Poncho vs. Rain Jacket

As hikers, backpackers and campers, we know that rain is always going to be one of those natural elements we must plan for. We consider the seasonal weather conditions, the reliability of the local weather service predictions, how much we want to take or not, etc., and then select our rain gear. But what gear? This comes down to either a rain jacket or a poncho. I've used both and here's my assessment.

A man standing in front of a massive fir tree wearing a rain poncho

Ponchos

In this photo, I'm wearing the Red Ledge poncho I bought on Amazon. It's not listed on Amazon anymore but there are loads of ponchos similar to it.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight

  • Covers you down past your knees

  • Covers you and your pack

  • Real air circulation to reduce sweating

  • Doubles as a ground tarp or shelter

  • Lower in price than rain jackets

  • Freedom of movement

Cons:

  • Doesn't handle windy conditions well

  • Can be a hassle to get it over full-sized packs

  • No insulation layer

  • No pockets

  • If using hiking poles, your arms are still going to get wet

  • Tends to catch on branches easily

  • Can't wear this to work or shopping without people looking at you funny

A man standing in a forest wearing a rain jacket

Rain Jackets

Here I'm wearing a North Face rain jacket. It's sort of a classic and in the PNW, doubles as business casual. Very popular and available just about anywhere outdoor clothing is sold.

Pros:

  • Lightweight or heavy-duty, your choice

  • Can be worn on a variety of occasions and people won't look at you like you're weird

  • Suitable in wind and rain

  • Easy to layer underneath

  • Pockets, sometimes more than you know what to do with

  • Hooded or no hood, your choice

  • Easy to go bushwhacking in a rainjacket

Cons:

  • With few exceptions, more expensive than ponchos

  • Water drips down onto your hips unless you buy one of the long ones

  • You will still need to keep your backpack dry somehow

  • Can restrict arm movements

  • Only one use - as a rainjacket

  • Sweaty in warm conditions (yes, the material might be breathable, but you're still going to sweat)

  • Generally heavier and bulkier than ponchos

Pictured: The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket

Link: https://amzn.to/3c0o18Y

Here's some examples of ponchos and rain jackets suitable for hiking.

(Note: Amazon Associates Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Rain poncho with a hood

Hiking Poncho

If you're considering a poncho for hiking, make sure to get one that accommodates your backpack and is for multiple uses. The emergency ponchos are strictly once and done. Something else to look for in a poncho are snaps or Velcro down the sides so you can keep the front and back of the poncho connected. A nice to have is a poncho with loops sewn on at the corners. This makes it easy to create an emergency shelter with the poncho.

Pictured: Longsinger Rain Poncho

Link: https://amzn.to/3uwg5To

Rain jacket with a hood

Rain Jacket

The most commonly purchased and used piece of gear to handle the rain. You can go crazy with these and easily spend over a $100 dollar buying a rain jacket. In this case I've selected the most affordable rain jacket available (and it's ultra-light), the Froggs Toggs rain jacket. When you're purchasing your rain jacket, think hard about the weather conditions you normally encounter. Do you often hike in sudden squalls, hours of rain fall, cold rain in the mountains, warm rain, etc.? You're buying the rain jacket for its suitability in those conditions.

Pictured: FROGG TOGGS Men's Ultra-Lite2

Link: https://amzn.to/3bY4BRP


Full length rain jacket with a hood

Long Rain Jacket

A long rain jacket is sort of a compromise between a poncho and a regular rain jacket. You get the length of the poncho but are still faced with the downside of rainjackets. I've not used one of these in my hikes, but have seen several folks who have. In those cases, I noticed that they had the top snaps closed and the bottom snaps open to allow for easy walking.

Pictured: COOFANDY Men's Rain Jacket

Link: https://amzn.to/3RiRfjj