Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hennessy Hammock Trial

Vik's Hammock Trial Photos

Anna's Hammock Trial Photos

Anna and I bought a pair of Hennessy Hammocks [Ultralight Backpacker Asym] last year, but didn't get around to using them. As this camping season was winding down I realized we might go another year without getting our hammocks into action. Part of the reason we hadn't used them is the fact you tend to go with gear you know and trust for a tour. So we really needed to get our hammock skills tuned up so we'd feel good about taking them with us to the mountains. With that in mind we decided to head out to Banff on Friday evening and ride into the mountains and stealth camp somewhere along the road so we could test out our hanging shelters.

Of course it would have been too easy to test out the setup procedures at home. Heck I didn't even pull my hammock out of the bag to ensure all the parts were there. I did take the precaution of reviewing the video on the Hennessy Hammock site that shows how to attach the hammock to a tree. I figured I could fake the rest! On the drive up to Banff I realized we didn't have any tent pegs to stake out the flies on our hammocks so we picked up 4 pegs just to be safe.

Riding out of Banff at 9pm we made our way onto the Bow Valley Parkway as it doesn't see much evening traffic and would provide better camping opportunities. We really enjoyed riding as the light faded. This is a familiar route for us, but we had never done a night ride in this area. As expected the traffic died off and we had the road to ourselves. We each had a single Dinotte 200L-AA LED headlight. This was fine for cruising along at 20-25kph, but wasn't ideal for the fast downhills. Our familiarity with the road helped out when we were bombing downhill at 60kph, but I would have preferred having 2 headlights each. One quick safety note - although Anna had a Planet Bike Superflash on the back of her bike the reflective patches on her Ortliebs were much brighter when I aimed my light at her bike from behind. I'm a big fan of reflective gear and this demonstrated to me why that is a good call.

After about 30kms of riding and chatting we rolled our bikes down a hiking trail past the no bicycle and no camping signs! Finding a likely spot we pushed our bikes off the trail into the woods. I thought we were quite a distance from the trail when we stopped, but that was to prove incorrect the next morning. Setting up the hammocks wasn't too hard. For easy reference the instructions are printed on the hammock stuff sack. I would recommend watching the video on the Hennessy Hammock website as the drawing on the lashing you are supposed to use is not particularly clear on the instructions. The lashing itself is fairly easy to tie and the hammocks went up quickly. I'm not sure we setup them up perfectly, but they were tied up between trees and held our weight when we tested them. For our first time that was good enough for me!

We added the rain flies to our hammocks as the weather seemed unsettled. They clipped on the hammock support lines and then were guyed out to two pegs on the ground. The only thing to keep in mind is they are asymmetrical [like the hammock itself] so they need to be oriented correctly to provide proper coverage. After throwing in our sleeping pads and bags we jumped in for a night of hanging slumber. You enter these hammocks from the bottom through a velcro opening that is at the foot end of the hammock. This isn't too hard although I wasn't particularly graceful! Once you are inside the opening will seal itself and you need to wriggle your way onto your sleeping pad and into your bag. This is probably the hardest part of the whole operation, but I'm sure it gets easier with practice. You actually lie across the hammock diagonally due to the asymmetrical shape. This means you are lying almost flat which comfortable.

My night in the hammock was not bad, but I didn't sleep as well as I would have in a tent. I think this was due to a number of factors including:
  • the novelty of being in a hammock
  • not having the hammock setup optimally
  • not sleeping as flat as I could have
  • only having a 3/4 length pad so I was somewhat cold
  • not staying on my pad very well which meant I was cold
My impression is that I can improve all these problems and get a much better night's sleep in a hammock with a bit more experience. I'd like to setup the hammock in daylight and spend some time playing with different configurations as well seeing how different positions inside the hammock felt. I think I can lie more asymmetrically across the hammock which would make it more comfortable. I would also use a full length sleeping pad to keep me warmer.

Although the manufacturer sells special cold weather insulation for the bottom of your hammock once you start adding that weight/bulk I suggest you might as well stick with a tent unless the terrain demands you hang off the ground. I'd probably not use this hammock in cold weather as losing body heat from above and below is just too much of a disadvantage over a tent. At a weight of 1.5lbs [less pegs] the hammock is lighter than my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent [~3lbs] if I am traveling alone. Although with two of us there was no weight savings in using hammocks over my tent. The tent also makes hanging out in wet weather a lot nicer if you are alone. Two people fill up my tent so there probably isn't much difference in that case.

On a funny note when we got up in the morning we realized we hadn't moved off the hiking trail all that far. We were maybe 50' from where people were walking in plain sight. One guy even walked off the trail to pee and was looking right at us, but we were behind our hammocks standing still trying not to laugh. With our bikes also behind the green/brown hammocks it seemed no one even noticed we were there. Clearly these hammocks are a good choice for stealth camping when you don't want any attention.

Overall all I'm happy with how the trial went considering our inexperience with this type of shelter. It adds an interesting option to my camping shelter arsenal. My plan is to use it on a longer bike tour so I can really get to know the ins and outs of hammock camping. That will let me make a better assessment of how I like it and what trips I'll take it on.


adrienne said...

Hi Vik,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Hennessy.

I highly recommend the undercover and underpad. This eliminates the need for the sleeping pad (and you can put coats or even leaves in there for more insulation), so doesn't increase the weight. The advantage of the underpad is that you don't have to try to keep your sleeping bag centered on it -- it stays in place, so you don't roll off of it and get cold.

adrienne (zaphoda)

Vik said...

Hey Adrienne,

Thanks for the comment and suggestion. I'll think about the under pad for next year. I heard it makes setting up the hammock more of a hassle and perhaps entry/exit as well?