Suspension Rigs: Daisy Chain (looped) Tree Straps

Whether you’re a walker setting up camp after a long day or just wanting to lounge in the sun, you’ll want to set up your hammock quickly and simply.

Adjustable suspension is much easier than tying and retying rope to get the hammock pitched properly. There’s a variety of suspension rigs you can use, and in this article we look at looped/daisy chain straps.

These straps avoid the need for separate tree straps. Rope or cordage can damage tree bark, so responsible hammockers use some form of wider webbing which spreads the weight of the hammock (and you). Looped straps are an ‘all in one’ suspension system (although you’ll need cordage and a carabiner on each end of your hammock which we cover at the end of the article).

Looped tree straps, sometimes called daisy chains are very easy to use and convenient. They go round a tree, feed back through a loop, and then have a number of loops on the other end to allow you to set up your hammock at the preferred height. You attach a carabiner to the hammock, and simply clip this to a loop on the webbing. Quick to set up, take down, and adjust the height of the hammock. There are alternatives which use cords knotted together to make loops, but you still need a separate tree strap with these to avoid damage to trees, the knots weaken the strength of the cords (sometimes by up to 60%) and cords are more prone to tangling.  Some people make loops with paracord, but paracord is prone to stretching and breaking… don’t, it’s not safe!

There are several types of looped webbing straps. Some are far better than others.

Stitched looped tree straps

Relefree tree straps in action

Stitched looped tree straps have exploded in popularity in the last couple of years and many makers sell them on Amazon and Ebay. The quality is variable depending on the manufacturer, primarily due to the uniformity of the stitching on the loops.

They come in a variety of lengths, with most being around 10ft to 20ft. Again, the number of loops depends on the maker… the more loops, the greater the degree of fine tuning the height of your hammock. Ideally, you want to connect your hammock so the straps are at about a 30 degree angle to the tree with the foot end of the hammock set a little higher than the head end.

The strength of these straps is variable , and there are many misleading claims on Amazon and Ebay with assurances that these straps can support thousands of pounds. They don’t. While the straps themselves may support 1000 to 2000lbs in weight the stitching doesn’t, and the straps are only as strong as their weakest point… the stitching on the loops. More reputable sellers such as Gimars claim weight limits of 500lbs, which is a fair estimate for the best, but that depends on the quality of the stitching. Some sellers claim less… 200lbs to 300lbs. These straps are too weak to be safe or reliable. Ideally your hammock and suspension should support 5 times your body weight to cope with the ‘shock force’ of climbing in and out, swinging, your turning over etc.

Stitched tree straps which failed

Some straps have very good stitching while with others the quality of the stitching is poor. Our members have found Gimars to be the most reliable, and I own a set of Relefree straps which so far show no sign of wear. Others are not so good, and have let friends of mine down… literally!

If buying stitched tree straps, we recommend Gimars (but there are better alternatives for a similar price which we cover further on). If buying others, check online reviews carefully.

The weight and bulk of the straps are variable depending on length and the quality of the carabiners which some come with. Some carabiners are surprisingly and unnecessarily heavy. We recommend 12kn wiregate carabiners as shown in the picture above. They’ll support over 2,000lbs and are cheap to buy.

Woven Tree Straps

Looped woven straps in action

A new development are woven looped straps, where rather than the loops being stitched, the webbing itself is woven into loops. These are far stronger and more reliable than stitched straps and are made by Dutchware Gear in the United States. Dutchware Gear has a well deserved reputation for quality and is highly regarded in the hammocking community.

Dutchware Gear sell two types of looped straps. One is made from Woven Daisy Chain Webbing, and we’ll cover these first. The straps themselves can support 5,000lbs. The loops 2,000lbs. This is four times the strength of stitched straps. I own a set and love them. They’re half the weight of my Relefree stitched straps, and half the bulk (the quality of the webbing is higher, and thinner).

Importing them is expensive due to shipping costs, and bear in mind you’ll pay import VAT (add 20%) and depending on the total value of your order you may pay a customs duty too (another 2.5%). There is also a Parcel Force handling charge for billing you with the import duties of £8. Generally, the post office will hold the goods until you turn up and pay the import duties and handling fee. This can make the straps very expensive, but…

There is an importer of these chain looped straps in the UK who you’ll find on Ebay. The name of the UK seller is Henge Hammocks. They utilise these woven loops in their own hybrid straps.

I have bought from the Henge many times, as have members of our Facebook group, and their service is very reliable. They don’t always have these straps in stock, as each time they import a batch they tend to sell out fast. Contact them via their Ebay store and ask them to reserve you a set if you can’t find them in their Ebay store. The straps are well worth any wait if they’re not in stock.

Henge’s hybrid straps are 10ft in length. Mine weigh 217 grammes. The  looped webbing itself weighs 14.5 grammes per foot and is one inch wide. The webbing is military grade.

Link: Henge Hammocks – Woven Daisy Chain Straps (if the link doesn’t work, they’re probably out of stock… email them).

To sum up, these straps are half the weight of stitched straps, four times the strength of the best looped straps, and will cost you around £20 if bought from Henge. Members of our Facebook Group bought out an entire import batch, and every single member was happy. They blow the stitched straps out of the water.

New developments: A new product by Dutchware Gear is their Spider Daisy Chain Webbing. This is made from UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethaline) fibres (the same material as used in dyneema/sailing rope and cordage). It is incredibly strong and lightweight… as strong as steel and light enough to float on water. It weighs under 5 grammes per foot. Like their other looped straps the links are interwoven. Strength wise, the straps will support 3,000lbs and the loops 1,500lbs… a little less than their other straps but more than adequate (and roughly a third of the weight). When they become available in the UK, we’ll let you know!

Would I upgrade the standard Woven Daisy Chain straps for the new Spider Daisy Chain? No. These straps are more than adequate for me. If I was purchasing a second set for another hammock… I would be very tempted, but we’ll have to see what the landed price is in the UK.

Attaching a hammock

You may be upgrading the suspension from a parachute silk hammock, or ones which come with webbing which you tie off after wrapping around a tree (hammocks from DD Hammocks and Tenth Wonder normally come with this suspension as standard).

Parachute silk (210T) hammocks usually come with a short length of poor quality nylon rope which is prone to stretching so you often need to re-tie your hammock. The ends of the nylon rope tend to be heat sealed, sometimes leaving sharp edges which can be abbrasive to the hammock material when packed. The carabiners they come with are usually of poor quality… strong enough, but sometimes having sharp edges on the clasps which can damage the hammock material when packed and being excessively heavy. The webbing which comes as standard with some UK sold camping hammocks I find is also prone to stretching, and the knots you need to tie tighten after you’ve been in the hammock, affecting the hammock height.

When using a looped/daisy chain hammock suspension set up, we recommend you replace the rope and carabiners/webbing on the end of your hammock with 2.5mm wide/8 inch long Amsteel continuous loops and 12kn aluminium wiregate carabiners (see picture). Using continuous loops on the end of your hammock replaces knotted cord where knots can slip or come undone. Loop the Amsteel around the existing webbing or rope, pull through the sewn end of your hammock, then loop the Amsteel back on itself an attach a carabiner to keep it in place (again, see picture).

Amsteel continuous loops are very light and very strong (supporting up to 1,600lbs). You can buy them ready made or make your own (it’s a little fiddly to do, but with a knitting needle, a stanley knife and a bent piece of garden wire, I’ve made some in about 10 minutes). Amsteel is made from dyneema fibres (UHMWPE) which is then coated in samthane (used in the roofing and sailing industry, this coating makes the fibres more wear resistent and waterproof). The loops cost around £6 a pair ready made, while DD hammocks sell 2.5mm wide Amsteel for £0.99 per metre if you want to make your own.

If you want to make your own continuous loops, the following video is easy to follow. 7/64th Amsteel is the same as 2.5mm wide Amsteel. You’ll need 2 metres of Amsteel to make 2 continuous loops: Making continuous loops

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Parachute Silk Hammocks

Lounging in my 2m x 3m wide boy!

All over Ebay, Amazon and occasionally in your local supermarket, you’ll find cheap (hopefully) parachute silk hammocks. Some come with a hefty price tag despite being made of similar or usually identical material. There are literally hundreds of manufacturers now.

Material: Virtually all ‘parachute silk’ hammocks are made from 210T taffeta nylon. What does the 210T mean? It stands for 210 threads per square inch. It’s a measure of the density of the fabric. While 210T material isn’t ripstop (if you snag it on a branch, your keys, a belt buckle and damage the fabric, expect that hole to turn into a split), so long as you’re reasonably careful they should last for years. The positives are comfort and price. As with any ideal hammock material, it’s breathable (if not, condensation/sweat leads to an uncomfortable soggy back!). For the rest of this article, I’ll use parachute silk and 210T hammock interchangeably.

Prices: Prices for these hammocks tend to range from under £7 to £60. The difference… very little apart from size (and a higher price doesn’t mean a larger hammock… although logic says it should!). There’s much hype about single layer/no mossie net hammocks… these hammocks are a rectangular strip of material (or several strips sewn together which make a rectangle) with a rope or cord running through each end which draws the fabric together at the ends. That’s it! No special tailoring required. All the 210T hammocks I’ve seen have triple stitched hemming and depending on size, the comfort levels are identical (which it would be, being the same material). When hammocks are made of identical material, it’s hard to justify the huge price difference in parachute silk hammocks beyond hype and marketing.

Not all hammocks are the same, and there are different materials used, some stronger, some softer and that and added features such as double underlayers, built in netting, better quality zips, top covers, internal storage pockets justifies higher prices. The same can’t be said when hammocks have none of these additional features or differences. These 210T hammocks are pretty much identical.

You needn’t be paying more than £10 for a 140cm wide 210T hammock. Prices for 2m x 3m hammocks normally hover between £17 to £30 (occasionally a seller will have one for £10 if you shop around). The last 2m x 3m wide hammock I bought was decent quality with no loose threads… and yes, I found one for £9.99 on Amazon. That offer’s ended… but they do come up!

Size: Parachute silk hammocks tend to be 140cm or 200cm wide. Many sold as ‘double hammocks’ aren’t. A 140cm wide hammock is not a double hammock. That’s misleading nonsense. It’s a reasonable sized single. Some 210T hammocks are even narrower at 120cm wide… avoid these (the narrower width puts pressure on your shoulders and you won’t be able to lay on a diagonal, so they’re less comfortable and you’ll sleep like a banana). Fine for kids… small kids at that! Hammock width and length is important for comfort. 140cm wide is ok for comfort, but a 200cm wide hammock is simply more comfortable and worth paying the extra (if you can find a deal, sometimes the larger hammocks are the same price!).

Why the extra width? If you lay diagonally across a hammock, the hammock flattens out and you don’t have that ‘banana bend’. This allows you to sleep or relax on your side without your knees being bent at an odd angle and pressure on your hip or calves. As you can see in the picture above, in a 2m wide hammock you can “starfish”.

Comfort: 210T material is very comfortable in part because it isn’t ripstop. Ripstop material includes stronger threads woven in with the fabric as reinforcement. While woven in ripstop threads strengthen the fabric, the fabric then tends to have less ‘give’. A lack of reinforcing threads leaves the fabric stretchier, so it conforms better to your body. The differences are marginal, but still noticeable. If you thought cheap hammock material was less comfortable, you’d be wrong, and trust me when I say even ripstop fabric can rip if you abuse it.

Weight limit: 210T fabric will normally support around 400lbs in weight. You’ll see adverts which say more…. but take the higher weight estimates with a pinch of salt. Some claim to hold much higher weights, but that is static weight. When you climb into a hammock, swing, shuffle about or turn over you apply ‘shock’ force to your hammock fabric. Those claims are misleading. Generally, I’d say a 210T hammock would be fine for someone weighing up to 350lbs. Fine for most of us, but if your partner, kids and dogs are in there too…

Hammock weight: The 2m x 3m hammocks weigh in the region of 500 grammes plus whatever carabiners/suspension you use. One of our group members recently had a DD superlight hammock split, and replaced with a larger 210T parachute silk hammock. Compensating for the area of the larger hammock, the weight difference was only 2%! 210T is a light material.

The downsides and compensating

They’re single layer: If camping in them overnight, or on anything other than warm summer days you’ll need some insulation for your back. If using a sleeping mat, these can be a pain in single layer hammocks as they shift about. A double bottom layer sandwiches a sleeping mat in place. Hammock material and sleeping mats tend to be slippery. If you’re using an underblanket… no problem.

Non-Ripstop material: You need to be careful not to snag your hammock on sharp objects. Be careful of car keys, boots, belt buckles! I’d think twice before having a dog jump in… more than one 210T hammock has been destroyed by a labrador’s claws! Without ripstop material, the hammock is likely to split if it becomes damaged. Be careful and you should be fine! I haven’t had one split yet but the cats are banned from mine too!

Upgraded tree straps (these by Henge Hammocks on Ebay)

No tree straps: These hammocks rarely come with tree straps. Tree straps are essential so the weight of you in the hammock doesn’t cause damage to the tree bark. Ropes are too thin and constrict the tree bark. Any campsite owner, park ranger or fellow hammocker worth their salt will not approve! Tree straps should be at least an inch wide. In some states in America, they insist on tree straps being 3 inches wide. Buy yourself some tree straps, or upgrade the suspension to looped/daisy chain straps.

No integral midge netting: Depending on where you chill or camp, midge netting can be an essential. You can buy separate midge nets, but these need to be the right size! A 3m long parachute silk hammock is not going to sit well in a midge net designed for 2.7m hammocks. While some parachute silk hammocks come with a built in midge net, these are usually poor quality and the thread density in the netting is too low to keep out midges. One exception is sold by Onetigris where the netting is of decent quality. Watch out for and avoid hammock mosquito/midge netting which looks sheer and is green. I’ve come across too many people who’ve found this tears easily. You’ll find lots of these hammocks on Ebay and I would avoid them. Cheap is fine… cheap and prone to breaking is not!

Rope and Carabiners: The rope and carabiners these hammocks come with tend to be ghastly. The rope is stretchy nylon (and it’s normally too short to be useful), and the carabiners are heavy steel, and some come with sharp edges on the clasps (not a good thing with material which can split if it’s snagged). You can buy cheap 12kn wiregate carabiners on Ebay for about £2 each if you don’t mind waiting for them to be imported. On Amazon for £6.99 a pair for UK delivery. These are far lighter, have no sharp edges, and are strong enough for hammock suspension. Do the upgrade. 12kn carabiners will hold over 2,000lb, and the aluminium ones only weigh 20 grammes.

The rope which connects the hammock to the carabiner can also be replaced. The ends of the rope are sealed by burning, and can have sharp edges where the nylon hardens as it burns. I upgade mine with 2.5mm wide, 8″ long Amsteel continuous loops. Amsteel is far stronger, less bulky, and has no sharp edges. There’s also no knot to become undone. It’ll cost you around £6 to do this and the loops can be bought from Henge Hammocks (no we’re not on commission, but their service is good and many people in our Facebook group use them for hammock accessories).

2.5mm Amsteel will support roughly 1,600lbs in weigh. Why have something which can support so much? Hammock suspension equipment should ideally support 5 times body weight to cope with ‘shock force’ from getting in, getting out, swinging, turning over and shuffling into a sleeping bag. Amsteel is so light it floats on water and a popular material for hammock suspension due to this.

In Summary

Few of the (much) more expensive hammocks are as wide as a 2m x 3m parachute silk hammock and you can often pay hundreds of pounds for these, they normally have to be imported from the US which also involves import duties. For day time lounging in a hammock in a non-midgy/mosquito area, for comfort and value for money, they’re well worth the money.

These cheap hammocks are a contender for comfort, even when compared to the much much more expensive hammocks.

Add Ons

Back Insulation: For overnights and chillier days you can use a sleeping mat to insulate your back or go for one of the synthetic underblankets. Personally, due to the width of the 2m wide hammocks, I’d go for the underquilt made by Snugpak. I use a DD underblanket simply because I already had one which works well enough, but Snugpak’s is 24cm wider. There are cheaper synthetic underblankeds, but these are narrower still and more usually used with shorter hammocks.

Bug Nets: As for adding a mosquito/midge net, you want one long enough for a 3m wide hammock and your choices are a little limited. While bulky, the best quality in my opinion is by Thermarest. In addition to being roomy, it has an internal ridgeline to hold the netting away from you and material on the bottom which will not snag leaf litter. The downside is it’s a little bulky as it reaches to the ground, and is expensive with current prices on Google showing between £52.95 and £68. Last year, one store was selling them half price! A cheaper alternative is the Mosquito Net Cocoon made by Hammock Bliss for around the £40 price mark. 2100 holes per square inch make it more than midge proof, and it’s 3m long.  Unigear is even cheaper at under £20 on Amazon.

Suspension: There’s lots of choices here. Whoopie slings and tree straps, looped/daisy chain straps, and webbing with cinch and buckles being a few of the more popular. We’ve an article coming soon on suspension options, and will link from here when published.

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Mosquito and Midge Repellents

mossieIt’s inevitable that at certain times of year, you’re going to find yourself visited by unwelcome guests while camping. Mosquitos and midges… not my friends!

A number of things will help keep these little critters away from you. Wood smoke works fine, but only if you’re sat in a cloud of it… watering eyes, a running nose and choking isn’t my idea of relaxation. There’s no shortage of wearable mosquito netting, hats and so on, but they’re not for me. I want to smoke a fag, eat and have a drink without navigating a netting yashmak. A decent repellent is therefore a necessity.

So what are your choices?

Deet based Repellents

Deet is an insecticide applied to the skin. Scary? Only if you’re somewhat gullible and follow Facebook wall posts, believing them to be scientific. Deet is generally quite safe to use, has been subject to numerous studies, and while reactions are possible, they’re extremely rare. Peanuts are more dangerous. A study in Thailand into the effects of Deet on babies born to pregnant women found no health risks (you can see the study here). Doctors recommend the use of Deet as it’s highly effective repellent. You’ll find one or two studies which raise concerns that a small number of deaths or neurological reactions may be due to Deet, but this has to be weighed against the approximate 200,000,000 people using Deet each year and 8billion applications since the 1950s.

In 2014, the US Environment Protection Agency conducted a review of Deet use and health risks. It found that a third of the population of the United States use products containing Deet, and concluded it does not present a health risk to adults or children.

A reaction is possible, but very rare. Use it sensibly:

  • Do not spray or apply to cuts;
  • Do not spray on the hands or around the mouths of young children;
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas and avoid inhaling;
  • Keep the bottle out of reach of young children;
  • Do not spray on plastic or synthetic material (as it can melt it… this includes your hammock, bug netting and tarp!!!).

Products using Deet include Jungle Juice, a very popular midge repellent. The one linked contains 50% Deet.

Avon Skin So Soft

An alternative to Deet is Avon’s Skin So Soft product. I know many locals in Cumbria who swear by it as a midge repellent (and the midges here are evil, similar to the ones found in Scotland which can creep through all bar noseeum netting).

A study has compared Deet (in concentrations of 95%) with Skin So Soft Bath Oil and a placebo. Skin So Soft did remarkably well, being 85% as effective as a highly concentrated Deet solution which was more concentrated than many commercially available insect repellents. It also makes your skin soft!

Now a word of caution as not all Skin So Soft products are the same or contain the same ingredients. To have worth as an insect repellent, you want ones which include citronella or picaridin (hence some people say Skin So Soft works wonders, while others get bitten). Picaridin is a synthetic compound

Repellents in Nature

If you’re walking in Scotland or other parts of the British Isles, watch out for the plant bog myrtle (a traditional midge repellent). It’s a shrub which can grow up to two metres tall. Bog myrtle can also be bought as an essential oil. Be aware that it can cause skin irritation for some people.

Remember, just because something is a ‘natural’ repellent rather than a man made one doesn’t mean it’s safe. They’re all chemically based, and arsenic is a natural substance found in apple seeds!

 

 

 

 

 

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Hammock Suspension: Make your own whoopie slings

dyneemaLet me introduce you to a magical cord made from a substance called Dyneema. It’s used in both hammock and tarpaulin suspension.

Dyneema is incredibly strong, pre-stretched, packs very small, is very light, and even better, durable. With these qualities, it’s probably the most popular material for suspending a hammock, as the cord most commonly used is only 2.5mm thick (and light enough to float on water). You may come across a product called Amsteel-Blue. This is the name of cord or rope made from Dyneema (it comes in different colours, but it’s still called Amsteel-Blue). For those of you who don’t like metric measurements, 2.5mm is the same as 7/64th of an inch.

Cord used for suspending hammocks needs to be low stretch, and have a load bearing weight which is significantly greater than the weight of the item that it needs to support (YOU!). The cord has to cope with shocks and strains caused by you moving about and getting in and out of your hammock. A good rule of thumb is the cord should have a minimum load strength which is 5 times your body weight. 2.5mm Dyneema braid has a minimum load strength equivalent to 1,400lbs (635kg).

2.5mm is suitable for people up to a weight of around 20 stone (127 kg). If you’re heavier, consider 3mm thick Dyneema/Amsteel-Blue, which should be fine for people up to 33 stone (209kg).

An example of an unsuitable material for hammock suspension is paracord. US military paracord has a load rating of 550lbs, but stretches! Chinese paracord can be weaker. Stretching causes additional weakness, which can end with a rather painful meeting with the ground. Paracord is suitable for suspending a tarpaulin (using it as a ridge line) but be aware it does stretch so you may find your tarpaulin sagging a little in the morning. Again, we really don’t recommend paracord for hammock suspension.

Whoopie Slings: These are adjustable cords which you use to suspend your hammock. The video below shows whoopie slings being fitted to a hammock, and shows how easy it is to adjust their length.

 

You can buy whoopie slings from companies like DD Hammocks, or if you wish make your own. DD Hammocks also sell Dyneema braid, and their price is the lowest we’ve found in the UK (email us if you find cheaper!). They sell 2.5mm braid for only £0.99 a metre.

The video below shows how to make your own whoopie slings. You don’t need shop bought specialist tools although some people use them. The tools I use are a size 5 knitting needle, a length of thin garden wire and a pair of kitchen scissors. It’s not hard!

 

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Finding North

There are a few ways to find north without a compass, gadgets or technology. Knowledge you’ll probably never need, but if you’re out in the woods, get lost and don’t have a compass, it may stop hours of wandering about.

Moss on Treesmoss

Given you’re likely to find yourself in woodland (unless you sleep in a hammock on the ground?!?), you may try relying on a common belief that mosses are more likely to grow on the north side of trees because the north side will receive less sunlight (and so be cooler and more damp than the south side). Mosses like damp, shady habitats, not unlike people from Manchester.

Be warned that I’ve found myself in some woods where everything is covered in moss, and others where the species of tree seems one that mosses simply don’t like. Worse, I’ve seen trees where the moss was only growing on the south side. If something else is giving the tree shade (like the tree next to it) this is creating those same shady conditions which mosses seems to prefer.

So how good a tip? I wouldn’t want to rely upon it.

The Sunstickcompass

You can make a simple compass using four sticks and the sun. Take a 2 feet long stick and poke one end in the ground. At the end of its shadow, place a marker (a small stick again pressed into the ground or a rock will do). 15 minutes later the shadow will have moved (ideally wait longer than 15 minutes for greater accuracy). Place another marker at the end of the new shadow. Lay a fourth stick between the two markers. This stick points from east to west, but which is east and which is west? Remember, the sun will cast shadows towards the north. Lay a fifth stick at a right angle across your east/west marker line, and the end pointing towards your shadow stick points south, and t’other end points north.

Reliable? Not indoors, nor at night time, in the fog, under dense tree cover or in driving rain. Otherwise… pretty good!

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and as a rule of thumb, at 6am it’s to the east of you, and at 6pm it’s to the west. It’s roughly south-east at 9pm, due south at midday, and south-west at 3pm. Don’t take my word for it… test it out!

The Stars

starIt’s dark and I’m lost! While nature may let us down with the reliability of tree mosses, the North Star (Polaris) will reliably point you to the north unless there’s light pollution or it’s a cloudy night. Even better, the North Star is easy to find (although NOT the brightest star in the sky).

You may have noticed two groups of stars which look like saucepans (to me at least… always the food theme). These are the Big Dipper and Little Dipper constellations. The North Star is the last star in the ‘handle’ of the Little Dipper. A third constellation, Casseopeia (which looks like a ‘w’) is also useful to help locate the North Star in the sky.

The North Star can be found roughly in a straight line between the Big Dipper and Casseopeia. Even better, the outside edge of the pan shape on the Big Dipper points towards both the North Star and Casseopeia. Have a look at the image, which explains things more clearly.

Find the north star, then image a line straight down to the horizon. That’s north!

Using a Watchwatch

Remember, at midday if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, at midday, the sun is due south.

How do you tell where the North/South are when it’s not midday? Simple. You need a watch with an hour hand. Lay the watch flat on the palm of your hand. Turn around until the hour hand points in the direction of the sun. Work out the middle point on the dial between the hour hand and 12 o’clock (so if it was 4pm, this would be the 2pm mark). Run an imaginary line from that point to the centre of the watch face. This is your North/South line.

If you have a digital watch or tell the time using your phone (as I do), make out a watch face on a piece of paper or even on the ground with a stick.

A word of warning. If your watch is set to daylight saving time, you’ll need to make a minor change. Turn the watch until the hour hand is facing the sun as you did before, but work out the midway point between that and the 1 o’clock marker on the watch face instead of using the 12 o’clock marker.

We should probably add “don’t look directly at the sun”. [Ed: Do I really have to tell people this?]

Smartphone and App Based Compasses

Be careful as batteries die, the calibration goes skew-whiff.

The Good Old Compass

When I say good, it depends on quality, as some compasses are not good at all. Test it before you head off into the wilds as I’ve had ones before where the needle wobbles about and changes its mind!

There’s also a small risk in today’s world of gadgetry that the magnetic fields generated by mobile phones and similar electronics can reverse the compass needle polarisation. Just imagine your compass guiding you west when you think you’re going east!

One final word of warning… scientists predict that the earth’s magnetic poles will swap, although it’s unlikely to be in our lifetime 😉

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Risotto – Proper cooking on a camp stove!

Instant noodles make me think of that scene from Crocodile Dundee. “You can eat it, but it tastes like ….”. If you’re away for a single night, and tired after yomping and setting up camp, I’ll let you off, but what about that second night. Why not have a meal which is memorable for the right reasons?

With a little bit of creativity, time and imagination, you can eat extremely well with a small range of ingredients. You’re on holiday! Enjoy it!!

Risotto is a rice dish from northern Italy. You don’t boil the rice in water, but slowly add stock, ladle by ladle, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. The rice becomes packed with flavour. You cook risotto in stages, and build the flavour, layer by layer. It’s another dish you can prepare without a fridge on hand!

For the stock, you’re unlikely to have a chicken carcass and plenty of fresh vegetables with you, so for a camping risotto, a good quality stock cube is a necessity! You need some form of fat to coat the rice before you start adding wet ingredients. Butter (for me) is best, but an extra-virgin olive oil is a practical alternative. This recipe below is my favourite risotto. It’s packed with flavour.

The recipe below is for 4 people (or 2 if you’re particularly hungry). Hell… it’s for two people, who am I trying to kid!

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of arborio rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Mushrooms (dried or fresh).
  • Half a chorizo ring.
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
  • 1 onion.
  • 1 glass of dry white wine.
  • 1 chicken stock cube.

Cooking in stages

The chorizo: Slice up the chorizo. I prefer mine fried with a little crunch, so cook these separately first. Chorizo releases oil (fat) when cooking, and can go a bit soggy and overpower the other ingredients if cooked with the risotto from the start, so I fry the slices first and put them to one side, then add them to the risotto to heat through towards the end of cooking.

The shrooms: If you’re using dried mushrooms (Tescos do a pack of Porcini, Chanterelle, Black Trumpet and Fairy Ring mushrooms for £2), these need to be blanched for 20 minutes in boiling water. Do this first, then drain and set to one side. The flavour is wonderful. Don’t waste that water though! Use it as the base for the stock.

The stock: Add more water to the saucepan used for boiling the mushrooms, until there’s roughly 5 cups in the pan. Then add the stock cube and dissolve, bringing the liquid to a boil. The stock is slowly added to the rice while the rice is cooking, so if you’ve only got one pot, you’ll need to decant it to an aluminium water bottle. If you have two pots, no problem. Stick a lid on it, or even better, if you’ve a campfire going, put the stock close enough to the edge of the fire to keep it warm (or on some coals!).

The risotto rice: Add two tablespoons of oil to an empty saucepan and heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to go clear. Pour the rice into the pan and fry the rice in the oil for no more than two minutes, stirring all the while. The rice will start to go clear. Gently stirring is important when cooking risotto. If you don’t, the rice will stick to the pan and burn. Add in the glass of wine, and continue stirring until the wine is absorbed/evaporated. This adds another layer of flavour to the risotto. Add the mushrooms.

Next, you add the stock… slowly. One ladle (or the equivalent) at a time. Your finished risotto should be creamy, not a soup! Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed by the rice, then add another. Continue until all the stock has been used, by which stage the rice should be ‘al-dente’. You don’t want the rice a dissolved mush, but to still have a little texture. If you’re unsure… taste it (but try not to finish it all during cooking, and especially if you’re cooking for others… as that’s considered ‘mean’).

Toss in the chorizo slices. Heat through for a couple of minutes. Add the grated parmesan and continue to stir until the parmesan is melted.

You’re looking at about an hour’s cooking time. Yes, it’s a faff, but oh so worth it. A comfortable seat is essential too!

Serve up, consume with the rest of the wine. Lie gently rocking in your hammock making little moans of pleasure. Replete is a good word… and such a worthy goal.

Packing Your Ingredients

You don’t want to carry unnecessary weight, and you can cut down on preparation time by doing the following:

  • Decant you olive oil into a smaller plastic bottle. Glass breaks and is heavier. Why carry oil which you won’t later use while away. Just take what you need.
  • Grate the parmesan before leaving home (you can also buy grated parmesan, but don’t use the stuff you find on the pasta aisle at your supermarket). Buy fresh if you can afford it. The processed parmesan in those little round pots with the consistency of sawdust doesn’t pack the same flavour as fresh.
  • Pre-measure out the ingredients into sealable freezer bags.

Carrying a bottle of wine… Now you could take a miniature bottle, and you can even buy wine in cans now. I say… to hell with it. Take a full bottle, or ideally two. The first you use for and while cooking. The second while eating.

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Cheese Stuffed Burger Dawgs

As with any idea from Youtube… experiment (and remember, everything’s better wrapped in bacon!).

We take this simple idea, of wrapping mince meat around a stick of cheddar cheese before barbecuing, and improve on it.

Make sure you season that mince. Chopped garlic, salt and black pepper’s essential. You also want mince with a good fat content for flavour. 85% lean is fine. If you can buy pepper jack cheese locally, we’d strongly recommend this for your cheesy filling. Can’t buy pepper jack locally? Then alongside your stick of cheddar, put finely diced fresh jalapeno. Add herbs and spices to the mince if you wish. A dash of chilli sauce. Swap mozzarella for the cheddar or why not try a bit of stilton instead. Play to your heart’s content!

 

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DD Hammocks: Hammock Range

There are seven reasons why we’re recommending DD Hammocks.

  • They’re a UK supplier, meaning you get UK based customer service;
  • We’ve tried the service personally, and it’s good. You get a quick response, they’re helpful and friendly;
  • The quality of their products is good and the products feature thoughtful design. We sleep in their products.
  • They’re inexpensive, and you don’t see quality compromised for price. There’s no point having a cheap hammock where midges climb through the mosquito netting, the hammocks and netting tears, or where the strapping breaks!
  • They have a wide range of accessories allowing you to spread the cost of building your ultimate hammock camping system.
  • Fast Delivery (when we purchased in the morning, we got our items next day).
  • If we recommend something, we don’t want our visitors upset. We feel confident with DD.

To see the full specification of DD’s hammocks, click on the green + buttons in the table below.

 

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Fire: Batteries and Gum

Scenario: You’ve had a long walk. You set up camp. You reach into your kit and find you’ve left your fire stick at home (or the flint goes on your lighter). You’re cold and hungry! What do you do!

If you’ve a torch which used AA or AAA batteries and you have some chewing gum on you, don’t panic. If you don’t have chewing gum but smoke cigarettes, the foil in the wrapper should work as a chewing gum wrapper replacement. Take a rectangle of the foil based chewing gum warpper. Pinch the middle. Place the ends foil side down on each end of the battery and the wrapper should catch on fire. PLEASE MIND YOUR FINGERS!

 

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