Whether you’re singing and dancing in the rain like Gene Kelly or reluctantly braving the gloomy weather for an event, you might be wondering what kind of gear will best protect your clothes from the downpour. The most popular garments for dealing with wet weather are the poncho and the raincoat. Sometimes, people get confused about the differences between a poncho and a raincoat.
It can also be hard to tell which item will provide the best comfort and dryness in different settings. I’ve been caught in the rain more than a few times. From personal experience, I can say that wearing the right kind of rainy weather gear can make the difference between coming home drenched and enjoying staying warm and dry through even the most torrential downpour.
If you’re weathering a storm (or just a little drizzle) and wonder what the difference is between a poncho and a raincoat, we’ve got you covered. Read more below to find out if you should pack a poncho, a raincoat, or both for your next rainy day excursion.
What is a poncho?
Simply put, a poncho is a long armless piece of fabric, canvas, or plastic that is designed to shield your clothes underneath from the elements. A poncho can also be a stylish garment made of patterned fabric that has a cutout for a neckline at the top. It’s usually a long piece of fabric that has been folded, cut at the top for the head, and pinned to the sides to make a set of sleeves.
What is a raincoat?
Essentially, a raincoat is a type of coat designed specifically to keep the clothes underneath dry. Raincoats range from cheap lightweight raincoats to luxurious trenchcoats. The common feature all raincoats share is some level of water resistance and an intention to keep your clothes underneath warm and untouched by the downpour.
A poncho sometimes has sleeves, but this is less common. Sometimes, a poncho will also stay unpinned at the sides to allow for more ease of movement. Usually, you’ll want to wear another shirt under a poncho such as a turtleneck in the cooler months or a tank top or camisole in the warmer months.
A poncho can also feature a hood or pockets. It might also have drawstrings at the neckline for easy adjustment of the hood or neckline. Beyond the basic features of a long swatch of fabric, open sides for the arms, and a hole for the head, a poncho is a blank canvas that has been imagined in various iterations by different cultures over the centuries.
Sometimes, ponchos are also made out of a large piece of fabric that tapers into a point at the front. This type of poncho usually doesn’t have open sides–rather, the sides are sewn together and the wearer’s arms poke out at the end of the poncho. Some ponchos are purely designed for function over fashion.
Rain ponchos are long sheets of canvas or plastic that have been sewn or glued into a style that looks similar to fashionable ponchos, usually hooded.
Raincoats usually feature two sleeves, a zipper, snaps, or buttons to close the coat, a hood (sometimes removable), pockets, and drawstrings at the hood and the bottom to keep it snug to the body. Sometimes, raincoats feature an inner pocket to protect valuable items that will be ruined if they get wet. A raincoat might also have a loop at the neckline for easy hanging on a coat rack.
Some raincoats also come with a belt for fashion purposes to cinch it at the waist. Raincoats can also have a warm, soft lining such as wool or down for extra protection against cold rain. Some raincoats have removable sleeves so they can turn into a vest in a pinch.
Different cultures and parts of the world make ponchos out of different materials. According to nativeamericanloveforever.com, “The first Ponchos were made from either wool, Alpaca wool, Vicuna wool or a mix of these materials. Later ponchos were made from materials such as cotton and silk.
As time went on and the Europeans began making ponchos, other luxurious fabrics were incorporated to change the overall function and versatility of the garment.” In the case of rain ponchos, they are usually made out of water-resistant material such as canvas or vinyl. A disposable rain poncho will be made of a lower-quality, lightweight material like plastic or vinyl.
On the other hand, a durable reusable rain poncho will be made out of higher quality material such as canvas. Sometimes, reusable rain ponchos feature snaps for easy adjustment on a variety of body types.
Raincoats are made from a variety of materials. As infobloom.com shares, “Rubber or plastic raincoats let water drip down and away from clothing, while cloth varieties are treated with a waterproofing material to keep rain from soaking into the coat. Plastic, or polyurethane, rain gear is often less expensive than fabric coats, but it often causes the body to sweat more easily.
Some plastic raincoat styles have vented areas with zippers, such as mesh underarm sections. Cotton-lined plastic raincoats tend to be more comfortable than unlined varieties.” When buying a raincoat, it’s important to consider where you plan to wear it and how often you might need to wear it.
A rubber or plastic raincoat might be waterproof, but it won’t be as comfortable as a cotton-lined plastic raincoat. If you need to wear your raincoat for running, a breathable plastic raincoat with vented areas might be your best choice.
Poncho design features
For design features, the poncho’s special features depend largely on what its intended purpose should be. For example, a decorative poncho will have tassels or applique but it might not have a hood. A reusable rain poncho might have snaps or a hood.
A poncho that either originates from a specific region or draws inspiration from a certain culture might contain features that nod to that culture.
Raincoat design features
As we mentioned, raincoats can feature zippers, snaps, mesh sections, hoods, drawstrings, comfortable lining, and water-resistant treatment. Some raincoats are designed with fashion trends in mind, while others are created purely for protecting the wearer from the rain without any consideration for how it might look. It all depends on the type of raincoat and its intended use.
Ponchos’ durability varies according to their purpose. A reusable rain poncho will be more durable than a disposable rain poncho designed for single use. An artisan poncho from skilled craftsmen might last longer than a cheap poncho purchased from a fast-fashion retailer.
Because they are intended for use in inclement weather, raincoats tend to be relatively durable. They will be more durable than a disposable poncho, but a cheaper raincoat might be less durable than a high-quality military-grade reusable poncho. Ultimately, a raincoat’s durability depends on the quality of the material and how hard or often you use it.
If you live in an area where you might need to wear a raincoat every day, you may want to invest in a high-end raincoat like an expensive trench coat. If you just plan to wear a raincoat for a weekend camping trip, you might get away with opting for a cheaper version.
Benefits of a poncho
A poncho’s main benefit is its comfort and warmth in the face of the elements. Ponchos have been protecting people from rain, snow, and cold winds for centuries. Ponchos can also be very fashionable and gain compliments from coworkers, strangers, and more.
Ponchos also protect the clothes underneath from the elements but they are easy to remove with a slip over the head or an unwrapping of the shoulders.
Benefits of a raincoat
The main benefit of a raincoat is that it protects your clothes from the rain and fits close to the body, which keeps it from getting in the way during activities. A raincoat can also be fashionable if you choose a stylish design. Finally, raincoats have sleeves that cling to the arms and cover the arms.
In this way, it might be warmer than a poncho and more practical if you plan to use your arms a lot while spending time outdoors.
History of the poncho
Ponchos have been discovered on mummies that date back to as early as 300 BC near Peru, so they’re considered one of the oldest styles of garment in the world. A thousand years after that, the Inca people designed and wore intricate wool ponchos. After that, the people of the Andes, Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru as well as Native American tribes continued evolving their own versions of the poncho.
The modern poncho reflects its ancient roots in design. Although the specific style of the garment has changed, the function and general design of ponchos have stayed strong over thousands of years. That’s pretty impressive for a humble piece of clothing!
History of the raincoat
Between the 1700s and the 1800s, the British began making rubber garments to protect themselves from the elements. Near the mid-1800s, Charles Mackintosh discovered a new way to treat fabric called “vulcanization.” This created garments that would move flexibly in the rain, unlike rubber.
This fabric also didn’t have the issues that rubber had, such as getting stiff in the cold or hot and tar-like in the heat. Over the centuries that followed, designers and inventors around the world evolved the raincoat into the style that we know and love today. Vinyl rain gear became popular in the 1950s because it was flexible and water-resistant.
However, vinyl isn’t the most comfortable fabric, so that pushed designers to create the superior options for raincoats we have now.
Cost differences between raincoats and poncho
Raincoats range from about $12-$60. Of course, some raincoats of lower quality might be cheaper and some higher-end raincoats will skyrocket beyond that in price. For ponchos, a disposable single-use poncho could cost as little as just over $12 for a 5 pack or as expensive as over $60 for a stylish alpaca wool poncho.
In short, I like raincoats and ponchos equally for different reasons. If I want to look stylish and show off my favorite turtleneck underneath, a poncho is a better choice. If I am attending an event where I just want to shield my clothes from rain for a low price, a disposable poncho is a great choice, too.
Ultimately, ponchos and raincoats both provide protection from the rain. When choosing which to wear, I decide based on where I am going, what I am doing, and how much rainfall I can expect.