Monday, 7 May 2018

First Night in a Hammock

The first time I saw a camping hammock was back in 2012 when I hiked the Kenomee Canyon loop in Nova Scotia with a friend and another friend of his. We hiked in to Murphy Brook and camped at the bottom of the big steep hill right on the brook, for anyone familiar with the area. Oh, and if you happen to have been there since 2012 - we were the ones who built the lounge chairs out of the big flat boulders. I'll see if I can dig up some pictures of them. Anyway, my friend brought his Hennessy hammock, and I ended up pretty intrigued by it mainly because it was so much lighter and smaller than even a small tent. Fast forward 2 years and I moved up from Cubs to Scouts with my oldest son, and discovered that the Scout troop had a couple of the same type of hammocks for use by Scouts on camping trips. Indeed, the hammocks were always and still are a very popular option for Scouts, and there is always a higher demand than supply.

As five years with the Scouts draws to a close I've seen the hammocks used quite a bit. And more recently one of the other Scout leaders picked up a really nice custom hammock from Little Shop of Hammocks in Saskatchewan. Being the cheapskate that I am I did not really want to shell out the price of a new hammock ( over $250 when you include taxes ) for the sake of trying it out, but being a kijiji junkie I was eventually able to find a great deal on one. Last summer a good Hennessy came up for $100 and was listed as used only a couple of times. When I went to check it out I confirmed that it sure looked barely used, and was the deal I'd been looking for. I knew that in the worst case both of my older boys loved using a hammock since they'd both used the ones in Scouts, so even if I did not like it we'd use it on our family camping trips. I picked that one up late last summer and had not had a chance to try it out before winter set in.
But again being the kijiji junkie I am who checks many times daily for new deals on canoes and camping gear, a couple of weeks ago I hit upon another deal I just could not turn down. Another Hennessy Asym Zip Expedition hammock - $100 new in the bag never used! Wow! And sure enough, it was new in the bag never even taken out of the bag. Now I had 2 hammocks and still had not tried one myself!

This past weekend we had our annual Scouts bike camp, and it was the ideal opportunity for me to try a hammock. For this camp we bike 15 km west along the bike path along the Ottawa River, to the Wesley Clover Campground at the top of the Kanata Hill. It is a nice little campground in the middle of the city, and if it were not for the constant hum of the nearby highway you'd never know you were not at a provincial or national park. My son took one hammock to use, and I took the other.

To jump straight to my thoughts after one night in a hammock - overall neither positive nor negative. More research required.

Setup and teardown is certainly a major advantage of a hammock - with a bit of practice it will be a 1 or 2 minute job which is pretty fast. I've gotten a lot of practice over the years at setting up and tearing down my little MEC Tarn 2 tent, but even on a good day it will be 5 minutes for either. I used a taughtline hitch on both sides to secure the hammock rope to the trees - if you do not know this knot you really need to learn it. It is simple to learn and hard to forget, and is a fantastic adjustable knot that slides easily back and forth when there is no load on it, but stays tight under load. It easily supported my 200 lbs for the night.

Getting into and out of the hammock was relatively easy after minimal practice. Key to this though is figuring out the right height to hang it. I found that hanging it so the low part was waist height was just about right. One negative I found was that after getting in the hammock would sway back-and-forth for a very long time until it finally came to rest, and I found that it made me slightly nauseous. Maybe that's something you get used to - we'll have to see. I did have both sides pegged out with the shock cord that comes with it - that helps dampen the sway and slow it down more quickly. But I still found it to be a bit of an issue. It would also start to sway again just about any time you moved once you were inside.

Once I'd climbed in for the night I found it challenging to get fully and properly into my sleeping bag - it took a lot of shimmying around and fake yoga moves to get the sleeping bag pulled up around my neck where it belongs. Though I am sure that is probably something you figure out after a few times. One thing I will note is that you should make sure you place your sleeping bag so that its zipper is on the same side as the hammock zipper. That is for a side entry hammock. Hennessy also makes bottom entry hammocks and this is what the Scouts have - I have to imagine that getting into your sleeping bag is a lot more difficult in one of those.

Another potential issue for some people in a hammock is claustrophobia. I do get mildly claustrophobic and experience this in a bivy sack as well as in a quinzhee. Since the forecast the other night was clear skies, I initially got into the hammock with no fly on top, and it was really great to lie on my back and have a clear view of the trees and sky. I slept like this until about 4am when it started to get chilly - at which point I draped the fly over top. I did not have it properly pegged out, and so with it just draped over the top I did find it to be mildly claustrophobic. But if the fly had been pegged out properly I doubt I would have.

The biggest negative aspect of the hammock I found was the lack of space to put my gear. A hammock does have the ridgeline which supports it, and over that you can hang a few things but space is limited. Even in my small Tarn 2 I have ample room inside the tent for my clothes and just about anything else. Plus a relatively big vestibule for my backpack, shoes, and other gear. In the hammock I barely had enough room for my pee bottle. I guess I'll have to check some hammock forums or something, so see what others do about this, but it is a pretty major downside in my book.

One final thing I learned is that you may still need some kind of sleeping pad under you depending upon the time of year, because cold sneaks in from below.  Since your sleeping bag under you is compressed by your weight, it does not provide the same warmth as it does on top of you.  I was definitely getting a chill from below as the temperature went down to 5C overnight.

Overall my experience in a hammock is neutral.  I will definitely try it again a few times to figure out whether or not it is for me.

1 comment:

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