Today's topic: The Wool Poncho – AKA Bush Hoodie AKA Wearable Blanket
Time for something fun, a little different, and still practical! In late August I bought a heavy, made-in-Ecuador, llama wool poncho to take into the woods as it cool down. I’d been looking at them for a while because I like strange things, and it seemed funky, different, and still kind of useful. I also really liked the choice of vibrant patterns to choose from, as opposed to the very boring drab colors most bushcraft and camping gear are offered in.
So far I’ve had a blast and really enjoyed having it with me out in the woods. I think of my poncho as a bush hoodie, some may see it as an “open” style anorak. Either way I am loving its versatility:
- Light Rain Cover: It’s an easy on and off cover over both my body and bag/gear. My poncho is pretty coarse and a tight weave and therefore sheds water effectively (in the light and mild rains I’ve had it in, I haven’t worn it through a downpour). For actual water protection I use the Varusteleka Särmä Rain Poncho, so throwing it on top of this poncho would be no problem at all.
- Head Protection: The poncho I bought is hooded, providing a quick and easy way to supplement warmth and wind resistance for my head & face.
- Fire Resistant: It’s 90% Llama Wool (and 10% synthetic), making it very spark and heat resistant when sitting near the fire like all other wool items. No melting! The flowy nature of the poncho means I can use the corner of it as quick hand protection if moving something hot around the fire. Sparks so far haven’t done anything but leave a tiny singe mark. It’s also an amazing smoke screen for wetter fires, since wool airs out and doesn’t hold on to smells nearly as bad as cotton and synthetics!
- Multiple Configurations: Unwrapped, you have an extra blanket draped over your body for wind break. Wrapped up with a belt over it and you have a heavy thick wool hoodie.
- It’s a Blanket: At the end of the day, it’s still a smaller heavy wool blanket. Use it as a ground cloth if you’re taking a quick break, or add it as another layer to your sleep setup. On our last three car camping trips I layered the Poncho with a woobie + an Afghani Patoo Blanket and slept comfortably into the low 40s and upper 30s
- It’s fun. It looks different, you can get all kinds of awesome patterns, and it’s just a unique piece of kit. In an industry where all our gear is one of three colors or camo, I say find one with your favorite colors!
I haven’t done a great job and getting a lot of action shots of it, but one of my new favorite pictures is one my buddy took during a car camping trip. It was about 9:00 am, in the mid 40s, and pretty strong winds. Between the Poncho and the Afghani Patoo (and some fingerless wool gloves) I was nice and comfortable while making the fire for morning coffee and tea.
There are the main ways I tie it up for anyone thinking about grabbing one (also check out how cool that green pattern is!):
Half-Wrap: for additional warmth and a cape for coverage and wind break
Wrap the front of the poncho around your body and tie it off. It’s a super simple way to get some more solid coverage. Note your back is left unwrapped but still covered by the back “cape” letting your back and armpit areas still breath and vent to reduce extra sweating.
I use a trusty shemagh to tie mine off. Alternatively, if you keep an extra belt, or keep your gear belt separate from your pants, you should put it on over this to keep easy access to all tools. Thirdly: you could just use paracord
I use this option the most. If keeps the front of the poncho out of my way while I work, gives me a full body wrap of wool for warmth, and near the fire both stops any sparks and absorbs the smoke so my other layers don’t.
Full-Wrap: maximize the wool layering for more warmth
This is the option for maximum warmth. Thinner folks like myself can get three, maybe even four layers of wool around their core. At this point you’re basically re-creating an anorak. I’m in Texas… have a legit anorak here would just take up closet space, but the wool poncho can recreate an “anorak-lite” experience!
Wrap your front around you same as the half-wrap method, then just bring the back around you the same way and tie off on top. Note that you’ll need to bring the back half up a little bit to give yourself arm mobility. Larger or taller folks may give up some length in coverage (though you can always just hunt for or make a larger poncho I suppose).
Overall, is a wool poncho for everyone? Nah. But I love mine, it’s fun, it serves a handful of uses and I like having some funky color and style with my otherwise very bland olive drab, charcoal and concrete grey, coyote, etc. gear. It’s easy to put on/off while on the move mid-hike, it’s just a spare blanket with a hood, and it’s a great cover for warmth and protection around the fire. For anyone interested in being a little different, here are the specs of mine, and where I got it:
90% llama wool, 10% synthetic
47" W x 37" H / 122 cm W x 93 cm H
3 lbs – Filter for Heavy poncho. Their customer support was very helpful is explaining the difference in normal vs. heavy. Heavy is a tighter weave, making it warmer and less likely to snag on things outdoors.
Made in Ecuador