How the Military’s Beloved ‘Woobie’ Came To Be

August 18, 2023Jenna Biter
woobie poncho liner

The woobie: one of deployment’s few creature comforts. US Army photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck.

Who could’ve guessed that a lowly poncho liner would become the United States military’s all-time favorite piece of field gear? Probably just about every American service member who has ever felt the warm caress of the baby-soft “woobie” for themselves.

IYKYK. But for the uninitiated, what exactly makes the poncho liner/woobie so special? And how did it become the security blanket for thousands of grown-ass American men?

For starters, the US military officially describes the field item as a “liner, wet weather poncho.” While the woobie is most often used alone as a blanket, the field-issue liner was designed to be joined with the field-issue rain poncho. Using the tie-cords sewn into its corners and sides, the liner can be fastened to the poncho’s grommets. And just like that, you have a waterproof sleeping bag.

Related Content: It's not quite a wooby, but check out BRCC's Freedom Flag 2.0 Blanket


Would you look at that? It’s a woobie hammock. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Paul Zellner.

You can also fashion the poncho into a rudimentary tent with woobie bedding on the bottom. Or you can transform the woobie into a makeshift hammock with a poncho roof overhead. Like a kid with a wild imagination, the possibilities are endless for a man, a poncho, and his woobie.

In terms of the liner’s construction, two pieces of silky-soft ripstop nylon are quilted together over a perfectly fluffy layer of polyester filling. The resulting rectangle measures approximately 82 inches long by 62 inches wide. Even at that generous size, the blanket remains lightweight, coming in at only a little more than 1 pound.

In fact, the blanket’s portability is one major reason why it initially became so popular roughly 60 years ago. Along with the day’s rations and ammo, troops routinely carried their woobie on foot patrols during the Vietnam War. (Although the poncho liner’s pet name didn’t appear until long after the conflict ended, giving credence to the theory that “woobie” derives from the security blanket in the 1983 comedy Mr. Mom.)

Related Content: The only thing better than a woobie is a hoodie.

As for the origin story of the woobie itself, it’s a simple tale for one of life’s simple comforts. When US forces first deployed to Vietnam, they were issued the standard wool blanket. While wool is warm, it isn’t very comfortable to sleep with anywhere, let alone in the thick-as-biscuits humidity of the Southeast Asian tropics.

Enter the woobie. In 1963, the US Army began issuing the poncho liner to Special Forces as an alternative to the wool blanket. The new field item more than halved the weight of its predecessor. Because the poncho liner was lightweight and dried fairly fast, its popularity quickly spread beyond Special Forces to all frontline troops once they were on the ground in Vietnam. The blanket was such a success that the military had procured nearly 3 million poncho liners by 1969.

“[They] were the only source of comfort that a grunt would have,” Marine veteran James J. Altiero said in a 1991 oral history at Youngstown State University.

Marine Pvt. Kenneth Fink looks miserable while returning his beloved woobie at Camp Pendleton, California, on Sept. 26, 2017. Can you blame him? US Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Dalton S. Swanbeck.

Yet despite their ultimately large production numbers, woobies were hard to come by, at least early on. If someone lost his own, he’d “scrounge” someone else’s.

“You were lucky if you had a poncho liner,” Altiero said.

Today, six decades after the poncho liner’s introduction, American troops still consider themselves lucky to have had their woobie with them in the field. In fact, the security blanket is so beloved by service members that many refuse to part with it. Upon separation, they’ll claim it as a field loss and pay the associated fee without a second thought. That way they can take their woobie with them beyond active duty and into the wide, wide world.

Read Next: Why Do Navy SEALs Like Converse All Stars?

Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

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