Here is a summary of how gear worked on th recent ( Sept 5-11 ) trip to Wyoming's Wind River Mountains. There were 4 men in the group, two brand new hammock hangers, and 2 more experienced hangers.
My gear: I almost took my JRB Bridge with a pad. But in the end, especially since I didn't have a light top quilt like a No Sniveler to use in the BMBH, I went with something more familiar: Claytor No Net and PeaPod ( 20*F model). No top quilt: I was counting on warm clothing to get me by using the narrow Claytor, which would allow the pod's top layer to pretty much lay down on my body much like a regular top quilt or sleeping bag. I was a little nervous about this untested ( by me) approach, but in the end I decided to go for it. It worked fine overall. The first night was about 27*F or a tad lower, no wind. We all slept without tarps under a bazillion stars, at 9100 feet. I had close the pod up pretty good that first night. I was wearing my BMWs PG parka and pants ( 22 ozs total, but of course I had it anyway for sitting around camp or whatever). I also took a very light but lofty down vest. This worked best if, rather than wearing them in the normal fashion, I put them on backwards, with the front opening to the back but with my arms still through either the sleeves( parka) or arm holes ( vest), or both. This would result in a large amount of loft around my neck and shoulders, completely preventing any loss of warm air through any breathing hole I might open around my face. ( Thanks again for the tip, Shug) Then I would wear either the parka and pants or vest or all of it when sitting around camp, especially in the morning. And of course, at night. But we had some pretty good bonfires at night, really adding some warmth as we listened to the Coyotes ( and wolves?) howling and the elk bugeling and wondering about the bears.
After the first night, I decided that if I was not wearing it in the hammock, I would put everything I had in the bottom, in the PeaPod. I put my rain gear, my pack towel, my short ccf pad ( some nights down in the pod, other nights in the Claytor pad pocket under my legs/feet). And then I put my Heat sheet space blanket over all of that. It was not quite as cold after the first night ( probably just low 30s), plus this added a lot of warmth, significantly decreasing ( at least that's how it seemed) what I needed on top. The first night I did this I was able to pretty much leave the pod wide open near my face/shoulders/upper chest, staying warm enough with just my jacket and vest. It was also enough when I would turn on my side, it seemed to keep the drafts under control.
Here is something new that worked: when I would turn on my side, I was able to rotate the pod with me, so that I had a breathing hole ( small or large) on the side. I could adjust this hole so that it was right up against my face, with my vest giving some additional seal (sp?) as needed. So, if needed, my entire head and body would be covered while side sleeping, with down in contact with my face and head. If there were any problems with being less than toasty, this would quickly take care of it.
One night, I managed to ( while side sleeping) get the head end up against the tarp ( for one thing, the howling wind kept blowing the tarp inward), and I apparently was breathing into the down instead of the breathing hole. This caused or added to a lot of condensation on the tarp where it was in contact with the pod, and soaked about a 6" diameter section of the pod with the condensation. Right where my mouth/nose was in contact with the pod, and the pod was in contact with the tarp. But somehow it seemed to maintain most of it's loft. And by the afternoon, with it just hanging in the tarp as it rained and sleeted outside, the wet spot seemed to pretty well dry out and had full loft. Other than this, even when I had the pod completely closed sometimes ( especially the first night), I never noticed any condensation problems at all. There probably was some, and it might have become noticeable on a longer or colder trip. But as it was, these was no condensation noticeable.
By the end of the trip, I reconsidered the "no top quilt with a narrow hammock" approach. It was the most weigh efficient, since my warm clothing was serving dual function. But I might have been more comfortable overall with my Speer or another wide hammock holding the pod up off of me, and using a top quilt to fill the gap. Maybe a JRB stealth that I could have also used as camp wear on the cold mornings, or a No Sniv for when it is even colder. A Speer top blanket would be a lot or warmth for just 17 oz, but would not be dual function. So, the way I went was quite weight efficient, but going the top quilt route with a wider hammock might have seemed less confining and more comfortable. After all, we were spending an incredible 12 hours per night in these hammocks, plus afternoon naps! I will have to experiment more with my original approach- Speer hammock, PeaPod plus top quilt. Regardless, I stayed warm and comfortable the entire trip, including long stretches in the hammock.
As for my Claytor No Net, it worked great until the last night. I did sometimes have a little trouble with the center ridge when on the diagonal, but mostly could work around it. A pad in the foot section actually improved comfort, decreasing that pressure in my calf that the ridge would sometimes cause. I really had very little problem with this the first 2 nights, if any. But something went wrong on the last night, and I have not yet figured out what the problem was. Mainly, it was like the hammock was ( in the legs mainly) higher on one side than the other. If I layed diagonal, there was a very uncomfortable center ridge. If I laid midline, one leg would be higher up in the air (by a good bit), which was very uncomfortable. I finally figured out that, despite all appearances during set up, the uphill ( and head) end of my hammock was higher than the downhill (foot) end ( I had slept reversed the night before), and I was sliding down into the foot end. A rooky mistake. So, I switched ends and put my feet where my head had been. This helped a lot. But it did not solve the sensation that the hammock was somehow "twisted" on its axis, with one leg being higher than the other. I have not had this happen before, and can't figure out what I did wrong to cause it. But we were packing up at dawn, in a snow storm, so there was no time to work on it. During that night, I found myself wishing I was in the JRB with it's flat lay, with just a pad and a top quilt. But that is not fair, as something was obviously wrong with the way I hung the hammock, and it was only a significant problem on the last night.
My friend from Asheville, NC took a summer PeaPod ( 55*F rated) along with a 20* semi-rectangular down bag used as quilt. He boosted bottom warmth by placing his Thermarest inflatable down in the PeaPod. All worked great for him. He says the pad is not noticeable used this way, and provided all the warmth he needed. This was a very comfortable system for him, very roomy and warm.
The 3rd PeaPod( a 20*F model) user was not as much of a success. If I had known how claustrophobic my friend and new hammock user was, I would have recommended another approach for him. He also had a narrow Claytor, and did not take a top quilt. It turns out he could not stand to have the pod even partially closed and anywhere near to his face. So the first ( and coldest) night, he got no sleep. He would be plenty warm with the pod closed, but have to open it and freeze. For reasons unknown, he did not use his down clothing to try and make a seal around the shoulders. I don't think he ever got completely happy with the set up, but he figured things out. He ran a ridge line to lift the pod up over him, and then used his clothing to cut off drafts. I think he stayed warm after that. I know that he, like the rest of us, still stayed in that hammock 12 hours plus naps. But as he is a dedicated side/stomach sleeper, had I known also about his claustrophobia I would have tried harder to talk him into a JRB BMBH with a top quilt. Or, he even would have been better off with a Speer and a summer quilt plus pod, for reasons stated above. It would have kept it well off of his face. Or, he would have been happier with what my step son used.
Fourth was my step son, also with Claytor No Net. But he had his Cat's Meow PG bag as a quilt, some down clothing, and a Warbonnet UQ, with 3 layers of insulation installed. It weighed about 17 oz total. He was also a first time hammock hanger. This was a total success He had no complaints at all, and is a solid convert. He used a short WM blue pad under his legs, which also served as his sit pad. He never had a cold moment. He was amazed to be able to sleep 12 hours, which he said he could not come close to doing in his bed at home.
More on tarps and other stuff later.