The Ultimate CBRN Poncho Guide
Perhaps one of the most useful pieces of survival gear that you can keep close at hand throughout the course of the day is the humble poncho. While it may not have quite the cool factor of a knife, pistol, or fire striker, the fact of the matter is that hypothermia doesn’t care who you are–it’ll still hit you.
Whether you spend a lot of time driving out into the middle of nowhere or hiking out into the woods, you’re going to want to make sure that you have the rain gear necessary to keep you dry (and alive). And just how can a poncho help you to do all of this?
Let’s take a look.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Rain Protection and the Humble Poncho
The Poncho as Survival Shelter
The Problem with Disposable Shelters
CBRN Protection from a Poncho
Frequently Asked Questions
Rain Protection and the Humble Poncho
We tend to take the power of the weather for granted here in the United States. We’re so used to the benefits that electricity, motor vehicles, and homes provide that we have largely been removed from facing the potentially lethal effects of bad weather.
But accidents happen.
You carry a spare tire in your vehicle because you understand this, and you don’t want to be stuck up the proverbial creek without a paddle when it happens. For this same reason, being prepared to weather the elements is important.
For evidence of this, one need only consult the stats. In a ten-year retrospective look at the search and rescue operations in Yosemite National Park, for example, 54% of those who needed to be rescued self-reported that they were experts in whatever activity they were engaging in at the time.
The point here is that accidents can happen to anybody – even professionals. We all know the odd woodworker who has cut himself with a saw, the doctor who has misdiagnosed a patient, or the cook who has mistaken sugar for salt. To think that you are above mistakes, regardless of who you are, is nothing more than foolish pride.
A NOTE OF INTEREST
Cotton kills, even for the experts. After a plane crash in Hochwald, Switzerland in 1973, surgical teams showed up at the site wearing cotton clothing. They were exposed to severe weather throughout this incident, leading many of these first responders to become exposure casualties.
US Marines conducting a hypothermia study. Image courtesy of Adorabutton at Wikimedia Commons.
One potentially fatal consequence of hubris? Hypothermia.
Let’s say that you run out of gas seven miles from the nearest gas station in the middle of the pouring rain. Your only hope of refueling is to trek all the way there–and back–on foot. If you don’t have rain gear, you could be walking right into a medical emergency.
One study of eighteen men found that when tasked with walking for five hours in the wind and rain, the majority (eleven) couldn’t do it because they got too cold. This is because exposure to wind and rain significantly increases the rate at which somebody loses body heat, to the point that this rate can actually be doubled when one’s clothes get wet.
This, in turn, leads to a loss of mobility, tiredness, social withdrawal, poor decision-making, and behavioral changes. And, as can likely be expected, we see hypothermia fairly common amongst those who willfully expose themselves to the great outdoors on a regular basis, such as hikers.
Along these lines, one study of search and rescue (SAR) operations from 1992-2007 found that 48% of SAR calls involved hikers. (Another 21% were boaters.) Other studies have noted that hiking was associated with 52.9% of all SAR illnesses and injuries.
Though it is of course true that not every distressed hiker falls victim to hypothermia, it is nevertheless a significant problem. Indeed, Reach and Treat teams (i.e., wilderness rescue specialists) have found that after extremity and head injuries, hypothermia is the malady they encounter the most.
Now, does this mean you should never go outside again?
Of course not. The lesson here is that, just like the woodworker who spends a lot of time around a circular saw, you need to have a healthy level of respect for what it is you’re working with.
What does that look like with respect to hiking?
Put simply, you take appropriate precautions.
Part of that entails taking a rain poncho (or some other type of protective gear) with you when you venture out into the woods.
The Poncho as Survival Shelter
Of course, exposure to the elements is not always a choice.
So, should you find yourself spending an unexpected night out in the woods, one of the most important things that you can do to survive is to build a shelter. Not only does this get you out of the wind, rain, and snow, it allows you to trap heat rather than lose it all to the environment around you.
Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that toddlers have been found to have a significantly higher chance of surviving a night out in the woods than their adult counterparts.
Toddlers, you see, find a small hole to nestle into when they get cold. Adults, meanwhile, tend to meander around looking for help.
In short, shelter matters.
Without it, one can develop hypothermia. But what is this condition?
According to the experts, anything less than 35 degrees Celsius core body temperature is considered hypothermia. What’s interesting about this is that one study that analyzed forty-nine different Mountain Rescue Association teams found that there was an equal spread of hypothermia cases between the summer and winter months. The study also found that 87% of these cases were either from accidents or exposure.
Ergo, it’s not an unexpected fall into the river that tends to be the problem, as one might expect. Instead, exposure to the elements is what does you in.
These problems are more pronounced for the elderly (>70 years old) and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Because older people have reduced muscle mass, an impaired shivering reflex, and, often, some level of malnutrition, they tend to grow colder faster than the general public.
The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake provides one example of this. Tellingly, the majority of the hypothermia victims in that disaster were more than seventy years old.
A NOTE OF INTEREST
The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake is the first time in recorded history that hypothermia deaths were attributed to a tsunami.
Pre-existing medical problems are another risk factor. For those who already have a heart condition, for instance, getting too cold can cause fatal heart rhythm abnormalities.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but it doesn’t matter who you are when you’re out in the woods: You have to keep yourself warm.
And a shelter is one of the chief ways that you can do that.
Though a tent is best, one alternative method is using a poncho to build a shelter.
Since the methods of doing so have already been covered extensively by other sources, let’s instead turn our attention to the merits of integrating a poncho into your bug-out bag.
The Problem with Disposable Ponchos
If you’re stuck in line at Universal Studios when the daily afternoon rain starts, then a disposable poncho makes for a great option.
If you’re anywhere wilder than that, however, something else might be preferable. The main reason for this is that the disposable stuff is not durable at all.
Every little tree branch you pass while wearing a translucent, throwaway poncho is going to snag it, and you’re going to end up with a massive tear as a result.
Think of a low-quality trash bag: That is quite literally is what this stuff is.
A disposable poncho, cut open and laid flat.
So what happens, then, when you’re lost deep in the woods, it starts to rain, and all you have is a cheap, filmy poncho? Well, you’d better hopscotch around those trees, because you’re going to end up looking like a deflated jellyfish in about fifteen minutes of hiking otherwise.
And, of course, this lack of durability carries over when you attempt to build an emergency shelter with one of these $2 ponchos.
Poncho Shelter Anchor Points
This brings us to our next problem with disposable ponchos: their lack of versatility.
Ideally, your poncho will have metal grommets that you can quickly thread some paracord through so that you can hang up your poncho shelter in whichever manner suits you. But what do you do if your poncho doesn’t have these on it? Are you out of luck then?
Well, no–there’s still one option available to you.
Take this disposable blue poncho here. As we’ve already pointed out, it’s essentially a trash bag with a hood. If this is what you have to resort to for emergency shelter, you’re not going to have any grommets. What you can do, though, is take four smooth stones, wrap a corner of the poncho around each stone, and then tie off your paracord to the new anchor point that you’ve just created.
[Get as smooth of stones as possible so you don’t poke a hole through the poncho with the pointy end of a rock.]
This gives the paracord something to “grab,” allowing you to suspend your poncho above your head, and the paracord doesn’t slide off like it would if you just tied it to the poncho corners. As such, you can get a pretty secure knot around this new anchor point you’ve just created, and it doesn’t require you to try to create a hole in the poncho (which would have just made things worse).
Once again, however, there is a catch.
While you can get this disposable poncho shelter secured up in the pines, you’d better hope and pray that it doesn’t get windy because the least amount of resistance is going to rip this thing to shreds.
In other words, a disposable shelter would be sufficient for keeping you dry from a light drizzle, but if it starts to snow or blow, you’re in trouble.
[A hastily snapped picture post-poncho rip.]
It’s because of these reasons that a disposable poncho ought not be considered a particularly viable option for emergency shelter. Those with time to prepare for a hike, therefore, really should consider packing a poncho that’s fairly rugged and puncture-resistant.
While a $2 poncho has its uses, the shrewd hiker will steer clear–unless they’re going to Disneyland.
Can a poncho be used as a form of emergency clothing? We have a compelling–albeit untested–theory on this concept.
Out in the wild, wild west, survival guru Tony Nestor teaches his students that if you’re absolutely strapped for resources and need to get warm fast, stuff your shirt full of pine needles. Granted, you’ll look like the Michelin man when all is said and done, but you’ll have more insulation on your person than you did beforehand.
This shouldn’t be that surprising of an idea, either. People have toyed around with the idea of using leaves as a form of building insulation for ages.
And if people have contemplated using leaves to insulate their homes, and already use them for this purpose in their gardens, it only makes sense, then, that they could be used for similar purposes in a survival situation. (As an aside, leaves must have an insulative R-value assigned to them somewhere, but this exact information seems impossible to find. If you know it, please enlighten us in the comments below.)
This raises the following question: Could a poncho be used in tandem with leaves to warm up?
Let’s say you follow Tony Nestor’s advice and have already stuffed your clothing full of leaves and pine needles. If you’re still chilly, it might be helpful to throw a poncho on, cinching it loosely at the belt line with a length of material–maybe your belt, if you have one. After that, you could stuff the insides with leaves, too.
This, we speculate, could perhaps offer you a second layer of insulation–though, admittedly, there are some questions and concerns yet to be answered.
To weigh in on this developing idea, sound off in the comments below.
CBRN Protection from a Poncho?
So, what poncho should you acquire if you want to accomplish all of the tasks mentioned above?
Surely, the MIRA Safety M4 CBRN Military Poncho is a solid option, as it can not only do all of that, it also brings CBRN protection to the table.
Let’s say that you’re concerned about the threat of a CBRN event in your area. You have set aside a CM-6M gas mask, a few NBC-77 filters, and even one of our HAZ-SUITs. With all this gear in your get home bag, you’re ready to go.
But wait. What about that bag?
It doesn’t do you much good to protect all of your skin but not your bag (that you’re soon going to touch with your skin) if you’re going to move through a CBRN-contaminated area, does it?
This is where the M4 CBRN Military Poncho comes into play.
Aside from granting your HAZ-SUIT extra time in a CBRN environment by acting as another layer of CBRN protection, the M4 CBRN Military Poncho can also be used to shield your gear if you’re wearing a smaller backpack, chest rig, or belt setup.
A NOTE OF INTEREST
The M4 CBRN Military Poncho grants the wearer more than 120 minutes of CBRN protection, according to the drop by drop method of testing.
The snapping sides allow you to easily turn your poncho into a large rectangular sheet of waterproof fabric as well.
In the disposable poncho examples above, a knife had to be used to achieve that shape. Unfortunately, you end up with some pretty ragged edges that way, and this only leads to the beginning of larger tears once the wind starts to blow and the rain starts to fall.
Consider the price point here, too.
Let’s say that what mainly appeals to you about our MOPP-1 CBRN Protective Suit is that it comes in camo. For comparison, the HAZ-SUIT only comes in khaki, but it’s significantly cheaper than the MOPP-1.
If the lack of camo is the main drawback for you with the HAZ-SUIT, you can easily purchase both the HAZ-SUIT and an M4 CBRN Military Poncho to grant you camouflaged CBRN protection while still coming in $510 cheaper than the MOPP-1.
To be sure, the MOPP-1 still has its advantages (it’s breathable, for starters), but if it’s the camo you’re concerned about, this is one workaround to consider.
And of course, if you don’t want a camo pattern, we offer those options too. Our M4 CBRN Military Poncho not only comes in three different sizes, but also three different color options as well. You can choose from navy blue, black, or the camo pattern used by the Serbian military.
It’s puncture-resistant, designed to be reused (which is way more than those blue trash bags that you’ll find at the big box store can say), and weighs in at twenty-three ounces, meaning you can easily stuff it into your backpack without feeling as if you just dropped a dumbbell in your bag.
Note that if you’re mainly setting aside PPE for future emergencies, you don’t have to worry about this poncho being something that quickly loses its advantages either. With a shelf life of fifteen years, you can easily pick one of these ponchos up, set it on the shelf, and forget about it until the time comes when you need to grab your CBRN go bag and hit the road in a hurry.
What’s more, this poncho was specially engineered by the Serbian Armed Forces to be used in hard-use environments–to protect against everything from radioactive fallout to mustard gas–and since they like it, we reckon you will, too.
Set One Aside for a Rainy Day
All in all, a poncho is a great piece of gear to stow in your vehicles, get home bags, and any other areas where you’re likely to want protection from the elements. Not only are they lifesaving pieces of gear, they are incredibly versatile to boot.
So if you’re in the market for survival tools, CBRN gear, or a rain suit, take a look at the M4 CBRN Military Poncho. It’s a high-quality piece of gear, and we’re confident you’ll like it. Regardless of whether you’re concerned about a gas leak, radioactive fallout, or some type of novel virus, MIRA Safety has you covered.
But what do you think about all this? Are there other uses for a poncho that we didn’t list above? Have you had to use one in the past while out in the woods? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The purpose of a rain poncho is to keep you dry while you’re out in nature, exposed to the elements. They do a fair job of trapping heat as well. The added benefit of the MIRA Safety M4 CBRN Military Poncho is that it also helps to protect you and your gear against CBRN threats.
By contrast, the purpose of a “normal” poncho is just to keep you warm.
When people refer to a Mexican poncho, they mean the colorful blanket with a head hole in the middle of it commonly worn in Mexican history.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say “cloak,” “shawl,” “cape,” or “mantle” in reference to a poncho.
The problem with a coat is that rain drips off the ends onto your hips and thighs. Ponchos, being built longer, let that rain drip down either to the ground or one’s ankles instead. In this author’s experience, it is usually more comfortable to wear a poncho than a raincoat.
The advantage of a raincoat is that they are more popular in mainstream society than ponchos are.
Yes, you would typically wear your normal clothes under a poncho. It makes things rather awkward after the rain stops otherwise.
A lot of people refer to these as a “sarape.” Style-wise, these are typically rectangular blankets with a large diamond in the middle and a border design. Ergo, it’s not technically a poncho because there’s no head hole, and folks just wrap the sarape around themselves and hold it there.
If you look at old pictures of Sitting Bull’s family, it looks like this is what they’re wearing.
This is known as the “Galway shawl.” It has commonly been worn by Irish women throughout history.
These were known as a surcoat. For men, these were just a piece of fabric with a head hole that you would wear over your armor.
Whether we’re talking about a rain poncho or a traditional poncho, these are large sheets of material with a head hole cut out in the middle of them.
A bug out bag is a collection of gear that is kept at the ready in a bag that allows one to survive in a new location at a moment’s notice. Typically, this involves clothing, money, food, sleeping gear, shelter, fire starter kits, water filtering ability, and first aid gear.
It’s not a new concept either. Though she didn’t call it a bug-out bag, Anne Frank wrote about her family keeping bags packed full of essentials by the door of their Secret Annex, should the time ever come for them to evacuate in a hurry.