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How to Use a Hammock While Backpacking and Stay Warm and Dry
1. Pick the Right Hammock
Hammocks come in all shapes and sizes. However, if you are going to go hammock camping, you want a nylon hammock, because they compress to about the size of a softball and are very light. There are many brands to choose from; Hennessey, JacksRBetter, ENO, etc. Hennessey Hammocks are very neat because they have a design that lets you get in the hammock through a slit in the middle, which closes as you get in. I have an ENO Doublenest, and it has never let me down. A great hammock is going to run you about sixty bucks, but it will last you years if you treat it well.
2. Setting Up Your Hammock
Invest in some ENO Slap Strap Pro's. They are nylon webbing and perfect. If you don't want to spend the twenty bucks, just pick up some climbing rope and string it up.
3. Prepare for the Weather
When you are in a hammock, you are very susceptible to the elements; wind, cold, bugs, and rain. In order to fight the wind and rain that nature throws at you, a tarp is probably necessary.
Backpacking tarps are usually made out of ripstop nylon and are waterproof. Because of this, they too are very light, some being a mere half pound. Compare that to the 3 pounds and hundreds of dollars required for a tent that does the same thing. Tarps come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Square tarps can be hung in diamond formation, like the tarp shown in the picture on the left. The tarp has a ridge line along the diagonal of the square tarp. The tarp keeps the rain off of you, and acts as a windbreaker too. The tarp in the picture, which I love and would recommend to anybody starting out, is a Kelty Noah's Tarp 9x9. It was fifty bucks on Amazon and works great. A great beginner's tarp. For more info on tarps and how to pitch them, see www.tothewoods.net
In order to fight the bugs, you will need some type of bug net. These will run you up about fifty bucks. If this scares you, just bundle up in your sleeping bag, and but a bug net hat, which is just a bug net for your face and head.
Now facing the cold is a whole other problem. First, get a CCF Foam Pad to insulate your back. This is crucial, and without it you will never be warm. After that, invest in a great sleeping bag. If you really are still cold after that, get a sleeping bag liner, which adds about 15 degrees of warmth to you bag without that much more weight.
4. Storing Your Gear
There are three great ways to store you pack and gear while you are in a hammock.
1. Carabiner your pack and gear directly to your hammock straps. This may require you to further tension your hammock, but it's a real easy way to get your pack dry and safe.
2. Wrap your bag in a heavy duty garbage bag, and just lay it on the ground next to you. And, you can use the trash bag later to tidy up after you break camp.
3. The coolest way to store your gear on the trail is to get a gear hammock, which is basically a kids hammock which you can string up next to your hammock and store your gear in. I have yet to do this, but am planning on trying it out.