Has this ever happened to you?
You’re out in the backcountry and… BANG!
Out of nowhere, a rainstorm hits you.
(You could see the clouds coming, but they moved too fast)
Now it’s raining buckets and you have nowhere to hide. There are only single trees around. Oh, and no time to look for shelter – you’ll be soaked by the time you reach it.
But… what if you had a waterproof shelter right in your backpack?
What if you had brought your… Poncho?
Well, if you did, you’d have two options in this situation:
- Keep moving: You put on your rainproof poncho, tighten the hood, and keep going.
- Wait out the rain: Using some tree branches and a paracord, you make a fast shelter out of your poncho and wait out the storm (if you want to stay dry and you’ve got some time to kill)
Most importantly – if you had brought your poncho you’d stay dry and warm no matter what.
Waterproof poncho is an essential piece of gear that every survivalist should have.
It’s compact, functional… and it’ll keep you dry when you need it the most.
A good poncho will make your life in the wilderness much, much easier.
But with the right knowledge, you can also use your poncho as a functional survival tool. (I’ve covered some of the ways you can use your poncho for survival below)
The only thing is… you’ll need a good poncho. “Made in China” won’t cut it here.
Don’t worry, I’ve done the research for you.
But first… here are some ways of using your poncho in a survival situation.
Poncho Uses in Survival Emergencies
A rainproof poncho might seem like a small addition to your bug out bag, but…
…in an emergency situation, having large amount of strong, waterproof fabric can save your life.
This is also why every military in the world uses ponchos instead of rain jackets.
Here’s a “small” list of things that your poncho can do besides from keeping you warm:
- Waterproof shelter: If there is a storm and you need to find cover quickly… your poncho, some branches and a string of paracord are all you need to make a makeshift waterproof shelter. It’s not as good as a real tent, but it takes less time to set up and is lighter to carry. Check out Willow Haven Outdoor for a list of different shelters that you can build.
- Ground tarp: Picture this – the rain is over and you’re looking for a place to sleep for the night. But the ground is soaked with water – there’s nowhere to put your sleeping bag. No big deal – lay down your poncho on the ground and it will keep your sleeping bag from getting wet while you sleep.
- Stretcher: This is for real emergencies… but if you need to transport an injured person – four branches, some rope, and a rain poncho are all you need to create a makeshift stretcher. Snap the poncho in place with the buttons and pull paracord through the holes on the poncho to attach everything together.
- Cold Compress: If someone in your group gets injured or sick, you can lower their fever or inflammation with a cold compass. Here’s how it works: put some snow, ice or cold water into your poncho and wrap it tightly. Push your cold compress against the injury to reduce swelling.
- Waterproof wound bandage: If you have a wound that needs to be kept dry, cut out a piece of fabric from the rain poncho and tie it over the normal bandage. This way, the wound will stay dry even if it rains.
- Rain tarp: Say you have a tent for yourself, but too much stuff to fit inside. Instead of sleeping under your backpack for the night, use your poncho as a waterproof tarp to cover your equipment and protect it from the rain.
- Carry bag: If you need to carry more gear than your backpack can fit (extra food supplies, for example), you can use your poncho as a sack to help you out.
- Water container: Since the poncho can keep the water out… it can also keep the water in. You can use your poncho as a water bag to carry your H2O from the source to the campsite.
- Rainwater collector: If you run out of the water and there is no source nearby, you can use your poncho as a rain collector. Dig a small basin (hole) in the ground and lay your poncho in there. It’ll be filled with delicious potable water after the rain.
The poncho is a great multi-functional survival tool for your bug-out bag.
And these are only some of the ways to use this tool.
It’s a good idea to keep one poncho in your bug out bag and one in each of your vehicles as part of the “getting stuck on the road kit”.
(So you’ll have rain protection and emergency shelter when you get stranded on the road)
How to choose a survival poncho
Because finding a good poncho is not easy.
There’s more product on the market than ever. Most ponchos you see in shops are unreliable.
I’ve seen Chinese imports in my local surplus store labeled as USGI…
Believe me, you don’t want to rely on that stuff in an emergency…
Here are three rules for buying a poncho that will hold up in any kind of situation:
- Avoid cheap, disposable ponchos: You get what you pay for. You can get a good-enough poncho for about $30, the Chinese ones go for about $20. Don’t on those $10 – this is the gear that you’ll be relying on.
- You can make it into a shelter (tarp): This is a no-brainer – do not get a poncho that can’t be turned into a waterproof shelter. The ones that can be turned into a tarp will have special holes in them (grommets) and won’t be sewn together. If you want your poncho to perform in a survival situation, make sure the functionality is there.
- Longer is better: You want utility from your poncho, so you want it to be long. Most of the ponchos online are too short for making a good shelter – not good.
I want you to know these things, but I’ve done most of the work for you.
Keep reading to see the results.
Best Survival Ponchos Reviewed
Best Overall – Mil-Tec Poncho (German-made)
I’ll be straight – here’s why I like the Mil-Tec:
- It ticks all the boxes on my “survival poncho checklist”
- Best quality for the price for a non-surplus poncho that I could find
- It’s German-Made – Mil-Tec has a shop on Amazon and they ship their product from Ireland
Mil-Spec is lighter than a military poncho, but has the same functionality. It’s the closest thing that you can get to a military poncho.
Mil-Tec: The company specializes in military gear… their stuff is not always mil-spec, but comes very close.
The poncho is made in Germany and you can get it in two colors: black and olive green.
The poncho is waterproof. It’ll keep you dry in the rain and you won’t sweat as much as you would in those old military surplus ponchos (because it’s not rubberized).
Roughly 1.5 pounds, it’s lighter than military surplus ponchos, while still delivering everything you’d expect from a poncho. The reduced weight is one of the main reasons why I like it.
At 84 inches in length and 56 inches in width it’ll cover you and your backpack easily. To put a picture in your head, you can even sit down on the ground without getting wet (that’s how much it covers your back).
Most Important – the Mil-Tec poncho can be used as a shelter. It’s functional.. It’s big enough and has grommets, so you can attach it to trees and other ponchos with paracord.
(And do all the stuff that I wrote about above)
Compact: Folded in, the poncho is approx. 9 inches long and 7 inches wide. It’s more compact than the military surplus ones – I can fit it inside my shoulder bag no problem.
Mil-tec poncho has everything that you’d want from a poncho. It offers great value for the price. It’s easy to find and buy.
It’s hands-down the best poncho, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
But let’s not forget about…
Military Surplus Ponchos – Best Bang for the Buck
Military ponchos (or ponchos that are made according to military specifications (mil-spec)) are the most solid ones you can get.
Usually, they’re real cheap, too.
A good military poncho is hard to find.
(that’s why I recommend mil-tec – you know what you’re getting)
IF you want a military poncho, here’s how to get a good one.
Rule Number one: Go for a modern military poncho.
Older army ponchos are made out of rubberized nylon.
Rubberized nylon is heavy and doesn’t breathe. (Instead of being soaked from the rain, you’ll be soaked from the sweat.)
Modern military ponchos are lighter – still nylon, but it is not rubberized. You’ll want to get yourself one of these.
Note: An older poncho will be better for colder weather, but… you shouldn’t rely on your poncho to keep you warm in the first place.
Rule Number Two: Keep an eye out for ponchos made in these countries – U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands.
Those are the good ones.
USGI ponchos are the favorite ones in the community, but many people swear by German and Swiss ones, too. Dutch ponchos are up there, but not as popular.
Where to buy?
First, hit up your local milsurp store and see what they have to offer.
Second, check Ebay and Amazon.
I looked around online and Swiss ones were the easiest to find. I found some going for as little as $10.
Military ponchos are some of the most durable ponchos that you can buy.
But at an average weight of 2 pounds, they’re heavy.
They’ll also take up more space in your bag.
Also, many (but not all) of military ponchos are sold as used goods.
Before buying, check for any damages that they may have (loose threads, holes etc.).
Best Emergency Rain Poncho – SOL reflective survival poncho
So this one’s a little bit different – it’s strictly survival emergencies. You can’t built any shelters with it.
But it’s still a great product:
What makes the SOL special is its small size.
At 2.3 oz., The SOL will fit into your jeans pocket when packed.
It’s the smallest non-disposable poncho that I’ve ever seen.
The bright-orange color will make you visible and easy to find in case of an emergency.
You can even use it as a signaling flag.
The poncho is made out of special heatsheets fabric, which will reflect 90% of your body heat right back at you.
I’ll tell you – at 3.2 oz. they better have something up their sleeve to keep your body warm.
Here are the downsides though.
The SOL emergency poncho won’t keep you warm and you can’t build a shelter out of it. So – it’s not a proper poncho and should only be used in an emergency.
While it’s not disposable… it won’t last you very long in the forest.
It’s also difficult to stuff back into that small bag once you’ve taken it out… so beware.
It’s hard to beat this quality for the price. Especially when you look at how tiny this thing is when packed.
So you might get a real poncho for your bug out bag… and leave this one for your “get home bag” or “got stuck on the road kit”.
That way you’ll have something to keep you dry in the rain… that you can keep in your jeans pocket…
…for a little more than 10 bucks.
Rain Ponchos vs. Rain Jackets vs. Rain Suits
With so much poncho talk, you must be wondering:
If I want to stay dry, why shouldn’t I get a rain jacket instead?
Here’s the answer:
Ponchos are better for emergency and survival situations than rain jackets and rain suits. They’re more versatile.
Rain jackets and suits are better for keeping you dry in the rain than the poncho.
They’re also more expensive, breathe less, and take up a more space in your bag.
Rain suits don’t have good ventilation (you’ll sweat a lot) and you won’t be able to make a shelter out them.
If you pick the poncho…
You’re getting a ton of versatility (and bang for your buck).
Out of the three, the poncho is also the only one that will protect your backpack from getting wet.
Rain jackets and suits are better for hikes – they stay closer to the body so you can move better.
For survival and emergency prepping, the poncho is a no-brainer.
How to deal with the flapping in the wind
In the wind, your poncho will flap around like crazy.
This is normal – a quick fix is to tie something around your waist to keep it in place.
Any sort of rope will do, but I pack a string of 550 paracord with mine.
On the upside, ponchos are very well-ventilated because of their flapping – they’ll dry quicker after the rain.
Poncho Liner (Woobie) – What is it and should you get one?
Poncho liner (known in the military as the woobie) is a piece of fabric that goes underneath your poncho to make it warmer.
It adds a second level to your poncho, and turns it into a sleeping bag
What’s great about it is that it can be used as a:
- Seat cushion
- Ground mat
- Makeshift sleeping bag
It’s resistant to extreme heat and cold, dries fast and can be squished into a small ball that you can put in your backpack. Here’s a
Of course, now you’re thinking:
”Well, should I get a liner with my poncho?”
Short answer: It won’t hurt.
Long answer: If you have a sleeping bag in your BOB, you’re probably fine without the liner. It won’t hurt having one because it’s another piece of cloth to keep you warm.
The thing is… you can use the extra space to store additional food supplies instead.
There’s always a tradeoff, and you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Survival Poncho Shelter – how to build one
Check out the video below to see how to make 4 different easy poncho shelters:
- Plow point shelter
- Lean to shelter
- Plow point shelter
- A-frame shelter
Ol’ good poncho is one of the best pieces of gear to protect you against the rain in an emergency. I strongly recommend having at least one in your bug out kit.
If you don’t have space get the SOL emergency poncho – it’ll keep you dry just as well.
When you get your poncho, practice setting up the shelter at home first. Give it a test run in your backyard. This way, you’ll be prepared to use it in case of SHTF whenever you are.
Now, you should know that a poncho won’t cover you fully. Your hands will be covered about ¾. It will keep you mostly dry. Don’t be surprised when your legs or your arms get wet.