Poncho vs Rain Jacket? Which Keeps You Dry While Hiking or Backpacking?

Preparing for rain when you’re about to embark on the Camino de Santiago may not seem like something you need to do all year round, but you’d be surprised.

Whilst it offers brilliant weather during most of the summer, there’s always the chance of rain – I have been caught in thunderstorms in July and August. That’s why deciding between a poncho vs rain jacket is really important if you want to stay dry and get the most out of your Camino.

To give you some food for thought, we’ve put together some hints and tips that will talk you through everything you need to know. Then, all you need to do is go down to your local store and try them on for size. (Or buy here on Amazon for Rain Jackets or Ponchos)

What Should You Take with You

There are so many bits and pieces you will want to take with you: sunscreen, hiking boots, ankle support, hiking socks, and, of course, some lightweight rain protection (full packing list here). The great thing about ponchos and rain jackets is that they are lightweight enough to carry without noticing them, and they are compact enough so that you’ll still have plenty of space in your rucksack.

There are pros and cons to each of them, so I’m going to be talking you through everything step by step. Then we’ll finish up with a bit of advice on how best to make your final decision, and the rest is up to you. One thing is for sure: once you get to the Camino de Santiago, you’ll be glad you took the time to make the right choice.

The Pros of Rain Jackets: Everything You Need to Know

hiking rain jacket

Rain jackets offer a proper fit with sleeves that hold the rest of the jacket in place. This means that when it is windy, you won’t have to hold your jacket in place to stop the water from getting to you. As well as offering a natural fit, rain jackets are durable and tend to be made from rip-stop fabric. This makes them ideal for use for years on end, without having to patch them up and eventually throw them away.

If you like to walk through densely packed wooded areas on your hikes, then a rain jacket is the best way to avoid getting snagged on low lying branches. (and we have reviewed here on the best light rain jackets)

You’ll also have plenty of pockets and zip-up storage if you want to be able to carry your key essentials on you. Keeping your phone, map book, and a torch in your pocket can be a lot more practical than having to stop and unzip your rucksack every 15 minutes. You can even get rain jackets that come with reflective strips sewn into the fabric so that you can be easily seen if you’re walking at dusk or later. Ideal for staying safe as you approach your bed for the night.

The Cons of Rain Jackets You Should Be Aware of

As with anything, there are always a few downsides. Don’t worry. They’re not drastic, but it pays to be aware of them just in case you find out one of them is a real deal breaker. A commonly raised issue is that rain jackets can be hard to stay cool in. Of course, on the Camino de Santiago, you would opt for one with minimal thermal lining because you don’t need it. But even that can cause you to overheat.

Without much natural airflow around your upper body and with a rucksack on your back, you might find that your rain jacket is a bit too warm for you most of the time. The other issue that people commonly raise is the price. Rain jackets, by their very nature, will cost considerably more than ponchos. You could argue that that’s because you are getting a lot more for your money, but if it’s budget protection you’re looking for, a rain jacket may not be the ideal solution for you.

The Pros of Ponchos

Rain Poncho

Ponchos are great for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re a budget form of rain protection that will do the job for a short walking holiday or weekend away. This means that you can have plenty of money left over to enjoy the sights and mix with the locals in town when you get to your destination for the night. (Read my reviews of the best rain ponchos and Canada Goose vs North Face)

They also have the benefit of being incredibly lightweight and extremely compact. Rain jackets also tick both these boxes, but if it’s as little weight as possible that is your number one goal, you’re not going to do better than a poncho.

Cooling is another real plus point when it comes to ponchos. Because they offer a very loose and relaxed fit, they allow even the most gentle of breezes to keep your upper body cool with no effort on your part.

This makes them a great option for the times when the shower has passed, but you don’t want to break your rhythm by stopping to pack up and change. Ideal for keeping a good, strong pace going so that you can arrive for the night with plenty of time to go out and enjoy yourself.

The Cons of Ponchos

As with rain jackets, there are also a few cons and drawbacks with ponchos. Once again, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid them by any means. All I’m saying is that it pays to know what you’re dealing with before you set off on your next adventure.

One of the most common criticisms of ponchos is that they don’t last anywhere near as long as rain jackets. As they cost a fraction of the price of rain jackets, you’re not going to be all that bothered about the repeat cost. It’s the inconvenience that really matters. If you rip your poncho 3 hours from your destination, only for a sudden shower to pass over you, you’re not going to have time to replace it or fix it.

Added to that, you have a potential issue caused by the inherent fit of the poncho. Because they’re purposefully designed to be loose fitting, they can catch the wind very easily if it picks up. This means that you’ll have to hold yours in place if you want to stay dry, rather than just zipping up your jacket and putting your hood up.

How to Decide Poncho vs Rain Jacket?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, folks; it really just depends on what you want to ultimately get out of your new purchase. If you’re primarily motivated by budget, then a highly compact and lightweight poncho should do the job for you. But if you want something that will last for years, has plenty of pockets, and has a real fit to it, then a rain jacket is your best bet.

No matter which one you decide to treat yourself to, the most important thing is to try it before you buy it. Get yourself down to your local hiking store and try on a couple of different jackets and ponchos.

While you’re there, you might also want to figure out whether you want to get trekking leggings or proper hiking pants for your adventure. That way, you’ll be prepared for everything when you next set foot on the Camino de Santiago.

Now that you have figured out what type of rain shell is best for you, you might want to consider what type of insulating layer you want to go for. Check out my post on Down Vest and Jacket comparison.

3 thoughts on “Poncho vs Rain Jacket? Which Keeps You Dry While Hiking or Backpacking?”

  1. I walked the first third of the Camino Frances in September 2022 and plan to return in late March 2023 for the rest. Initially I carried both a poncho and a jacket, one for when I needed to protect the pack and the other for other rainy day uses. That was definitely one too many and I sent the poncho home. Why choose a rain jacket? Unless the pilgrim lives in a place without rain, then a rain jacket is a necessary piece of apparel anyway, and as for protecting the pack, a pilgrim concerned rain water could get around the pack’s rain cover on a wet day can always pay €5 and use one of the ubiquitous transfer services to move the bag (and lighten the day’s hike). As for airflow, outfitters carry jackets with big zippered vents under the arms, which is a good option.

  2. Go with a good, hooded rain jacket. And rain pants. We bought ours with vented armpits. We spend some considerable money on a recommended poncho that was ultimately useless. The wind simply picked up its flimsy and unstructured design constantly making its effectiveness nil. Even with snap buttons, I just took it off. If one expects only very light rain, a poncho could work but the chances of only light rain would not be reasonable. Our rain jackets, while indeed increasing interior humidity because of body heat, were fully reliable and kept us dry though multiple rainy days. Yes, a poncho will roll tight and pack smaller, but I found a good compression bag will allow rain gear to also pack small. Shopping online sales, reading reviews and visiting an outfitter shop all aided in our decision on what brands to buy. We were grateful after completing our 75 mile walk that despite many rainy days, we remained dry!

  3. I have walked different Caminos utilizing a rain jacket one time, and poncho other times. My preference now is the poncho I bought in Canada from Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) which was made from a versatile light and durable waterproof material, had snaps at the wrist and was large enough to cover my backpack and me.


Leave a Comment