Are Ponchos Really Good For Hiking? Pros, Cons & Verdict

As a backpacker, it is always important to be ready for bad weather. In light of this, there are many options for staying warm and dry while hiking. Some examples are ponchos, rain jackets, and umbrellas.

Read on to learn about ponchos, their advantages and disadvantages, the distinctions between a poncho and a rain jacket, and some of the best-rated ponchos.

Here’s how good ponchos are for hiking

Ponchos are great for hiking because they keep your shoulders, back, and legs dry, eliminating the need for rain jackets and rain pants. They are more portable and can be rolled up or folded to fit in a backpack. You can also use them as a ground cover, temporary shelter, and an insulating blanket.

What are ponchos?

A poncho is a waterproof fabric usually made of breathable plastic with a hood attached to the central opening. It hangs from your body in a drape-like manner. The drape-like feature makes it a loose fit and ideal for anyone to wear it. They are lightweight and very soft.

Their light weight makes them ideal for ultra-light backpackers, and when not in use, you can fold the poncho and put it in your backpack. Because you do not need to disassemble a poncho, you do not have to worry about leaving any of its parts behind.

Not only do ponchos keep you and your belongings dry from head to mid-thigh, but they can also double as a shelter or a ground cover which only adds to their appeal. High-end ponchos have arm sleeves for added rain protection.

Types of ponchos.

Traditional ponchos; do not have any sleeves or hoods. They are just large sheets of fabric with a central opening. They drape over the upper body and cover part of your legs.

Modern ponchos; have arm sleeves; some come with a drawstring hood and waist for easy adjustment and to keep heavy rain out and prevent the poncho from flapping in the wind. Others are insulated for extra warmth and have pit zips or flaps under the arms for additional ventilation.

Pros using a poncho hiking

Let’s look at the advantages of using a poncho.

They are light

Ponchos are twice as light as rain jackets because of their materials. Their lightweight makes them very suitable for ultra-light hikers who want to reduce weight.

As previously mentioned, you can use a poncho as a ground cover, tent, or pack cover, which means you will not have to carry any additional items, such as a pack cover.

They are breathable

Ponchos are loose-fitting. Therefore, they are more well-ventilated than rain jackets. As much as you want to keep dry, you must ensure that sweat does not soak up your clothes. Modern ponchos come with zippers on their underarms which provide extra ventilation.

Ponchos also do not have elastic bands or waistbands, making air move effortlessly through the poncho; therefore, sweat can evaporate, and you will remain dry from rain and sweat.

Since ponchos are relatively 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.

Ponchos are more breathable than raincoats. Waterproof clothing keeps the rain out but traps sweat inside.

They are cheap

Ponchos cost around $1 to $20, which is quite cheap compared to other rain gear. The material determines the price of a poncho. A one-dollar poncho is made of flimsy plastic and can only last for a shorter period.

They are versatile

Ponchos can be used as ground sheets, pack covers, and insulating blankets. A poncho that can double as a ground sheet comes with grommets on its ends and sides. Their versatility helps hikers to reduce the weight of carrying additional gear such as tents and rain covers.

They are a fit-for-all

Any person can wear a poncho. Therefore, you do not need to worry about finding the right size. They are loose, baggy, and oversized, which makes them suitable for people of all body sizes and shapes.

However, consider the poncho length before purchasing, especially if you buy a poncho for a child.

They are compactable

Most ponchos can be folded or rolled, which makes them easier to carry. The lack of zippers and waistbands makes it possible to compress the poncho to a very tiny size.

Their compactness makes them ideal for impromptu trips or ultra-light backpackers.

They offer better protection against rain

Ponchos are made of a single large fabric much longer than rain jackets. The large fabric makes them have fewer seams, so there will be fewer leakages.

Their length is more of your body and your gear, eliminating the need for rain pants and pack covers and saving you money. You can also sit on wet ground when you have your poncho on.

They are convenient

With ponchos, you do not have to take off your backpack to wear them. You can just wear it, and it will drape all over to cover you and your gear.

They are water-proof

Ponchos are made of polyester material and a plastic exterior that water cannot penetrate through.

They are durable

The polyester material is treated with polyvinyl chloride and silicone, making ponchos more durable and long-lasting. They can withstand tears and stress.

You can make DIY ponchos

If you are on a budget, you can make your poncho from a trash bag. All you need to do is cut holes in your head and arms.

Cons using a poncho hiking

As much as ponchos are ideal for hiking, they also have their flipside.

  • They cannot protect you from chilly weather; ponchos protect you from rain and not cold. Ponchos are made of light material which does not keep you warm and might not be ideal for terrains with cold temperatures.

  • They are not ideal for hiking in shrubby areas. Their loose fit makes them easy to become caught in branches or thorns, which could make them tear. To ensure the poncho does not flap, tie it around your waist with a rope or buy one with an elastic waistband.

  • Traditional ponchos do not have sleeves which leave your arms vulnerable to rain.

  • They do not last as long as other rain gear because of their light material. Also, they can tear easily if you pack them together with pointy gear or if they get caught by thorns.

  • They are not as warm; their loose fit does not allow heat to remain inside the poncho, so they might not be ideal for harsh weather.

  • They are not adjustable; some ponchos lack adjustments, making them flap easily in the wind. You can not tighten or loosen the poncho.

Do ponchos keep you warm?

No, ponchos do not keep you warm. Ponchos have a drape-like look that hangs over your body. Their outlook makes ponchos intake a lot of air which is good when trying to keep your body cool, but during harsh weather, you might feel very cold.

If you choose backpacking with a poncho, ensure you wear warm clothing under the poncho. Warm clothing might add weight, but it is better than getting hypothermic.

Poncho vs rain jacket

Rain jackets are jackets that are made of water-resistant material. They are more fitting than ponchos, have zips, elastic bands on the forearms and wrists, and interior and exterior pockets.

Their hoods are detachable and adjustable using drawstrings. They are very long-lasting and durable. Let’s look at the key differences between ponchos and rain jackets.

Rain JacketsPonchos
They are heavier but warmerThey are lighter, but they are not warm
They are suitable for bushy terrains because they are very durable and not susceptible to wear and tear.They are suitable for hikes that are away from trees and shrubs.
They can only be used as a jacket to protect you from rain and cold.They can double as a tent, pack cover, and insulated blanket.
They can only be used as a jacket to protect you from rain and cold.They can double as a tent, pack cover, and insulated blanket.
They offer a good fit which contributes to your overall style.They are not stylish because of their loose fit.
They have adjustable waists, hoods, and arms, which can tighten or loosen depending on the weather.They have no adjustments because of their drape-like look. However, modern ponchos have drawstring waists and hoods.
Rain jackets have water-proof external and internal pockets where you can put your keys, phone, or wallet.Ponchos do not have pockets.
They can protect you from wind and harsh weather.They can only protect you from rain.
They are long-lasting and durable.Ponchos can only last for a few uses.

Best-rated ponchos for hiking

Cedar Tree Packa Poncho

The Cedar Tree Packa poncho is a modern poncho with sleeves, zippers, and an adjustable hood. This poncho aims to get rid of the need for a pack over.

You can wear this poncho over your backpack without having to remove it.

It also has zip slits on the arms for additional ventilation and adjustable sleeves. It covers your shoulders and back and reaches up to your mid-thighs.

Sea to Summit Tarp Poncho

The best thing about Sea to Summit poncho is that it can double as a tarp. It has grommets on its ends for setting up the tarp. It is made of Ultra-Sil Nano, which makes it durable and long-lasting.

This poncho is heavier than the typical one, so it is unsuitable for ultra-light backpackers. It is double-stitched and has sealed seams.

Alternatives to ponchos

There are several alternatives to ponchos, for example;

Rain jackets

They are suitable for terrains with harsh weather. They are more long-lasting and durable. You should consider a rain jacket if you want to look stylish.


Raincoats are lighter than rain jackets. They are also designed to be close-fitting and are suitable for harsh weather. They protect you from both rain and wind. However, they cannot protect your gear.


Ponchos are a good idea for an ultra-light backpacker because they are very light and can double as tents or ground covers, eliminating the need for additional gear. They are also very cheap, and you can even make your own.

Rain jackets are suitable when you expect harsh weather, hiking on rough terrain with trees and bushes, and when you need pockets. However, you must pair it with rain pants because rain jackets only protect your upper body.

The choice between rain jackets and ponchos comes down to personal preference, the weather you anticipate, and the terrain you will be hiking on.