When getting rain gear for something like a Camino and not just a quick walk in the park, most people will go with what they know: rain jacket and ditto trousers, and a rain cover for their pack – it often comes with the pack these days. So far, so good. In most cases it will keep them dry, at least until they start sweating inside the rain suit, but it is not unusual to get soaked from the inside rather than the outside after a while, especially if walking uphill or fast to get out of the rain. Actual waterproof and breathing rain suits do exist but they often cost a lot – it seems you get what you pay for.
But there is another – better? – option.
When the same most people think about a rain poncho, they imagine a flimsy rectangle of shopping bag style plastic with a hole and a hood, something that will whip around them in the wind and rip and fly away at the first opportunity. There are however a lot of ponchos out there that are more like a rain coat with space for a backpack, and these are in my humble opinion perfect for things like the Camino. They cover most of you in one, replacing the rain jacket, hood or hat and pack cover. The only things exposed to the rain and wind will be your legs and hands. Your hands can be pulled into the sleeves or the poncho body, and legs can be protected by rain trousers or gaiters. Or in the summer, roll your trousers up and just get wet – skin dries faster than fabric anyway. A roomy poncho also has better air circulation and ventilation than a jacket cinched in at the waist and armpits by your pack, and will help with the wet-from-the-inside problem.
With a poncho you don’t have to take the pack off to dig out the gear, then put the pack cover on while holding the rain suit between your knees, dump the pack on the ground while pulling on jacket, hurry to get trousers over shoes or stand wobblily on one leg – or try to find somewhere dry to sit – to take shoes off to get rain pants on, before picking the pack back up again and tightening it over the rain jacket where it can rub on the material and eventually let the water in.
I am very happy with my quick deploy rain defense: Dive into the poncho, velcro up the gaiters if needed. Done. And when walking in a skirt, pull the rain trousers over the running tights, drop skirt over trousers – it is protected by the poncho already. The poncho lives in the top lid of my pack, so I can actually reach it whilst walking alone: just unzip, pull out, zip up, pull on, it only takes a few seconds. When I carry my daypack for practice walks, the poncho is in the side pocket. It is still very easy, just take the pack off, get poncho, get into the poncho – but not sticking my arms out, then lift the pack into the poncho and snap it on. Looks odd, works great.
My first poncho was a classic Altus Atmospheric, which was a Camino staple in 2009. Lots of pilgrims wore them, they were available in most gear shops along the way. Then Altus came out with a lighter, brighter and sadly shorter poncho which was less of a hit. These days Decathlon have come out with a similar model but with pit zips for even better ventilation – affordable, but on the heavy side.