DIY Hammock Gear

This is an ongoing project. Long post ahead...

I had just recently went on a camping trip for my little brother's (actually not so little anymore since he towers over me) birthday. We did a two day loop in the South Fields of Harriman State Park around Island Pond. Photosphere below. (Incidentally, if you've never checked out photospheres before, go to Google's Map Views to see more. Super immersive!)

Anyway, instead of packing the traditional tent, rain fly, ground tarp, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad combo, we decided to borrow a friend's hammock loadout. You can read more about what that loadout consists of and how it's set up here, but it's basically a weight equivalent, (potentially) lower cost sleeping option for camping that I personally find easier to setup. In fact, if it's not raining you could have a completely sleep-ready hammock set up in less than 20 seconds. Plus it's super comfortable and doubles as a camping chair.

After the trip, I decided that I wanted my own setup for future trips. I'm hoping the comforts offered by the hammock will convince my future wife to spend days in the middle of nowhere eating hobo stew while inhaling campfire smoke (doubtful). Unfortunately, complete cold weather setups cost somewhere on the order of $600-$800 depending on the quality and weight of the gear.

So, me being me, I set out to make my own gear. I did a little research and bought myself a used sewing machine (Janome HD-1000) off eBay and raw material (ripstop nylon, G├╝termann polyester thread, netting, cord, and other assorted items) from the fantastic DIYGearSupply (I'm like a kid in a candy store there. Everything's cheap too. Plus they have construction guides on how to make your own gear.).

Making the hammock was super easy. It's basically just a rectangular piece of nylon with sewed seams that's whipped at both ends (black cord) and attached to the suspension (grey cord; a whoopie sling in my case) which makes adjusting and attaching the hammock to a tree super easy.

Next was the bug net. Basically a simple sock that fits around the hammock so mosquitoes and noseeums can't get in and bite during the warmer months. Does a semi good job of blocking gusts of wind during the colder months too.

The rain fly was next, which was definitely a lot harder:
  1. The material is called silnylon (silicone impregnated nylon) and is super fragile since it is also super lightweight. This makes it difficult to sew and work with.
  2. There's a caternary curve cut into each edge of the tarp material which required taping the cut pieces onto walls, draping string between each "vertex" to create a curved trace, and drawing the outline. This guide was super helpful.
The corners were reinforced with a heavier weight nylon (oxford 200d) and D-rings for tarp lines. You can see the fly deployed with the hammock below.

Never underestimate how simple features can drastically improve a product's overall ease of use. Case in point: Snakeskins. These are basically small tubes of nylon/mesh that make it really easy to stow gear away for packing. No need to lay gear on the ground, roll things up, or messily stuff gear into stuffsacks. Just pull these snakeskins over your gear like you put on socks and you're good to go. I made mine out of mesh so the rain fly could dry out and prevent mold from growing on the fly. The cordlocks are to keep the snakeskins in place so the rain fly doesn't accidentally fall out when you've packed it away. The little metal gadget on the end is a line lock that I designed (basically something to lock the line around a tree without having to tie a knot). Wired out of titanium, it's lower profile and more intuitive to use than the Nite-Ize Figure 9 or the Dutchware's Tarp Flyz. If you want the 3D model, just post a comment below and I'll send it to you.

Hammocks are great in the summer because they allow relatively unobstructed airflow around your body to keep you cool. In cooler weather, this poses a problem that is conventionally addressed by basically covering yourself with a quilt above and below your body. The top quilt (TQ) is basically a blanket and the under quilt (UQ) is a blanket that's hung below the hammock. All UQ's currently on the market attach to the ends of the hammock or the suspension which makes it harder to adjust and deploy and can lead to cold air leaking into the space between the hammock and the UQ. My design addresses this by having the UQ attach directly to the hammock via a strip of velcro which makes swapping out different UQ's easy and creates a perfect seal between the ends of the UQ and the hammock. Since your body weight stretches the hammock, elastic cord runs along the sides and ends of the UQ and are threaded through loops in the fabric to allow the UQ to stay "suspended but taut" no matter how much your hammock stretches.

Since the normal sew-through approach to gear with down feather insulation is easier to construct but colder since there's no insulation at the sewed through seams, I went with the box baffle approach for my TQ/UQ. It's harder, but way warmer. The baffles also have a differential cut, meaning that the inner layer is shorter than the outer layer, allowing for an even and uncompressed layer of insulation. You can see that there's 4" of loft (the "thickness" of the UQ) filled with 800 fill power down (meaning 1 ounce of down will take up 800 cubic inches of space uncompressed. Generally, the higher the fill power, the warmer/lighter the jacket will be.) which allows the UQ to be used in 8° weather. Working with down is super annoying. I had to weigh a certain amount of down (which would be flying and sticking everywhere), pump it into the baffle, seal off the baffle temporarily, and redo it for every single baffle. Sourcing the feathers was hard enough (and surprisingly expensive) but working with it tapped into rage levels I didn't know I possessed.

I think the smile on her face says it all. Now to convince her of the merits of hobo stew...

I tested out everything during one of the northeast's terrible snow storms this season and the gear performed admirably. I was toasty warm the entire time.

I'm still working on the TQ, but it should be done soon. All in all, I've spend about $280 on everything (minus the sewing machine). Worth it in my book!


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