Last Updated: March 19, 2021

Poncho vs. Rain Jacket – What to bring when you want to travel light

Traveling in the rain can be quite a challenge. Keeping yourself and your things dry is one thing, but being able to move freely is another. Then again, adventures like hiking under the rain also has its perks. The scenery changes completely and it’s a totally different experience. The gear is another thing though, and it all starts with one decision – poncho or rain jacket?

While it would be great to bring both, it’s highly impractical. Much of it boils down to preference, but there are many functionalities you’ll have to consider.

The Poncho

Ponchos may not be the most fashionable option out there, but a great one can make the difference between a good and a bad time.

Charles River Apparel Pacific Poncho (Saddle)

Charles River Apparel Pacific Rain Poncho

Snugpak Patrol Poncho, Waterproof, One Size, Lightweight, Suitable for Hiking, Camping, and Hunting, Olive

SnugPak Patrol Poncho

If you’re considering buying a poncho, look out for these key features:

  • Pit ventilation, usually in the form of a snap cover or flap
  • Drawstrings on the hood for easy adjustment
  • Durable material like ripstop nylon to keep it strong but lightweight
  • Waterproofing
  • Moderate fit where the poncho is breathable but not too big that it makes movement cumbersome
  • Long enough to cover at least up to your knees, but not too long that it becomes a nuisance when you move your legs

Related: The Best Rain Ponchos for Travelers


  • Cheap and affordable
  • Much more ventilation
  • Can be draped over your backpack
  • Can protect the bottom half of your body
  • Versatile enough to function as a tarp, a shelter, a mat or a pillow


  • Snags on trees and branches
  • Not fashionable for everyday or urban wear
  • Prone to leakage
  • Will blow away in strong winds and rain
  • Will never provide the perfect fit

The Rain Jacket

Rain jackets are very versatile in the sense that they can be worn in different types of climates, settings, and occasions. It’s also great for heavier rains since it will stay put and keep you snug and dry.

Arc'teryx Zeta LT Jacket Men's (Black, Medium)

Arc’teryx Men’s Zeta LT Jacket

Marmot Men's PreCip Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket, Gargoyle, X-Large

Marmo PreCip Jacket

There are several rain jackets out there, but if you’re looking for one to go backpacking with you, look out for some of these features:

  • Lightweight and waterproof
  • Packable and compact
  • Fits well but has room to layer clothes underneath
  • Has adjustments for the hood, neck, hem, sleeves and other openings to keep water from entering the jacket
  • Waterproofing features such as storm flaps for better protection
  • Waterproof or zippered pockets for extra protective storage

Related: Best Lightweight and Packable Rain Jackets


  • Hugs the body for better protection
  • If made of the right materials, keeps you completely dry despite the rain
  • Stylish and can be worn on different occasions
  • Keeps you warm during windy travels and cold nights
  • Gives you more mobility through thick underbrush or challenging trails


  • Too short to protect bottom half of the body
  • Can’t sit down on wet ground
  • A bit more bulky than ponchos
  • Not as breathable under light rains or warm weather
  • A lot more expensive

Poncho vs. Rain Jacket

As with anything related to travel, the right choice is all about what you’ll use the gear for.

Bring a poncho when:

  • Rains are light
  • Trails are open without too many obstacles such as branches and trees
  • You don’t want to bring an extra tent
  • You have plans of laying on the ground for cooking or just taking a rest
  • You need to have your backpack protected

Bring a rain jacket when:

  • Weather is unpredictable and there is a good chance of heavy rain and winds
  • You need something to wear in different trips like city walks, outdoor adventures, and hikes
  • You’re particular about style

Pin It For Later!

Going on a hike but not sure how to keep yourself dry? Join the poncho vs. rain jacket debate and decide the right gear you should bring on your next trip.Going on a hike but not sure how to keep yourself dry? Join the poncho vs. rain jacket debate and decide the right gear you should bring on your next trip.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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