Planning a backpacking trip to a destination where rain is common? Don’t be caught hiking in rainy conditions without the proper protective gear!
When heading to destinations with unpredictable weather, a backpacking poncho is a must-have accessory for your adventures. Nothing ruins a backpacking trip like wet clothes and gear that’s meant to remain dry!
If you’ve done any sort of camping or backpacking in the wet elements, then you know the convenience of a poncho. It’s one of the simplest articles of outdoor gear, yet packs a punch when it comes to doing what it does best–keeping you dry (and warm) on the wettest of days.
Ponchos range in price and quality, but they all get the job done. If you’re looking for the perfect poncho for your next adventure, this post will help you decide just that!
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Don’t have time to go through this entire post? Here are the best ponchos for backpacking by category.
- Best overall: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp Poncho
- Best for budget backpackers: Frog Toggs Ultra-Lite2 Poncho
What Is A Poncho? What Are Their Benefits?
A poncho is an open-fronted outer layer, usually made of cloth or plastic, that is worn as protection from rain or other weather. Ponchos are a great way to stay warm and dry in wet or cold conditions, and they can be used for many outdoor purposes.
This outer garment actually originated in South America with the Quechua natives, and it has been used by many cultures throughout history for its practicality.
Ponchos are usually lightweight, waterproof, windproof, and provide good coverage from rain or snow. They also have a large hood that can be pulled over the head to keep out the elements.
Rain Ponchos vs. Rain Jackets
Quite simply, the primary difference between a rain poncho and a rain jacket is going to be the fit.
A rain jacket contours to your body as you would expect from any jacket.
A rain poncho takes a drape-it-over-everything approach to rain protection. The fit benefits hikers in many ways — to a degree that some of you may be surprised at! But of course, there can be some drawbacks and it may not be the best for all hikers/backpackers out there.
For shorter day hikes, many day hikers prefer sticking with a rain jacket. However, once a backpacking pack is involved, many backpackers like myself prefer the poncho because it provides so much more protection and coverage, almost like a full-body umbrella for you and all your gear!
Backpacking Poncho Pros and Cons
- Longer fit = more rain protection. Rain ponchos tend to hang lower than your hips (which is where most jackets make their cutoff), and some even cover down to your knees.
- In most cases, the longer fit saves you money from also needing to buy rain pants.
- Ponchos often provide better ventilation than jackets, especially during warmer summer hikes. The loose fit certainly helps, as does the zippered vents–usually under the arms or down the middle. (Rain jackets sometimes have these features, but not always.)
- Many backpacking-specific models will also keep your entire pack dry too, saving you money from needing a waterproof backpack cover.
- Convenient: You don’t have to take your pack off to put it on or take it off while you hike
- Versatility: Many backpacking ponchos can be converted into a shelter, providing versatility with which jackets simply cannot compete.
- Ponchos do not protect from windchill as well as rain jackets in cold and brisk weather
- Rain ponchos were made to be fast and lightweight. They are generally are made from thinner, less durable materials (but there are higher quality options available in the market)
- Have a higher potential of ripping or tearing during activities like canyoneering or climbing
- Not very stylish— Rain jackets are form-fitting, ponchos are not.
Features to Consider When Buying a Backpack Cover or Poncho
There are a lot of important factors to consider before choosing and investing in your backpacking poncho.
The material of your backpacking poncho will be important. Is it waterproof? Water-resistant? Is it made out of breathable materials or is it pretty much going to feel like a garbage bag over your body?
The fabric/material of a backpacking poncho will determine whether you’ll be dry as a bone or potentially moist and uncomfortable!
The most common poncho materials are:
- PU Coated Nylon
- Cuben fiber / Dyneema composite
- Sil-poly / Sil-nylon
PVC ponchos are the cheapest–these are going to be your garbage bag type of material (plasticky, rubbery). PVC ponchos can be a fine choice if you’re totally in a pinch and just need something to keep you dry immediately. They definitely get the job done and can be easily repaired with duct tape. Plus, they are cheap as heck!
Cuben fiber ponchos are the highest in quality, and therefore the most expensive option. Cuben fiber, or dyneema composite fabric (DCF), was originally invented for sailboat racing. That means backpacking gear made of this fabric is not only going to be waterproof, but also very lightweight. This top-quality material means you’ll pay more upfront, but it’ll last you for years to come.
PU coated nylon is a good and happy medium between PVC and cuben fiber. PU coated nylon is also an affordable waterproof material where the nylon fabric is on the outside and waterproof polyurethane is on the inside. Backpacking/hiking gear made from this material tends to be a good and healthy blend of value, function, durability, and performance.
PU coated nylon is relatively cheap to produce, making it a solid choice if you’re more of a budget-conscious backpacker that doesn’t want to sacrifice quality too much.
Sil-poly and sil-nylon are other middle-ground options. They’re typically very affordable because they’re simple fabrics where nylon or polyester is dipped in silicone to create a durable, waterproof fabric. They’re one of the most popular fabrics used in the outdoor industry.
Size And Weight
There are a few things to consider when it comes to the size and weight of backpacking ponchos. Will it be too heavy for you to carry around all day? Will it fit over your backpack? Will it cover your legs?
While many rain ponchos come in a one-size-fits-all package, not all backpacking ponchos are like this, which can be good for those who want a more customized fit.
Many backpacking ponchos will cover your leg up to your knees, but leave the shins and feet unprotected. If you plan on hiking in rainy areas, be sure to pack long pants and waterproof hiking boots.
Lastly, refrain from buying a poncho that is too big for your needs. If you plan on doing shorter day hikes with a small daypack, buying a large backpacking poncho (meant to cover up more surface area) may be a bad idea. An oversized poncho may drag on the ground and could possibly even tear.
I recommend measuring the size of your backpack when deciding on the right poncho size for your needs.
Some ponchos come with extra features that give them an edge against their competition. If these features appeal to you, be sure to take note of whether the poncho you’re considering buying has these features or not.
Here’s a hitlist of some of these extra features:
- Attached hood – rain protection for your head
- Storage bag – easy storage
- Extra pockets – easy access to necessities
- Zippers & drawstrings – more protection, ability to customize size/fit
Ponchos are very popular among ultralight backpackers because many of them have started incorporating more features. Naturally, what you’ll find is that many of the higher-end ponchos tend to serve more than one purpose.
Some backpacking ponchos can be used as a tarp or even converted into a quick shelter, making them more versatile than your average poncho.
If you’re more of an ultralight backpacker, you may want to consider a poncho with multipurpose features. You can easily save money (and weight) from needing to buy/carry additional items that serve just one purpose.
Common multi-purpose poncho features include:
- Using it as a ground tarp
- Using it as an emergency shelter
- Using it as a sunshade
- Using it as a picnic blanket
As you can see, some backpacking ponchos can be really effective. They can be rain jackets, wind jackets, pack covers, shelters, and picnic blankets all in one!
6 Best Backpacking Ponchos On The Market In 2022
A rain poncho is one of the best outdoor gear items you can own for backpacking. Below are some of our favorite options, ranging from affordable budget options to top-notch quality options. No matter which you go with, you will be prepared for trekking in cold, rainy weather!
1. Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp Poncho
The Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho is a 4-in-1 wonder of a backpacking poncho. It is a raincoat, pack cover, groundsheet and tarp, all in one! It is made of 15D Ultra-Sil Nano fabric, meaning it’s super lightweight and packs down incredibly small.
The Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho accommodates a large backpack, and can easily convert to a shelter with guy attachment points
This poncho is an ideal solution in temperate climates and is best for those who want as little weight on them as possible and those that want extra peace of mind knowing their poncho can be used as a 2-person emergency shelter if needed.
- Poncho Weight: 8.1 oz
- Price: $110
- Best For: All types of day hikers and backpackers – Day Hikers, Ultralight Backpackers, Wilderness Backpackers
2. Snugpak Patrol Poncho
The Snugpak Patrol Poncho is a simple yet effective over-the-head smock style poncho with a generous cut that fits comfortably over your backpack. The Patrol Poncho is 100% waterproof and made of Snugpak’s exclusive Paratex dry material. The durable, water repellent and waterproof polyurethane coatings ensure that you will stay dry in inclement weather.
This is another multipurpose poncho on our list, as it can be used as an emergency bivvi as well. This poncho has an adjustable hood, thumb loops in the cuffs for increased coverage, and a Velcro pocket with a storm flap on the chest.
We especially like this poncho because it has dedicated sleeves, meaning the rest of you can stay dry even if you’re reaching around doing things with your arms. Compression packed size is 8 inches by 4 inches.
- Poncho Weight: 13 oz
- Price: ~$70
- Best For: Day Hikers, Wilderness Backpackers
3. Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
The Gatewood Cape by Six Moons Design is very unique in that it’s a rain poncho that doubles as a tarp tent. Yes, you read that right, a whole tarp tent!
Starting with its poncho features–this product weighs just 10 ounces, has a hood for your head, and provides unique 360-degree coverage when worn. Unlike ponchos, capes don’t have long slits along the sides. While the poncho may allow for more ventilation, it does little to keep out windblown rain.
Dual zipper pulls on the front of the Gatewood Cape allow you to regulate ventilation while still providing full protection. The open skirted design allows fresh air to enter through the bottom.
As a shelter, the Gatewood Cape provides significantly better protection when compared to your typical poncho/tarp. Using your own trekking pole, you can create a really sturdy pyramid design that’s meant to shed rain or snow. In windy conditions, the wind simply flows around it! Unlike a traditional tarp, the Gatewood Cape is shaped to eliminate all exposed sides — leaving you safe and secure.
Overall, this poncho/tent combo product is one of the best in the market, especially if you’re looking to invest in a poncho that can double as an emergency shelter. You will need to get it seam sealed though, as it does not come seam sealed.
- Poncho Weight: 10 oz
- Price: $155
- Best For: Ultralight Backpackers, Wilderness Backpackers
4. The Packa by Cedar Tree
Cedar Tree’s The Packa is the most feature-engineered backpacking poncho on our list. This poncho basically combines all the benefits of a rain jacket, pack cover, and poncho and does away with the drawbacks of each.
How the Packa works is that it’s placed on the pack first, as a pack-cover only, followed by the jacket section. What this means is that you can easily put on/take off the poncho without removing your pack or struggling to get it over you and your pack at the same time.
You can also wear the Packa without a pack, either around camp or around town, and it will work perfectly fine as a regular poncho.
This poncho has a lot of coverage, providing protection to your arms, chest, and torso down to the mid-thigh. The Packa has a full zippered front, sleeves that tighten, a fully adjustable hood, huge pit vents, pockets, and a dual separating front zipper that makes access to your belongings easy and convenient.
You can get the Packa in a few different colors and even in a few different types of materials that vary in thickness, breathability, and waterproof rating.
- Poncho Weight: 9-20 oz, depending on fabric and size choice
- Price: $90-120, depending on fabric and size choice
- Best For: All types of day hikers and backpackers – Day Hikers, Ultralight Backpackers, Wilderness Backpackers
5. FROGG TOGGS Ultra-Lite2 Poncho
The Frog Toggs Ultra-Lite2 Poncho is the best poncho in the market for budget backpackers. Not to mention, it’s highly rated and loved for being on the more affordable side.
This simple ultralight poncho, clocking in at only 9 ounces, offers protection from everything from rain, sleet, snow and wind. The FROGG TOGGS Standard Ultra-Lite2 Backpacking Poncho is made of durable 40D ripstop nylon with welded seams to prevent leakage when using.
This poncho comes with a hood, which has an adjustment.
Sure, it’s not made of super durable or long-lasting fabric, nor does it transform into a shelter or tarp, but it does what it’s meant to do–keep you and your pack dry while hiking.
- Poncho Weight: 9 oz
- Price: ~$14.99
- Best For: Day Hiker, Ultralight Backpacker, Wilderness Backpacker
Charles River Apparel Pacific Poncho
The Pacific Poncho is an outdoor apparel company with a line of products that are all made in the USA. Their products are perfect for any outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, bikers, campers, hunters and more. They have two new product lines of ponchos that will keep you dry and comfortable all year round.
Anyoo Waterproof Rain Poncho
The Anyoo Waterproof Rain Poncho is another great budget poncho. This one is great because not only is it affordable, but it is also multipurpose and resistant to tearing and abrasion, thanks to its PVC-coated nylon fabric.
Made of 210T ripstop polyester fabric and PVC coating, this rain poncho is PU3000MM waterproof. The adjustable hood allows you to personalize the hood size to protect your face from the elements, and its hook and loop fasteners along the sides ensure the perfect fit. The fasteners allow “sleeves” to be formed so you can still handle equipment easily.
It offers excellent freedom of movement, which makes it very comfortable to wear. Not to mention, it’s lightweight and easily portable with the included storage bag.
In terms of other uses, the Anyoo Rain Poncho has eyelets on the hem for use as a shelter or groundsheet, as well as hook and loop fasteners on the sides allowing you to use it as a sleeping bag cover.
All in all, the Anyoo Unisex Adult Rain Poncho will keep you nice and dry, regardless of whether you are hiking or cycling!
- Poncho Weight: 11 oz
- Price: ~$20
- Best For: Day Hikers, Ultralight Backpackers, Wilderness Backpackers
And there you have it, the best ponchos for backpacking in the market this year? Is there a poncho you particularly like for backpacking? I’d love to hear about it!