Thursday, March 22, 2012


"Never get your down sleeping bag wet" is one of the basic rules of backpacking, and I am rigid when it comes to following the rules.  But this weekend, driving rain blew under my poorly-pitched tarp, and got water on my down underquilt.  I'd been feeling pretty happy with my whole setup and hammock skills, but leave it up to mother nature to show me differently!  When my confidence gets shaken like this, I try to keep in mind something my friend told me-- expertise at something comes only after you've had enough experience to make all the mistakes in the book.

Water-logged bloodroot bent after the storm.
First I learned to pay more attention to the weather.  After dinner, we were watching the pretty lightening show in the distance, up until the moment the storm came upon us fast and fierce.  I should have double checked my pitch earlier.

Second, I also learned just how quickly mild hypothermia sets in.  After I saw rain had reached my underquilt and the end of my hammock, I quickly stashed all my gear in waterproof bags so everything stayed dry, including the "sleep clothes" and shoes I was wearing.  Wearing only my poncho in the storm, it wasn't long before I got cold while I adjusting the tarp.  I felt scared, shivering while the lightening crashed around me, feeling the effects of the hypothermia as my brain got more sluggish.  I did go over to my friend's tent and tell her I was having problems and was shivering-- not that she could do anything, but it felt safer to let them know I was having trouble.  After getting reassurance and my friend's spare tarp just in case, I returned to my hammock, wiped the mud off my bare skin and changed into my dry clothes to get warm.  I was glad I choose to keep my clothes dry while I was out working in the rain, so I'd have something to change into and wet clothes would have kept me colder anyway. 

Third, I still stayed warm with some of my gear wet.  My hammock was wet on the part under my torso, but my sit pad above it keep me insulated.  My pack insulated my legs, and I shook most of the water off my underquilt and it still held some heat.  I was very lucky it didn't get very cold that night.  I fell asleep quickly, and slept like a rock through the night, waking up well-rested.

Since the trip, I have been trying to decide if I should buy new gear, like a new tarp with doors.  I'm reluctant to spend the time researching new gear and then going through the learning curve of a new tarp, a process I find draining.   All I want to do this time of year is be outside, and everything else seems like a waste of time.  The wonderful people at hammock forums also told me how to use my poncho as an improvised door, which would have been really helpful the way the wind was blowing.  Hope I get some good rain this next weekend so I can test that technique out!

Drying out the hammock the next day on Sassafras Mtn., SC


  1. Joan, I highly recommend a tarp with doors. I sent two Mac Cat tarps to ZQ on the Hammock forum to have doors put on them. She does a great job.
    Here is the link
    It will add a few ounces to your pack but I think the peace of mind during a thunderstorm is worth it.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Swampfox. I did end up getting a new cuben tarp with doors. Absolutely worthwhile. But I'm so glad to hear that you had a good experience getting your MacCat tarp modified by ZQ- that surely would have been a big improvement, especially for hiking around SC where there is just so much rain.