Hanging, as hammockers call their activity, is a cult within a cult. I tried it once before a few years ago, with a Hennessey, but it was neither warm nor comfortable. But, after meeting three different hammock hikers on sections of the PCT this summer, I decided to look back into it.
Below is the Whisper hammock I purchased recently from Bonefire Gear.
I’ll post a full review later but let’s just say I love it and had fantastic customer service from Jeremy at Bonefire.
It has solved three large problems for me: pain in my left hip from sleeping night after night after night on hard ground; reducing the time to set up and take down camp; and reducing the time looking for a good sleeping camp spot.
As we age, sometimes gear list ‘Wants’ turn into gear list ‘Needs’ .
Some odd things become worth the weight in our packs, when years before we would have considered them heavy luxuries.
Here’s three of mine:
Backup Glasses / Magnifier
I’ve worn glasses since starting grad school, but only recently did I really, really need them to read small print; as in, I can’t read map details clearly without them.
A map you can’t read isn’t much better than no map at all.
So I need a backup.
I have always carried a map and a compass, and now I carry something to magnify with too. Having a backup to glasses on the trail could mean the difference between being lost and found.
For several years now, I have carried and used i4ulenses.
i4ulenses are lightweight but strong plastic, fit on the bridge of your nose like old-fashioned Pince-nez, and come with a small protective case for storage. You can order them in different magnification strengths.
Worth the weight? At 1/2 oz (14 g), to me, yes.
(And that’s the weight with case; if you are willing to skip the case and store them without, then half that weight.)
At a certain point in a man’s life, the most important organ in the crotch area, the one that since puberty has been the focus of all his thoughts and life, ceases its role as the man’s master; a role then usurped by the humble prostate gland.
I first got a Uribag for road trips, where it works great, and then used it car camping in my tent to replace my traditional pee bottle.
For years I used a pee bottle for car camping, just a large plastic jar I found at Goodwill. It has a wide opening and a tight lid. When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you live with rain. And so you learn to stay dry in your tent at night. Pee bottles rule.
For backpacking, I use a tarp and bivy usually, and the Uribag is the perfect answer to not having to get out and get wet at night to pee – or, in Summer, to get out and get bit by bugs. And I really, really hate bugs, esp. mosquitoes.
The Uribag holds one liter. It packs small, expands and contracts easily, and the rubber balloon container is tough. It’s easy to clean, too: put in some water, maybe a tiny squirt of soap, shake it around and dispose of it properly (ie dispersed, not near a water source of any kind!)
Best of all, it is pretty easy to pee into while lying on your side: no more getting up on your knees to pee down into a bottle.
You’ll find plenty of good advice about how to train for and practice before a long / big section / thru hike: exercise, footwear, tarp pitching, cooking; take a first aid class, brush up on map and compass skills, etc.
Here’s a few other things you might not think you need to practice, yet you will do them every single day on your hike.
1. Practice Not Stopping
Practice not stopping so much. This means practice doing things while continuing to walk, even if you would ordinarily stop, even briefly.
For instance, you should be able to do these things while walking or even not breaking stride:
Take off / put on gloves, hats, windshirt, rain jacket or poncho
Getting things into or out of your pack
Stowing and retrieving hiking poles
The key is a light pack you can easily swing around onto one shoulder. Find the sweet spot location for each gear item until you can manage them without halting.
Practice your water collection and treatment methods. You will do this every day on the trail, several times a day. Practice it when you do your training hikes.
The best way to do this is take minimal or even no water with you from the trailhead on your practice and training hikes.
Start by cutting down your starting water on hikes to a liter, half a liter, then none at all.
Can you start your hike with empty bottle and pick water up along the way? Try it.
Try bad water sources with lots of floaties to see you how your filtering method works. Try sources hard to reach. (I once refilled a water bottle by dangling it 25 feet off a railroad trestle into a creek.)
Practice with your filter or chemical treatment until you are comfortable with not just the method but the amount of time it takes to filter certain amounts of water.
Emulate your night time water filtering amounts, whether one or two liters, that would would normally do in camp. How much do you really need to cook and clean with?
3. Practice Pooping
You will poop in the woods every day. If you get sick with diarrhea, you’ll be doing it a lot more often than that. So practice.
Unfortunately, certain bodily functions don’t just happen at will, but they tend to do things on their own schedule. My technique to help practice this is to delay my usual morning poop and save it for the trail. Actually, this is another good reason to get out to the trailhead for your practice hikes well before the crowds. If you’re at the trailhead at 6:00 or 7:00 am, then odds are your body will oblige you with the needed urge right around the usual time for you.
Speaking of technique, personally, I learned to poop the way it has always been done before the aberrational and dubiously wasteful invention of toilet paper. I learned it living in India, but the basic technique is explained well in Tip 116 in Mike Clelland’s book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips.
Humans have been producing human scat for tens and hundreds of thousands of years, and millions of people all over the world do it even today without the need for modern resource intensive aids. You can do it too: liberate yourself from TP.
All you need is something to dig a cathole with, water in an open container (in India a lota is used; on the trail I use a Pack Bowl, see below), and soap. Soap is very important for hand hygiene when pooping. Always wash the hand you may have helped poop with.
Never be without some liquid soap. If you doubt the power of soap to keep you healthy, see this study. (If someone proclaims proudly to you on the trail that they never use soap, don’t accept food or water from them. Unless, you want to eat some of their leftover poop that is.)
Learning to squat helps, and that is a skill completely lost on modern Americans who were potty trained on a chair with a hole in it (a.k.a. the flush toilet).
Don’t be one of those people who poops on themselves while re-experiencing potty training on the hike: get comfortable with it before you go (pun unavoidable ;)
(Also, hiking in a kilt helps too. We kilt wearers may have our issues, but by gorram, pooping on our kilts isn’t one of them.)
4. Practice Getting Funky
You will get funky. You will smell.
Get used to it.
Showers: Go without a shower for a week. If you are a daily shower person, well, I have news for you, showering is not that easy out of doors. Lakes and streams are available sometimes, of course, in good weather, but are cold.
Chemicals: Give up the deodorant, shampoo, and other chemical concoctions that make you smell differently than you actually do.
Socks: Practice wearing the same socks day after day: hang them up at night, put on your night socks when you go to bed, and then put on yesterdays socks again when you get up in the morning.
Underwear: Practice the same with your underwear (if you are into that sort of thing on the trail, of course.)
Start with one or two days, then stretch it to be able to go a week. Don’t offend your coworkers or lose you job over it, but try and see.
You’ll be surprised to find this is not really that bad or difficult do. You’ve been trained by highly expensive marketing to feel you need to plaster yourself with chemicals or people will shun you as a social leper. And that is just baloney.
The goal is to know how far you can go until it really irritates you, and then start to find ways around it using ONLY the gear you will have with you. Give yourself of body bath at night in your house with just your water bottle and bandana, or whatever gear you will have on the trail.
Get used to it; work out the way you want to do it on trail.
TIP 1: Personally, I like the Pack Bowl, made by Backpacker’s Pantry as a water bowel for washing myself, washing my socks, for post-poop cleaning, and for water collection. Some people use milk jug bottoms or folding plastic water container bottoms to do the same thing. I like the Pack Bowl because it folds flat for easy storage in a side pocket around a bottle or in a hydration sleeve, but when unfolded stands upright on its own; it holds 3 liters yet is very lightweight at 33 grams.
TIP 2: I put one of those car fresheners that hang from your car’s rear view mirror into each resupply box. Weight: < 7 grams in package. When I’m reaching a road and getting ready to hitch into town, I take it out, hang it around my neck and make myself smell good… er, not as bad. Then I leave it as a thank you gift for the wonderful driver who gives me a lift into town to resupply (unless they don’t want that thing sticking up their car, of course ;)
5. Practice Sleeping
Well, you say, I know how to sleep in a sleeping bag – or, since you are probably a cool person – a quilt.
Sure you do. But you also know how to walk, yet will be be training to walk, too, right?
So practice sleeping in your gear. Get used to the bedtime and morning time routine with them.
Put your sleeping gear on your bedroom floor and sleep on it, not for a night or a brief test, but for a week, two weeks, three weeks, and get used to it. Be as comfortable with your pad and quilt as you are with your bed.
Why the bedroom floor? Because it is one bad case scenario for sleeping on something hard and unforgiving (well, it is flat, not rocky and lumpy, so let’s give it that advantage.)
Now, it won’t help with sleeping in almost total dark, and it won’t prepare you for all the things that go bump, hoot, howl, and rustle rustle rustle in the night; only test overnights will do that.
But it help to will work out your sleep gear and help makes those final gear decisions easier: pillow or not, pack under the feet or not, big blow up pad or foam pad, etc.
Why practice all this?
Efficiency, in one word, efficiency. And efficiency brings confidence.
The more you have practiced before you leave, the more you develop good habits that lead to better efficiency on the trail. And the goal of that is to allow you to concentrate more on the hiking itself.
Cool Navigation Tip I learned at a refresher nav course: use some twigs, straight ones please, to put on your map to check when at a fork in the trail.
Align your map and compass north and in the direction of the fork:. Put the twigs onto the fork on the map to emphasize the angle. Visually check how the twig fork matches what you see in front of you. Pick the proper fork.
I’ve used this tip already twice since learning it, to figure out unmarked trail forks.
Like any decent map they have UTM coordinates on them, so you can find where you are if you have those coordinates. I use the MilGPS iOS app on my phone for that.
MapTools is the site I first used to get me into UTM format and how to use it. I can do math based on tens much easier that our clung-to clumsiness of the sexagesimal math of the Babylonians.
But UTM grids on maps are still a kilometer wide. Sometimes, I like to have a bit more accuracy than that when looking at the map (and estimating). That’s where grid tools come in.
The basic function of the grid tool is to extend the precision of your map to match your GPS UTM coordinate more closely.
The grid tools they make are simple to use. It is a small plastic square that you place on the map over the grid you are located within, and then it allows you to pinpoint your location to within the grid to within a hundred (or less) meters of accuracy.
And at 4.5 grams, while I admit it’s more of a WANT than a NEED, given my style of on trail hiking an eyeball estimation within that square kilometer is usually close enough to know where I am on the trail, I do enjoy my maps and navigation, so it’s light enough to take. And of course, when you are off-trail, location specificity can be vital.
My Caldera Keg setup, for use with the Esbit fuel mainly, includes two useful mods:
1) A carbon felt fabric strip that wraps about 3/4 of the way around, held in place by a “beer band” that comes with the Keg. (Carbon felt from Minibulldesign Cult.)
This solves the problem of picking it up out of the cone when it is hot, hot, hot with boiling water. Too hot for the usual bandana trick. It is an aluminum beer can after all.
Now, you could JB- Weld it into place, but I tried it on a test can and it was not much lighter than the beer band. So I use the beer band, which is both adjustable and detachable.
2) A protective bottom sleeve to keep the smudgy residue that Esbit fuel leaves on the bottom of the can from getting onto other things. This is simply a medium size boil-in-bag (from Pack-it Gourmet I think), cut down to fit at the top.
Additional weight of these three components: 17 grams.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Rand Lindsly from Trail Designs for working with through several long emails to help perfect my Keg setup. Terrific customer service!