Emergency Shelters From a Poncho & Trekking Poles




About: Retired from biotechnology company, PhD in Biochemistry (MIT).


This Instructable provides plans for constructing four different emergency shelters from a poncho and trekking poles. All of this has been done before, but there are some innovations here. Each of these “tents” can be put up easily and quickly, as long as you do some planning and preparation before the need arrives (the downpour). These shelters can be put up mostly while you are undercover – either while wearing the poncho or from within the partly constructed shelter.

In this time of ultra-light backpacking, you can save weight by leaving the tent and rain suit behind and traveling with only a poncho (and your trekking poles).

Step 1: Materials Etc.


1x poncho (find a light, nylon one with loops or grommets at corners and at the bottom midpoints; all the better if it has loops or grommets at the side midpoints (available many places, but check out Amazon and eBay, too).

2x trekking poles (I recently posted an Instructable for making PVC trekking poles, but I used conventional trekking poles here for the photos because that is what most people have; when lightning is striking all around you, you would be thankful for having non-conductive poles (PVC, rather than aluminum or graphite!).)

2x carabiners (In the pictures I’ve used real carabiners, but these can be cheap, “not-for-climbing” carabiners; they can even be mini-, “not-for-climbing” carabiners.)

~50’ nylon cord (I use 1/8” braided nylon cording; sheathed nylon paracord would be good here, too; cut four 4’ lengths and tie small loops at the ends with overhand knot; cut two (or three) cut two 24” pieces and tie them off at the ends with an overhand knot, making 8” loops; take the remaining, long piece and measure it against your poncho (long-ways) and pre-tie small butterfly knots at positions near to the ends of the poncho. (See photo 2.) You should keep at least 5’ of line beyond the butterfly knots at each end.)

≥6 tent stakes


Overhand knot (See photo 3.)

Prusik knot (See photo 4.)

Butterfly knot (See photo 5.)

Loop-to-loop knot (See photo 6.)

Step 2: Shelter 1: the Poncho-hood Tent

This is the easiest shelters of the bunch (but it may be a bit short for your bag). By using two poles, instead of just one, you’ll have more room to move about (between the poles). Affix the loop-ended 4’ cords to each corner of your poncho. Pound in stakes near to where the corners will be (a little outward). If the stakes don’t hold, use a large rock or a small tree (near its bottom). You will tie-off the cords to the stakes at the 1’-2’ position. Shove the handles of both trekking poles into the hood of the poncho, extend them as needed, and spike the other end into the ground (splayed out). Stake out the corners, and use side pull-outs, if you have midpoint side loops or grommets. Ditto for the back end. Arrange the hood so that rain doesn’t come through the opening. If your poncho hood has drawstrings, pull them tight.

Step 3: Shelter 2: the Lean-to Tent

This one is a classic shelter … and quick to put up.

Stake one edge of the poncho securely into the ground. (Plan it so that the wind is coming from this side.) If your poncho has a midpoint loop or grommet on that side, stake it down, too, with a third stake. Use a Prusik knot around the poles, through the strap, and attach a carabiner to the loop. (See photo 2.) Clip the carabiner to one of the free corners of the poncho and to one of the butterfly knots in the long cord. Run the line through the midpoint loop or grommet (if you have one), and take it to the other free corner. Repeat the drill: Prusik knot on the other pole, through the strap, clip on another carabiner and clip it to the other poncho corner and to the other butterfly knot. Next, tie down the two free ends of the long cord to a stake, a rock, or a tree. (You can see I used a tree in the back.) Place these stakes out and away from the poncho (making sort of a clothesline in the poncho region). Now adjust the length of the poles, and you’re almost done! Manage the hood opening as before. (It’s all easier than it sounds!)

Step 4: Shelter 3: the Pup Tent

This one is a classic, too.

Attach the 4’, loop-ended lines to the corners of the poncho using a loop-to-loop knot. Drive in four stakes out from where the corners will be … if the stakes don’t hold, use a large rock or a tree (near its bottom). Run the long line UNDER the poncho, clip a carabiner between the butterfly knots in the line and the midpoint loop or grommet at the end of the poncho. Now, make a Prusik knot on your poles, pass the loop through the straps, and clip it onto a carabiner. Stake out the loose ends of the long line to secure the “tent” (you can place these stakes beforehand, while you are still wearing the poncho). (I used a tree here in the back.) Tie the four corners to the corner stakes. (If you want, these can be 1'-2' off the ground (to give you more head room).) Finally, adjust the length of the poles, and you’re almost done! Manage the hood opening as before.

Step 5: Shelter 4: the Leaning Pup Tent

This final shelter is my favorite, the one I use most times.

The construction is exactly like the previous one (The Pup Tent), except that one pole is substantially shorter than the other (the foot end). On the ”short” pole, you can use your trekking pole at its full extension, just tie the Prusik knot immediately above one of the joints (so it won’t sip). If you have to use a position between joints (or if you don’t have any joints) and you’re worried about slippage, you can rig up another cord loop from the strap to the loop coming out of the Prusik knot. Manage the hood opening as before.

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    5 Discussions

    I MP

    1 year ago

    In my 26 years working for Uncle I spent many a night under a "poncho hooch" (the Brits call it a banyan if I remember correctly). The military issue ponchos I was issued came in two weights, one a lightweight material and the other a heavier weight one.I also have a German issue one which is on the heavy side.A couple of adjacent trees, enough paracord and something to peg down the windward side and you were under shelter for the night. With a lean to configuration you could make the first cup of coffee before you rolled out of your sleep sack. Nice instructable and reminder.


    1 year ago

    An even better layout in my opinion that I've used a number of times is to peg one side out close to the ground (on the side the wind is coming from). Use your poles or locally found sticks about 2' high at the mid points of the sides & 2 more poles or sticks & guys on the other edge to make a flat "roof" Stand your pack up in one end to fill it. Use grass clumps over twigs to make a bed if you haven't any black poly with you to raise you off the ground. If you do have a groundsheet make sure to build up the uphill edge with something to make sure runoff goes UNDER the sheet not over it. The closer to the ground you set it up the more nearly weatherproof it is.


    1 year ago

    did you make a way to get your bedroll off the wet ground i would like to see it.

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Apparently you spotted a flaw in my first and last picture -- the ground cloth was not extended fully in the photo shoot. I thought it wouldn't show, but it did. I also thought that no one would notice. Wrong on both counts. Thanks anyway for the comment.


    1 year ago

    Excellent info, thank you. I've got a couple of old military ponchos that appear to be exactly made for these types of setups. Thank you!!