Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a real camera (forgetting things is about to become a theme in this post) and my phone camera pics look horrible, so I'm not going to be able to provide visual evidence of my mistakes. Proceeding ...
Myself and a handful of friends who don't really camp decided to do an overnighter in Cherokee National Forest around Tellico Plains, TN. The plan was to just find a campsite, do some trout fishing, cook the fish we caught and head home in the morning, so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to try out the hammock -- an ENO DoubleNest. This was my first time sleeping in a hammock.
I brought my son Connor-- a newly-turned five year old -- along for his first real campout and brought his homemade hammock (just a bedsheet tied up like a testHammock that he's been sleeping on in his bunk bed) to hang beside mine. When he saw everyone else setting up there tents, he was a bit disappointed that he was just getting a tarp (9 x 11 cheap camo tarp I picked up at Harbor Freight). Truth be told, I had a trusty two-man tent in the trunk as a fallback plan, but really wanted to give this a legitimate shot, so I told him he could sleep in the hammock with me. That convinced him, as he's a snuggler, and probably a little bit scared to begin with.
We had a great time fishing. The group caught eight total, with Connor and I contributing zero fish to our dinner. Still, we ate well, the trout were excellent, the boys (3 of them all right around 4-5 years old) thoroughly enjoyed wearing their s'mores and all had a good, exhausting time.
When we started setting up camp, all but one person over the age of five expressed skepticism over my decision to sleep in a hammock, typically eliciting a sympathetic laugh when I mentioned I never had before but was going to give it a shot. It was good-hearted though, and there was a certain amount of suspicion that perhaps I knew something they didn't, as it was the first time camping for two of the fathers, and the other two guys were self-admitted fishermen who didn't typically camp.
So, what did I learn?
- I need a better suspension system. I am using two ten-foot poly web straps and they do a great job of staying on the tree, but as the diameter of the tree increases, it can eat that length up in a hurry.
- Sag matters. Sort of a corollary of the first point, but I didn't fully grasp how much the sag affected the ability to lay diagonally until I hung it with nearly no angle on the straps. I was able to add a some sag which helped immensely, but if the trees had been six inches further apart, I would have been out of luck.
- My experience in a double hammock is that it is not a double. I would compare it this way: it's like sleeping on a really comfortable couch. I can sleep all night on it by myself. I can nap for about thirty minutes on it with someone else. Once the rolling and position adjusting begins, forget it. We tossed about for what I'm guessing was close to three hours before we finally settled into a head-to-foot position. This worked reasonably well, but sleeping alone would have been better.
- An underpad of some sort would have been nice. It didn't really get very cool outside, but it was remarkable how cool the bottom of the hammock felt in comparison. Because I didn't know if I could trust the tarp in heavy rain, I left our sleeping gear in the car until Connor was ready to sleep, and then foolishly, I only put his sleeping bag in with the intentions of getting mine when it was time for me to join him. That's actually two mistakes there. I should have gone to bed when he did, and I should have put my bag in as an extra layer between the hammock and us. Trying to get a sleeping, grouchy child to reposition himself to accommodate me was more difficult than it should have been. Anyway, the cool bottom wasn't horrible, but it did surprise me that it could actually be cooler than the temp around me. As it was, I thought the air was warm enough (I'm guessing it was about seventy) that I wouldn't need to bother, so we just slept under his opened sleeping bag and didn't get mine. Had I planned better, we could have been a little more comfortable.
- A bug net is not optional. I did not bring a bug net as I was trying to get off as cheaply as possible and thought for one night I could tolerate a few bugs if I covered us in Off and used one of those Off fans (which I forgot to bring as well). Mistake. Big, big mistake. Even though the bug spray prevented any bites, it didn't stop me from spending literally the entire night swatting bugs. I didn't sleep a wink, despite being relatively comfortable at intervals that didn't involve my child's filthy foot exploring my nostrils. The bugs were just too much. When the sun came up, I got up and enjoyed a cup of coffee for a few minutes before returning to check on my son who was now awake and asking for water. He was unbothered by bugs on his end, but at the end where my head had been all night, there was a thick cloud of mosquitoes just waiting for me to lay back down. No thanks. The investigation into a proper bug net begins for me today.
- Despite some opinions to the contrary found on threads here, I missed my camp shoes. Even though I never have to get up to go in the middle of the night at home, I always have to get up when camping. Having a small child poking me in the bladder all night didn't help. I forgot to bring my camp shoes, but discovered an additional sense of urgency that made my boots less ideal in that situation. In a tent, putting boots on in the middle of the night is a hassle, but it's my hassle. In a hammock, sitting on the edge while I fumble with my feet disturbs the other person in the hammock and my son takes to interrupted sleep about as well as his mother, which is to say, not well at all. Sleeping by myself in a hammock would remedy this of course, but I sure did miss those sandals.
- Despite being cheap, I was pretty thrilled with the Harbor Freight tarp. When I first set it up, I ran a poly cord line directly above my straps and then draped the tarp over it and staked it at the four corners. Part of the issue is that the cord I used was wrong for the job. It was heavy but had a lot of stretch, so basically it was bulky in my pack but failed to keep the tarp from sagging. After the first rain, I pulled up the stakes and rotated the tarp to the diamond layout. That way, I tethered two corners right above the ridgeline direct to the trees and staked the other two corners down. Much better setup with a taut ridge and a little more room underneath. I intended to use it just this weekend to feel things out, but I'm in no hurry to move on. I will probably modify it a bit to trim it up and get rid of the grommets, but overall, I was surprised how well it worked out. I'm not an ounce counter as it is and it packed down better than I expected so I'll roll with it. It's not elegant, but then again, neither is my beer gut, and I'm pretty comfortable with that, too.
All in all, despite technically not sleeping in a hammock, I think I'm converting to a hanger. I will go to the ground if I bring Connor again, but I'm definitely looking for a chance to hang again. If I needed any more of a selling point, after having such a rough night, asking my fellow campers how they slept resulted in blank, knowing stares and statements of regret over their choice in pads. The best part for me, though, was when I was helping them all pack up their tents (since I had extra time on my hands having such an easy breakdown). I was explaining to the new guys about what they would need to do when they got home. We were down on hands and knees on soaking wet ground rolling up their wet rain flies, wet ground tarps, and wet tents, and I knew when I got home I only had to hang my tarp out for a couple hours and toss the hammock in the laundry. I'm sold.