Nesting Tricks From An Old Coot
Comfort in a Hammock
Remember the first rule in real estate? It is location, location, location. First, pick two trees without obstructing branches and without an undergrowth problem. But consider the optimum distance. If two trees 13 feet apart allow you to hang the hammock and your tarp with out hindrance pick them over two equally appealing trees 18 feet apart. Why? The closest possible trees will use less hammock rope or strap, which reduces stretch and sag. What about weather concerns? In winter this Old Coot picks trees with a north-south axis and protects the west side with the tarp low. A high tarp east side often gives a super view of the hillside below and the sunrise. Hot sticky summer night? Get high on a ridge and pick trees with an east-west axis. Hang the head to the west. You will get cool breezes on the head and back and a super sunrise, good Lord willing. Just miserably hot and you need a good night sleep and not a sunrise view and the ridge is just too far; pick two east-west trees on the windward side as far up as you are willing to hike. The rising prevailing westerlies will be caught by a well hung tarp and be deflected over you. Expect wind or a storm? Pick trees on the lee side of the ridge, or a boulder, or a shelter.
Hammock Hanging Techniques
Center the hammock between the trees. If the ropes on either end are different lengths they will stretch at different rates. Centering eliminates guessing the stretch and having to compensate by guessing how much higher to hang the long rope end to achieve the proper lay. When you have to hang un-centered (to avoid a branch or bush), Leave No Trace - do not break off the problem, do elevate the long end. How much is trial and error. Your goal is a level bed. If you have trouble sliding toward the foot end try hanging the head end one inch lower on an otherwise optimal hang. You will not slide to the head with this minimal adjustment. The sliding to the foot end, often on what you believed to be a level hang, is because the body shape is essentially a long tapering triangle to the feet; and the reverse is a more stable, blunt, broad triangle, head to the shoulders.
Plan your head end location before you hang the hammock. If you use snake skins or python skins mark the end of the head rope. Some use duct tape, but eventually you will get a sticky residue on things with this approach (not desirable). Some tie an extra knot in the head end but this can get in the way or create work tying and untying (possibly problematic). Some mark the end with nail polish; but alas, it will chip off, ask any woman. Alternatively an 8” length of colorful thread sewn with two hitches in the end of the rope works, weighs nothing, won’t chip off, and never gets sticky. Dental floss also works, wears even better, and allows you to floss before bed.
Feather Your Nest
If you make more “Midnight Runs” in the woods than at home you invariably have organ discomfort. The two primary causes are uncomfortable ground and cold. The hammock solves the former problem. The under quilt solves the latter problem. Old coots know that soft plucked down makes the nest warm and cozy. They don’t try to make sticks work and the smart hammock hanger won’t try to make pads work. Get a down under quilt. Nothing beats the weight to warmth ratio and the compressibility of a down under quilt. The comfort of sleep with out squirming to get on and stay on a pad is beyond compare. Moreover, you can feel the warmth sooner and with more even spread than on a pad. You won’t wake up in a pool of sweat with a breathable under quilt like you will when using a non-breathable pad. And for all who are still using a sleeping bag, and who never noticed the sweat issue, know that the next day your bag weighs 16-32 oz more from the non-sensible sweat of the previous night.
Installing an Under Quilt
The wise coot doesn’t just scatter down around the nest any where. They place it, and move it if necessary, to maximize their comfort. Here are some nesting tricks that this old coot has learned … some the hard way.
First, hang the under quilt gently under the hammock using a shock cord and mini-carabiner suspension system. The non-fixed suspension cords allow you to adjust the hang to suit you. Hang it as gently as possible. Slide the suspension cords in or out along the hammock end cords until the quilt hangs loosely beneath the hammock. Adjustments are best made in half inch increments one end at a time. Realize the hammock bottom material will stretch downward under your weight. Learn at home with someone else in the hammock while you adjust and check. Put your hand between the hammock and the under quilt. Careful, don’t insult your partner. Under quilts normally have side loops. The side loops are a two step ladder for a reason. When you guy the hammock with a-sym corners out to a peg (normal?) in the ground - use the closest loop. If you guy high to a tarp or branch you may need to use the second loop. The objective is to achieve a gentle suspension of the under quilt in the side to side direction as well. If the quilt is pulled taut in any direction it will reduce the loft. Minor down compression (up to 50%) does not reduce warmth in down insulated gear according to studies conducted by the Department of Defense Cold Weather Laboratory in Natick, Massachusetts. As to the relative thinness of any under quilt, take comfort and realize that gravity works for you to attain and maintain full loft on exterior bottom insulation on a hammock.
Cold Weather Tricks
Expecting weather below 40 degrees? Fold the under quilt in half long ways (you can do this while the quilt is hung on the hammock if the sides are not guyed out) and shake the down into the middle area of the quilt. It is easy to get 25-35 percent more down in the middle and still have insulation on the sides. The outer edges of the quilt generally are above you and do not much matter. Realize that the outer edges are still contributing two layers of nylon and a small dead air space to the overall micro-climate of the nested hammock. Colder still? Try putting extra clothing, dry rain suit, emergency blanket or even dry leaves between the under quilt and the hammock. Also if you have not given up the pad, or you carry a sit pad, you can use it as well. But put it beneath you in the hammock. Placing it between the under quilt and the hammock will cause the under quilt to fall away from the hammock creating air gaps and cold spots.
If you are using a Hennessy style hammock, another cool weather trick is to make the area you are heating smaller. This is easily done by not tying out the asymmetric side corners of the Hennessy hammock. The nested hammock will then snug up around your sides as well. Yes, the bug net will be floppy – but who cares, it’s too cold for the bugs anyway.
Cold air leaking air through the entrance slit should not be a problem. But, if it concerns you, and it is so cold you want every trick in the book working for you, close the under quilts slit, if it has one, on itself and not the hammock slit. You will have to enter and exit by moving the quilt to the side. This is easily done and the shock cord suspension system will return it in place automatically.
One last trick you all know. Make sure you hang your shelter on arrival, including the under quilt, if you are not wearing it. This will give it time to fluff out before you get in and start the body furnace. Wearing the under quilt also helps with the fluffing. I’m sure that you have noticed your quilt has more loft and more consistency of loft in the morning, after a night of your body heat. Realize that there is also some increase in the moisture caused by non-sensible sweat that is still evaporating from the breathable under quilt. Yep…you got it. Obviously, pack the hammock last and let this moisture evaporate. Your pack will be lighter and your bed warmer.
One final note on warmth, vapor barriers work with any sleep system, including under quilts. Adding a mylar space blanket between the under quilt and hammock will significantly increase warmth. Vapor barriers are tricky in their application and have their own moisture issues. Should you desire to pursue the vapor barrier approach you should educate yourself on the issues of vapor barriers prior to, testing, and eventual using a vapor barrier.
Warm Weather Tricks
Let’s talk warm weather and bugs. This old coot uses his under quilt all year. There are many reasons to do so. One never knows when the temperature will drop in the middle of the night. And remedying the problem is a pain at 3 AM if your under quilt is not already attached. Cold awakenings are unnecessary. But is it too warm? Not if you pick the right site and use these tricks.
First, recall the first paragraphs about sites and trees. There are often breezes. You must select your site to take advantage of them.
Still warm? Open the “windows”. Those cinch cord on the end of most under quilts are there for several reasons. In summer they are there to be opened, a little, a lot, or all the way. Opening the head window will allow heat from the head and shoulders to escape and/or be cooled and still keep the vital organs warm. This technique still provides a wind screen of sorts that is sufficient for normal temperature drops. If the temperature drops severely, close the window.
But my feet sweat. So do mine. The foot window opens too.
Ever been bitten by a mosquito through the hammock bottom? Many have. Some skeeters are reportedly big and mean as woodpeckers. Just ask around. Some have gone so far as to hang false bottoms of no-see-um netting below their hammocks. Summer users of under quilts will not have this problem. The longest reported skeeter needle is only one inch. They can’t get at the wise coot using an under quilt.
Yea but … The slit model under quilts don’t let the Velcro on my Hennessy hammock close and there is an open slit above it. The skeeters can get in this way. This potential problem is real but not necessary. The Hennessy slit is designed to close by weight alone. The original versions didn’t have Velcro on the entrance slit. The Adventure Racer still does not have Velcro. The Velcro is there to keep the hammock sealed while no one is in the hammock. If the two sides of the opening slit do not close flush there may be some under quilt between them. Simply push the hindrance outside the slit and it will close fully.
Oh, you want to keep the skeeters out before you get inside. Put your top quilt and clothing bag inside. They have to be in your camp some where. They might as well be working for you as laying around on the ground or in your pack, otherwise in the way. They are normally enough weight to hold the slit shut.
Hot summer nights using an under quilt can often be spent without any (or with minimal) top cover because of the micro-climate created by bottom insulation, side insulation and rising body heat - quite pleasant.
Enjoy your hanging…. You may as well be comfortable.
The Old Coot