular nylon through the grommets at either end, both to create handles with and support any weight on the poncho.

    Ponchos are also useful to cover up your bags/equipment in inclement weather (ensure you tie them down to your pack in heavy wind), which along with the other uses above, makes them worth carrying even if you have a tent or raincoat.

  2. More info on converting a military wool blanket into a poncho or Wetterfleck in this previous post here: https://preparednessadvice.com/survival/wool-still-works/ Lanolin dissolved in dry cleaning solvent can also be used to restore the water repellancy of wool garments, producing a breathable, rain and snow resistant outer layer.

    Wool is warm when wet, and is more resistant to abrasion from thorns and bush than modern synthetics, such as GoreTex, and is more quiet in moving through the bush.

  3. Anybody know what the woodland pochos are coated with? Mine seems to have dried out and is flaking and I am looking to find out how to reseal it. Thanks!

    1. Veteran Who Is Preparing

      Did you expose it to high heat like from a stove or clothes dryer? You can’t reseal them, at least I have never heard of a way. Use it as a tarp and it will work. They do flake around the head hole and that is natural. There is nothing wrong with it then, it is just rubber cement coming loose because of time.

    2. Try the Nikwax range of products. I use them to very effectively reproof my daughter’s camping and rain gear for the 5 day rock concerts she visits.

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