Rain Poncho Vs Umbrella – Which is Best For Hiking?

Last Updated on 09/11/2021

What’s better between a rain poncho vs umbrella? The rain poncho is a lightweight waterproof layer that covers a large portion of your body as well as a backpack. Umbrellas are an effective shelter that can be deployed quickly and keep multiple people dry at the same time.

Rain Poncho Vs Umbrella - Which is Best For Hiking?

Which is Best For Hiking? Rain Poncho Vs Umbrella

In this guide to ponchos vs umbrellas, we will cover the pros and cons of each and when it is appropriate to use them. You will learn that there are times when a lightweight umbrella is more suitable and others when a waterproof poncho will provide better rain protection.

If you spend enough time outside, you are going to get rained on. It’s rare that we plan our treks for the wettest days if we can avoid it, but we often have to put up with showers. On long trips, or where heavy rain is unavoidable, we need to know that our waterproof gear is going to keep us and our equipment dry.

But which is better suited, a rain poncho vs umbrella? Well, there are definite pros and cons to each, which we will get into. However, the advantages to both are that they are lightweight, easy to pack down and allow loads of breathability.

Can You Use a Poncho Instead of an Umbrella?

Yes and no. Both are highly portable and lightweight. They are also quick to deploy and offer a good level of protection. But they’re not quite the same.

A poncho will cover your torso and a large portion of your legs, often with a hood to cover your head. Umbrellas will shield you from the rain in whichever direction you hold them, but usually only cover a smaller area of your body.

Umbrellas are far quicker to deploy and far more breathable than a poncho. They’re also a great shelter for eating your lunch underneath. A poncho might keep you dry, but an umbrella will also keep your sandwich dry.

Advantages of Rain Ponchos Vs Umbrellas

  • A poncho provides more cover than an umbrella. Ponchos cover the top half of your body and often a large portion of your lower half. This cover is particularly useful in windy conditions or heavier rain.
  • Along with this extra cover, a poncho will provide a little extra warmth and wind protection too. Rain is often accompanied by winds, which can cool you down, and the poncho will help to prevent this.
  • Because a poncho is essentially just a large piece of waterproof material, it’s highly versatile. You can easily set up a poncho as a ground tarp, or an overnight shelter if you need to.
  • There are some ponchos on the market that are quite expensive, but in general, they are an affordable option.
  • If you’re going to be in the rain for a long time, you’ll appreciate that a poncho is hands-free. Not having to hold your waterproof cover lets you use your hands for other things, or just rest them at your side.

Advantages of Umbrellas Vs Ponchos

  • If you’re getting caught in regular showers, you’ll appreciate that an umbrella is quick to deploy. You can sometimes find the shower has passed by the time you get around to putting on your poncho. With an umbrella, no matter how immediately the rain starts, you can get shelter.
  • An umbrella is a shelter rather than a cover. It gives you space to work under, so you can still perform other tasks. A poncho isn’t going to keep your phone or your lunch dry, but an umbrella sure is.
  • An umbrella will keep multiple people dry and, depending on the size, you can keep them dry on the move too.
  • It’s not just rain where the umbrella is useful, but it can offer sun protection too. In fact, many hiking umbrellas have UV protection ratings specifically for sunny days.
  • Even the most breathable waterproof ponchos are going to gather some moisture on the inside. No matter how must effort you put in, umbrellas remain completely breathable, so you don’t get soaked from the inside out.

Umbrella Vs Rain Poncho

Which Has Better Waterproof Protection, Rain Poncho Vs Umbrella?

Umbrellas are more waterproof, but they only cover a small area. The tense fabric keeps you dry and the water will run off the edges. If you have a big enough umbrella you can easily stay dry no matter how heavy the rain is. But it only works in a small area. The issue with umbrellas tends to be when it’s windy, or if your umbrella isn’t large enough.

The material that ponchos and waterproof jackets are made from is actually far more waterproof than the fabric of an umbrella but because an umbrella is taut and not wrapping the body, it keeps your dryer. Ponchos can suffer from condensation build-up on the inside especially when hiking.

When is it Best to Use an Umbrella?

Umbrellas are most effective in short rain showers and on calm days. Having your umbrella turned inside out by the wind is never ideal, but if you’re up on a hillside trek it can be a real concern.

You can buy windproof umbrellas which withstand even some of the roughest weather. Unfortunately, even these can’t prevent rain from coming at you from all angles or stop the wind from cooling you down.

Umbrellas are more effective on hot days, where the extra layer of warmth from a jacket or poncho is likely to make you sweaty and uncomfortable. They are quick to deploy and can give you a good lunch shelter.

When is it Best to Use a Poncho?

In persistent rain or cooler conditions, a poncho offers extra protection that umbrellas won’t. They cover larger areas of your body and don’t require your hands to hold them in place.

Ponchos are more suited to environments with either overhanging trees which your umbrella may catch on, or where you need your hands to negotiate more technical ground. Chances are, once you put your poncho on, you will keep it on all day, so it’s maybe not as good on showery days as an umbrella.


So what’s best, then. Rain poncho vs umbrella. Well, that’s for you to ultimately decide. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both.

If you are heading out on a sunny trek, but want something to shelter under from any passing showers, an umbrella is probably going to be your choice. If your day is looking wetter, but you still want freedom and breathability, then a poncho can fit easily in the top of your bag.

These are both useful, lightweight, and affordable pieces of equipment. Which one you choose to take, well that depends on how your day looks.

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.

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