The applicability of the wilderness serape

I’ve become a convert to what I’m calling (and with all due homage to HPG) a wilderness serape.  A synthetic blanket/overbag/poncho with a light, but not too light, DWR coated nylon shell.  You can find the specs on the ugly one I made this past autumn here.

It’s been indispensable ever since.

The serape is one of those items whose function is beyond mere weight.  At 23 ounces, it’s 20 degrees colder than a good down bag of the same weight, and hardly lighter than a DAS parka, with almost twice the insulation in the torso.  Using one might make your pack lighter, but you’ll have to think about it.

As an overbag, a serape will not provide better warmth than a down bag of the equivalent weight.  Over a down bag which is slightly lighter than might otherwise be prudent, a serape will make a sleep system warm enough, and most importantly absorb some of the moisture which would otherwise end up as frost inside your down bag.  Under the right circumstances, on a colder trip with no opportunity to dry gear for days on end, such a system could be lightest.

As a coat, the serape leaves a lot to be desired.  Wearing one while doing anything but walking in easy terrain is impractical, as is doing so out under more than a decent drizzle.  You’ll need additional insulation for such purposes.  The virtue of the serape is that it traps lots of air underneath, effecting more warmth than the equivalent insulation in a close fitting jacket.  It is also handy to have this insulation serve two purposes.

For most of the winter I’ve been bringing the serape as part of my sleep system, and a fleece or synthetic fill jacket that’s a good bit lighter than I would have otherwise brought.  The jacket is handy for layering and wearing on the go when it’s really cold.  The serape is handy for throwing over moving layers for short breaks, and for layering with the jacket for longer ones.

Today, I hauled it along for a break while mountain biking.  My toes got a bit cold before it was time for a beer break, so I pulled the foam mat out of my pack, took off my shoes, and wrapped up.  It’s just big enough to seal body heat in, and made for a very pleasant break.
The only alteration I made to the first version was adding full velcro to the neck opening.  The amount of insulation is a good balance, and the quality of the DWR fabric is excellent.  Going with something not so light (30D), is a good idea for something that will get sat on.  I’m sure it will remain a frequent item in my pack year round.


9 responses to “The applicability of the wilderness serape”

  1. I can understand the merits in winter or shoulder season conditions, but what are your thoughts for this as a summer piece? A standalone insulation layer or quilt, or will it be supplementary?

    1. It’s probably good to ~40 as a sleeping bag. I have a warmer bag which is lighter, so this will come along when I want a warm piece for hanging around.

  2. I like the concept. For summer trips in the Rockies I never us my insulation layer accept in the evening in camp. This would be a stand alone insulation piece for trips like that. For me a 24 oz primaloft quilt is probably good to 35 degrees or a it lower (with no other insulation). Compare that to a 16oz down quilt and a 8-10 oz insulated jacket and the 24 oz serape looks like a great deal. You have the advantages of synthetic and it would be cheaper then a down quilt+jacket. The only problem is I’m currently quit happy with my quilt and jacket so I probably won’t be motivated to make one of these for a long time.

  3. I like it. I like it so much that I think I’m going to have my high school students sew their own and use them on this spring’s trips. (Best. Job. Ever.) I know they’ll appreciate making their own size, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Can you explain where the zippers and drawstring go?

  4. […] about the wind, or stepping on a stick, or which sub-ridge to take. Instead I curled up under my serape (absolutely vital for hunting) and waited. Nothing came, so I built a little fire to warm back up, […]

  5. […] and good temperature regulation.  For glassing and waiting around in the cold nothing beats the wilderness serape, a mandatory item even if the weight and bulk don’t look good on paper.  Lastly capilene 4 […]

  6. A friend and I have been toying with a similar concept, and I came across this old post of yours about your serape. I’d be curious to hear what do you think about it nowadays? I don’t think I’ve seen mentions of the serape (or new iterations of the same concept) in your more recent postings. During autumn hikes, synthetic overbag has been a part of my sleep system, and a more multifunctional implementation is intriguing.

    1. Still have the original, and while I don’t use it on backcountry trips too often, in the cold months it gets used all the time, especially to keep kids warm. The insulation has degraded remarkably little.

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