Friday, August 16, 2013

Why I love hammocks

I've mentioned a few times that my hammock is one of my most prized gear items, so I wanted to take explain why I love my hammock so much.  I've been a hammock hanger since 2010, and I find two primary advantages:

-A good night sleep = ability to hike further and overall increased happiness.   It was a huge breakthrough for me to finally figure out a way to get quality sleep while backpacking.  When I was a ground-dweller, I tossed and turned all night and never managed a deep sleep, and my hips ached the next morning.  In my hammock, I fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply through the night, waking up refreshed.  My legs and feet recuperate and I don't feel sore the next day so I can hike more comfortably.  I credit this all to the comfort and the unique body position provided by the hammock.
My Warbonnet Blackbird hammock with Yeti 3-season underquilt
-Greater flexibility in where I can camp.  In the southeast where trees are plentiful, I find I have more options since I'm not restricted to flat ground free of vegetation. 

When I was taking my first solo backpacking trips, I cannot stress enough how pivotal it was to feel like I could camp anywhere.  I moved to Georgia a few months after Meredith Emerson was murdered on Blood Mountain, and most everyone told me not to hike alone.  I spent a lot of time my first solo trips lying sleepless and scared in my tent jumping at the faintest russel in the night.  It was a huge deal for me when could stealth camp in my hammock because it allowed me to finally feel safe in the woods. 

Now I'm a much more confident backpacker, and I've come to prioritize hiking longer miles.  I still appreciate the ability to camp anywhere because it means I can hike until later in the day because I can more easily find a site when I'm ready to stop for the night.   There have only been a few times that I've had trouble finding a site while hiking in very steep terrain.
Even my worst hang between too closely spaced trees covered in poison ivy wasn't all that bad.
Other things I appreciate about hammocks:

-A deeper sense of connection to my surroundings.  With an elevated perspective and lack of attached rainfly, I have the ability to see out and it feels more open.  I have flexibility in how I pitch the tarp (i.e. I can convert into porch mode), or whether I pitch it at all.  Sure this is also possible with some tents or tarps, but it's very easy with a hammock.

-Modularity of the system.  Hammocks and tarps can be mixed and matched, allowing greater flexibility and adjust to different seasons or situation.  Suspension systems can also be changed to be  more lightweight or to have more flexibility in size or spacing of trees.  They can also be set up low in the cold or wind, or higher in the heat to cool off.

-Stay drier and cleaner.  I also have plenty of living space in the rain- can fit several people under the tarp which makes for more enjoyable group trips.  Plus I'm no longer living in the dirt and mud.

-Easier to practice LNT.  Hammocks also have less impact on the environment since they don't compact the soil or plants.   And I don't have to move stick or rocks.

-Ease of setup and takedown.  It's super fast, so I can get out on the trail even faster in the morning.  More time to watch the sunrise.

-Hammock people.  I've really enjoyed meeting and learning from fellow hammock hangers.  Especially my friends who got me into hammock camping, and the folks I've met on Hammock Forums hangs.  Meeting all the other DIYers inspired me to make more of my own gear, including my DIY Karo top quilt.  There are also quite a few excellent cottage industries that sell hammock gear and DIY supplies.  All in all it's a great community!

Disadvantages of the hammock:

-Some people don't find them comfortable.  (Thankfully, I am not one of those people.)

-There was a bit of a learning curve for me and initially I was overwhelmed with all the jargon.  At first I thought all that stuff about angles, fancy ropes and knots mattered more than it really did.  I suspect it's just that folks get really into their gear, especially when it comes to hammocks.  I still need to practice when I get new gear or want to try different rigging though this isn't really a disadvantage.
Testing out my new Dream Hammock Darien UL in the backyard.
Overall, switching to a hammock had a profound impact on me as a backpacker, and really facilitated my comfort in the backcountry and gave me the confidence to explore more places.  I've definitely benefited from my "elevated perspective" and I encourage others to give hammocks a try.

Hammock resources:

Hammock Forums
Just Jeff's Hammock Camping Page
The Ultimate Hang
Shug's Hammock How-to videos

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