Every surfer is familiar with the beach parking lot wardrobe change. Whether you’re changing in and out of a wetsuit or a swimsuit, the feeling of struggling to maintain your modesty with a small rectangle of fabric is the same – an uncomfortable one. A surf poncho makes it worlds easier to avoid embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions and, as is super scientifically proven, exactly zero surfers have gone back to a towel once they’ve tried a surf poncho. And to cap it all off, they keep you way cozier than a towel after chilly sessions.
Over the past few years, we’ve tried out some of the best-selling surf ponchos on the market to see what all the hype is about, and help you make an informed decision when purchasing such a critical piece of modern surf technology. Read on for our top picks, and for more detailed info check out our buyer’s guide and comparison table.
If we somehow haven’t convinced you to hop on the surf poncho bandwagon, we’ve also tried out the Best Towels for the Beach.
What Are The Best Surf Ponchos?
Best Overall Surf Poncho: Slowtide The Digs Surf Poncho
Most Absorbent Surf Poncho: Billabong Hooded Towel Robe Poncho
Best Budget Surf Poncho: COR Surf Changing Towel Robe
Warmest Surf Poncho: Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho
Most Stylish Surf Poncho: Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel
Slowtide The Digs Surf Poncho ($80)
Take a surf-vey of your local break’s parking lot, and chances are you’ll see a few of these guys. And with good reason. The Digs from Slowtide is a heavy hitter in the surf poncho category. Featuring 100 percent cotton winter-weight terry, you will be warm and dry in no time, and that’s truly what we’re looking for in a surf poncho. Coming in three classic colors: black, green, and heather grey, if you’re looking for a little more color in a poncho, check out Slowtide’s Oso (available on Evo and Amazon).
CHECK PRICE ON EVOCHECK PRICE ON REI
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Billabong Hooded Towel Robe Poncho ($65)
Billabong’s Hooded Towel Robe is the first changing poncho I ever had and it has certainly withstood the test of time. Made from 100 percent cotton, the hooded towel is absorbent just like your everyday beach towel while allowing for extra warmth. It features a front pocket for keeping hands cozy or storing goods and provides plenty of coverage, so you can easily change in private. Like most things from Billabong, the hooded towel is available in fun patterns and colors. All and all, this one’s a winner. Make sure to size up for plenty of room to change in.
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON CHECK PRICE ON Evo
COR Surf Changing Towel Robe ($37)
COR Surf’s Changing Towel Robe features a simple design that gets the job done. Made from towel material that is ultra absorbent as well as lightweight, soft, and quick drying, the towel robe comes in tons of color options, so there’s something for everyone. Unlike most one-size-fits-all surf ponchos, COR’s towel robe comes in small, medium, and large, so there are options for children, men, and women. Available at a very affordable price, COR’s Towel Robe is a great option for parking lot hangs and changing post-surf.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Warmest Surf Poncho
Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho ($75)
The Voited Surf Poncho is an absolute beast, with all the bells and whistles you could ever hope for. Puffy insulation, a waterproof/windproof coating, microfiber lining on the inside and in the hand-warmer pockets, and a zippered cargo pocket that doubles as a stuff sack to turn your Voited Poncho into a pillow. The microfiber lining is not quite as absorbent as I would like to see in a surf poncho, but overall this is an incredible product.
CHECK PRICE ON SurfdomeCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel ($80)
The surf poncho that quite literally doubles as a beach towel. The Nomadix Poncho/Beach Towel features hook-and-loop closures up both sides, allowing you to change in privacy, and then open up a luxuriously-sized beach towel for sunbathing, swimming, and more. The convertibility does make a dent in the coverage and warmth categories, as there will be a couple gaps along the sides in between said hook-and-loop closures, but with plenty of extra fabric to go around the likelihood of flashing beachgoers is low.
CHECK PRICE ON REICHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best for Travel
Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho ($139)
Constructed from deadstock cotton (leftover fabric) and colored with low impact dyes, Your Favorite Changing Poncho is easy on the eyes as well as the environment. Created by longboarder extraordinaire Kassia Meador in partnership with Suay Sew Shop, the changing tunic features a roomy hood and a big front pocket for stashing essentials. The tunic is made from lightweight material, so it doesn’t’ do much to keep you warm, but it packs down small and is ideal for travel and warmer weather. The tunic features fun earth tones and has a hippie feel to it, which I’m all about.CHECK PRICE ON KASSIASURF
Other Surf Ponchos We Loved
West Path Surf Poncho ($79)
When it comes to comfort and useful features, the West Path Surf Poncho is hard to beat. It has an extra-long length for full coverage regardless of height, a large kangaroo pocket, zippered chest pocket for stashing valuables, a cozy lined hood, and 100 percent cotton towel fabric. As if that wasn’t enough, each poncho purchased saves the lives of 10 baby sea turtles through the SEETurtles foundation, and is ethically produced from start to finish.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
dryrobe Advance ($215)
The dryrobe Advance is one heck of a surf poncho. In testing, we were super impressed with how well it stood up to a multi-surf day, providing instant post-surf warmth without needing to be dried out in between uses. However, that “lack of needing to be dried” does come with one downside – a bit of a lack of absorbency. As much as it tries to be, no synthetic cloth will match the absorbency of cotton (at least in my opinion). On the outside, a waterproof and windproof outer shell does an awesome job of eliminating windchill on even the breeziest of dawn patrols. For changing purposes, I do wish there was an easier way to close the front of the robe that didn’t involve putting two pieces of a zipper together (notoriously difficult with frozen hands), but if that really bothers you, just take it off and put it on over your head like any “normal” surf poncho.
Another massive plus are the pockets. With two fleece-lined pockets on the outside and three inside pockets there’s plenty of room to keep essentials like a phone or wallet safe and dry, and your hands warm at the same time. The price tag is a bit of a downside, but with how well it works as a surf poncho and all of its other potential uses, I’d say it’s justified.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Ho Stevie! Thick Microfiber Surf Poncho ($35)
You’d be hard pressed to find better bang for your buck in the surf world than Ho Stevie! When it comes to surf ponchos, the brand’s soft, warm changing poncho is 47 inches long from shoulder to bottom hem, plenty of coverage for anyone (Stevie, pictured above, is 6’2″ and designed the poncho to fit people even taller than himself). For 10 extra bucks you can ditch the chest-sized logo and go for a subtler option in grey, tie-dye, or camo, which are all made with 100 percent cotton as opposed to the microfiber material used in the black poncho. Go for the tie-dye option and you also get a kangaroo pocket to boot.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Slowtide Quick-Dry Surf Poncho ($80)
Made from 100 percent post-consumer waste, Slowtide’s Quick-Dry Poncho is constructed primarily from plastic water bottles in an effort to minimize its impact on the environment. This poncho has everything you could want in a surf poncho: it’s absorbent, dries quickly, and is sand free. Other thoughtful features include a double-sided print, a kangaroo pocket to keep hands warm, a snap front placket with drawcords, and hidden internal access “pockets” so you can have privacy while changing in public.
For those of us who surf in rainy climates (yuck) there’s a waterproof version available here that comes with a DWR coating to shed rain and a cotton terry lining to keep you dry, post-surf.CHECK PRICE ON Evo
|Slowtide The Digs Surf Poncho||$80||9.75||Winter-weight cotton terry|
|West Path Surf Poncho||$80||9.0||Cotton terry|
|Billabong Hooded Towel Robe Poncho||$65||9.0||Cotton|
|dryrobe Advance||$215||8.75||Recycled nylon/polyester|
|COR Surf Changing Towel Robe||$37||8.5||Microfiber poly/nylon blend|
|Ho Stevie! Surf Poncho||$35||8.5||Microfiber or 100% cotton|
|Slowtide Quick-Dry Surf Poncho||$86||8.5||Recycled Polyester|
|Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho||$80||8.5||Recycled Polyester|
|Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel||$75||8||Recycled Poly/Nylon|
|Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho||$139||7||Deadstock (surplus) cotton|
What Are the Different Types of Surf Ponchos?
A lightweight poncho is typically a thin cloth material whose sole purpose is to provide coverage for changing. They’re typically not absorbent like those made from towel material and they don’t do much by way of warmth. If you live in a tropical region, they’re a good option because they pack down and small and are perfect for quick car changes. I live in Hawaii and the Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho lives in the backseat of my car. If you reside in a chilly region, however, you’ll want to consider another option.
Traditional “Towel” Ponchos
Towel ponchos are the most common type of poncho you’ll come across. They’re essentially a towel with a hood. They’re absorbent, offer a little extra warmth, and provide coverage for parking lot changes, making them an all-around solid option. On days when I want to walk around in my towel to warm up after a session, I reach for options like the Billabong’s Hooded Towel Robe or COR Surf’s Changing Towel Robe.
Heavy Duty Ponchos
If you live somewhere chilly, a heavy-duty poncho could be your saving grace. When I think of a heavy-duty poncho, I think of parkas that the swim and water polo teams wore in high school. They include an insulated lining for added warmth and oftentimes, the exterior is waterproof to provide protection from the elements. This style of poncho is bulky but super cozy and warm. I am a wimp when it comes to cold water and on my California surf trips, cozying up in the dryrobe Advance post session has been a game changer. That said, absorbency also matters when it comes to staying (or getting) warm post-surf, which is why the winter-weight cotton terry of The Digs from Slowtide won our Best Overall designation.
The Digs from Slowtide has it all when it comes to surf ponchos: It’s warm, made of highly absorbent cotton, to dry you quickly, and has two sizes to choose from to ensure a good fit and ample coverage for changing.
What Makes a Good Surf Poncho?
Although preference varies from person to person, there are a few things I look for in a surf robe/poncho. I want something to keep me covered while I’m changing, keep me warm, be absorbent, and of course, I want it to look cool.
I tend to run cold, so I’m always looking for something warm to throw on after a chilly surf. When I’m not using it for changing, I’ve definitely been known to hang in my surf poncho on the beach and have maybe even popped into the grocery store once or twice in it. Maybe. If you live in a warmer region and strictly plan on using your poncho for changing, warmth won’t carry as much weight for you.
If you plan on changing in it, you want a robe that’s going to keep you covered so you’re not flashing everyone in the parking lot. I like a robe that’s big enough that I can reach under it to take off my suit and goes to at least mid-thigh so I’m fully covered. It can often be worth sizing up if the poncho you choose has different sizes and you’re going to use it as a changing robe.
I tend to have my surf poncho double as a towel, so it’s nice if it absorbs water well. Oftentimes, the robes are made out of towel material, which is perfect in my book since I’m guilty of regularly forgetting a towel. However, some of the insulated options on this list make use of microfiber linings, which aren’t quite as good for toweling off.
While it’s certainly not essential for function, I want a surf robe/poncho that looks cool — if there is such a thing. Some may prefer solids but I’m all about fun prints or something that sets it apart. Luckily, there are usually plenty of options to choose from for each style of poncho listed below.
What Else Matters in Choosing a Surf Poncho?
For one, pockets. Like I said above, I often end up spending a long time in my surf poncho after I’ve surfed. If I were to hypothetically stop by the grocery store after surfing, it sure would be nice to have somewhere to stash my car keys, wallet, and phone.
Bulk/packability should be another consideration if you’re planning on taking your poncho for a surf trip. Usually not a problem with the more towel-like ponchos (though the plush luxury of Slowtide’s The Digs would be tough to pack), but the larger insulated options could be difficult to fit in a suitcase. Some, like Voited’s Outdoor poncho pack down into their own pocket for portability.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.