The poncho tarp tent, the combination of tarp tent and poncho, is one of the better ideas to come out of lightweight backpacking. The idea of combining both your shelter, which can weigh a lot, and your rain gear, which can also weight a lot, in to one lightweight package is an excellent way to save weight. Often the best use of a poncho tarp tent is in situations where a shelter and / or rain gear is unlikely to be needed. It gives you the security of having both while freeing up a considerable amount of weight and room in your backpack.
Poncho Tarp Tent Features
The typical poncho tarp tent is a square or rectangular cut piece of fabric, often Spinnaker but any kind of lightweight waterproof fabric will do.
In tarp mode the head hole must be closeable in some way, and usually the corners will have tie outs so that the poncho tarp tent can be staked down or tied to something to form the tarp. Lightweight backpacking enthusiasts will often use their trekking poles to help create the structure of the tarp tent, but anything from a handy tree to a piece of dead-fall can be used as a stand in.
In poncho mode the poncho tarp tent functions much like a typical poncho. Depending on how wide it is it may or may not give very good weather protection to the lower arms. One of the bonuses of a poncho tarp tent though is that there's plenty of fabric to drape over your backpack, which means you can protect your backpack from the weather Not having your rain gear pinned between your backpack and your back means that air can circulate better too, keeping sweating to a minimum.
There's no reason that you can't use a poncho tarp tent in bad weather, but the caveat that always goes along with this innovative piece of equipment is that it can't be both a shelter and a piece of rain gear at the same time. In other words if your shelter is set up and you're going for water, cooking, and anything else while it's raining you're going to get wet. As a safety net though the poncho tarp tent is an ideal piece of equipment.
Popular Poncho Tarp Tents
There aren't all that many poncho tarp tents on the market, but here are a few popular ones to take a look at...
GoLite Poncho Tarp - Made by GoLite, a popular lightweight backpacking manufacturer, this is currently the most lightweight poncho tarp tent on the market.