Intro: Poncho Tarp Tent
With nothing more than the few items shown above you can create a comfortable one-person shelter suitable for three-season camping or backpacking. If you carry a poncho anyway (the small blue bundle shown in the picture, above) the added weight amounts to less than 16 ounces for a nice sturdy shelter.
Step 1: Creating the Structure
The trickiest part of the whole set-up is to take the four fiberglass poles (standard tent poles 27" long by 5/16" diameter with a hole through the middle, and a metal ferrule on one end) and hold them together while you "build" the structural part of your poncho tent. We'll take this one step at a time.
It doesn't show that well in the first picture, but I have already prepared a length of paracord that is 66" long, including a simple loop at each end made with an overhand knot. I then took two cotter pins (best view of the cotter pin is in the third picture) and attached one at either end of the paracord by passing it through the loop.
Step one is to take the straight part of the cotter pin (about 2-1/4" long) and thread it into one of the tent poles at the end with the metal ferrule. Make sure the the straight part of the cotter pin goes into the center hole in the fiberglass pole. It's a little tricky to try and insert the pin and get it to go into the center of the fiberglass pole, but not too bad. If you have a multi-tool with a needle nose pliers, that's the perfect tool for this task, but it can also be accomplished by hand, though it usually takes me a couple of tries.
Step two is to connect the three remaining poles with the metal ferrule fitting into the fiberglass end, until you have connected all four of them together. At this point, they are held together by virtue of your ability to keep a light amount of compression on the poles by holding tension on the paracord.
Step three is to find a sturdy rock, tree, stump, or just a hard piece of ground to support the end that has the cotter pin in it, and then carefully bend the four-rod combination as shown in the second picture, until you can insert the second cotter pin at the other end of the paracord into the remaining fiberglass end of the last pole in the series.
You should now have a "bow" that looks like the last picture and is sturdy and under enough tension to make a good support.
Step 2: Setting Up the Poncho
The next step is to lay your poncho on a fairly flat space of ground that's been cleared of sticks and any rocks that would get in the way of a good night's sleep. As you can see from both pictures, each corner of the poncho has been fitted with a cloth "anchor" and a rock is placed in each one to keep a load on the corners as the poncho/tent is raised up.
For ease of assembly, I always stow my cloth anchors with a small carabiner attached. That way it is easy to just clip the anchor on to the corner grommet of the poncho, and then place a small to medium sized rock on it. At this point we are not trying to permanently "set" the corner positions, we just want there to be enough weight on the anchor that the poncho won't go flying in a gust of wind.
Step 3: Raising the Roof
Click on the video link to see how easy it is to take the "bow" that you constructed and create a shelter from the poncho you've carefully laid on the ground. Once you have it raised up you can (optionally) use two additional cotter pins on the two sides where the poles stick out from under the poncho and secure those sides through the grommets, or cloth loops on the poncho as shown in the second picture.
One additional step is to position the arc of the pole so that it goes directly underneath the head opening for the poncho and then use the drawstring for the hood to attach to the top of the tent pole. This will keep it from slipping down in the night.
To finish off your poncho tarp/tent, walk around to each of the four corners and add some more rocks and/or reposition them as needed to help keep it stable in case a big wind picks up. Then go ahead and put down your ground cover, sleeping pad and sleeping bag, right over the top of the paracord that is holding the tension in your tent pole bow. You now have a cozy weatherproof shelter that just took you less than five minutes to put together. Instant protection from the elements as shown in the last picture.