Recommended Pyramid Shelters

A pyramid shelter is likely your lightest effective shelter, unless the weather forecast is for constant, pouring-down rain or there are going to be a bunch of bugs (and there is an optional Innernet to handle that). This is the collective wisdom of literally decades of experience by most of the people I hike with.  I know that many readers may still be unconvinced on this point. If so, you can jump to the Tent and Tarp Tents sections.

Recommended Pyramid Shelters

Pyramid shelters give you the maximum coverage and storm protection for the minimum weight. Consider the palatial 65+ ft2 floor area and 5+ feet of headroom for the 1.5 pound Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL (only 1 lb if you get it in Cuben Fiber). If you like to sleep out under the stars you can leave these shelters at the bottom of your pack, greatly reducing the time to setup and breakdown camp and without the weight penalty of carrying an unused conventional tent. (A two-person tarp weighs 8-12 oz and takes up virtually zero pack volume.) Many of pyramid shelters and shaped tarp shelters come with an optional “Innernest” which has full mosquito netting and a bathtub floor, effectively making them a tent when needed. But giving you the option of leaving the Innernest at home, saving the weight and volume.

supermid-dry-inside

MLD SuperMid kept Don and I sheltered and dry from a freak and exceptionally violent Sierra storm at 11,000 feet. For a couple of hours we had 50mph winds, tons of rain and horizontal hail up to the size of quarters.

Mountain Laurel Designs produces some of the finest Pyramid Shelters anywhere. Of note are the 11 ounce MLD SoloMid 2016, and for two people the DuoMid XL, or their largest shelter the SuperMid. I have used all these MLD Pyramid Shelters on trips to Alaska, Patagonia, the Sierras, major European treks and around the world—with good results even in challenging circumstances. These pyramids use your trekking poles for a center pole like a circus tent. Like many shelters in this section you have the option of Cuben Fiber, which while expensive (especially for larger pyramids) is light, incredibly strong, and waterproof. Cuben Fiber also doesn’t stretch, even when wet which means you don’t have to constantly re-tension guylines if it’s raining or just damp and dewey overnight. My Solomid 2016 is in Cuben, but my DuoMid XL is in the more cost effective Pro Silnylon.

hmg-mid

HMG Pyramids use Cuben Fiber and are exceptionally strong and light.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear produces excellent and light Cuben fiber Pyramid Shelters. They make two pyramid shelters, the 1 pound UltaMid 2-Person, and the 1.3 pound UltaMid 4-Person. Both have an optional bug mesh and floor insert. HMG shelters are only available in their CF8 Cuben Fiber. “Cuben Fiber is lightweight, highly durable, and is 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and allows flex without losing strength. It also weighs less than Silnylon, it floats on water, is 100% waterproof and has high chemical and UV resistance.” While this provides exceptional performance and low weight, it is also expensive. There is is no lower cost Silnylon option for HMG shelters.

The My Trail Co pyramid shelters are a good deal at since their price includes with everything you’d ever need: inner nest, pole, states and stuff sacks.

My Trail Co Pyramid 4 and Pyramid 4 Shelters (by founder of GoLite) are other options for pyramid shelters. If you want both the pyramid and inner nest they are a great deal.

 

wrhr-tarp-slide

The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

Tarps and Shaped Tarps are significantly lighter and have more floor area than pyramid shelters. e.g. a 2-person MLD Grace Cuben Grace Duo tarp is 8 oz vs the 16 oz for the DuoMid XL. For many backpackers, Tarps and Shaped Tarps are more suited to places with occasional rain (Summer in the Sierras or the desert of Southern Utah) and/or for camping in more sheltered areas (below treeline, behind large rocks, etc.). Although some skilled and adventurous backpackers use them above treeline in the high mountains and other exposed areas that get appreciable wind and precipitation.

waiting_out_the_storm

Tarps work! Blizzard in the Wind Rivers – a 15 degree night under a tarp & 1 lb down quilt.

True Tarps have the advantage of being simpler, less expensive, lighter and having more pitching options from “close to the ground for storm protection,” to “airy lean-to pitches with great views.” Shaped Tarps tend to be a more storm resistant, but are are designed be pitched only one way—usually lower to the ground with less headroom and views. Note: I do not recommend a solo tarp—for just few ounces more you get almost double the coverage for a 2-person tarp.

 

mld-trailstar

The light and storm-worthy MLD TrailStar

Mountain Laurel Designs True Tarps of note are the Grace Duo Tarps in either Silnylon or Cuben Fiber. The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp is a personal favorite and where I think the upgrade to Cuben Fiber makes sense. Don and I shared one on our Wind River High Route.

Mountain Laurel Designs Shaped Tarp of note is the award winning and perennial favorite TrailStar. Like the pyramid shelters it has an optional innernet.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear True Tarps of note are the 8′ x 10′ Flat Tarp and the Echo II Tarp. Both have an optional bug mesh an floor insert. HMG tarps are only available in CF8 Cuben Fiber.

hmg-echo-system

A modular approach for Shaped Tarps: HMG Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on) and an an optional bug mesh & floor insert. Combine all three for a flexible and very light “2-walled tent.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Takes a modular approach for Shaped Tarps. The Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on for the tarp) and an an optional bug mesh an floor insert. Combined all three for a Echo Ultralight Shelter System (an extremely light “2-walled tent.”) But you have the option to take only the components needed for a particular trip.

For Tarps available off-the-shelf from a major retailer, look at the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter from REI or a MSR E-Wing 2 Person Shelter. But realistically tarps are not seriously carried by major retailers and you are better off getting a tarp from one of the manufacturers above (or other well regarded cottage manufacturers).

For a Bargain Tarp: look at Etowah Gear’s Basic $75 8×10 Silnylon Tarp.

 

A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

  1. Look at The tents and shelters listed in my 9 pound gear list. It has recommended Tents and TarpTents in the “Sleeping Gear and Tent/Shelter” section.
  2. And then take a look at the recommended Tents and Tarp Tents below.

 

Here are a few suggestions for Tents and TarpTents

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Mountain Hardware Direkt 2 Tent – $550 at REI

This is one of the lightest freestanding four-season tents on the market. While it’s made for fast and light alpine climbing, it could be just as good for fast and light… anything. At least anything where you need to stay out in crazy conditions safely! This tent can be staked out to handle huge winds, and is more comfortable, lighter, and stronger than the previous best-in-class alpine tent: Black Diamond’s FirstLight.


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REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent – $300 at REI

Okay, not everyone needs a siege-proof alpine four-season beast of a tent. REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a great option for those looking for a reasonably priced lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. If ultralight tarps seem too daunting, this will still help you cut weight, weighing just over 3 lbs, but the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample head room, and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room/livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets tent apart from most of its peers.


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Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – $450 at REI

If you want to cut a little weight, but keep lots of space, Big Agnes has you covered with the high volume version of their Copper Spur UL 2 freestanding tent. It comes in at 2 lb. 12 oz on the trail, and can be pitched even lighter using just the fly. This is one of the most spacious 2-person tents out there, which is great if you are going to be stuck in your tent playing cards for a while in bad weather, or just prefer highly livable tents.


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Tarptent Notch 1-Person Shelter – $285

Tarptent has been around for ages with a great reputation in the lightweight backpacking community. As the name suggests it combines the best aspects of a tent and tarp. That is, low weight combined with a fully waterproof floor and mosquito protection. The Notch is a great 1-person shelter, that sets up with two trekking poles, and includes a full inner bug netting and a bathtub floor. The Notch will keep you and your stuff dry in a rain storm, and there is ample headroom to sit up and wait out the foul weather from dry comfort inside! The shelter weighs in at 27 oz, which is a fair bit lighter than even the lightest free-standing tents!


motrail_1

Tarptent MoTrail 2-Person Shelter – $259

This is a light shelter with plenty of room for two to sit up side by side and eat dinner looking at the view. This Tarptent MoTrail is more like a traditional tarp setup with a ridgeline held by two trekking poles in the long direction of the tarp. The tarp has a mesh inner, and a Silnylon outer with a Silnylon tub floor to keep you dry even in a total downpour. Inside is space for two people to sleep comfortably without a trekking pole between them. At 36 oz, it’s just over 1lb/person, and it’s less expensive than the 1-person shelters like the Tarptent Notch or MLD Solomid!


The following Pyramids are fully storm worthy shelters

All can be ordered with an Inner Nest if you need a floor and bug netting


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Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL – $365

This is the pyramid shelter against which all others are measured. These have been used by thru hikers on the longest treks, deep in the wilderness of Alaska, on glaciers and high peaks, and even occasionally as car-camping tents! The design is flexible, durable, functional, livable, and light at 21 oz for the SilNylon version. It can withstand serious storms, and open up on nice nights. It is spacious and comfortable for two backpackers and their gear. Of course, for the gram counters, this tarp also comes in the much lighter cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) version, weighing in at 16 oz even, and costing about $700 depending on the color of fabric used. Note Asym design: one of the few ‘Mids that allows a couple to sleep side-by side without a center pole between them.


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Mountain Laurel Designs SOLOMID XL 4.5′ X 9.2′ – $265

This is the upgraded version of the shelter Andrew Skurka took on his epic Alaska-Yukon Expedition. It’s a 1-person version of the Duomid with all the same great features, but it’s lighter and less expensive! It fits 1-person with ample room for gear. This SilNylon version comes in at just over a pound (17 oz). The Cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) is a svelte 12 oz, but costs $465. For such a versatile, lightweight shelter, it’s a bargain! Note: new 2017 Asym, single pole design with 70% of the user space behind the one center pole and the front 30% functions as a vestibule. This offset design allows entry and exit in rainy conditions to help keep the sleep side of the shelter dry like the DuoMid XL design.


Sources for Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacking Equipment

This is only a small sample of the many sources for light equipment. Many other sources can be found by reading through the reviews and technique articles at Backpacking Light www.backpackinglight.com.  You can also check out forums/discussions for advice:

General Outfitters & Larger Companies

Personal Favorites (mostly small manufacturers)

Hammock Gear (mostly small manufacturers)

Note: many hammock quilts & tarps can also be used for regular camping. Many times for less money and equal or better performance to conventional (ground sleeping) sleeping bags and tarps.

Clothing (for manufacturers not listed above)

Packs (for manufacturers not listed above)

Down Sleeping Bags and Down Clothing (for manufacturers not listed above)

Stoves and Cooking

“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—hammock camping is likely your best sleep option.”

This is the introductory post of a three part series

Lead Photo aboveUnlike ground systems, hammocks enable hiking long distances each day without sacrificing camp comfort or sleep quality. Above, the Dream Hammock Darien UL weighs just 13 oz, including bug netting, hanging hardware, gear organizer, and stuff sack.


Hammock Camping is the best choice for the most east coast backpacking

In 3-season conditions and in locations where trees are readily available — which includes nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair portion of the Mountain West — I belive that a hammock is the best overall sleep system. This is especially true for mileage-driven backpackers because they need not make two critical sacrifices often demanded by ground systems:

  • Camp earlier than otherwise preferred due to limited campsite availability, and
  • Carry heavy camp gear (e.g. plush air mattress) to improve camp comfort and sleep.

I make this claim as an experienced backpacker who has happily ground-slept for decades. My motivation for hammock camping was curiosity, not dissatisfaction with ground sleeping. The more experience I acquired, however, the more obvious it became that hammocks were a more practical and efficient system, especially in the eastern US.

The primary advantage of hammock hammock camping

In locations with ample trees of sufficient strength, the primary advantage of hammock camping is the huge increase in suitable campsites. In Shenandoah National Park, for example, most of the terrain is rocky and steeply sloping; the number areas suitable for ground camping (i.e. flat; and free of rocks, roots, and vegetation) is very limited. Moreover, many of these areas have developed into crowded, heavily impacted campsites.

Shenandoah’s unsuitable terrain — and its overused campsites — is made completely irrelevant by a hammock, which can be setup in almost all areas of the park. So long as I can find two trees that are 12-18 feet apart, I can setup a hammock without any regard to the surface below it, even on, say, a wet and rocky 15-degree slope.

With the huge increase in suitable campsites, a hammock system gives a hiking-inspired backpacker the option to hike dawn-to-dusk (or some variation thereof) without the risk of getting caught in a stretch of un-camp-able terrain. In turn, this flexibility equates to a great number of hike-able time, which ultimately equates to hiking longer distances. I believe this increase in hike-able time will typically outweigh the slight weight increase of a hammock system versus a ground system, if there even is one.

Hammock Camping

A Jacks R Better bridge hammock pitched on a 15-degree hillside along the AT, hardly a suitable campsite for a conventional ground system. In a hammock, the terrain underneath has no effect on sleep quality.

Other advantages of hammock camping

Besides improved campsite availability, hammock systems have other advantages over ground systems:

Camp comfort and sleep quality

Many people find sleeping in a hammock more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, or at least as good. A better night of rest allows me to recover better and hike more the next day. Unlike a ground system, this increase in sleep quality is not in opposition to a lightweight pack.

A hammock is also an excellent camp seat, without the need to bring a dedicated camp chair.

Fast Setup

Oftentimes I can setup a hammock faster than a ground system. When camping on the ground, I must first scope out a suitable area and then clear it of rocks and other debris. In contrast, setting up a hammock involves clipping two nylon straps around trees — a process that takes an experienced hammock camper just a minute or two.

Reproducible and consistent setup

Hammocks can be consistently set up the exact same way, night after night. In contrast, the ground experience changes nearly every night due to ground sloping, ground cover, and surface abnormalities. Therefore, it’s easier to master the setup, and I can reliably sleep the same way each night.

Leave No Trace

It is easier to practice Leave No Trace (LNT) with a hammock:

  1. With more campsite options, hammock campers can avoid further impacting popular campsites.
  2. Hammocks do not crush or smother the plants below them.

Note: To avoid impacting trees, wide tree-straps should be used. Almost all backpacking hammocks are sold with this type of strap.

Solitude

With greater campsite availability, I can get away from habituated camping areas to find peace and quiet, and a better night of rest. Hammocks are a blessing to those that do not desire the crowded social scene at most Appalachian Trail (AT) shelters and other popular camping areas. And when better campsites exist — more aesthetic, more protected, less buggy, etc. — I can utilize them.

Water Availability

Many times it is faster and more convenient to camp near a water source, like if I am hiking on a ridge where water sources are sparse. With a hammock, I can camp near these water sources even if there are no suitable ground campsites nearby.

Protection against rain and ground water

When it’s raining and/or when the ground is wet, a hammock system is superb. The tarp keeps me protected against rain, and the hammock can be used as a dry bench seat while I am cooking or relaxing in camp.

Hammock Camping

Many people find sleeping in a hammock far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, regardless of the terrain underneath. In keeping with Leave No Trace principals, the hammock will leave the ground cover and leaves almost completely undisturbed. Pictured: Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock with Edge Tarp.

Real and potential disadvantages of hammock camping

Hammocks are not flawless, and there are a few obvious limitations:

  • To be optimally set up, trees of sufficient strength are required; and,
  • They are designed as a 1-person shelter.

Hammocks may also potentially have some less obvious drawbacks:

Weight

Comparing the weight of a hammock system against a ground system is difficult and complex. Both systems have several popular designs and configurations — Which systems should be compared? And how could we ensure that the systems being compared offer a comparable user experience, in terms of camp comfort, sleep quality, and environmental protections?

That said, generally speaking, hammock systems are slightly heavier than the lightest ground (tent) systems. But given the aforementioned difficulties of this comparison, this slight difference is not significant enough to be a solid disadvantage for hammocks. And the hammock systems that I use are far lighter than almost all conventional tent setups you’ll see on the trail.

Initial Learning Curve

Through long association and use, most backpackers are intuitively familiar with how to setup a ground system. Not to mention that most people use a ground system at home — a standard bed.

Conversely, most backpackers do not understand the first thing about backpacking hammocks. There is a bit of an art to setting up a hammock and sleeping in one. Thus, learning to hammock camp may initially take more time. As noted earlier, however, there is nothing terribly difficult about setting up a hammock, and in the long term it is probably faster to set up a hammock than a ground system.

Sleeping comfort

Yes, I know this was listed as an advantage earlier, but…

  • Some sleepers object to even a slight banana bend, which can be mostly but not entirely solved by a wide asymmetric hammock or by a bridge hammock.
  • Some people feel slightly squeezed in a hammock. In general, bridge hammocks feel a bit tighter than gathered end hammocks.

Cold comfort

While ground sleepers need to insulate their underside (against the ground, usually through a closed-cell foam or air mattress), hammock campers are even more sensitive to cooling from underneath, especially if there is wind. Even in 60-degree temperatures, convective (air current) heat loss can be significant under a hammock.

Most hammock campers will need to have effective insulation underneath their hammock, in addition to the conventional topside insulation (i.e. sleeping bag). This can be a properly installed sleeping pad, but this ground-inspired product does not translate well to hammocks, and under-quilts are widely preferred. In extreme cold temperatures, a full-sided tarp to block the wind is also very helpful.

Some knowledge and skill are required to correctly use an under-quilt and to correctly pitch a tarp. Once mastered, sleeping warm presents no major difficulties.

Hammock Camping

If there is any wind, a large well-pitched tarp is important to staying warm and dry in a hammock. Here the large Warbonnet Edge Tarp is pitched tightly against the hammock body, thus protecting the hammock and sleeper from wind and convective heat loss. Picture by Andrew Skurka; Pisgah National Forest, NC.

In less windy or rainy conditions you can use a higher and airier tarp pitch. Notice the under-quilt, which like a topside quilt will help to reduce convective heat loss.

In less windy or rainy conditions you can use a higher and airier tarp pitch. Notice the under-quilt, which like a topside quilt will help to reduce convective heat loss.

Really Cold Hammock Camping

And finally, hammock camping works quite well even in in very cold weather. I’ve comfortably slept down to around 10° F in a 3 lb (1.3 kg) hammock setup (hammock, top quilt, under quilt, tarp and suspension). That’s way lighter than most tent, sleeping bag, ground pad setups!

chameleon hammock 2000

Appalachian Trail Gear List

A 9 ounce hammock: This Gear List suggests using a hammock, which on the AT has significant comfort and performance advantages vs. a tent.

A three season (spring, summer, fall) Appalachian Trail Gear List

This gear list is fine tuned to the climate and terrain of the Appalachian trail rather than the more generic 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List which is intended to cover most of the lower 48. For instance, the AT Gear List suggests using a hammock vs. a tent, since trees are plentiful along the AT, whereas flat, rock-free places to setup a tent and sleep on the ground are scarce. For more on hammocks see: Hammock Camping Series – Part 1 – Advantages of Hammock Camping.

If you aren’t interested in hammock camping, the list also includes and alternative options for traditional (ground) camping. Since most folks will be sleeping in AT shelters it doesn’t make much sense to carry a tent, which will go unused most nights. To save weight, just carry a light tarp in the low probability that there is both no room in the shelter and that it will rain. For more conventional tent & sleeping bag options see: 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Gear List.

This gear list is suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips (possibly 3+ season) along the Appalachian Trail (In some instances, you may wish to fine-tune this list to your particular trip needs and/or backpacking style by selecting suitable optional or alternate gear in this list.) I’ve also tried to list a number or items available from major retailers like REI, e.g. the excellent and reasonably priced Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket at only 6.4 ounces!

Appalachian Trail Gear List – Summary with Weights

SECTION TOTALS Lbs
Clothing in Pack (not usually worn) 2.3 Rain jacket, warm jacket, gloves, etc.
Backpack and Gear Packaging 1.3 Backpack, stuff sacks
Sleeping Gear, Hammock, Tarp 3.1 This Gear List suggests using a hammock, which on the AT has significant advantages vs. a tent. See Advantages of Hammock Camping
Alternate Sleeping Gear – Tarp Camping
(alternate to hammock camping)
 3.3 Since most folks will be sleeping in AT shelters it doesn’t make much sense to carry a tent, which will go unused most nights.
Cooking Gear and Water Storage/Treatment 0.8 Stove, pot, cookware, water “bottles” & purification
“Essential” Gear 0.8 Maps, SOS device, first aid kit, headlamp, knife sunscreen and small items not included in above
BASE PACK WEIGHT (BPW)  8.3 BPW = all items in pack = all items above,
less “consumables” (water, food and fuel)
1 Pint of Water 1.0 Average amount carried when hiking (water plentiful)
Food – for a long weekend – 3 days, 2 nights 3.8 See Backpacking Food “…reduce food weight”
Fuel 0.2 4 fl-oz alcohol = 3.2 oz wt
Total of Consumables  5.0  Water, food, and fuel
TRAIL PACK WEIGHT (BPW + consumables) 13.3  For a long weekend – 3 day trip
Clothing Worn and Items Carried (not in pack)  4.3 Not included in pack weight: clothing worn on the trail, hat, shoes, trekking poles, stuff in pockets, etc.
Camera Equipment Gear List (new page) Details for Serious Lightweight Backpacking Cameras

Detail of Gear List Items

Clothing in Pack (not usually worn)

Clothing Item Oz Comments
Rain Jacket Outdoor Research Helium II (6.4)  6.4 From REI: less expensive than many at this weight
RainJacket (alt) Patagonia Alpine HOUDINI (6.0)  Light! Minimal with tough fabric. Pricy
RainJacket (alt) Ultimate Direction, Ultra Jkt 5.9  Light, great ventilation options, built-in mitts
Rain Pants Outdoor Research Helium 6.0 Light. Not insanely expensive
Rainpants (alt) Rain chaps or rain kilt (2.0 oz) For trips with low probability of rain, or warm rain
Mid-layer top North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip 7.9 For use as a mid-layer (and as a “windshirt”)
Windshell Don’t bring anymore If cold & windy, will layer rainjacket over my fleece
Warm jacket West. Mtn. Hooded Flash Jacket 10.5 Warmth Important for rest stops and in camp.
Warm pants Western Mountain. Flash (6.5) CampSaver is one of the few places to get these great pants For colder weather. Or folks that run cold in camp
Warm hat OR Option Balaclava 1.8 Warmer than hat – great for quilt w/o hood!
Warm hat Mtn Hdw Power Stretch Balaclava 1.2 Warmer than hat – great for quilt w/o hood!
Liner gloves DuraGlove ET Charcoal Wool (2.5) Great liner glove – light, warm, durable!
Camp gloves Glacier Glove fingerless fleece (2.0)  2.0 Dexterity at camp chores or climbing in cold weather
Rain Mitts ZPacks Challenger Rain Mitts (1.0) 1.0 For intermittent use. Expensive.
Rain Mitts (alt) MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2)  1.2 For intermittent use.
Rain Mitts (alt) Outdoor Research Revel (3.5) For constant use: waterproof, durable, grip palm
Spare socks DeFeet Wolleators or
SmartWool PhD Light Mini
1.8 Will bring to wash & switch between pairs
Sleeping socks DeFeet Woolie Boolie (3.0) No day use; sleeping and dry camp only
Sleeping top Patagonia long sleeve Cap LW (3.5) Dry/clean for camp. Only bring in very wet climates
Sleeping bot. Patagonia Capilene LW (3.4 oz) Dry/clean for camp. Only bring in very wet climates
Sleeping (alt) Terramar Thermasilk top & bot Inexpensive alternative to expensive base layers
TOTAL 2.3  Lb

Backpack and Gear Packaging

Packing Item Oz Comments
Pack opt 1 Mountain Laurel Designs 3500ci EXODUS (17 oz)  17.0 No frame. Almost all Dyneema. Very little mesh. Ideal for AT and shorter trips. [award winner]
Pack opt 1 Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider (28 oz) For  those that want a frame. Light, super durable, seam sealed bag, good carrying capacity, good pockets. More $ [award winner]
Pack (alt) Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 (26 oz) Has frame. Durable. Right volume for AT. Record setting pack.
Pack (alt) Osprey Exos 38 Pack (34 oz) Mainstream commercial pack, readily available
Waterproofing for pack 2x Gossamer Gear Pack Liner (1.8) (alternate: a trash compactor bag) (1) liner for sleeping bag and insulating clothes
(1) liner for everything else
Food storage Quart-sized HD freezer bag 0.5 For storing organizing ‘todays’ snack food
Food storage Aloksak OP Sak 12.5″ x 20″ (1.0) control food scent – attract less animal attention
Bear canister Bear Vault BV500 (41) or Wild-Ideas Weekender (31) (when reg’s require) Wild-Ideas is lighter but pricy. Bear Vault is a better value
Stuff sacks For sleeping bag, clothes, etc. 2.0 Silnylon: keep gear organized, clean, protected
Map sleeve Gallon-sized freezer bag 0.5 Gallon: fewer map folds & shows more map area
Eyewear case padded nylon sleeve + Ziplock bag 0.4 No need for a heavy rigid case
TOTAL 1.3  Lb

Sleeping Gear and Hammock Camping Setup

Sleep+Shelter Item Oz Comments
Hammock Shelter Setup – For more on hammocks see: Hammock Camping Series
(for conventional ground sleeping options see “Alternate Camping with a Tarp” below.
Hammock Dutchware Half-Wit
(with Hexon 1.0 fabric )
 12.5 Light, all essential features & bug protection. Value!
(weight includes kevlar/whoopie suspension)
Sleeping Quilt Hammock Gear Burrow “+30” 14.5 (+40F + 2 oz over fill = “+30F”) Great value
Under Quilt Hammock Gear Phoenix “+30”  14.0 60″ long: (+40F + 2 oz over fill = “+30F”) Value
Tarp Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp  7.0 Hammock specific tarp (wt incl. ridgelines & guylines)
Tarp (value) Hammock Bliss XL Rain Fly (18.0) Inexpensive and serviceable hammock tarp
Stakes 8 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes .5oz ea 4.0 Hold better than skewer stakes. Red easier to find!
Guylines 3mm MSR Reflective Utility Cord  2.4mm reflect cord (8×4-ft lines) 1.0 2 to 3mm – all work well – diameter your preference
TOTAL 3.1  Lb

Alternate Camping with a Tarp  (if not Hammock Camping)

Since most folks will be sleeping in AT shelters it doesn’t make much sense to carry a tent, which will go unused most nights. To save weight, just carry a light tarp in the low probability that there is both no room in the shelter and that it will rain. For more conventional tent & sleeping bag options see: 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Gear List.

Sleep+Shelter Item Oz Comments
Sleeping Bag Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt “+30” Pers fave. Great value! (with 2 oz over fill = “+30F”)
Sleeping Bag (alternate) Western Mountaineering SummerLite (19)  19.0 Conventional +32 sleeping bag. Light, warm, highest quality, long loft retention
Sleeping Pad T-Rest NeoAir X-lite “Women’s” 12.1 Perfect size for most. Warm. Super comfortable!
For more shelter options see: Recommended Tents, Tarps, and other Shelters
Tent (alt) TarpTent ProTrail – 1 pers (26oz) Full rain & bug protection for one person (has floor)
Tent (alt) Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 (33 oz) REI: Freestanding tent for those who feel they need it
Tent/Shelter (alternate) MLD Grace Duo Tarp Silnylon (15) Cuben (7.8)  15.0 Pers fave for many trips: Huge coverage. Low weight. Great ventilation and views.
Bivy MLD Superlight Bivy (7.0) Perfect with tarp. When bringing will cowboy camp under stars most nights
Ground cloth Gossamer Gear Polycryo M (1.6) 1.6 Not needed with a bivy or shelters with a floor
Stakes 8 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes .5oz ea 4.0 Hold better than skewer stakes. Red easier to find!
Guylines 3mm MSR Reflective Utility Cord  2.4mm reflect cord (8×4-ft lines) 1.0 2 to 3mm – all work well – diameter your preference
TOTAL 3.3  Lb

Cooking Gear and Water Storage/Treatment

Cook/Water Item Oz Comments
Bottles Sawyer 64 oz Squeezable Pouch 1.5 For collecting treating water in camp – dry camps
Bottles Sawyer 32 oz Squeezable Pouch 1.0 Use during the day (note: Platypus doesn’t fit Sawyer)
Purification Sawyer filter (3.0) 3.0 To drink on the spot – greatly reduces water cary
Purification Chlorine Dioxide tablets 0.5 For treating 2L bladder in camp
Cookset Trail Designs Toaks 900ml Pot, Sidewinder Ti-Tri, 4fl-oz fuel bottle 5.3 Lightest, most practical cookset on the market.
Zelph StarLyte Burner stores unburned fuel.
Cookset (alt) Jetboil Zip Cooking System, Jetpower 100 Fuel Canister (18.5) EZ to use. Much heavier than the alcohol stove cookset. Not “green” with non-recyclable canisters.
Pot (bargain) Open Country 3 Cup Pot (3.8) As good as a titanium pot but only $16
Cookset(cheap) TD $40-$50 pot/cookset option  Stay tuned: Working on what this will be
Fuel container Boston Round Bottle 4 fl-oz (0.8)
or TD Fuel Bottle Kit
(5 fl-oz act. cap) use squirt spout top for and medicine cup accurate dispensing
Ignition Standard (not micro) BIC lighter 0.2 Larger is easier to use with cold hands
Mug Snow Peak Ti Single 450 Cup (2.4)
Fave: MLD 475 Ti mug (1.3oz)
1.3 Eat breakfast & have coffee at same time
Bowl/Mug (alt) Ziplock 14 fl-oz bowl (0.6 oz) Pers fave: “mug” and/or bowl. Cheap, light, available
Mug (alt) Starbucks “$1,” 16 fl-oz cup (1.6oz) Readily available, inexpensive, reasonably durable
Utensil Plastic spoon with big shovel 0.3 spoon handle cut to fit in pot
Coffee brew MSR MugMate Coffee Filter (1.0) For using ground coffee (and not Starbuck’s VIA)
TOTAL 0.8  Lb

“Essential” Gear (smaller items not included in above)

Essentials Item Oz Comments
MAPS 11X17 Custom Maps in ZipLock 2.0 Mapped with CalTopo and printed at Kinkos
Charging 6000mAh Anker batt + cable (5.1) for longer tips (~1.5 iPhone6 charges)
SOS/Tracker Preferred: inReach SE (6.9) 2-way communication (a big deal!), visible GPS coordinates, and trip tracking+SOS
SOS/Track (alt) SPOT Gen3 (4.8) Disadvantages: only 1-way com, no vis. GPS coord.
GPS & Comm Iridium 9555 SatPhone (9.7 oz)
or Iridium GO!
Make no mistake: voice communication is still the gold-standard for high risk trips
Optics ROXANT 7×18 monocular (2.0) Light: scouting/route finding, decent, inexpensive
Optics (alt) MINOX BV II 8×25 binoc’s (10.8) Scouting, much better wildlife observation, value
Pen/pencil Fisher Space Pen Stowaway 0.2 To mark up maps, take notes about trip
Toothbrush GUM 411 Classic Toothbrush 0.4 Full head. minimal handle (but not cut in 1/2)
Toothpaste Travel size 1/2 full 0.7
Toilet paper Whatever is on the roll at home 1.0 TP only for polish, use found materials first
Soap/sanitizer Dr. Bronners 0.5 Dr. Bronner’s – repackaged into small bottle
Sunscreen small plastic tube about 1/2 full 0.5 for face & hands: most of body covered—large hat
Lip balm Bert’s Bees or similar 0.2 Minimal wt for dedicated lip balm
First Aid Kit Meds, wound/injury, foot care 3.0 See detailed list at bottom
Headnet Sea to Summit Head Net (1.2) Mosquito netting – don’t take on most trips
Insect repell. Repel Pen Pump Insect Repellent
Sawyer Maxi-DEET Spray (0.5)
Convenient size; effective. Sawyer preferred.
Foot care kit Bonnie’s Balm in small balm jar 0.5 In case of wet feet. Never get blisters.
Compass Suunto M-3D Compass (1.6) 1.6 Lightest compass with declination adjustment
Knife/scissors Wescott blunt tip school scissors 0.9 More useful than knife – OK for plane carryon
Knife Gerber L.S.T. Drop Point (1.2 oz) Can cut bread and salami – very light for 2.6″ blade
Knife (alt) Spyderco Ladybug Knife (0.6) 2″ blade – one of the lightest functional knives
Firestarter Bic Mini Lighter + trash 0.2 Energy bar wrappers are great fire starter
Light BD Ion ii headlamp (45g) 1.6 2 AAAs + headband. Bright, efficient dimmable LED
(slide/touch operation a bit wonky, so not for all)
Light (alt) Fenix LD02 w spare battery (1.0) Best mini light available, attach to hat brim with clip
Repair Tenacious patch, duct tape, glue  0.2 Also consider NeoAir patch kit, and Aquaseal
Finance/ID ID, CCs, and cash in snack ZipLock 0.2 More secure on me than left in car
TOTAL 0.8 Lb

Clothing Worn and Items Carried (stuff not in pack)

Worn/Carried Item Oz Comments
Shirt SmartWool Micro T Short-Sleeve 4.5 Light, comfortable. On trail, in shade. No need for sleeves. (put on fleece for cold/windy Wx)
Shirt (alt) SmartWool NTS lightweight zip (8) Shirt & baselayer: for colder weather
Pants Rail Riders X-Treme Adventure (16) Pers fave. Very durable, no velcro on pockets!
Pants (alt) REI Sahara convertable pants (14)  14.0 On trail, in shade: will hike in shorts most days.
Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
Underwear Patagonia briefs 2.0 Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days
Bra Lighter, quick drying spots bra Not an expert on this one!
Shoes Inov-8 ROCLITE 295 (20oz) 20.0 Pers fave. Light, sticky rubber, durable, low heel rise
Shoes (alt) Brooks Cascadia (25 oz) Very popular trail shoe for LW backpackers
Shoes (alt) Lightweight trail running shoes Most non-Goretex trail running shoes that fit well
Socks DeFeet Wolleators or
SmartWool PhD Light Mini
1.8 Wolleators are pers fave. Light, thin, warm, simple, durable
Gaiters Dirty Girl gaiters (1.2 oz) I rarely find the need for gaiters
Headwear Nylon Ball Cap 2.0 Mostly shade on AT. No need for killer sun protection
Watch Suunto Core with positive display 2.2 compass, altimeter, multifunction timepiece. No GPS
Watch/GPS Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire (3 oz) Accurate trip track: GPS, compass, altimeter, time
Sunglasses Rx and non-Rx (polarized) 1.0 http://www.zennioptical.com/ for cheap Rx options
Glasses Zenni clear Rx glasses (1.0 oz) Great glasses! for $20 or so. But 2-3 week delivery
Camera Canon S120 + extra battery (8 oz) Balance of wt, size, image qual; less $ than RX100
Camera (alt) Sony RX100 or Sony a6000 See Serious Lightweight Backpacking Cameras
GPS/Comm Iphone 6+ Ziplock baggie (7.5) 7.5 Primary GPS & map source (not leaving in car!)
Poles bargain Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon 15.2 Pers fave. 1/3 price but equal to the best poles
Trek Poles REI Carbon Power Lock (16 oz)
BD Carbon Alpine (18 oz)
Stiff, light, travel-friendly, won’t break off-trail/rough terrain (readily available)
TOTAL 4.3  Lb

First Aid Kit (detail)

First Aid Item Oz Comments
Pain, fever inflammation Naprosyn (Aleve), Ibuprofen, or Tylenol (fever) 0.4 In ziplock pill bag available at pharmacies
Foot/blister Gauze + Leukotape Tape 0.3 For taping over blisters, or pre-blister areas
Foot/blister Tincture of benzoin in micro-bottle 0.2 For getting tape or Bandaids to REALLY stick!
Wound care Bandaids + gel blister covers 0.5 Assorted sizes – your preference
Wound care Antibact. packets + wound wipes 0.4 Wound cleansing, infection prevention
OTC meds Benadryl, Sudafed, Nexium, Imodium, caffeine tablets 0.4 All in tablet/pill form
Rx meds Personal Dr’s Rx meds 0.4
Pain serious Dr’s Rx Painkiller 0.2 For serious injury, tooth abscess, etc.
Storage/org Bag Poly 5×8  to hold 1st Aid Kit 0.2  Keep size down. Can only put in what can fit in bag.
TOTAL 3.0  Oz (included in “Essential” Gear)
pack-corisca-slide-2

A 15 pound pack for a weekend trip? At these pack weights, backpacking feels more like day hiking. It’s hard to describe how freeing this is until you experience it. The trail miles melt away. Without the misery of a heavy pack you can actually appreciate the beauty of the land you’re hiking through. You get into camp early, with plenty of time and energy to do almost anything.

The Big 3

Look at The Big Three:1) Backpack, 2) Tent/Shelter, and 3) Sleeping bag (or quilt)
You stand to loose a bunch of weight from these: as much as 10 to 12 pounds.

Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds
(see Recommended Backpacks)
MLD-exodus-small

Take a Tent/Shelter that weighs less than two pounds
(see Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters)
mld-trailstar

Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds
(see Recommended Sleeping Bags and Quilts)
quilt-sleeping

 

Please check back periodically.

This list will be expanded over the next six months to a year to include recommend equipment for all gear categories. For the time being, this will be a list of recommended gear for the “Big Three,” Backpacks, Sleeping Bags (and Quilts), and Tents (to include all forms of shelter).

Down to the Canyons of Utah – Another year of the spiritual spaces and beauty of the canyons and mesa.

Photographs (except as noted) taken by Alan with an Olympus E-30 digital SLR (info on cameras) and Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens. More on lightweight photograpy…

Backpacking Photography Gear Lists

The Trip in Brief


Dawn on a ledge 600 feet above the Escalante. Our last campsite.


Cottonwoods glowing in early morning light.

A wash in late afternoon sun.

Finally working our way to the the mid-day shade of a deep Escalante canyon.

 

Trip Start – detailed report

Our trip began with the most exciting 4-wheeling either of us has ever done. Apparently, Kane County is not interested in grading roads to trail heads.


We arrived at trailhead at an earlybird 3:00pm (note low sun) and jumped in.

Starting off always requires a walk “into nowhere”. Somewhere in this vast expanse of slickrock we needed to drop into a deep canyon at a very specific place.

We’ve located the right spot and are preparing to downclimb into the canyon.

Into a sunlit wash that feeds into the Escalante River

We walked for about five hours before dropping our stuff at this arch campsite surrounded with fragrant sage.

As we approach the Escalante, the canyon walls get higher and shade increases


Al got to see her first real Indian ruins, a granary. How they got up there, is anybody’s guess.

Finally, walking down the canyon of the Escalante with its orange-red mid-day light

With river levels at record lows (snow pack 40% of normal) crossing the Escalante was not difficult. We crossed or waded it often to get better footing and faster hiking on the benches on either side of the river. Frequent crossings left our feet wet all day. The next morning, we again got to put on our wet shoes.


It seemed every bend was an opportunity for a new photograph.

We entered a side canyon and headed for the rim. As we climbed past the Kayenta, we passed
this detached pillar of Navajo sandstone.

In early evening, we climbed up a striated sandstone ramp past old Indian caves.

Our first view. The gorge of the Escalante is below (behind the green bushes, not seen in this photo) and the white Navajo domes of Circle Cliffs in the distance. Al is standing below the arrow in the next picture


A breathtaking perch

Nearly 1,000 feet above the Escalante, a superb view


Alan climbed a few dicey slabs to get a bit higher. A Navajo dome at the top of our world.

A close-up of the flowers in the lower right corner of the previous picture.

We climbed back down to a dream campsite at a spring-fed desert oasis. A waterfall sits right next to our sleeping bags. We slept to the frogs singing (croaking) to us all night… ALL NIGHT.


Sleeping-bag-view the next morning.

Moving down the Escalante again. This tower marks an abandoned meander where the Escalante used to run.

We did more bouldering up clogged streambeds and bushwhacking thru willows and tamarisk than we wanted.

Spring pools not shown on any map….a surprising find given the severe drought.

A jagged wingate tower above the pools.

On our last night, we climbed 600 feet above the Escalante River to camp on this ledge.


A Long-nosed Leopard Lizard kept us company on the ledge.


Sunset view from our camp.

A bit later in the evening — the other direction.

And a stunning dawn view from our campsite the next morning.

After taking photos. We left camp and walked along ledges on the canyon wall (described as “the finest ledge walk in the Escalante”). After we were over the canyon rim it was a very long march without stopping through sand and Navajo domes. Difficult overland navigation and blazing desert sun. We were though all 4 L of water each by the time we reached the car at 3:00 pm. Zero food and zero water after 7 days is excellent planning on our part.

Parting Shot

Trail head and our car which blessedly has a spare gallon of water in the back.

 

“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—a hammock is likely the best sleep system.”

This is part of a three part series


Hammock camping in cold weather is an advanced skill, perhaps even more so than ground camping in the same weather. For beginner hammock campers, test your system on low-risk, short-term outings first in order to develop your skills and know-how. Note the full-length under quilt for winter temps. Photo by Jack Tier of Jacks 'R' Better.

Hammock camping in cold weather is an advanced skill, perhaps even more so than ground camping in the same weather. For beginner hammock campers, test your system on low-risk, short-term outings first in order to develop your skills and know-how. Note the full-length under quilt for winter temps. Photo by Jack Tier of Jacks ‘R’ Better.

Shopping tips: How to assemble a functional hammock system

The hammock

Buy your hammock from a manufacturer that specializes in backpacking hammocks. Make sure it is designed for nightlong sleeping, not just afternoon napping.

A few light hammock models use smaller dimensions that may confine you. For example, the Grand Trunk Nano-7 Hammock, and the BIAS Weight Weenie Micro 52 Hammock are both only around 50-52 inches wide, versus the 65″ wide of the Warbonnet Blackbird. Shorter and/or narrower hammocks also limit your ability to sleep flatter on a diagonal to the hammock’s center-line.

Even a light hammock should be full sized and functional. The 12 oz, $75 Dream Hammock FreeBird is a full 11 feet long and 60 inches wide.

Even a light hammock should be full sized and functional. The 12 oz, $75 Dream Hammock FreeBird is a full 11 feet long and 60 inches wide.

Some campers pushing into the 175+ lb weight range are fine with lighter hammock body fabrics (e.g. 1.0-1.1 oz nylon). Other campers in the 175+ lb weight range feel that these lighter hammocks do not give enough body support even if they are technically within the hammock’s weight range, and therefore opt for 1.7-1.9 oz or heavier hammock body fabrics.

The tarp

Buy a tarp with adequate coverage. To sleep warm and dry in a hammock you need to keep wind and rain away from your hammock body. Smaller diamond or asymmetric tarps, e.g. the Hennessey Hyperlite Rainfly, affectionately known by some as a “napkin tarp,” may not provide adequate protection from blowing rain, or from the cooling effects of wind. While a few ounces heavier, a more pragmatic choice may be a larger hammock-specific “hex” tarp. A fairly standard hex size is a 10.5-foot ridgeline with an 8.5-foot width.

Due to spreader bar width, bridge hammocks may require a wider tarp than gathered end hammocks. (Pictured Warbonnet Ridge Runner hammock)

Due to spreader bar width, bridge hammocks may require a wider tarp than gathered end hammocks. (Pictured Warbonnet Ridge Runner hammock)

Due to the large tarps typically used with hammocks, some campers have opted to go with Spinnaker or Cuben fabric tarps to save weight. Compared to sil-nylon, Cuben fiber weighs half as much, but costs 2-3x as much (about $250-300 for a hammock tarp).

The under-quilt

Buy a good under-quilt for your hammock. Its performance will be much superior to a ground pad, even if you have a double-layer hammock to properly control the pad.

A good under quilt will make a critical difference for warmth and comfort. Some use a 3/4 length quilt and use a small pad under their feet, typically a foam sit-pad (which I prefer). Others opt for a full length under quilt.

A good under quilt will make a critical difference for warmth and comfort. Some use a 3/4 length quilt and use a small pad under their feet, typically a foam sit-pad (which I prefer). Others opt for a full length under quilt.

The top quilt

Buy a top quilt when you can afford one — they are much more hammock-friendly than conventional mummy bags. In the interim you can use an unzipped mummy spread out like a quilt.

Suspension systems

Avoid fussing about exotic suspension systems and hanging hardware. The basic webbing suspension systems supplied by manufacturers like JRB and Warbonnet are excellent — inexpensive, easy to use, and strong. At most, they weigh a few more ounces than more expensive exotic suspension systems.

Drip lines

If you own a gathered end asymmetric hammock, make sure you have drip lines, or place a carabiner on the suspension system near the attachment to the hammock body. Otherwise, water will run down the suspension and into your hammock. Bridge hammocks do not share this problem.

Some Great Hammock Choices

In addition, I’ve listed key hammock manufactures and purchasing resources below. I own and like hammocks from all these companies. I know all their owners personally. They produce excellent hammocks that have widespread use and good reputations. Most also offer all the hammock accessories you might need, top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Give them a call if you have questions on how to equip or comment below and I’ll try and answer.

Company Hammock Oz Comments
Dutchware Chameleon  17.5* Light & Superbly Versatile. Adaptable to every season from humid summer days to winter use. Full review here which also compares it to Hennessy and Warbonnet hammocks. [5 day turnaround time.]
Hennessy Hyperlight Asym Zip 22 Tom Hennessy is considered the man responsible for modern backpacking hammocks as we know them & has the patents to prove it. This is their lightest hammock & available at REI.
Warbonnet Blackbird  22 A longtime hammock manufacturer. Blackbird is their most popular hammock. A well thought out and functional design. [Only 1 week wait]
Jacks ‘R’ Better Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock 32 Another veteran hammock Co. The Jacks ‘R’ Better hammocks use a bridge design that gives a flatter lie than the gathered-end (traditional) hammocks above. [Almost all JRB stuff is off-the-shelf and ready to ship.]
Dutchware 11 ft Netless  8.0* Ultralight and only $42! It’s my favorite hammock for littel to no bug pressure (much of Spring and Fall). Simple and functional. [Only 1 day turnaround time.]
AntiGravity-Gear Quicksilver UL 10.4 Another inexpensive, light, no nonsense, netless hammock that comes with a very light suspension system.
Hammock Gear All hammock accessories n/a Great supplier of everything else you need for hammocks. Top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Some very light gear and some great values including their $150 Econ +20F down quilt.

* Weights are approximate, and unless noted include MFR’s suspension (cord to hang hammock and wide tree straps to protect trees—important for LNT!). Dutchware Chameleon and Netless hammocks weights are with my own Kevlar tree straps.
approx. 24 oz if you can use your trekking poles as the spreader bars.

Hammock-specific How To resources

The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping, by Derek Hansen, is an excellent and comprehensive book for hammock camping. And the Kindle version is only $3.99.

Hammock Forums is the largest online resource for information on hammocks. Like any large internet forum, its well intended members offer an incredible wealth of information. Also, as with any large internet forum, there is a smidge of less-than-perfect information, plus a couple of folks who are hanging in a different planetary orbit.

Warbonnet Outdoors has two useful how-to sections on its website: Hammocks 101 and setup videos.

Hennessy Hammock also has very good how-to videos.

Dutchware Product’s amusing videos are fun even if you don’t buy his stuff, though he does design some good products too.

Hammock Camping — The Basics

Derek Hansen, author of The Ultimate Hang, is an advanced hammock camper and excellent illustrator. If you have learned nothing else from this 3-part series, study Derek’s illustration below.

hansen-hammock-basics

 

What critical tips for first-timers are missing?

If you are a veteran hammock camper and feel that I missed some important tips — in this post, or one of the first two — for first-time hammock campers, please submit it as a comment, below.

“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—hammock camping is likely the best sleep system.”
Types of Backpacking Hammocks: is the second part of  this three part series.


Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A complete hammock system: hammock, tarp + guylines & stakes, topside sleeping quilt (inside, not visible), and under-quilt (not visible). Pisgah National Forest, NC

There are two main Types of backpacking hammocks on the market:

  1. Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks
  2. Bridge Hammocks

The sleeping position of both designs is relatively flat, not banana-shaped as customarily found with backyard furniture hammocks. Both designs normally feature integrated or removable no-see-um bug netting. Finally, additional components are usually needed to complete a hammock system:

  • Tarp for protection against rain and wind
  • Sleeping quilt, worn atop the sleeper, to reduce convective heat loss
  • Under-quilt, secured below the sleeper usually on the outside of the hammock, to reduce convective heat loss

Gathered End Asymmetric Hammock

This is by far the most prevalent camping hammock design. It is named for its two most distinct features:

  1. Its ends are gathered into a single bunch, and
  2. It has an asymmetric shape (i.e. not symmetric) that allows the sleeper to lay diagonally to its center-line, which is a flatter sleeping position than the banana-shape of the center-line.

It’s important to note that the diagonal sleeping position is enabled not just by the asymmetrical cut, but by the width of the hammock. An excessively narrow hammock, even if it is asymmetric, will not have enough material for a flat-ish sleeping position. There are two main advantages of a gathered end asymmetric hammock over the other common design, the bridge hammock (discussed below):

  1. Lighter weight
  2. Roomier, less constrictive feel
Types of Backpacking Hammocks

Typical gathered end hammock: Warbonnet (WB) Blackbird with Yeti under-quilt. Porcupine Mountains Sate Park, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A gathered end hammock made by George “Tin Man” Andrews (self-portrait), being used as a camp chair during a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in California.

Bridge Hammock

This design uses flat, non-gathered ends that are reinforced with a spreader bar. The resulting hammock shape is more of a flat, trough-like half-tube, versus the curved banana-shape (but not sleeping position) of a gathered end hammock. The bridge hammock provides a flatter sleeping position than the gathered end hammock, with less fuss and body adjustments, too. However, it has two potential drawbacks:

  1. The spreader bars add weight to the system; however, most designs allow trekking poles to be used as substitutes.
  2. Some sleepers may find that its tubular shape is more constrictive.
Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

About those under-quilts

To insulate themselves against the ground, which will steal heat from a ground sleeper through conduction, ground sleepers use closed-cell foam pads or air mattresses. Hammock sleepers can also lose heat from their underside, but due to air convention, especially if there is a wind. There are two options for reducing this heat loss: 1. Use a double-layer hammock to capture and control the ground-pad. The pad is inserted between the two layers of fabric. This extra layer of fabric adds weight, but it will securely fix the ground pad in place. Double-layer hammocks are popular for this reason. 2. Use an under-quilt. A better solution is to use a hammock-specific under-quilt, which increases the warmth and comfort of a hammock. It also increases the weight and expense of a hammock system, but by no more than would a NeoAir mattresses from Therm-a-Rest, which are extraordinarily popular with ground sleepers. As an added perk, you will not get dizzy inflating an under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down -- a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down — a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Hammock specs compared to ground systems

  • How much does a hammock system weigh and cost?
  • And how does the weight and expense compare to conventional ground systems?

As explained in Part I of this 3-part hammock series, it’s very difficult to compare hammocks and ground systems. Each system has several popular designs and an almost infinite number of configurations; there is no “standard.” Moreover, it’d be a challenge to find two systems that offer the exact same features and user experience. Nevertheless, I have tried, below. Each system offers a standard level of protection against rain, ground water, wind, and bugs. Each system also includes underside insulation, through either an under-quilt or a sleeping pad. Topside insulation (i.e. sleeping quilt) was not included into the weight or expense of these systems because this component would not change across systems.

The conclusion you should reach is that hammock systems weigh and cost about the same as “comparable” ground systems. Other considerations—such as where you normally backpack, whether you want a one-person or multi-person shelter, if you have already invested in gear that is optimal for one system or the other, and if you are struggling to sleep well with your current system—will drive decisions about whether you are better off with a hammock or ground system.

Gathered end asymmetric hammock system

  • Blackbird Hammock, including webbing suspension ($190, 21 oz)
  • Yeti 3-season under-quilt ($190, 12 oz)
  • Edge Tarp with guylines and four stakes ($85, 13 oz)

Total: $465, 46 oz (2.9 lbs) Based on Warbonnet Outdoors products and pricing

Bridge hammock system

  • BMBH Hammock (UL) , including webbing suspension ($190, 23 oz)
  • Trekking poles (as substitute for spreader bars)
  • Greylock, 3-season under-quilt ($190, 14 oz)
  • Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($100, 16 oz)

Total: $480, 53 oz (3.3 lbs) Based on Jacks ‘R’ Better products and pricing


Ultralight hammock system (no bug net)

Total: $464, 26 oz (1.6 lbs)


Ultralight hammock system (full bug net)

  • Dream Hammock Darien UL, including suspension hardware ($180, 13 oz)
  • Hammock Gear Phoenix 3/4-length, 3-season under-quilt ($144, 9 oz)
  • MLD Cuben Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($300, 10 oz)

Tarptent system

  • Tarptent Contrail  ($225, 24 oz)
  • Guylines and stakes (included, 2 oz)
  • NeoAir, Air mattress ($160, 12 oz)

Total: $385, 38 oz (2.4 lbs) Based on TarpTent  and Therm-a-Rest products and pricing

Ultralight tarp/bivy system

  • Gossamer Gear SilTwinn Tarp with guylines and stakes ($175, 16 oz)
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad ($20, 5 oz)
  • Moutain Laural Designs Water-resistant bivy sack ($170, 8 oz)

Total: $365, 29 oz (1.8 lbs) Based on Gossamer Gear and Mountain Laurel Designs products and pricing