Getting dry, staying dry, that’s what survival comes down to. Alan Remnant pilot and Owner of Wings on Water, Te Anau, Fiordland (http://www.wingsandwater.co.nz/) who has flown me in to Supper Cove so many times (one of the world’s greatest trips) tells me he has often had to ferry deceased hikers out of there too, folks who could not understand a few simple lessons, like ‘Take a Tarp!’
Though all the DOC’s Walks’ brochures explain the necessity of this, eg ‘You may not make it to, or back to a hut’ every year folks turn up to hike in a pair of thongs, carrying a couple of shopping bags – or something just as injudicious. I have run into people all the time who are carrying half the house on their back, but no tent or tarp – indeed no knowledge of bushcraft which would help them find their way once they lost the trail!
On our recent South Coast Track walk (See eg http://www.theultralighthiker.com/south-coast-track-fiordland-nz-waitutu-to-westies/) on the last day Della and I were walking out in the rain (the only rain on our eight day trip, so not so unpleasant really). It rained steadily all day, not specially heavily, and was not specially cold, but it was so humid that before long we were soaked to the skin – a not infrequent experience despite whatever impossible ‘breathability’ manufacturers of raingear might advertise.
Being soaked is not such a problem whilst you are moving or if your insulation is up to it, but as soon as you stop you start to feel the cold as the rain is constantly stripping the heat from your body. Water strips heat from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature! You need dry air around you to prevent this. Air is a good insulator. We stopped for lunch in an old woodshed (just a couple of rusty sheets of gal roughly thrown up next to one of the huts at the Track Burn). Just getting out of the rain for a few minutes so that it was not continually stripping one of body heat was such a pleasure. It can be a lifesaver too. It was so wet that day that even my waterproof camera was drowned, as you can see from this pic of Della enjoying (her half of) an apple, of all things. Such hiking luxuries!
Track Burn Lunch Stop: Sharing the last of the ‘Ambrosia’ apples: As you can see, it was wet enough to drown a ‘waterproof’ camera!
If you are stuck out in the rain for any protracted period of time (especially overnight) you really need a roof so you can dry out and stay dry. Even on a long day walk or hunt you need to carry a tarp so that you can do this (or have the knowledge and ability to construct a rough shelter) because you never know when you might be spending an unexpected night (or two) outdoors. The river you need to cross might come up during the day (This has happened to me a number of times). You might lose your way, become injured (or your companion may – this has also happened to me a number of times); you can just seriously underestimate how long it will take getting back to shelter (walking in the dark is always fraught with danger – but if you have to do it you need to master the technique of looking out the sides and bottoms of your eyes – where you actually can see in the dark!) You may just become exhausted – wet shoes which unexpectedly take on too much weight have done this to me (See eg http://www.theultralighthiker.com/keen-shoes/) .
Whatever the reason, it is always wise to have some form of shelter. I often carry an 8’ x 8’ cuben tarp which weighs under 150 grams. (I am about to improve on this with a cuben version of this http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-deer-hunters-tent/ and a 1 oz/yd2 silnylon poncho floor). I have slept peacefully under the cuben tarp in the rain quite a number of times. I would say a (cheaper) 7’ x 7’ (eg silnylon) tarp would be the minimum requirement, and can be used as a hammock tarp too. You would need 4.2 metres of eg this http://www.tiergear.com.au/11/online-shop/xenon-sil-11) so it is going to cost you around $50 to make, it and it will weigh around 5.5 oz or @ 160 grams including tie-outs.
Even my ‘Holeless Poncho’ may save your life erected as a shelter (and double as a raincoat) See: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/hole-less-ponchoshelter/ & http://www.theultralighthiker.com/pitching-the-poncho-warning-this-may-save-your-life/ . In the above fabric (which I am very impressed with) it will weigh less than 130 grams I think including waterproof zippers and tie-outs. I will make one soon and weigh it.
PS: Since I wrote this I have made this: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-pocket-poncho-tent/ which together with this: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/bathtub-groundsheet-chair/ should make the perfect raincoat and shelter.
I will also do a post soon about constructing a rough ‘bough’ shelter. The ‘best’ shape is not at all what you might think! Watch this space!