Flashback to late July 2021 when we hiked Shelf Lake near Guanella Pass in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We were spending some time at the lake, and Derek was fishing for Cutthroat Trout. The sky was blue and the clouds were white and puffy. Within a matter of minutes, the wind shifted, dark clouds began moving in, and we booked it downhill to cover. We barely made it 100 yards before we were full-on hiking in the rain, and the lightning and thunder began soon after. Long story short, we made it back to the car safely but were completely soaked head to toe. Our rain jackets were no match for this torrential downpour.
While this storm wasn’t in the forecast, afternoon thunderstorms are often quick, strong, and unpredictable, especially in the mountains. We were caught off-guard, and we said never again! One of the best pieces of rain gear we could have been carrying in this scenario was a waterproof rain poncho. It would have kept us more dry and warm, even in the more extreme conditions. Because they’re incredibly lightweight, it’s not a big deal to throw a packable poncho in your day pack.
Let’s talk about the best ponchos – rain ponchos vs. rain jackets and the pros and cons of both, what makes a good poncho, and the best ones on the market.
Best Hiking Ponchos
Here’s our top picks for the best rain ponchos for hiking:
- Outdoor Products Multi-Purpose Poncho
- Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Nano Tarp
- Snugpak Patrol Poncho
- Therm-a-Rest Honcho Poncho
- Sea to Summit Nylon Tarp Poncho
- Frogg Toggs Rain Pocho
- Best Hiking Ponchos
- Rain Ponchos Pros and Cons
- Rain Jacket Pros and Cons
- What Makes the Best Ponchos for Hiking
- How to Clean and Take Care of a Rain Poncho
Our #1 Recommendation: Outdoor Products Poncho
This is the best rain poncho because it perfectly balances price and quality – so you’re getting something that’s effective and affordable. Full Review
Our #2 Recommendation: Sea to Summit Tarp Poncho
The Nylon Tarp Poncho is a bit more expensive, but is the most high quality and lightweight product on our list. Full Review
Our #3 Recommendation: SnugPak Patrol
The Snugpak is a great mid-range priced poncho that offers 100% waterproofing and a generous hydrostatic head rating. Full Review
*These links are sponsored and may earn us a small commission. Thank you for your support.
Outdoor Products Multipurpose Poncho – Editor’s Choice
This heavy duty rain poncho from Outdoor Products is the best poncho to have on hand for emergencies or sudden showers on the trail and it’s one of the most inexpensive rain ponchos on this list. It’s made of polyurethane-coated polyester with taped seams and rust-resistant snaps.
It measures 55 x 39 inches and is easily put on and taken off using the side snaps. This size makes it about knee-length, making it a great size and shape for wind and water proofing. At only 9 ounces, it’s the lightest product on this list and could be used as a backpacking poncho if desired.
- Dimensions: 55 x 39 inches
- Weight: 9 oz. (9.9 oz. with pouch)
- Fabric: polyurethane-coated polyester taffeta
- Most affordable
- Lightweight and packable
- Taped seams
- Our pick for best rain poncho
- Not multi-functional
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp Poncho – Best Backpacking Poncho (Ultralight)
This Sea to Summit Nano Tarp is the perfect rain poncho for the backpacker or lightweight hiker, as it weighs only 8.1 ounces and packs down incredibly small. It’s multi-functional, so it can be used as a poncho and raincoat, groundsheet, pack cover, or a 2 person tarp shelter.
Because it’s made of 15D ultra-sil durable fabric that’s double-stitched and tape-sealed, you’re sure to stay dry. As with our other Sea to Summit poncho (above), you can pair it with a bug tent to create an ultralight shelter, and it’s large enough to accommodate a big backpack underneath. As an added bonus, Seat to Summit offers a lifetime guarantee and free shipping on this product.
- Dimensions: 57 x 104 inches
- Packed Size: 3 x 5.25 inches
- Poncho Weight: 8.1 oz.
- Material: 15D ultra-sil nano fabric
- Can be a 2 person tarp shelter, pack cover, groundsheet, or poncho
- Ideal for ultralight backpackers
- Multifunctional unisex rain poncho
- Lifetime guarantee
- Free shipping
- One of the most expensive rain ponchos on this list
SnugPak Patrol Poncho
This poncho by SnugPak is a waterproof rain poncho that brags about having one of the best waterproof ratings you could get. The waterhead rating, or hydrostatic head depending on who you talk to, is a measurement if water resistance. Typically tents are considered waterproof over 1200mm and this poncho is 2000mm. Plus, it has fully taped seams that made it 100% waterproof fabric.
The material is Snugpak’s exclusive Paratex Dry material, which is lightweight, waterproof, and can double as a emergency bivy. There’s an oversized pocket on the chest that has storm flap for waterproofing, and there’s a drawstring hood.
- Dimensions: 52.7 x 56.7 inches
- Packed Size: 8 x 4 inches
- Poncho Weight: 12.8 oz.
- Material: Paratex dry with PU coating
- Generous waterproof rating of 2000mm
- Large pocket on the chest
- Adjustable hood
- Users report that the sleeves are a little short
Therm-a-Rest Honcho Poncho – Best for Cold Weather
While this poncho isn’t technically a rain poncho, we’ve added it to this list because it’s a great option for chilly camping and hiking weather and is still water-resistant. It’s perfect for keeping warm outside, whether you’re walking or hanging out at camp. It compresses into the built-in pocket, and can double as a pillow as well. There’s even a draw cord along the bottom edge so you can cinch it around your feet to reduce drafts and keep it in place.
- Dimensions: 79 x 56 inches
- Material: 20-denier ripstop polyester
- Weight: 1 lb 8oz
- Doubles as blanket and warm hoodie for campfire chillin’
- Water-resistant as opposed to waterproof
- Perfect for colder temperatures while camping and hiking
- Can double as a blanket and camp pillow
- On the more expensive side
- Not waterproof
Sea to Summit Nylon Tarp Poncho
This Sea to Summit Poncho made our top choice for best all around poncho because it’s a decent price and comes with many necessary features, plus some additional cool ones. At only 14 ounces, it’s lightweight and can be easily packed into its storage bag. It has a wide brim to help protect your face, and is large enough to accommodate a backpacking backpack.
It’s made of 70D nylon fabric with fully taped seams, and is long enough to cover even a large backpack. Despite its length, it won’t drag around on the ground when you don’t have a pack on, and it can double as an ultralight emergency shelter when paired with a Sea to Summit bug tent. How’s that for multi-functional outdoor gear!
- Dimensions: 54 x 104 inches
- Packed Size: 3.5 x 7.5 inches
- Poncho Weight: 14oz
- Fabric: waterproof 70D nylon with waterproof taped seams
- Can be a 2 person tarp shelter or waterproof poncho
- Pair with Sea to Summit bug tents to create an ultralight shelter
- 70D nylon is some of the best waterproofing on this list
- Lifetime guarantee
- Free shipping
- On the heavier side
- Large even when packed down
Frogg Toggs Poncho
If you’re looking for an affordable emergency poncho to have on hand just in case, this poncho by Frogg Toggs may be the best option for you. It weighs only 9 ounces, packs quite small, and is the most affordable option on this list.
It’s waterproof and made of polypropylene material with welded seams and an adjustable hood. The downside is that it’s a much smaller poncho and doesn’t completely cover your arms, so it’s more intended to have on hand just in case but wouldn’t be preferred for emergency situations.
- Dimensions: 36 x 44 inches
- Weight: 9 oz.
- Fabric: polypropylene
- Very affordable budget rain poncho
- Completely recyclable
- One time use
- Smaller dimensions
- No long sleeves
Rain Ponchos Pros and Cons
- Because most rain ponchos are longer, everything from your head to your knees will be covered and will have more rain protection.
- Ponchos give you better waterproofing in heavy rain that could possibly saturate a rain jacket.
- Waterproof ponchos can protect your gear better, since their size allows them to go over your backpack.
- The looser fit can provide more ventilation within the rain poncho.
- A waterproof poncho can be converted into a temporary emergency shelter if you need to take cover from the rain.
- Typically cheaper and lighter than a rain jacket, especially if you purchase one of the more lightweight and packable ponchos.
- Longer rain ponchos can limit your range of motion by getting caught up around your knees and legs.
- Made of thinner, less durable material. Make sure you’re looking out for thorns and branches so you don’t tear your poncho.
- Some are disposable after one use, making it more wasteful.
- Many rain ponchos can look silly and don’t necessarily make for the best adventure photos.
- Even the most breathable rain ponchos will hold in sweat and condensation.
Rain Jacket Pros and Cons
- Jackets are more comfortable to wear since they just fit like a jacket.
- Rain jackets can double as wind breakers, so they can be very useful on more exposed hikes.
- They offer plenty of wet weather protection for light rain without sacrificing mobility.
- They are typically designed to provide ventilation through the waterproof breathable fabric, so a nice rain jacket should keep you from creating your own sauna.
- Rain jackets only protect your upper half, not your legs. While most hiking pants are treated with DWR, they can still wet through during a downpour. You could wear rain pants, or just take advantage of a lightweight rain poncho.
- They don’t protect your gear or cover your backpack.
- Rain jackets need to be washed if worn regularly.
- Because jackets are meant to ventilate through the material, you run the risk of ‘wetting out.’
What Makes the Best Ponchos for Hiking
What makes a good rain poncho for you depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want a one-time-use emergency poncho or a reusable one that can be dried out and repacked? Do you want something with features like pockets or zip up vents or do you want just a simple piece of plastic?
We would recommend finding a nice balance between price and durability. Don’t necessarily buy the most expensive option, but not the cheapest either. If you skip out on quality in exchange for something cheap, you’ll be more likely to still get wet – which defeats the purpose.
How to Clean and Take Care of a Rain Poncho
If you opt for a reusable rain poncho, the first step is to always let it completely dry before packing it away. If you’re out on a day hike, it’s possible to pack it away then unfold it when you get home and let it dry then. Any other times, you should hang it in a well-ventilated area to let it dry first. For any cleaning, you should always follow the instructions on the label. For dirt, a wet microfiber cloth may be enough. If you need more than that, follow the washing instructions.
About the Author
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.