I love hiking and camping off-trail on Crown lands here in Ontario and in the past that has frequently meant forsaking beautiful locations for want of a suitable place to pitch a tent and settling for a less scenic spot or else making do on uneven and non-level ground in order to enjoy the convenience of being close to a water source and having a nice view.
This winter I bought a used Hennessy Expedition Asym (bottom entry) from someone on another camping forum. After months of waiting for some warm nights I finally got to try out my new hammock. I'd slept in it indoors for 9 consecutive to get a feel for it and was confident I'd sleep in it just fine, but I had concerns about how my existing sleeping system: a Therm-A-Rest pad, a zero-degree down bag, and vehicle windshield reflector, would handle late spring temperatures. Just for good measure I also brought along a heavy base-layer as nightwear.
Since this was to be a kind of gear shakeout and test-run, I chose a bit of Crown land about 30 minutes from my house. I parked my vehicle at a boat launch near some Crown land I'd camped on before and hiked straight into the bush, off-trail, for about an hour, at which point I came across a system of creeks and small beaver ponds.
After crossing one of the beaver dams to get to some higher ground I found a scenic spot that offered good views, easy access to water for cooking and drinking, and endless firewood. And the ground was perfectly uneven, non-level, littered with dead falls and young saplings, and the only flat spots were in depressions that were soggy from the previous night's rains, making it the sort of place I'd have passed over if I was tenting.
The woods here are mostly white pines, including some truly huge old specimens, but most were of modest size and I found two the right size and distance apart with no widow-makers above to worry about.
Stringing my hammock and tarp took only about 5 minutes as I'd practiced setting it indoors quite often and the use of my DIY whoopies made adjustments really quick and easy. And here a big thank you is owed to Dutch. When I first bought this used hammock it had no suspension system and I posted to these forums for an affordable Canadian source of Amsteel so I could make my own whoopies. I didn't know if hammocking would work for me, so I was trying to get outfitted inexpensively in case it didn't work out. Dutch immediately asked me for my address and sent me the rope I needed, unbidden, and he wouldn't even accept my offer to pay for the shipping. That would be generous coming from anyone, but most especially from a cottage vendor who actually sells whoopies and Amsteel. So, thank you again Dutch for helping me have a working hammock.
The only fussing I had to do after that was lowering the head end. I hadn't stepped back to look at my setup and discovered only hours later that the head end was higher, not lower than the foot end. Also, the winds picked up at one point and it started to rain, so I fashioned some ground stakes so I could set the wings of the tarp at a steeper angle in case it happened to rain overnight.
Because I was very concerned that I might not be able to sleep due to the cold, I set up a heat reflecting fire-place from stone and built up a large self-feeding pyramid fire lay so I could warm up if my bedding proved inadequate.
The chances of rain for that day were slight, but it was cloudy and the wind kept increasing, auguring that rain might follow, so I strung up my 8' x 10' sil nylon tarp and used some DIY tarp pullout with shock cords to keep it from billowing in. This setup would shelter me and my fire from wind if necessary and it would contain a lot of the heat of the reflector fire if I needed it in the night.
As it turns out, it did rain lightly, on and off, for about 3 hours in the late afternoon and into the early evening. What little sun there was disappeared and the wind picked up, so when the temperature dropped a few degrees I decided to light my warming fire to see how it would work and to cook some supper and boil some drinking water and make coffee. It got uncomfortably hot even seated several feet from the fire on my cheek-spreader chair, so I knew that if my bedding were insufficient I could sleep under the tarp by the fire in complete warmth with minimal tending.
In the end my bedding and night-clothing were overkill. I felt no cold spots at all even when the winds picked up, though I could feel cold air blowing over my face. Because this was my first sleep in the bush in a while, I slept somewhat lightly (it never fails on the first night) and I was frequently awakened by the loud din of spring peepers, barred owls, and other nocturnal noises, but I was toasty and comfortable.
Getting out to pee in the night through velcro bottom entry was no hardship, but I learned that I should hang my hammock closer to the ground to make it easier to put on boots in the morning. Using a pee bottle in the hammock also worked great, as I'd figured out on my indoor trials at home.
Overall, it was not a better quality sleep than I'd have enjoyed in at tent on my first night out of the season, but this was because of the racket of frogs and birds. When I awoke (well after dawn) I was so comfortable I had to argue with myself to get out of bed and put on some coffee. I can't say I've experienced that very often when sleeping on the ground. I'm used to feeling like I got run over by a truck, with sore spots on my hips and shoulders and a slightly achey lower back. In fact, when tenting, I usually get up immediately after I wake up because I just can't stand the discomfort of lying there. Except for winter camping in snow shelters (snow floors are more yeilding and can be shaped to your body), I don't think I've even had as comfortable a sleep. I'm sure I'd have slept like the dead had I been able to spend a 2nd night out.
Some things I learned: I'd hung the hammock too high to use comfortably as a chair. This also made it harder to get out of than it needed to be, as well as harder to put on my boots. I'm so used to camping in a tent, which can't really be adjusted or tweaked after it's pitched, that it didn't even occur to me that I could simply lower the whole setup to make it easier to use as a chair. Duh!
I also discovered, to my delight, that I had no logistical problems while being in the hammock. I was able to hang all the necessary items from my ridge line and organizer (water bottle, pee bottle, bear spray, light, watch, eyeglasses, etc.) and I was able to dress and undress inside the hammock so as not to have to face any cold morning air half-naked.
The reflective liner, Therm-A-Rest, and my down bag seemed to be overkill at these temperatures (+10 C with mild winds) I guess I'll just have to see what happens on colder nights or when the air is damp with moisture from rains. I'm relieved that for mild weather at least, the gear I have is sufficient and I don't have to buy more gear. Putting my pad inside my sleeping bag worked to prevent all problems of slipping off the pad, but I'm thinking that pad on bare skin might be a bit sweaty on warmer nights.
So..my first outdoor hang was great fun, easy, comfortable, and it made my wife so jealous that she got off the fence this morning and ordered her own Hennessy from MEC. Unfortunately, it won't arrive for a while yet, so my wife and I will be out tenting for the next 4 days.