The poncho liner is a classic piece of sleeping gear for anyone who has spent any time in the field. It’s lightweight, compact and keeps you warm(ish) when wet. As great as it is though, guys in the field always find ways to improve on their gear. Many would have a zipper sewn in so that the blanket could be converted to a sleeping bag. I believe the current issue USMC poncho liner has this modification done to it now.
A couple years ago, Helikon-Tex decided to take a stab at their own version. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this company, you should be. They’ve been making great gear in Poland for quite awhile now, including the PCS smock for the Brits (Which is another great piece of kit) and numerous other pieces of equipment for NATO forces as well as their own line of outdoor and tactical gear. I decided to pick up Helikon’s version right after it came out, the Swagman Roll.
It’s been designed from the ground up to be an improved version of the poncho liner, with the capability to be used in many different ways. It’s made of a water resistant nylon shell with Climashield Apex insulation, which is much better than the standard quilting used in the poncho liner. Climashield Apex insulates as good when it’s wet as it does dry and compression doesn’t degrade its ability to insulate over time.
Just like the poncho liner, it’s still designed to be used with the USGI poncho. Helikon makes a great new production version of the poncho as well, which I’ve used extensively and it’s every bit as good as the original being waterproof yet durable. It also doubles as a small tarp should you need an overhead shelter.
Together both pieces make for a well thought out sleep system/ warming layer/ shell layer. Combined they weigh in at only 2.8 pounds, making for a great lightweight system.
The Swagman Roll comes with toggles in the corners so it easily attaches to the grommets in the corner of the poncho.
The great part is that the Swagman Roll also has a built in hood so that you can actually wear it with the poncho.
The Swagman Roll also features a full length zipper so it can be used as a sleeping bag. When used with the poncho as I just described, the poncho serves as a water proof bivy bag too. That’s now two uses out of the same two pieces of gear. Shell layer, insulation layer, sleep system. More uses = less weight.
Since the Swagman Roll has a hood, it can also be worn poncho style without the poncho. It comes with straps and buckles to wrap it securely around your body. This is great as a quick warming layer to put on over your gear.
The Swagman Roll has become a permanent part of my line 3 gear alongside my poncho. With the combination of the two and a space blanket I’m good in conditions down to about freezing (your mileage may vary depending on how much suck you can embrace) as long as I can prepare a browse bed of some sort. If I want to add to this further I just grab my goretex bivy bag and a set of USGI field jacket and pants liners, and I’m sleeping toasty. For an opportunity to learn more about your own kit as well as see how others are doing it, be sure to check out my fieldcraft classes.