Review - Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model
History of Helikon-Tex
Helikon-Tex was created in 1983 in Poland and initially was a surplus-retailer dealing with military and civilian hiking clothing. In the 90s Helikon-Tex started to look into equipping the modern day soldier with modern day equipment and manufacturing lines took up the challenge to create military kit. In 99, Helikon-Tex took a step into the future and became an established brand catering for the civilian, Law Enforcement and Military end user.
For more info - visit the Helikon-Tex website.
Why the Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model?
Rain, inclement weather, heavy thunderstorms, gale winds, this is weather that we've all experienced at one point or another. Deployed to the field whether it's in an open location in a field trench system, a wooded copse or in an urban environment, being dry whilst it's raining is important, not only in keeping yourself and your kit dry, but also for morale. Gore-tex enables users to don trousers or jacket and continue with tasks, however on a patrol or when setting up an OP (Observation Point), Gore-tex with it's noise and ability to make you sweat and overheat when in a static position are things that you don't want. This is where a poncho fills that gap.
The reason for following along the lines of a Poncho were twofold; 1) to provide a large enough surface of waterproof material that could cover myself and my kit (1st, 2nd Line Gear and potentially 3rd Line Gear) protecting it from the elements if needing to set up an ambush for example and being able to remain dynamic not static. 2) having the ability to create a makeshift tarp at short notice if required to set up a short time based static position such as overwatch or a forward post, but without it being large and cumbersome.
I undertook a lot of research on various manufactured Ponchos, read a multitude of reviews and eventually settled on the Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model, a decision that ultimately enabled me to write this review and share my knowledge and testing results with you.
Herein lies the product description from the website;
Waterproof, quick-drying raincoat made of Rip-stop Polyester material. The poncho has snaps that allow you to make sleeves, or to combine two of the same capes together. The hood is equipped with a drawstring. The big advantage of the cape is its low weight and small dimensions after folding - packed in a bag with dimensions of 14 x 22 cm / 5.5 "x 8.66".
SKU - PO-MUS-PO
Weight - 487g
Designation - Poncho
Hood with drawstring
Cover for poncho
Fit - One-size-fits-all
Style - Loose cut
Dimensions - 210 x 145 cm / 82.7 x 57 in
Material - 100% Polyester
Drawstring at the hood Taped seams Press studs and metal eyelets at the edges Dimensions: approx. 210 x 145 cm / 83 "x 57"
The poncho is shipped in its own rip-stop polyester drawstring bag which matches the poncho colour, in this case Taiga Green. The drawstring bag retains the same waterproof properties as the poncho therefore protecting the poncho itself from getting wet if exposed to rain. On one side of the bag is a label denoting product details, washing instructions and Helikon-Tex address details. Of note is that the label states; 'Designed in Poland, Crafted in China'. The drawstring bag is fairly large enabling the poncho to be stuffed into it quickly rather than being folded and stored neatly and being larger it means that stuffing the poncho in or dragging it out isn't a struggle through a narrow opening. Attached to the drawstring is a card label with the Helikon-Tex logo on the front and the product barcode on the rear. Finally the drawstring bag can be used as protection as a waterproof bag for essential equipment such as a phone, radio or fire lighting equipment, however it must be noted that it's not 100% sealable.
The drawstring bag contains purely the poncho which is folded and a medium sized bag of silica (used for storage and transportation of poncho to end user).
Poncho exterior in detail
The poncho itself is manufactured using 100% rip-stop polyester and is the Taiga Green variant. Rip-stop in simple terms is the term given to material that features a grid system of squares. This grid means that should a rip occur in an area of the material, rather than the rip spreading and getting larger and worse over time, the tear is confined to one or more square of rip-stop material. This helps to ensure that the products last a little longer and it's more resilient to everyday abuse. The image below shows the exterior of the poncho on the left hand side and the interior on the right hand side. The exterior as expected is matte whilst the interior appears glossy / shiny. In the image you can also clearly see the ripstop 'squares' designed to prevent rips from spreading on the left hand side.
Poncho Measurements (folded)
Length 24 cm
Width 14 cm
Height 10 cm
The Poncho weighs 498g.
Poncho Measurements (worn)
Length 104cm (front panel)
108cm (rear panel)
Poncho Measurements (emergency tarp)
The poncho can be simply divided into 5 sections;
Hood (highlighted green)
Front (highlighted red)
Front interior (highlighted purple arrow)
Rear (highlighted blue)
Rear interior (highlighted black arrow)
Hood - the poncho's main feature is the centrally placed hood. The hood has a drawstring fed through it enabling the user to reduce / enlarge the opening of the hood. Other than the drawstring there are no other adjustment methods available. Of note is that the hood is not peaked and does not feature a 'rear on the hood' velcro adjustment patch as is found on other products, it is a one size fits all (see testing section below for further details).
Front - the front of the poncho is plain however it does feature in the; top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right and at the centre point a single eyelet (used for tie points), these are highlighted in red in the first image below. Down the left and right hand edges of the front panel there are 'snaps', 4 on the left and 4 on the right, highlighted in blue in the first image below. The snaps are spaced at 21.5cm (centre of snap to centre of snap) intervals. These snaps are designed twofold; to enable two ponchos to be snapped together making a larger emergency shelter if required or using one poncho, snapping together those on the front and rear to create sleeves (covered below).
Front Interior - inside of the poncho on the front are two additional pieces of ripstop material through which is fed a line of paracord, highlighted red in the first image. This adjustable drawstring / tie point is designed to be wrapped around the operators midriff for example during windy weather preventing the poncho flapping and or causing injury to the operator. The drawstring measures approx 210cm.
Rear - much like the front of the poncho, the rear panel is featureless except for the 4 snaps on both the left and right hand side. These again can be used to fix two ponchos together or form sleeves. Of note is that the bottom of the rear panel of the poncho is not horizontal by design and on the left and right hand side there are slight curves upwards in the material. This is designed so that when worn and draped over a pack, the rear of the poncho covers the majority of the back of the operators legs.
Rear interior - the interior of the rear panel is entirely featureless.
Stitching - the stitching used is single line and runs around the edges of the poncho in a parallel formation. The corners are the only areas where the stitching crosses over. It is worth noting that the stitching is clean and there were on arrival no threads / loose points which could cause issues.
Eyelets - the eyelets are manufactured using lightweight metal material and have a 13mm width centre hole and 3mm depth. Fixed into the corners and along the edges of the poncho due to the depth they provide less of a protruding edge and keep the poncho outline streamlined. All eyelets were properly fixed and secure, held in place by the cross stitching mentioned above.
Snaps - there are 16 snaps in total (8x front panel, 8x rear panel). These are manufactured again using a lightweight metal material and measure 13mm in width. The snaps are simply fixed to the poncho through a small circular hole cut in the material.
Taping - there is only one section of the poncho that features taping of the seams and that is for the hood. As can be seen in the picture below they have used a single tapeline to cover the hood stitching on the interior. The taping runs around the entire hood stitching. The only crossover of taping is seen from the rear panel up into the rear of the hood as seen in the third image below.
The Poncho is configurable in a number of ways which makes it versatile and adaptable to the scenario or environment.
In its simplest form, the Poncho can be worn without any changes being made to it. Using the head hole, and when worn, the Poncho provides cover over the majority of the body.
Measuring at 5'8" (178cm) the poncho covers the majority of my body, with only the lower portion of my legs being exposed. Measured, the front and rear of the poncho expose approx 35cm of the leg area.
When wearing a pack the poncho is large enough to be able to comfortably cover both the operator and the pack, thus keeping kit and equipment dry for longer. In this example shown below, a DPM Northern Ireland daysack was worn to demonstrate the lift / coverage at the rear of the poncho.
Similarly to above, the Poncho when worn can be buttoned down the left and right hand edges using the snaps creating sleeves for the operator to use. Doing so reduces the amount of material moving in windy conditions, provides additional protection against wind / draft and provides further protection from ingressing rain.
If the Poncho is not worn, it can be used in its third configuration as an emergency tarp. The 8 metal eyelets at the corners / sides of the Poncho enable the Poncho to either be pegged into the ground or have 550 paracord (or similar) affixed which is then attached to trees / other immovable objects. When pulled tightly and correctly positioned the Poncho will provide enough space for an average adult to be able to sit underneath it protected from the elements (ie wind and rain). To note is that the hood should be pulled tightly shut with the drawstring wrapped around it / tied around it to prevent damage and water leakage.
The below images show an emergency tarp hastily set up under light rain in the traditional 'lean to' configuration. In addition to the poncho I have a waterproof bag containing; 6x 2m 550 paracord lengths (carabiner at one end), 1x 4m 660 paracord length (carabiner at each end) and the trusted Cold Steel Recon1 (for making natures pegs). The below took approx 4 minutes to setup with the quick release carabiners and fairly even ground selection.
As with all tactical equipment, maintenance should be a part of the routine of handling, using and storing your gear. Gear that is cleaned, repaired and looked after will last longer which is essential when considering replacement costs of damaged gear through negligence. The Poncho can be cleaned following the instructions, namely;
Warm water and soft brush used to remove excess dirt / dust etc from Poncho
Allow to hang and dry naturally
Once dry, check poncho thoroughly for any rips or damage to threads, eyelets, snaps or tape.
Inclement weather was never very far away and there have been plenty of opportunities to trial the Poncho in everything from a dry environment to light and heavy rain and also in different windy conditions.
Worn - the poncho was worn in both the standard and sleeve config, there was no ingress of rain and the poncho provide more than adequate cover for the upper and lower sections of the body. Whilst walking there was the occasional drip from the poncho onto the shin / calf area of the legs, but nothing more than expected.
Tarp - once setup within a lightly wooded environment, the tarp provided adequate cover from the light rain. There were no leaks and by ensuring the hood was securely wrapped up and tied, there was no water ingress from the hood area.
Worn - the poncho was worn in both the standard and sleeve config, there was no ingress of rain and the poncho provide more than adequate cover for the upper and lower sections of the body. Whilst walking in the heavier rain there were drips from the poncho onto the shin / calf area of the legs, but nothing more than expected.
Tarp - once setup within a lightly wooded environment, the tarp provided adequate cover from the heavier rain. There were no leaks and by ensuring the hood was securely wrapped up and tied, there was no water ingress from the hood area. It was noted that rain never falls 100% vertically and water was blown into the underside of the tarp. This could have been remedied by a) changing location or b) adjusting the tarp design / shape.
Worn - the poncho was worn in both the standard and sleeve config. The midriff drawcord was used to tie the poncho close to the body to reduce the flapping and movement. In light wind there was some movement and in heavy wind there was as expected a lot of movement. This could potentially be dealt with by wearing a pack on the exterior of the poncho to keep it pressed down against the body, but it was as mentioned, expected.
Tarp - care must be taken when setting up the tarp in windy conditions as an eyelet or snap to the eye is going to cause an injury. The tarp was setup within a lightly wooded environment. Once the initial centre line had been tied and the tarp was secured in place, care was taken to fix the other lines as quickly as possible. Finally I created a number of 'natures pegs' (sharpened sticks) which were pushed through the eyelets at the rear of the tarp to the ground to prevent the wind from lifting the tarp. Advice is to setup the tarp in a heavily wooded environment if safe and possible to do so, out of the worst of the wind.
One area worth noting when testing, is when the poncho is used in the standard config with the hood up, the inability to size the hood is in my opinion a negative. Other than being able to draw the opening tighter in bad weather it suffers from not having a peak or an adjustment velcro patch at the rear. It's worth raising that wearing a baseball cap or boonie and having the hood up and over will then offer the operator limited protection but more than zero. Due to the one size fits all design, I tried and tested wearing a boonie, baseball cap and Team Wendy EXFIL Carbon helmet to see how it affected the poncho profile and explore what additional protection and limitations these items provided me. The only issue came with the helmet which was needed to be taken off and replaced when donning the poncho.
Thoughts and opinion
The Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model has been used for over a month now, and already in that time I've been able to test it in all manner of weather. The purpose of purchasing a poncho was to have a lightweight, waterproof solution that is compact, easy to use and for me specifically, be dual purpose in that it can be worn as a poncho or used as an emergency tarp. During my research there were a number of highly praised ponchos from a range of manufacturers, however the ability to be able to move around in a poncho or hunker down with kit when the weather turned bad was what drew me to the Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model.
In regards to the compressed size, the poncho is average compared to some of the more expensive ponchos available and the ripstop material may feel flimsy but having already caught it several times on pine trees I can honestly say that there has been zero damage / rips as yet. Throughout the testing phases, the poncho didn't let me down at all and kept me and my kit fully dry which was the primary goal. Some people are put off by the 'Made in China' strapline and vow to never buy 'cheap Chinese goods', but having looked in-depth at the stitching, snaps, eyelets and taping used to create the poncho it is of a high standard and in its role does exactly the same as other high end ponchos. The poncho was additionally chosen in Taiga Green instead of Olive Drab, namely as Olive Drab was out of stock, however the darker Taiga Green actually looks better in my opinion being slightly darker than Olive Drab.
If you're after a simple dual use poncho for walking and for us as an emergency tarp I can highly recommend the Helikon-Tex Poncho U.S. Model. It's size and weight plus the ability to snap the sides to create sleeves means that it's a real contender when considering purchasing a lightweight waterproof covering poncho. This is now permanently packed in my assault pack should it ever be needed.
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I am not paid for my blogs by the manufacturers or companies that I purchase my items from. I am not offered freebies to promote a product. These blogs are purely written from my own experience in truth to help advise and inform others who may wish to purchase the items or understand more about them. If I am sent a freebie to review this will be stated at the beginning to make you aware.