“Woobies!” If you misread that, you might just have had an understandable freudian slip. But this post is really about woobies, also called poncho liners. To explain what they are, David of Pinesurvey once told me “without one, you woobie cold”. Jokes aside these are simple but yet very versatile pieces of gear that are less known. In short, it’s a robust blanket that fit’s a standard size poncho. It can be used as a liner or as a standalone blanket. Depending on the model you have various options how you can use it.
If you’re not just searching for the liner itself, read our post about the many things you can do with a poncho.
History of poncho liners
The first poncho liners were fielded by US troops during the Vietnam war in the 1960ies. They were made to replace the standard issue wool blanket that didn’t work in jungle environments. The first woobies were made of nylon with polyester filling so they were at least somewhat warm even in wet conditions. They could be used as stand alone blanket or knotted into a poncho to have a makeshift bivvy bag.
Later models got zippers in the middle so you could put your head through and wear it as a liner when wearing a poncho.
In the meantime, many armed forces field their own version of a woobie. Often in matching camo patterns to the rest of the gear they are using. Since this relatively simple piece of kit is really appreciated by users there are now many commercial versions available to everyone. Some follow their history of being tactical gear and come in camo patterns. Others show more “civilian colours”.
A thing to note is that there are a lot of different versions available today. One would think that there’s not much features to add to a blanket, but in fact there’s quite a few use cases producers came up with.
Like with any gear used by the military there’s a good chance to find great items in surplus. And the price’s usually a steal. Like the Dutch poncho liner. It’s one of the more basic models with straps to be knotted into a fitting poncho. There’s no hole for the head but it makes just a robust blanket in a nice camo pattern (The Dutch version of DPM). When you combine it with the Dutch surplus poncho you get the full set and have the makeshift sleeeping bag / bivvy for about 50€.
Simple modern woobies
A perfect example is the Defcon 5 poncho liner. It’s made of modern materials like polyamide and a polyester filling, it has a hole for your head and it fits perfectly into the Defcon 5 poncho. It has some features that show that the designer put in some extra thought. Like the fitting poncho it has a seam that doesn’t have any use at first glance. But when you get to know the piece a bit better you realize that it’s just a marking where you should start folding to get the perfect pack size. Fold it at the seam and keep on folding. The poncho will fit into it’s storage bag and the woobie can made into a conveniently sized roll just the same way. And both come in matching Italian “Vegetato” pattern.
All bells and whistles – The swagman roll
This nice piece of kit would deserve its own review and maybe there will be one in the future. The Helikon-Tex Swagman Roll has all the features we listed for the Defcon 5 woobie. But it also can be worn as a poncho of it’s own in a total different style of folding. You will have a bit more restricted movement but the fabric will be much closer to your body and therefore will be way warmer than the usual “vest style”.
You can zip the swagman roll up on the sides and get a simple sleeping bag. And you can still connect it to the Helikon-Tex poncho to make it waterproof, too. Having the zipper will give you way better insulation than just hoping you won’t wiggle yourself out of the blanket over night. But there’s more, you can also connect it to a hammock and use it as an underquilt. And of course you can still use it as a blanket to wrap yourself up.
Taking into account that the swagman roll uses Climashield Apex as a stuffing this is very much more than the basic woobie we started our list with. In fact, the swagman roll is so prominent now that it’s not only available in classic tactical colors and interesting camo patterns. There are now some more civilian looking colors available. Not enough, there’s a swagman roll basic in case you’re on a budget. And along with other IWA 2023 clothes there’re to come several reversible versions in very sought after camo patterns. Like PenCott WildWood on one side and PenCott SnowDrift on the other. As well as “Vine Leaf” US Marine pattern on one side and Mitchell camo (also called “cloud camo”) on the other.
What to look for when buying a woobie
All modern woobies stem from the original Vietnam war era poncho liner. So they all have more or less the same size and connectors. But to be completely sure your items fit together it might be the best choice to buy ones that are actually meant to be combined. Usually you go for both items from the same producer.
It’s not just about the size, it’s also about the connectors. Most ponchos have big grommets around the edge for connection. Woobies then have either short straps that match the grommets or come with toggles. It’s up to you, what you prefer. Straps aren’t hard to lie on when you wrap yourself in the liner. But you need to know a knot or two to connect the poncho.
Other differences you can look out for is the outer material. Most models aren’t flame retardant so be careful around that camp fire. The stuffing can make a big difference in insulation.
Some models come with a packsack. That can be handy but usually you just roll the woobie up and strap it onto your backpack.
How to use your woobie
I might just be stating the obvious but of course a woobie is most and overall a blanket. So why even bother because wrapping into it to stay warm is more or less natural.
But what makes a poncho liner better than many other blankets is that it’s way more robust than you might think by just looking at it. In addition it’s usually not as easy to stain than classic blankets of more traditional fabrics. When you add the poncho, it’s completely wind- and waterproof, too.
So carry poncho and woobie with you, when you go out and about. You’ll love it when you take a rest. Not just for wrapping you in it but you can also use it to sit on it. Either fold it up for comfort on a hard stone or lay it flat like a picnic blanket.
But don’t let your creativity be hindered by thinking this is a pure outdoor item. When our dog was still a puppy she was notorious for sometimes gnawing and clawing into random things. And of course coming home from walks all wet and muddy (that part didn’t change). So I replaced the blanket on our couch I use on colder days with a surplus woobie. This new “blanket” Ronja (our dog) couldn’t destroy as easily as other stuff and if she would have managed to rip it apart (which she didn’t) there wouldn’t be much harm done. Yes, our dog is allowed on the couch, so that is a thing to consider. Oh, and even when we don’t need it anymore because she learned to behave, I still use it because it just works.
Warm wind- and rainproof clothing
If you go for a version with a hole for your head, you can wear it as a warming overcoat, too. When combined with the wind- and waterproof poncho this makes for a very potent addition to any cold weather setups. Just don’t expect it to be very moisture wicking or breathable when you combine it with a poncho.
With most models you have snap buttons on the edge of your poncho. Just close it when the woobie’s in and you’ll be warm and cozy. Since the liner is made to fit, it won’t get wet easily. And even when it does a bit, the moisture shouldn’t crawl up.
The combination is heavy and bulky so it might not be ideal for daily use. But if you carry it anyway because of all the other uses you have for a woobie when you’re out and about, just consider using it as warm clothing. It will save you carrying an extra jacket or insulation layer. It will do wonders when you get into an unexpected storm with rain or snow.
Makeshift sleeping bag and bivvy
Of course you can just wrap yourself either in the liner alone or the combination of both items. This should be enough to keep you warm in a cool summers night. Usually it’s not warm enough in colder seasons but it’s way better than nothing in an emergency.
If you need to make sure you stay inside, like in the rain, you can usually button up the poncho. If you have a more sophisticated solution like the swagman roll, you’ll have a zipper on the woobie that will help a lot.
How I use a woobie
As said above, I have one on our couch to use on colder evenings. I tend to carry one with a poncho in colder seasons on tours where I can allow myself to have a bit more weight with me. That helps with training and I’m prepared for whatever I might have to face. And I’ve been often just happy to have a blanket with me in many occasions. Be it that I needed to have something to lie on for a while or warm up during a trip.
I usually take a swagman roll with me on longer car trips. This gives a lot of extra safety in case you’re stuck or in a huge traffic jam on the motorway.
I also use a swagman roll when I stay at friends or stay overnight at the office. I just don’t want to bother with blankets and stuff for a single night but prefer to have something simple.