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.
The Best Surf Ponchos
Best Overall Surf Poncho: Slowtide The Digs
Most Absorbent Surf Poncho: Billabong Hooded Towel Robe
Best Budget Surf Poncho: COR Surf Changing Towel Robe
Warmest Surf Poncho: Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho
Most Stylish Surf Poncho: Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel
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.
Best Overall Surf Poncho
Pros: Warm, absorbent
Cons: Only comes in neutral colors
Weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz
Overall Score: 9.75/10
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).
Most Absorbent Surf Poncho
Pros: Super absorbent, fun prints
Cons: Not super warm
Overall Score: 9/10
Billabong’s Hooded Towel Robe is the first changing poncho our tester 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.
Best Budget Surf Poncho
Pros: Affordable, lots of color/size options
Cons: Not as durable as some other options
Weight: 0.9 lbs
Overall Score: 8.5/10
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
Pros: Super warm, waterproof/windproof coating
Cons: Not super absorbent, bulky
Material: Recycled ripstop fabric
Weight: 2.16 lbs.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
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 we would like to see in a surf poncho, but overall this is an incredible product.CHECK PRICE ON Voited CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Most Stylish Surf Poncho
Pros: Converts from poncho to towel
Cons: Doesn’t offer the best coverage or warmth
Material: Recycled polyester/nylon
Weight: 2 lbs. 9.8 oz.
Overall Score: 8/10
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.
Best Surf Poncho for Travel
Pros: Sustainably made, dries quickly, packable
Cons: Not warm or very absorbent
Material: Deadstock cotton
Overall Score: 7/10
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
Best Of the Rest
Runner-Up Best Overall Surf Poncho
Pros: Extra long, zippered chest pocket
Cons: Hood is a little small if you’re tall
Overall Score: 9/10
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
Pros: Incredibly warm, fleece lined pockets, waterproof
Cons: Not super absorbent, pricey
Material: Recyled nylon/polyester
Overall Score: 8.75/10
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, we 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, we’d say it’s justified.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Pros: Affordable, soft
Cons: No pocket
Weight: 1.6 lbs.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
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
Pros: Sustainable, dries quickly
Material: 100% post-consumer waste
Overall Score: 8.5/10
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 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Sorf Ponchos Comparison Table
|Slowtide The Digs||$80||9.75||3 lbs. 8 oz||Winter-weight cotton terry|
|West Path Surf Poncho||$80||9.0||N/A||Cotton terry|
|Billabong Hooded Towel Robe||$65||9.0||N/A||Cotton|
|dryrobe Advance||$215||8.75||N/A||Recycled nylon/polyester|
|COR Surf Changing Towel Robe||$37||8.5||0.9 lbs||Microfiber poly/nylon blend|
|Ho Stevie! Surf Poncho||$35||8.5||1.6 lbs.||Microfiber or 100% cotton|
|Slowtide Quick-Dry Surf Poncho||$86||8.5||N/A||Recycled Polyester|
|Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho||$80||8.5||2.16 lbs.||Recycled Polyester|
|Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel||$75||8||2 lbs. 9.8 oz.||Recycled Poly/Nylon|
|Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho||$139||7||N/A||Deadstock (surplus) cotton|
How We Tested the Best Surf Ponchos
Our lead tester has spent her entire adult life surfing. She’s lived in and surfed in climates with warm and cold water and has really come to appreciate having a surf poncho to stay warm and make changing easier. She lived in northern California for awhile, southern California, and now resides in Hawaii. In order to test out these ponchos, she did most of her testing in southern California during the winter as well as in Oahu. There’s a time and a place for different surf ponchos depending on where you live and surf–she tried to test a range of ponchos in order to include something for every region.
Editor’s Note: This review first ran in April of 2023. After spending a little more time in these surf ponchos, we’ve found that our initial impressions were pretty spot on. We made some formatting updates to our original review and plan to add in more ponchos down the road as we try new ones.
Surf Ponchos Ratings Table
|Slowtide The Digs Surf Poncho||9.75||10||10||10||9|
|Billabong Hooded Towel Robe Poncho||9||7||9||10||10|
|COR Surf Changing Towel Robe||8.5||7||9||10||8|
|Voited Outdoor Surf Poncho||8.5||10||10||6||8|
|Nomadix Poncho Beach Towel||8||6||6||10||10|
|Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho||7||4||8||6||10|
|West Path Surf Poncho||9||9||10||9||8|
|Ho Stevie! Thick Microfiber Surf Poncho||8.5||7||10||10||7|
|Slowtide Quick-Dry Surf Poncho||8.5||9||9||8||8|
Surf Ponchos Buyer’s Guide
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. Our tester calls Hawaii her home and the Kassia + Surf Your Favorite Changing Poncho lives in the backseat of her 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 our tester wants to walk around in her towel to warm up after a session, she reaches 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 we think of a heavy-duty poncho, we 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. Our tester is a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to cold water and on her 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.
What Makes a Good Surf Poncho?
Although preference varies from person to person, there are a few things we look for in a surf robe/poncho. We want something to keep us covered while we’re changing, keep us warm, be absorbent, and of course, we want it to look cool (if it’s possible to look cool while wearing a surf poncho).
Our tester tends to run cold, so she’s always looking for something warm to throw on after a chilly surf. When she’s not using it for changing, she’s definitely been known to hang in her surf poncho on the beach and has 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. Our tester likes a robe that’s big enough that she can reach under it to take off her suit and goes to at least mid-thigh so she’s 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.
Our tester tends 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 her book since she’s 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, we want a surf robe/poncho that looks cool — if there is such a thing. Some may prefer solids but our tester is 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 we said above, we often end up spending a long time in my surf poncho after we’ve surfed. If we were to hypothetically stop by the grocery store after surfing, it sure would be nice to have somewhere to stash our 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.