Hiking Poncho VS Rain Jacket: Pros, Cons, and Differences

One of the more frustrating things when enjoying the great outdoors is the sudden development of inclement weather. You may be enjoying a nice leisurely hike, a roadside jog, or a trail run… when suddenly it starts to rain.

Maybe you somehow glossed over that forecast detail before you left home, but you can still recover from it by always having protection with you. Specifically, rain gear.

Choosing a hiking poncho vs rain jacket is a tough choice. Both can be two of the best forms of protection from the elements… yet may not suit your needs. So let’s first talk about the pros and cons of each – and then I’ll provide you with some of our top picks when purchasing gear.

What is a Hiking Poncho?

A hiking poncho, or rain poncho, is a rectangular cut article of clothing with a hole in the top for the wearer’s head. This usually has a hood attached near the hole for protection from the rain. The poncho is generally made from waterproof materials, ranging from plastic to waterproof fabrics.

There are usually no sleeves for the wearer’s arms; it’s a very basic, loose-fitting article of clothing. Some models do have sleeves, however. Most ponchos come in a one-size-fits-all size, due to their shape and loose-fitting nature. Ponchos tend to be more durable due to not having zippers or snaps that can break.  

What is a Rain Jacket?

A rain jacket is very much what it sounds like: a jacket you wear in rainy weather. Generally, rain jackets are lightweight. They are usually made of water-resistant or waterproof materials. They can keep you drier in the wettest of conditions, as they come in sizes and can be tightened down around the hood, sleeve, and waist areas. 

They may include a hood to protect the wearer’s head from the rain. They have sleeves, pockets, zippers, or snaps which make them handy for storing things needed, but also can be less durable, should any of these things break.

Pros of a Hiking Poncho

1. Ponchos Are Generally Cooler

Ponchos are not form-fitting. They do not usually come in sizes like a rain jacket. They also rarely have sleeves, so they are quite breezy and cooler than most jackets.

2. Ponchos Are More Durable

Ponchos do not have as many breakable features as a rain jacket. There are no snaps, zippers, or drawstring cords to adjust. This makes them far more durable than rain jackets and simpler to use. 

3. You Can Remove Your Poncho without Taking off Your Pack 

With a lightweight, loose-fitting poncho, you can put it on over your pack. So if the poor weather stops and you want to remove your poncho, you don’t have to take off your pack first, like you would with a rain jacket. 

Cons of a Hiking Poncho

1. Hiking Ponchos Are Not As Warm In Cold, Rainy Weather

Ponchos tend to be cooler and more comfortable when you are in a warmer, wet environment. They aren’t nearly as comfortable if it is very cold or if it’s colder with a lot of rain coming down. They are loose-fitting and do no contour towards the wearer’s body at all.

2. Hiking Ponchos Can Get Snagged Far Easier Than Rain Jackets

If you are hiking in a nice open area without vegetation close by, you don’t have to worry about that at all. However, if the hike you are on is in a wooded area and suddenly becomes wet and rainy, a poncho will be more of a distraction than helpful.

3. Hiking Ponchos Are Not Very Stylish

While this may not be as important of a factor to most people, it can definitely be to some. Plastic hiking ponchos can look especially unattractive in the great outdoors. They are larger, loose-fitting, and often made of plastic. A nice rain jacket looks more fashionable on the trail.

Pros of a Rain Jacket 

1. Rain Jackets Can Hold More Gear than a Hiking Poncho

Because hiking ponchos rarely have pockets, snaps, or zippers, they are not great for carrying basic smaller items needed on the trail. Rain jackets tend to come with more zippered pockets and carrying options, so they are convenient for holding trail items, or even your keys, wallet, and phone.

2. Rain Jackets Are Warmer Than Hiking Ponchos

If wet, rainy weather is happening in colder temperatures, you will certainly prefer having a rain jacket over a hiking poncho. Rain jackets can be made of warmer materials even if lighter in weight than a normal jacket. They usually have adjustable sleeves, hoods, and waists, to keep out the rain. 

3. You Can Get Use Out Of a Rain Jacket when you’re Not Using It for Hiking

The nice thing about a rain jacket versus a hiking poncho is that you’re able to wear it outside of your outdoor activities. A warm, stylish rain jacket can be worn around town and can protect you in rainy weather while still looking fashionable. You will likely get a lot more use out of a rain jacket than a hiking poncho in everyday life.  

Cons of a Rain Jacket

1. Rain Jackets Can Be More Expensive Than Hiking Ponchos

The cost of rain jackets can range anywhere from about $20 for a cheaper model up to $100 or more dollars for an expensive one with more features. A cheap one-time-use hiking poncho can cost as little as $1. Some of the most expensive and better hiking ponchos can still cost far less than the pricier rain jackets. 

2. A Rain Jacket Doesn’t Offer As Much Total-Body Protection as a Hiking Poncho

A rain jacket will only protect your upper body from the wet, cold weather. It doesn’t do anything to cover up your legs and feet. A hiking poncho is more of tent-like protection that covers you head-to-toe. If staying completely dry is the primary goal, a rain jacket might not be the better choice between the two. 

3. Rain Jackets Aren’t As Ventilated As Hiking Ponchos

If you are taking part in a moderate to strenuous hike, you could find that a rain jacket isn’t cool enough for you. Even if it’s raining and chilly, you can find yourself sweating and feeling uncomfortable in a rain jacket. A hiking poncho would do better in terms of ventilation than a form-fitting rain jacket. 

Now that we’ve discussed some pros and cons of both hiking ponchos and rain jackets, let’s look into a few options for both. Most of these are available on Amazon and are highly rated options. Check them out and the links where you can find them are included.

To Sum up the Pros and Cons…

Summing up the pros and cons of hiking ponchos vs rain jacket can help you make a well-informed, side-by-side, decision regarding which one is better for you, as shown in this infographic below. 

Some Highly Rated Hiking Ponchos

1. Coleman Adult EVA Poncho

This hiking poncho by Coleman is the most affordable model that is still a highly rated option. Non-PVC, EVA material, comes with side snaps, an adjustable hood, and offers welded seams for durability. You can find the link to this affordable model here:

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2. FROGG TOGGS Standard Ultra-Lite2 Waterproof Breathable Poncho

This poncho from FROGG TOGGS comes in a number of colors and is affordable while still providing a quality hiking poncho. It’s made from a breathable, non-woven fabric that is breathable, waterproof, and wind-resistant. This can be washed in the washing machine and has side snaps plus an adjustable hood. Check out the details of this awesome choice here: 

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3. Anyoo Waterproof Rain Poncho Lightweight Reusable Hiking Hooded Coat Jacket

An Amazon’s Choice pick, this waterproof hiking poncho delivers what you need for a still-affordable price. It’s made from a rip-resistant, polyester material which still allows for breathability. It is large enough to accommodate a backpack under it, and is offered in 9 colors. Check out the selections Anyoo offers here:

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Some Highly Rated Rain Jackets 

1. Columbia Men’s Glennaker Lake Rain Jacket

The Glennaker Lake rain jacket from Columbia is a wonderful light rain jacket for a solid price. This highly rated jacket will keep you warm and dry in just about any rainy weather. It features a waterproof material that is packable and lightweight. There are plenty of storage places that button and zip up. Check this wonderful rain jacket here:

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2. Marmot Men’s PreCip Jacket

The PreCip Jacket by Marmot is one of the higher-priced options on this list, but you’ll see why when you order one. This 100% nylon jacket has most of the other bells and whistles of comparable jackets but also features PFC-free NanoPro recycled nylon fabric. This keeps you dry in the wettest conditions and is highly breathable with an advanced micro porous coating. View this top-notch product here: 

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3. Columbia Women’s Arcadia Ii Jacket

This rain jacket for women is lightweight, breathable, packable, and machine washable. There are plenty of pockets, zippable sleeves and these come in a variety of colors. This comfortable, waterproof rain jacket can be viewed here:

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Final Thoughts on Hiking Ponchos VS Rain Jackets

Deciding whether to go with a hiking poncho or a rain jacket depends on a number of factors. The temperatures you’ll be hiking in can help decide whether to go with a hiking poncho or a rain jacket. The terrain you’re hiking in should also play a part in the decision. If you are close to trees, brush, and foliage, a poncho could get snagged and caught.

Cost can play a role in your decision as well. Hiking Ponchos are certainly cheaper, especially if you’re talking about one-time usage ones. However, rain jackets can be used more often and for other activities, though they do cost more.

Rain jackets also tend to hold more items and, while they are less ventilated, they are definitely warmer. Personally speaking, I feel it’s best to have both a hiking poncho and a rain jacket with you… so that you’re covered either way.