Are You Stormproof?
In the survival-sphere we hear a lot about survival kits and that the best kit you could ever have is the one between your ears. I've found that some of the survival kit skills between my ears are perishable and if it weren't for teaching and doing, I would forget them. An example of this would be wilderness navigation with a map and compass. It's like riding a bike, right?
Another perishable skill that is often not covered in basic survival courses and that may escape you in a challenging situation, is storm-proofing. What's that you say? Storm-proofing YOU is a skill and awareness you can't afford to loose in the wild, your life may depend on it.
If we look at my Systems of Survival I prioritize each system in an order that I believe makes the most sense for me in my environment. First on that list is Shelter; now let's say you are a pretty good shelter builder whether it be a tent, tarp or primitive emergency shelter - whatever it is, ask yourself if it's stormproof.
Let's look at a few types of common shelters and how we might stormproof them. First off...the tent. You just set it up and put the rainfly on and you're good to go. Depending on the quality of the tent, that may work just fine. We know that tents typically are rated by season; 3 season, 4 season etc., some are double wall, some are single wall.
Tents of those styles and ratings tend to be very good, even expensive. If you're a 4 season kinda climber/hiker and you have a high quality tent, setting it up may be all you need to do. But if you're like me and cost is a consideration, use a 3 season tent and stretch it to the 4th "winter" season. (Not recommended for the novice.) So here's how I stormproof my 3 season single-wall tent.
- I make sure before I head out that the tent's seams are sealed correctly, use a good quality seam seal like McNett's SilNet.
- I check for any holes or tears and repair them. Do the zippers work? Routine maintenance stuff...
- When I'm ready to set it up, I choose my site carefully. Look for higher ground and make sure the ground is clear of any obstacles that could puncture the tent and render it wet and useless in a storm. Also, I don't setup in low spots that could trap water forming a puddle that would no doubt become my future bed. Low spots also hold the cold air, not a place I want to be when trying to get out of the rain.
- Beware of the storm within. The act of breathing while sleeping creates condensation that could drip on you, collect on your sleeping bag and dry gear if you don't properly vent and guy out the tent. This is especially true with single-wall tents. Make sure you understand your tent's setup and how it vents. Wet sleeping conditions suck and are dangerous during your vulnerable sleep state in inclement weather.
- Whenever possible, I set my shelters up in a location that will get the morning sun. Usually in a easterly facing direction. This helps dry the tent a little faster and gets you warmer quicker.
- When I go car camping with my family I always see folks setting up their tents on top of tarps, they want to make sure they don't damage or soil the bottom of the tent. This drives me nuts; time after time those tarp-bottom-tent campers retire to their cars after a good rain. Why? The tarp almost always protrudes past the edge of the tent wall and as the rain water runs down the sides it makes an awesome water collector dispatching that water between the top of the tarp and the tent bottom making a perfect pool of wetness to sleep in. If I anticipate particularly inclement weather I will install a tarp on the inside running any excess tart up the inside walls for additional splash protection. Most tent rainflies don't go all the way to the ground and in a lot of tent designs the bottom material doesn't roll up the sides in a "bathtub" style. I learned this lesson about 25 years ago during my first overnight wilderness search and rescue training mission. Keep in mind that these kinds of storm-proofing issues don't usually occur in high-end tents. You get what you pay for. Remember that shelter is number one on my list and should be on yours.
If you are a seasoned veteran of the outdoors you've no doubt graduated to other forms of shelters like tarps, bivy sacks, hammocks, primitive type shelters and so on, so let's explore some storm-proofing techniques for tarps. These techniques may also carryover to other types of shelters.
- For the paracord or bank-line ridge-line type setup: Techniques very depending on the style that you like to setup but keep a few things in mind when erecting these types of shelter systems. When starting to stretch out the ridgeline try to keep it level, this will particularly be beneficial when hammock camping (more on that later.) Now decide whether the tarp is going over the ridgeline or hang underneath on guy out loops, if the latter then storm-proofing will not be an issue in this condition. In a rainstorm water will collect on the ridgeline and run down hitting the tarp and eventually dripping inside, on you and your gear. To mitigate the drips tie a stick or knot into the ridgeline a few inches from the the tarp edge. This will interrupt the flow of water allowing it to drip away from you and your shelter. This technique works for many different shelter setups just keep the basic principle in mine when constructing your shelters.
- In strong winds pitch the low side of the tarp facing the prevailing winds and stake the edges directly to the ground keeping the blowing rain out, your entrances should be away from the wind.
- If your tarp has guy points on the sides, in the front and back, use them to pull the tarp out and away from the inside. This will keep water from pooling and dumping a deluge on you and your gear when the wind blows. As an added benefit it will give you more room inside. Just keep the tarp taut and you'll be living right.
- If it's raining when it's time to setup your tarp, do a quick and basic pitch to get you out of the elements fast giving you the advantage and time to change out of your wet stuff and get organized, maybe cook up some dinner? When the weather yields you can setup a more elaborate, roomy shelter and stay dry doing it. Its like putting your raingear on before you get wet.
- Do your best to segregate your wet and dry gear and hang the wet stuff from your ridgeline if you're using one in your setup. Try to keep the wet stuff on a trash bag so you don't soak your ground cloth.
- Use a ground cloth. This can be an older tarp heading for retirement. It will be the membrane between you and the wet, dank, muddy, dirty ground.
Now I must add a note about tarp size. For me pack weight is always a factor but don't sacrifice life saving shelter for a small tarp size. Get what fits you and always practice your setups...in the rain!
Let's talk about storm-proofing you. One tip I tell SAR trainees is put your rainwear on before you get wet. This sounds like good common sense right? You would be amazed at how many times this doesn't happen. The simple act of putting it on vs. getting soaked... maybe that calls for you to slow down and take a break to do it. You know that the weather is coming so have the advantage and put it on.
Work from the top down, start with a good rainproof hat or hood. Next the torso, cover it with quality breathable rainwear. I know when I'm riding my ATV in bad weather I wear a set of Gore-Tex Guidewear from Cabalas. This rainwear is the best I've found for these types of conditions. It's not for hiking but this stuff was built with storm-proofing as a priority. I get no money or anything else for endorsing this stuff, I just know firsthand it works. The most amazing feature is the front zip flap. The edge of the flap is folded out and back to itself when the parka is zipped it creates a gutter that directs the driving rain away from you. Just an incredible design. I would love to see more storm-proofing innovations in lighter weight rainwear.
Next the bottoms. I like bibs in heavy weather, they allow me to move and bend without my lower back getting drenched. Another piece of gear are my gators, I've been hooked on using them for years. I usually have my rain pants go over the gator so water running down my legs won't get behind them and into the tops of my boots. This storm-proofing technique is often overlooked for that cool Northwest look. "Cool" along with cotton could kill you in the wilderness. Please have the advantage in this area!
Nothing beats a warm dry pair of boots during inclement weather. Not much to say here other than buy a good pair. Make sure they're waterproof, breathable and have a gripping sole. All of the storm-proofing in the world won't help if you slip and fall in the water.
When kneeling down performing camp chores make sure you kneel on something that protects your knees and keep your pants from getting soaked from the damp wet ground. Some guys I know pack knee pads. I use a small piece of closed cell foam pad and I also use it to sit on during quick breaks when hiking.
Now I know there are other storm-proofing techniques not mentioned here but honestly it goes back to that perishable skills thing. I need to get out more, practice and exercise my brain. I will update you when more stuff comes to mind so until then, be safe, stay dry and have fun on your next blustery wilderness adventure.