My buddy, Coop, was a couple of months from joining the brotherhood of fatherhood. To celebrate (and because it’d probably be a while before we’d be able to go out again) we plotted a course for Apple Orchards Falls; a destination that would keep him close to home, but far enough away from civilization.
For our annual winter backpacking trip, my buddy, Coop, and I decided on Mt. Rogers Recreation Area. We’d been there in 2011 when we hit up Grayson Highlands to see the wild horses. It’s a great place with great views, and it’s also home to the highest point in Virginia. What makes Mt. Rogers Area a particularly good spot for the winter is the number of trails through and around the area. A must when weather forces routes to change. Something that often happens at Mt. Rogers where winds and temps are known to change in minutes.
Still, we opted to plan our trip ambitiously and play the rest by ear.
I’ve been itching to go backpacking since my July trip to Panthertown Valley. Four months later, and just two months after shoulder surgery, I got to scratch my itch in the Three Ridges Wilderness, located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. My buddy, Coop, mapped out a sweet 20-mile hike with elevations ranging from 1,000′ to 3,790′ at the summit of Three Ridges Mountain.
Given my recent surgery and even more recent return to running I was a little concerned with my ability to complete the fairly difficult hike. But really, what’s the worst that could happen? Besides the 20 miles of hiking and nearly 10,000′ of elevation gain, I put considerable thought into choosing between a tent or a hammock. The forecast called for rain on Saturday with 20MPH winds and nighttime temps in the mid-20s. And Sunday, nighttime temps were forecasted to be in the mid-20s with 15MPH winds. A bit of research on cold weather hammock camping (and an ENO Blaze Hammock Underquilt) later I decided that I would hike by day and swing between two trees at night.
I’ve been tent backpacking for several years and it wasn’t until a recent trip to Tsali Rec Area that I began to consider the alternatives. A list which includes: on the ground, on the ground with a tarp, or above the ground in a hammock.
I’ve slept on the ground in a sleeping bag. It was fine, but the conditions were ideal (i.e. moderate temps, no bugs, and we were on a bald with little wind). However, I had not crossed off tarp or hammock from my backpacking bucket list.
At Tsali, I noticed a lot of people choosing hammocks over tents. Curious, I asked one camper to let me give their hammock a try. It seemed comfortable enough that I thought I could use a hammock on a future backpacking trip. To the Googles!
Turns out, hammocks aren’t all that expensive. Prices ranged from $40 on up to $200 depending on material. I also found that most backpackers recommended using a bug net, rain fly, and sleeping pad along with a bag, quilt, blanket, or bivy. So let me back up. The hammock is between $40 and $200 while the accessories to keep bugs out, rain off, and heat in will collectively run you an additional $400-$600.
I also took a close look at the weight difference between a tent and a hammock. My REI Quarter Dome T1 tent with footprint, poles, stakes, and rainfly weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces. The ENO DoubleNest Hammock (19 oz), bug net (16 oz), rain fly (22 oz), straps (11 oz), and stakes (2.8 oz) weigh in at 4 pounds 4 ounces. Six ounces isn’t a lot, and in the winter months I’d be 16 ounces lighter since I wouldn’t need a bug net. Plus, factoring in how a hammock packs compared to how a tent packs, I was sold on giving the hammock a chance.
With my 20% store coupon in hand, I purchased an ENO DoubleNest and the above accessories. I then gave it a whirl at a family car camping trip. Set up was a breeze and sleeping was, in my opinion, better than in a tent. I took the hammock with me on a couple day trips with my son and he loved it as much as I did. The real test, however, would come in an upcoming backpacking trip to Panthertown Valley in the southern Appalachian Mountains.