A while ago I got the idea of doing an unsupported trip from Berlin to the Baltic sea. It’s a little over 200 km, far from impossible to do especially considering I was going to use my road bike, but managing the additional gear would become a hassle if I didn’t spend a fortune on bike bags like these.
There had to be another way, so I looked around to find a light solution. Primarily for sleeping gear as the biggest and heaviest part on the list. Good rest would make or break the trip, so thorough planning was essential. After some search, I found my solution: Hammocks.
What previously was only known to me as some niche form of relaxation seemed to offer a lightweight means of sleeping and had the added benefit of being off the ground (as I didn’t have a clue about the dangers of wild animals) and visibility over the area you sleep in. So I started my search for a suitable hammock, checking reddit, amazon and whatever forums or reviews I could find.
As the weekend was only a couple of days away, I had to go for a local solution. The first thing that came into my mind was Decathlon, then Globetrotter. Decathlon unfortunately did not have hammocks in stock any more (too bad, they are the cheapest option at 10 €) and before I crossed half the city to Globetrotter, I wanted to check the local mountaineering shop for dry bags. Little did I know I would also find hammocks there. The Amazonas Moskito-Traveller hammock caught my eye, having a stealthy greenish color and an integrated bug net. I looked up some reviews on it and decided to go with that solution together with some ropes and carabiners.
After a test-hang at home, I concluded that it would be a decent solution, gathered all necessary things, attached them to the bike and went my way on Friday evening.
I set up my camp at 12 pm after 100 km, quite exhausted and at the first best place that wouldn’t need a machete to access trees. There were flies everywhere and I was extremely grateful for the bugnet. When I finally got in the hammock, I was too hot at first, then got some sleep and awoke early in the morning, feeling a little cold. But all in all, my sleep was good enough, so the tour continued.
Over the course of the trip, I learned a lot about hammocking gear while my experiments are not over yet, here is a rundown for you:
My choice was actually quite a good one as the hammock is light, long and has the bugnet included (can be turned around and used without. Beware: Bugs can still bite you from underneath if you’re lying on your bare skin. The rope construction near the end of the hammock is a thing I don’t like too much though, so I may get another.
An important fact for comfort is length: This one is 3,5 m long, so it’s really comfortable to sleep in, don’t get one that is too short . Width is nice, but non-essential. I now have a two-person one as well, but the comfort is similar.
Ropes (or, as it’s usually called: suspension)
The ropes I bought did their job of holding me above the ground well, but I soon realized some drawbacks:
- The climbing rope was very elastic, the hammock would hang way lower with me in it than without.
- As the rope’s cross-section was round, it had a tendency of rolling down the tree a little every time I laid down in the hammock, even when wrapped twice around the tree.
Both problems weren’t critical, but I had to find a better, low-cost alternative. And I found it in straps from the hardware store: They do not flex at all and don’t roll down the tree even when only wrapped around the tree one time. One end has a a loop for easier tying, so no sewing is necessary (at least if you saw off the buckles, which saved me another 60 grams). Together with the marlin spike hitch knot technique, they’re a fast and stable solution and at 4,99 € very affordable. They’re only 2,5 m each, though, so an extension may be necessary at times (or get some from Ikea with 3,5 or 5 meters). Just use some random stick for the hitch, you commonly find them around trees.
Sleeping in a hammock with only a sleeping bag is suboptimal for a couple two reasons: a) I will crease underneath you and be a real pain to get straight and b) it just won’t hold you warm, as the filling isn’t able to expand. That’s why I got cold in the morning, even though I had a microfibre towel under the sleeping bag. Luckily, I chose a warm weekend for the trip.
Is there something you can do? Yes:
- Take a sleeping mat. Doesn’t feel too hammock-y. While it keeps you warm, is hard to position right and your shoulders may still freeze.
- Buying an underquilt like this one. It’s hung underneath the hammock, therefore won’t compress and will keep you warm. On a hot night, you can attach it less tightly for more airflow.
- Building your own underquilt. So far, I played around a little with suspending my sleeping bag and it felt a lot more comfortable already, but the PLUQ is a very common and well-received solution for about 20 €, so I made myself one as well.
Once you’re warmth is taken care of, there’s nothing preventing a good night’s sleep, right?
Wrong. On the second day at 5:30 am, I was awoken by thunder. I knew I had to pack up asap or all my gear would be wet in minutes. That sucked, so started searching for a low-cost, lightweight tarp after the trip. While I contemplated buying a lightweight regular tarp (60-90 g/m²), the ideal size seemed to be 3mx3m and I had either to take a bright blue or heavier one. I didn’t like either option, but soon after found out that Decathlon offers a tarp as well at 25 €. I bought it and like it a lot after a couple of initial experiments. One drawback is that it doesn’t seem to like being hanged diagonally, creating creases that could drop rainwater on me, so may be looking for another one in the long run. For now, I’m happy enough (did I mention it only weighs 619 g without the poles?).
I still have a lot of things to do, but I’m enjoying my new hobby a lot already. Two things from the advanced drawer I’m working on so far:
- Home hanging: Hanging the hammock at home. Being independent from bad weather and being able to instantly test various configurations is a nice thing, especially as I found the hammock to be more comfortable than a sofa for reading or relaxing. It does not compare to a day in the park, but packing the hammock is a matter of two minutes. I used these heavy duty mounts as attachments and I’m pretty satisfied.
- Ridgeline: When hanging the hammock in different places, the angle in which the hammock hangs and therefore the comfort may vary. Luckily, there’s the concept of the artificial ridge-line to prevent these inconsistencies: Hang a piece of rope from one end of your hammock to the other, resulting in the same saggyness every time! Supposedly, a good start for the length is 83% of your hammocks length, and to use an unelastic rope (Zing it is recommended in the US, in Europe it’s probably easier to get a Dyneema line. Maybe I’ll just go with webbing).
- Bugnets: The integrated bugnet is nice, but standalone solutions can be hung more distant from your face and also offer protection from underneath, so in the long term, I will probably move to another solution. For ultralight trips however, the current one remain my primary choice.
Overall, the hammock is a pretty nice gadget and beats light-weight tents easily when comparing matching price points. Sure, it’s still more than a single item, but it’s also a pleasant experience.