In Summary: In 2019 I again researched lightweight waterproof ponchos and I choose the Charles River Pacific as the best waterproof poncho to pack in your carry on.
While there are more effective ponchos on the market I found the Charles River was the best travel poncho for carry-on guys like me.
It won because:
Much of the poncho market is dominated by survivalists and military types which is a pity because they are a great item to include in your carryon packing list. I wish more travel companies made ponchos and there were more fashionable waterproof poncho options.
Versatility is the key to great travel clothes and a hooded rain poncho is a very useful and versatile item to have in your bag.
Read on to find out more about why ponchos are awesome how to find the one you should buy.
Smart travelers are always trying to shave weight off their bag and a waterproof rain poncho is one way to do that.
A sweater + rainproof poncho is more versatile than a bulky rain jacket because you can wear your sweater or your poncho separately.
Versatility and layers are the keys to reducing the weight of your bag.
I like ponchos even compared to sleeved lightweight windbreakers (or cagoules as the British call them) because a poncho is easy to get on in a hurry.
If you get caught in a rain shower it’s easy to whip a poncho out of your day pack and be protected from the rain in just seconds.
Likewise, a woolen poncho (like Clint might wear) is also a very versatile item to pack.
If you are a poncho fan I’d recommend packing both a woolen poncho and a waterproof poncho in your carry on.
A good rain poncho can offer some protection to your lower half as well as keeping your top half dry…
And the best rain ponchos will even cover a backpack so your things don’t get wet.
Some Ponchos can come down below the knee so you can even sit down on a wet bench if you want.
All in all… a rain poncho is a really handy thing for a traveler, hiker or backpacker to carry.
Large waterproof rain ponchos:
But on the down-side:
It’s easier to buy a rain poncho online than a rain jacket because you don’t need to be so accurate with sizing. Generally, ponchos have a “one size fits all” approach.
A poncho is usually something you don’t wear for long periods of time. They don’t breathe well and can make you sweat. Keep this in mind before you spend big on something that you rarely wear for more than 10 minutes at a time.
The poncho really competes more with the umbrella than the rain jacket. A rain poncho is like an umbrella that you wear. It frees up your hands which is great if you need them for some other purpose. And it won’t blow away in the wind or get broken and stop opening.
They can often pack smaller than an umbrella too and work better against the irritating rain that refuses to fall straight down and comes at you sideways.
On the other hand, you have at least a chance of keeping the rain off your face with an umbrella but your face will still get wet with a poncho, unless you get a big one and hide underneath it!
If it’s windy rain ponchos can get caught in the wind and fly up. This can be doubly annoying. First because despite putting the poncho on you are getting wet. Second because it can fly up and slap you in the face. Your wet soggy, grumpy face.
If you do go down the poncho route and you anticipate using it in windy conditions make sure to get one with snap closures under the arms. This will help to prevent the poncho from catching the wind and beating you around the face.
Also look for one with a drawstring to tighten the poncho around your face. This will stop the water getting inside and running down your neck.
The right poncho for you will depend on how you intent to use it:
Let’s take a more detailed look at individual poncho brands.
The Terra Hiker comes in four different colors: army green, blue, dark blue, and orange.
Be careful with the dark blue variety because the photo clearly does not look dark blue. Some people have bought this option and not been happy with the color.
It weighs about 11 oz which means it’s fairly packable, it’s not going to take up a huge amount of room in your backpack or carryon.
The poncho is a 86.6″ x 57″ rectangle when it’s unfolded. It uses velcro straps to close the sides.
The Charles River Pacific Poncho is a hugely popular waterproof poncho and with good reason.
It comes in 14 different colors and with a great little storage pouch. The pouch is roughly 12 x 9.5 x 0.5 inches, it weighs about 1 lb and the whole thing takes up less than a liter of space in your bag.
It’s long enough to cover your knees when seated even if you are tall. You could easily stuff this poncho into your handbag in case of emergencies.
If your have a backpack and it’s not too big this poncho will also cover your backpack to protect your things and keep them dry.
It comes with a hood with drawstrings for keeping your head dry.
The Charles River is lightweight but it’s not so lightweight that it’s like those disposable plastic ponchos. It’s designed to last for a long time.
The Frogg Toggs poncho is a lighter option than the Charles River but again it’s not meant to be disposable.
The Frogg Toggs is modestly priced but it’s a step up from disposable ponchos.
For carry-on travelers, the fact that it’s very lightweight is an added bonus. It’s only going to add 8.8 oz to your carry on weight.
If you are going to a mild climate you can skip taking a jacket altogether but keep a lightweight poncho handy just in case of any sudden downpours.
The Snugpak Patrol Poncho is a great option for larger guys and even fits guys up to 300 lbs.
The truth is though… this isn’t really a poncho because it’s got sleeves. It’s more like a big cagoule but that’s no bad thing.
The main negative is that it’s a little overpriced for what it is. The Charles River is better value at a better price.
On The Plus Side:
The Mil-Tec is made in Germany and made to a higher standard than Chinese ponchos.
Mil-tec makes military=style poncho rain gear and to military-grade. I guess Mil-Tec is short for Military Technology.
What this means for the casual carry on traveler is that it’s not very stylish but it really gets the job done!
If you travel with expensive laptops or camera gear then this will slip over your backpack and keep your gear safe.
It ships from Ireland so it’s going to take some time to get to you but it will probably be worth the wait.
The reasons this poncho didn’t win my top pick was because it only comes in military green and for a carry-on only traveler obsessed with weight it’s 7.5 oz heavier than the Charles River Pacific.
But if that doesn’t bother you this might be the one to get.
For “best poncho” it’s the winner but for “best travel poncho” it runs second place.
The ghostly looking JTENG Poncho is another military style poncho available in camouflage or green.
Sadly this is probably too heavy to be a useful carry on poncho. It’s 1.8 lbs and for me that’s getting to the stage where the fantastic benefits of a travel poncho are out weighed by the negative effects of the weight.
The JTENG is a great poncho and highly rated but for carry on travelers isn’t not the one to go for.
That and the fact that their marketing might give me nightmares!
These Kasu Water Ponchos are a hooded rain poncho designed to help with sudden downpours that you might encounter where you don’t want to be carrying a full jacket.
While you might call this a disposable poncho they are actually designed to be used more than once. They are made with thick premium polyethylene that won’t tear if you are careful with it. If it does tear… well it was very cheap and you get 5 of these reusable rain ponchos in the pack.
It’s a full body poncho but it’s extremely light-weight so it suits those that like to pack and travel light. They are small so they are easily stuffed in a handbag or even a pocket and if you encounter an unexpected downpour you’ll be glad to have it with you.
You can buy the translucent version so that people can still whatever stylish outfit you are wearing underneath. So could these see-through rain capes be considered the most fashionable rain poncho choice? I’ll leave that to the fashion experts to decide.
On the downside, it’s not a thick rain poncho and it’s not going to do anything to help keep you warm like a fleece-lined rain poncho would.
If you want to travel light perhaps one of these as well as a sweater might replace taking a heavy raincoat. Of course, it depends on where in the world you are headed.
That’s it for our take on the best rain ponchos with our usual travel orientated twist.
Yes, it’s true, a stylish rain poncho is rarer than a unicorn sitting on top of a flying pig. Nike did dabble in ponchos but they were not waterproof ponchos. But don’t be put off by the quasi-military styling, marketing, and survivalist vibe.
Ponchos are still really awesome for travelers I promise and there are a few cool ponchos out there.
The reality is that you probably won’t need to wear these very often and if you do you will be so glad to have it you won’t care about fashion and how you look!
I believe a rain poncho is one of the best things a traveler can add to their packing list, especially if you do a bit of hiking, but what do you think? Let me know in the comments )
Here’s a little ASMR from ‘Poncho Man’ if you are into that kind of thing!