Rain Poncho Vs Rain Jacket For Hiking: Which is the better waterproof?

Last Updated on 09/11/2021

Rain Poncho Vs Rain jacket

Which is better for staying dry, Rain Poncho Vs Rain Jacket?

This article will explain the benefits and disadvantages of both rain ponchos vs rain jackets when trying to stay dry while hiking.

If you spend enough time outdoors and in the mountains, at some point, you’ll get caught out in the rain. Whether it’s a light drizzle or a full-on afternoon thunderstorm, staying dry is no easy feat when you’re in the backcountry. Choosing a waterproof poncho or a jacket will depend on a few things and it is important to think about them before you buy which is why we put together this short poncho Vs rain jacket guide.

Thankfully, there are plenty of options when it comes to keeping yourself warm and dry in the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a rain poncho Vs. rain jacket or a combination of one and an umbrella, you have choices for your rain gear. However, making a decision between these two pieces of outdoor gear can be quite challenging, especially if you’re looking for just the right gear for your next trip.

To help settle this matter once and for all, we’re going to walk you through the difference between rain ponchos and waterproof jackets. Then, we’ll give you information about the advantages and disadvantages of both pieces of gear so you can find what’s best for your needs.

Advantages of Waterproof Jackets Vs. Ponchos

Rain jackets have a number of advantages when compared to other types of rain protection. These advantages include:

  • Full upper body protection – Rain jackets cover the entire upper body, which means your arms, head, and torso are fully protected from the rain.
  • Warmth and insulation – Unlike other methods of rain protection, rain jackets can provide some warmth and insulation from the cold. Plus, they’re great for use on top of other insulating layers for added warmth in the colder months.
  • Versatile – Rain jackets can be used in pretty much any setting. They look just as good in town as they do in the mountains and can keep you dry wherever you go.
  • Wind protection – Rain jackets that are made with a waterproof breathable membrane also provide a lot of protection from the wind, which is great for staying warm in a storm.
  • Mobility and flexibility – Rain jackets are designed to be used while hiking and climbing, so they often have flexible and stretch paneling in their fabrics for added mobility.

Disadvantages of Rain Jackets Vs. Ponchos

While rain jackets are great, they do have a few disadvantages. These include:

  • Price – In general, a high-quality rain jacket will cost you a pretty penny, especially when compared to ponchos and umbrellas.
  • Upper body protection only – Since a rain jacket only protects your upper body from the rain, if you don’t want your legs to get wet, you’ll have to wear a pair of rain pants, too.
  • Bulky and weight – Generally, rain jackets are bulkier and heavier than the other options available on the market. However, there are some very lightweight rain jackets out there, but you’ll need to be willing to spend a bit more on them.
  • Less breathable – Even though rain jackets are made with waterproof breathable membranes, they will still be less breathable than a poncho or an umbrella.

Top 10 Womens Waterproof Jackets

Advantages of Rain Ponchos Vs. Jackets

Rain ponchos are increasingly popular pieces of gear in the outdoor industry. Why are they so popular? Here are some of their advantages:

  • Breathability – Since ponchos are quite loose-fitting, they offer a lot of airflow and breathability, especially while hiking. Added pit zips also increase the ventilation and breathability of a poncho.
  • Affordable – While you can find some expensive ponchos out there, the vast majority of rain ponchos are quite affordable, which is great for hikers on a budget.
  • Added protection – Unlike a rain jacket, a rain poncho covers most of the lower half of your body. This means you don’t have to worry as much about your legs getting wet in the rain. They will also cover your backpack to keep your gear dry which is very handy.
  • Versatility – Rain ponchos are basically just a large sheet of waterproof fabric, so you can quickly and easily convert them into a tarp or a shelter for the night if you need to.
  • Lightweight and compact – Generally speaking, rain ponchos are pretty simple pieces of gear, so they often offer great weight savings when compared to a rain jacket.

Disadvantages of Ponchos Vs. Waterproof Jackets

Like all gear, there are some disadvantages to using a rain poncho. Here are a few:

  • Style – We can’t lie: Rain ponchos aren’t exactly the most stylish thing out there. While they get the job done in the outdoors, you probably won’t land your next date by walking around town wearing a rain poncho.
  • Easy to snag and get caught – Since rain ponchos are just loose-fitting pieces of gear, they often get caught on trees and rocks as you hike. Thus, they’re not great for bushwacking or any other off-trail adventure. Disposable ponchos are not suitable for hiking mainly for this reason.
  • Not very windproof – Unlike a rain jacket, a rain poncho doesn’t provide too much protection from the wind. Plus, rain ponchos tend to fly around a lot in windy conditions.
  • Not foolproof – A loose-fitting rain poncho isn’t going to be the best option for keeping you dry when it’s really raining out there. Since it’s not a form-fitting piece of gear, there are going to be places where a rain poncho leaks, especially in a storm.

Best waterproof ponchos


When to Take a Rain Poncho Vs. Rain Jacket

At this point, you may be wondering when you should choose a rain poncho Vs. rain jacket, or vice versa. While this is an individual decision that highly depends on your unique adventure needs, here are some guidelines for choosing one over the other.

Choose a rain jacket when:

  • You’re headed out for an extended trip in the mountains.
  • You expect to get a lot of rain and damp conditions.
  • There is a good chance of high winds and storms on your trip.
  • You’re doing technical climbing or a lot of bushwacking/off-trail travel.
  • You need durable rain protection.
  • You care about style and fashion.
  • You want one jacket that you can use for outdoor adventures and city life.

Choose a rain poncho when:

  • You need something lightweight and easily packable.
  • You value breathability above all else.
  • You’re not expecting a lot of rain or storms during your trip.
  • You want something that can cover your lower body.
  • You want a piece of gear that can double as a tarp in an emergency.
  • Your hiking is mostly on trails and away from trees.

You could also take an umbrella vs your poncho

What is a Rain Poncho?

A poncho is a traditional outer layer that originated in South America (particularly the Andes Region) before the arrival of the Europeans. While the word “poncho” traditionally referred to a garment made of woolen fabric, most people use the word “poncho” to refer to a type of outer layer designed to protect you from the rain.

Rain ponchos are basically a large sheet of waterproof fabric that has an open hole at the top for the head. The poncho is designed to be draped over the body and offers waterproof protection from the rain for the upper body and most of the upper legs. Plus, many modern rain ponchos also include a hood for keeping the head dry.

Unlike traditional ponchos, though, most rain ponchos will also have some sort of sleeves for the arms for added rain protection. Some of the higher-end rain ponchos will also have pit zips or flaps under the arms for extra ventilation as well as a drawstring hood to make it easy to adjust.

What is a Rain Jacket?

Alright, so, first and foremost, what is a rain jacket? Basically, a rain jacket is an upper-body outer layer that’s designed to keep you dry in rain, snow or any other kind of precipitation.

Rain jackets that are made specifically for outdoor pursuits (like hiking, climbing, and the like), will almost always include a hood. They will also often have adjustable cuffs on the sleeves as well as some sort of cinch cord around the waist to help keep the moisture out.

Modern rain jackets are almost all made using what’s known as a “waterproof breathable membrane.” This is a special type of fabric built with microscopic holes that are large enough to allow water vapor to pass through but are too small for water droplets.

Due to the size of these holes, waterproof breathable membranes allow modern rain jackets to breathe and provide ventilation while also keeping the rain and snow off of your skin. Without a waterproof breathable membrane, a person that’s hiking or climbing in a fully zipped up rain jacket would quickly overheat and their skin and baselayers would be soaked by their own sweat. Not fun.

Other than that, many rain jackets also come with a handful of features, some more useful than others. You might find a rain jacket that has a pocket that converts into a stuff sack or that it has a helmet-compatible hood for use while climbing or skiing.

We hope you found this article about choosing a Poncho Vs. Rain Jacket helpful and results in you staying dry.

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