Two of my favorite places to hike are along the Appalachian Trail (AT), and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). The thing is, both of these places are literally lined with “shelters” (3 sided buildings, with a roof and a wood floor). These shelters come in various sizes and shapes, and each one will accommodate a different/certain number of people. These shelters make great alternatives to setting up a tent, tarp or a hammock, especially to those exhausted hikers that have hiked all day long and it is now after dark. However, they can also have their downfalls… such as dealing with the other people (strangers) and their habits as well as sleeping next to them while they suck the tin from the roof! As well, mice love to scurry across hikers faces as they lay there, helplessly asleep. Among other things…
(Really, they are not too bad though…some are actually quite nice.)
For the most part, along the AT, hikers have the option of showing up at a shelter and making a decision right then and there whether or not they want to sleep in the shelter or to set up their own shelter. However, in the Smokies, this is not an option. The GSMNP has backcountry rules, and if they are not followed, people can be fined. And when it comes to shelters in the Smokies, first off one must secure a spot inside a shelter through a registration system, then once they arrive at the shelter, they do not have an option of pitching a tent or staying inside a shelter. To help minimize impact to this heavily used park (the GSMNP has been the most visited National Park in the US), the only option is to sleep inside the shelter (and this does not mean setting a tent/hammock up inside the shelter either).
So, when I go to the Smokies, more times than not, I stay inside the shelters (unless I reserve a spot at one of the campgrounds instead). Because of this, I have been giving a lot of thought about carrying a full size tent (even though it is a super-sweet, super-light ZPacks Hexamid tent) whenever I am hiking in areas that I know I will definitely be staying in shelters for the night…where I really do not need a full size, fully featured tent.
Then my buddy, Gizmo Joe, and I decided that we wanted to attempt to hike the 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in only 3 days! (More on this later…)
Now Joe and I have been getting into “UltraLight” weight (< 10 lb BPW) backpacking set-ups for a little while now, but this trip has pushed us to take it to the next level, “Super UltraLight” weight (<5 lb BPW) backpacking! And this trip presents the perfect opportunity for us to do so. We will be going at almost the hottest time of the year, so we can leave behind a lot of cold weather gear. As well, these 3 very high mileage days (at least for us) will only be easier if our packs are lighter. And as I talked about above, we will be staying in shelters for the 2 nights that we will be out on the trail, so this is the perfect opportunity to cut back on shelter weight!
For me, this is where the GoLite Poncho Tarp comes in to play.
I will admit that I have not been a big fan of either ponchos or even more so of poncho tarps. To be honest, I did not like the thought of wearing it as a poncho, ripping a hole in it and then being out not only my rain gear, but also my shelter. Not to mention, the process of coming out of the poncho while it is raining in order to set it up as a shelter…in the rain (which we can get a lot of here in the Southeast). For these reasons, I was fine never owning one of these pieces. But I will admit, I have turned into a bit of a gram weenie lately, and in the right conditions, a poncho tarp now seems to make a lot of sense…
So, I decided that since I do enjoy hiking in places which are littered with shelters, and that in some of these places it is indeed mandatory for me to stay in those shelters over night, I could get away with carrying the poncho tarp. This way, I really don’t have to expect to rely on it as a tarp, although, in a pinch I can. And even better, I can leave behind that fully featured tent and the extra unneeded weight.
As it happened, during this time of strategic thinking, I kept coming across the GoLite Poncho Tarp on just about every backpacking forums I went to. (I think it was being drilled into my head actually.) From what I read, the GoLite Poncho Tarp was lightweight (at a listed 7 oz) and GoLite just happened to be giving them away for only about $45 (+ shipping) on their site. But, by the time I gave in and decided to get one, well, GoLite was all sold out…as well as just about every other retail store on the web (this is due to the fact that GoLite is now selling their products direct to the customer, so the retail stores are not getting restocked with GoLite inventory).
This led me to look for other options. In my search I almost decided on a smaller cuben fiber tarp, but then decided I wanted to spend a little time with such a small tarp before I spent that kind of $$ on one in cuben fiber. As well, I did not feel like I could justify the $$ for the cuben poncho tarps simply because I still was not sure how much I would like or use this piece. However, the other non cuben fiber, non GoLite options that I came across happened to be closer to the 10 oz range which was more weight than I wanted (especially for a piece I was still a bit skeptical about anyway).
Then I came across one of the GoLite Poncho Tarps being sold by a store called UltraLite Outfitters, and at what I felt was a great price too. GoLite was selling theirs for $45 + shipping, where as UltraLite Outfitters was selling one for $59 and free shipping (it equaled out)! However, to be sure that UltraLite Outfitters actually had these, I emailed the store and inquired about whether or not they actually had any in stock (these Poncho Tarps were selling out everywhere!). Within the hour, Travis from UltraLite Outfitters responded back and informed me that yes, they were in stock and ready to ship on the same day as ordered. So I did. Then, 3 days later, the Poncho Tarp was in my hands! (He wasn’t kidding, he got it to me very fast, and even included a LMF spork as a freebie! Great service for sure and a big thumbs up from me.)
So, after playing around with the tarp I decided that I was probably going to like it better than I had imagined I would like it at first. It fit me great as a poncho, and 5×8 actually felt a little bigger than I thought it would. The Poncho Tarp was in great shape with no loose seams or any noticeable defects. To be honest, I was stoked!
So, at this time I decided to weigh it, and to collect all the pieces of the kit to see what my final, total weight would be. I grabbed a sheet of Polycro out of my gear closet, counted out 6 of my shepherd hook titanium tent stakes and grabbed a 50 ft hank of LiteTrail GLine Polyester Dyneema Guyline Cord, then got busy. I cut the Polycro ground sheet to the size of my beloved NeoAir but left a little bit of overhang around the edges. Next I cut the guyline into 6 pieces: 2 pieces about 8 ft long and 4 pieces about 2.5 ft long. Then I put it all on the scales…
- GoLite Poncho Tarp: 7.1 oz
- 27×76″ Polycro Ground Sheet: 0.9 oz
- 6 Shepherd Hook Ti Stakes: 1.5 oz
- Tent Stake Stuff Sack: 0.1 oz
- Guy Line: 0.3 oz
- Total Weight: 9.9 oz
pretty very happy with this set-up! The combined weight of my ZPacks Hexamid tent and the Dri Ducks poncho I had planned on carrying was 21.2 oz, but with the GoLite Poncho Tarp, I managed to knock off 11.3 oz! Come on now…that is almost 3/4 of a pound! That is worth being excited about…at least it is too me anyway… 🙂
So, the next obvious thing for me to do was to go out and practice pitching it in different configurations. The nice thing about a flat tarp is that there are so many ways that they can be pitched. There is one small drawback with the Poncho Tarp, and that is the large hole near the center of the tarp, but it can easily be cinched up to be water tight, and then actually be used as a middle tie out kinda point. However, the main pitch I expect to be using with this will probably be a Half Pyramid type pitch (as seen below).
(The first photo in this write-up is me lying under this particular pitch.)
Another popular configuration I have seen this tarp pitched in is kind of a mix between the Half Pyramid and the Lean To. At the front, one side of the tarp is staked out at the ground (as in the Half Pyramid) where as the other side is left up (as in the Lean To). (Sorry, no pics of this one, but it can be seen in the video a little farther down the page.) I also tried the classic A-Frame pitch (which is one of my favorite pitches with my larger, 8×10 OES tarp). However, this is where I noticed the hood affecting the pitch. The hood naturally falls right along the ridgeline which could definitely collect water, so if the A-Frame pitch is used, the hood would have to be guyed out/up one way or another.
Another pitch I have not yet tried is the Flying Diamond which I think may work well being a smaller tarp. I’ll admit, I never seemed to get a good Flying Diamond pitch with my larger 8×10 OES tarp, but I think this was due to the larger size, although from what I understand, this pitch works better with a square tarp than it does with a rectangular shaped tarp. So, all I can say is, I will see.
So, at this point, I am quite happy with the GoLite Poncho Tarp and think that it will fill my particular need quite well, which is to lower my pack weight by using less shelter when I don’t need much shelter. Although, I will admit that I probably wouldn’t take this just yet to rely on as my only means of shelter (especially if I were expecting it to rain). So, for now, check out this video I made earlier today about the GoLite Poncho Tarp.
Thanks for watching/reading!