"Going to ground" from a hammock when backpacking

Recently, there have been several post in blogs and forums about “going to ground” from a hammock. If unfamiliar with this concept, it is the idea to go from hanging in a hammock to sleeping on the ground. Most often this is portrayed as an unplanned event – a backup plan. The only unplanned scenarios that would cause one to “go to ground” include failure of the hammock, failure of the suspension, or the inability to find suitable supports (normally trees) to suspend the hammock. Another (user error) reason could be leaving part of the hammock or hammock suspension at the previous night’s location or failure to pack one of these items.   

There may be some planned reasons to “go to ground.” One could be camping above the tree line or in an arid environment where there are no trees or suitable structures readily available. In some locations, attaching anything from a tree is against the rules such as in some National Parks and/or certain campgrounds. There may be other rules and regulations in effect. For example, all section hikers on the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains must sleep in a shelter. (If the shelter is full, thru hikers can set up outside the shelter.)

Let’s first address the planned scenarios that would cause “go to ground.’ As planning begins for a trip and before the first item is put into the backpack, do research. The rules and regulations of the intended destination should come before mileage, packing list, planned route, or anything else as it will determine what needs to be taken. The rules should never be a surprise. Most of the time, there is a phone number and/or email address available if the answer isn’t online. Is going to ground going to be a rare occasion or a possibility often? The rules, regulations, and/or plan may dictate the need to sleep on the ground every night from the beginning.

On a recent trip, there was going to be one night out of three that I had to “go to ground” in the Smoky Mountains. The first and last night were using backcountry campsites where hammocks are allowed, but the second night was going to be on the Appalachian Trail and we had to sleep in the shelter. The obvious decision was to decide between taking my hammock setup or taking a tent and sleeping pad.  I did neither…. I sleep much better in my hammock, so I decided to take my hammock and down quilts and borrow a sleeping pad for the one night. Yes, I carried the sleeping pad the entire trip…. The night in the shelter I used the borrowed sleeping pad and used my top quilt for insulation. I did sleep in the shelter, but not very well. I am a side sleeper so I was not comfortable as the pad was way too thin. The lesson learned was to save up and invest in a thick but lightweight sleeping pad. They do exist but are fairly expensive. This one from Big Agnes is on my wish list in the regular and wide size: https://www.rei.com/product/105158/big-agnes-q-core-slx-sleeping-pad. It weighs 20 ounces but to get great sleep it is worth the penalty to my wallet and pack weight when it is needed.

That is the only time since 2012 when I began sleeping in a hammock that I had to “go to ground.” I have NEVER had an unplanned “go to ground” experience. A quick caveat: there are plenty of trees and camping sites where I spend most of my nights outdoors.

The obvious questions are: “How is this possible?” and/or “Well, you never go camping so that is easy to say.” It is possible and I do go backpacking/camping at least several times a year. Here is the secret: I do have a small backup plan (or two), I pay attention to detail on the condition of my gear, and I’m sure a little bit of good luck has helped, too!

In the beginning of my hammock camping, I used an inflatable sleeping pad for insulation between me and the hammock. This was my backup plan if something failed. I would use the inflatable sleeping pad and the sleeping bag I was using as my top insulation. When I upgraded to down top quilt and a down under quilt, things became a little more interesting regarding “going to ground.”

The first thing I do is ensure I have all parts of my hammock and suspension before it is placed in my backpack. I never assume both of my tree straps are in the bag with my hammock. I always check to make sure. This is good for the first night or location. The second thing I do is taking care of my gear while I’m out in the woods. I make sure nothing sharp is beneath my hammock when I set it up such as thorns or small branches with pointy ends. I also make sure I have nothing that could puncture my hammock in my pockets or in the hammock before I get into it. The third thing I do is when I preparing to leave each location. As soon as my backpack is fully loaded, I check back over my area to make sure I don’t leave anything. I check for stakes, tree straps, or any other small item that may have fallen out of my pack or one of my pockets. Before I hike off, I often turn around and do a final check. Yes, I have found a thing or two on several occasions. The fourth thing I do is after the backpacking trip. As I’m airing out my gear and/or cleaning it, I pay close attention to the integrity of my hammock and suspension to see if there are any parts that are wearing or needing replacement.

While I think the last paragraph can go a long way to ensure you are not surprised, things happen. I carry two items that can help if I ever have to “go to ground.” The first item is my belt. It is a cinch belt that can be used to extend my tree strap if needed or replace a broken (or lost) tree strap. It cost $10 USD, weighs 2.0 ounces, is 48 inches long, and is made of 1” polyester with a breaking strength of 1500 pounds. I purchased it several years ago here: https://www.dreamhammock.com/shop.html#!/Cinch-Belt/p/27766923/category=4019214 I have never had to use it but one of my hiking buddies did once and it saved the overnight trip.

The second thing I carry to help if I ever have to “go to ground” is a small piece of closed cell foam from a cheap sleeping pad such as this one: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ozark-Trail-Closed-Cell-Foam-Blue-Camp-Sleeping-Pad/634956813  I use an ULA Ohm 2.0 which is an internal frame backpack with a VERY thin piece of foam that comes with it. I took out the thin foam, traced the shape onto the sleeping pad foam and cut it out. I use the thicker foam in my backpack and it has several uses. It prevents sharp edges from poking me in the back as I am hiking. Once I’m at camp and my backpack is unloaded, it can be used as a large sit pad. I could use it in my top quilt for extra warmth if needed. In the event I have to “go to ground” the foam will provide some insulation from the ground for my torso and the backpack would do the same (probably to a lesser degree) for my legs.

Would I be comfortable using the two items listed above? Probably not. Would it work in keeping me warmer than laying on the ground? Yes. Do these items I’m carrying have multiple uses? Yes.

There is an expression that people “pack their fears.” From my experience, the need to carry anything extra for the sole purpose is “what if” I have to sleep on the ground unexpectedly is absolutely unnecessary.  If research is done before the trip, care is taken to ensure everything is packed before you leave as well as repacked before you leave each location, and your gear is regularly inspected, there will be a very small chance that scenario would happen. If it is a concern, just a few small changes could be made to your current gear to allow for some degree of preparedness.

What are you doing to preparing for “going to ground” from a hammock?

Posted in Backpacking, Beginner Series, Hammock Camping, Helpful information | 1 Comment

Gunsight Falls (Bankhead National Forest) – 2 year adventure

This particular post has taken about two years to actually write. The reason is my hiking buddy and I had heard of this particular mysterious waterfall in name only with very few detail about the actual location several years ago. Since we have seen most of the other major waterfalls in Bankhead National Forest, this one was on our list to see.  We went into detective mode, scouring the Internet for clues of the actual location and/or directions and there were very few. Our schedules go busy with work and family. I finally had a few hours free one Saturday morning. Although I hated to go find this particular waterfall without him, this was probably my only chance this year so I took advantage of the little free time I have and made the decision to go find it.

Following some fairly vague directions, I parked at the gated area for the Kinlock area in Bankhead National Forest. I have always wondered where this road led and I was about to find out. It was interesting that so much money had been invested in this “road to nowhere.”  Evidence of concrete drainage spots were very obvious along the sides of this road. . I headed up the hill and passed the turnoff for Kinlock Shelter. I topped the hill and headed downhill as the road curved to the right and Basin Creek was gurgling on my left. There were some very nice flat and open spots for camping along the creek. I was surprised there were was not any evidence of previous camping such as fire rings, etc.

I continued to follow the road to the right and slightly uphill as it finally curved slightly to the left and crossed Basin Creek. I was expecting the evidence of a large bridge in the past, but it appeared as a simple rock bottomed creek crossing as many of the other old logging roads I have seen in the forest. I was surprised given the time, energy, and money to construct the road up to this point. I retraced my steps back to the point where I first encountered the creek.  I dropped off the road to the creek and found myself at the junction of several creeks.

From memory, I knew my destination was upstream of my current location but I wasn’t sure which creek held my much sought after waterfall.  I decided to head up the creek to my left as I thought I faintly remembered being told it was that direction.  From this point forward, the hiking became a bushwhack without any trail evident except for a game trail or two. 

I headed upstream and after a short time I could hear the distinct sound of a waterfall up ahead just as I passed an old wooden bridge crossing the narrow creek.

Old wooden Bridge

I knew this area was close to private property and I was on the lookout for evidence of “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” signs as well as the presence of red paint. National Forest boundaries are marked with red paint on trees, or yellow signs with black printing. I did see two old metal signs, but I was on the correct (National Forest) side of the signs I observed. I quickened my pace upstream to discover two surprises.  First, I did find a wonderful waterfall. However, my second surprise was it was NOT the waterfall I expected. I have seen several pictures of the waterfall I was trying to find, but this definitely was not it. 

Waterfall #1

I took a quick break and as I looked around, I noticed a metal ladder leading up to a ledge to the left of the waterfall. Knowing this was close to some private property, I assumed it was brought down from area up on the ridge above me. Although I have not seen or heard anyone, I am not one to want to intrude where I’m not supposed to be.  I consulted my map and decided I should have taken the creek to the right instead of the creek to the left at the previous junction. Although I could retrace my steps back to the creek junction, it would be much shorter to follow the bluff around to the north to find the waterfall I was actually out here to see.

As I headed across the creek to follow the bluff around I noticed a set of old wooden steps leading down into the creek and a wooden bench.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I passed these heading up and around the bluff. I am so glad I made that decision. Within a short distance, I found two more small waterfalls. 

Waterfall #2

The first waterfall was interesting. The water fell a short distance then the water came back under and flowed to the left as you faced the waterfall.

Waterfall #2

I passed this waterfall, and continued the bluff around to the north. In the next drainage, I found another interesting small waterfall. This one had a “slide” above the edge of the waterfall.

Waterfall #3

After many up and downs bushwhacking around the bluff, I finally came to the creek I should have taken earlier and headed upstream. I saw a large bluff on my right and heard rushing water as I neared the end of the canyon. I decided to save that area to explore on my way out. I continued upstream and came upon what I have heard referred to as “Gunsight Falls.” I think the name comes from the narrow area at the top of the falls. It does resemble iron sights on a rifle. While it was a tall waterfall, it honestly wasn’t as tall as I expected. I would estimate it is similar to height as East Bee Falls near the “Big Tree.” I was glad to finally find it but slightly sad my regular hiking buddy wasn’t’ here to enjoy our discovery as we have talked about searching for this waterfall for several years.

Gunsight Falls
Gunsight Falls

I did take a longer break here since I knew I was nowhere close to private property. After a break it was time to head back downstream toward the car with one more area on my list to explore on my way out. As I headed downstream, I headed toward the sound of water I heard on the way in.

I found the source of falling water and was pleasantly surprised. There was a large shelter with a very unique feature. Instead of the water falling over the edge of the shelter as most waterfalls, the water was falling from a fault INSIDE the shelter. The ground inside of the shelter was covered with large rocks that had fallen from the roof, so I took a few quick pictures and left the danger area.

Waterfall #4

I headed back downstream and quickly came to the location to cross the creek and get back on the old road. I climbed the hill and just as I was within sight of my car I saw the first people of the day. They were headed to Kinlock Shelter to have lunch.  I got into my car and headed home. According to my GPS, I had covered about 5.5 miles in a little over 3 hours. About half of the distance was bushwhacking. It was another great day in Bankhead National Forest and one more waterfall was checked off my list of places to go find.

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Track my progress real-time on my SPOT GPS Messenger

I’m leaving tomorrow (10/5/2019) morning to drive to Elkmont, Tennessee and begin a 4 day, 35 mile backpacking trip. To show how a SPOT GPS Messenger works, I am sharing my public page where you can track my progress. There will be information displayed when I power up my SPOT GPS Messenger around lunch tomorrow.

Here is the link: https://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0V2XG14fKrY4UWEl2bNbWVV4crnvFmuhe

Posted in Backpacking, Beginner Series, Gear Review, Helpful information, Hiking | Leave a comment

My personal backpack packing list/weight planning spreadsheet

I love a good spreadsheet. Here is the one I’m currently using. It does graphs, percentages, and lots of things you may not need.

This information is actually my packing list for a trip I leave on tomorrow to the Smoky Mountains. The plan is 35ish miles in 4 days.

I hope you find the spreadsheet useful. Feel free to download and make your own.

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LightHeart Gear Rain Jacket initial impression

My gear list is always being refined.  While looking at a spreadsheet I use for planning what to pack and where I can improve my pack weight, one area that has stuck out recently is my rain jacket. I have been using a GoLite rain jacket for several years and have been very pleased with the performance. I have a criteria a rain jacket “needs” to have for fit my hiking/camping style. The GoLite jacket has them all, but it is relatively heavy at 11.9 oz. I have been looking at alternatives. I experimented with the cheap Frogg Toggs jacket. Although the Frogg Toggs Rain jackets are very light (5.5 oz.), they don’t have one of my main criteria for a rain jacket: pit zips (zippers in the armpits). Unzipping these while hiking allow me to stay relatively dry but vent out body heat so I won’t get too hot while wearing the jacket when I’m hiking.

I searched. And searched. And searched some more.  I could not find a jacket that had the options I wanted, was ultralight, and at a price I was willing to pay. Until last week when I found the LightHeart Gear Rain Jacket (https://lightheartgear.com/products/rain-jacket).  I read and watched many reviews of this jacket to ensure it was what I wanted and it fit my criteria. I finally decided this was going to be my new rain jacket. I wanted a bright orange jacket.  Yes, it is obnoxiously bright, but my reasoning is if I want to be seen in the woods for any reason, I needed something bright.  This jacket definitely will allow me to be seen! After learning from my last jacket purchase, I reviewed the size chart and measured to ensure I bought the correct size. I ordered a large jacket in blaze orange and it was shipped within hours. The total price was $106.23 USD ($99 for the jacket and $7.23 for shipping). I received the jacket last night and I thought I’d give you my initial impressions. I will be taking this on a multi-day trip to the Smoky Mountains in a couple of weeks so I may be able to give you a better review after that trip.

Before we get to the pictures, there is one thing I should point out and many of you already know. There is not a truly waterproof and breathable jacket. A rain jacket will only do one of these functions really well, but not both. This jacket performs as a rain jacket really well. It is not breathable at all which is why the pit zips are so important. LightHeart Gear is very clear about this. Here is the item description from their website:

  • All fabrics are waterproof, not breathable.
  • Long pit zips in every jacket allow you to slip your arm out for more ventilation. (#3 coil zipper)
  • Pit zips are NOT waterproof zippers and could leak.
  • Front zipper is #5 molded plastic tooth.
  • Elastic and Velcro adjustments at wrists.
  • Full brim hood to keep the rain off your glasses.
  • Sizes: X-Small, thru XXX-Large.
  • Custom sleeve length available ($60.00 extra).
  • Hand warmer pockets.
  • Inside waterproof pockets (2).
  • Seams are bound, not taped.
  • All jackets come with a matching small stuff sack.
  • All zippers are genuine YKK zippers.

Here is an invoice to confirm the price.

The rain jacket was contained in a separate brown paper bag

I told you the jacket was bright orange!

A picture of the tag

The jacket in the included stuff sack on the scale weighed 6.2 oz. or 175 grams.

The length of the front zipper

The length of the pit zips

A picture of the hood

Depth of the pockets – notice there is not a zipper on the outside of the hand pockets.

Length of the inside waterproof pocket.

Width of the inside waterproof pocket

Cuff of the jacket

Me wearing the jacket.  For reference, I’m about 5’10” tall and weigh 185 pounds. This material is thin and you can see the pattern of my shirt through the jacket.

As part of my layering system, I put the LightHeart Gear rain jacket over my hooded Outdoor Vitals LoftTek (TM) Insulated Jacket to see how it would fit.  There was still plenty of room.

Now here is my initial impression: Overall, I’m very pleased.  I cut 5.7 ounces from my pack with a jacket with nearly the same features as the rain jacket I have been using.  The construction of the jacket is top notch. I didn’t see any loose threads or imperfections when I closely examined the jacket. Double stitching is located in places that make sense – such as the drawstring around the hood. It is a quality piece of gear. Although the material is “slippery” the jacket fit well and was comfortable. The hand pockets and the interior pockets were deep – which is nice. The four Velcro tabs that attach the rain flap over the zipper and on the cuff were just the right amount of “stickiness” (if that makes sense). The zippers worked smoothly.

I wanted a bright orange and I got it!  I don’t even think the pictures show just how bright this jacket really looks. My hiking buddies may hate me, but they will always know where I am if I’m wearing this jacket. As previously mentioned, this material is very slippery. I don’t use many stuff sacks in my backpack, but this jacket will be in one or it may just overtake my pack when uncompressed. The jacket is very warm since it is not breathable. In the few minutes it took me to take the two pictures of me wearing the jacket I was already starting to sweat.

Is there anything I would change or dislike initially about the jacket? My other rain jackets have elastic cording around the bottom of the jacket and zippers on the outside hand pockets. I’m just used to these features. Will I miss them? I probably will not miss the zippers on the hand pockets. I have several other pockets and ways to secure things when I’m backpacking. I did find the elastic around the bottom of my other jackets useful when using them as a windbreaker. Tightening this cord prevented wind from going up the back of my jacket. I don’t know if this will be an issue and I may be able to add it – although it will add weight to the jacket overall. I’ll keep you posted.

If you want an affordable, high quality 100% rainproof jacket, the rain jacket from LightHeart Gear may be the answer. For under $105 USD and weighing just over 6 ounces for a size large, I’m surprised this rain jacket is not more popular on the trail.

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Printable Pinhoti “snail trail” guide

In planning for an upcoming 5 day/4 night solo trip, I visit the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website often. You can find it here: http://www.pinhotitrailalliance.org/

One of the offerings on this website is a North bound “snailtrail guide” that goes into detail about features at certain mileage points per section for the entire trail in Alabama. I have downloaded all the sections (1-13) and combined these into one document. I did take out most of the “history” sections, the wildflower information, and removed the campsite information for 2 reasons. It reduced the length of the document and campsites are plentiful. I also use a hammock and can camp just about anywhere along the trail.

Currently, the document is still 31 pages long, but you can print on both sides of the paper (so only 16 sheets of paper) and use the pages no longer needed to help start a fire to reduce weight as needed. I’m hoping someone else finds it useful. Enjoy!

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I’d like your feedback, please!

I did “spring cleaning” on my blog. I deleted a few posts and organized my blog entries into categories. I have links to the most popular categories just under the header image if viewing on a computer and a drop down menu if you are using the WordPress app or mobile device.

I do realize some of the posts overlap categories as does the information in the individual post. I have also added a search button and category button on the right side when using a computer. This will allow you to search and find certain entries easier without having to scroll until you find them.

I am looking for feedback on the current changes and any recommended changes from those that follow and/or read my blog. I’ve tried to check every link in every blog to ensure they work. If you notice a link not working properly, please let me know so I can add a note or correct the link.

Thanks!

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