AT Prep: ditching my tent for a hammock in search of a good nights rest

Denial at its best

In what seems to be the never-ending task of preparing for the AT I spent countless hours on whiteblaze.net and other various sites researching the best gear I could possibly take with me. As with most “newbs” I fell into the trap of other’s opinions becoming my own. There was no way I would be caught backpacking the AT in a hammock. If you want to be cool and one with the crowd you most certainly must own a tent. It was the most obvious answer and I only furthered my denial when I read such statements as “it’s impractical” “where will you sleep if you are on a bald” “all the pros tent” and so on. I was convinced the tent life was for me and so my first big purchase for the AT was a brand new $379 Big Agnes HV UL 2. Don’t get me wrong this is an amazing piece of gear and I will not be selling it, but something was wrong. It never seemed to fail: Every time I was out on a backpacking trip I could not get a good nights rest. Tossing and turning all night I became increasingly frustrated with each trip. No matter what I tried I could not find a solution and I thought this bump in the road meant I was destined for a thru-hike of miserable, restless nights between town stops.

In my frustration, I was desperate to find a solution. So I did the only thing I knew and I dove back into researching shelters again. Over and over I would come across post from people with the same issues. To my surprise there was a common resolution for this lack of sleep achieved while tenting. The so called “hammock life.” Still I continued to deny this unconventional approach to thru-hiking, even though I have never hiked more than 32 miles in one trip. One last trip consisting of restless nights led to me finally giving in. So, as I am accustomed to by now, I was back to researching gear and companies. After countless hours I came across a company call Warbonnet Outdoors and decided to give them a try. So, here I was with this new $346 set up consisting of a Warbonnet Blackbird, an Edge Tarp, and some accessories.

What was I thinking?

Weight wise I can tell you that the only increase in comparison to my original Big Agnes, Therm-a-Rest Xlite, and enlightened equipment revelation is the additional underquilt necessary for warmth. By the way, the Yeti underquilt from Warbonnet Outdoors is roughly 13 ounces and brings my base weight currently up to 16 pounds. I’d be ecstatic to carry that for a solid night of rest on the trail. So with my new gear in hand I took a backpacking trip to the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. In my excitement I set up my hammock and tarp on what seemed to be a promisingly sturdy tree. Around 10pm, in a frantic attempt to escape the torrential rains of hell I found myself plummeting to the ground as I sat into my hammock. My first experience with a hammock was not going well. I thought to myself “if I just had a tent I wouldn’t be in this situation.” As the rain continued, I hovered under the tarp in a manner that made me resemble the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Oh, how I hoped that it would soon pass, this was not the case. As the water encroached the status of my posture continued to decline. After waiting nearly an hour and a half I had to make the decision to get into the rain and adjust my set up to a new tree. This was not a pleasant experience by any means, but in the end was worth it. For after all the hovering, after getting soaked moving my hammock, and shivering as I attempted to dry off and change under the tarp I achieved something. A full nights rest with no interruption. I slept like a baby until the rain stopped nearly 10 hours later. Like a baby? Yes… not the screaming, keep you up all night as you pull your hair out kind of babies… that was my tent… but rather the quiet, calm sleep all night with no distraction babies that you want to cuddle to death… Yea, that’s my hammock.

Resolution!

For this reason I have fully adopted the “hammock life” and will be hammocking my way to Katahdin. Of course, I will be bringing my Therm-a-Rest XLite for those pesky shelter only sections and enjoying a few nights under the stars, but the moral of the story is…. I fell into the trap not trying out gear and just accepting other’s opinions. Thus, I had excluded an amazing piece of gear for too long.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Chris G. : Feb 5th

    I dont know what cool kids told you you had to have a tent. Just kidding I had a big agnes tent for years and then even purchased a super light zpacks one for the AT before finally discovering the enjoyment of hammock camping. From your post it seems like you are gonna bring your underquilt and your blow up pad? That seems like a bit of extra weight for not much pay off, after you can turn any place with two trees into home sweet home. Ill ask how you like your hammock if I catch up to you, im leaving around 3/25 from Springer!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Koty Sapp : Feb 5th

      I love the big Agnes tent I purchased. I just can’t sleep through the night without tossing and turning. I love the fact that almost anywhere with trees can be home for the night, you’re off the ground, and it’s so darn comfy. After the smokies the pad is most likely going home. Hope to see you out there on the trail!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Sara : Feb 15th

        I’m planning on taking both my tent and hammock, which I’m sure is completely nuts and excess baggage and all. But, whatever. Heading out 3/29…hope to see y’all.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Carl Zimmerman : Feb 15th

    Wish you luck. Zman AT 2013; NoBo.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Koty Sapp : Feb 16th

      Thanks Zman!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Arnold Guzman : Feb 15th

    Hey man, Bloodhound here. I’m not a hiker but a trail angel and writer for the Trek. In all the trail interviews I do, the answer to the question I ask, “Tent vs Hammock”? Almost every one of them says, “Tent”. However, most of the ‘tenters’ say they haven’t tried them either
    Look forward to running into you somewhere on the trail. I haunt the northern Smokies region

    Good hiking to ya!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Koty Sapp : Feb 16th

      That was my point of view. I condemned “the hammock life” like most tenters without giving it a try. Turns out it was the solution. I intend to be more open minded in the future and at least give different options a chance. Hopefully, I can convince others to do the same.

      I should be coming through the norther Smokies around the second week of April. Hope to see you out there!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Christopher Patellis : Feb 15th

    This is awesome. I too will be using a hammock this year on the AT. I am leaving Mt Katahdin heading SOBO on July 1st.

    See you on the trail!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Koty Sapp : Feb 16th

      Awesome! I’ll be leaving from Springer March 18th. Hope to see you out there!

      Reply

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