A Beginners Guide To Hammock Camping

A Beginner’s Guide To Hammock Camping

Your equipment needn’t be expensive. We were set a challenge to build our own hammock camping rig for under £45. Not a problem and we could have done it still cheaper. It kept us dry in torrential rain, warm and we slept incredibly well. You can also buy custom camping hammock rigs and tarpaulins. Hammock camping isn’t an expensive pastime, and regardless of your budget, it’s affordable. Even those cheap chinese hammocks can hold 18stone.

DD Hammocks, a UK based manufacturer also sell custom hammock camping equipment (handling up to 20 stones). We mention them because they have good quality, affordable equipment and offer very good service. Their equipment is well designed with features which may not be apparent to inexperienced campers but are worth noting. Built in mosquito nets which stop the netting drooping on you, double layer bottoms to the hammocks for insulation (and/or storage), storage tabs inside the mosquito netting to hold a nightlight or water bottle, and suspension systems aimed at fast set up and take down. They also sell kit which is tailored to hikers who want exceptionally light weight equipment, hammocks for kids, larger tarpaulins which the family can cook under or for greater privacy at night. An alternative to DD Hammocks are ones made by Tenth Wonder which our members like too. Both manufacturers offer affordable, decent quality kit.

The great thing is you don’t have to buy all the equipment at once. Start with a tarpaulin and hammock, and then consider adding adjustable rigging (which mean you can raise or lower the hammock or adjust its lie between two trees without having to untie anything. With this and a sleeping mat to insulate your back, you’ll be set up for camping in summer months.

To extend your camping season, you can then add an under-quilt. An under-quilt is suspended under your hammock, trapping a layer of warm air. People go hammock camping in the snow using these and stay warm. One other great upgrade is a custom hammock sleeping bag or quilt. Most people will climb into their sleeping bag before sitting in the hammock and swinging their legs up and lying down. Custom hammock sleeping bags have a waterproof area around the feet, and zip up the middle. Over quilts have a similar enclosed ‘box’ for your feel, and attach around the neck and are used in conjunction with under quilts.

DD Hammocks’ beginners guide to hammock camping is a good start for anyone who wants a better understanding of setting up, equipment and sleeping positions (yes you can sleep on your side, and lay flat in a custom hammock!):

If you’re heavier than 20 stone, there are still options. Hennessy Hammocks (an American manufacturer) sell a hammock large enough for people 7′ tall and 350lbs! An alternative and cheaper option is the

Design Matters

Hammock width and length: Width is quite important, as a wider hammock gives you the option of lying at a slight angle, which flattens the hammock out and allows you to sleep on your side. The hammock has to be long enough for you to sleep comfortably.

Mosquito nets: Ideally, you want a hammock with an integral mosquito net, and one with mesh fine enough to stop midges. Aside from a cold back, nothing can ruin a night more than being eaten alive, and we live in midge country! Black mesh gives an experience of looking through sunglasses and I prefer this to green netting. Spreader bars which lift the mosquito net away from the hammock (and your face) feel roomier. Tabs inside the mosquito net give you an option of hanging a lamp (meaning there’s no need to hunt for a torch, and if you read, your light is right above your head). While you can hang a lamp from your tarpaulin ridge line, you may not be able to reach this without ‘getting out of bed’. Then you have the difficulty of readjusting your bedding after lying back down, without the benefit of a light!

Storage: While you can hang equipment from the ridge line which supports your tarpaulin, you’ll want pockets in your hammock for your car keys, phone, wallet and book/kindle. Reading in a hammock at night time is incredibly relaxing. The more pockets, the more storage. Some integral mosquito netting has tabs at each end inside, which allow a cord to be tied between them and items such as water bottles to be suspended from them. No hunting about at night for a drink!

Insulation: A double layer bottom to the hammock allows you to use a sleeping mat for insulation (even in the summer, a breeze can leave you feeling chilly unless your back has some insulation). While you can put a sleeping mat in a hammock without this bottom layer, they tend to pop out which is a pain.

Side tabs on the hammock: These are used to ensure an under-quilt (if you’ve bought one or intend to) is nice and snug underneath you. You don’t want this quilt to be compressed (by your weight) as you’ll lose some of the benefit of insulation. Neither do you want a gap as you’ll lose that trapped warm air which insulates you. They’re not essential, as you can attach an under-quilt via elastic cord to your tarpaulin ridge line.

Breathable bottoms: Some hammocks come with waterproof bottoms. It’s tempting to buy one of these to allow the hammock to be used on the ground as a bivi when camping away from trees. A word of caution though. Standard hammocks “breath” while ones with waterproof layers do not. Condensation from breathing and sweating can be a problem in hammocks with waterproof bottoms. I know several hammock campers who’ve traded in their bivi hammocks for this very reason.

Spreader bars: A few brands use spreader bars at the end of their hammocks to give the sleeper a flatter lie. While this may seem a good idea, I really don’t recommend them and wouldn’t buy one myself. These brands then use additional guy lines intended to stop the hammocks tipping over when you get in (or roll about in your sleep).

Spreader bars make hammocks unstable and remove your option of an under-quilt/blanket to insulate your back. While a sleeping mat can go inside the hammock, they slide about. Buy a hammock with gathered ends if you want a hammock you won’t slide about in or fall out of! If you want a flatter sleeping position, buy a wide hammock.

Light weight: If you’re a walker, you may want to sacrifice some of the above options to reduce carry weight. Most manufacturers offer a light or superlight range. Unless you’re camping only in the winter, do make sure you have a mosquito netting (by which we mean midge netting!) and personally, I’d still want a hammock with a double bottom to keep a sleeping mat in place! It is possible to buy detachable mosquito nets, and ones which will go over most hammocks. DD hammocks sell one.

I still don’t know what to buy!!! Well come and join our Facebook group and ask advice. You’ll find lots of experienced and helpful members as well as complete beginners. Regardless of your experience, you’ll still learn something new and they’re a friendly crowd!

Buying a hammock with these options saves you money in the long term, and gives you plenty of options to upgrade your kit which you needn’t buy straight away (or at all). All you really need is a hammock, a tarpaulin, and something to hang them from.

If you’re a serial kit collector don’t despair, you can then focus on camping knives, clothing, rucksacks, camp stoves, fire pits, cooking pots and a whole host of other things.

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Poffertjes – Perfect Pint-Sized Pancakes

poffitjesI fell in love with poffertjes in Holland (during my misspent – I’d argue well spent – youth). Poffertjes are miniature pancakes. You will need to buy yourself a poffertjes pan, but it’s really worth the investment. Alternatively, you can buy them ready made from Lidl (a dutch food shop) and just heat through in a normal pan. Fresh is far better though.

What are poffertjes? Miniature pancakes which the dutch serve in a heap with castor sugar and a knob of butter. Have these as a desert or breakfast(for breakfast, substitute maple syrup as a topping).poffertjes

Poffitjes are normally made with buckwheat flower, but when camping you may not wish to carry around all the ingredients (including eggs which aren’t fun when they crack in your rucksack) and opt for a ready made pancake mix instead. Check the label on these mixes as some need you to add eggs and milk. The Betty Crocker brand contains powdered egg and milk and is ideal, meaning all you have to add is water.

Don’t forget the butter, castor sugar or maple syrup. For easy carrying, put the dry ingredients in freezer bags (making a note of how much water to add to the pancake mix) and the maple syrup in a smaller plastic bottle. The special pan isn’t a necessity (but does give you perfect little pancakes and you can cook 15 at a time). If packing light is important just your normal camp frying pan and pour dribbles of batter (or hell, make giant ones!).

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Meat without a fridge

Wild camping and camping on a site where you’re not using the owner’s fridge or don’t have electronic hookup (and a portable fridge) requires a little creativity when it comes to ensuring meat and fish doesn’t spoil. You can shop each day, but there are alternatives! A little planning gives you more swinging time!

Fresh meat: If you’re camping for a couple of days, take a cool bag stuffed with ice packs and frozen meat to help avoid salmonella. The meat should defrost in the first day, but still remain sufficiently chilled for the second. Keep the bag in shade and don’t leave it open. Also, make sure your food containers aren’t left on the ground. Hand the bag from a tree and make sure food containers are air tight and the bag sealed to prevent insects or larger critters having a banquet at your expense.

If there’s a stream near you, you can use this as an impromptu chiller. Ensure the meat is in a waterproof container – either an air (and water) tight tupperware container or sealable freezer bags. If using freezer bags, tripple bag the meat. Remember the water may contain parasites and bacteria like giardia or be contaminated by agricultural chemicals. Weigh down the container or bags with a smooth stone to stop them floating away. Nature’s natural refrigeration, and good to keep soft drinks, milk, wine and beer chilled too!

There’s no reason why you can’t take home prepared beer can burgers for the first night. These and potato grenades will leave you stuffed!

Something about sausages: You may be a traditional Brit who believes the great British banger is the bees-knees. Bear in mind many of those household favourites may say they contain meat, but gristle and skin is a closer description. Many years ago, I took a call from a factory wanting mincers that could manage “5 tonnes of trotters and snouts a day”. Their sausages are packed with salt and fat for flavour, but don’t provide much in the way of nutrition.

kangarooOur favourite shop bought British bangers to cook on the barbecue are Sainsbury’s pork and sweet chilli sausages. Sharpen a stick, pop the stick straight up the middle, and everyone can cook their own (also a good way to barbecue on a campfire if you forgot the grill). Pre-soaking the sticks in water before using them as skewers helps prevent them from going up in flames. Take long bamboo skewers as an alternative (metal ones can leave you with hot fingers).

The Sainsbury’s sausages have got a little competition now though. We recently discovered kangaroo sausages sold by Iceland. My daughter said they’re the best sausages she’s ever had, and I’d almost agree, but do love a Polish sausage (see the next section). Well worth a try though and fun for the kids to tell their friends they’ve eaten kangaroo. Nice one Skippy!

Cured, pre-cooked or dried sausage: salamis, chorizo, hot dogs, and smoked sausage (for a UK version, think Mattessons). These can be barbecued, added to pasta dishes or stews.

sausagePolish sausage: The increase of available Polish cuisine in supermarkets should be seized upon, as our Polish friends know a thing or two about sausages! Make sure you visit that section in your Tescos or Asda!

I was introduced to Polish sausages in the 1990s while driving from Warsaw to southern Poland to stay with a lovely lady called Agni (met in a forest in Germany) and her circus performer friends. Motor way service stations were somewhat basic in the Soviet era, but they had these wonderful, grilled sausages which were heaven. My first introduction to kielbasa czosnkowa. Wonderful people, wonderful food, and many happy memories.

When you camp, take kabanosy  (a thin, dried sausage) or kiełbaski myśliwska (hunter’s sausage) to snack on, and frankfurters (try serdelki which are giant frankfurters) to barbecue or pan fry. Kielbasa jalowcowa (juniper sausage) is a semi-dried pork sausage made with crushed juniper berries which doesn’t need refrigeration. Kielbasa czosnkowa (a garlic sausage) is lovely with scrambled egg, as a cold cut, used in stews or grilled on your campfire (and is pretty good chopped up in a thai curry). Kielbasa krajana is ideal for grilling on a barbecue or campfire (a double smoked sausage made with chunks of pork rather than ground mince)… thick, juicy and packed with flavour! Kielbasa grillowa is another ideal for cooking on a grill.

Tinned meat: Take your pick, from corned beef (for a wonderful US style corned beef hash) to tinned tuna, salmon, spam… there are plenty of choices. That said, I prefer to eat something a little more tasty, and the line “You can eat it, but it takes like…” springs to mind (courtesy of Crocodile Dundee).

Hunting, foraging and fishing: Coming soon!

We may be adding a section from the Roadkill Chef, if we can convince him to write one! He’s famous for his smoked squirrel.

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