Any backpacker will tell you that rain is just part of the great outdoor experience. And if you can keep yourself safe and dry, it’s a beautiful thing. On the other hand, getting soaked through to the bone can be a really miserable experience (even worse if your gear gets soaked too).
Luckily, rain ponchos are very affordable and pack extremely small. This makes them a “high ROI” piece of gear to take with you on the trail. Not much of a pain to carry it, and an enormous help if and when you the time comes that you need to use it.
If you’re thinking about picking up a poncho (or a few for your group), here are our favorites:
1. Frog Toggs (Overall Best Rain Poncho for Backpacking)
In our opinion, the overall best rain poncho for backpacking is the Frog Toggs poncho. This ultralight poncho:
- Is waterproof yet breathable
- generously sized (54″ wide x 40″ high)
- has snaps on the sides to minimize the surface area exposed to the rain
- has an adjustable hood with a drawstring
- has waterproof seams
- comes with a reusable stuff sack for carrying
This sucker is low cost, decently durable, and weighs just 8 ounces in the stuff sack. You can find this rain poncho on Amazon for right about $13. ‘Nuff said.
2. JTENG (Best Military Rain Poncho)
If you want a hunting or military rain poncho, there are plenty out there. Our favorite by far is the JTENG waterproof rain poncho.
This poncho is nicely camouflaged in a classic Mossy Oak pattern, and has an adjustable hood (with a zipper!). At 1.6 lbs, it’s definitely not the lightest weight, but with good reason. It’s made of extremely durable, and 100% waterproof PVC material.
In true military fashion, one of the coolest features about this rain poncho is that it has grommeted edges, so in a pinch, it can actually be used as a tent or a lean-to shelter. The grommets can be tied together to form a sleeping bag. Or, if you prefer, you can also lay it flat to protect you from the wet ground.
Any way you choose to use it, it’s waterproof and one of the more heavy duty rain ponchos that we’ve seen.
Backpacking Poncho vs. Rain Jacket
The proverbial trade-off with every piece of backpacking gear is comfort against weight and space. The more things you carry with you, the more comfortable you can be in a lot of situations.
If you carry a pair of hiking sandals in addition to hiking boots, you will be more comfortable than you would with only one or the other. The same is true if you will be carrying a couple different jacket options, sleeping pads, pillows, extra socks, and more.
Such is the case with the “poncho vs. rain jacket” conversation. Both are nice for different situations.
Rain jackets are usually more insulated, making them heavier but also warmer. They are also more tailored, so they can be worn around town as more of an every day garment. Ponchos are typically thinner and not as substantial, so they won’t be warming you up the same way as a jacket. And obviously, you’re probably not gonna wear your poncho out around town, if it’s sprinkling and you need to run a couple errands.
On the other hand, jackets are shorter, and don’t protect as much of your body from the rain as a poncho does. Jackets can also be heavier, which isn’t great on the trail.
If you can’t carry both, then here’s the short answer: poncho is better if you’re not counting on it to warm you.
What About an “Emergency Rain Poncho”?
Many folks have heard of an emergency rain poncho, and wonder if they are a better option. The answer is no. If you want a poncho for backpacking, then you want something that is heavier duty than a survival poncho. Most of these are made of really cheap plastic (Picture a disposable nuclear waste suit or a tin foil emergency sleeping bag). They will puncture and rip easily if snagged by tree branches, or rubbed too much by your pack or clothing.
Above and beyond this, many of us who enjoy the outdoors are trying to do what we can to curb the trend of “one time use” products. There are already billions of pieces of plastic that fill our landfills, and unfortunately our mountains and oceans as well. If you have the choice, why not get a poncho that you can use forever, instead of one that’s single use only?
Get a poncho that will last you, and get out and enjoy the trail!
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