A little bit of and a lot of
Well, I finally got to try-out some Clark hammocks and wanted to share what I found. Iíve got to send out a big Thank You to cavediver2 for offering to let me try a couple of his Clarks for a month and change. I was supposed to have posted this review a looooong time ago, but things have gotten very busy in my corner of the world AND I have no pics to post. The latter most certainly being criminal and I apologize. I had these hammocks during a time when I was replacing an old camera and had not received a replacement yet. The only pics I have are blurry and funny colored; I donít want to induce a flashback in any of you that it may apply to.
So, what did I get? cavediver2 sent me a Clark North American (NA) and a NX-200 (NX) to give me a good perspective on the Clark line of hammocks. Now, I gotta tell ya, it is quite an amusing moment when someone like me (who likes to pretend to be a ULer) opens a box to find a couple of BIG and HEAVY bags that hold hammocks. I think I just stood there for a minute in shock. These things ainít small when packaged! However, the rational section (tiny area) of my brain started going through its checklist and quickly accepted the size and weight of the hammock bundles based on all the extras that are compressed into the one package. Initial fear; conquered. Seriously, when youíre holding a Clark bag youíve got most of what youíre going to need right there; hammock, tarp, and suspension. Like a Hennessy rig you say? Well a little, but thereís more to a Clark than the Hennessys. The Clarks are much more feature laden than any HH Iíve had my hands on so far. For the record, I absolutely LOVE the weathershields on the Clark line. I mean I really like them! They really provide a Ďtentí experience above the ground like no other hammock Iíve tried.
I started with the NA, but (with a few exceptions) Iím going to speak about them both because they are very similar hammocks. Cavediver2 had already replaced the stock line with webbing, rings, and biners. This was nice because thatís how I normally roll; no new lessons to learn there. Iíve seen the stock line the Clarks use for their hammocks and to be honest, I really donít like it. Then again, I donít like many of the cord/line suspensions. The line Iíve seen is very heavy; kind of like the yellow nylon line one would use to tie-up a boat. Glad I didnít have to worry about that, thanks Pat!
I got the NA strung-up within a few hours of receipt of the package; surprised? The thing about the Clarks that has always fascinated me is the pockets. I kept hearing about how people use them and must admit to being a little jealous. In a few regards, I was correct to be jealous. However, for my style of hanging, they wouldnít be of too much use for me. Maybe some clothing could be stored in them, but anything bulky would interfere with my underquilts. Cannibal no like pads, Cannibal like quilts! Still, the outer pockets are neato and if you are a pad user, I think they would be incredibly convenient. They are quite spacious and I donít think I own a pair of boots that wouldnít fit; even my cowboy boots from my Texas days would fit in those pockets. Yeah I know, thatís a visual nobody needed, but still better than the Yoga crack later in this review. The point is valid; them pockets are large and could be very useful.
Once I had taken a look at the pockets, I wanted an answer to a fairly common question about the Clarks: do underquilts work with them? A resounding YES is the answer. I set my SnugFit to the bottom of the NA in no time at all. No different from any other hammock in that regard and easier than a couple of them. Itís pretty obvious that the Clarks were designed more for pad use than for uqs, but I didnít have any problems fitting, or using, my SnugFit or my Yetis. The Yetis may have lost a little bit of performance because the Clarks are straight hammocks. By that I mean they are narrow (really narrow), so you (I) tend to lay more in a straight line as opposed to diagonally like I do in most of my hammocks. Since the Yeti was designed to be used on a diagonal, the fit isnít ideal. Doesnít mean I got cold, just wasnít perfect. No reason the Jackís quilts wonít work perfectly, but I didnít try it. If underquilts are the reason youíve held off pulling the trigger on a Clark, time to exercise that finger and pull the trigger. They fit and perform fine.
So now itís time to climb in. To me, the Clarks are a strange mix. The hammock itself is small, or at least feels that way. It is most certainly a narrow hammock and while I didnít measure anything, it sure feels short too. Honestly, I wasnít very comfortable in the NA for several nights. I did finally find a position and hang that worked for me, but it took a lot of doing to get to that point. This saddened me because a Clark NA has been on my wish-list for a good while and based on my sleeping experience, Iím pretty much taking it off the list. This is where the NX comes into play. It is slightly larger and seems to be larger in all the right places to make a difference. I will stipulate that I had already been in the NA for a couple of weeks before I got around to the NX. So there may have been some benefit from Ďpracticeí with the NA model that led me to a more comfortable experience with the NX model. The Clark site says the NA is comfortable for folks up to 6í4Ē, but I canít figure-out how. Iím 6í and am usually around the 220 Ė 225 lb mark, not counting holidays. So, Iím firmly in the Ďcomfort zoneí of the NA according to the Clarks; Iíve got to disagree. The NX was better, but still felt narrow.
I tried hanging them with lots of sag and none. I tried sleeping on my back and my side. In the end, I found a reasonably tight hang was my preference and side sleeping seemed automatic in the Clarks. This was another change for me as I almost always fall asleep on my back in a hammock. I do sometimes find myself waking on my side in other hammocks, but in these it was a guarantee that I would awake on my side. Maybe itís the narrow hammock bed and my big manly shoulders are just too wide to accept sleeping on my back, but my side is where I slept in these. Not bad, just different.
Once inside the hammock you get to really see the quality of the Clark hammocks. There is this one fella in Colorado that makes an amazingly well built hammock, but the Clarks could easily give him a run for his money in this area. I was very impressed with the craftsmanship on the Clark hammocks; very impressed. There wasnít a stitch out of place on these hammocks and they had been used in the field; these werenít out of the box. I couldnít see any significant signs of wear on either of them and Iím sure cavediver2 has put them through the wringer many, many times. The stitching was dead straight with no cosmetic blemishes at all. Most every line of stitching was double stitched so dependability is a given with these set-ups as near as I can tell. The Ďqualityí measurement gets an A+ from me; extra credit for making it look good in the process.
Kind of a sweet and sour thing: There is tons of vertical room in the Clark hammocks, but not much extra space between the shoulders. My other hammocks tend to be the opposite, more room for my shoulders and less for sitting up. While I really like the extra room above me, I think I prefer having the extra room to go towards sleeping. Since I tend to spend time in my hammocks only for sleeping, thatís where I could use the extra space. If I spent a lot of my time at camp in a hammock reading, playing a tin flute, or whatever the extra headroom of the Clark might be a good sell point for me. The narrow hammock bed is really the only thing I really donít like about the Clarks, but that may not be an issue for some of you folks. Remember, I like cheeseburgers and I carry my extra insulation with me at all timesÖ.dang it.
Letís cover some features. Weíll start with the tarps. I donít like them! Fair enough? Since I was sleeping in them nightly, I was set-up in my basement most nights. Donít really need a tarp there unless there is a plumbing problem upstairs. Since I have kitties running around, I didnít want the tarp laying on the floor next to the hammock where it could be destroyed, so I disconnected the tarps from the hammock altogether. They never went back on. In the field, I took tarps I already have and understand how to use. The Clark tarps have somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 tie-outs! OK, thatís an exaggeration, but they do have more tie-outs than I am accustomed to and I wasnít on a mission to learn about new tarps, just hammocks. Canít speak about the tarps folks, sorry. In all honesty, I did set-up the Clark in its Ďfactoryí mode once just to say I did it. I slept two nights under the tarp without incident and without rain. The little Ďbeakí at the head-end bugs me for some reason. From the look of them, they will most certainly provide you with good coverage and all the little tie-outs probably allow for an infinite number of set-up options, but I like what I know when it comes to tarps so I stuck with mine. They are of equal quality to the hammocks in construction and the material looked top-notch. Iíve no doubt they are good tarps.
Now, my favorite thing about the Clark rigs; the weathershield. Ah man, I really like both the concept and the design of the weathershield on the Clarks. Both the weathershield and the bug net are connected to the hammock with pretty heavy-duty zippers with big ol pull-tabs; which is nice! They are double zippers so you can zip and unzip completely or partially depending on your desires. The weathershield can be stowed away out of the way in a handy little compartment. I suspect the bug net can be too, but I forgot to try. Neither of them go all the way to the ends, instead they form (what to me) resembles a cockpit. Imagine the canopy of a jet fighter, how the canopy lifts but leaves Ďend-capsí in place. Thatís kind of what the Clarks are like in that there is a section at either end that is always covered. I caught my foot one morning while exiting and went Ďthudí on the floor. Luckily the only ones around to see it were my cats and they ainít talkin!
When the weathershield is deployed it really gives the impression of being in a solo tent. You have walls and a ceiling, basically a floating cubicle. If privacy in a hammock is an issue for you, then you need to take a long hard look at the Clark hammocks. The hammock is stable enough to change clothes in, if you exercise a little caution. I never felt like I was going to tip while moving around inside of it. I was also astounded at how much heat it traps. During one of my experiments, I was camped just below 10,000í in an area that is part of a high mountain valley; really pretty. Anyway, the wind kicked up on a night that saw temps in the low 20s. I awoke several times only to find my topquilt bunched up around my feet; guess I got hot. Before the night was over, I had to partially unzip the weathershield because I was uncomfortably warm. Now, I know I personally put off a tremendous amount of heat when I sleep. Iím sure that factors into the amount of heat retained by the weathershield, but dang! Between the trapping of the heat and the ability to block 98% of the wind, the weathershield is a very nice option. I like the fact that it is integrated into the system, opposed to a separate sock. It is always there if you get surprised by dropping temps or a particularly nasty storm. No more ďGeez, I knew I should have brought that sock with meĒ conversations in your head.
The bug net is a mirror image of the weathershield; another capsule/canopy attached with double ended heavy duty zippers. I canít imagine what it would take to get these zippers stuck or jammed; they are smooth like butter and the large pull-tabs make it very easy to locate and unzip in the wee hours. Nothing much to report here; itís a bug net. Visibility is good and I never saw any arctic mosquitoes. Also, both the weathershield and the bug net can be opened or closed from either side of the hammock; meaning there isnít a front and back to the hammock. Iíve gotten so used to my Warbonnet hammocks that the first thing I do when finding a site is to decide which way I want the opening facing. Not a concern with the Clarks and this was a pleasant change from my other technical hammocks. There are a couple more little storage pockets inside for the little stuff, but with so many pockets on the Clark hammocks youíre going to run out of stuff long before you run out of places to stow it.
The entire thing stuffs back into itself using one of the large outer pockets and folds in on itself to seal using Velcro strips. Not an easy thing to do the first time, but it gets easier after a few set-ups. My biggest problem was figuring out which freaking pocket was the correct one; there are a lot of pockets. I can see me putting a headlamp in one of the pockets and finding it on accident a couple of years later. I found a $10 bill in my WB ElDorado two weeks ago; another souvenir from the AT I guess. Overall size is going to take-up some real estate in a pack, but probably fewer cubic inches than a hammock, tarp, and weathershield packed separately.
To sum it up, the Clark NA is too small for my taste. The NX is slightly better, but still somewhat restrictive. I will caveat that statement by saying that I am quite spoiled when it comes to my hammocks. I like big ones (no wise-cracks) that allow me to get nice and diagonal and the Clark NA and NX donít fit that bill. I never really understood the comparison until I got in a Clark, but the lay of the hammocks is VERY close to that of the Claytors; donít know which came first. I have the exact same comfort problems in my Claytors. Still, Iíve got a few friends that prefer the Claytors over other hammocks so the market is most certainly there. Given a choice between those two lines of hammocks the Clark would win without much effort. The features are almost overwhelming and the craftsmanship is among the best Iíve seen yet.
There may still be a NX on the horizon for me, but it would most likely be used for car camping as it is still a little heavy even considering how much is packed into a relatively small package. Clarks are often berated for their costs, but given how much you get and the quality of the rig I really donít think that is a valid concern. My opinion is this; if you are on the small side and below 6í, want to buy everything at the same time and not go component shopping, and you are not overly weight sensitiveÖlook at a Clark. If you are close to, or above, my size youíll want to try one first. They may very well fit and work for you, but I suspect the larger folks are going to be left wanting more hammock. I wouldnít even bother with the NA, just skip straight to the NX line. It really is a lot of hammock for the money and the only thing left to buy, if you so choose, is an underquilt.
I give the Clark NA an overall grade of: ďBĒ and the NX a ďB+/A-ď. The only reason they arenít ďAsĒ in my book is the lack of personal comfort, but the overall design concepts, the integration of accessories, and the quality of construction really go a long way to raising the grade. Besides, comfort is such a relative thing that I have a difficult time saying that the hammocks are uncomfortable. What doesn't work for me, may still work great for you. I was and am very impressed with everything except the size of the hammock bed.
There is another Clark out there that has been talked about recently. I very recently had the opportunity to give it a go around the block too. All I can say at this point, is that the comfort issues of the NA and the NX do not come into play and underquilts are easily usable with a couple of very minor tweaks: The Vertex. While I have not had as much Ďplay-timeí with it as I did with the NA and NX models, I can tell you that it has been placed near the top of my list for ďhammocks I gotta haveĒ. No formal review, just impressions. However, those impressions are very good. The thing is big enough that you could probably do naked Yoga poses inside of it if you wanted to , not that I would.
I hope this helps anybody looking at the Clarks and Iíll be happy to answer any questions that I missed above. Clark people: What did I miss that you feel is a selling point? There really is a lot going on with these hammocks, which I donít view as a bad thing. Itís going to boil down to a philosophy; these are not Ďsimpleí rigs. They are a little intimidating at first, but after a couple of nights everything makes sense. I would recommend this hammock to a friend, but I would want them to try before buying it. Another reason for all the young hammockers to find a hang-out and start experimenting.
Have at it!