Hey fellow hammockers,
I completed a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2014 and I thought I would put together a post covering the hammock related gear I used and how it worked out for me. I tend to be long winded when it comes to hammocks(I prefer to call it thorough), so bear with me.
I started hiking on March 31st and I climbed Katahdin on October 3rd. I turned 27 on the trail. I weighed 172lbs when I started my hike, and 147lbs when I finished it. Between 2008 and when I started my hike I had been on roughly a dozen backpacking trips, the longest being a 7 day trip in 2013 that served as my A.T. shakedown hike. I slept in my hammock every night I was in the woods, except 3. One very cold night in the smokies was spent in a shelter (because someone had collected a big big pile of firewood). Two nights were spent cowboy camping at overlooks, where no trees were available.
How I "HYOH"
To put my gear choices in context, I'll touch on my budget and hiking preferences. I consider myself a luxury ultralight hiker. I didn't want to compromise on a comfortable sleep setup or my luxury items (2lbs of camera stuff, ereader, external battery pack, journal, etc). Instead I was willing to spend money to make the rest of my gear as light as possible. I was not on a tight budget, and backpacking is generally hard on my knees, so I figured money spent lightening my pack meant less wear and tear on my body.
- Warbonnet Blackbird 1.1 SL
Notes: I've owned a few hammocks including HH ULBA, WBBB 1.1 SL, WBBB 1.0 DL, WBBB 1.7 DL, WB Traveler, GT Nano, JRB BMB and an old jungle army hammock. The HH ULBA was just not as comfortable or spacious as I wanted for sleeping in long term. The double layer WB hammocks had more bulk and weight to them than I wanted. I wanted an integrated bug net so I passed on the Traveler and the Nano. The WBBB 1.1 SL ended up being the best compromise of everything I was looking for. I absolutely loved it. Climbing into my hammock was something I looked forward to everyday. Don't skimp on space inside the hammock, at one point I spent almost 36 consecutive hours in my hammock(except bathroom breaks), waiting for bad weather to pass so we could cross Mt. Washington's summit. It made times like that much more enjoyable. Also I can't begin to explain how pleasant it was to drink hot coffee, eat breakfast, and read in the morning without ever getting out of bed.
- 6' Dynaglide whoopie sling, green, foot end
- 6' Dynaglide whoopie sling, orange, head end
- (2) Dynaglide Nacra-biners
- (2) Grand Trunk Carabiners
- (1) 6' Tree Strap
- (1) 4' Tree Strap
Notes: I liked having the foot and head end differentiated by color, it just made sorting though things easier and saved me some thinking at the end of the day when I was tired. I left the nacrabiners attached to the whoopie slings permanently. They served the purpose of the beads some people use to prevent the loop of the whoopie sling from getting pulled inside the bury. The nacrabiners also served as a backup in the event I ever lost or broke a carabiner. Having one longer strap gave me enough flexibility in tree selection. The suspension items I used lasted the entire trip.
- ZPacks Cuben Fiber Tarp w/Doors
- (2)Dutch's Wasps w/ 10' of Line
- (8)Micro Line Locks
- 150lb Spectra Core for Guylines
- Mesh Tarp Storage Sleeves from Mountain Goat
- (8) Hammock Forum Aluminum Y Stakes
Notes: I love love love the ZPacks tarp I used on this trip. I picked it up used on the forum, used it on my thruhike and I'm still using it now. This tarp was some of the best money spent for this trip. The rain/wind coverage was great and the tarp was so light. I hiked with 2 other hammockers that were so jealous they both ended up buying Cuben tarps with doors from Hammock Gear(because they were at Trail Days). The mesh tarp skins were also a huge life saver. They frequently saved me from wrestling with my tarp in the wind. There were also plenty of times I set the tarp up in some tight spots where if I had lost control of it, the wind and tree branches around me would have torn it to shreds. Being able to get my tarp up in a controlled manner was a huge life saver.
Insulation (cold weather)
- Speer Top Quilt
- JRB Greylock 20
- Triangle Thingies from AHE
- Foam Footpad
Notes: The Speer Top Quilt is a considerably thinner cut than any other quilt I've encountered, which makes it very light and compact for a 20 degree quilt. It worked for me, but I realize it helps that I'm pretty small (5'6" and 150lbs). It left me enough fabric to pull over my head or tuck tightly around my shoulders and neck. Your mileage may vary. I absolutely love the JRB quilts. I have 3 of them at this point and I am constantly impressed with the quality. One of my hiking partners liked my Greylock so much that they picked one up at trail days and used it for the rest of the trip. I found the Triangle thingies from AHE to be the best, no-fuss way to eliminate cold spots and keep my UQ from sliding out from under me, they may not have been the lightest UQ suspension option, but they were worth the weight in my book. My coldest nights on the trail got down into the high teens. With my thermals and beanie on, my 20 degree insulation kept me warm enough. I always carried a chemical handwarmer just in case I had a cold spot, and I didn't feel like fiddling with my insulation in the middle of the night, but I only ended up using one over the whole trip, in southern Maine.
- Leigh's summer UQ
- ZPacks 40° Sleeping Bag
- Triangle Things
- Foam Footpad
Notes: This insulation was plenty for the warmer stretch. I've owned Leigh's quilt for several years before this trip, and it kept me warm down into the 30's. The ZPacks sleeping bag was an impulse buy, though it really came in handy for 2 nights where I cowboy camped at some overlooks because with the help of a head net I was able to keep myself pretty well closed off from the creepy crawlies. I got my summer stuff in northern VA, at the end of May, and I got my cold weather gear back in Hanover, NH.
- WBBB 1.1 SL with 2 whoopie slings and 2 nacrabiners - 416g
- Tree Straps w/ GT Biners - 123g
- Zpacks Hammock Tarp with Doors w/ mesh snake skins, tieouts, & 2 Biners (original setup, before Dutch Wasps) - 322g
- Speer - 20 Deg TQ (no stuff sack) - 509g
- JRB Greylock 20 Deg 3/4 UQ w/triangle thingies (no stuff sack) - 450g
- CCF Footpad - Blue - 83g
- ZPacks 40 Deg Sleeping Bag - Short w/ ZPacks Stuff Sack - 346g
- Sea to Summit Compression Sack - Blue - Large (Hammock, UQ, TQ) - 84g
How did it work for me?
Flawlessly! I was absolutely thrilled with this setup. The only thing I changed over the course of 6 months was the ridge line tieouts on the tarp. Initially I had some figure 9's and some heaver cord. I didn't need to replace them, but I was having a hard time walking around the vendor area at trail days without buying anything, so I picked up the Wasps from Dutch.
Did I ever have a hard time finding a place to set up?
No! I even hiked most of the trail with 2 other hammockers and we found campsites to accommodate all 3 of us every night. Here and there we had to pass nice campsites because they couldn't accommodate 3 hammock setups, but that was rare. Even going through the Whites we made it work every night.
How did I pack/arrange everything?
I left my under quilt attached and the top quilt in the hammock and stuffed the hammock, whoopie slings, and quilts into a large sil nylon sea to summit compression sack. Though I never really used the compression aspect, I just stuffed the whole thing into the bottom of my pack. This made for a very easy setup, less things to fiddle with, less stuff sacks. The tree straps, carabiniers, stakes, and tarp went in the mesh pocket on the back of my ZPacks Arcblast. This let the tarp and straps dry a bit, kept the stakes from poking holes in things, and let me set up my tarp without ever opening my pack, so the rest of my gear stayed dry if it was raining.
Did my down ever get wet?
A little damp? Yes. Wet? No. I had a couple nights with particularly strong winds where my under quilt caught a light misting, but it was minimal and didn't impact me staying warm. The quilts occasionally got damp from fog/humidity, but never enough to impact my warmth. Doing it all over again I would still use down.
Trouble with bugs biting through hammock fabric?
Problems with bugs biting through the hammock were very minimal. When selecting gear, I considered a double layer warbonnet, but ultimately strayed from that for bulk/weight reasons. I'm glad I did. A few times I had to slide my footpad under my legs if I got bit on the calf, but that was rare (and believe me, mosquitoes love me, I serve as an effective bug repellent for all people in a 20' radius because apparently my blood is just that good).
Ultimately the gear isn't going to make or break your hike, but I know I had questions like this before I started, so I thought I'd throw the information out there in case someone finds it useful.
Thanks for reading,
-Iron Cheeks (AT NOBO 2014)