A Proposal for a Better System for Sleeping in the Wilderness, by ACC

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 Hammock

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.

Hennessy

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.

Pillow

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.

Added Warmth

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.

Tarps

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:

First Prize:

  1. 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.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
  3. 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,
  4. 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),
  5. An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
  6. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  7. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value).

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. 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,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
  7. A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
  8. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
  9. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
  3. 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,
  4. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  5. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
  7. Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
  8. 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.

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18 Responses to A Proposal for a Better System for Sleeping in the Wilderness, by ACC

  1. ER says:

    I have experienced the cold backside first hand during my first attempt to use a hammock on an expedition.

    Hennessy tries to make it easier to get in and out of, and integrates their bug mesh into the hammock. As I get older and rarely sleep through the night, getting in and out of the hammock becomes a fine art.

    Another interesting trick is to use a nylon sling with a carabiner and rappelling rings instead of knots to suspend the hammock.

    There are a lot of interesting ideas to be tried out, but do develop the expertise BEFORE you head out.

    The hammock can be very comfortable, but does depend on perfectly spaced trees with a clearing between them.

  2. ThoDan says:

    The German Army use at least used a sleeping bag with a Zipper that you could open with one movement of your Hand.

    Pull the Zipper and then rip the two sides apart

  3. anonymous says:

    Some good thoughts put down on paper (well, not paper – but you know what I mean :^). Thanks for them.

    We live in the buggy south that have many stinging / biting creatures that wander around the dark. Fire ants, scorpions, centipedes and others – not a fun thing to worry about in the dark when you want to sleep. Hammocks make a great alternative and if you take care to protect the trunks you tie to, leave very little footprint for anyone to know you were there.

  4. E.T. says:

    Excellent Article!

  5. JAD says:

    As I fellow hammock advocate when I backpack I thought you did a great job of explaining the pros, cons, and nuances of hammock sleeping. You also gave solutions to some of the more common issues people have.

    When backpacking I try to pack items that have as many uses as possible. For example, rather than carrying a rainfly or a tarp, I use my USGI poncho as my rainfly. This gives me a rainfly for my sleep system, and when not in camp provides me another waterproof layer or a means to turtle (waterproof) my pack. My rainjacket doubles as a waterproof layer and a windbreaker.

    Finding items that can provide utility in multiple areas will help you keep your pack weight down, which is a good thing for backpacking or a Go bag.

  6. D.D. says:

    Check out the ENO JungleNest hammock. Bug net is attached and can be unzipped and left to the side when not needed. A cheap alternative for cold butt insulation is Reflectix mylar insulation bubble wrap. It can be cut to any shape and length and reflects your body heat back even when compressed. You can purchase a jumbo body pillow case, put the insulation inside the case, and sleep nice and toasty.It folds up to a compact size small enough to fit in the hydration pouch of a backpack.

  7. Roadkill says:

    I have some Snugpack gear but prefer Wiggy’s. His stuff is all American made and is superior to anything out there. I think I have helped send Wiggy’s children through college with my purchases.

  8. MAS says:

    Camping hammocks are like bagpipes, difficult to operate and one either loves or hates them. I’ve found that they take some serious fiddling to learn how to set up in a way that works for each individual. Another issue is cost, they can cost less than a few hundred to over a thousand bucks. I am in the over a thousand bucks category and would not change a thing with my present kit. Buyer be aware that simply buying some hammock stuff isn’t the end of your journey to find the most comfortable way to sleep outdoors.

  9. ACC says:

    One further thought: If you prefer to be able to zip up in your under quilt, Snugpak also makes what they call a “hammock cocoon” for about $70. They say it wraps around the hammock like a banana peel. I haven’t used it myself, but it looks warm.

  10. Anonymous says:

    ACC- Thanks for this fine post. Very much appreciate your time and thoughtfulness in putting this together for us.

  11. DanTheMan says:

    Great write up on Hammocks!
    I am also a relatively new hammock adoptee, now at age 62, after having grown up trailer camping as a kid and owning several motorhomes in past years. I decided to take up backpacking to figure out how to bug out if I ever needed to and went straight to a hammock instead of a tent. Just to give your readers and our fellow preppers some more alternatives or ideas, here were my choices (all based on Warbonnet products which I found to be great for my use anyway):
    1.) Hammock: Warbonnet Ridge Runner Bridge. Bridge hammock has spreaders to hold the hammock out. Double layer bottom can hold a sleeping pad, but extra layer is also good for Texas mosquitoes with long stingers. Has built-in mosquito netting. I can sleep on my side in this hammock without any difficulty. The way the hammock fits, I have never needed a pillow.
    2.) Warbonnet mamba top quilt (20 degrees): Use instead of a sleeping bag. It has a foot box and is otherwise a sleeping bag without a bottom to save weight (sleeping bag insulated bottoms are useless when compressed with your body weight.)
    3.) Warbonnet Lynx Underquilt, 20 deg, Full: This attaches to the underside of the hammock and serves as the bottom half of a sleeping bag. Totally stops the Cold But Syndrome which is a problem below about 65 degrees.
    4.) Warbonnet Tarp Cloudburst
    On my first outing, a Texas cold front came through with 1.5 inches of rain, wind and lightning. Several tent campers choose poor locations and flooded. I was completely dry. I did have to re-stake one of the tarp stakes which pulled out in the rain and strong winds. The temperature dropped from 91 Friday night to 57 Saturday morning – thereby convincing me to purchase an underquilt (instead of using a windshield reflector as a bottom insulator!).
    I am not affiliated with the company “Warbonnet Outdoors” that sells these products, but the company is in the US and has a wide selection of products all built in Colorado I believe.

  12. MAS says:

    Warbonnet is a USA cottage business and there are others that specialize in hammocks and related gear. One of my favorites is Hammockgear.com for top end down insulation. Warning this stuff is extremely top end with prices to match.

  13. Sonoutlaw says:

    This is the best DIYI info on hammocks that I have found
    Vary informative
    http://www.tothewoods.net/HomemadeHammock.html

  14. Andrew J. Jackson says:

    Space blankets extend your season…for really cold nights I lay 1 over the top cord inside the hammock and another under me. I’ve been comfortable down well below freezing with these added comforts

  15. Randy says:

    I bought a beater with what I thought was a roll of bagpad. It turned out to be a roll of double faced aluminin faced bubble rap, Heat duct insulation! Knock the cold down, the heat up?
    Fully able to be customized, in as many layers asyou like. I havn’t tried it yet but,,,,
    It’s made to stop heat transfer.

  16. Jake says:

    ACC, what is the total weight for this kit with all of the components?

  17. ACC says:

    Jake, the total weight for my system is a little less than 7 pounds and 5 ounces. That’s less than my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and ground cloth, by about 15 ounces. Hope it helps.

  18. Craig says:

    Another benefit of hammock sleeping is concealability. Whereas tent campers are always looking for a clearing, a hammock camper is pleased to head back INTO the woods to find a couple of trees. I am a hammock camper and my tarp is a woodlands camo design. Viewed from even twenty yards away in the woods my setup can be seen if you know it’s there, but doesn’t cast the “expected recognizable profile” to immediately draw attention if you didn’t know it was there. In a bugout situation where there may be unfriendlies the ability to camp comfortably in the deep woods is an important advantage.

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