Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wet again- gear-technique failure

I was going to call this a "learning experience" but since it's the second time it's happened, I obviously haven't learned my lesson.  Basically, my hammock got wet again in the storm up at Bly Gap on the AT this weekend.  Everything was fine during the steady rain, but then around midnight, the wind kicked up, swirling in all directions.  The gusts were so fierce that they drove the rain horizontal, and shook my tarp.  Water was dripping down the bug net over the hammock, and droplets covered the underquilt.

My sleeping bag was still dry, so I arranged my driducks poncho over it, and put my rainpants over my feet, just in case the rain started coming in.  This was risky because if I sweat a lot it, the condensation could soak me, but I draped it loosely and my raingear is fairly breathable and it was cold enough that I wasn't close to overheating.  My ridgerest sit pad and pack were already arranged like they always are under my legs, and my feet were still toasty in my down socks. Though I was warm enough, it took me a while to get back to sleep because I was so terrified that the rain would get worse and soak my bag, and I wondered if I could die of hypothermia in my sleep.

Incredibly, when I finally woke up in the morning to a more gentle rain, the water was gone off the bug net, the underquilt was free of visible water, and the hammock was damp in places, but not terribly wet.  Could my body heat must have dried things off a bit?   I think I had lucked out.  If the storm had gone on longer, things might have gotten much worse.  
Can you see how my hammock is on an exposed site, oriented towards the wind.
In retrospect, I know why this happened-- I was aware rain was coming, and I also knew I was camping in a site that put me at risk.  It was exposed, it was in a high gap.  I was not tucked against a hillside or down a bank like I normally do.  Basically, I was asking for trouble and I knew better.  It is not a coincidence that the only other time this has happened was when I was camping on a ridge/ gap site.

My tarp is also pitched really open to the wind- another mistake.
Possible solutions
There are three gear items I could buy that could prevent this problem.  Though I'm reluctant to get anything that would add additional weight to my pack.  Could other gear offer other advantages (like warmth)?  Perhaps I could make these myself?  Does anyone have any other suggestions?

1. Add on doors or a beak to my existing tarp
    -advantage is provides wind protection and extra warmth, and I could bring them along when I want to hang out with tenting friends or in winter, or when there is 100% chance of rain.
    -disadvantage is that they are heavy (8 oz)

2.  Cuben fiber tarp with doors
    -advantage that lighterweight (6 oz) than my current tarp (the MacCat Deluxe SpinnUL, 12 oz) and provides extra wind protection
    -disadvantage is that cuben fiber is expensive.  I'm tempted to try to make my own, because I really enjoy making my own gear, but it might take me a while, it might be harder than I expect, and I might end up wasting a lot of money when it would just be easier to buy one already made by one of the great cottage gear folks.  But I might try to make one myself cause it would be way more fun and rewarding if I could actually pull it off.

3. Hammock sock- this is a DWR nylon bag that fits over the hammock.
    -advantage is I can easily sew one myself inexpensively, and it will also makes it warmer.
    -disadvantage is it's only water resistant, and it's heavy (8 oz), and I'm not sure where to pack it if wetish, and I don't like having another extra thing in my pack.

4. Site selection- I could not change my gear, and be more careful with site selection.
    -I might have to just camp where need to camp if I know I'm going to be out for more than just an overnight.  In this case, I made the choice to camp in that exposed site cause I knew I was going home the next day, and I knew that if it was really bad that Pathfinder had enough room in her tent for me.
    - This does show one disadvantage of hammock.  I am less flexible about where I camp.  I normally spend extra energy and time finding a site, sometimes hiking extra miles.  I don't always camp in the most scenic site.  Even when I had a tent, I never liked camping in exposed sites where the wind was loud.   I'd rather hike to a sunset view and camp in a sheltered spot.  This goes with my backpacking style- I like the hiking part the most, rather than sitting around camp.  I choose to carry less gear for camping, allowing me lower pack weight for hiking.  
    -My understanding of the topography of the southeastern mountains allows me find a sheltered site in the southeast.  Here I know how the wind curls around mountains and forest types that indicate local favorable/ sheltered conditions.  When I solo, I have always been able to find a sheltered site that has kept me warmer.  I think I could get away with my current tarp as long as I am solo backpacking in the southeast.  But what about out west?  Would a tarp with doors would be safer out there, on the PCT for example?

If anyone out there has other recommendations, or can offer encouragement or advice (or warnings?) about working with cuben fiber, please let me know.


  1. Tent for winter and hammock for every other season.

  2. It's true that Pathfinder did stay totally dry in her tent. But I'm not ready to give up on the hammock yet. I love my hammock too much. :)

  3. I find it interesting that you say you have less flexibility in site selection. I feel the same way in my tent and wish I had a hammock most of the time :)

  4. Perhaps less flexible is a poor way to describe it. I think there are more possible sites for hammocks-- but in foul weather, I feel like I need to be more careful.