*The Alpha tent*
By Warlord
February 1994
(Updated As Needed)
Update: 22 October 2005
Update: 01 September 2007
Update: 16 March 2009
Update: 05 February 2012
Update: 05 June 2012
Update: 27 June 2012
Latest Update: 31 March 2013

I guess it's time to mention another piece of equipment I carry, The "Alpha Tent".

Back about 1985 I realised I hated lugging around redundant equipment due to weight (especially now, since I am getting old and soft), so since everyone carries (or should carry) a military poncho in their butt pack, ALICE Pack, Back Pack, where-ever, I decided that there was no need to carry a regular "tent" on fast patrols. The idea of using a poncho for a tent is, of course, an old one, but you see people running string and sticks all over creation to make a tent out of it, and they aren't very weather proof in that configuration, or very easy to set up, or move.

I knew that there just HAD to be a better way...

Everyone probably has some old shock-corded tent poles laying around from old torn up dome tents, so gather them up and use em!

What you need to make an Alpha Tent is two flexable shock corded poles that are a total of 111 inches long, and you'll need 4 red electrical wire nuts (The kind with "wings" on the side work best). NOTE: I use the Military RipStop Ponchos... the rubbery Ponchos are a different size, I don't know the dimensions for those ponchos.

MANY people have written over the years to find out the dimensions of the Poncho I use. At the request of the forum users over at BackPacker.com I drug out the Alpha Tent and updated the photo's some.

Poncho laid out flat:


Poncho set up as Alpha Tent:

The inside center height when set up as an Alpha Tent is approx. 23 inches.

As for the Poles, I prefer THIN Aluminum shock corded poles (Cheaply available in any lengths from Easton), but thin fiberglass ones work just as well. If you do decide to cut old poles yourself, unstring your little poles, and cut each one till it is about one foot to 18 inches long ...Cut the poles to whatever length fits best in your gear, yet will still bow enough to form the "dome" of the Alpha Tent... cut them all the same length, and don't cut the end with the female socket, you'll need it to fit the other poles in as normal. At this point, PRE-PLANNING is crucial. While figuring what length to cut all your poles, remember that the TOTAL assembled length must be 111 inches, you lose a little length each time you stick the male end of one pole into the female socket of the next pole, so figure accordingly. If using thinner fiberglass poles I like my poles to be around 13 inches long when collapsed, but your poles may have to be a different length depending on the depths of your pole sockets and the material from which the poles are made. I like my poles to be even shorter when using quality Aluminum... shorter poles are easier to "stow in your gear and forget", as long as the shorter lengths will still bow enough to form the "Dome" of the Alpha Tent.

(Various lengths of poles used in Alpha Tents, made from various materials)

Again, Make SURE your poles end up being a total of 111 inches long when assembled. Take a red wire nut and drill a hole through the end. Put one on each end of your finished 111 inch pole. Now run your elastic shock-cord through the whole assembly as normal, wire nuts and all. (see pic below for how the wire nuts go on...)

Make a total of two tent poles as described above.

When you have your two 111 inch poles with wire nuts on each end, place one wire nut into the gromment in the poncho's corner, then run the pole across the poncho to the opposite corner (It will bend WAY over to one side at this point). Do the same thing with the second pole, corner to opposite corner. Now, push down on the poles and move them so that the poles cross in the middle of the poncho where the hood hole is. It should form a long "X" that crosses under the hood, and the tent should pop up into a long, low, sturdy dome. Sometimes I stick a long bread-tie where the poles cross to help hold it together when it's going to be used in the "boat" configuration or picked up and moved a lot, but you can secure the poles where they cross using the draw-string in the hood of your Poncho also (don't remove the draw-string for this, just use the extra slack in the hood-string.

When the poles cross in the middle you should have a very sturdy, self standing "Mini Dome Tent" that is warm, water proof, IR proof, and VERY VERY hard to see when set in the woods, you'll stumble over it even with night vision, so be careful where you set it up. People (and animals) run into mine all the time because it's so hard to see.

Just lay out your sleeping pad, lift the dome up and place it over you like a big umbrella, adjust the hood hole for ventilation if needed, or close the hood if it's raining or cold (Be sure the hood is OUT of the tent, not hanging down on the inside, if it hangs down inside water will drip on you all night when it's raining). I carry 4 light aluminum gutter nails and use them to stake down the light tent in high winds (stake it through the grommets from the inside of the tent), but usually even the highest "normal" wind simply makes the little dome squat harder against the ground. This little tent is also MUCH warmer that a regular dome tent.

I'm right at 6 feet tall and there is plenty of room in this little tent to roll over, stretch out or lift your knees up; depending on your size, you can even crouch in it and get some equipment under it... If you're taller, simply lay under it diagonally. This little "tent" is VERY versitile as you will see below.

Since Your Military Poncho is very "IR Resistant" and "Thermal Signature Resistant", You can even use your Alpha Tent for "Hunkering Down and Hiding" from aircraft scanning the ground below them with IR Spotlights and Night-Vision Equipment, or Thermal Imagers, etc. Just DO NOT EVER wash your Poncho in modern Detergents that contain "Brighteners and Whiteners". These detergents are meant to make clothes look "Brighter and Whiter" by adding a little color just inside the IR Wavelength. Whether you know it or not, your clothing glows BRIGHTLY under IR light that is sometimes used with Night-Vision Equipment, and Modern Night-Vision Cameras. Even dressed in all black, your clothing will still appear to be "BRIGHT WHITE AND GLOWING" when seen under IR Light... You don't want your Poncho to glow bright white if the area is being watched at night using IR Lights or Thermal Imaging, so if your Poncho ever needs washing, make sure NOT to use the Popular Name Brand detergents!
Heck, Just Click Here for my old Article "More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Ponchos"

You can also lift up one side of the "tent" and prop up the two lifted corners with sticks for use as a lean-too.

You can close the hood tight and turn the tent upside down, toss your equipment in it and use it as a mini canoe for river crossings (YOU can't get in it, but you can push your equipment in it while you swim)... No more sinking, bulky, balky, air filled "poncho rafts" (You military guys and gals know what I mean!)

You can use it as a hunting blind either by laying prone under it, or by lifting the long ends up slightly and propping them up with sticks, and use it to sit under.

The uses are limited only by your imagination. This little thing is light, sets up in under a minute, takes down and stows away in under a minute, and can be lifted up and carried elsewhere when you find out that you picked a thorn bush (or the biggest rock in the area) to lay on.

The Alpha Tent isn't designed to be a replacement for a regular tent, but if you have to move fast and light, or you find yourself in an emergency, it'll be with you any time you have your Poncho. Adding Shock-corded poles to your gear doesn't modify the Poncho in any way, it can still be used, well, "As a Poncho" (and for all the other things you can do with a Poncho)... It's not meant to be fancy, "It Is What It Is", a Minimalist Emergency Shelter/Hide/Blind

If you aren't sure what length poles you need, you'll have to do what I did... put a cap on one end of a set of poles and place it into the corner grommet. Then go to the other diagonal corner and bow the pole down into the poncho to whatever curve seems to give you the best height-to-length ratio... mark that spot on the pole and cut the pole there, add an end cap to the cut end and then make the other set of poles the same total length as the first set.

Different Ponchos stretch differently, so you may want to make sure your poles are the right length for YOUR specific poncho using the method above BEFORE you cut your poles. The above "trial and error" method also works for small tarps (which might be able to give you a better height-to-length ratio I guess).... just remember, the bigger the tent, the more unstable it is, and the heavier it is...

I've also had a lot of people writing to ask about "Modifications" to the Alpha Tent; asking if a floor could be added to the Alpha Tent, and/or if hooks could be sewn into the Poncho to hang a small LED Lantern inside when assembled, and many many other questions about hundreds of different modifications... But at some point when modifying the basic Alpha Tent you defeat the basic purpose and advantages of the Alpha Tent, and you'd probably be better off just carrying a small One Man Trail Tent... The Poncho for your Alpha Tent needs to remain a usable Poncho, The simple addition of shock-Corded poles just allows you to get one more type of use out of your GI Poncho (that already has a hundred and one uses) without affecting the normal function of the Poncho.

The most I ever add to an Alpha Tent Package is a GI Poncho liner that can be attached as normal to the inside of the poncho when it's really cold outside, OR the Poncho Liner can be used separately as a Blanket, OR by adding a LONG plastic zipper to three sides of the Poncho Liner you have a decently serviceable "Sleeping Bag" that fits inside the Alpha Tent well... Adding a plastic zipper around three sides of a Poncho-Liner doesn't affect your ability to use the Poncho-Liner for any of it's normal "hundred uses", nor does it add any noticeable weight...

When a pair of my fatigues starts getting ratty, or I just need a pair of Camo Short Pants, I cut the legs off the set of Fatigues at about the knee and turn the resulting "Camo Patterned Tube" inside out to sew the "Knee End" of the Tube closed. Then I flip the cut-off leg right-side-out again, and I end up with a nice Camo Bag with a draw-string closure at one end thanks to the normal draw-string found at the ankle of Fatigue Pants. You get TWO bags per pair of pants.. BONUS! ;)
I stuff my Poncho Liner in this bag so it stays clean and decently dry, not to mention it makes an awesome "pillow" at the end of a long hard day if you don't need to use the Poncho-Liner to keep warm or anything. You can also stuff a GI Poncho in the bag, AND a set of Shock Corded Poles to make your Alpha Tent from.

In 2005 the military contacted me about the Alpha Tent, asking for permission to buy the concept... I never charge the military for article use, or for using ideas like this one. They had a LOT of ideas for uses of the Alpha Tent "Concept" that I'd never even thought of. I was asked to not repeat some of those uses, but I will say that with different materials used in place of Aluminum Poles and the Standard Issue "Military Poncho", specifically materials designed to hide thermal signatures, and even RADAR signatures (as well as shielding against other detection methods), I am amazed at what this simple idea has become! I am told that the "Alpha Tent Concept" continues to see use by some Special Warfare Units in desert environments, as well as the rugged mountainous areas of the Middle East.

Another UPDATE:
(and updated yet again on 05 June 2012 to add pole lengths and such of some new poles):

In late 2011 I received a small package in the mail with a note that simply said, "Your Alpha Tent lightened my load, I hope these lighten your load in return". Enclosed in the little package were what I thought were extremely thin, Aluminum, Shock-Corded Tent Poles, with each section being only about 6.5 inches long, for a total length of about 108 inches from tip to tip when the poles are assembled... I later learned the tiny thin poles are TITANIUM! They're obviously custom made... The Titanium poles are a subdued Tan color, and no bigger around than the Aluminum Gutter Nails that I carry to stake down my Alpha Tent when needed... actually they're almost exactly the same size as "Human-sized" drinking straws (not the monster-sized straws from Mickey-D's). The ends of the poles don't have wire nuts on them to seat in the Poncho's grommets, but simply swell outward a bit right at the end where the end of the poles mate with the grommets of the Poncho. When extended, each completed pole has a thin strip of double-sided Velcro epoxied in place perpendicular to the pole, right at the halfway point of the assembled poles, so that the Velcro can be wrapped around both sets of poles to secure them where they cross. You really only need one strip of Velcro on one of the pole sections, but I guess it's easier and cheaper to put a strip on ALL of the poles so that you don't have to worry about two different types of poles, and possibly grabbing two poles with NO Velcro... These Velcro straps also hold all of the poles together as a tight bundle when a pole is broken down into sections for carry. A close friend of mine who served as an Army Quartermaster says they appear "Mil-Spec"... Actually he said, "I dealt with every piece of Mil-Spec equipment you can think of almost every day for 25 years... You get to a point where you just 'know' when something is Mil-Spec... So trust me Bro, a bidder made these for the military".

The poles appear to have seen some solid use from the wear marks and scratches, which I think is fantastic since it means the sender has used them a lot! The new poles pop my little Alpha-Tent up firmly and solidly, in fact these poles make the Alpha Tent a bit longer (but a bit lower) and over-all the dome seems sturdier than it is when using Aluminum or Fiberglass poles! Using these poles the small "bow" that is usually along the bottom of both long sides of the assembled Alpha Tent are no longer there; The bottom edge of the Poncho sits almost flat against the ground all the way around now. The tiny size of the new poles lets me fold them up inside the Poncho out of the way so there is no separate set of poles to carry elsewhere on/in my gear, everything needed for an emergency tent is folded up in the little draw-string bag I carry my Poncho in!
To "whoever", Thank You Sincerely!

Yet Another UPDATE - 31 March 2013:
I got a link sent to me pointing to a "UK Mail" News Article showing the Unclassified Version" of pictures of a fabric being used now on the "Alpha Tent", made for the US Military by a company from Canada named "HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp"... The "Real" material is supposedly too invisible to even be photographed! "CNN International" has a very good Video News Story about the new Fabric, dated 29 December 2012! Remember, the pictures below are "Modified Mock-Ups" of the new material because the actual Material is still classified, and is too invisible to even be photographed! Amazing!


As usual, feel free to use this idea for your own personal use, but don't try to make money off our ideas... NOT cool!


Click HERE for Pictures of Alpha Tents sent in by Readers!!! Updated as often as time permits (Last Updated: 27 June 2012)...
Trip Williams
A.K.A. Warlord (Lighten Up, it's an old Gaming Handle ;)

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