In my youth, I was a pretty avid camper and hiker. I spent many a night in a sleeping bag with a pad of some type underneath. Some of the pads were foam, others were inflatable. Probably the best over the years was the Thermarest brand, which is a self-inflating type. However, they were only an inch or so thick, and the ground was always hard. I learned that comfort was relative. If you hike ten miles with a 30-pound pack beforehand, you can sleep in pretty austere conditions.
Looking For A Better Sleep System
However, now that I’m in my sixties, I’m not as tough as I once was. I started looking for a better sleeping system. It has taken a couple of years to work out the details, but I’ve developed a hammock based system that works really well, is light enough to carry, and is amazingly comfortable.
I am going to describe the system and discuss why it works. I will recommend specific brands, but I have no connection to any of these companies, except that I like their products.
The beginning point is the hammock. In the past, they were typically made from canvas and were just too heavy for backpacking use. More recently, several companies have developed hammocks made of lightweight nylon with fabrics similar to that used in parachutes. My favorite is made by Eagle Nest Outfitters, sometimes referred to as “ENO”. They come in two lengths. If you are under six feet, the smaller one is plenty big and saves a few ounces of weight. They also come single nest or double nest. The double nest is big enough that they claim two people can sleep together in one, but in my experience they had better be really fond of each other. The single nest weighs just 16 ounces and is rated to hold a 400-pound load. That’s what I bought. It costs about $60 street price.
ENO hammocks are available in many colors, several of them pretty loud. But if you shop around, you can find colors that are quite drab, including olive and khaki tan. They also make a couple of camouflage versions, and you can decide whether going camo is better, or perhaps a little too military.
Another hammock maker you should look at is Hennessy. Hennessy also builds a quality product and have a unique design for entry and exit into and from the hammock. I just personally prefer ENO. Take a look at both, and see which you like better.
And before I go any further, let me reassure you that new hammock designs are quite stable when you are in them. There is no need to be afraid of falling out. The sensation is like being deep in a recliner. Believe it or not, you can sleep on your side in a hammock. The trick is to position yourself at a slight angle to the centerline of the hammock, with your head on one side of the centerline and your feet on the other side. Think diagonally.
You will want a pillow to support your head. I use a lightweight inflatable one made by Sea To Summit called their Aeros Pillow. It only weighs 2.1 ounces and is adjustable for thickness since it is inflatable. This pillow is an expensive luxury, costing about $38, but it is super high quality in both design and construction. You will also want a bolster to go under your knee(s). I use a stuff sack filled with a fleece jacket, but there are several ways to create a usable pillow, or two, from clothing already in your pack, without carrying any significant additional weight.
“Cold Butt Syndrome”
One problem you will have to overcome is the “cold butt syndrome”. If you use a sleeping bag in a hammock, your body weight compresses the insulation underneath you, rendering it ineffective. If the weather is cool, the result will be cold spots under your hips, back, and shoulders. Trust me, it will keep you awake. One solution is to use a sleeping pad or mattress inside the hammock, but there are a couple of problems. First, the pad will tend to slip around as you sleep, and you may wake up to find it is no longer under you.
The other problem is that most sleeping pads aren’t wide enough to wrap around your hips and shoulders, and as a result, you will experience uncomfortable cold spots there. There is a company named Klymit that makes an inflatable mattress specifically shaped for use in a hammock, and it is a quality product. I have one, and it overcomes the cold butt syndrome, but it costs around $140, and I worry that any inflatable mattress will spring a leak at the wrong time. It’s just Murphy’s law. I think I’ve found a better solution that costs less.
Under-Quilts and Under-Blankets
Several of the hammock manufacturers have developed “under-quilts” that wrap underneath the outside of the hammock, and thus, are not compressed by your body weight. All of them keep you warm, but some are too heavy, in my opinion. If I’m going to have to carry this gear, every ounce matters. My favorite under-blanket is made by a British company called Snugpak. They are a supplier to the British military and make sleeping bags and related gear that is extremely high quality. Their “under-blanket” has synthetic insulation and is wind and water resistant.
It comes with a compression stuff sack and weighs 3.2 pounds, comparable to a three-season sleeping bag. The only color I found available in the U.S. is olive, but I like the olive color. It costs around $50. There are manufacturers selling other under-quilts that are lighter, using goose down and more delicate fabric, more like a sleeping bag. They typically cost more. Down doesn’t work if it gets wet. I decided to go with Snugpak because it seems to be a good compromise between cost, weight, and performance in wet/cold weather.
The Snugpak under-blanket is wide enough that I can wrap it over me at the top, so it is almost like a sleeping bag that fits outside my hammock. One might ask, why didn’t they include a zipper? The answer is that for a military application, you might need to get out of that hammock in a big hurry if something goes bump in the night, and a zipper could be problematic. What I did is along the edges add some small Velcro patches, which hold the edges of the blanket together to keep me warm, but they open instantly if needed.
Down to about 40 degrees, this system keeps me very comfortable. If it’s going below that, you can add a U.S. military poncho liner as an additional insulated blanket inside the hammock. Poncho liners are affectionately known to generations of solders as the “woobie”. Woobies are wonderful for many uses. They are made of light-weight nylon-polyester fabric with synthetic insulation. You can find them at any army-navy store for around $25. With this addition and a fleece cap for my head, I’ve been comfortable in my hammock in temps down to freezing.
As versatile as the woobie is, for a little more money, about $35, Snugpak also sells what they call their Jungle Blanket. It is about the same size (76” x 64”) and weight (25 ounces) as the woobie, but is more wind resistant and keeps me warmer. They come in olive, black and coyote brown. Snugpak has distributors in the U.S.
Retail Mosquito Netting
What about protection from mosquitoes, you ask? Again, most hammock manufacturers make netting accessories, but I found they have two problems. First, they are too heavy, mostly due to their design. Most are tubes of mosquito netting that go completely around the entire length of the hammock. One that I bought weighed (and cost) more than the hammock itself. The second problem is that you have to zip yourself up inside, which makes it difficult to get out of the hammock quickly. I developed a system that solved both problems and costs much less.
Homemade Mosquito Netting
At my local army surplus store, they sell a sniper’s mesh veil for about $15. It is a light weight polyester mesh, in camo colors, and a fine enough weave to stop mosquitoes. It was about the same length as the hammock, roughly 89” x 64”. I took a piece of 550 cord and pulled it tight between the two trees my hammock was hanging from, a few inches above the level where the hammock was attached. I then draped the mesh veil over the cord so it hung over both sides of the hammock. With a needle and upholstery thread, I fastened the mesh to the 550 cord about every two inches to keep it in the right position. I also stitched the ends of the mesh together from the top down about eight inches so bugs couldn’t get in the open “V” at each end.
It works fabulously. The mesh hangs over each side of the hammock and conforms to its shape without being fastened at the bottom. And as a result, all I have to do is drape it over me after I get in.
I can get out instantly by simply flipping the mesh out of the way. I’ve used this system many times without a single insect bite. The only potential issue is that if the wind gets too high it could possibly blow the mesh aside, but that hasn’t been a problem yet. I suspect if the wind is that strong, it will blow mosquitoes away as well. If this ever becomes an issue in the future, I’ll just tuck the bottom of the mesh in between the hammock and the under-blanket. The mesh and 550 cord together weigh only seven ounces.
The final issue is keeping dry in the rain, and the lightest and best approach is a tarp. The hammock makers all sell tarps in various shapes and sizes. The main decision you will have to make is to balance the size of your tarp against the weight you will have to carry. Some tarps are coated with urethane, and some are treated with silicone. Generally, silicone is lighter. Both claim to be waterproof. I would recommend one without any seams, if you can find it, because seams tend to leak. If you get one with a seam, be sure the seam is taped to make it waterproof.
I chose a lightweight, silicone treated nylon tarp by ENO that has six tie-points. (Some have eight.) Rather than a rectangular shape, it has what they call a “catenary cut”, which tends to keep it taught in every direction when staked out. The specific model tarp I selected is the Pro Fly Sil in a drab color. The cost was about $80, which is a lot, but it is well designed and constructed. The tarp, complete with tie-down cords, a stuff sack, and four aluminum stakes, only weighs 17 ounces. (I had to add the stakes, since they are not included with the tarp.) By comparison, the tent it replaced weighed five pounds and cost three times as much.
Arranging the Sleep System
I string the tarp just above the mosquito net, and arrange it low enough so I can just see out from underneath it when I’m in the hammock. This is a balance between having the tarp low enough to provide good protection in a driving rain, and still being able to have a view around me in case I hear something in the night. I might rig the tarp a little higher and flatter if I expect moderate weather. I would tie the sides down lower if bad weather is coming. If no rain is likely, I might leave the tarp in my pack and sleep under the stars!
Avoiding Aggravation in the Rain
One detail is worthy of noting. When it rains, water can run down the ropes/cords that suspend the hammock, netting, and tarp, and aggravate you seriously. The cure is to take some pieces of cotton string, similar in weight to butcher’s twine, and tie them to each of the exposed ropes/cords close to where they attach to the hammock, mesh and/or tarp. Let it hang down an inch or so, and when water comes down the rope, it will run down the cotton string and drip off harmlessly. It’s important to use cotton, because it will draw water off of the synthetic rope/cord more effectively. It has worked well for me.
I am convinced by experience that a hammock sleeping system is more comfortable and effective than other alternatives in most circumstances. You eliminate the need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, ground cloth, and sleeping pad. I hope I never have to go back to sleeping on the ground! But the most important thing is to develop and use your own system, and work out any problems before you are forced to use it in a crisis. Sleep is critical to survival, and being able to sleep in comfort is simply wonderful. Knowing, through actual experience, that you have a sleep system that really works for you … is priceless.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 72 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value).
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
- Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value), and
Round 72 ends on September 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.