Swinging in the breeze

As far as I’m concerned, the most important part of my kit is my cook gear.  It won’t win any ultra-light awards, but it does allow me to scratch up some trail-side meals that folks talk about years after the fact.

But since I’m not actively planning another hike I will feed the addiction by talking about the rest of my gear (though, as soon as I hear cicadas singing, me and Bear Bait will be heading back out into the green).

My first overnight backpacking trip was on the Wedington Trail.  It isn’t the prettiest trail I’ve ever seen, nor was it particularly noteworthy for anything other than being my first.  It was early May with overnight lows in the 30’s.  I slept on the ground, in a cheap 40-degree bag under a borrowed ultralight tent.   Well, I didn’t really sleep.  I sort of spent the night trying to huddle deeper into the bag while grinding rocks into my back and side.  Kat was laid out on a sliver of foam under a tarp and snoring like a middle-manager’s Harley.   Not thirty feet away was a 4′-long timber rattler curled up under a rock and all I could think about (between cursing cold, stones, and backpacking in general) was how nice and warm I must be in comparison to that rock.

Before the next hike, I ended up buying a cheap parachute hammock.  The seams started unraveling on the first night.  So I took that back.  My next attempt, still trying to be frugal, was to buy an Army surplus jungle hammock.   I swear those things weigh about 80 lbs. and have a sleeping area approximately the width of a teacup chihuahua.  Once you find the sweet spot for balance, as long as you sleep stone-still, you’ll be okay.  Me, I just learned to sling it low to the ground.  That way, all I had to do was stick out a hand and flip it back over.  I did what I could to minimize the weight – mainly replacing the thick hanging ropes with paracord – but after three or four hikes, I gave up trying to get a good night’s sleep out of that thing.

Now Kat is my guide and mentor in everything but food (and maybe water procurement), and most of the crew had been having a good time trail-snobbing my tendency to buy and then modify mil-surplus gear.  Reluctant as I was to rob them of such a fine source of amusement, I decided that it was time to stop being so cheap about my sleeping gear.  I saved my pennies and went straight for the best thing I could find.

The Clark North American.

This is hands-down the most expensive piece of equipment I have for backpacking.   But, oh . . . it is so worth it.  The first time I used it was in mid-December (2009) on the Buffalo River Trail.  Overnight low was around 18 degrees and both mornings we woke up dusted with snow.  I was so warm each night that I had to unzip the outer wall to let some cool air in.  That first morning, after the veterans endured the muffled farts and asynchronous snoring of a shared tent, they crawled and huddled on a snow-covered log to make their coffee.  I was humming softly, kicking my feet while swaying gently under the silnylon tarp.  Sipping coffee while huddled in my sleeping bag.   I’d love to say I had the grace not to gloat.

They’ve since mothballed the tents and bought hammocks of their own.

I’ve stayed bone dry in thunderstorms, warm in winter, and mosquito-free in summer.  In a few years, if he’s still serious about hiking with me Bear Bait will have one of his own.  That hammock sleeps better than my own bed.

My sleep kit includes:

* seasonal sleeping bag (though my 0-degree is my most comfortable)

* hammock & tree straps

* 1/2 of a fleece blanket (serves as a liner on really cold nights)

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