24

If you are caught out in the rain without any rainwear, raingear and nowhere to hide out, how can you minimalize the damage?

I've seen things like:

  • holding a bag over the head

  • wearing a plastic bag on the head

  • keeping the head down

Obviously planning ahead would be ideal, but...:

What methods are there to avoid general wetness when you're caught off guard.

  • 6
    A garbage bag makes an ok raincoat if needed. – Jon Custer May 31 '18 at 15:24
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    There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything. -Yamamoto Tsunetomo – StrongBad May 31 '18 at 20:01
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    "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Don't do that, then." – Mark May 31 '18 at 20:09
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    Over on the cycling Stack, we get questions like this "I'm falling, how can I best prepare for hitting the road ?" and the standard reply is something like "you've already made your mistake, your goal now is to get out with as little damage/injury as possible" In this case your mistake has already been made, you came unprepared so now all you can do is minimise the effects. Next time, come better equipped. – Criggie Jun 1 '18 at 3:55
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    I guess I'm not too clear with what you're asking. If you're caught in a rainstorm with nothing, then you get wet. There's really no way to minimize damage; you're going to get soaked. – johnVonTrapp Jun 1 '18 at 17:21
50

Strip off.

Your skin is waterproof. Assuming it's warm (because if it wasn't, you'd have proper gear, right?) then you're not going to freeze, especially if you're walking. So take off everything you can afford to be seen without (because getting arrested for flashing is a downer) and stash it in your pack.

When the sun comes out again, you can air dry as you go, or you can sacrifice some item of clothing as an impromptu towel.

I've done substantial amounts of summer walking in the UK wearing only a pair of shorts, most notably on the West Highland Way in Scotland where it rained sideways 4 days out of 6. If your work rate is high enough, you stay warm from the inside in spite of the water running off your skin.

  • 14
    This solution works great in Hawaii, but Scotland?!? – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 31 '18 at 23:32
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    @NigelFds, rolled or folded clothing doesn't get wet anywhere near as fast as worn clothing. Something about the difference in surface-area-to-volume ratio. – Mark Jun 1 '18 at 2:23
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    "because getting arrested for flashing is a downer"...but jails are heated and have dry blankets... – DJohnM Jun 1 '18 at 3:29
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    @gerrit if it's 3C it can actually snow, or hail. Getting wet will not be your biggest problem. – Nelson Jun 1 '18 at 12:05
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    @Graham I may be out in the mountains in sunny 10°C, which can feel pleasantly warm with a powerful high-altitude sun, then a storm arrives and temperature suddenly drops to 3°C with sunshine turning to sleet. I think we can cut a long discussion short by anyone who ventures out into mountains in a humid climate without proper weather protection is being foolish. – gerrit Jun 1 '18 at 23:29
18

So, if you're caught off-guard, you won't have anything with you that offers direct protection, such as: raincoat, poncho, garbage bag, tarp, or any other portable shelter. It also means that you won't have any tools along that might help you build a shelter, such as a pocket knife. Some might have one, some not, but let's assume you don't. Some of these options will reduce your wetness, but not eliminate it. Some of these are not quick solutions and wouldn't be fast enough to help for a quick downpour.

Therefore, you'll need to quickly consider your environment, and look for what is available. The possibilities will differ greatly:

City/Suburbs:

  • alcove of a building, or hopefully you can go inside (you're probably not thinking of this environment, but for completeness)
  • if there is a building, find the wall which is most out of the wind. Stand against the wall, as flat against the wall as possible, and you will be out of the worst of the rain. It will work with big trees as well, but trees mostly have branches which will either help or hinder (drops.)

Forest:

  • under an evergreen of some kind. If there's lightning, be careful here. Definitely avoid the taller trees in that case, but that may not be enough.
  • a cave would be great
  • a cliff might help, either because it's overhanging, or because the wind is blowing the right direction
  • gather dead branches to build a quick wickiup, and cover it with leaves
  • if it's a genuine survival situation, use your hands to break boughs from evergreens and make a shelter

There will be environments where there's no good solution if you're caught off guard. These might include open plains, desert, etc.

  • 6
    The OP mentions nowhere to hide as a criteria. So.... – Ricketyship May 31 '18 at 18:13
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    @Ricketyship. Oh, you're right. The options left from my answer are the ones where you make a place to hide out. – Don Branson May 31 '18 at 18:22
  • @Willeke - Good thought, and should be part of this answer. Feel free to edit as needed. – Don Branson Jun 1 '18 at 19:00
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    All these solutions seem to involve staying put. Which is kind of the opposite of how hiking works. I think there's an implied requirement that you continue to hike with whatever solution you put in place. – Kate Gregory Jun 2 '18 at 0:02
  • @user3306356 - sorry, didn't realize that was your expectation. – Don Branson Jun 2 '18 at 0:16
14

My experience as a cyclist is that getting wet doesn't matter (because skin is waterproof): what matters is getting cold. So the goal is to stay warm enough.

Your warmth is affected by your exercise (producing heat) and insulation/clothing (retaining heat).

To keep warm, keep exercising: if you stop and take shelter (when already soaking) then you'll get cold[er]. It may be better to keep on keeping on (even in the wet) until you reach an indoor shelter.

In dry weather you might keep your jacket unzipped (to stay cool and avoid sweating); if you're drenched in rain, staying cool and sweat-free is less important, instead you might zip up to keep warm.

13

Get out.

You can quickly cool down when it's raining out, in particular when the rain is horizontal and it's 4°C outside. You say there's no shelter anywhere near. Then walk as fast as you can to somewhere not near. I infer yours must be a day trip, for surely you're not out on a multi-night backpacking trip in a cold & wet climate without any raingear or night shelter.

Locate the closest shelter, be it a bus stop, a pub, your car, or even a house if you trust strangers and they trust you. Even if they don't invite you in, you might hide under a ledge. Walk to such shelter as fast as you reasonably can, be it one, two, or three hours march. The wet-cold spiral is real and bad for you.


P.S. It amazes me how often I see people in England out in the rain without proper rain protection. This is England, it rains. I don't recall seeing the same in Netherlands, Sweden, or Norway. In the USA too, right on the peak of Mt. Marcy, I remember seeing hikers without any rain gear caught out in heavy rain. A sure way to catch a cold or worse.

  • 1
    In England, rain is usually just a light ten-minute shower. By the time you've realised it's more than that, you're thinking "f*** it, I'm already wet." – David Richerby Jun 1 '18 at 13:32
  • @DavidRicherby In the Lake District, where hikers are statistically likely to be, this shower can be heavy and be closer to 100 rather than 10 minutes. A dreary march drizzle going on for hours is also very English. – gerrit Jun 1 '18 at 14:11
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    OK, sure, in the Lake District, I don't understand people not having wet-weather gear. There, the situation is that not raining is usually just a ten-minute dry spell and you don't bother taking off your rain gear because "f*** it, it'll be raining again before I've repacked it." ;-) – David Richerby Jun 1 '18 at 14:27
1

A waterproof map made of a rubber-like paper. I keep one in my backpack for going to the library. It is very small and light-weight when folded and very big when opened up. This is much more durable than a garbage bag. Trails Illustrated have them. They can also serve as something to sit on if really need to do so, and the area is wet. They dry fast, as well.

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