Sea to Summit Poncho Tarp  A tiny shelter in a tiny package

Having gone to the bother of getting out into ‘nature’, this small square of nylon protects me from the wet, windy bits, while letting all the rest in.

When I started on my outdoors adventure, it was all about the huts: The destination was a hut, the trip was named after a hut, and woodsmoke and boots thumping on a wooden floor heralded the end of the day. Fast-forward a few years, and I started taking a two-person tent along. This opened up the possibility of spending the night on the grassy stretch outside a hut, if there were no bunks free, and possibly even staying completely out of sight of a hut.

A small square or rectangle of tough waterproof fabric with eyelets or tie-outs along the edges is a very versatile piece of kit. It can be pitched with one pole, two poles, or no poles. It can hug the ground in windy weather, or be strung up high as a sun shade. With or without a ridge line, diagonal or square-on, the options are endless. I started with a couple of pitches that I could reliably rig in darkness and swirling wind, and have pretty much stuck to them.

Battened down for the night, on Maharahara peak.

Battened down for the night, on Maharahara in the southern Ruahines. As it happens, there was barely a breath of wind all night. Waking up on a mountain peak is highly recommended.

Camping in a tiny footprint makes this kind of adventure much more likely.

These days when I look at a map, and can run my finger along any ridge or river system that looks interesting, and know that there’s a snug campsite for me whenever I feel like stopping. The forest park has become much bigger. Rather than sleep in a hut or a tent, removing the doors means I get to sleep in a whole valley. Rather than feeling like a walled-in outsider, I’m part of the forest.

Toggles and cams seem like time-saving devices, until you have to haul them repeatedly through loops and eyelets with numb fingers.

Toggles and cams seem like time-saving devices, until you have to haul them repeatedly through loops and eyelets with numb fingers.

There are lots of accessories available to help with tensioning guy-lines and tie outs. A trucker’s hitch backed with a slippery half hitch is all I use. It may seem ultra basic, but the tarp I rigged in my chook coop has weathered six months and several storms, and is still taut, using nothing more complicated than this. A quick tug on the free end of each tie-out, and down it will come. Being able to dismantle a tarp in a hurry with numb fingers or while wearing gloves is very handy. Being able to remember a single simple knot in hurry is handy, too.

Take a nice big bight, and feed it through itself. Back around your branch, back through your bight, and tie off with a slippery half-hitch.

Take a nice big bight, and feed it through itself. Back around your branch, back through your bight, and tie off with a slippery half-hitch.

I like that fact that every pitch presents different problems and different opportunities. It’s a puzzle, where the prize is a dry, comfortable night, with no need to get up in the wee hours to secure a flapping tie-out.

This brings us to the Sea to Summit poncho itself. I usually pitch it with a line out from each corner. Pitching it ‘square’ still requires guy lines from each corner, as well two more lines out from the middle, or a ridge-line running all the way through. When pitching it free standing, I always make sure at least one corner is pulling ‘down’. This give water somewhere to drain to. If all four corners are pulling ‘out’ – even if it’s sloping overall – the tarp starts collecting water or snow.

Better as a tarp than a poncho, it pitches in a jiffy. The best coverage when pitched like this is 'squarely' under it (like the shadow), rather than along the diagonal.

Better as a tarp than a poncho, it pitches in a jiffy. The best coverage when it’s pitched like this is to lie ‘squarely’ under it (like the shadow), rather than along the diagonal.

It’s much smaller than my other tarp, which means it’s much easier to pitch in windy weather. A 3×4 metre rectangle of nylon is very roomy, but is a real handful to pitch up on the tops, even when it’s doubled over on itself.

The poncho tarp stuffs away into its own hood – no need for the included stuff sack. At 360g, it’s fairly heavy for a ‘just-in-case’ piece of equipment, but it’s earned its spot often enough that I don’t begrudge the weight. One particular time, it made all the difference. I wouldn’t rely on it as my only rain wear, but in tarp mode, it’s great. For something I picked up on sale as a spur of the moment purchase, it’s stood me in good stead.

Wilderlife