I have traditionally used small one or two man tents for hiking, and when Karen started hiking with me, we switched to a three man tent which is large enough for us and our dog. But even with good sleeping pads and Karen’s 3″ thick Neolite air pad, she would still wake up frequently in the night with sore hips, back, feet, etc. I suffer from the same problem as well, but I’m used to it. When you can’t get a good night’s sleep, its harder to enjoy the trip.
It’s also hard sometimes to find a good spot to pitch a tent. Either slope, brush or rocks make it hard to camp just anywhere. I switched to a hammock when I hiked the Vermont and New Hampshire sections of the Appalachian Trail because I wanted the option of being able to stealth camp (camping in non-established areas while still practicing leave-no-trace ethics). One pleasant side effect I discovered while using the hammock is that I got a much better nights sleep from less tossing and turning and with very minor pressure points you can sleep in nearly any position you want to. You can’t do that in a shelter on a wooden floor.
On one of our weekend trips, I decided to bring the hammock and let Karen try sleeping in it. EUREKA! She slept great on her first night in a hammock. So a quick phone call to Hennessy Hammocks and we are now both “tree dwellers” as hammockers are sometimes referred to by other thru hikers. But I prefer the term “Ewok” after the tree-dwelling characters in George Lucas’s Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back movie.
So we each have our own hammocks now. Mine is a little larger and can hold more weight than hers. But hers being newer, she has a few more features that mine does not have. The hammock has a full mosquito net to keep out bugs and a tarp over it so we can sleep in the rain. Since air moves underneath us at night, we have to have warmer than normal sleeping bags and an extra sleeping pad underneath us to help insulate us. Sleeping bags have very little insulation on the bottom sine they are intended to be used on the ground and what little insulation there is gets compressed and causes “cold butt syndrome.” Many hammock sleepers use an under quilt – half of a sleeping bag suspended underneath the hammock so it does not get compressed. I prefer the sleeping pad so that we can use it on a wooden floored shelter if we desire to do so.
Even though the shelters are great protection from the weather, the hard floors and infestation of mice make them really unpleasant places to sleep. The last time we slept in an AT shelter in NC, Karen listened to mice all night long and never slept a wink. So at midnight, we got up and pitched the tent and she finally went to sleep – and woke up tired and stiff. Bring on the hammocks!
I have modified our hammocks slightly from the original Hennesy design to allow it to be used in the rain a bit more easily – more on that in a future post.