Rain Jacket vs Poncho - Overview

There's nothing worse than being caught in an unexpected downpour when you're backpacking if you don't have the right gear.  There are 2 popular choices to protect yourself from rain when you're on the trail.

One option is a rain jacket; due to it's ease of use and comfortable fit.  Another option is a poncho, which can also double as a shelter and generally offers more protection than a rain jacket.  To help you choose the best option, we'll take an in depth look at the pros and cons of both ponchos and rain jackets and make it easy for you to decide.

Rain Jacket


Rain Jacket - Pros and Cons

Raincoats are typically more comfortable than ponchos and do a better job of sealing out 100% of the rain.

The pros for raincoats are:

  • Total coverage, no openings at all for rain to get in.
  • Contoured to your body for a tight fit so there's no excess material getting in your way.
  • More durable than a poncho.

And the cons against raincoats would be:

  • More expensive than a poncho.
  • Worse ventilation compared to a poncho.

Poncho Pros and Cons

Ponchos can be an alternative to raincoats if you're looking for a less expensive option and some added features like the ability to double as a shelter.

Some pros for ponchos are:

  • Less expensive than a raincoat.
  • Also functions as a shelter, eliminating the need for a tent.
  • Much more ventilation than raincoats and can fit over your backpack.

And the cons against raincoats would be:

  • Loose fit makes it easy to get snagged on branches while hiking.
  • Can let in more water due to loose fit due to one size fits all approach.

Poncho As a Shelter

Ponchos fit much looser than raincoats for a couple of reasons, both of which allow you to cut weight and eliminate redundant gear.

Ponchos are large enough that they can fit over the backpack and protect it from rain.  This means you don't need to carry a backpack cover as well which will save about $20 and cut a few ounces of weight.

The other option with a poncho is that it can be used as a shelter.  If you're comfortable with using an A-frame tent that's open on the ends, you can prop up a poncho and use it as a shelter like in the picture below:

There are other poncho options available that are more focused on acting as a tent so there isn't an opening at the ends that would let rain get inside during bad weather.

Poncho vs Raincoat - How to Decide

For most people, we'd recommend getting a raincoat.  Don't just get any raincoat though.  If you cheap out on the raincoat, you'll likely get one made with poor materials and one that lacks adequate ventilation.

You'll definitely appreciate spending the extra money on a nice raincoat when you're hiking through the rain and you're nice and dry and toasty inside of your raincoat.  The extra ventilation on a premium raincoat means you won't get sweaty or build up condensation on the inside of the raincoat.  You'll be totally dry and won't be freezing from the rain.

The best balance between performance and price is the Marmot Men's Precip Jacket (right).  The Marmot Precip Jacket is 100% seam taped to prevent any leaks and has ventilation zippers in the armpits to keep you dry.