Monday, June 23, 2014

Hammock Gear on the PCT: SoCal & the Sierra

To compliment my post on hammock hanging on the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California and the Sierra, I will review the hammock-related gear (and relevant apps) that I have used on the first 940 miles of the PCT.  Overall, I was very happy with my hammock setup.  I used a hammock with integrated bug net, 20-degree top and underquilt, short foam torso-pad, and a cuben tarp.
Sunset after the hailstorm in the Sierra.
The Conditions
The weather I experienced was cold but mostly dry.  There was precipitation only two nights: snow while I was heading out from Kennedy Meadows and rain/ hail briefly in the Sierra.  Winds were often strong in SoCal, but night temps were mostly in the 40's.  In the Sierra, it was usually in the 30's (or 40's) at night, but sometimes got well below freezing.  I'd tested my gear into the 20's in Georgia, and the temps in the Sierra always felt warmer than the coldest nights I practiced in in Georgia- I think it was because it wasn't as damp.

When I entered the Sierra, the only change I made to my hammock setup was that I added an extra foam insulating pad (Gossamer Gear thinlite pad) that I found in a hiker box and cut to 2' x 2' .  I put this under my shoulders and torso and it added warmth especially in the wind. I also picked up a warmer set of long underwear that I wore layered with my hiking long underwear and fleece hoodie at night. I carried down booties the whole time which were probably overkill in SoCal, but I still wore them every night and wasn't too hot.  A few cold desert nights would have been miserable without them.
Hanging in a ravine out of the wind.
The Gear
Hammock- Dream Hammock Darien UL, 10 foot, 10 oz.  Loved this hammock! Comfortable lay and lightweight. The integrated bugnet kept the mosquitoes out. The fabric seems impossibly thin so I'm very careful not to snag it. SlowBro, a fellow hammock hanger on the PCT this year (check out his awesome blog here), also had this hammock but had them make it in a slightly heavier material- he still got a small hole in it but showed me how he taped it and it's held OK. Randy at Dream Hammocks provides excellent customer service- he fixed the ends of my hammock which had worn before I started the PCT. If I were to hike a long distance trail again, I'd bring this hammock with me.

DIY Hammock Bishop Bag- This is an extra large double end stuff sack that holds my hammock, underquilt, and sleeping clothes. To make setup fast and simple, I attached my underquilt to my hammock and just leave it on there.  I also leave my sleeping clothes zipped inside my hammock.  So when I pack up it all goes into the bishop bag, and when I set up, nothing touches the ground and everything is instantly right where I need it- simple and easy.
My green, oversized bishop bag at the end of the hammock.
Hammock suspension- 10 foot Dutchware tree straps and 6 foot whoopie slings with Dutchware whoopie hooks, and arrow shaft toggles- I wanted an extra long hammock suspension system to accommodate long hangs and large trees.  This was largely overkill, and I rarely used the whoopie slings.  Instead I looped the hammock ends directly over the marlin spike hitch/ arrow shaft toggles.  This was because I found many more short hang sites- places that barely fit my hammock.  When I tried widely spaced anchor points, I was often unable to push the tree straps high enough to prevent the hammock from sagging onto the ground.  Though a few times I used my hiking poles to push the tree straps higher up the tree when I was really desperate.  I could have saved weight by bringing shorter tree straps, but perhaps they will come in handy when I get to Oregon and Washington.

Tarp- Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber Tarp with Doors (11 foot), 9.2 oz.  I love this tarp because it provides excellent protection and is incredibly lightweight for the size.  However, this tarp was bigger than I needed.  I only set it up twice in precipitation and another two times for extra warmth and protection from wind.  If I'd been caught in really bad weather, I would have been glad I'd had it. But if I were to do SoCal again, I'd bring a smaller tarp. 
The tarp on the day it snowed.
Top quilt- DIY karo-style quilt, 19 oz. I loved my quilt!  I was thrilled with the design of my quilt- it was a narrow cut and that kept it lightweight.  I was always warm in it too.  It sure felt good to use a piece of gear I'd sewed myself.  The DWR Argon fabric from Dutchware was soft and was nice for repelling condensation the few mornings I woke to droplets on my quilt, I just wiped it off.  

Underquilt- 3-season Warbonnet Yeti (3/4 length, 20 degree), 11 oz.  This kept me warm as long as I stayed out of the wind.  If there were large gusts, the underquilt suspension was not sufficient to keep the quilt tight to me, and I experienced drafts (i.e. cold butt syndrome).  Not a problem with the quilt of course.  I solved this problem by stuffing my extra clothes or gear around me, and by adding an extra piece of foam insulation under my shoulders.  Otherwise, this quilt fits me well and is high quality.  I've also had great customer service from Brian of Warbonnet.

Leg insulation/ ground pad/ sit pad/ backpack frame- Thermarest Zlite sol, 6 sections, 6 oz.   This was my most versatile piece of gear!  While hiking, it fit in the sleeve of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack, and functioned as a cushion against my back.  At every rest break, I would pull it out and 
sit on it.  At night, it was insulation under my legs (since my underquilt is 3/4 length).  And the one night I went to ground, I slept on it (though rather uncomfortably).  
Rest break sitting on my Zlite.
Ground sheet- I ended up switching from tyvek to a Gossamer Gear polycro ground sheet (1.6 oz) to save weight. I had a medium sized sheet in case I had to go to ground.  But I mostly used this under my hammock as a clean place to sort gear and as a mat.  It has gotten a few holes in it since I also use it to push down vegetation or brush so I don't damage my hammock, so I now only use it folded in half.  Overall, I'm happy with the polycro.

Apps for Hammock Hangers

Apps that I used on my iPhone were really helpful for finding hang sites.  I would plan ahead where to camp by inferring locations of trees.  I annotated my printed Halfmile maps with a lists of hang sites that I got from other hammock hangers (like Luke Sierrawalker's list here) or from a fellow hammock hanger's google earth files that he made from looking at trees from satellite images (Thanks Jim (PITA) for sending these to me!) But those were not complete lists of sites, so I relied heavily on two apps to find trees.

eTrails is a free app for the PCT.  It was my favorite!  It describes campsites and often says if there are trees or if a site was shaded (ie. had trees!) and usually says locations of burns (not places where you should hang).  I loved it because it would sometimes tell the types of trees in the area, and provided lots of excellent and entertaining natural history and historical information.

Guthook's guides are apps that have elevation profiles, maps, and water and camping information.  They are excellent for navigation, though I tended to use Halfmile's app more often.  For the hammock hanger, Guthooks guides were useful because they have photos of campsites but these often don't show trees even if they are present.  It was worth consulting for the rare times eTrails didn't have a better photo though.  Other times I would find hang sites by going to water sources listed.  Even seasonal springs tended to have bushes or trees around them.  

Overall, this gear was versatile and served me well out on the PCT.

Disclaimer: I purchased for all this gear with my own funds.  (Or sewed it myself or took it out of hiker boxes myself.)  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.


  1. You mentioned in your previous post how difficult it was to find hang spots out of the wind. Just wanted to post for other people looking to hammock the entire PCT like you.

    A larger rectangular tarp with doors can be invaluable in keeping out the wind if no gullies/hills/thickets present themselves. By lowering the tarp so that the edges meet the ground and aligning it so the doors are parallel to the wind, you can block out 80% of the wind. With snow, you can even bury the edges for even better protection.

    If you have a hex tarp use the tarp with the corners folded in to create a tarp "envelope" to block 98% of the wind. (see Shug's version, but with 1 center tie-out instead of 2 and go more extreme with folding in the corners and lowered so the edges just brush the ground: You end up with slightly more volume than your hammock, in the same shape as your hammock, leaving very little places for the wind to sneak in.

    Found out the hard way that you have 2 choices in Hawaii. Hang on the coast = warm (55-65 degrees) but VERY breezy (constant 15-20 MPH) or sleep half way up the mountains = cold (45-55) and little breeze. We didn't think to bring insulation, just our tarps. We have DIY 12' Cat Cut Hex tarps, and they saved us lots of shivering!

    1. Thanks for this information on how to deal with the wind, Andrew. Much appreciated and hope it helps other people out there looking to hammock the PCT.

  2. Thanks for your perspective on hammock hanging. This is valuable info. My experiences been the same on the PCT. Hope your foot is getting better. Take care. – SlowBro

    1. Great to hear from you, SlowBro! The foot is getting much better these last few days, but I'm going to let it heal completely before getting back to the trail. Hope you are having a good time in Sacramento! And hope to see you on down the trail (if I end up skipping ahead or something...)

  3. Thanks SO much for the reviews! This is one reason I follow you. I've never hammock-ed but because of you and SlowBro, I intend to look into it once I return to Oregon. :-) I hope your foot is getting better and wish you well!!!

    1. Really nice to hear you've found this useful. Definitely give hammock hanging a try. I've heard the hanging is great up in Oregon. And if you haven't seen it already, is an excellent place to start.

  4. thank you so much for this!!!

    hey, will i be unhappy if i don't bring a bugnet through SoCal? i was thinking i'd send mine to KM, that i wouldn't need it in the desert. is that too optimistic?


    1. I didn't have problems with bugs in SoCal. Noticed them a couple times, like near Agua Calente Creek, but nothing terrible. But then again, they tend not to bother me too much. One option would be to just bring your headnet for SoCal. If you find bugs are a problem for you, do you have a person you could leave your gear at home with so they could send you your bugnet if you change your mind and decide you want it?

      Definitely good to have a bugnet sent to KM.

  5. Hi there. I was a fellow 2014 PCT hiker and I am sure we crossed paths at some point or another. I lasted till KM south but had to get off due to illness. I went back out later in the summer and hiked half of Washington. Beautiful state. I thank you for writing so much about your trek and have been particularly interested in your use of a hammock in So Cal. I have a WB which is wonderful but am looking into a lighter thing I noticed is that in one place you said your whoopies were 6' and in another 8'. Did you switch out one length or another along the way? Thanks again for sharing such good information with those of us in cyberspace.

    1. Hi Shelly,

      Great to hear from you! Wonderful that you got back on the trail and did part of Washington, despite your illness delays. Are you going to be back on the PCT this year?

      My first hammock was a WB hammock too- super comfortable and the shelf was so handy. The Darian hammock was much lighter though and it ended up feeling just as comfortable, just took a bit to adjust to it.

      I did switch out my whoopies right before I started- Stu of Whoopie Slings made me some custom 8' ones. But turned out that I never actually needed that extra length. Whenever I had really big trees, I often could use the tree straps around a side branch, and then use the extra length of the tree strap for the total suspension length. Most of the time, I went for short hangs- that was more of an issue and often wished my hammock setup was shorter.

    2. Yes, I'm going to finish Washington this year and in 2016 try to do the rest of California and Oregon. I'm hoping to switch from my ground setup to hammock and I think Washington should be relatively easy for that. I've been in contact with the Dream Hammock folks and it appears they have discontinued the UL Darian. The replacement sounds good though and I'm gonna go with that one. So thanks for all your musings! Will you be back out there this year?

    3. Fantastic that you are getting to finish WA this year! Randy at Dream Hammocks is awesome-- he helped me so much doing a repair to my hammock super fast and was really nice. Wonderful people and the quality is superb. I hope you are happy with your new hammock!

      It's not official yet, but I am trying my hardest to make things happen so that I can get back on the PCT this year. Sure hope I run into you in Washington.