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Waterproofing yourself and your gear is a huge part of perfecting your packing list, and ponchos can be a good solution for both. The best rain ponchos for backpacking can keep you dry in inclement weather and are lightweight enough to carry with you at other times (think: 9 ounces or less). Ultimately, the material a poncho is constructed with will determine just how durable, waterproof, and heavy it is, with plastic sheets or woven fabrics being the most common options. You’ll also want to consider what you want to cover, whether that’s just you, your pack, or even the ground.
While there is some variation across brands and materials, when it comes to woven fabric ponchos that have been specially treated, the waterproof level is often measured in millimeters. The higher the number, the more waterproof the material will be, but anything with a rating above 1,500 millimeters should be able to keep you nice and dry under most conditions.
Ponchos made with polypropylene and other plastic sheets can be lightweight and waterproof — as long as the plastic poncho remains intact and doesn’t rip, it shouldn’t let water through. They also tend to be cheaper and best for emergency use, rather than a long-term solution. Woven fabrics made with materials like nylon and polyester can be quite waterproof when treated with PVC or silicone coatings (resulting in fabrics like silnylon), and they can additionally be treated with a polyurethane (PU) coating. Many ponchos made with these performance fabrics are designed with versatility in mind and can double as a tarp or groundsheet. However, products made with woven fabrics can be pricier than non-woven ones, and their waterproofing treatments can also fail over time. The thickness of the threads used in a fabric is measured in deniers, and it can affect its durability.
Other factors to look for in a backpacking poncho are an adjustable fit to ensure no water sneaks in, ventilation so you don’t overheat, and even versatility to double as a tarp or groundsheet. The best poncho for you will ultimately be determined by which of these factors is most important to you, your backpacking gear setup, and how often you expect to use it.
Before you hit the trails, make sure to pack one of these five rain ponchos for backpacking.
1. The tried-and-true one
frogg toggs is well-known in the backpacking community for making effective rain gear at an affordable price, and its Ultra-Lite 2 Poncho is no exception. The poncho is made of a non-woven polypropylene plastic material that one Amazon reviewer noted “doesn’t absorb water” and “dries quickly.” The poncho also has open sides with snaps to offer a closer fit and good ventilation, and it features a hood with a drawstring and cord locks to ensure that it stays snug as you hike. It weighs 9 ounces in its included stuff sack.
This poncho’s material is thin, according to reviewers, but many shoppers were able to get multiple uses out of it nonetheless. One described, “It feels a little thin but has not yet torn in two uses.” And when you’re done with it, don’t fret — it’s recyclable.
One reviewer wrote: “I bought 3 of these for a backpacking trip with my sons. It started raining and we broke them out. I kept us quite dry and we were able to make an arduous ascent without undue sweating or inconvenience. Getting wet & cold in the wilderness can be life-threatening. This did such a good job I would consider it a must have for wilderness preparedness. Would totally recommend.”
2. The budget one
The simplest (and cheapest) of the ponchos on the list, the Survival General emergency poncho is a lightweight option for anyone who wants rain protection without the frills. The waterproof poncho is made of plastic and weighs 7 ounces in its plastic carrier bag. It has open sides and does not have any snaps or closures, but its hood features a drawstring cord for a customizable fit. One Amazon reviewer described, “It is very good for an emergency poncho, but not indestructible,” so it’s likely best for security in case of unexpected bad weather rather than a poncho for frequent use.
One reviewer wrote: “Great, heavy duty and huge. It’s in my backpack for camping. Could use this 1 million ways. Only takes up a few inches of room and fairly lightweight. With this and some duct tape you could build yourself an emergency shelter no problem.”
3. The over-pack one
While many ponchos can fit over a pack, this Onewind rain poncho is the best for the task, as it features waist ties to cinch the poncho closed, ensuring both you and your pack stay dry even as you continue hiking. This poncho also strikes a balance between durability and weight at a pretty great price, especially considering it’s reusable. It’s made of 15-denier silnylon with a PU coating, and it’s rated at 3,000 millimeters, making it moderately durable and lightweight while remaining waterproof. It weighs 7.7 ounces alone or 9 ounces in the included stuff sack.
Other features include large armholes for ventilation, hook-and-loop fastenings on the sides, a hood with adjustable drawstrings along the chin and the top of the head, and hooks on the corners to convert it into a tarp. It comes in two sizes, the larger of which can fit a 70-liter pack.
One reviewer wrote: “Ultralight/Compact & Durable. Stitching is top of the line..sets up to be a great lean 2 tarp. It also has a waist strap so your poncho isn’t flapp’n in the wind. Has an adjustable hood both under your chin as well as back of your head to snuggly conform to not allow the storm to soak inwards. I found this Cape like poncho to be extremely breathable. Takes up little space in my haversack.”
4. The ultra-lightweight one
If you’re looking to cut as much weight as possible while still retaining some rain protection or if you already have a rain jacket you swear by, this 4-ounce Onewind half poncho will fit the bill. Made of 20-denier silnylon and rated at 3,000 millimeters, this durable rain skirt will keep your legs relatively dry and offer you more ventilation than rain pants as you hike through wet weather. It has a wrap design with Velcro so you can secure it around your waist, drape it over your pack, or lay it flat. It is durable enough to use as a ground sheet and can come in handy when you need to take a seat after a storm or in early morning dew.
One reviewer wrote: “Used this on the Sierra High Route. SO much better than rain pants. You can stay warm in the cold rain with these puppies, as the overlap allows for some ventilation as not to overheat + sweat. Also protects against mosquitos when you are sitting down (you can just drape this over your legs while you eat or w.e.) This also doubles as a pack cover. Drape this over your entire pack and wear it like a cape around your neck, it really works!”
5. The one that converts into a secure tarp
Although a few ponchos on this list can convert into shelters, the Anyoo rain poncho is best equipped to do so, featuring eyelets on its bottom corners for a secure tarp or groundsheet setup. It’s made of 210-denier ripstop polyester treated with PVC and PU coatings, and the waterproofness is rated at 3,000 millimeters. However, it still just weighs 9 ounces in its included stuff sack. The poncho is well-ventilated, with open sides and snap closures, and it has an adjustable hood with a small brim to keep rain out of your eyes. While it can be worn over backpacks, it’s likely best for small ones — one Amazon commenter noted that “it will get pretty short in the back covering a pack.”
One reviewer wrote: “This poncho was awesome on our backpacking trip on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. It was raining constantly for one of the days. The poncho mode keeps you dry and we used the tarp mode to elongate our existing tarp over our packs. First time using a poncho in a while but I’m a complete convert and bought a second one for my wife when her rain jacket started leaking.”