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.
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.
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
Doesn't handle windy conditions well
Can be a hassle to get it over full-sized packs
No insulation layer
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
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.
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
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
Here's some examples of ponchos and rain jackets suitable for hiking.
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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
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
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