The Better Bivy

Another olde but goodie of mine from a few years back.

My friend brought up an interesting idea to me a month or so ago that I had never considered. At the time we were talking about a backpacking trip we had been planning and over the next few days all the pieces started to fall together in my head.

The question: What about a hammock?

I didn’t just not remember them; I had never even considered hammocks even in the casual back yard environment. My family never had one and I’d never been in one, but what about the hammock?

So I started researching and the first thing I found out is that there is a large and growing hammock sub-culture. Some ultra-lite hike through guys use them which I’ll get to in a minute, but a lot of regular Joe’s from campers to backpackers are silently using them and loving them. Claims of “the best sleep ever” and versatility abound. After reading a million reviews on fifty different models on Amazon, I finally found THE place for Hammocks on the internet, just google “hammock forums” and you’ll find it.

I ended up buying one that was solidly in the middle ground of price and good, if not great, reviews, to try out the concept. What I bought was the Skeeter Beater Pro from Grand Trunk. This model had a bug net already attached and I liked that as I hate bugs flying around my ears or feeding on me when I’m trying to sleep. As I was researching, I remembered reading how the Nam era Mobile Guerrilla Force that hunted VC with the Montagards mostly all slept in Hammocks. I liked that.

Once the package arrived, I really was able to start to think about the uses of a hammock, especially instead of a small tent or bivy. The Skeeter Beater (and there are plenty of others both lighter and heavier) weighs in at a whooping 1.04lbs and packs down TINY. Much smaller than a loaf of bread, just slightly bigger than say a Nalgene bottle. The cheapy Guide Gear bivy tent I tried and hated weighs 2.5lbs and packs small but not tiny. The Army issue 3 piece bivy sleep system weighs 6.5 lbs and that’s without a mattress pad, and its bulky. My one man, so-awesome-I-love-this-tent, North Face Canyon Lands tent weighs in at still over 3lbs. So all in all, the hammock is the most light weight and compact by far.

The trick would be staying dry. Some hammocks come with a “rain fly” and others you would need to set up a tarp if you are worried about rain. The common variety 10×8 tarp I had handy weighs over 3lbs, so that really would kill any weight savings you had gained. But a nice high tech light weight silicone or nylon tarp weighs less than a pound… but it’ll cost you big $$$. After tryign to make other systems work, I bit the bullet, bought a silnylon tarp from War Bonnet and it is worth every cent.

Anyway, I napped in my new Hammock on a truck/rafting trip with friends a few weeks ago and I just got back from a backpack trip where I used this as my tent. Every time anyone has seen it, I see the speculation in their eyes. Its not strong enough, how could a person sleep folded up like a taco and banana at the same time… then they get in it and the speculation face changes. The trick is to not lay along the center line but to be off center or diagonal a bit. That and the straps having the right amount of tension or ‘hang’ (too tight is actually worse) makes for a nice flat lay.

The other trick is that hammock sleeping is a cold affair. You need something more than just a sleeping bag to insulate from the air under you. Some people use quilted poncho liners but when I weighed mine, it was heavier than a closed foam mattress pad and the pad also serves the purpose of helping to lay flatter in the hammock. I have picked up a purpose designed underquilt and its super nice, but quite honestly I think I sleep better on a pad with a sleeping bag verses with the underquilt and a light blanket.

After sleeping in mine for a few nights I thought Id share my impressions. First, it is not a tent, don’t expect it to be. You aren’t going to comfortably hang out in your hammock and cook and read if you are socked in by an all day rain storm like you can in a tent. You will need a fly or tarp big enough to give you cover outside your hammock to stow your gear and stay dry. That can offset the weight and/or cost. Sleeping in it was for me no better and no worse than in a tent. It wasn’t “more comfortable than my bed at home” like I’ve read in other reviews, but I would give it a slight edge over sleeping on the ground in a tent even with an inflatable or closed cell pad.

The really big win comes from not having to find a nice flat, or big enough, tent spot. Find two tie off points, whether they be two trees, a tree and a rock, a light poll and a truck bed… anything… and you are ready to sleep. Also being out of any ground water if it does rain is awesome, although in mountain storms, with rain usually comes lightning and being tied to a tree in a lightning storm might not seem like a great idea to some people. Personally I just chalk it up to statistics and figure if I’m hit by lightning or have a tree fall on my tent, I win the improbably statistic lottery.

Tactical wise, sleeping in the field is always a wash. I don’t think it really leaves any less footprint than anything else. You’re still going to have grass trampled down, you’re higher up in the air and there are straps or ropes that can cut into tree bark and leave sign that you were there. So its all kind of a wash there but the weight and compactness sure is nice.

Below are a few pictures to give a couple ideas of their versatility, Im sure more and better examples can be found though.

Backpacking


A hammock as a bivy

Versatility of them is limited by your own construction and imagination

And for the snow campers, this just rocks.

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