How to Make a Rain Poncho for Hiking

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How to Make a Rain Poncho with a Hood

Making your own hiking gear is a hugely satisfying endeavor. And while hiking boots, rain jackets, crampons, and many other gear items might be beyond the skill set of most of us, there are a few pieces of kit that just about anyone with a few hours to spare can easily throw together. One of the most obvious is the rain poncho.

Below, we take you through how to make your own DIY rain poncho with a simple, step-by-step guide. Alternatively, if you decide you’d rather purchase one, then check out our guide to the best hiking rain ponchos.

Gather your materials

The options material-wise for a DIY rain poncho are reasonably extensive, but as long as the material is waterproof, lightweight, and tough enough to deal with a bit of backcountry rough and tumble, it’s a winner.

Below, we run you through the merits and drawbacks of some of the more common choices:

  • Heavy-duty trash bag: cheap, waterproof, lightweight, but maybe a little too fragile and prone to rips and tears
  • Old shower curtain: free (kinda), waterproof, relatively lightweight, and tough enough to deal with collisions with branches, rocks, etc.
  • Purpose-bought vinyl or tarpaulin: waterproof, can be cut to size in the store to save you work, tough fabric, but kinda defeats the purpose of a DIY job and lacks the ethical appeal of repurposing.

The verdict? That old shower curtain’s a shoo-in for the job…!

women hiking with rain poncho on

Cut your material to size

Get out your measuring tape and cut your material, so it measures roughly 50-60 inches wide (60-65 if you want your poncho to cover your backpack too) by 60-70 inches long, depending on how tall you are and how low you want the material to hang on your legs.

Make a head-hole

Use your measuring tape to find the exact center of your material. If this proves to be tricky, fold the material twice and note or mark the point of the fold.

At this point, use a marker pen to draw a line measuring 12 inches long parallel to the bottom of the material in the middle of the sheet. Take your time to get this right because any mistake would render the whole operation a failure!

Now, cut along the line to make your head-hole. If the head-hole is a little tight, draw and then cut an arced line between the two endpoints on your original line to expand it.  

Make your hood

Take the extra material from when you trimmed your poncho body and fold it in half. Draw a hood shape (as viewed side-on) on the material, making sure to leave the fold uncut. If you’re unsure what shape your hood should take, grab a hoody from your cupboard, fold the hood in half lengthwise, and trace around the edges onto your material.

Cut out your hood shape and sew a seam down the length of the back curve, which will help to make the hood more streamlined.

Attach your hood to the poncho body

Cut a 2-inch slit in the center of one side of the head hole on your poncho body. Fold the flaps back on the inside of the material and fasten them in place with a few stitches to make a more comfortable and spacious opening for your neck.

Next, use sewing pins to fasten the hood around the head hole on the opposite side from the folds made in step 4. Take your time and try the poncho on to make sure the hood is positioned correctly before moving to your sewing machine or getting out your needle and thread and sewing the hood in place with large, wide stitches to avoid compromising the strength of the material.

To make your hood adjustable, poke small holes around the brim at 2/3-inch intervals, thread an old shoelace through the holes, and—hey presto!—you have an adjustable hood that can be cinched down when the wind picks up.

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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