Hiking up the steep slope of a mountain can be hot and sweaty. The refreshingly cool feeling of raindrops merrily pelting off your head in a sudden downpour is a welcome relief. Getting rained on can be fun, but it’s easy to get chilled to the bone if you’re not properly prepared.

As we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, unpredictable storms can suddenly change hiking conditions from dry and hot, to cold, wet and miserable in minutes. But getting caught in the rain without hi-tech hiking gear doesn’t have to be miserable.

Although plenty of great tips exist for prepping yourself for rain, let’s focus on some options I always carry with me, rain or shine, all waterproof, durable, economical, lightweight and in a wide variety of sizes. That’s right, the humble plastic bag will finally be given a place in the spotlight as a top tool for emergency rain.

Plastic bags: hiking buddies

Want a versatile, durable, waterproof and multi-use item? Plastic bags meet all the criteria and come in all shapes and sizes. They can, at least temporarily, solve almost any backcountry rainy need.

• For a backpack cover and stuff sack, use two or more large, heavy-duty contractor bags. These flexible black bags serve as a waterproof backpack cover and, packed around sleeping bag and clothing, serve as extra protection. As a bonus, use contractor bags as emergency rain ponchos, bivys (place two end to end), water carriers, waterproof seats for wet logs, basically anything you can come up with.

• Miniature dry bags, such as small Ziplock baggies, can keep cell phones, cameras and other small items dry and easily accessible. Pack clothes in 1-gallon Ziplock bags to keep dry in case the pack gets wet. Baggies make good waterproof map cases, too.

• Didn’t bring any gloves and a freezing wet wind is turning your fingertips blue? Insert hands in plastic produce bags inflated slightly, with just enough air to keep them from direct contact with skin, and tie around wrists. The “dead air” space helps insulate hands from the worst of the cold, at least for the short term. Head back to warmth and safety as soon as possible. Don’t have waterproof shoes and need to keep feet dry in an emergency? Bring plastic produce bags or grocery bags to slip over socks and stick feet back inside shoes. Close the gaps at ankles with a rubber band.

• I’m a big proponent of bringing the 10 essentials on every hike, so please don’t take this as an invitation to leave out important gear to save time, money or weight.

The best tip for dealing with a rainy day is adequate planning, preparing and packing. These tips and tools are not meant to replace any of the 10 essentials, but sure are nice to have if taken off guard or when meeting someone less prepared along the trail.