Rain Poncho Vs Pack Cover – Which Is Best For Hiking?

Last Updated on 09/11/2021

Rain Poncho vs Pack Cover

Which is better for keeping your pack dry between a rain poncho vs pack cover? Pack covers are designed to fit specific backpacks and will keep your pack dry whether it’s on your back or on the ground. A poncho is quick and easy to throw on in the rain and will keep your entire pack dry, not just the outside.

Rain Poncho vs Pack Cover – Which is Best For Keeping Your Bag Dry When Hiking?

When you’re out on the trail it’s important to keep your equipment dry. A heavy burst of rain may not soak you, but it can easily get into your pack. If you’re carrying spare layers, you won’t want them getting soaked.

Even a lightweight thru-hiking backpack is going to feel heavy once it gets wet through. It will also hold moisture against your back and you may risk cooling down. Keeping yourself and your backpack dry is essential.

Many backpacks come with rain covers. Alternatively, you can usually buy a rain cover that fits your pack and will keep the rain off. A rain poncho is a quick alternative that can keep you dry and usually cover your pack too.

Can You Use a Poncho Instead of a Rain Cover and How?

A poncho will work in place of a pack cover, but it works slightly differently. By buying a poncho that is either large enough or can be adapted to fit over your pack, you keep yourself and your equipment dry.

What is a Backpack Cover?

Pack covers are pieces of waterproof material designed to stretch over a backpack and keep the water out. These are often fitted to a specific size, or sometimes a particular model of the backpack. Many will have elastic, or a tightening cord, to keep them secure and may also tie on to prevent them from being lost.

A lot of rucksacks come with a cover stashed away in a pocket, either at the base or the top. These can be deployed quickly to cover your bag if it starts to rain. If your bag doesn’t have a specific cover, you can buy one that fits a bag your size and stash it in the top pocket, or close at hand.

Many pack covers are bright-colored, or reversible. This allows you to be spotted on the hill in the event of an emergency.

Advantages of Rain Ponchos Vs Pack Covers

  • If you’re going to carry a cover to keep your bag dry, why not carry something that keeps you dry, too? A poncho covers you and your pack and keeps you both dry much like a trekking umbrella.
  • A poncho keeps your whole rucksack dry, unlike a cover that only keeps the outer part of your bag dry. With a cover, any water which runs down your back may seep into your backpack.
  • A poncho is quick to put on and covers you entirely. You don’t even need to remove your pack. Many ponchos pack down small and can be pulled out and thrown over you quickly.
  • Ponchos are extremely versatile bits of kit. They’re essentially just a sheet of fabric that can be used to make a shelter, too.
  • Ponchos will most likely save you money. Okay, hear us out on this one. A pack cover is almost definitely going to be cheaper than a poncho, but you also need to buy a full set of waterproofs, too.

Advantages of Pack Covers Vs Ponchos

  • If you are in a technical environment, then there’s a good chance you want to keep your waterproofs close to you. Any scrambling or exposed hillsides is going to be much more difficult with a poncho flapping around you. Coupling a pack cover with close-fitting waterproofs is a more effective way to stay dry and keep safe.
  • Pack covers are usually designed to be highly visible so you can be found more easily in the event of an emergency.
  • Using a pack cover means you can take off your rucksack without removing your waterproof layer. This is technically possible within a poncho, but it’s not easy.
  • Backpack covers are extremely lightweight. If you are likely to have light showers, you may choose to take a hiking umbrella rather than a poncho. In this case, a pack cover would keep your equipment dry while the umbrella kept you dry.

Pack Cover Vs Rain Poncho

Which is Better For Keeping Your Bag Dry, Rain Poncho Vs Pack Cover?

So what’s best between a rain poncho vs pack cover? A poncho will do a better job of keeping your whole rucksack dry.

As long as it fits comfortably over both you and your backpack, then a poncho will prevent water from seeping down between your back and your rucksack. In particularly heavy rain this seemingly small amount of water can quickly soak your back.

When is it Best to Use a Backpack Cover?

A backpack cover still has a place, though. In technical environments like scrambling, you will want closer fitting waterproofs so you don’t trip over your poncho.

On an open hillside and in strong winds, ponchos may not be the ideal waterproof layer. Again, close-fitting waterproofs and a pack cover are more suited to these environments. In addition, the highly visible aspect of a backpack cover makes it easier to find you in the event of an emergency.

Having a pack cover to hand in light showers, where you plan to use an umbrella, will prevent your kit from getting soaked.


There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to both a pack cover and a poncho. Which you choose is up to you and where you plan on walking. Ponchos may keep your pack dryer than a pack cover, but there are definitely situations where a pack cover is more suitable.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

Gear Assistant