Hammock camping offers a new twist on familiar adventures
Our campsite along the river’s edge is a familiar one, popular with lots of people.
But we were in luck.
It was a Saturday, one marked by sunny skies, near-perfect water levels and temperatures in the mid-80s. And yet despite having encountered lots of river traffic, our campsite wasn’t as crowded as it might have been.
It’s a place that gets lots of use, typically.
Rough wooden steps leading from the water to a flat, timbered bench with picnic tables and fire rings attest to that. And we would have neighbors before night fell.
But all in all, we were primed for a quiet evening.
Beaching our canoe and kayaks, we climbed the bank and mounded coolers, a cook stove and fishing gear. We strung a clothes line. After that, we stacked dry bags clothes, food, headlamps and sleeping bags.
Then, we started thinking about shelter.
Here, that meant taking to the trees.
In years past, we would automatically pitch tents. And this spot, flat as it is, is a fine one for that, all things considered.
But – like many these days, be they hikers, backpackers, paddlers or car campers – we used hammocks.
Ken, one of the friends on this trip we call “The General” because of how well and ordered he runs his successful business, picked his pair of trees first. Then he issued a warning.
“Now, you know,” he said, with a smile even he couldn’t suppress, “I snore a little bit.”
All of us on the trip – middle-aged, I’ll say, even if that’s getting more charitable all the time — snore to one degree or another, me included. But Ken, especially when battling a bit of a cold like as he was on this weekend, is a flat-out champ.
Imagine the sound of an asthmatic grizzly, winded from chasing an aged yet still spry bull elk for a long distance, uphill all the way, in hot, muggy weather.
“And I’m going right here,” he added, pointing to his chosen spot. “So you guys gotta figure out what you want to do.”
We scattered like quail.
That is to say, we flushed quickly and noisily, then settled back down without having gone all that far.
“I’ll be over this way,” I said, grabbing my gear and making tracks upriver.
We’ve camped together a lot of years now. As a result, we’re mostly impervious to the sounds the others make.
Those who stay up latest around the campfire joke about the first ones to bed, and the sometimes forest-rattling snorts, grunts and choking breaths they make in the background. Any really loud outbreaks bring laughs.
Then, we climb into our beds and make the same noises ourselves.
So it’s all good.
Sleep wasn’t going to be a problem this night anyway. We’d left home well before daylight, driven for hours, then paddled hard for a lot of miles. Rest would come quickly, snoring or not.
So I hung my hammock between two stout trees, low enough to the ground that I could get in and out easily, and even use it as a chair, without it bumping the ground. There were no loose branches above and little in the way of vegetation below.
A tarp, draped over paracord stretched between the trees and staked to the ground at each corner, like an inverted V, offered cover should it rain.
It was much like a tent, but elevated and airier.
To test it, I climbed in and got comfortable – so comfortable, in fact, that it was tempting to just stay a while.
But there was work to do yet: the gravity filter needed filled with river water, cooking gear needed unpacked and the stove needed fired up. There were, after all, antelope backstraps – The General had brought some along from a Wyoming hunt – to cook and eat.
So we worked, ate, watched the flames of our fire dance after the sun went down and talked of many things, from work to children grown and nearly grown.
Then, we slept, the sleep of the contented and comfortable. We had even more miles to paddle and fish the next morning, but we woke ready to roll.
This hammock camping thing? It’s pretty sweet, and something I look forward to doing lots more, snoring and all Maybe you do, too. I’d encourage it.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to hammock camping, though.
Choose the right hammock. Hammocks come in one- or two-person models. Sometimes the bigger ones are nice, even when going solo. All have weight limits, though. Get one that suits your size and space needs, being sure to pay attention to the poundage of the hammock itself, especially if you’re a backpacker or hiker.
Use the right straps. Some hammocks come with suspension straps, some don’t. Make sure the ones you have are at least three-quarters of an inch thick – to avoid damaging trees – with multiple suspension points. That allows you to compensate for the distance between trees.
Get the right angle. Your hammock should have some sag to it, so that it looks like a smile or banana. But how much sag? Some experts say your straps should hang at about a 30 degree angle. That’s as good a starting point as any, I suppose. Just be sure you’re not hanging in a U or lying too flat. The former gets uncomfortable in a hurry, the latter stresses your straps and the trees.
Stay warm. Sleeping in a hammock, on even a mild night, can leave you cold. Cooler air that pools beneath you will give you a cold butt. To avoid that, use a sleeping bag and/or put a sleeping pad – backpacking pads work well, though there are also hammock-specific models — in your hammock. If it’s going to be really cold, consider an underquilt. It’s essentially half a sleeping bag that hangs beneath you.
Stay protected. A tarp above your hammock protects you from rain. If bugs are a concern, use mosquito netting.
Use a drip line. This is a cool little trick I learned that pays big dividends. If you expect it to rain overnight, take two pieces of paracord, each a foot or so long. Tie one to each of the straps connecting your hammock to the trees, so each has two 5-inch “tails” hanging. Make sure they’re under your protective tarp. Then, when it rains, the water that runs down the straps will hit that cord tails and drip off there, rather than continuing to your hammock.