How to make your raincoat into a shelter. I hope you realise how this is important as every year people die because they keep on wearing their raincoat instead of sheltering under it. I know when you are out in the cold pouring rain probably the last thing you are going to think is, ‘Must take my raincoat off’. It is counter-intuitive. However, read on…
For example, there was this European guy who died on the Dusky a few years ago when I was there. Such folks often die there – a few each year. It rained and rained, as it does. The river came up, flooding the track. He couldn’t go forward or back and had no shelter other than his raincoat. The track brochure warns folk to bring a tarp or tent (on all NZ tracks) in case you do not make it for one reason or another to a shelter hut. You live and learn or you don’t live long!
He also clearly had no idea how to refind the track if he once left it, so he was stuck down on the flats with the river coming up when he could easily have walked up a ridge a bit to a drier spot. Some pleasant enough spots to camp too! But he died. In one night. Hypothermia. Loss of body heat. Even though he was young and no doubt much fitter than me. He was not fatter than me though. If he had been he might have survived. Fat is a great insulator. So, that’s why I carry it around! Water strips heat from your body 25 times quicker than air. You must have a roof. See: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-importance-of-a-roof/ & http://www.theultralighthiker.com/hiking-in-the-rain/
Not far away hanging under a tarp in my hammock (total weight of both and including the weight of my raincoat, say 450 grams) probably less than his raincoat, I was having a good enough time high and dry watching and listening to the wonderful drenching rain and admiring the wet bush, cooking meals and having hot cuppas, reading a book, listening to some music, talking to my wife on my sat phone, etc unaware of his plight!
If he had been with me, he could have sheltered under my tarp too and been quite warm and comfortable, instead of dead! I have had company like this sometimes. Even my new 185 gram ‘pocket’ poncho tent (http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-pocket-poncho-tent/) would probably shelter four hikers in an emergency. Still we might have had a political disagreement and I would have donged him on the head with a rock. Who knows? I have had company like that too sometimes! There are after all many ways to die. We each choose one. Or it chooses us.
I have been thinking about ways of sheltering under your raincoat even if/when you don’t have a length of string. I know if you don’t, you don’t deserve to live – but still. I think there is a way, probably several. You can look forward to a number of silly photos of an old man huddling under a bright yellow raincoat, perhaps…
Well, as it turned out it was my green raincoat, and my camera wasn’t working well. Too much rain! I had to lean forward to take the photo so it is not clear just how much shelter is provided (enough!). However, you get the idea. A piece of string can often save your life. As Sam Gamgee says, don’t leave home without one: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/rope-dont-leave-home-without-it/
I have often come across cold, wet people. Some I have even saved their lives by bundling them into my dry clothes – which they mostly went away in, and never returned! Such folks may not deserve to live!
I can remember a time in my youth when I was a surf life saver. You were always pulling people out of the waves who were in trouble, some needing resuscitation. More often than not you got no thanks from them – which shows how much they valued their lives I guess. One chap, who also needed resuscitating even king hit me after he had recovered, then stalked off. Lord knows why!
Anyway, the easiest way to shelter under your raincoat is definitely if there is a tree. I guess if there are no trees it is less likely to be raining, but you may have to do something else in that eventuality. Try to build a sort of wall I guess – the important thing is to get underneath your raincoat. If you can get your back to the lee side of a tree that is at least as wide as your shoulders half your problems are already solved. Dry back at least.
The next thing is that most every raincoat has a draw cord at the waist and the neck. If you don’t have that piece of string you may have to break this out to tie one end of the coat to the tree outside up. The collar end works best. Tie it with the hood on the inside so that you can still put your head in it inside out and upside down. You will get some insulation from it anyway. I there is no draw cord and you have no string you may be able to tie the arms around the tree if it is small enough, but this won’t give a very good shelter. Still better than none. The soft bark of many small shrubs will pull off in long strips which can be used as cord or plaited into cord. Then you will probably have to hold the other two ends of the coat out over your knees. I have measured my raincoat and I can assure you that your own will be big enough to keep you completely dry when erected over your head as a shelter whatever size you are. Try tying yours to the back of one of the kitchen chairs as I first did to reassure yourself just how to do this if ever you need to.
If you have that length of string (I always carry a fishing line http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-ultralight-fisherman/) you can gather a few sticks and (driving some into the ground as pegs), support and tie out the tail of the coat (shaping it into a simple gable as much as you can) making a surprisingly large shelter especially if you can sit on something. You can also tie the arms down so that your shoulders and sides are protected. If you had a few minutes to spare before dark and collected some sheets of bark you can drape these over yourself as best you can to make as much of a warm, airtight nest as you can. If your clothes are soaked to the skin and you don’t have any others, once you are under the roof, you should take them off, squeeze as much water out of them as you can, then put them on again. If you do have others, put them on next to your skin and your damp ones over them. It will be much more comfortable that way.
Of course you won’t have a bit of blue poly tarp as I have in the photo to keep your bum warm. Find as much bark and other debris as you can, say a pile against the tree 18″ (or 40 cm) high, if you can. The further your bum is off the ground the closer to the tree you are going to be, the more shelter you will have and the warmer and drier you will be. In the Australian bush the trees shed their bark in a truly bizarre way if you are from somewhere else. There are sheets of bark lying everywhere. Some are as big as a sheet of plywood and just as thick! You can use these to further waterproof yourself.Enjoy!
I know you are probably going to be sitting cross-legged like me under that raincoat all night while the rain spills off it. You might want to place a piece of bark or similar on your head (and behind your back) to insulate yourself from the cold water on the other face of the raincoat. When you first take the raincoat off it is going to be just a bit colder (because it is no longer stopping wind chill), but after a while as you shiver yourself dry, you will be warmer without the rainwater stripping your body heat. You will manage this in a surprisingly short period of time (probably less than an hour) after which I don’t say you will be comfortable, but you will definitely survive the night. Even if it falls below zero you will survive, just as this unprepared guy did: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/thrilling-tales-37-days-of-peril/ If you stay in your raincoat you will probably die of hypothermia just like the European guy on the Dusky Track I talked about earlier.
You can have an even comfier night in the wild if you can build a debris shelter of some sort. and especially if you can have a fire! I have done this a number of times. You do not need any tools or materials other than what you find in the bush, but you need at least a couple of hours to build a decent shelter, so it needs preparation time. I will have a future post about this. Whatever type of debris shelter you build, you will need at least 40cm of debris both over you and under you if you are going to be half decently warm! Believe me.
The reason for posting about using your raincoat as a shelter is that folks always think they have enough time to do something else – get to the hut, find help, divine intervention…whatever. So, they wander on and on until it is too late to do anything else than shelter under their raincoat, or sit there wearing it in the rain and maybe die. In Fiordland every year people die in the rain who have a pack full of clothes and a sleeping bag. In Tasmania too. Even some in Victoria. It would be even better of course if you had collected a heap of wood and could feed a small fire all night. This might too hard in heavy rain such as you find in Fiordland of course.
Some folks haven’t even got sense enough to seek shelter, eg in/under a log or in a hollow tree when they realise they are going to be in trouble. I have spent at least one night in each – lots of critters, but dry, and I am still here! I have also been soaked to the skin in sub freezing temperatures more times than you can imagine. I hate to think how many times in he bush I have been completely immersed in ice-cold water. I managed it even on my last trip to Fiordland back in April. Right at the end of the day, crossing the Seaforth. Tired, old, sore. Very strong current. Not focusing enough…Afterwards I left my wet clothes on until they were dry even though I had a dry change! Discipline. I fell in the river this time, just like I have many times not because I am particularly inept; I have just spent a lot of time in the bush where every bad thing that can happen to you will happen to you (eventually). Take that as gospel.
Not having enough bush skills to go off trail is a serious impediment. People ought really to understand how to find their way with their senses they were born with before they venture into the wilds. Never rely on electronic devices. They will let you down. Get the device between your ears you were born with working properly. It will not. Some tips below: