My Hammock System (Version 1.0)

This year, my backpacking kit took an evolutionary leap that I never expected: I picked up a hammock. I’d always said I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine a hammock system that wouldn’t detrimentally affect my bottom line (read: “Base Pack Weight”). My friends’ systems seemed heavy, and some internet research didn’t yield very promising results. Sleeping on the ground under my Cuben Fiber tarp was lighter, no matter how you sliced it.

While planning my summer trip to the White Mountains, I started researching campsites for the Pemi Loop. The AMC Campsites were prone to filling up on summer weekends, and finding LNT-friendly “stealth” camping options (at least ones that were large and flat enough for our group to camp together) would have been tricky. One of my cohorts for this trip, “other” Dan, is a hammocker, and I began thinking that a hammock might be the answer. We wouldn’t need to find a flat spot to make camp, and that extra freedom would be lovely.

I began searching for a light and cost-effective hammock system. Either I’ve gotten REALLY good at gear shopping over the years, or I got really lucky. I had my entire system chosen and outlined within a few days. 

Hammock (17oz, $70)

I chose the Warbonnet Outdoors Traveler. This is a fairly straightforward gathered-end hammock. The 1.1oz Double-Layer version is rated up to 275lbs, which is plenty to support me(240lbs) and any stuff I may bring to bed with me. It also allows me to slide a CCF pad between the two layers for added bottom insulation in cold weather. I spent the extra $10 for the Whoopie Sling suspension, which is lighter than adjustable webbing straps, but still easy to use. The Traveler also has a Structural Ridge Line, which makes tensioning the hammock much easier. The SRL is also handy for hanging socks and things to dry. I picked up a few Metolius FS Mini Wiregate Biners (1.8oz for the pair) to connect the Whoopie Slings to the tree straps.

Tarp (5oz, $60)

I made out like a bandit on this tarp. I got a Mountain Laurel Designs UL Asym Hammock Tarp. I got this tarp at a closeout price because MLD wasn’t making the Spinnaker version anymore. This is just as light as their current cuben fiber version, but I saved a ton of money. This is a very minimalist tarp, which is designed to provide the best coverage when you are laying diagonally in your hammock. I made some slight modifications to save weight (cut off the LineLoc tensioners and switched to lighter guy lines. I haven’t encountered any real rain with this hammock yet, so I’ll withhold my opinions until I have a little more experience. 

Underquilt (12oz, $190)

I went with a Warbonnet Yeti 3-season under quilt. This torso length quilt weighs in at 12oz on my scales. It attaches very easily to my hammock (takes less than 30 seconds), and has kept me toasty warm down to about 40degrees with no additional bottom insulation. I used it in the 30’s once also (with a Gossamer Gear NightLight under my legs), and was also very warm. This quilt is very easy to reposition while laying in your hammock. 

This system seems to be working pretty well for 3-season use so far. I may need to adjust my bottom insulation when winter rolls around, but for now, it’s good. This setup is about a pound heavier than my old ground-based sleep/shelter system, but it’s worth it. I’ve never slept so well on the ground, as I do in my hammock. Do any of you hammock? I’m always looking for suggestions!

ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp

The ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp is a shaped tarp, which is constructed from .51oz Cuben Fiber. The tarp, stuff sack, and guy lines weigh in at 4.4oz on my scale. I’m not sure that it matters, but mine is Olive Drab colored. Due to crappy weather, I didn’t get any good pictures of this tarp in action, so here is a stock photo from ZPacks.com. I paid $195.00 for this tarp.

od_hexamid_front_m

This tarp is well constructed. All the seams are sewn AND taped, so seam sealing isn’t needed. All of the tie out points are bonded and seem very strong. The weights I measured are pretty close to the manufacturer’s specs (4.2oz vs 4.4oz). The tarp includes a stuff sack and guy lines, but you must supply your own stakes. There is also a 1-page instruction manual. Don’t be a dummy like me. Follow the instructions. An extended beak and bug netting are available for an extra fee.

I took this tarp out for a quick, rainy one-nighter on the AT (Route 325-Duncannon, PA). I had a few problems with it, but I also made a few mistakes, so I’ll be a little gentle with this review. First, I must mention that I didn’t do a backyard test with this tarp. The very first time I pitched it was in the field (BIG MISTAKE). The tarp pitches easily, but I set the trekking pole WAY too long. The instructions recommend 122cm, and I was closer to 135cm. This made the tarp sit too high, so it didn’t help at all with blocking wind. This high pitch also made the tarp a bit shorter and narrower, so the corners of my bivy hung out. This tarp fell down on my 2 or 3 times in the night because I kept bumping the trekking pole. It dawned on me after the 3rd time that the trek pole had one of those rubber feet on it, so it was sliding around very easily. Once I took the foot off and dug the carbide tip into the ground, the tarp stayed up the rest of the night (again MY MISTAKE). I’ll have to give you a better report after I learn to follow directions. This tarp does have a very slight learning curve, but I strongly believe that this tarp will function well in the future, if used as the manufacturer suggests. I’m a bigger guy, so I might consider switching to the Solo-Plus size of this tarp if dimensions become an issue.

One important tip: If you roll around in the night, angle the pole out to widen the usable area under the tarp.

Update: 4/26/13

IMG_0283I finally got another chance to use the Hexamid Solo two weekends ago. This time I opted to use the ZPacks Cuben Fiber Solo Ground Sheet (a clip-in bathtub floor specifically for this tarp). This time, camping under the Hexamid Tarp was MUCH more successful! Instead of an adjustable pole, I used a Black Diamond Z-poles Distance fixed-length trekking pole. The 120cm pole was the perfect length for this tarp, and solved all of the coverage issues I had last time. It also allowed me to properly position the pole, which solved the problem of knocking it down in my sleep. You’d be surprised how much reading the instructions can help! There wasn’t any precipitation on this trip, but I feel fairly confident that, with a carefully-planned pitch, this tarp would keep me dry in moderate rainfall. I’m still not sure how it would do in a full-on storm. Long story short: My opinion of this tarp has improved greatly, and I will continue using it for now.