2012-07-29 08.58.17
There’s a storm brewing. Are you ready?

I’ve travelled in all kinds of weathers and would like to offer some detailed tips on surviving cold and rain. So here are my top 25 tips for touring in the rain:

Tip 1: The equipment you take along with you is all you have to fend off the weather you meet along the way. If you are unsure, do some research or go to a high quality outdoor store where you can get advice.

Tip 2: Organisations like the British Mountaineering Council will happily advise you, and sites like Crazy Guy on a Bike are full of journals and discussion on cycling in almost every region on earth. For the USA, it’s hard to beat the Adventure Cycling Association’s wide body of information and maps. They also have a live information service where you can garner information for the up and coming sections of your ride as you go along.

Tip 3: There are now many quality weather apps too, so finding a forecast has never been easier. Knowing a little meteorology also helps you make decisions, especially as you are riding along. Noticing the deterioration or improvement in conditions is of great benefit in avoiding being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tip 4: What do you do when you have no choice but to get out of your tent on a wet day and cycle? Prior to that, ask the question: Do you have to go? There are many reasons to stay put:  including fear of snow, ice or thunderstorms high up, busy major roads where you are extremely vulnerable and not very visible in spray and high winds This is especially so if it’s a side winds.

If you have unlimited time and staying put won’t leave you looking at huge mileages, why not stay? If the forecast is for an improvement by lunchtime, you could just lie back and have another coffee.  However, if the forecast is for rain for the next few days, you may feel you need to move, unless you have a pile of provisions or a local shop.

No time to remember you left your waterproofs at home.

Tip 5: The rain you hearing drumming on your tent almost always sounds far worse than it is. Once out in it, you won’t be as worried as listening to it. I presume you have a quality waterproof jacket and trousers?

Tip 6:  I believe hoods on jackets are essential. They stop water running down your neck, help keep you head warm, and protect you from blasting rain. If you worry about limiting your vision, get a mirror fitted.

Tip 7: Never leave your rain trousers at home, even if you are lucky enough not to use them at all. They are vital, even if you only need them once, as those big leg muscles cool very quickly when they stop working hard or in cold and wet conditions

Tip 8: Get into waterproofs prior to leaving the comfort of your tent. It may take some wriggling, but you will get nice and warm doing this and going out never feels as bad once you are in full battle-dress.

Tip 9: I use waterproof socks and gloves to help me in soaking conditions. Have a look at Sealskinz or a similar company or just place your stockinged feet in plastic shopping bags and then put your shoes on for a quick and cheap fix. Some cyclists use washing up gloves to keep their hands dry. Again, not pretty but they do the job.

Tip 10: Once outside, don’t hang around. Pack away steadily, avoiding sweating, and get riding as quickly as possible.

Tip 11: If it’s really tipping down, remove the inner from your tent and pack it away dry before leaving the sanctuary of the flysheet, it will help you later despite having to put it back in when you stop. Don’t worry about the flysheet being wet. Shake it off and stuff it in a bag and get it out at some later point when you stop, when it warms up a bit.

Brooding mountains: Pyrenees 2013. what is likely to happen next ? You should know.

Tip 12: On drenching days, I drop my mileage, stop more often for warm food and drink and pedal more slowly to offset the amount of condensation inside my wet weather gear. Most good shell jackets and trousers are reasonably breathable but this varies from garment to garment and person to person. Whatever you wear, you will get wet eventually. That is just how it is I’m afraid. The trick is not to lose valuable body heat as you go, which can leave you open to hypothermia.

Tip 13: On horrible days, it’s always worth considering Warmshowers ,  Bed and Breakfast or a hotel for the night. Time spent in tourist offices while they arrange a bed for you somewhere along the road will be time to warm up and costs you nothing. Knowing you have a bed to head to can make riding in the rain much easier to endure. Although they can be potentially expensive, a cosy bed for the night can be a great move, allowing you to relax and dry your gear in a warm room while you get a little pampered eating food and drinking a nice cold beer.

Tip 14: If you decide to camp, there are a few things that make it much easier. Stop earlier than usual. Erecting and getting into a wet tent takes considerable longer to organise than it does on a carefree warm summer evening. I try to keep the inner as dry as I can as I re-fit it in the fly. This process helps warm my cold body.

Tip 15: Prior to getting in I find my towel and use it to sit on as I change. Inside my tent, with the outer zipped shut, I start by finding the bags containing the things I wish to wear and place them away from the sodden mass that is me. I then remove the outer layers and all the inner layers, one at a time, drying my skin as I go and trying to dress with as little heat loss as possible.

Tip 16: Once I am clothed again, note I haven’t showered or even used wet-wipes at this point, I get into my sleeping bag and get a brew on my stove and a hat on my head, but only after I’ve wiped the floor as dry as possible first. It is important to maintain body heat and lose as little as you can while changing.

2013-06-19 06.10.18
The day after the toughest three days of my cycling life. Superb.

Tip 17: If I can I will hang the gear out at some point. If not, I will wring it out as much as I can and then stuff it all into a plastic bag before placing in it somewhere outside of the inner sanctuary. This helps to keep the levels of condensation down in my tent.

Tip18: I also vent the flysheet to help avoid condensation build up (using two-way zips) and unless it’s extremely windy I also open the end vents to increase the flow of air through the tent.

 Tip 19: Prior to stopping I shop as usual but with a small twist. On horrible, wet days, I always buy food that is quick and easy to prepare eg: a large can of chilli or stew, or pre-cooked curries that I can just heat through. These types of food are comforting and make up, a little, for being stuck in my tent. I always eat hot unless there is no choice, something I can usually avoid with a little forethought.  I also buy plenty of other food/fruit to nibble at through the evening and always fill all my water bottles on arrival so I don’t have to go out in the rain again. A cup of chocolate before bed goes a long way to making the day feel like a good one.

Tip 20: In terms of cooking, I generally use a spirit stove (a Trangia type affair) and when it’s throwing it down I use a bungee or piece of chord to extend the zipped-open door flap outwards, giving me a canopy space to cook under while minimising the level of rain that enters and the risk of melting the tent as I do. If you use a petrol stove, don’t even think about doing this and be very careful with gas appliances too. They can be unpredictable and flare, something you don’t want to experience. I have twice hurled or kicked stoves clear of tents after similar events, despite it being a rare occurrence. Somebody was watching over me and now I just steer clear of that scenario.

Tip 21: A good idea for us chaps is to have a Nalgene bottle, or similar, that you keep just for any night time need to pee. Anything with a wide opening and a sealed lid will do the job. There is nothing worse than going out in torrential rain when you don’t have to. I’m sorry ladies. I’m aware that there are products to help you out when but I haven’t had any reports on whether they are any use at all. Perhaps you could let me know?

Back on the road and smiling again: Isle of Arran, Scotland

Tip 22: In certain summer conditions, you can get away with precious little clothing, but remember that if it’s colder and you are going higher, you may well need at least two insulating layers so that you can always keep one dry for when you stop. I have an over-the-head Patagonia synthetic jacket for this purpose and even in the summer, as the evening chills, I just pull it on for that warm cosy feeling. For more serious conditions and colder climates I have a goose down duvet jacket which is super warm and can be used in bed like an extra sleeping bag if need be.

Tip 23: In Ireland, it was so warm at times that wearing a coat just made things worse. It was better to just get a shirt wet and dry it out later. Putting damp clothes on isn’t pleasant at all, but I’m always amazed that the thought is far worse than reality. Once you take the plunge, just like the sea, you will warm up modern fabrics, for example Merino wool just takes a few seconds. As you cycle, your body heat will dry them out.

Conversely, in colder climes and higher environments, cold rain can be a real killer. If your body’s core temperature drops just a few degrees you are in serious trouble unless you can halt the process. Hypothermia can come on subtly and without major warning signs, and you may not know you are heading that way until it’s too late and you are already at the shaking stage. If you start to wander in your thoughts and get grumpy, lightheaded or vague, then consider stopping somewhere warm as soon as you can and calling it a day. Continuing may lead to unconsciousness and death.

Tip 24: Good clothing and practise help alleviate this possibility and while super-light, highly breathable jackets can be great while you are active, they rarely offer enough additional insulation and wind resistance when you stop. They will stop the wind from getting through but are substantially colder to wear than a heavier shell jacket.  Always keep your jacket, trousers, gloves and hat to hand and wear extra layers when you stop in cooler places and put them on prior to any descent. I know they don’t do that in The Tour but they have a car following and a bus full of professional staff to help them through any problems. You may well only have yourself to rely upon.

Drying out
Drying out: Round Britain 2011. Northumberland coast.

Tip 25: Never wait until you are cold before suiting up. You can undo and remove clothing to balance comfort but once lost, heat is hard to regain, especially if you are dehydrated and poorly fed at that point.

All these tips concern you personally. Other things can be just as important, things like choice of tyres and brake pads, lights and mudguards. People in the UK have few choices but to ride in wet conditions as our weather is so mixed. Fortunately for us it is general mild as well. We get plenty of practise at riding in the rain and it is my belief that, although it will never compare with a sunny day, riding in the rain is more than survivable, it can be very rewarding in an odd kind of way. What are your top tips for riding and camping in the rain? I’d love to know.

Until next time………