Gear Review and Junk On The Bunk: Helikon-Tex Swagman Roll and Poncho Sleep System Review

The poncho liner is a classic piece of sleeping gear for anyone who has spent any time in the field. It’s lightweight, compact and keeps you warm(ish) when wet. As great as it is though, guys in the field always find ways to improve on their gear. Many would have a zipper sewn in so that the blanket could be converted to a sleeping bag. I believe the current issue USMC poncho liner has this modification done to it now.

The classic poncho liner

A couple years ago, Helikon-Tex decided to take a stab at their own version. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this company, you should be. They’ve been making great gear in Poland for quite awhile now, including the PCS smock for the Brits (Which is another great piece of kit) and numerous other pieces of equipment for NATO forces as well as their own line of outdoor and tactical gear. I decided to pick up Helikon’s version right after it came out, the Swagman Roll.

It’s been designed from the ground up to be an improved version of the poncho liner, with the capability to be used in many different ways. It’s made of a water resistant nylon shell with Climashield Apex insulation, which is much better than the standard quilting used in the poncho liner. Climashield Apex insulates as good when it’s wet as it does dry and compression doesn’t degrade its ability to insulate over time.

Just like the poncho liner, it’s still designed to be used with the USGI poncho. Helikon makes a great new production version of the poncho as well, which I’ve used extensively and it’s every bit as good as the original being waterproof yet durable. It also doubles as a small tarp should you need an overhead shelter.

Together both pieces make for a well thought out sleep system/ warming layer/ shell layer. Combined they weigh in at only 2.8 pounds, making for a great lightweight system.

The Swagman Roll comes with toggles in the corners so it easily attaches to the grommets in the corner of the poncho.

The great part is that the Swagman Roll also has a built in hood so that you can actually wear it with the poncho.

The Swagman Roll also features a full length zipper so it can be used as a sleeping bag. When used with the poncho as I just described, the poncho serves as a water proof bivy bag too. That’s now two uses out of the same two pieces of gear. Shell layer, insulation layer, sleep system. More uses = less weight.

Since the Swagman Roll has a hood, it can also be worn poncho style without the poncho. It comes with straps and buckles to wrap it securely around your body. This is great as a quick warming layer to put on over your gear.

The Swagman Roll has become a permanent part of my line 3 gear alongside my poncho. With the combination of the two and a space blanket I’m good in conditions down to about freezing (your mileage may vary depending on how much suck you can embrace) as long as I can prepare a browse bed of some sort. If I want to add to this further I just grab my goretex bivy bag and a set of USGI field jacket and pants liners, and I’m sleeping toasty. For an opportunity to learn more about your own kit as well as see how others are doing it, be sure to check out my fieldcraft classes.

14 comments

  1. Thanks brother. Question, for your space blanket, are you using the cheapie thin Mylar one, or the thicker GI casualty blanket that’s green one side and shiny Mylar the other side?

    I’m experimenting with variations on ranger taco. Poncho, casualty blanket, and poncho liner. With an inflatable thermaresr and a thin wool base layer and wool watch cap on, that setup is good to about 35 degrees although I was a little cold, embracing suckitude as you say. I’ve also used two poncho liners with that setup. It’s a hassle to keep it all together while lying down so I need to install some Velcro or buttons to connect it together. The thermarest is the lightweight backpacking one so is not very strong. Already punctured it once in fact so it’s really not suitable for hard use. Next I’m going to try the taco inside the GI bivy as you’ve done. I also tried one of the SnugPak jungle blankets but it’s not really better than the issue poncho liner.

    Thanks for the great posts BR and please keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment. I actually carry both, the thin one to add to my Ranger taco, and the other to use either with the taco or as a small tarp shelter, although it usually needs some reinforcing to do this. Having one of the cheap filled ones has saved my butt before, and I froze my ass off one night with just a poncho liner alone, so I always like having one along just in case. I was always curious about the jungle blanket, now I don’t have to be 😁 I really like the field jacket liner and pants, I just put them on over my bdu’s and then slide inside my sleeping gear. The GI Bivy is such a great piece of gear, I’ve literally woken up in the rain to find a puddle has formed around me and been dry inside. Take care and thanks for sharing your experience!

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  2. Nice piece of kit, unfortunately looks like the link is sold out, and no restock date listed. One of my favorite milspec items is the poncho and liner, simple, light, and practical.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been looking at these and other version lately. I noticed that the availability of the Swagman roll in many colors are limited. Not sure if they are just being bought up or they they are behind on making them. I decided in the end to try another version that for a little more money you can pick your inside and outside colors/patterns since its reversable. It is also available in 3 differient climashield weights. I chose the next heavier than the Swagman since I live in a colder climate. We shall see how it works. Thanks for all your great info!!! Definitely a step above many sites that just say stuff but never show any actual time doing it. As well as all their gear if pristine and appears unused

    Liked by 1 person

  4. He emailed me back a week or so ago saying he was on vacation with family. They had just moved their whole production to a new shop in Colorado. He said they were behind but catching up quickly and should be able to get mine out in about three weeks. I can try to remember to let you know when it comes in and share my thoughts if you want.

    Liked by 1 person

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