by Gary Howes
Guns and Gunsmiths Editor
You may recall an earlier article I wrote about the necessity to make changes to our camping equipment in order to allow for the lack of flexibility that occurs as we get a little longer in the tooth. Mainly, the need to be able to avoid having to get up and down from the ground all the time, and to “raise the bar” so to speak with our camp setup.
In that article I mentioned that I had received a camping hammock as a Christmas present from my family (were they hinting at me to get lost?) and last weekend I finally had the chance to head for the hills and try it out. As I mentioned before, sleeping on the ground on a pad made it hard in my dotage to get up in the middle of the night to water the nearby trees, so some time ago I bought a folding army cot to help. Problem is, that cot was about as comfortable as sleeping on a rough-sawn plank, so I decided to give hammock camping a try.
Below, I have broken down the steps to swinging in the trees for you, and will then give you my “expert” opinion on this form of repose.
Step 1: Hang the hammock.
This is pretty simple as long as you remember a few details.
- Clear the area under your hammock of rocks and other stuff that will puncture your body should you fall out of the hammock (and you probably will at least once.)
- Use special hammock-hanging straps rather than rope to avoid cutting into the bark of the trees and damaging them.
- Make sure the hammock lies at about thigh-level in the middle so you can easily sit back into it.
Other than that, setting up the hammock is a snap. Here’s what mine looked like.
Step 2: Keep your bum warm.
The weekend I went camping it was over 100 degrees during the day, but even so the temperature plummeted during the night. And with your derriere hanging in the air with just a thin film of nylon under it, you WILL get a frozen butt if you are not careful. That’s where a specialty product like a hammock underblanket comes into play.
Suspended under the hammock on elastic cords and not so tight that it compresses and loses its insulating ability, this quilt kept the cold out on the bottom and sides. All I had to do to stay as snug as a bug in a
rug hammock, was unzip my sleeping bag and use it as a blanket on top to stay perfectly warm, even a quite low temperatures.
It looks like this when attached:
Step 3: Setting A Tarp Overhead
You might want a little protection over your head to keep falling leaves, drop bears, or rain off your face while you sleep, so erecting a tarp is your alternative to the tent.
This can also be broken down into a few simple steps:
- Stretch a ridge line above the hammock. I used a long length of paracord for this and used a trucker’s knot at one end so I could get it as tight as a guitar string. There are several different ways of tying this knot, and the one I used is actually called a truckie’s hitch and employs a simple sheepshank knot that comes apart easily even if it gets wet. You can find many videos of Youtube that teach you these knots.
- Suspend the tarp under the ridge line using your tarp loops or carabiners. If your tarp doesn’t have center loops you can also throw the tarp over the ridge line. This is where a really good quality camping tarp comes into its own. Unlike one of those cheap blue or silver plastic tarps from Wally World, the tarp I use is made of top quality waterproof nylon that packs quite small, has reinforced webbing loops all around and in the center of the tarp, and double stitched with waterproofed taped seams. Not inexpensive though, so don’t use this tarp for hauling trash to the landfill.
- Stake out the sides and use a few sticks to prop up the sides if necessary.
As you can see in the photo, I also hung the tarp “off-center”. That gave me adequate protection on one side of the hammock from the weather, and enough tarp on the other side to give me a good size shady area for hanging out, cooking etc.
To stretch the tarp along the ridge line I used two small prusik loops and carabiners. NEVER tighten a good tarp by tying rope to the eyelets or loops and tying directly to the trees. You will eventually tear out the eyelets and stretch the tarp out of shape. Here’s what the prusik loop looks like:
But was it comfortable and suitable for us “senior citizens”?
The results are in and the verdict is…
The best nights sleep I have ever had camping! (Except when my wife and I go “camping” in our motorhome.) It was easy to get in and out of, kept me out of the dirt, and was extremely comfortable all night. You can still roll onto your side without falling out, and if you sleep at a slight diagonal, you remain fairly flat and don’t feel like a banana.
I’m sold–this is now going to be my camping solution. That is unless I go camping in the desert and there are no trees to hang from.
What do you think? Have I been able to convince any of you other old farts that you can still dust off the camping gear and hit the hills? I hope so.