The Hammock I Actually Take Camping

That smile will last until the deerflies land on your hinder and your knees cry, which is about two minutes in the Ozarks. Use the hammock to stow your gear at night.

In the early 70’s I took a jungle survival course taught by a Green Beret sergeant with a couple of tours of experience in Vietnam, and one of the practical things he suggested I include in my kit was a nylon mesh hammock. That’s what I still take with me when I go camping, and I define camping as living outdoors with a vehicle (either boat or car) as a base. I don’t take a hammock backpacking because a string and a stuff sack will do what I need done. Food goes in the bag and I haul the sack up a tree limb out of reach of bears and chipmunks. Hammock isn’t needed for that.

When you camp, you can take stuff that makes life more pleasurable. I love to camp by canoe, and a canoe has lots of room, so I can take things I wouldn’t dream of taking with me if I carry everything in a pack. I lash my Coleman two-burner camp stove under a canoe seat and I pack a mosquito net and a hammock in my kit. My training sergeant suggested the hammock because he had found it very practical when stuck in the bamboo swamps overnight. Other people in his squad, he recalled, squatted in the muck and the leeches through the dark hours, while he swung above the mess in his two dollar hammock. They do cost more now, but they are still the cheapest way to comfort in a base camp situation.

When canoe camping on a river or lake here in the midwest, I prefer sleeping in a tent, but the hammock still comes in handy for holding all the gear you need to keep above the damp. Just pile it in there, lash a tarp over it, and everything is fine even if there’s an unexpected storm. You could sleep in one of these mesh hammocks with as much comfort as in a more expensive ripstop nylon version, but you’d still need a mosquito net and some rigging skills. I prefer tents. On gravel bars, I use my tactical shovel to scoop the top six inches of gravel off the tent site, so I get down to where it’s cool. Nothing quite like a cool bed of river gravel for a good night’s sleep. Wiggle your hip into it and you’re fine.

I remember that sergeant in detail, because one of the other things he told me was to take a cheap ring-pull saw along with me. According to him it was great for clearing landing zones for helicopters. Although I didn’t have need for one in Vietnam, I did try one as soon as I got back because it still sounded like a great idea. I found out that they break almost immediately, get nothing useful done, and will strip the meat off your fingers before they cut through a tree branch. This puzzled me and then after I thought about it I didn’t feel so bad that I failed his final test.

At the end of training he singled me out and asked/yelled at me, “What do you do if you crash in the jungle?!” and I thought about it seriously and said, “I don’t know!” Of course he scoffed at me, but I think I was right. Every situation is different, no survival solution is always right. So I guess what I would do is look around and see what’s happening. Then I would decide what to do. Today and every time I’ve been in trouble that’s what I do or always have done. I worried about that for years, thought I had done poorly in his week-long class. Then I tried the ring-pull saw and I felt fine. Veterans lie a lot, I have learned. But he was right about hammocks even though he probably never slept in one in a bamboo swamp. They are handy.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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