View Full Version : The Alpha Tent

2005-03-02, 14:11
I am sure some of you guys have seen this one, or something similar to it before. But just in case you haven't.. I would like to introduce you to the "Alpha Tent". This tent is NOT my invention, but rather was the template to which i built my own customized Alpha tent. All design credit goes to Warlord over at www.alpharubicon.com. This was a fantastic ultralight shelter once you learned to avoid some potentially fatal hazards in using it. The below pics here are of Warlords tent and not my own. The only difference between ours is the "guy-out" points I added to mine, and the collapsed pole sections are shorter. Wish I had my digital camera working so I could show you more about this tent and how well it works.

Basic Ingredients to build:

1. 1 military large poncho. (aprox 65" x 90")

2. 2 collapsable tent poles (total length of each aprox 111 inches or so)

3. 4ft fairly thin shock cord.

4. 6 gromets (inside dia. slightly smaller than outside dia. of poles)

5. 4 Universal 14-2 electrical wire stays ("marettes")
Thats it!

How to Build it:

Start by laying out your poncho on the ground flat. If your poncho measures larger than the above dimensions I listed, then you will want to add more overall length to your poles. This will in effect increase both the length and ceiling height of your alpha tent.


Once you have your poncho laid out and measured you want to go to work on your poles. For a 65" x 90" poncho you want about 111" total length when the poles are extended. This step took me the longest to complete as I had a very specific goal in mind. I was using a very small pack at the time and wanted to make my tent poles as short as possible when collapsed. It is important that you cut all your pole sections to as near the same length as you can. Within 1/4" + or - is an acceptable variance. Its not rocket science after all, its just a tent. Just be sure you two finished poles
are the same length.Working with shockcord is a pain. But you want to drill small holes in the ends of the wire nuts so they will "cap off" each end of your tent poles. Pull the shock cord for the poles right through the wire nuts and tie a knot in it so the two wire nuts are permanently fixed to the ends of the poles.The tapered ends of the wire nuts will fit nice and snugly into the gromets you install in the four corners of the poncho, to give you a free standing tent.

I added two more gromets halfway down the long side of my poncho to act as guy-out points in severe wind and rain conditions. This is an option you don't really need, but I did it anyways.
Anyways have a look and tell me what you think.


2005-03-02, 14:46
Okay, after building mine, and using it for several years, I will give you the good and bad of the Alpha tent design.

First the Pros:

1) The tent is insanely light and packable.

2) The low profile creates incredible heat retention comparable to only the best bivy sacks, while still allowing for good ventilation. For further ventilation on clear nights, you can open up the center hood of the poncho like a mini chimney for even more venting.

3) The low profile and tauntness of the setup makes this free standing tent virtually bombproof in high winds. And for you military guys, a cadpat or woodland camo poncho is virtually invisible when set up in the underbrush and has an extremely low radar profile.

4) Set up and takedown time is easily under 2 minutes. When you become good at it, you can realistically get this time around the one minute mark.

And then of course the Cons:

1) The overall size could definately be larger. I am 5ft 10". When I lie down in the shelter I like to keep about 5-6" of clearance above my forehead to avoid condensation and for personal comfort. If you sleep on your back, the result of this is that your boots will stick part way out of the lower end. But as I am a side sleeper, I tuck my legs up slightly and have no problem keeping fully inside the shelter. This is definately something to keep in mind for you taller guys though. If you are 6ft or taller, you seriously want to find a poncho that is longer and wider, to give you a little more length and still compensate to achieve the same ceiling height.

2) In severe rain conditions I have found it necessary to dig a small "gutter trench" around 3 sids of the tent to provide sufficient rain run off and avoid the possibility of water getting under the shelter and fouling up my precious custom made down bag. The side guy-out points can also be used in these situations, but they tend to lift the walls a couple of inches and destroy the ground hugging ability of the tent. If you use the guy out points for heavy rain, you may then want to stake down the corners for heavy wind as well.
OR - if camped on loose soil or sand, you can make a small 3-4" dam or burm along 3 sides of the tent.

3) Lastly and to me personally, the scariest problem. Watch where you set up!! In june of 2002, a buddy of mine was nearly trampled by a moose while he slept under the alpha tent. The camo poncho, combined with its very low profile is difficult to see even for animals with excellent night vision. Since this incident, he has swapped his camo poncho for a bright flourescent orange hunters poncho, hoping that the high viz fabric will prevent any further problems. There have been several occasions where even small animals like fox, skunk, and raccoons have bumped into the tent walls in the night. These are all animals with fantastic night vision. To avoid this problem, try not to set up directly on, or too near an animal path. The shape, color and profile of the tent just confuses the local wildlife.

Its a great little shelter for three season solo hiking. It costs you next to nothing to build. And its completely multifunction. On rainy days, the only thing you have to pack is the two poles, you wear the tent on your body!
However, space to weight ratios accounted for, I would never go back to the Alpha tent in a place that the Hennessey Hammock could be slung. But if you are in the military, are into ultralight hiking, or just looking to build a shelter yourself that works and looks great, well the Alpha tent is for you.
It gave me years of faithful service in the Canadian North.
Today the tent resides in my fishing bag, on the off chance that weather or an emergency might cause me to use it for a night.

2005-03-02, 15:17

As Ive mentioned a few times, Im going to build up an 8'x8' poncho... the Alpha tent reminded me that it might not be a bad idea to sew in some pockets at the corners to accept tent poles.

The 8x8 size should fix any concerns over feet hanging out... and the silnylon material should cut weight significantly over the coated nylon of the GI Poncho.