Well, I got tired of spending all of my nights in my boring and comfortable bed. Yesterday, I decided to be daring and brave the brisk night in my hammock, even though my hammock accessories are near non-existent.
What I do have is an ENO DoubleNest, the ENO Slap Straps, and the ENO bugnet. It is not the most practical hammock, but it has been great to start with. When I first obtained my DoubleNest, I knew almost nothing about hammocks, and ENO makes it very simple to set up quickly and easily. It looks nice, is durable, all of that. Compared to my tent at the time, a hulking monster that took up 1/3 of my pack, it was far lighter and more compact, which helped me realize how UL hammocks can be. It became clear that I could leave my 50 lb. pack behind and just take my hammock instead. I usually do not take it to this extreme, but after discovering hammocks, I have always been more conscious of my pack weight.
I also have a 45 degree mummy sleeping bag. Last night, it was nowhere near 45 F. It stayed between 18 and 34 degrees I believe, mostly hovering in the low 20s. My, my, what to do?
The largest concern of hammocking during cold weather is insulation. In a tent, there is a ground nearby, and when a pad is added, a great deal of insulation keeps the body warm. Because there is open space below and above the hammock, the wind and air can chill the body quickly without insulation. This is especially a concern on the bottom of the hammock, as and insulation under the camper can be squashed by the camper’s immense weight, reducing the insulation to impractical. Down, for example, is such a great insulator because it maintains a great thickness. However, if you squash the down close to your body, the effect is destroyed.
One solution to this is to wait until summer, when it makes sense to use a hammock. Another is to use an Underquilt. As you may have imagined, this is a type of quilt that goes under your hammock. If hung successfully, it maintains its full thickness and potential of warmth-giving. Often, they are made with down. I ended up using an imitation down coat, with a polyester filling, and tying it on to the bottom of the hammock. Then, I put down a pad of closed-cell foam, a fleece blanket, and my sleeping bag.
The coat worked moderately well as a makeshift Underquilt. I could tell because my lower body, especially my feet, were significantly colder, and I am guessing this is the reason. That being said, the securing job was done in the dark, and was fairly spontaneous, involving two shoelaces I found. It could have been closer against the underside of the hammock. With less air space, it would have insulated much better. If I had another of these coats, this would have been great. However, I am looking to make my own UQ from actual down in the near future.
The foam pad helped a lot. As it is closed-cell foam, and 1/2 thick, it provided a great insulating layer, which was noticeably warmer. Occasionally, I would adjust and move one limb off of the pad, instantly realizing how cold that limb became. Though adding to the warmth, it made the hammock less comfortable in general. Usually, I am more comfortable sleeping in my hammock than in a bed (even in my bed, with a memory foam mattress topper and pillow). Last night, I didn’t reach that level of comfort, and the corners of the pad jutted awkwardly into the fabric of my DoubleNest. The fleece blanket helped, and I ended up using it over my sleeping bag and feet.
My sleeping bag helped a great deal, but I think ultimately that I need a warmer one. 45 degrees is not all that far from what we keep our house at during the night (OK, not quite), so I would be fine with just a blanket. More importantly, though, would be to stay warm in the 20 degree nights. On the Appalachian Trail, there will be such nights, especially at the onset, and I ned to be prepared. My question as of late is this: How do I remain versatile, while still keeping low on gear?
Would it make sense to invest only in an underquilt and overquilt? Should I focus on a warmer sleeping bag? I think that the largest amount of variability will have to come from my clothing. Last night, I was wearing what would almost be the equivalent of all my clothing on the trail, except for maybe rain gear and a few other pieces. I had on polyester socks, wool socks, underwear, some therma pants, a pair of polyester shorts, wool pants, a polyester tshirt, a therma long sleeved shirt, a wool sweater, and a lined cap. With all of this, I was still pretty cold, so I know I will need something warmer for the trail. The only parts of me that were uncomfortably cold were my feet and my face (even with the sleeping bag cinched just around my mouth and nose), and this was only once it dropped to about 20 F.
I suppose I do not have to worry about warmth just yet, as my summer camping won’t require it. On the trail, if I have a warmer sleeping bag or something similar, I will probably carry it for a bit, then send it home, so it will not be a permanent part of my gear. It is encouraging, too, that in all likelihood, it won’t get much colder than last night on the trail while I am on it. If I had to, I could survive it without something warmer, though I would probably lose a bit of sleep and comfort.
I also did not have a tarp set up to help block wind, though the wind was not very forceful. I plan to sleep out in my hammock as often as I can and tweak the process along the way. Some may think I’m crazy, but why sleep in a bed when you can hang out in a hammock?