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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > The Ultimate Hang > Test Report by Kurt Papke

The Ultimate Hang

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - December 3, 2011

Long-Term Report - April 5, 2012

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papkelay
Age: 58
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 228 lbs (103 kg)
Email address: kwpapke (at) gmail (dot) com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

I have been a hardcore hammock camper since March 2008, sleeping in a hammock in temperatures from -27F (-33 C) to +100F (38 C), from sea level to 10,000 ft (3050 m) of altitude, from Northern Minnesota to Southern Arizona.

Initial Report

Product Facts

Product Information
Manufacturer
Hansen Outdoors Publishing
Book cover
Photo courtesy Derek Hansen
Manufacturer website
http://theultimatehang.com
Year manufactured
2011
Size (measured dimensions are nominally identical to those listed by the manufacturer)
130 pages
6 x 9 in
(152 x 229 mm)
MSRP
$14.95 USD
Weight
7.9 oz
(225 g)
Material
Paperback with glossy cover

Key features as stated by the manufacturer include:

With more than 200 illustrations to guide you, this book helps you get off the ground to discover the freedom, comfort, and convenience of hammock camping. Learn how to set up and use a hammock to stay dry, warm, and bug free in a Leave No Trace-friendly way.  This book covers hammock camping basics such as how to get a perfect hang and how to stay dry, warm, and bug free. Plus, it illustrates techniques and tips to get the most out of a hammock shelter, whether you have purchased an all-in-one kit or you've assembled your own customized system.

Initial Inspection

TOCThe first thing that struck me when I took the book out of the shipping sleeve was the nice illustration on the cover (see photo above).  I thought "wow, it must have cost the author a lot to hire an illustrator for the book."  Then I noticed the illustrator is the author.  Impressive.

I immediately went to the table of contents to see what I had to look forward to (pictured at left).  At first glance, it seems very complete, covering all the hammock camping topics that came to my mind.  The biggest challenge I have had is staying warm underneath me, and I was glad to see the author dedicated a dozen pages to staying warm and a substantial fraction of that to "Warm Below".

Next I leafed through the book, and I was immediately even more impressed by the illustrations.  Mr. Hansen's style reminds me a little of the classic hiking author and illustrator Mike Clelland - a bit whimsical, but instructive.

Though I am an experienced hammock camper, this is a developing field and there is always something new to learn.  The back cover indicated that whoopie slings are discussed, and this is one of those terms I have seen but never truly understood.  I look forward to pouring over the pages of the book in the next few months attempting to absorb as much as possible all the tidbits the author has accumulated.



Long-Term Report

Overall

As a credit to the author, this book has encyclopedic scope and level of detail.  I can't find a single topic of importance that was not covered, at the very least in passing, and with a wonderful sense of humor.  In the following paragraphs, I make a number of minor suggestions for improvement.  This should not be construed as criticism of the book, just thoughts that occurred to me while I was reading it.

Its greatest strength is also its strongest weakness: it is so thorough it could be a bit overwhelming to a new candidate to hammock camping.  Suggestion: perhaps in The Basics section a pointer to one or more turnkey solutions available from a single supplier.  Not all components need to be chosen and purchased from different manufacturers.

Each chapter gives many options for solving common problems.  The hard part for me is deciding what to do, so I found myself wishing for guidance which way to go.  Suggestion: add a table in each chapter summarizing the advantages and drawbacks of each option (including cost), and the situations (such as weather) that may favor a particular solution.  Example: underquilts are covered in some depth, but they are expensive, and don't do well in wet conditions.  Pads are much cheaper, function well when wet, and can be used on the ground if necessary.  Most of this information is in the book, but it might be helpful to summarize.

I do not have access to good information on manufacturer market share, but Hennessy was the first major supplier, and my guess is they still have the largest number of customers.  I didn't feel that Hennessy configurations were covered as well as they could have, despite the author mentioning that his first hammock was an Expedition ASYM.  Example: there is little mention of side tie-outs (common to the popular Warbonnet as well), bottom entry, and ridgeline-attached tarps (mentioned only in passing on pg. 80).

On the flip side bug protection is something I have given almost no thought to, despite doing much of my early hammock camping in mosquito-infested northern Minnesota.  Both of my hammocks have fully-integrated bugnets, so it was never a concern.  The author devotes an entire chapter to this topic, which is great for completeness of coverage, but might be a bit more than many folks need.

The bottom line: there is no better source for information available on hammock camping today (that I am aware of) than The Ultimate Hang.  For someone seriously interested in the topic, this book can replace hours of wading through information on the Web, and do it in an entertaining fashion.  What a feat by the author!

Introductory Sections

I really liked the table comparing hammock to tent camping in the Overview section of the book.  This table would be invaluable to someone considering the shift from a tent to a hammock, and gave the advantages and disadvantages of both.  Suggestion: it might be helpful to show which pieces of gear might be re-used when transitioning from ground camping to a hammock: sleeping bag, pad, tarp, stakes.

There are a couple of items in the comparison table that are debatable:
  • Hammock: lightweight, versus tent: heavy and bulky.  The jury is still out whether one saves weight and/or bulk with a hammock, particularly when I've argued this point with someone who sleeps on the ground under a tarp.
  • Hammock: quick and easy to set up, versus tent: (need a flat spot, etc.)  I have seen some newcomers to hammocks really struggle setting up their rig.  Hammocks go up very quickly once the user is experienced, but so do tents.
Bad Ideas (pg. 19): I would add to the author's list an inspection for trees near the campsite that could fall (not just the branches above as mentioned in the book).  In fact there is a whole page of the book dedicated to widowmakers, pg. 28.  The following picture was taken in April 2009 shortly after a substantial tree fell on my Hennessy hammock:

Ouch!

This was an entire tree, not just a branch above.  Fortunately I was cooking dinner, not laying in the hammock when the tree decided to fall, otherwise I surely would have had some broken bones.  As a testament to the sturdiness of the gear, I was able to sleep in the hammock that night, and after my wife sewed up the torn bugnet and I repaired the broken ridgeline it was pretty much good as new.  This issue is not confined to hammocks, the same could happen just as easily with a tent.

Where to Hang

This section gives detailed and extensive guidance about where to hang one's hammock.   I can't think of anything that could be added to it.  The one item I thought could be improved is the illustration on pg. 29.  It shows two hammocks tied to three trees with a caption "A large tarp can cover both hammocks!"  Judging from the perspective of the illustration, the tarp would have to be extremely large to cover two side-by-side hammocks.  It can be done, but the caption might be a bit misleading.

In the Choose Your View section the author does a great job of explaining something that may not be obvious to neophyte hammock campers: we have many options for campsites that simply would not work for tent or tarp campers, a point illustrated by the photo of my campsite at Grass Shack.

Hang It Up

This section does a thorough job of laying out step-by-step how to make camp with a hammock.  It does so with illustrations that would be of great aid to a beginner who takes the book with them on their maiden voyage: the illustrations show at-a-glance what to do and how to do it.  It spells out some of the "rules of thumb" that I required many outings to learn, such as how to select tree distance and getting correct tension on the suspension.

The Hammock

Guyline on asym hammockI was a little surprised this section did not have a discussion concerning asymmetric versus symmetric hammocks.  Many hammock campers consider the asymmetric models such as Hennessy and Warbonnet to be much roomier and more comfortable, but they do need side tie-outs as a result.

On the topic of side tie-outs, the cover illustration, which is also replicated on page 13, shows side tie-outs, which the author calls a "guyline" on page 12.  However, this topic is never really treated in the text.  I have found that comfort is maximized when the guylines are anchored as horizontally as possible, either by tying to a tree, or using my trekking poles.  The photo at right shows my Hennessy hammock with the guylines attached to the same trekking pole as used to support my tarp.  I found this made a huge difference in keeping the bugnet off my face at night.


Suspension and Anchor Points

This chapter is exhausting in detail and options, perhaps this is one of the author's favorite topics.  This section has arguably the strongest need for guidance to the reader concerning the pros and cons of the many possibilities presented in the book.  I certainly get what a Whoopie sling is now, but I'm not sure I need one.

Staying Dry

On pg. 74-75 the author gives an extensive comparison of various tarp configurations, but omits my favorite: the common 8x10 ft (244 x 305 cm) rectangle, hung on the diagonal to give asymmetric coverage.  Because it is so common, this tarp is very inexpensive, widely available off-the-shelf, and has a huge variety of configurations it can be used in both on the ground and with a hammock.  This section also does not include information on Hennessy ridgeline-attached tarps.  Many hammock aficionados denigrate the ridgeline-attached tarp, but that is what comes standard with a Hennessy and I still use mine that way.

I really liked the graphical table the author used on pg. 75 to compare and contrast various tarp choices, with the vertical axis placement indicating where that configuration was on the continuum of coverage, ease of pitching, etc.  This is exactly the kind of summary info that I think would be incredibly valuable to add to some of the other sections of the book -- help me decide!

The section on Tarp-pitching Tips is absolutely invaluable.  It explains lessons that may not be obvious to a new hammock camper who is unfamiliar with tarp setup.

Keeping Warm

There is arguably no topic more important and more difficult in hammock camping than keeping one's backside warm.  Even after many years I wrestle with optimal solutions to this problem.

On the top of pg. 88 the author states that hanging a hammock over duff is a way to deal with an unexpected cold snap.  This is a section on inserts, but it wasn't clear that what the author meant was that the leaves, etc. could be stuffed into the baffles of a Clark hammock during the night for extra warmth.

Vapor Barrier Liners (VBL): this is a topic of some complexity.  A little bit of knowledge could be dangerous, as VBL's can result in serious moisture accumulation if not used properly.  The decision to use a hammock in winter is not obvious, as I have found it is much easier to stay warm lying on the snow.  My suggestion would be to leave out the VBL topic completely, or expand it to an entire chapter on winter hammock camping.

Hot water bottles: it might be good to point out that one must use a bottle designed for holding boiling water.  A cycling bottle is likely to fail ending up with a cold, wet camper.  A Nalgene, sealed tightly, is the only reliable solution I am aware of.

Field Experience & Use

Saguaro National Park

Hanging in Saguaro NP
Photo courtesy Belinda Norby

On January 21-22, 2012 I went on a weekend backpacking trip with a local Tucson Meetup group to Saguaro National Park East Unit in the Rincon Mountains.  We took a new section (Quilter Trail) of the Arizona National Scenic Trail to Grass Shack camp, a round trip distance of about 20 miles (32 km).  I set up camp in a dry river bed (see above photo) right next to the running stream so I could have the gurgling noise of the water lull me to sleep.  Clearly from the photo this would not be a location where one could sleep in a tent.

My shelter configuration was a Warbonnet Blackbird double-bottom hammock (see my review on this website), and my Siltarp 2 in an A-frame configuration with trekking poles holding up the middle edges of the tarp to provide better ventilation and ingress/egress.  Not visible in the photo are the two pads I had beneath me: an Exped MultiMat (see my review on this website) and my Therm-a-rest ProLite 4 inflatable.  My sleeping bag was an REI Sahara 30F (-1 C) down mummy bag.

It got a little chilly that night, about 29 F (-2 C), just under the rating for my bag.  We were at about 5400 ft (1650 m) of elevation, and the high desert gets cool on winter nights.  I was actually pretty warm, except for a cold spot right in the small of my back when I lie on my back.  I think what was happening is the inflatable pad developed a crease where my butt was which created a cold spot.  The Ultimate Hang has a pretty extensive section on pads, but does not mention this potential problem with inflatable pads, though it does mention to slightly underinflate them to conform to the curvature of the body in a hammock.

I didn't really try any new brand-new ideas from the book on this trip, though the dual-pad combination is something I've only done once or twice before.

Romero Canyon

This was a three-day/two night backpacking trip from March 30 to April 1, 2012.  I have day hiked the lower sections of Romero Canyon many times, but never done an overnight there.  It is the closest backpacking trailhead from my home, just 15 minutes away, and I just wanted to get into the backcountry without doing much driving.  In addition to the Romero trail itself, I hiked up and did a short section of the Arizona Trail south to the Cathedral Rock trail.

One of the ideas I wanted to try from the book on this trip was a taut tarp pitch.  I have always used what the author calls "end-only" lines, where I simply run a line from the two hang points directly around the trees my hammock is hung from.  This is simple and requires minimal rope, but provides a pitch with a distinct sag in the middle (visible in the picture above from Saguaro NP).  I was intrigued with the full-length ridgeline technique illustrated on page 71, so I brought 50 ft (15 m) of utility cord, some S-biners and Figure-9's with me to try it out.  It was a smashing success as can be seen in the following photo from my Friday night camp showing my 8x10 tarp pitched asymmetrically on the diagonal:

Taut pitch!

Note the razor-straight ridgeline!  I can now go to my next Hammock Forums "Hang" and not be ashamed of my sloppy tarp pitches.  Note the visible hammock side tieout to the tree to keep the bugnet off my face, and the tarp connection to the same tree instead of a stake.

On Saturday night I decided to forgo the tarp and have a view of the stars, but before retiring I spent some time studying my copy of The Ultimate Hang, of course using my trusty Warbonnet Blackbird hammock as a comfy camp chair:

The Ulitmate Hang in camp

On both nights my bottom insulation was my MultiMat with a mylar space blanket just beneath me, and my fleece pullover positioned just beneath my butt to prevent Cold Butt Syndrome (CBS) as the author terms it.  I've found that this 1/8 in (3.2 mm) pad with the space blanket and the fleece in the pad sleeve is good down to about 50 F (10 C), and the MultiMat gives me full coverage across the shoulders.

The Growing Popularity of Hammock Camping

When I started hammock camping it was pretty much an unknown, arcane topic.  Since that time its popularity seems to be growing rapidly, if the number of firms offering product and the number of HammockForums.net members is any indication.  In fact, on March 23, 2012 I was walking through the Tucson 4th Street Art Fair and there was even a booth selling camping hammocks on site:

Hammock Bliss at the 4th Street Fair


I believe the author's timing is impeccable -- it may very well be that he is a major contributor to the next wave of popularity of hammock camping.

Summary

The author has made a significant and novel contribution to backpacking literature.  Just as talented singer-songwriters are a rare breed, author-illustrators are perhaps even more rare.  He has a gift, and I sincerely hope he continues to exercise that gift to the benefit of the outdoor community.

This book is an invaluable asset for someone considering hammock camping, or has already started down that wonderful path and just wants to learn more.

Kudo's:

  1. Great breadth and depth on the topics.  All of the information in this book I would consider useful to a new hammock camper.
  2. Objective, manufacturer-agnostic treatment of options.
  3. Illustrations are both entertaining and instructive.

Possibilities for improvement:

  1. Don't intimidate the newcomers!  It is exquisitely difficult to balance making things seem simple and obvious for readers new to the topic, with sufficient detail and depth for the experts.
  2. Summary information in each section on options - help me decide!


Many thanks to Derek Hansen and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.



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