You’re an outdoor person, and you love roughing it in the leaves, underbrush, and watching the stars in the sky without light pollution to cloud it all up for you.
But then it rains. You need a poncho tarp to keep you dry, but because they’re so expensive and come with a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles, you didn’t bring one.
What if you made your own instead?
By altering a tarp, you can get better coverage, more uses out of it, and a custom fit to contour to how you like to camp instead of the other way around. Let’s show you how to do it.
What Exactly is a Poncho?
A poncho is a piece of clothing that resembles a blanket, but has a hole in the center to allow for a person to fit their head through. The poncho is then worn like a big sleeveless shirt; your hands come out of the ends if you raise them up.
Ponchos are designed to keep the rain off of the person wearing them, and traditionally do not come with a hood. Poly and other forms of plastic have been used to make disposable, single-use ponchos with hoods, which is what most of us are accustomed to.
To get into history for a moment, ponchos are so old we don’t even know how far back they go.
We have evidence that they were around in 300 B.C., and very likely, they’ve been around even longer with expanding news in the origin of the human race. It’s a basic concept, but one that can be made better with a modern-day tarp.
Do You Need Poncho Liners?
They’re highly recommended, but not necessary. Poncho liners are plastic that line through the eyelets of a poncho to provide extra warmth and rain resistance.
These are commonly referred to by the United States military as “Woobies”, which a lot of people swear by. Unless you’re camping with your poncho and very little additional gear, you don’t really need to worry about them.
Most poncho uses that are not directly wearing them for rain resistance will be focused around prepping and survival uses. These are a few of them:
- Supply Storage: Have supplies that you don’t want getting wet, like firewood? Cover them with your poncho, just be sure to fold the head slit over.
- Suspend Food: When you’re camping and you need to hoist your food about the campsite to prevent bears from coming through, just put everything in your oncho, and hoist it up by tying a rope around the top like a drawstring sleeping bag.
- Emergency Paracord: Polyethylene isn’t the number one selection when it comes to cordage, but if you need to, you can use it for that. Tie things together, build an emergency shelter with the poncho; do whatever you can to make it work for you.
- Wind Shield: If you’re roughing it out in your campsite and it’s not raining, you can position your poncho in a way that it acts like a shield against harsh inbound wind. This takes some ingenuity, and hanging this up in the middle of harsh wind is going to be a chore, but it works well.
- Temp Shelter Floor: We have an entire guide dedicated to making a shelter without the use of trees, and if you’re going to do that, then you need to have something on the ground so you aren’t roughing it with the bugs. You can put the poncho down and lay down on it if you need to.
- Blanket: You can either use this to line your sleeping bag, or as a blanket in its own right. It’s not the most insulated if you make it out of poly, but it protects you from the wind traveling through the fabrics of your clothes. It’s better than having nothing.
- Window Blockage: I have this little triangle window in the door that leads out of my dining room, and around 11:00 AM every day it comes in and hits me right in the face. I use a poncho to cover it up during the day.
- Patch up a Backpack: Did your backpack get torn while you were surviving in the underbrush? You know, or while you were on a long hike? Either way, with a sewing kit, you can use a poncho to patch up a broken backpack and let it carry you through for the rest of your trip. It’s better than losing a bunch of Nature Valley bars all over the trail on your way home.
- Warm Shower: Last but not least, if you can finagle it, you can use a portion of your poncho to hold some water and let it heat by the sun. Since polyethylene doesn’t absorb heat, it will reflect it in the water and warm it up so you can use it during a camping trip.
How to Make Poncho From a Tarp?
For this, we’re going to go over how to make the poncho itself, and make sure it doesn’t come undone. You’re going to need a sewing machine and a little bit of sewing knowledge to get this done properly.
- Measure a tarp by using a pencil or pen to draw lines. You want to measure yourself from fingertip to fingertip with your arms stretched out, and mark that same width on the tarp. If possible, use a tailor’s tape measure and measure from the base of your spine, up your back and over your shoulders, down to the top of your waist. This will be the other measurement.
- Make your cuts and keep everything straight. We’re going to sew a seam here, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, you just want it to look like it fits at the end.
- After you make the cuts, fold the edges back by about a half an inch and run it through a sewing machine. This is the longest process. By the end, you should basically have a mini tarp.
- Mark about 20” in the middle of the tarp by folding it in half, and using a pen or marker to draw on it. You want to make a slit about 20” long, and then test putting it over your head to see if it fits. If so, that’s great; sew the edges so they don’t get torn by accident. You now have the poncho.
- Wear this around for about ten minutes or so. We want to test if the hole for our head is comfortable, or if it needs work. You can always adjust this later with additional stitching, or connecting a more comfortable fabric around the inside of the slit.
How Long Does a Tarp Poncho Last?
If you use liners and take care of the thing, you could have your poncho for about two or three years.
This is a speculation based on some variables, and if you’re not sure how much you’ll be using it, you can ask yourself these questions to see if you’ll burn through your DIY poncho slower or faster.
How much time do you spend in your poncho?
If you’re out in the rain on a constant basis, you’re probably getting a lot of use out of this. The average poncho user is bringing this with them during camping trips and hiking, and aren’t exposed for a long stretch of time.
The more use you get out of it in a single sitting, the more wear and tear you put on it. If you use this all the time, you might only have about two years before it needs to be replaced.
How thick is the tarp you used?
While tarps are meant to be nice and thin, you should still pay attention to just how thin the tarp is that you’re using. These aren’t being hung up like a canopy; they’re going through whatever physical motions you are, which puts different types of stress on your poncho.
The thinner it is, the easier it’s going to be to tear it from fast movements from the wearer.
How do you store it when you’re done?
Even with a poly tarp, mildew can still be a problem. Make sure you’re storing your poncho correctly to avoid mildew growth, otherwise you’re going to open up the storage space where you keep it and find a not-so-pleasant surprise.
Ponchos for Every Need
Whether it’s for backpacking, camping, or you just don’t want to get soaked on a hike when the rain starts, you can use a poncho tarp for a hundred different things.
They’ll hold up during a storm and help you keep your windows from being destroyed from hail, or they can be turned into something else later on down the line when you’re hung up your hiking boots.