Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Butt Warmers

One thing you learn quickly when hammock camping is how to get really, thoroughly, unconditionally, incessantly cold on your backside.

Well, strictly speaking you don't learn how. It's one of those things that comes naturally to everyone. Like death. Or being jammed into the back seat of a car between two people who seem to have spent their entire lives up to that exact moment eating rotten dead things. Or at least their breath says that.

But you don't have to do anything. It just happens.

Likewise being cold in a hammock.

My first time out I used a Therm-a-Rest. Therm-a-Rest is the puffy one. The expensive puffy one. I snagged a three-quarter inch thick one some time ago and now don't think they make them anymore. So hey it works.

I need something like that, me. I can't hardly sleep on the ground at all, even with my big even puffier two and a half inch thick Therm-a-Rest. My light one is dicier.

I got back problems, most of which I was born with. Luckily I can walk, walk hard, walk far, but I can't sleep.

Over the centuries I've gotten injured every now and then, and keep getting stiffer somehow. It must be like tree rings. I guess I have too many at my age and don't bend so good no more. And now my nose runs and my feet smell. Everything is getting upside down these days.

But I can handle a night on the ground if I have to, though I swear a lot.

Anyway, I used that light Therm-a-Rest my first night in a hammock and found out what doesn't work. I pretty much used it my first season, as well as I recall. Took a while to get tuned in to possibilities.

Eventually I got some info on under quilts. That's what hammockers call butt warmers.

You make half a sleeping bag (the bottom half) then hang it under the hammock, on the outside. Some people make fancy ones. In fact I believe that they are all fancy. Those with Hennessy hammocks do that split down at the foot end to make room for the Hennessy's bottom entry. Hennessy even makes one these days.

For other hammocks with the traditional top entry, there is no need for that, but people still add all kinds of tensioners and tie outs and make them full length. A lot of them are really sophisticated, and a few are full coverage. Like a sleeping bag that ate the hammock.


I didn't do that. I'm a barbarian. I do simple.

Technology kind of left me behind when people started getting away from pounding the rocks together. After that I couldn't keep up so good. Makes it hard. Me have to find own way, me.


What's wrong with a Therm-a-Rest? Or anything else like it? Like, you know, one of those blue pads? Eh?

OK, here goes.

They are too short and too narrow. Short isn't so bad. They aren't that short, but you have to be careful. You get a choice about whether your head or your hinder gets to contact the uninsulated bottom of the hammock. Here's a secret: it's easier to wear a fleece sleeping cap on your head than on that other thing. Try it, you'll see.

Me get smarter already, me.

Narrow is bad in a major way. For good reasons. Standard pads are 20 inches wide (51 cm), which is enough for those of us who are still recognizable as humans. For the rest, don't call me and I won't call you. Won't call you anything. Please don't hurt me, please.

Narrow is narrower in a hammock because a hammock is like a sausage casing. You hang in it like ground meat and the weight of you body causes the sides to curve up steeply and close in around you. Simple physics. It has to happen that way.


Well, the hammock embraces you, and what looked like the bottom before you got inside is now not only the bottom but the sides as well. And they want to get close to you. And they do. And all night you are embraced by this single layer of uninsulated fabric and any part of you that touches it gets cold.

Funny how that works. You can wiggle around until the only part of your entire body contacting the side of the hammock is your left kneecap, and that will be enough to keep you awake all night, because it is a little bit cold. Let alone one of your thighs, or an arm, or a butt cheek.

Once you feel that cold you can't push it far enough out of your mind to fall asleep. So you don't. And that makes you ever so much fun to be around the next day. And the day after that. And then you begin murdering your companions because you really are that ornery and frustrated and just plain cranky.

So let's say that somehow you figured out how to make your body, a hammock, and one 20 inch by 48 inch (51 by 122 cm) sleeping pad play well together. Heh.

There are still more problems. Oh, yes.

Every time you get up to water the flowers at night you have to thrash around to get out of your sleeping bag and find the door, and locate your shoes, and all that stuff, and then you have to get in again afterward and everything is all akimbo. In other words you have too many parts. It all keeps shifting around. Even, sometimes, if you try to lie very, very still and hardly breathe.

Somehow (and I'm not at all sure how this happens, but somehow) your pad will kind of sneak off to one side. Sneak, sneak. A teensy bit at a time. And then you wake up with a cold behind and have to fight like crazy against the pad and your bag, and your own weight holding everything squashed together, and the hammock and all, and you go nuts.

It really is a struggle.

Happens right in the darkest, scariest, gloomiest part of the night when the only thing you want to do at all is pray. Or maybe pray and also survive until morning. Because of what you heard out there in the bushes somewhere. And because of remembering that you are hanging in this bag at a convenient munching height.

Struggle, right? Am I right? You know I am.

But wait, there's more.

Let's say you get all that worked out. You figure out some magical way to use a sleeping pad, and then you also figure out how to keep it in place. And then there is more crap to put up with.

Minor crap, but...

Somehow (don't ask because I have no clue here), somehow when you use a regular sleeping pad it always accumulates grit underneath it. No matter how fastidious you are.

You shake out your sleeping bag. You clean your sleeping pad. You brush off your clothing. You take your shoes off without getting them anywhere near the inside of the hammock. And then, and then, in the morning when you're packing up again you find all the pine needles and dust and grains of sand under the sleeping pad, between it and the delicate fabric of the hammock.


Right where they will do the most damage. Every time you shift your weight or even move a little, this abrasive grit is down there grinding around on your hammock.

And you can't get it out. Can't.

Try sweeping with your hand and that only creates static electricity and the stuff wants to permanently bond with the hammock. You can't pry it out with a crowbar after that.

Shake out the hammock after taking it down and this detritus just collects in one end and then rushes back to the middle the next night when you hang the hammock again. The only thing that comes close to doing the job is to empty the hammock and use the sleeping bag as a big brush, just throw it up to the head end and then pull it out through the entry, and sweep away most of the offending matter. And this works only with a Hennessy hammock.

Under quilts. I've never used an official one. I made mine, and it works.

Going on the theory that non-breathable fabric would lessen moisture problems, I used some left over spinnaker cloth from a shelter I'd made. That formed the shell. Inside went one layer of synthetic insulation, about an inch thick.

I started with a flat quilt, then refined it later to conform to the shape of the loaded hammock, sort of boat-hull shaped. I've got some elastic line on each end, and running along the sides of the quilt to hold it up, and some tensionable elastic down where my tail goes.

It's roughly four feet wide by four or four and a half feet long (122 to 137 cm), pointy where my head goes (so it fits right) and wide where I'm wide (where my tail comes out). The hammock is also narrow where my head is, and widest where I'm widest, so it all seems to work out.

This is a lot shorter and somewhat narrower than what I've seen of other people's work, and that has been only in pictures. My quilt is not elegant in any way. It isn't very thick either, but so far it has been warm enough. Somehow it doesn't take much insulation under me. I've even gotten up a couple of mornings to find frost, without having gotten cold in bed.

This is a good sign.

I do have to be careful, but I have a lot less bulk and weight than if I carried a full length under quilt. Some of the others are up at two or three pounds at least (0.9 to 1.4 kg), like carrying a second sleeping bag. Mine weighs around 12 ounces (340 g) which is a lot compared to a wispy slice of blue foam just large enough to inhabit on the ground while lying on your side, if you don't breathe too hard and tip over, but it's weight well spent.

Part two about being careful is to keep my empty pack inside. I stuff that into a plastic bag, tie it shut and keep it under my hind legs. My feet stay out of contact with the hammock and then they don't need to be insulated. The sleeping bag is enough. The plastic bag keeps the dusty sweaty pack away from everything else and blocks any scents coming off the pack, in case critters might be tempted to stop by for a midnight snack. Or just claw their way in to find out what that smell is.

There is no wiggling around to keep my insulation in place. I don't have to rearrange things every time I roll over, or get back in after a midnight excursion. Somehow there is always much less grit inside, and what it there is either pushed into my soft clothing (if I use the sleeping bag as a quilt) or pushed into the bottom of the sleeping bag. Getting out of the hammock also seems to sweep it out.

And (oh, yes, there is more) it is so much easier to get in and out, and move around inside the hammock. Get rid of that pad that's meant for sleeping on the ground and the hammock is a smooth chute. You can slide up or down or turn over to one side or the other and it's all silky smooth and slippery. Nice. Really nice.

No need to wonder about all of the above, plus what effect even a squeaky clean sleeping pad will have on the fabric of your hammock. After all it is rectangular and sort of has some rough edges, especially the hard plastic air valve. Without the pad there aren't any problems. So I don't worry too much any more.

No inflation/deflation cycle. No fussing about where to pack the sleeping pad. Simply leave the under quilt attached to the hammock and slither it all inside a set of snakeskins, and then stuff the whole thing into your pack.

Much nicer all around.


How Do I Stay Warm in a Hammock?
Cold Weather Use Of Closed Cell Foam Pads In Hammocks.
Backpacking Hammock.
Guide to Making a Bridge Hammock.
A hammock you can sleep in with a straight spine!
Camping Hammock.
My Take On DIY Hennessy Hammock. A Tutorial.
How to Make a Homemade Hammock.
The Garlington Insulator for the Hennessey Hammock.
Risk's WarmHammock.
Sgt. Rock's Hammock Camping 101.
Speer PeaPod III.
Speer SnugFit UnderQuilt.