One Bird. Two Trees. Three Nights.
After witnessing a couple of disagreements while camping with my good buddies I decided I wanted to be a more self-sufficient camper. I decided I did not want to share the responsibility or make the compromises that go along with sharing a shelter. I figured it prudent to have all my own gear with me so that, in the event of an emergency or disagreement in the party, I could make camp when and where I needed. I wanted to be a self-contained unit with veto power over silly decisions and that required a one-man shelter.
I usually follow one of three methods when starting a new hobby or buying new gear.
A) Buy entry level and upgrade as I learn and outgrow my gear;
B) Research and buy something that has been field tested and proven by people that know more than I do;
C) Buy a cross section of what's available and keep what works for me.
With a budget of $200-$300 I went with method B and started looking into one-man tents and bivy sacks.
One-man tents and bivy sacks each have their compromises. Most bivy sacks I found were light and compact, but sacrificed interior space and ventilation to achieve it. The one-man tents, in general, offered more room and increased airflow but came with a weight penalty. Eventually I culled my list to a few of each and began scouring the internet for reviews.
While hopping from website to website I came across the ENO Single Nest hammock. This hammock was unlike any I had ever seen before. I hadn't considered hammocks in my search as my view of hammocks had always been my father's heavy, white, braided rope hammock that tossed me, more than once, on my backside — not something I would consider using for anything other than an afternoon nap on a sunny day, certainly not a backpacking shelter. The ENO hammock, however, looked comfortable and fairly easy to hang. With the inclusion of a tarp and bug net I would have all the benefits of a tent or bivy sack without the drawback of having to compensate for the cold, hard ground.
After reading a few glowing reviews of the ENO hammocks I eagerly crossed all the bivy sacks and one-man tents off my list.
I began building another list, this time of hammocks. I started reading everything I could find about hammocks and how to use them for camping. Again, I went from website to website getting a little bit of information here, a little bit there. Each site added another piece to the puzzle until, by kismet or happenstance, I found hammockforums.net and saw what the completed puzzle looked like. I read about the various types and styles of hammocks. I read about gathered and whipped hammocks. I read about bridge hammocks. I read about the various suspensions (webbing, constrictor knots, whoopie slings). I read about ridgelines, tarps, under quilts, top quilts, nacrabiners, Dutch clips, Bishop bags, knots, toggles Amsteel, Dynaglide, Figure 9s, and more.
Since I had a budget of $200-$300, all the glowing reviews made the decision of which hammock to get an easy one. I placed an order for a 1.1 oz. Double Layer Warbonnet Blackbird with webbing suspension.
Upon arrival I began test-hangin in the backyard — thank heavens my Wi-Fi reaches the backyard because I watched the setup videos from Warbonnet Outdoors on my iPhone about a dozen times while trying to hang the hammock (Brandon makes it look so easy). I found the best hanging trees in my yard, cleared out any underbrush, and set to work. It took a little finagling at first to maneuver the webbing through the cinch buckles but I soon got used to keeping them vertical while separating them with my fingers. I used the iHandyLevel app to get the angle just right — 30 degrees. I did a lot of pacing and staring and adjusting and finally got to lay down. Boy was it comfortable.
The craftsmanship of the Blackbird was top notch. There wasn't a misplaced stitch anywhere. The design of the footbox and shelf were fantastic. The bug netting kept the mosquitos away. I was really surprised at how light and delicate everything felt. My first couple of sits were very tentative but then I began to trust that I would not tear through the fabric and wind up on the ground. I got in and out a few more times and adjusted the straps to get my butt a little higher off the ground. Overall, I was extremely pleased with my purchase. Unfortunately it was the middle of the week and I would have to wait until Friday to do an overnight.
I set up the hammock when I got home from work Friday but didn't get to try it out until about 11:00 that evening. The kids were staying with my parents for the weekend and my wife and I went out for dinner — Mexican. The evening was a little chilly (low to mid 60s). So, before saying goodnight to my wife, I put on some fleece sweatpants and a wool pullover, got my headlamp, Therm-A-Rest, and pillow and went outside to sleep — which I was able to do until about 3 AM.
Sleeping on my 20" wide Therm-A-Rest was like trying to nap on a roller skate. Every time I moved the pad squirted out from under me. Given time I could probably learn to sleep on the pad but for now it was an exercise in frustration. I finally got a couple hours of sleep but woke up at 3 AM with a cold back and terrible heartburn from the Mexican food. I finally had to abandon the hammock around 4 AM for a chair in the living room, a glass of water and a Pepcid.
The following Friday I went out again at 11 pm to sleep in the hammock. During the week I had purchased a blue foam mat from Walmart for $5 thinking that the slightly rough texture and greater width of the foam would keep it from slipping and sliding as much as the Term-A-rest. The foam pad worked better but it still wasn't what I would call comfortable. I played around with different lays. I started out diagonal, switch to my right side, my left side, tried my stomach for a few minutes, then settled down on my back for the rest of the night. I woke up again about 3 AM — this time it was the sound of a large animal walking through my woods. I assumed it was a deer until I heard the sound I could only describe as someone coughing. Ahem...Ahem...AHEM!!! It sounded like a churlish, old man bitterly defending his spot in the check-out line at the grocery.
Now I have 2 small children and have heard every nursery rhyme and sang every children's song known to man. I didn't realize it until that day that in every one of those songs they never discuss the sound a deer makes. Chickens cluck. Birds tweet. Cats meow. Dogs bark. Cows moo. Deer.... what? Well, apparently they cough.... At least that's what they do when they are pissed that someone is in their grazing path. By 4:30 AM I knew I wasn't going to get back to sleep so I went inside and searched the internet for Deer noises. I found a hunting web site with different animal sounds and sure enough the noise I heard was the warning call of a deer.
The following week I was ready for him. At 3 AM, right on schedule, I heard the coughing again. I quickly turned on my headlamp and shown it out the hammock but the mesh refracted the light enough that it was impossible to see out. By the time I found the teeny-tiny zipper pulls on the Blackbird (my only complaint), pulled back the bug netting, and thrust my hand out of the hammock the deer had wandered off. I settled back into the hammock, feet in the footbox, head off center, body on the diagonal, and fell asleep 'til morning.
While I was sleeping a nefarious contagion began working its way through my bloodstream. The first symptom of the infection is itchy fingers. Unbeknownst to me I had caught Hammock Fever. The following weeks the Fever took over and and compelled me to purchase a Superfly tarp (Warbonnet Outdoors), 4 Tarp Guy Lines with tensioners and a Single Tarp Ridgeline w/Prussics (whoopieslings.com), a 2-line Tarp Ridgeline (Arrowhead Equipment), a set of Snakeskins (Amazon), half a dozen MSR Groundhog stakes, and a 3 season Crowsnest (HammockGear.com).
After a few more test hangs in the yard I was ready for my first real backpacking trip with my hammock.... but that's another post for another day.
A sincere thank you to all you fine folk here on HF. None of this would have been possible without the help and good advice you provided over the last few months.