As you toss MREs, hygiene equipment, a first aid kit, and the rest of your survival gear into your bug out bag, don’t forget to pack your poncho. A rain poncho may seem like a small addition to your emergency gear that’s okay if forgotten, but you can use your poncho in a variety of ways to help you survive an emergency.
11 ways to use a poncho for survival:
1. Build a waterproof shelter. During an emergency, you may need to seek shelter quickly if you see a storm looming overhead. With a piece of paracord or rope, a few stakes, and your poncho, you can build a variety of shelters to keep you dry in a rainstorm or, if your poncho is opaque, to protect you from the heat of a blazing sun. Check out Willow Haven Outdoor for a breakdown of the different poncho shelters you can build.
2. Use as a sack or bag: In an emergency, you never know when you may need an extra hand or two to carry scavenged items back to your camp. By simply folding the poncho, you can easily make a pouch to carry extra gear, edible plants, or anything else you could use help carrying.
3. Collect rain water to drink. Depending on how long your emergency lasts, you may run out of water, and if you aren’t anywhere near a water source, a rain catcher might just save your life. Before a rainstorm hits, lay your poncho either in a hole or other low spot to create a basin. As the rain pours, your poncho will collect the clean, cool water for you to drink later. Just like when gathering food, make sure your poncho is clean or that you use a new one to collect water.
4. Emergency Heat: Wind is a natural enemy to heat—especially if you’re in an emergency trying to stay warm with what little you have. Wearing a poncho not only keeps you dry, but can act as a wind break so you can stay a bit warmer, too.
5. Ground tarp: During long backpacking trips, sleeping on the ground is rarely fun, but if you’re wet at the same time, then it never is. On dry nights when a dew layers the ground, a poncho is a great way to separate you from the moisture as you lay down to sleep or even just rest. Just lay your sleeping bag out on top of the poncho and the poncho will act as a moisture barrier between you and the dewy ground.
6. Cold Compress: If you’re in an emergency, there’s a chance that you or someone in your group may get injured or sick. A cold compress is a great way to lower fevers, reduce swelling in sprains, and numb the pain of other injuries. Fold your poncho, creating a basin with one to two layers of the plastic material. Put snow, ice, or cold water into the basin and wrap the edges around it, twisting or tying it tightly to keep it in place. Place the cold compress against the injury.
7. Wound Wrap: Some injuries, such as deep scrapes or cuts, may not be soothed by a cold compress alone. Luckily, you can use pieces of your poncho to wrap up a wound. The best option is to dress the wound with the first aid gear you brought in your pack and then secure a piece of poncho over the dressing with tape to make it waterproof. If you don’t have first aid gear to make the dressing, you can simply tape a piece of the poncho directly over the wound. Although this may stunt the bleeding for a time, it’s not that effective. You’ll still want to seek proper medical attention quickly. The main benefit of the poncho in this case is keeping the wound clean.
8. Trail Marker: Using a brightly-colored poncho, you can easily make trail markers by tearing off pieces to wrap around tree branches or bushes. If you find yourself lost in the woods, this is a great way to keep track of where you came from as you search for fresh water sources, food, or your way back to camp. Trail markers can even lead others to you if you get lost or separated from the group.
9. Rain fly for your gear: Camping and hiking adventures are often complemented by light sprinkles of rain or downpours. If you have excess gear sitting outside your tent or camper, a poncho is a great way to keep your gear dry while you take refuge inside.
10. Make a rope: Rope made from a poncho is great to use for lightweight jobs around your camp or in an emergency, such as tying around your tent to keep it compact as you head home. Cut your poncho into a few strips and weave them tightly together and knot at the end.
11. Use as a garbage bag. In the wild you should “pack in, pack out” everything—even in an emergency. This means that whatever you bring with you into nature, you should take back out with you. Use your poncho as a garbage bag to keep all of your trash and used items together without directly exposing yourself to exposed germs from the garbage.
Keeping a poncho in your pack can help you in practically every emergency. You can carry your food, collect water, build a shelter, and more with this one compact, portable piece of survival gear.
Has a poncho ever come to the rescue for you? What was your experience?