Monday, December 30, 2013

Hammock on the PCT?

Many people have ask me if I'm planning to take my hammock next year on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The answer is YES!
My hammock and tarp.
When I decided I would hike the PCT next year, I had a ton of questions about hammock use on the PCT I wanted to bring my hammock (it's my most beloved piece of gear), but I was worried it would be too difficult for me to hang in Southern California.  Then, I found a
post on Hammock Forums (HF) asking if anyone was planning a thru hike on the PCT in 2014 in a hammock.  Ah ha, yes!  It turns out that hanging on the PCT has been done before by several hammock hangers (see "resources" below), and they offer some good advice.  Three other hammock hangers are planning to go in 2014!  Woohoo! (I take this as evidence it's not too crazy!I've learned much, especially from Jim (PITA) who started that post on HF and who has been patiently answering my questions, follow up questions, and requests for further clarification (THANK YOU, JIM (PITA)!).  

Here, I thought I'd fill you all in on what I learned so far, describe why I think hanging is a good choice for me, tell you about the shelter and sleep system I plan to take on the PCT, and list hammocking resources in case this will be helpful for others.  I also want this to serve as a record so I can see how my ideas about hammocks on the PCT change during my hike. 

Questions and answers about hammock use on the PCT  

What about the “desert” section in Southern California?  Are there hang sites (anchor points) for a hammock?
Southern California is not a vast treeless expanse- there are forests at higher elevations and trees in valleys especially around natural water sources- it is quite a diverse area.  You can see this by looking at photos of tent sites and water sources in Guthook’s Guides, eTrails, and various trail journals.  In the absence of trees, it is possible to hang from small bushes with deep roots across ravines.  It also may be necessary to "get creative" to find anchor points (ohh I love a challenge!). 

What about the Sierra?  What about above treeline?
It is possible to camp in the valleys between passes that are below treeline, and in fact this is what people with tents do as well.  Above treeline, I can choose either to hike further, or set up on the ground.  Tenters have to deal with similar issues in finding flat spots.

What about burn areas?
I can always go to ground.  Though it may be possible that some trees in burn areas survived when they are in protected areas in valleys.  It may be possible to hang from dead/burnt trees (this will be dirty and highly risky), and if I go this route, I certainly know to do a “shake test” of the tree first (don’t worry, Kellye, I will never forget THAT lesson when you showed me that tree that fell down!).

Aren’t hammocks heavy?
My sleep system and shelter are 4.3 lbs (see my PCT hammock gear below).  "Heavy" is a relative term and it's not obvious to me what to compare this to.  From what I can infer, this is on the heavy side compared to a tarp w/bivy or bugnet, but not too far outside the normal range for a tent setup (What's normal anyway?  That's not usually my department, so I could be totally off about this...).  

The biggest weight penalty seems to be the bottom insulation.  If I could be comfortable on the ground with a closed foam pad instead of my underquilt and torso/foot pad (which together are 17 oz), sure that would be lighter.  However, compared to a full sized inflatable pad + a pillow + closed foam sit pad for my pack, the weight is comparable.  Regardless, I am OK with 4.3 lbs for my sleep system and shelter and would rather reduce my pack weight in other areas than be cranky from not getting enough sleep on the ground.  
Happy in my hammock.
Why I think a hammock is a good choice for me 
I don't want to imply that hammock hanging on the PCT is for everyone.  It's not.  But these are the reasons I believe it is suits me. 

Quality of Sleep
The main reason I am taking my hammock is because I sleep much better in a hammock than I ever did on the ground.  Getting good quality sleep and having less sore muscles are priorities.

I already have everything I need to setup on the ground using my torso pad and groundcloth.  Even though I call it a "hammock" setup, I actually have a separate tarp and hammock, making it a versatile system that allow a variety of configurations given the conditions and weather.  The tarp sets up on the ground with hiking poles.   Rain is not common especially before Washington, but still, I will be prepared.  I could also "cowboy camp" which is sleep out under the stars- this seems to be very common and many PCT hikers report only setting up shelters a handful of times during their entire hike.  If there are bugs, I have a headnet if I don't want to set up the hammock on the ground to risk abrasion (which I don't).  Though I think it less likely that I will be in a spot where there are mosquitoes and no trees, since mosquitoes, water and trees tend to co-occur.

I'm not carrying much extra to go to ground- the torso pad serves multiple functions- it fits in the sleeve of my backpack as a “frame”, I can sit on it during rest breaks, and then in the hammock it acts as the insulation under my legs (my short under quilt only covers my torso).  I usually carry a smaller sit pad but have gone with a longer one for the PCT.  The groundsheet is useful under my hammock for keeping my gear cleaner and for standing on when I get into and out of my hammock.  I sometimes bring one anyway, but this is a larger size.

It's what I know
I’ve been hanging since 2010, so it’s where my skills are most developed and what I am comfortable with.  I have a search image so I “see” hang sites with suitably spaced anchor points-- if you are a hammock hanger you’ll know what I mean.  Also, I already have hammock gear that I have used in a variety of weather conditions and know how to troubleshoot problems.

I'm OK not being able to camp in open areas
Other people like camping in open spaces with views or sunsets, but that’s not previously been my style.  Hiking is my priority, not spending time in camp.  I typically walk until dark and then go directly to bed, so I don’t value scenery much at night.  I want somewhere warm, sheltered, and where I will sleep well.  As a “morning person” I love packing up early and watching the sunrise while I am hiking, and I enjoy seeing views during the day when I am awake.  If it turns out I change my mind and find I want to camp out in the open for some reason, I can, as I've said before, go to ground.

Tree-hugger at heart  
My friends and family joke that I am a tree-hugger and it's true- I am a plant geek.  Since I started hanging, I have learned the forest types most likely to have suitable hang sites, and I anticipate and predict these from topo mapsObviously there will be a learning curve since I'm most experienced here in the southeast.  But I really enjoy trying to understand plant distributions so I think I will learn quickly.  Plus I don't really think it's going to be rocket science or anything- in So. Cal trees are going to be near natural water sources, and those are on maps and databooks and I'll be walking to them anyway for water.
Being a tree-hugger is a bit more challenging in some places.  But I still manage. (Note: I know this is not actually a tree.)
My PCT Hammock Gear (Shelter and Sleep System ~4.3 lbs) 
This gear can get me down to the 20's (and is great for the 30's) here in the southeast where it is more humid than it will be out on the PCT- so I should be OK.  At night, I wear down booties, long underwear bottoms, fleece hoodie, and my down jacket zipped around my head and neck.  Obviously this gear will be subject to change in the next 3 months and also when I get on the trail. 
Tarp-  Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber with Doors (11') in Real Tree Camo, with guy lines and ridge line, 9.2 oz.

Tarp skins- DIY, made with .7 oz/sqyd ultralight insect netting, 0.8 oz.

Stakes- 4 titanium shephard hooks, 2 MSR groundhogs, 2 MSR easton aluminum 6” stakes in bag, 2.2 oz.  

Hammock w/ integrated bugnet-  Dream Hammock Darien UL (10’), 10 oz.

Hammock suspension- 10 ft tree straps, 8 ft whoopie slings w/ whoopee hooks (note: edited), 6.0 oz.

Groundcloth- Tyvek 36” x 80” (will cut this smaller when I test it), 4.5 oz.

DIY top quilt- Karo baffle-style, 3-4 inches loft, DWR Argon fabric w/ DWR 850 fp down, 19 oz.
Underquilt- 3-season (20-degree) Warbonnet Yeti, 11 oz.

Torso pad/ leg insulation/ backpack frameZlite sol, 6 sections (20x30), 6 oz.

Resources for hammock use on the PCT
There are a few trail journals by hammock hangers on the PCT-- all very positive about hanging on the PCT, and mention how they were able to sleep very well.  Three hammock hangers have completed the PCT in hammocks (Roni, Luke Sierrawalker, and Stryder).   Two thru hikers (Chop, guySmiley) hung partway but say “next time” they’d hang the whole way.  Other hammock hangers have hiked parts of the PCT with a hammock (the Ewoks, ClayJar).  There may be others, but these are the ones that kept trail journals that I know about.  Below are links to their trail journals, but the most helpful information are provided in the forum links or summary posts listed below each name.

Hammock hangers on the PCT- click on trail names to link to their trail journals

1. Roni (from Israel) nobo 2003.
      3/2004 PCT-L post.
     4/2007 post with summary of his experience with hammocks on the PCT. 

2. Ender (one of the "Ewoks") 2003.
     -switched to a hammock at mile 344, and made it to Donner Pass.
      2/2012 White Blaze- "Hammock use on the PCT".

3. Swope (AKA guySmiley on Hammock Forums) nobo 2010.
     -switched to a hammock in WA (but said would take it whole way).
     5/25/2009  Hammock Forum- "Hanging on the PCT"  

4. Luke Sierrawalker, sobo 2012.
     11/2012 excellent review of hammocking on the PCT and a list of hang sites in So. Cal.

5. Stryder, nobo 2012.

6. Beardoh! (AKA Chop on Hammock Forums), nobo 2012 - started on the ground, but went back to his hammock at mile ~1289.
      7/19/2012 Hammock Forums, “On the PCT see #10 after he finished.

7. Ed Jarrett- section hiking the PCT from Sierra City north with a hammock.
More information on discussion boards

      2006 White Blaze,  "Hammock on the PCT?"
      2010 Backpacking Light, "PCT sleep system help"

      2014 Hammock Forums, “Pct?- there are 4 of us planning to hang on the PCT in 2014! 

Last thoughts:

I never expected it to be this difficult for me to decide to take my hammock on the PCT.  There was way too much overthinking on my part!  It made me realize how I can fall into the trap of feeling insecure when I go against what (I think) "everyone else does" (i.e. the vast majority of people take tents on the PCT).  Sheesh!  I'm in the minority about so many things, someday maybe I'll remember to remember that's OK. 

However, I'm trying to play to my strengths that I've developed in my years of hiking and backpacking.  I am also trying to remember that I will adapt while I am out on the PCT.  And, no matter what, this will be a fun adventure!


  1. You go, girl! You are certainly "dialed-in". As a hammock-hanger (most of the time) myself and one of the many who asked about using a hammock on the PCT, I really appreciate the effort you took with this post to cover so in-depth your hammock gear, the strategies that you plan to use on the PCT, and links to other PCT hammocking pioneers.

  2. Thanks, Gerry, for the positive feedback! I'm so glad you, as someone else who has inquired about using a hammock on the PCT, found this helpful.

  3. My best hang was at Alex Hole in Oregon. It was right at the edge of the cliff. I just had to be sure not to get out of the wrong side of the hammock.

  4. Joan: There are those in the ultra-light community that consider a hammock to to be a heavy luxury item. I (and you, obviously) disagree. I'm not 25 any more, and I can't sleep on a 1/2" pad under an ultralight tarp. Unlike the PCT, it RAINS on the AT, and during the summer there are lots of bugs and humidity to deal with.
    Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and my HH ensures me a good night's sleep under any conditions. Good luck and Godspeed on your PCT thru-hike!

  5. Bill- Exactly! Sleep sure is a necessity. Some people just don’t seem to understand that when they look at gear lists instead of the big picture. Thanks for your perspective!!!

  6. Hoov- Oh wow, that sounds like an incredible hang! :) I can hardly wait to get out there and be in gorgeous places like that!

  7. I used a Henn Hammock on 1/2 of my PCT thru-hike in '09. If you don't mind pitching on the ground, you'll be fine. Without a doubt, there are places you'll want to camp on the ground, especially after you find some likeable folks to hike with. I had mine shipped to me immediately after the Sierra, and used it until Cascade Locks. Between those places, I did not have much of a problem. I really fell in love with my ground set-up again, and I found it to be more comfortable, more convenient, and much lighter than the hammock. Convenience and efficiency are nice qualities on the PCT.

  8. I've been using a hammock tent in the Yosemite high country for years. Treeline in Yosemite National Park is around 10,500 feet. I don't know about hanging spots in the desert, but in the Sierra your main challenge would be around Muir pass. In Oregon the tree line is around 6000 feet, but the trail won't be that high. North of Tioga Pass you should definitely be golden.
    If you are traveling with others, having a hammock takes you out of competition for flat spots on the ground. A mixed group works well.
    Near tree line, wind in stormy weather will be the biggest issue. But you can batten one side of the tarp right down next to you, to minimize flapping.

  9. OK all you hangers, I'm a "side sleeper", having never used a hammock. Can I get a good night sleep on my side, or are they "back sleepers" only? 5'10" 220#

    1. Bob: Absolutely you can
      I sleep in Hennessey hammock and I sleep better than I do at home
      There are more positions you can sleep in that you can’t do in a bed or on the ground
      I’m an expert at hammocking
      Feel free to ask away
      I’m also looking for answers on the PCT

  10. @Bob K.
    Take a look at bridge hammocks. I have one, and have no problems sleeping on my side.

  11. Thanks SO much for posting this! I switched to a hammock one year ago, and greatly value the improved quality of sleep and ease of getting out if bed on the morning ;) I plan to thru the PCT in 2017, so am eager to follow your journey and find out where you chose camp sites. Oh, and Rob - I sleep on my side or stomach a lot. Diagonally is the answer :

  12. Thomas- Thanks so very much for sharing your experience with a hammock on your thru hike! It’s so helpful to hear both that you didn’t have problems finding spots in NoCal and OR, and also that you could adapt and change your gear when you found it suited you to go to a ground setup.

    Sourdoughpablo- Really appreciate this information about hanging around Yosemite! Having less competition for flat spots is a definite plus. I hope to find more sheltered sites out of the wind, but changing the tarp pitch and pitching low does seem to work, provided I’ve oriented the tarp in the right direction. Thanks for your comments and advice!!!

    Bob K.- I agree with Paulo, look into the bridge hammocks. Lots of information on I normally sleep on my side, but in a hammock (just a regular one, not a bridge-style), I found a few very comfortable sleep positions that don’t have a ground equivalent- somewhere in between side and back because you hang in 3-D space rather than being limited to 2-D ground. And Heather is correct being on the diagonal to the ridgeline provides a more flat lay. It took some experimenting with different hammock configurations and hammock types.

    Heather- Thanks so much for stopping by and so exciting that you are planning a thru of the PCT as well!!! Totally agree about the sleep quality- such a great thing! Will definitely let you know how it goes and feel free to ask questions.

  13. Good for you and thanks for your plans and all this good information and your big attractive photos!

    I have hammocked nights above the snow in NH at below freezing temps without an underquilt, never have used one, always seemed awkward to me.
    My sleeping bag had an integrated full length air matress (insulated) for its bottom instead of the usual down (Stephenson Warmlite -- Big Agnes also uses that system for some bags). Nearly impossible to roll off that, always very warm. Also have slept well on top of a large closed cell foam pad in a standard bag (between the bag and hammock). Both ways seem more efficient and easier than using an underquilt.
    Good luck on the PCT and please keep us posted!
    -- Sammy L.

  14. You've obviously done your homework and are an experienced hammock hanger. I am not and I haven't hiked the PCT either, but I have hiked the JMT. I would say that you need to beef up your insulation if your system only is comfortable down to 20 degrees. In the two weeks it took me to hike the JMT it got down below 15 degrees two nights and was in the 20's on three others. And I hiked it in August when there was no major snow to speak of. So I recommend you have a sleep system that keeps you comfortably warm to at least ten degrees unless you sleep really warm. That's my two cents.
    Barefoot Sage

  15. Thanks, Barefoot Sage, that’s really helpful advice about what temperatures to prepare for in the Sierra. I could switch out my “20-degree” underquilt for my “0-degree” underquilt. It weights 6 more ounces, but is very toasty. In my experience, changing my bottom insulation makes the biggest difference for improving my warmth in a hammock. I still think I will experiment some more to see if there is anything else I can do…

  16. I'm planning a PCT thru on my 60th birthday, 2018. I have alot of experience hammock camping for years. Have been to low 20's a couple times. I can walk the miles, but can't sleep on the ground at my age. Thanks for all your research, and glad I found this resource.

    1. How exciting to be planning a PCT thru to celebrate your 60th! Way to go! Glad you found this post and do let me know if there's anything I can do to help you out in the future.

  17. we literally have almost the same set up happy hanigng!