Hypothermia, in particular, is a real danger, something that can cause death. However, even if hypothermia isn’t a concern, it is never fun to be soaking wet when walking around, especially when you know there isn’t a hot shower waiting for you at the end of the road.
If you have to leave to comfort of your home and bug out, then you need to be prepared for whatever the weather is going to throw at you. This means having good solid clothing and raingear that will keep you warm and dry from head to toe – literally. The ideal situation is that you have prepared ahead of time and have all the proper, well-made raingear you need already to go in your bugout bag (BOB). You should also always have a backup plan in case for some reason you don’t have your primary gear. Let’s take a look at what you should have on-hand and at the alternatives if you don’t.
The preference is that you have good quality raingear already bought and packed away in your BOB, should you need it (and you will need it!). You will want items that will keep your entire body warm and dry. It’s hard to say what time of year you will have to bug out and the weather might be cold, as well as wet. For this reason, you need to be sure that you will not only be dry, but well-insulated so you can keep warm. For this reason, first and foremost we need to talk material.
The material your rain gear is made out of is critical to your comfort and warmth when it’s raining. There are two rules when it comes to protecting yourself from the rain. First, you want to stay dry and warm. Second, if for some reason you can’t stay dry, you still want to stay warm. To accomplish this, you need to stay away from cotton! Yes, cotton is a nice, natural, breathable fabric, but when it gets wet it will not keep you warm.
When it comes to natural materials to keep in your BOB, you want wool. Wool is fabulous because it will still insulate and keep you warm, even when it gets wet. And wool technology is so amazing now. If you get SmartWool, you will find it very lightweight and it won’t be all scratchy, which is probably the way many of us remember wool feeling. Other than wool, you want only synthetic materials for your under layers, ones that will wick moisture away from your skin. This will also help keep you dry and warm and it includes materials such as polypropylene and Polartec.
Now you won’t find the perfect one-jacket-fits-all-weather raingear, but you can get a good outer shell and then layer up underneath with a combination of SmartWool and light jackets and shirts made of wicking materials. Perhaps the best material for your waterproof shell is Gore-Tex, which is a technology that keeps water out, but is designed to allow your body to breathe, keeping you from having condensation building up inside your raingear.
When it comes to keeping warm and dry in rainy weather, you need to consider more than just a jacket. Your body, from your head down to your toes should be fully covered. Let’s take a look at the items you will need for the different parts of your body.
While the rain jacket we will discuss below will have a hood, you need to consider the need to keep warm. Again, hypothermia is NOT your friend and it often accompanies being wet. Aside from the hood on your jacket, you might want to consider wearing a hat for extra protection.
While the old myth of losing half your body heat through your head has been disproved, it still makes a huge difference to how you feel overall if you head is warm and dry. When the rest of the body is well-insulated and the head is exposed, your core temperature can still drop fairly quickly because there are a lot of blood vessels in the scalp that cool down with exposure to the cold and then circulate that cooled blood back into the body, cooling down the core.
This is where the good solid jacket comes into the picture. Like I said above, there is not one jacket that will be ideal in all weather conditions, so it is important to invest in a solid outer shell that will protect you from the wind and rain and under which you can put additional layers as needed. These layers will insulate the body better than one thicker layer.
Again, ensure the shell is made of synthetic, waterproof and windproof materials. You have to take care when choosing a shell that is right for your needs because not all jackets are made equal. Know the difference between the following terms:
- Water-resistant: This material will offer you the least protection against getting wet. It will resist the penetration of water, but not fully and not for long. Over time, the water will seep through the fabric and you will get wet.
- Water-repellant: This material is slightly better than water-resistant. Water cannot get through the material as easily, but it will do so eventually. Even if the material is coated with a waterproof surface coating, it is not guaranteed to keep the water out.
- Waterproof: This is completely sealed against penetration by water. You will stay dry.
The final thing to know about buying a shell to keep you warm and dry is that you want to spend the money for the higher quality jacket. Yes, there is a huge different between the one that costs $100 and the one that costs $300. The higher-priced jackets are made with materials that will keep you dry, but will also allow some breathability for your body, like the Gore-Tex I mentioned above. It is worth the money. Here is an example of a great Gore-Tex shell that will keep you dry and protected.
Again, when it comes to layers beneath your jacket, use synthetic materials that will wick moisture away from your skin and/or materials that will continue to insulate when wet and will dry quickly. Any combination of long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts will work, but be sure to have a variety so you can mix and match to suit the weather.
You should be prepared to keep your legs dry during rainy weather. Rain pants can generally be bought with any rain jacket and if you purchase a shell on its own, you can always buy a set of rain pants to go with it. The material requirements for the jacket or shell also go for the pants. Ensure it is high-quality, waterproof, and breathable (like these Gore-Tex pants) and be sure that the pants or leggings you wear underneath the rain pants are wool or a good synthetic material that wicks away moisture.
Haven’t you ever noticed that when your feet feel cold and wet, you feel miserable in general? Even if you are wet and walking around in the rain, if your feet are comfortable, then it’s not so bad. This may be last on the list, but certainly not least. You absolutely must keep your feet warm and dry. For this you need good socks, ideally wool (SmartWool is great for this) or Gore-Tex. Check out these great SmartWool hiking socks and these Gore-Tex socks as examples of how you can keep your feet dry and toasty.
Good socks will keep your feet warm, even if they get wet, and when you have good boots, it’s a winning combination. You can even layer your socks by having a Gore-Tex outer layer and a synthetic, wicking layer or wool. You can use rain boots, but they have to be easy to walk in. It is best to have a good solid pair of waterproof hiking boots. Just be sure to wear the boots in sufficiently before you absolutely need them. The last thing you want to do is bug out in brand new boots. Yikes!
Alternatives to Raingear
Now whether or not you have raingear, there are some extras you should carry with you. And should you ever be caught without your raingear – maybe someone stole it from you or it got ripped to shreds climbing around on a steep, rocky hillside – you will need a backup. Here are a few other things you should have packed and why you need them.
A poncho is a very wise thing to have. It offers an additional layer of protection for you and your pack, even if you are wearing raingear and your pack is waterproof. You never can be too careful. You can wear the poncho and drape it over your pack to keep extra dry. Plus, a poncho can double as a tarp if need be.
Speaking of a tarp, you should also have one of these. If you don’t have a poncho or need a spare, you can cut a hole in your tarp and wear it as a poncho. You can also use the tarp to create a makeshift shelter to stay dry and to keep your gear covered in a heavy rainstorm.
These are handy to include in you BOB. You can get them in Gore-Tex (like these Gore-Tex gaiters) and they will strap underneath your boot and cover your ankle and lower leg. Gaiters act to secure the opening at the top of the boot and add an extra layer of waterproof protection for your feet and lower leg.
When the rain is coming down in buckets, you can wear goggles to help keep the heavy rain out of your eyes. This will increase your level of visibility.
You can never have too many garbage bags. They have so many uses, it’s unbelievable and one of those uses is to use as a backup poncho. With a hole cut or ripped into the middle of the bottom seam of the bag, you can put it over your head and over your pack. You can also wrap your pack and other belongings in it.
- Be sure to pack the items in your BOB that must stay dry in another bag inside the pack. You can pack things in large Ziploc bags to help keep them dry.
- If you have good clothes with layers that dry quickly, you will keep warm and your clothes will dry as you move, due to the body heat you are generating. Having said this, always pack a spare set of clothing in a Ziploc bag so that if you do get wet and you are no longer moving, you have something dry to change into.
- Keep your raingear clean. Even something as waterproof and breathable as Gore-Tex will not function at its peak if it is dirty.
- Don’t pack an umbrella in your BOB! They are impractical and bulky and are better stored in the trunk of your vehicle.
- Be sure to have the proper raingear for each person in your family. Each family member should have their own bugout bag, with all their gear inside.
Preparing for rain when bugging out might not seem like that big or important a part of the whole picture. However, you only have to slog through the rain for a few hours to realize the importance of having the proper gear to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. There is absolutely nothing worse than getting soaking wet and cold in the rain – even when you have a hot shower to go to at the end of the day. With no hot shower or warm house to look forward to, keeping yourself warm and dry on the trail is more important than ever!