Updated June 2021
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Buying guide for best ponchos

Ponchos are an affordable alternative to a rain jacket that can provide protection from the elements whether you are hiking or just walking to work. While they are typically shapeless and basic in design, some more eye-catching varieties have gained popularity.

Almost all rain ponchos are fairly affordable. This means you have several choices no matter what your needs are. Some are thin and lightweight, and others may even be disposable. Ponchos may be designed for casual use in situations like music festivals or amusement parks or for more rugged use like hiking. Most ponchos are made of synthetic waterproof materials, but the durability and breathability of these will vary.

Choosing the right poncho for your needs means thinking about where you will use your poncho and whether it is your primary protection against the rain or just a backup. If you plan to wear your poncho for extended periods, breathability can be a major factor as some ponchos may trap moisture against your body.

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Ponchos may not be the most stylish, but when you’re outside in the rain, no one will fault you for wearing one, especially if they are busy running for cover.

Key considerations


There isn’t much wiggle room here — a poncho should be fully waterproof. Fortunately, all of the common materials used in ponchos are waterproof, but they vary in their weight and texture.

More expensive ponchos are rigorously tested using industry standard waterproofing tests. A tube of water is placed against the materials and flipped upside down. Then, the amount of water a material can withstand is measured in millimeters. Most ponchos offer from 3,000 to 5,000 millimeters of waterproofing. The higher the waterproof rating, the better. Inexpensive ponchos often lack waterproof ratings, but that does not mean they will struggle to keep water out — it just means you may have to rely more on customer reviews.

The most popular materials for ponchos are PVC, nylon (paired with a waterproof laminate), polyester, and polyurethane. These are typically inexpensive compared to materials like cuben fiber.

To ensure your poncho is fully waterproof, look for one with taped seams to prevent moisture from entering or one made of one piece of material with no seams.


Breathability should be a consideration, especially if you plan to wear your poncho for long periods or do outdoor activities like hiking. High-quality hiking ponchos are often designed to be breathable — this means that they allow water vapor to escape the poncho through microscopic holes. Keep in mind that plastic-based materials lack breathability and may make a crinkly sound as you walk, whereas fabrics tend to be more breathable and are usually more comfortable.

Length and design

A longer poncho is more likely to keep you dry than a short poncho. This isn’t necessarily because it covers your shins but because water on your poncho has to go somewhere — and that somewhere is the edge of your poncho. As a result, a shorter poncho may drip water on your feet and lower legs in heavy rain.

Sleeve length can also vary. Shorter sleeves offer more mobility but less coverage, and if you are wearing long sleeves beneath your poncho, there’s a good chance your inner layer will become soaked at the wrist.

Some ponchos may have cinched armholes and waistbands to keep moisture from getting in. This may feel uncomfortable or restricting, but it does help to keep you dry.


Ponchos are designed to be as light as possible and often weigh less than a pound so you can easily stuff them in your backpack or bag. However, this can come at the cost of durability.

Plastic-based materials may be lightweight and affordable, but they can also tear easily if a stray tree branch snags the material.

The most durable ponchos use polyurethane-coated nylon, which is tough and comfortable but not very breathable. Some more expensive options may have a knitted exterior overtop a waterproof laminate, allowing for a tough yet breathable poncho. Polyester is also a durable option that works well for hiking.

In general, ponchos that have a fabric outer layer with a waterproof inner layer are the most rugged.

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Did you know?
Ponchos range from lightweight disposable plastic options to sturdier fabric-based products that will stand up to years of use.


Style and patterns

Just because ponchos are a bit shapeless doesn’t mean you have to embrace their dorky look. Many ponchos are available in a variety of colors and patterns, and a high-quality hiking poncho can look similar to a rain jacket. Or, for something more discreet, a clear poncho is a good option.

Disposable ponchos

Low-priced ponchos are often sold in packs of four to 10 and can be disposable, which is convenient if you don’t want to stuff a soggy poncho back in your bag.

However, this is not the best option for the environmentally conscious as ponchos produce a significant amount of plastic waste. If you are looking for a poncho you can get rid of but don’t want to produce extra waste, look for a poncho made of recyclable plastic.

Backpack accommodation

If you plan to wear a backpack with a poncho, you will want it to be covered up as well. Hiking ponchos can be distinguished by their longer backs, which are for draping over a backpack. Many models indicate the maximum size backpack they can accommodate, measured in liters — just as hiking backpacks typically measure their volume in liters.

"Ultra-thin ponchos are light and easy to pack, but they also tend to cling to your skin."

Poncho prices

Inexpensive: Ponchos for $5 to $10 are usually basic and made primarily of plastic. They may be clear or solid-colored, and many options in this range include multiple ponchos, making this a good price range for families.

Mid-range: For $10 to $20 are ponchos that range from thin PVC options to durable hiking ponchos made of PU-coated fabric. These ponchos may be more durable and breathable, and they often have less gaudy colors and patterns than cheaper products.

Expensive: Ponchos for $20 to $30 are usually made of high-quality materials like high-density polyester or synthetic fabrics with inner laminated layers. It may be hard to justify buying a poncho over a cheap raincoat in this range, but if you plan on backpacking, these ponchos may be a good fit for you.

Tips for staying dry

Here are a few ways you can ensure that your poncho is keeping you totally dry in the heaviest of downpours:

  • A poncho isn’t just for wearing in the rain. A big storm can leave the ground soggy, so try using your poncho as a sitting surface.
  • If your backpack has a raincover, you can wear your bag outside of your poncho. This eliminates the need to awkwardly remove your backpack from under your poncho, which can be a feat if you want to stay dry.
  • When you hang up your poncho to dry, make sure that it is spread out rather than crumpled up so moisture doesn’t hide in the folds.
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Some ponchos are made of breathable materials to prevent you from getting too sweaty while you hike or run.


Q. Do ponchos contain latex?
Some ponchos may contain latex, which can present an issue for those with a latex allergy. Check the materials listed by the manufacturer to be sure you are not purchasing a product with latex.

Q. Can you trim a poncho to shorten it?
If it is made primarily of plastic, you should be able to trim the hem. Fabric-based materials are difficult to cut evenly.

Q. Can you reuse disposable ponchos?
Absolutely — just because they can be thrown away doesn’t mean they have to be. Be sure to thoroughly dry your poncho after use.

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