Disposable plastic rain ponchos do not have the most glamorous associations: class trips, family outings to water parks, George W. Bush on Inauguration Day. Rain ponchos are neither flattering — their vibe is something akin to “triangle-shaped trash bag” — nor admired for their high-tech construction, like Gore-Tex or polar fleece. (Though clear-plastic items are having a moment.) But a recent camping trip left me with a newfound appreciation for the humble poncho, after I lost my raincoat somewhere between Brooklyn and Humboldt County, California. Now, I was in a Redwood forest, in the pouring rain.
The only store around was the park’s gift shop, which had lost power overnight and was running off a generator. “No ponchos,” said the woman behind the counter, but among the postcards and laminated maps I found, miraculously, a poncho. Packaged in a tiny Ziploc bag, it unfurled magnificently — basically a giant Hefty bag with holes, plus a hood. I wore it all day, and then again the next day, and both times it kept me very dry and extremely happy. It turned out to be ideal for hiking and clambering around a riverbank, since it kept my hands free for steadying myself — and for taking pictures. During heavy rain, it provided more coverage than an umbrella (the thighs are the giveaway, and mine were bone dry). When my friends were cowering under a rock, I was frisking about in a downpour; when they were damp and flagging, I was still raring to go.
Since returning to New York, I’ve called on the power of the poncho a few times. (I’ve been very satisfied with these clear Travelon ones, but right now I have my eye on MCR Medical Supply’s Emergency Ponchos, which come sealed in little plastic bags, just like my first poncho love.) Unlike even the tiniest umbrellas, they’re handy to keep in your bag (they’re also hands-free), and they transform a stormy trek to the subway into what can only be described as a cakewalk. Their utilitarian appeal has also grown on me, in the manner of comfortable clogs. A poncho makes an adult out of anyone who wears one: I feel as competent and practical as a teacher leading a field trip, and in my poncho I am competent and practical, at least temporarily. I’m up to the challenge of any chore — whatever the weather, however long the walk. It’s like a superhero’s cape, except you can only wear it a couple times before it tears and you have to throw it out.
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