This, oh ye displaced back country refugees who push outside the wire or up into the hills to get away from civilization’s tomfuckery, is the Bushcraft USA MEST™ Poncho. It is an improved version of the long classic (and sadly no longer ubiquitous) USGI poncho worn by American Jedi and other members of the warrior caste for decades. The MEST takes the classic theme to a new level. We’re going to tell you how.
A few months ago, we had the chance to spend some time with Terry Barney, an accomplished survival and Bush craft instructor for 88 Tactical in Nebraska. Terry is pretty much an archetype woodsman, possessed of an increasingly rare and unique point of view of life spent outdoors. This no doubt comes from spending much of his own life out under the sun (or the clouds, or the double canopy forest, etc.).
We’ve trained with a number of outdoor survival experts, but Terry definitely stands out from the crowd. He continues to impress us with his perspective, humility and teaching style. His experience is greatly respected in a number of outdoor “communities”, so we were quick to ask him about the different shelters he erects with lightweight tarps in his classes, his videos and of course his own frequent sojourns into the wilderness.
Barney is a frequent contributor to the outdoor forum bushcraftusa.com, on the pages of which he has shared much knowledge of shelters. Not surprisingly he’s helped develop some pretty cool gear along the way. One shelter he showed us was a new prototype poncho from Bushcraft Outfitters.
Bushcraft Outfitters is the exclusive home of Bushcraft USA Tarps, which are extremely poplar multipurpose field tarps made from lightweight materials. Terry Barney is one of their go-to guys when it comes to testing new ideas, which suits him pretty well. We’ve found it’s just in his his nature to help make things better. After some discussion about the prototype poncho, Mr. Barney (may he ever be blessed for his generosity) ensured we would receive one of the first from the initial production run.
Distilled down, the Bushcraft USA MEST™ Poncho is an much improved (but still simple) version of the classic USGI poncho worn by Soldiers and Marines for decades. The MEST takes the classic theme to a new level, by changing the shape slightly and adding a series of improvements. The poncho is sized 5’ x 7’, which makes it ideal for a selection of body sizes and shapes (if you are a taller dude, they also have a longer 5′ x 9′ model). That 7’ length helps cover a pack when worn underneath, and helps the taller guys out there keep dry.
The MEST is constructed from IR compliant, fire retardant Mil-Spec MultiCam fabric, weighing in at just slightly over 14 oz. It comes with its own convenient carry case, and packs down incredibly small considering its opened size. You can stuff it into a cargo pocket, inside a Nalgene bottle, or even the back pocket of your jeans when going for a day hike in threatening cloudy weather. The special MultiCam fabric is thin, but has up to five times the amount of water repellent coating of other nylon materials.
We received the MEST and immediately headed to the woods to try it out. We took it out into some intense late summer downpours, and were impressed by how well it shed water. Terry had recommended sealing the poncho’s hood with McNett seam sealer, but we chose to ignore this advice for the time being. Sure enough, what little leakage we had in the rain occurred where the hood meets the sheet. This has since been remedied, but we wish the company would take this measure for the buyer ahead of time, as many might not have seam sealer on hand when they need it the most (though in fairness the lazy or unprepared frequently reap their own reward).
Luckily most military issued tents come with repair kits, so we “re-appropriated” every tube of it that we could find…problem solved.
If you happen to be in one of our old units, though…sorry bro.
Aside from an extra layer of protection from the elements, the MEST poncho has a variety of other uses, namely as a simple shelter. We highly recommend you train with Terry Barney and learn all the cool guy techniques, but at the very least head over to Bushcraft USA and check out some of the tutorials there. You can construct a great overnight shelter in a matter of minutes with only a MEST poncho, knife and paracord. When paired with one of their lightweight tarps, you can have a great grown-sheet and overhead cover which barely weighs two pounds! The poncho can also be used as a improvised litter for moving an injured member of your team, suspended for shade or water collection, or wrapped around your rucksack to keep your gear dry.
Out in the forest we found the snap style tabs to be a welcomed addition, as you can button the side around your arms when wearing in poncho mode. The perimeter of the poncho has a total of eight lightweight tie-down tabs to secure the poncho in shelter mode, and after tying it down tight a few times the sewn edges showed no trace of stress or tearing.
The choice to use nylon over metal grommets was a smart one, and lends itself nicely to the innovative design of this piece of light weight field gear. We spent more a few nights out under the MEST and now keep it in with our most frequently used gear. Keep it away from fire and chemicals, and it will serve you well for years to come.
All components of the MultiCam MEST are 100% made in the USA. For those of you that might scoff at the price, we challenge you to go look at some similar systems out there; they aren’t cheap. Material and sewing greatly contribute to that, but with the MEST you end up with a poncho that’s actually worth a damn. Note, Bushcraft Outfitters is a relatively new, small Veteran owned business, making it even more worthy of support in our eyes. If the product you are looked for is sold out, be sure to check back frequently for updates. Their stuff is quality, and definitely worth the wait to save the weight!
Check out Iowa Woodsman (who has great taste in dogs) on YouTube here — there are about eleveny-nine million useful tutorials on there. He’s also on Instagram (@ia_woodsman). You can find Bushcraft Outfitters online right here and on Instagram here (@bushcraftoutfitters), though so far there’s not much in the way of radio traffic. They’re also on Facebook.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.