How to Camp in a Hammock

Sleeping on the ground is a part of nature that no one really wants to go back to. One of the central drives behind building civilizations in the first place was an effort to avoid this. And here you are, staring at a campsite where the ground is invariably some combination of hard, wet, rocky or uneven.  Tents and pads, for all their developments do not really solve this problem; they just make it less miserable. For the same kind of time and money, perhaps less, you could rise above it all.

You could spend the night in a hammock.

You’re thinking hammocks are great for napping, and you’re right, but spend the night? Yes. Seriously. There is a whole sub-culture that does this regularly, and their willingness to spend time and money on this approach has greatly improved the quality and variety of hammocks in recent decades.

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But before we go any further,  you should know that swinging in a hammock all through the night is not for everyone. You can stop reading now if any of the below applies:

  • You have specific back issues, particularly if you have to lie flat on a hard surface. You’ll never get there in a hammock. You can get flat – and we’ll get to that – but you will never get to hard surface. That’s kinda the point of hammocks to begin with.
  • You are claustrophobic. By the time you weather-proof and bug proof a hammock, something is going to be suspended a few feet from your face – all night.
  • You are particularly modest. You will only try changing clothes inside the hammock once. After that, your neighbors are going to see you in your skivvies for a moment at least.

Are we still good? Ok.

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You do not need an expedition grade hammock. You just want one (features, convenience, durability, the envy of others). What you need is a comfortable hammock, bug netting, a rain-fly or tarp, and a sleeping pad. Start cheap until you know you want to swing every night.

Good hammocks with mosquito netting start at around $50 and go upwards to ten times that amount for expedition grade all weather “habitats”. You can buy one with a fitted tarp (these start at around $100) or you can buy the tarp separately (and cheaply). The tarp or rain fly needs to be wide enough to cover the entire length of the hammock and should have the means to be staked down.

Hanging a hammock is all about location. You’ll need two trees or branches thick enough (you want at 8” in diameter of live wood). A Y consisting of two large branches is ideal. The real trick is finding two trees the right distance apart (most need 10-12 feet). If you want to use math, the formula is the length of your hammock and then add half that. There’s some fudge in that depending on what you use to wrap the trees.  This might take a few tries. Cut a piece of string to the length of your span, so you can try out trees without dragging your hammock through the dirt. (I leave that string in place and hang clothes and other convenience items from it.)

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If you can tie your shoes, you have sufficient engineering acumen to hang a hammock.

As long as you wrap all the way around the tree at least once, the choke or wrap is self-constricting; the more weight you put on it, the tighter it gets. You don’t need fancy hardware. Especially, do not screw hardware into the tree. I use two 6’ straps from old tie-down ratchets with loops tied in each end. Six feet is about the shortest you can consistently make work. The longer the straps, the more your options. Some published experts recommend at least 12 feet.

Wrap the tree, and hook both ends of the strap to the hammock (carabiners work great for this). If you need the extra length, you can pass one loop through the other and choke the tree that way – just make sure the through loop is tight against the tree .Normally, if I wrap the tree just above my head, this will put the carabiner (or whatever you use) right about at eye level – which is ideal. This will put the middle of the hammock at about seat level, which is where you want it. As you sit in the hammock, you feet should just touch the ground.

Make sure you test it with your full weight. You want to know sooner rather than later if those wraps will hold.

If your hammock came with a rain-fly then it also came with instructions, so follow those. If, like me, you use an aftermarket rain-fly, as it were, the ideal size has the corner grommets clipping into your carabiners while the tarp is taught. Stake the other two corners to thKIMG0179e ground, leaving enough of an angle to get in and out of the hammock.

You won’t need a sleeping pad for comfort, but you might need it for warmth  as it will provide a barrier between you and the wind blowing beneath the hammock. On a warm night, you can leave it out.

One last tip: set your hammock up while you’re still sober. That’s good advice from direct experience.

Spending the night in a hammock takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it (sorry), you’ll find that you do not miss that mean old ground at all.

 

 

 

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Willow Creek (whatever)

The city of Prescott has three man-made reservoirs in or about city limits, and Willow Creek is the most accessible, and arguably the most scenic. While you can float a non-powered boat on it, and fish and bird-watch, or even peer into the excavated homes of the long-gone natives if you time it right, the attraction – at least for me -is as a hiking destination.

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There are three trailheads, and I picked the only one with a parking fee – City-run Willow Lake Park on the north side.

Let’s stop here and clarify: the body of water is called Willow Lake, Willow Creek Lake, Willow Creek Basin or Willow Creek Reservoir depending on what source you look at. It is all the same body of water.

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The city park is the most developed site, with the boat launch and the well-guarded aboriginal ruins. They were closed when I was there, and thus we skip right past them. The park asks for a $3 fee paid by an honor-system kiosk. Or you could park at the ball-fields of adjacent Heritage Park – as I did, and hoof in for half a mile extra.

The lake, and the 6 mile trail that wanders around its perimeter can be accessed by the Jim McCasland Willow Creek Park, which has a ball-field and a dog park, on the east shore, and some undeveloped gravel parking areas on the south shore. McCasland, for your planning convenience, also has restrooms and water fountains. The south lots have only trash cans.

Back on the north shore, the city park is adjacent to a trailer park and a campground, and a number of social trails connect the two. I went clockwise, past all of these and into the portion of the Granite Dells, a large, relatively famous jumble of granite boulders and mounds that line the north and east shores of the lake.

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Like all trails through this terrain, the path has a lot of up and down and round and round and is often a scramble over granite marked only by spots of white paint.

In the NE corner, some side trails loop further into the Dells, but I skipped these, to budget time and energy. Originally, I was just going to go to the dam, and then turn back. Past the junction with the loop trails, heading south through the boulders, you can look for the red bridge, though if you take the offshore leg of the loop you could miss it, before you wind down into the valley behind the dam.

I have been through this valley both wet and dry. Dry is far more likely, but trails exist which will get you across when the water is spilling out from the concrete barrier.

On the south wall of this valley are the stairs, rail-road tie stairs, which will march up 200’ in elevation to the last leg of the journey south through the Dells.

Here I reasoned, correctly I still believe, that retracing the just under two-mile journey from the city park to the top of the stairs would consumed as much energy as continuing along the remaining four miles ahead of me, and I decided to press forward around the lake.

Another half mile of big boulders, including a close encounter with the edge of the lake, that required a bit of rock hopping, separated the stairs from more open terrain. You can avoid the edge of the lake via a loop I did not take.

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Both will dump you into the shadeless, swamp-grass covered expanse of the south-eat edge of the lake, The map claims this part of the trail could be submerged, but this is rare. When I traveled it, it was a dry dirt track through the tall grass and swarms of insects that live there. This turns west and rises into the hard-pack of the southern shore. Power lines and an intermittent fence-line separate the trail from Willow Road to the south. Past the gravel parking areas, and across a wooden bridge, the trail wanders away from the road, and skirts some low granite formations before turning north along the east shore.


forklift stuntsIt will dip in and around some wooded washes before reaching McCasland Park, where I found the water and restrooms nearly life-saving. Past there the trail wanders through scrub along the shore, passing Embry-Riddle University on the far side of the road, and finally back to the city park sprawling along the north shoreline.

I did the trail in about three hours. The Dells are Hard, the rest of the trail is easy, but the Dells are the worthwhile portion in my opinion. These Dells would be a premier destination for burning off the energy of junior high boys. Even as an adult, this hike remains a good way to kill a few hours if you happen to be in Prescott, in good weather, with time on your hands, and reasonably sturdy shoes.

 

About this Blog

[This repeats information in the page of the same name, but we start somewhere, right?]

When I used to take my son hiking (he’s grown now), reliably, about a third of the way into the hike, he would ask me, “Are we lost yet?”

What I love about that question was his certainty that if we were not lost now, we would eventually become lost.

He was right more than he was wrong.

I am, among many other things, I writer about outdoor destinations and activities, particularly hiking. Part of my job, I think, is to get myself lost so you don’t have to.

This is a continuation of a blog of the same name that was once hosted by the publisher of two of my hiking guides. That blog no longer functions, for reasons they cannot explain to me, and cannot update it, or retrieve my material, or anything.

Thus, I created this site, to continue that work, without dependence on an outside party – even one that has a clear interest in maintaining a public forum for their authors.

We are going to discover hiking trails, of course, and other outdoor destinations and activities as I feel are of interest. I will also review gear from time to time, particularly gear I like. At this writing, any such gear would have been purchased by me for me. I will announce upfront if I somehow become sponsored or even comped.

Between those items, I intend to rescue some of the better material from the old blog.

The goal is new items every Thursday. Backlog on Tuesdays.

Unless I get lost.

Which happens.

Bongo

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I often include Bongo in my photos. Bongo is a Fisher Price Rescue Hero originally named “Swinger”. So Bongo Swinger? Sure.

I have lost the grapnel accessory. And this is actually the second one (I lost the first one). Someday I might lose this one, which would be sad, because they don’t make them anymore.

I use him in place of a lawn gnome. You’ll see him in photos from time to time.

The above photo is from Crater Lake circa 2013.