Hanging (or Hammock Camping)

I love to hang.  I started hanging 2 or 3 years ago and I got spoiled.  I don’t like sleeping on the ground any more.  The HAT group suggests going places on our backpacking trips and my first thought is to how many trees there will be, and if I can sling a hammock.

Hammock camping has lots of benefits:

  • It is easy on the back and hips – no pressure points.
  • It is good for the environment – you don’t compact the ground like a tent.
  • A good set up can be light, compact and easy to stow in a backpack
  • It’s customizable. You take the pieces that you need for that trip and that work for you.
  • You can camp in terrain where it is hard to set up a tent. Lots of rocks and slopes? – no problem.

The down sides are:

  • You have to have trees or poles.
  • Many state parks and camp grounds count these as a tent and price accordingly.
  • It is hard to put a group of hangers in a single space; you have to spread out in the area.

What you will need to get started:

  • A hammock ($20 to $40). There are lots of sizes and styles so that you can find one that fits your body shape.  Hammocks come in double, single and trek size.   I have a trek-sized Grand Trunk ultralight hammock that packs down into the size of a softball.  It takes a little balance because it doesn’t come up far on the sides.  I use a single for car camping.
  • Tree straps ($25). 1 to 2 inch straps that wrap around and protect the bark on the tree.  A regular rope could cut into the tree and harm it.
  • Additional rope or whoopee slings, and strong, light carabineers to adjust how your hammock sits between the trees.
  • A mosquito net. Some hammocks come with one built in ($70).  Or you can purchase ones that hang around your hammock like a big bag ($40 to $60).  Or buy an expedition mosquito net and cut it down to your needs. ($15)
  • A light-weight tarp. At least 10 feet ridgeline (end to end on the hammock) and at least 8 feet wide.   ($70 to $100)
  • Light-weight stakes. These are no included when you purchase the tarp.
  • I also recommend using light-reflective cord for your lines.
  • A sleeping pad. This goes in the bottom of the hammock to help keep your backside warm. ($40 to $100).

Additional options:

  • Splash guard. I made one out of Tyvek that pulls up at either end with a draw string around the bottom of my hammock.  I can also use it to put things in easy reach like a gear sling.
  • A gear sling. ENO has started selling these at $30.  But it is really easy to make your own.
  • A gear line. I hang a line above my hammock with small carabiners and hang my headlamp and other goodies on it.
  • A small tarp to step out on to keep your socks clean. I have a 3 x 3 piece of Tyvek.
  • A snake sleeve. ($20) This covers and stows your tarp in a long sleeve so that it is easy to set up first.  Connect the tarp to two trees and then pull back the sleeve and stake out.  No more flapping in the breeze while you get it tied off!

Keeping warm in the hammock

On a summer night, a hammock is more comfortable that a tent because you can get a breeze over and under you.  But even in mild temperatures, that breeze underneath can get quite cool.

When you lay on your sleeping bag, you compress the filling that is supposed to keep you warm.  You need a sleeping pad in the hammock to provide that barrier between you and the cooler air.  A z-pack works great and is super light weight and fairly inexpensive at $40.  But the z-pack is a little bulky.  If you can afford a self-inflating (or manually inflating) mattress that would be best.

The edges of the hammock where your body connects at the sides can also get cool and you get cold spots.  I am a side sleeper so my knees and backside are the cold points.  I use my extra clothing tucked down in those areas to provide insulation.  The bonus is that when I wake up in the morning, my clothes are nice and warm!

If you have the extra dollars, an underquilt is a cushy alternative to a sleeping pad and clothes stuffing.  A nice one will cost about $300 or more depending on how much length you need.  An underquilt will let you hang in temperatures below freezing, something I find hard to do with just a sleeping pad.

Double hanging

Need to put more people into less space?  Try hanging hammocks like bunks.  I haven’t tried this yet, but you can hang two people on the same (sturdy) trees.  One faces one way and the other goes the other way.  One person has to hang pretty low to the ground and the other person has to be tall enough to reach the higher hammock.  The higher hammock gets to have the tarp in close to her face while the bottom hammock has the upper hammock.

I believe that you will need a wider tarp – closer to 12 feet.  And since the ends are more exposed, a real squall could be a problem with blowing wind.

I think I would also want to use a splash guard on the lower hammock in really rainy weather.

Spring Break HAT Backpacking Trip 2015

caprock1DATES: March 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 (We will start with an ovenight pack check on March 17 and leave on March 18 to Caprock Canyon.

DEADLINE: March 13

Cost: $60.00 per participant Minimum – 5 : Maximum – 15 participants Have you ever wanted to hike the Grand Canyon?  This Spring Break we will be doing a miniature version at Caprock Canyon, Texas.  There are hoodoos (rock spires) and amazing geological formations in the walls of the canyon.

The stars at night are clear and bright … deep in the heart of Texas.  Stargazing is unencumbered by trees and stretches from horizon to horizon.  Join us for a new and unique experience backpacking at Caprock Canyon for 3 full days and 4 nights. CaprockStars

This is an intermediate trip.  Participants must be registered Girl Scouts, cadets or older.  Since we will be carrying food for 3 1/2 days and more water than our regular trips,  participants need to be around 100 pounds (or more, but not much less).  While trails will be mostly moderate with some areas of difficulty, participants need to be in moderate shape (able to carry a full book bag up three flights of stairs without being too strained).  We have some packs and sleeping bags to loan. Contact cwwardwaller@att.net for more information. Register in Ebiz http://gsusa.ebiz.uapps.net/VP/NoPortal.html You have to drill down through Midwest > Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma > Search Acvities > Girl > Outdoor

Backpacking – Fall 2014 – Greenleaf State Park

Fall 2014’s backpacking adventure was in Greenleaf State Park.  I am sure that the girls would say that the best part of the trip was the suspension bridge we crossed (several times just for fun). Huge thanks to Doug (aka Bear) who turned the bridge into a giant playground toy.  A super special thanks to “George of the Jungle” who is the best backpacking trainer ever!  And many thanks to the other adults on the trip who jumped in and helped with the cooking and general welfare of our scouts and also taught us about mushrooms in the wild.

Speaking of new friends, this was the first backpacking trip for all of our girls!  They had lots of positive comments; despite being a bit bruised and sore, they felt so accomplished.  One of the recommendations that came out of this trip, that I liked a lot, was that we have more time in the backwoods.  (We only had one night)  Given how much I hate staying in the crowded state park, I think we need to hike in to the trail at least a couple of miles on the first day.  I’ll see if we can move some of the food prep up to pack check night.

The second recommendation was more food.  This was only made by a couple of the girls.  It truly is hard to plan meals for a group of people, particularly for a group in which some of them are still growing and consuming more calories than others.  You just never know how many calories kids are going to want on a given day!  On the other hand – these girls were provided plenty of snacks.  They even walked off the trail with snacks still in their bag.  Somehow, snacks do not equal food at meal times.

This time the weather was perfect.  No rain, mild temperatures, cool evenings and mornings with mist on the water.  We got to see pelicans, deer and a baby timber rattler (only a foot long and he rattled hid tail even though he just have a nub for a rattle).  It was kinda cute in that OMG it is a rattlesnake kind of way.  I stopped us on the trail where he was sunning himself on a rock and (after poking him and realizing what it was) I told the girls to back up.  “What it is?” someone asked.  “A baby rattlesnake,” I said.  “A baby rattlesnake!” they chorused and started to move up,  “We want to see!”  “Let me repeat the rattlesnake part,” I answered.  “Oh – yeah.”  And they moved back.

Fun trip!

Camping in Critter Country

Parents and girls often ask me about bears when we camp on the Ozark Trail.   Since I hike with a group of girl scouts, I rarely actually see critters of any kind.  We are louder than a herd of buffalo.  I have hiked through woods that seemed barren of life because everything has fled before us.  Since the number one way to avoid bears is to make lots of noise – we have that covered.

But the real problem of camping is not bears, it’s a much smaller critter – raccoons.

Raccoons are very smart and they have hands.  In most areas, they know that people carry food and God gave them the face and the heart of little bandits.  They will carry off anything that they associate with food (or maybe they are just curious about).  I have lost a camp stove.  I have a friend who had a shoe carried off.  Oh – and did I mention that they have sharp teeth!  One ate through a backpack to get to a double ziplocked muffin.

In order to keep this little menace under control, we would like our event participants to keep these things in mind:

  • Do not go into the wild smelling like lunch.
    • Do not shampoo with delicious fruity shampoo
    • Remove makeup before you drive to camp
    • Do not use any flowery smelling products that will make you attractive to insects
    • Do not use sunscreen that smells like bananas or coconuts
    • Don’t use fancy, smelly dryer sheets when you wash your camp clothes
    • In fact, if you can find products that are scentless, that is what you really want to use, after all, who really knows what smells good to a raccoon.
  • Likewise, when you are in the car driving to the camp site, stay neat and clean in the car. If you spill food on you then you will smell like… well food.
  • When you are packing your bag, put ALL smellables into a double zip-lock bag and write your name on it. These include but are not limited to
    • Toothpaste and your toothbrush (which has old toothpaste on it)
    • Deodorant (a lot of hikers don’t even bring any)
    • Lip balm
    • Sunscreen
    • Make sure floss is the unflavored type
    • DO NOT BRING gum, mints or any other extra food items.
    • DO NOT BRING any hair products, face cleaners, moisturizers or body wash. *
  • Don’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs, or trail mix, or trash else unless you want something to follow you to camp
  • Keep yourself clean of spilled food. If it spills, clean it off.
  • Keep camp clean of spilled food and trash.

It all simplifies to… Don’t smell like food.

*I have bad breakouts.  I work with teenage girls.  Therefore, the exception to no face wash is a medicated wash or towlette.  Just remember to repackage it down to something very small and then put it in the ziplock bag.  Do without the moisturizer for the weekend.

Camp Durango 2016

Zip Lining!             White water rafting!            Backpacking!                 History!

durangoCome to Durango Colorado with us July 9 to 16, 2016.

COST: $500.00 per person. $100 deposit due at time of registration.  Remainder due by June 24, 2016.  This covers food, transportation and activity fees.  You may want to bring some money for extra snacks and souvenirs.  This is a High Adventure Team (HAT) sponsored event.  We have 4 adult volunteers (all over 30), all experienced backwoods enthusiasts to be your guides.

PARTICIPANTS: Must be a registered Girl Scout (and have passed the background check if you are an adult).   We will set aside 4 spots for adults that want to come with their daughters.  More may be available, but girls will get the first priority.  Participants will be carrying between 20 and 25 pounds of equipment for 3 days and need to be in very good physical condition.

Girls will need to be currently cadets (11 years old and in 6th grade) as of January 1, 2016. Due to the amount of weight they will be expected to carry on the backpacking portion of the trip, they should also be close to or over 100 pounds. Smaller girls can still sign up, but will need to bring an adult capable of helping them carry their equipment.

SATURDAY – travel to Wild Rivers Recreation Area in New Mexico where two large river gorges meet up and camp overnight.wwr

SUNDAY – Drive to Junction Creek Campground in Colorado just outside of Durango.
MONDAY – White water rafting and zip lining.
TUESDAY –  Pack up and head out on the Colorado Trail for two nights of backpacking.
WEDNESDAY – Backpacking on the Colorado Trail.
THURSDAY – Return to Junction Creek from the Colorado Trail.  We will clean up at the Durango Community Center and get some swim time in.
FRIDAY – Time to go home, but not before we have a pizza party on our overnight in Clayton, NM.

SATURDAY –  Travel back to OKC.

colorado-trail-2EQUIPMENT: We will provide food, and group equipment such as tents and cooking equipment. Participants will need to bring their individual gear, namely a backpack that will hold at least 35,000 cu and a light-weight, packable sleeping bag.  I have lots of reviews and suggestions in this blog. Since this will be the beginning of monsoon season, another must will be a full, light-weight rain suit.  A basic list of what you will need is at https://okwesthighadventure.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/backpacking-list/

Contact Crash at cwwardwaller@att.net if you are interested.

Rain Gear: Poncho vs Jacket

We recommend bringing a full rain suite for backpacking.

I sometimes forget why I have this bias as I did recently when a future backpacker asked me if it was okay to bring rainpants and a poncho.  I thought I would go test that.  Rain jacket vs poncho.


I found a standard yellow poncho in my stack of scouting things and snapped it on.  I first noticed that the snaps left pretty good gaps, enough to let in rain on a windy day. But the hood had a draw string which allowed me to pull it around my face.

When I put on the backpack, I realized that I would have to be careful as I pulled the poncho through the straps so that I didn’t tear the poncho. This might not be a problem with the heavier, army surplus ponchos.   Then I could only pull the poncho flaps down so far because of the backpack straps, leaving  my arms exposed and plenty of gap to soak my sleeves.   I definitely had more trouble getting into my backpack in a poncho and getting the poncho unbunched under it.

UPDATE: After writing this blog, I had some friends chime in about their experiences with ponchos.  “George” said that she had hiked with a woman that wore a heavy army-style poncho that is supposed to cover your backpack.  She said that the wind would keep unsnapping the poncho causing a super-hero effect with a flying cape.  Occasionally the cape flew back over the woman’s head and then she had to try to get it back over the backpack while trying to hike.  Apparently there were explicatives involved and the backpack got wet.  I could see that even if you could keep the poncho over the backpack and snapped, there would still be gaps in the snaps and something is going to get wet.

With the rain jacket, I don’t have any exposed gaps.  My arms are fully covered with elastic at the wrists. I have a draw string around the bottom of the jacket that can be adjusted as well. It is also made of a fabric that will not tear and is farily breathable while I am hiking.
If there were a light drizzle and I were able to be careful with the more delicate poncho, I would be okay with this.  But for a downpour and especially with teens who are not known for their cautious, delicate touch with things, I would get the rain coat.

Remember whatever you get needs to be packable and fairly light-weight.  Tully – my dog – says “Don’t forget the rain pants!”



It doesn’t matter if the weather is hot or cold, you have to drink plenty of water to keep you from getting dehydrated.  Dehydration really sneaks up on you and can cause all kinds of problems from a really bad headache to vomiting.  Once you get the headache, it is miserable and very hard to get rid of.  Once you start vomiting, the condition has become critically serious and we have to get you out of the area for medical treatment.

So drink lots of water.

That means you have to carry lots of water.  I used to just say bring a container that will carry 2 liters.  But not all carriers are equal.

You should carry a 2 liter water bladder that will fit into the back of your pack and has a tube that comes out and you can suck on.  Plus carry one water bottle (2 liter or 1 liter).  Clear bottles are better because you can check how much liquid you still have in them.

Find light-weight, durable water bottles.  You WILL drop it at some point, usually on a rock.  Brand is not important.

Water bladders are a little more complex.  I have used the Platypus brand since I started backpacking 10 years ago and have never had problems with leakage caused by the bladder.  I have never worn one out.  It is easy to get replacement parts for them, like the bite valve that flew off while I was crossing a stream.  But the opening is small and it is hard to clean.  This brand can be found on Amazon or at Backwoods.

The CamelBaks are easy to find at any sporting store. They have wider mouths and are easier to clean. But beware, there are waterbladders that look like CamelBaks but are knock offs.  Walmart carries something that looks like the CamelBak brand, but is actually something else.  Those leak.

This is a link to a good comparison review. http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Hydration-Bladder-Reviews

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