Monday, February 6, 2012

Shelter Choice: Hammock

My journey to hammocking began with the proposition for a through hike. I knew my existing equipment massed more than I wanted to carry over some 2000 miles. One of the big three, my four pound tent, was due for an upgrade.

Whiteblaze served as the jumping off point for my research into lightening my load. There were endless posts about shelters, shelters from big time manufacturers, from the cottage industry, and from enterprising do-it-yourself backpackers. Light weight tarp tents appeared to be the shelter of choice for many. Some used a tarp and ground sheet, and some used just a bivy. Every once in a while, a poster would claim a hammock to be their shelter of choice. This last being entirely new to me, I became intrigued and delved deeper.

Advantages of the hammock sleeping system quickly became apparent. First, virtually everyone who had tried sleeping in a hammock proclaimed that it was far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. Most didn't miss the stones and branches and odd lumps. For some, swinging in the breeze didn't work for a whole night's sleep, but the majority highly preferred it.

Second, hammocks adapt to many locations. Countless times I have found the perfect camping spot except either the ground is too steep or there is no room for a tent. A hammock suffers from neither constraint, having a smaller footprint than a tent and being more flexible in placement. A slope doesn't faze a hammock; you simply adjust until it hangs at a suitable height. Rocks, uneven ground, and even small brush can all be handled by hanging clear. Find a couple of trees and . . . that's it.

Third, hammocks are breezy. In winter, sleeping on a pad is great. It's good insulation and holds your body heat. In summer it's still holding your body heat. I have spent summer nights where I just couldn't sleep because of how hot it was. But because a hammock is suspended it has airflow both above and below. When the hammock is made from a breathable material, the occupant benefits from that airflow and stays cooler in the summer.

Finally, the lightest weight hammocks are competitive with lightweight tents. A bivy or a tarp and ground sheet will always be the lightest option for three season use. But a hammock shelter can be made competitive to a lightweight tent. For example, I'm experimenting with a hammock system that weighs 20 ounces, and lighter options are available.

So, comfort, adaptable location, cool breezes, and light weight won me over. I researched and chose a lightweight hammock, persuaded some kind folks to purchase it for me (birthdays are wonderful), and went to town (the forest). I tried a hammock and found the comfort irresistible. The light weight was a perfect upgrade and I really enjoyed the ability to camp anywhere with trees. Hammocks aren't for everyone, but they're definitely for me. In the spirit of honesty, I have to correct that to hammocks are for almost everybody. Not that I'm trying to convince you or anything.

Meriadoc, Hanging High

Note: Aphorism, adage, truism, call it what you will: only hang a hammock as high as you are willing to fall.

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