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Modern waterproofs are great, on the 95% of occasions you’re likely to require one, they’ll do a great job of keeping the elements at bay. They also do a reasonable job of preventing you from drowning in your own sweat should you be stupid enough to ride a bike vigorously, while confined inside one. Unfortunately, 95% of the time isn’t the same as all the time and sooner or later you’re going to find yourself outside on a 5% day … they tend to go something like this.

Water dropped like a cold wet curtain from the overwhelmed gutter, on the other side, our adversary snarled and shredded the air with icy claws. We’d battled for two days but in truth, we’d known from the outset it would be a fight we couldn’t hope to win but even so, the ferocity of the onslaught had still surprised us. Now here we were, backs to the wall, trapped. The doorway of a rural Welsh community centre was to be our Alamo.

I pushed at the heel of my left shoe with the toes of my right one until it released its grip on my foot and fell onto the floor. Squatting down beside it, I lifted it up and ceremoniously poured the water from inside. My sock followed and another half pint of liquid sunshine splashed on to the concrete flags as I rung it out. Perhaps I should empty the other one and do a brew?, I thought. As I pondered, a car drew into the car park opposite us. “Shit, looks like we’re going after all” said Mike, nodding towards Burtie’s arrival. None of us were new to this. All three of us had seen active service and been on the receiving end of live fire. Wet, cold and hungry we could do but this really was something else and deep down none of us wanted to go over the top to face another bombardment. Sadly, the arrival of Burty made a tactical retreat far less likely.

“Yer wearing bin bags” said Burty, “and you’ve only got one shoe on and where’s your sock?”. I mumbled a reply as the four of us unconsciously lined up, forming a rag tag, thin red line staring out at the battlefield. The realisation that our fate wasn’t entirely cradled in our own hands became a stark reality when Karl and Cat arrived a few minutes later. “Okay, so where we going then?” asked a rather upbeat Karl. Two days ago, thoughts of a full Berwyn traverse had fuelled my imagination, now the same thought filled me with a mixture of dread and panic. I looked at Mike, he looked at his feet, I turned to Scott who simply turned his gaze deep into his luxurious beard. Burty shuffled his feet about and pretended to admire the 80’s brickwork of our fox hole. I opened my mouth, “Over the Ber” but before I could finish digging us a wet shallow grave, Cat the cavalry came to the rescue and said, “pub’s open, let’s go there. We’ll have a drink and a warm up while we decide what to do”.

With my sock inside out, shoe back on, laces flapping and an errant black bin bag doing a good job of obscuring any remaining vision left by the rain, I cycled the 300 yards to the pub. The old oak door wore its age well, iron hinges let out a squeal of delight as the heavy door swung open and we dripped into the pub. The landlord wore his age less flatteringly, he stood behind the dark wooden bar and gave us a smile that effortlessly conveyed the message, ‘don’t bother trying to explain, it’s quite obvious that either the circus is in town or the village has some new idiots’. 

We took the warm welcome to heart and in short order had transformed the seasonally decorated snug into something that resembled a jumble sale after a bombing. Socks were draped over the fire guard, gloves hung from the mantle and helmets lay gently steaming under the christmas tree. It somehow seems wrong ordering tea in a pub but I’ve never been swayed by convention, so I ordered two pots. The first one didn’t touch the sides and I sat with the still hot teapot resting on my lap as I made in-roads into the second. Scott was nursing a pint of Guinness and I secretly hoped he might develop a taste for it and suggest we spend the remainder of the day and maybe even the night, tucked up in our cosy bunker. The landlord brought Cat a bowl of cheesy chips, which I’m ashamed to say that, although not hungry, I looked at longingly with a desire usually reserved for carnal rather than culinary pleasures.

The clock tick-tocked by, the fire was slowly working its magic and my tea having the desired effect, things were looking up or they were until a voice said, “right then, who’s got the maps?”. All eyes fell to me, I reached behind, pushed a hand down the back of my damp shorts and like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat, pulled out two dog eared maps. After quickly looking at the covers, I pushed one back down my shorts. It showed the lands to the north, I didn’t want to go north, north would prolong the suffering by an additional 24 hours. I wanted south, definitely south, south was good.

Diplomacy flowed across the table, everyone concerned that all the other members of our merry band would leave the sanctuary of the pub happy. After some considerable time and another round of drinks a decision was made, it involved travelling south, a rudimentary roof for the night and a special guest appearance from the highest road pass in Wales. We readied ourselves for the great outdoor’s while fending off questions from bemused locals. We couldn’t give good answers, whatever we said sounded stupid in the face of what would inevitably befall us over the next few hours. Telling someone that you enjoy something after they’ve spent the previous hour listening to you moan about it, really does sound stupid.

I walked purposefully through the pub, both my socks the right way out, a buff pulled up over my nose and a tattered bin liner providing a last defensive coat of shiny black armour. We had a plan, one that would take us nearer to our final destination and provide more substantial accommodation than a simple sheet of silnylon. It wasn’t grand or overly ambitious, remarkably it was sensible and straightforward and it started with the opening of the old oak door. I turned the handle and pulled, a blast of cold, water-laden air hit me in the face but I pressed on. Standing in the open yard the wind made its presence felt, it swirled in every direction, grabbing at my clothes and desperately trying to burrow its way through the layers. I lifted my loaded bike from the floor, the wind roared and tried to snatch it from me. Propping my bike against an upturned table, I lifted my arms towards the sky and roared back … if we were going down, then we were going down fighting!

Sadly, I’ve not made that lot up. It’s a true story of everyday bikepacking folk who happened to find themselves well and truly in the eye of the storm. By day two, waterproofs had ceased to carry out their primary function and in an effort to fend of the rain and keep the wind out, something far less glamorous had been pressed into service – bin bags. Any desire for breathability was completely overshadowed by a greater desire, a desire to ward of the secondary signs of hypothermia that were gently tapping us on the shoulder. It wasn’t the first time I’d resorted to fabricating designer wear from plastic bags but there’s a chance that it might now be the last.

Vacuum packed tarp, just 155g and very easy to re-pack for the next rainy day.

Surviva Wear are a UK company that produce (in the UK) a range of heat reflective products that are both completely waterproof and 100% windproof. They’re lightweight, pack to nothing, relatively inexpensive and reusable. The ‘material’ they’re made from is called, Supafoil and is reported to reflect over 99% of radiant heat, which is something a bin bag can’t do. I’ll certainly vouch for the fact that you feel noticeably warmer within a couple of minutes of putting an item on. My initial thinking is that, this could be a real benefit if you wore it next to the skin or over a thin layer with your other wet clothes on top. Sure, you might get a little clammy but it’ll produce a wonderfully warm ‘micro-climate’ by preventing radiant heat loss and also stop the wind cooling you through convection or your wet clothes doing the same via the wonders of conduction.

Yes, it does have a hole for your face and adjustable tabs for a less flappy fit.

I’m not going to pretend that they’re the kind of things you’ll wear on a regular basis, nor am I going to say that you won’t look a little strange wearing one, especially if it’s on the outside; but on those 5% days, something like the Surviva Body Warmer could just make all the difference. At 60g, you’re unlikely to notice it in amongst everything else and at less than a fiver, it isn’t going to leave you penniless and destitute. I have a hooded body warmer and a tarp on test, so now that the weather’s on the turn, I shall see just how effective they are at keeping you below the type 2 / type 3 fun threshold and report back shortly.

Surviva Wear


  1. Taylor says:

    I can just imagine Dee's face when she saw you in the yard with it on.

  2. I suppose when it's a choice between that and my bear suit ;o)

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