Since we don’t let the potential lack of trees determine where we hike, we have had to sleep on the ground on occasion. In general, North America has trees on certain trails that folks may not expect. On my first hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, it was recommended to me that I should leave the hammock at home for the first 1200 miles (First 700 miles because of desert, next 500 miles for being above tree line a lot). In fact, there were plenty of trees, so on our 2016 PCT hike, we took our hammocks. For our Arizona Trail hike, we were advised to sleep on the ground for the first 500 miles. In reality, there was a lot of hammocking available in the first 500 miles – we picked our hammocks up at mile 300 and were good to hang for the rest of the trail.
The places that we want to go are not chosen because they are hammock friendly, but because they are scenic, fun, challenging, wild..etc.. We love it when the they are hammock friendly though…and I (Beardoh) am often sleeping in a hammock even off trail these days.
Something that I am becoming more and more convinced of with time in the wilderness is that there are often trees (and others objects) to hang from even in places where you wouldn’t expect. We’ve had to walk a little further on occasion, but those occasions are few and far between. My perceptions of desert vegetation have changed from hiking through AZ and SoCal.
The above being said, there are some times when a hammock hiker may need to go to ground. This post is about the gear that we take to have an All Terrain System, without adding a significant amount of weight.
By carrying 7 sections of a Thermarest Z Lite (7oz) and a 1.6oz Polycro ground cloth, we can have a decent go-to-ground setup, using those items in conjunction with a hammock tarp (or poncho tarp *see below) at a weight penalty of only 8.6oz. If the mosquitoes are bad, we use our hammock’s bug net draped over us (unzip and just pull the bug net portion over our faces). I think of this as the All Terrain Setup. Having the spartan ground setup is great and really gives one freedom when the items are multi use.
I am not crazy about adding the extra half pound to my setup, but the Z Lite has multiple uses as part of my gear. I use the 7oz Z Lite under my legs when it is cold in the hammock as well and as a sit/lounge pad when taking a break or having a meal break. If I didn’t take the Z rest, I’d probably be using a Gossamer Gear 1/8″ thick grey foam pad for the occasional need for more leg warmth anyways (at 2.5 oz). So….in actuality, I am really only adding about 6oz to my setup by using the more versatile and warmer Z lite. Admittedly, if I am expecting consistently warm weather (lower elevations) and am quite confident that I will be able to hang each night, (especially East Coast US and non-desert areas at lower elevations) I will skip the GG 1/8″ pad and groundsheet altogether.
*Last summer on the PCT, I became pretty frustrated and cold with my rain coat, and pretty much ditched the idea of a rain coat for the foreseeable future. It wetted out way too quickly for a new coat. I’ve had two $250+ ultralight raincoats and they both performed poorly. This past May, SweetPea and I built a cuben fiber poncho tarp for me and I love it. I used this tarp while walking in the rain on our thru hike of the Colorado Trail. My shirt, shorts, pack, phone, and maps stayed dry and I stayed warm (though you can have good air flow if desired). I can set this up for ground dwelling as well. SweetPea was envious enough that we built her one after the Colorado Trail
One additional thought – After using a flat ridge tarp for many years, I switched to a hammock (and poncho tarp, for that matter) that have a catenary cut on the ridge and edges. If you have to pitch the tarp using poles only (no trees, fenceposts, or other items to assist), you’ll find that it is difficult to get a good pitch without a catenary ridge. I am currently using a tarp from Hammock Gear since they do a cat cut on their tarp’s ridge and edges.