Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Praxis: The USGI Poncho and Poncho Liner

USGI Poncho

Two of the most useful pieces of gear you can carry in the woods are the USGI poncho and poncho liner. Together they represent a rain shelter, a ground cloth, an improvised sleeping bag.

FM 21-15 (1977) says that the combination is good for down to 50 degrees F. as an improvised sleeping bag.

The Poncho Liner

As issued, the poncho liner has ties that are fastened by the soldier to the grommets along the edge of the poncho. The liner consists of two layers of quilted nylon encasing a polyester loft filling. The issue poncho liners from Vietnam until a few years ago were variations of Olive Green on one side and camouflage on the other, either ERDL pattern in earlier examples or the later Woodland pattern. They now are made in ACU digital, a pattern that I despise. US Cavalry (The Cav store to residents of Fort Campbell) used to sell a liner made of thinsulate batting, but a call to them this morning informs me that they no longer offer that. Ranger Joe's offers a conversion that include all-round zipper and head hole.

Veterans generally remember the poncho liner with fondness. After the movie Mr. Mom came out (circa 1980), the nickname "woobie" was adopted for the poncho liner, although SERE instructors rejected that moniker, calling it instead a "Wilbe," as in "You WILL BE freezing your ass off if you do not learn how to use this properly."

Despite the fact that ready-made thinsulate liners seem to be unavailable commercially, there is no reason why you cannot craft your own.

The secret to warmth is layering. I have a buddy who has used a "double-wooby" for many years now, using two liners instead of one, and a thin OD tarp as a combination ground cloth/tent fly. He cut head holes in the liners, neatly sewing them up with OD ribbon edging, so he can wear them tied together or take it off and roll up in it. For really cold (here in Alabama) nights, he packs two space blankets for additional heat preservation. With the addition of native insulation like straw or pine needles, he claims to be toasty warm with this combination, even when the temperatures go down into the teens, all in package much lighter and less bulky than a sleeping bag.

Another friend took a cheap thinsulate woodland blanket and made a Ranger Joe's style liner. He swears by this combination. (He also uses a thick OD Bundeswehr poncho as a rain shelter/ground cloth.)

I invite any Threeper comments on their experiences with ponchos & liners.



pdxr13 said...

USGI Poncho is a good visual cover for the most effective 1/4" thick warmer I've ever found: 4 foot wide Home Depot triple-layer aluminumized bubble roll insulation. This stuff is fantastic as a body heat reflector (not fire! plastic melts/burns), desert reflective sun shade, good-for-thickness as a waterproof/non-absorbent ground pad, and is rated R-3 as stapled-in wall insulation. Four feet wide and 25 feet long roll was $35 iirc.

Perfect for insulating a pickup truck canopy top interior with a little construction glue or double-sided sticky tape to hold it against the shell. The bubble structure makes it rigid enough to stand by itself tucked into a window frame, adding more cold-blocking and reducing outside visibility. Cuts with knife/box-cutter/scissors easily and precisely.

No experience with what this material looks like through NV or thermal imaging. I would guess that it is a good heat-signature blocking material. In the wood it would be a alien object, in the city another piece of metallic/plastic junk.

Have not tested against microwave anti-crowd devices, nor to defeat various "Taser" devices.

I found it when I was looking for a thin/no-rot/waterproof insulator for a travel trailer interior re-build. More on that topic here: http://griddowntrailer.blogspot.com/

Drawback of aluminumized products for stealth: it's a beacon for radar (great return!), folks looking for a glint of metal, and it makes a distinctive internal "shhch" sound when flexed. It might be an improvement for comfort in concealed pre-built fixed positions.

25x4 foot roll weighs almost nothing.

Double-poncho liner is a good idea for weight/size and versatility. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Here's an upgraded liner made by Kifaru:


It's a bit pricey, but lighter in weight and packs smaller. Also comes in two sizes.

Sean said...

Never seen a poncho that worked as advertised, but the poncho liner is great for what you need. In the field, it's pretty much a given you will get wet no matter what you do. I got and get used to being wet, dry out when I can, and wear things in layers to keep from getting too cold even when wet. Fortunes o' war. If it gets cold enough to freeze, and you're still wet, didi mou somewhere and get dried out and return asap. All you can do, really. Otherwise, and I don't care if you're SEAL qualified, you'll die of hypothermia. The poncho liner will keep you warm, somewhat, even if wet and cold, down to about 40 degrees. III, with CIB.

Anonymous said...

Every fighter should have a usgi poncho no matter how much it rains in their AO...lightweight and great for so many differnt thing. Hard to beat for a quick improvised shelter, snap 2 together to make a bigger shelter...

As far as the liner the only time I have used one is inside of a sleeping bag to keep warmer...but it's a good peice of kit.

Wiggy's makes a version of the poncho liner that has a zipper all the way around rather than so you can use it like a conventional sleeping bag:
But it's $60, and only comes in ACU and Coyote Brown.

If you have enough money to burn, Kifaru makes a version:
Built in stuff sack, paracord loops, material miles ahead of the standard issue woobie...but it's$137-175 so...

MPA dragon said...

wiggys makes a great poncho liner, much warmer than the issue liner.


I have slept with this in the field! Add a casualty blanket (heavy duty space blanket with one side in OD instead of shiney aluminum) clamshell them together and you can last thru the night!

MPA dragon said...

oh, and since I forgot - Camp Dry the snot out of your poncho - then it will actually get close to waterproof!

Anonymous said...

I wondered why they called them Woobies. Here is something else in the same vein, but not terribly economical.


tjbbpgobIII said...

I personally never carried one in the field as most of us considered them useless weight. Also, in the Central Highlands of South Viet Nam where it rained about 85% of the time, if it got wet is was unuseable. It was nice as a blanket on a cot in base camp however and I intend to get a couple for around the house.

Pericles said...

Never liked it as rain protection. Imuch preferred the rain suit until the Goretex rain gear was introduced.

The Goretex suit is "it" in a rain / cool environment. In Europe, I could wear the Goretex even in light snow without the field jacket.

I'd use the poncho as a shelter or ground cloth and that is it.

The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit said...

The older style heavy rubberized ponchos were more bulky than the nylon ones - but were also far more flexible at keeping out rain and being useful for shelters (or temporary jeep roofs). Having soldiered in a bunch of different places, all of them cold, the poncho liner was an excellent piece of add-on kit. I wish I'd bought one of the Cav Store ones when they were out....

Anonymous said...

eBay has genuine GI ponchos and liners galore. Go to the Military sections under Collectibles. Pretty cheap too.

PioneerPreppy said...

I had a wet weather shell jacket (the old solid OD Green issue ones) lined with a tailored in poncho liner and it was one of the best pieces of field gear I ever took on manuevers while in Germany back in the 80's.

I wore it for years on those cold rainy but not quite winter days until it finally got so old it fell apart. The liner turned that cold thin jacket into a nice usable wet weather coat.

I should get another one made locally.

tjbbpgobIII said...

I took two ponchos to a south Vietnamese tailor in AnKhe and he made me a reversible jacket with the reversible side being black nylon like their black pj's. Pretty comfortable in the mountains and wet.

PLA said...

Dig a hole 1 ft deep, about 1 ft wider than shoulders and 1 foot longer than your body. Fill w/ 2 ft of dry pine needles. Take your parachute panel, you know, the one thats lighter than the standard fart sack, lay panel on top of the needles, fold it back 1/3 on itself, then 1 foot of pine needles, then fold the last 1/3 over the top. Lay poncho over the whole works for waterproofing. Climb inside between the 2 panels so no needles are against your skin. You will sleep snug as a bug, if you are worried about cold drag your woobie inside with you. If extremely cold or you are worried about thermal sig make it 3 ft longer than your body and crawl in headfirst. Make this bigger than you think you need so you dont dump all your needles off the top half

Easy huh?

Dedicated_Dad said...

This is one of the best examples of innovative poncho use I've seen.

It makes a spectacular "bivy" tent - easily warmed by body heat.

By taking advantage of terrain features or digging a shallow depression so you can crawl in and out, then piling on leaves or etc for insulation, it has kept me warm and dry well down into the single digits.

Add a "fire bed" and you could literally survive in arctic conditions.

It can also be used as a "canoe" to float your gear across a water-hazard...

tom said...

As Mike says, ACUs are a fine if you have C-130s and C-5s airdrop a large amount of bad 70s paisley-esque furniture into the impending battle zones. Then at least you match some things on the battle field.

Anonymous said...

Got the USGI poncho and the liner. If you buy the poncho used, you'll probably have to use seam-sealer to make it leak less (not leak prook, just leak less than it did. The liner I've used camping as a sleeping bag. Very comfortable.

Elkad said...

In the 80s, I carried 2 liners+poncho, and my assistant gunner carried 2 ponchos+liner. One of his ponchos was the old heavy rubberized one.

If you snuggle up with your buddy, its plenty warm down to freezing.

Though on one February training mission in Wisconsin with no fart sacks, we ended up with half the platoon in a giant kitten pile. It was well below zero, with several inches of snow, but we stayed warm enough to get a fair amount of sleep.

Refurbished Laptops said...

I'm going paintballing today - I could totally do with one of those ponchos in this terrible weather :D

The Trainer said...

Coupla things: The poncho liner (especially the Wiggys version) is great for light work, and the poncho itself is ok (current issue). If you want a really water proof poncho to use as a hootch, look for a pre-1972 issue poncho. They're OD green and heavily rubberized. You can find them for about $40 if you're lucky. They're bomb proof. Secondly, on the parachute panels. You can get a whole chute and split it into thirds, so 3 guys can split the $60 cost (get a cargo chute and cut to size). But herein lies the problem with that silk. The ROI for carrying it as opposed to a light, Camp Dry treated patrol sleeping bag is not much. Sure, you can still carry one if you want, I have and may in the future until I'm thoroughly convinced that a Basha type shelter and a component sleep system doesn't provide everything you need while 'camping'.

The pine needles, by the way, depend on your AO, as does the need for more insulation. And it takes a huge amount of broadleaves to make enough insulation... believe me!

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, gents. Why are you down on the new ACU's?

Paul III

Dedicated_Dad said...

Crap - forgot my link on the poncho-tent. Warlord's writeup rocks, I did something almost as good before...

See http://www.alpharubicon.com/prepinfo/ponchotent.htm

Cybrludite said...


When clean, the ACU pattern doesn't blend well with much anything besides your grandmothers ugly old couch. I'm told it blends quite well once it's aged in the field, but the same is true about the old OD "pickle-suits". The best pattern I've seen for multi-environments has to be the old Rhodesian Recon pattern. I took to sewing brightly colored patches to mine after nearly loosing it in both New Mexico & Mississippi. (Pity Katrina got mine. I need to see if anyone still sells that pattern...)

theman said...

The best current CAMO has to be the USMC MARPAT Woodland pattern. I've purchased some and found it very good.

I have some German Flectarn pattern gear. In the following photo you can see the Flectarn poncho (there's a matching liner) with the MARPAT boonie hat for comparison.

Any military retiree, reservist, or active duty soldier can order the MARPAT camo straight from the Naval Exchange uniform sales, it's online too.

A very nice ruck, a bit smaller than the medium ALICE pack, was and may still be available in German Flectarn pattern. While it's not MOLLE compatible, it is set up for a Camelbak hydration bladder and will carry about 5 days worth of supplies, not counting ammo. Here's a photo comparing it with the current Army ACU vest.

And worn.