Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tacticool Tuesday - The venerable Woobie and GI Poncho

It has been said repeatedly that the best thing that the US military has invented, (other than advances in medicine, space travel, the internet, and robotics), is the Woobie, aka Poncho Liner.  Let's start there.

Poncho Liner

Our Hero

For the two of you in the free world that are uninitiated in its magic, the poncho liner is a camouflage synthetic blanket that is light, warm, and easily packable.  The poncho liner, affectionately and hereafter called a 'woobie", has largely remained unchanged since it was introduced to Soldiers in Vietnam.  It is by no means any more water resistant than any other light nylon, and it will not retain some of its warmth if it becomes drenched, (as wool would).  It will, however, dry much quicker and the weight savings and cost alone vice wool is enough to choose one over the other.  If you buy a gently used poncho liner at a surplus store for over twenty five dollars, you are being overcharged.

Necessity being the mother of invention, bright boys and girls have been improving upon the woobie for years.  According to BreachBangClear.com, the USMC has issued a product improvement in the way of a two way zipper.  Most often in temperate climates, a blanket is all that is needed when you are out in the elements. In adding a zipper, it keeps the heat in where it is needed and eliminates the need to carry a bulky patrol bag.   The addition of the zipper has two functions.  First, you can mate up two different woobies to make a double thickness blanket.  This also allows you to stuff some biomass insulation, (pine needles, cat tail down, leaves, etc.) in between the two mated blankets to increase the thermal retention capabilities in an emergency.  Especially in the field when the OPFOR is in the area, it is better to have a blanket on you that you can quickly discard than be wrapped up in a constricting sleeping bag.

The commercial market has produced some excellent ways for you to be able to buy your way out of a cold night.  There are a ton of excellent, undoubtedly tacticool, and pricey improvements to the woobie that are worth mentioning.  The top of the heap, Kifaru, makes the Woobie and and Doobie, (3.6 and 6 oz. of insulation). Hill People Gear has the Mountain Serape which comes also in two sizes.  Wiggys offers an improved poncho liner with zippers and with ties that is made with the same insulation found in their bags.  Snugpak has the cheapest of the bunch with their insulated jungle blanket.  The Kifaru and Hill People Gear blankets are designed to be snapped together around the body so you can essentially wear it in conjunction with your poncho.  You can, however, mod a USGI woobie to do something very similar with zippers.  That video you can find at the end of the article.


The poncho is often overlooked with the introduction of Gore-tex and softshell overgarments.  In the military, I only ever really used the poncho to construct a hasty overhead cover, (just once), or to simply protect my rucksack from the rain when I had to ground it.  The poncho and poncho liner are on every unit packing list for the field but like the elbow pads or Camelbak cleaning kit, you rarely ever took it out of the plastic when it was given to you by the Central Issue Facility.

As I have started to look beyond the meat-headed military purpose, I see how much more useful the lowly poncho can be.  Normally, if I was out runing around in hot weather, (being a multiple heat casualty just about anything over 50 degrees is hot weather to me), and it began to rain, I would just keep going.  After all, I am made out of sugar.  I now see the poncho as something useful and breathable that can keep me from a fair amount of undue misery.  Contrary to popular opinion, you do not always have to "embrace the suck".  Not only is the poncho good for its intended purpose, it can be used in a variety of other ways.  The most popular being, of course, as a legitimate shelter.

Photo courtesy of Preparedness Advice

As I have stated before in another post, I am in awe of the ingenuity of the Alpha Tent.  With the addition of a couple of lightweight collapsible poles, you can make the poncho into a decent enough shelter for three seasons of temperate weather.  This is the most lightweight shelter system that I know aside from building a time consuming debris hut.  One Alpha tent with a tea candle can get you pretty far in a bad spot in the woods.

The poncho has also been product improved on the commercial market and thoughtful modifications have been done to make it more usable.  My favorite of the commercial ponchos are from Bushcraft Outfitters, the Poncho Tarp.  It is worth mentioning that they also produce the MEST Tarp which is 5x7 and weighs a whopping 13 ounces.  These two in conjunction, one cover, and one ground cloth, will weigh less than a normal two piece tent and are imminently more useful as they can be used for other things.  Had I to do it over again, I would have saved the money I spent on the Snugpak Ionosphere and bought these two instead.  We'll see what Santa brings.

I know that many foreign governments have also produced their version of the poncho and these can be found floating around the surplus world with varying regularity.  The Swedish and German are of decent enough quality.  I remember an eastern bloc version that was ridiculously reminiscent of a drab Klan outfit.  I'd stay away from that one.  I cannot personally speak for any of these, but I would recommend that you do the research before you purchase.  If, however, you find any of them for less than ten dollars, I would suggest you snap it up immediately.  Treat it to some Camp Dry on occasion, and you will can never go wrong with a lightweight groundcloth or cover.

Tying it all together

If you examine both the USGI poncho, and poncho liner, it does not look like it would mate up well,  I personally have not used the equipment this way, but that is not to say that my unique experiences will match up to yours.  This video illustrates now to put the two pieces together and some other small gear mods that you may find useful.

This mod video is in German, but it illustrates some wonderful ways in which you can product improve the poncho liner to create a more functional piece of equipment,  German over-engineering for sure, and God bless them for it.

If you wish to purchase a either USGI issue Poncho or Poncho Liner online, I would ask that you  to consider supporting patriot businesses like Main Gun.  You can find a link to that here.


Anonymous said...

Living down in the deep South, the poncho liner makes an outstanding sleeping cover for us. Easy to compact in a string bag too. Only caution we have - take care to keep removed from open flames, a small floating ember will damage them pretty easily.

Dr.D said...



Dutchman6 said...

Dr. D.,

Thanks for the link. I did not know they made their own ponchos. It just kills me that every time I click on something I like, it is not available. The $10 woodland bandoleers are just laughing at me. I did see those Polish Field Phones. If I did not have enough to wire a county, I would definitely have to check those out.

Anon 7:12

Agreed. I switched to a Snugpak jungle bag and it works pretty well for when it drops a little colder. It is light and packs up about the same size as a poncho liner. Except for the monsoon season in the spring, most times it is just a hammock and a woobie is all you need.

keith park said...

Very warm and lightweight. An essential in your ruck.

tjbbpgobIII said...

I don't know who said a poncho liner was light when wet but the ones
I had were heavy as hell.

skybill said...

Hi Matt and Mike,
Whoohoo for the Woobie!!!!!! 'Love em!! 'Always have one on the bed and one by the couch for a "Wrap" on cool nights!! 'Have a "Viet Nam Cruise of '68 'Original!!'" in the archives!!!!!
Audentes, Fortuna, juvat,

Anonymous said...

US GI ponchos are good but the UK basha is much better. Plus one on the poncho liner, never leave the barracks without it.

piccolo said...

I rate the woobie as being right behind the P-38 can opener as being the best bang for the buck the services ever paid money for.

Anonymous said...

Having never been in the military, but having an M-65 field jacket knock-off, i was wondering how to get some extra warmth wearing that thing in winter. The M-65 leaves something to be desired in the warmth department during upstate NY winters. I didn't know about this "Woobie" but using it in a poncho over the M-65 sounds like the answer. Plus, it can be taken off and stowed when hiking the mountains and a sweat starts breaking out..I want two...

Anonymous said...

I'm using the Swiss Army alpenflauge military poncho (funky red green brown pattern) and I'm pretty impressed with it. The color matches the fall foilage pretty well and in spring, still meshes with our local background. The red does seem to jump out when moving though. Well made and available.

Ponchos big minus is climbing. The leading front edge can get underfoot and stepped on when climbing ladders for example. The rain cape design (open front) in that case works well. The cape breathes better too.

Milk Man said...

HAVE you ever tried a WIGGY'S Pancho liner ?
By far Superior !

Doug O said...

I love the woobie but I'll be honest the poncho is terrible for anything other than being used as a tarp for a shelter. If you try to wear it for rain protection you quickly discover, one you are super hot if it it over 60 degrees out, two all the water hitting your entire body is being channeled to your boots, three the material isn't very waterproof when worn and it will begin to leak through after about 30 minutes of a down pour....but you'll be so covered in your own sweat by then you probably won't notice. Some of the improved versions on the market aren't bad and it is nice to be able to wear it over a ruck to keep that dry but then again you should have anything you don't want to get wet in your pack in a dry sack or at least a cheap field expedient trash bag.

Garry F. Owen, Trooper said...

To the non-military person who was asking about the M-65 field jacket. There is a field jacket liner available, very similar in material to the poncho liner. These button into the jacket, just under the collar, along both sides in the front and near the sleeve cuff.

Rusty Gunner said...

I note with sorrow that Mike has passed. My condolences to everyone in his family, and my profound gratitude for everything he did and gave us. Your watch is relieved, sir.

Anonymous said...

tie a poncho liner into a poncho, and ya get what me and mine call a "high tech Indian blanket". also, somebody out there, (sorry, but i don't remember who), makes a waist length jacket out of poncho liner material, with knit cuffs and a zipper up the front. it's warm, very light weight, and wears comfortably under a M-65, or other jacket/coat. and ya know what? retired after 24 years in the Army and i've never heard them called "woobies". huh. old dawg, new tricks, etc, etc.

Anonymous said...

During the winter, our temperatures rarely get below freezing, so we never have to turn the heater on. Gets somewhat chilly at times (<60) so some light clothing is worn. The M65 jacket liner makes for a great cover in those conditions, so light you don't even know its there.