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The Realities of Winter Hammock Camping

In the last year, I have been all over the country living in my hammock. I decided to go homeless by choice in August 2017, so that I could be a nomad and live on the move in my favorite hammock system of all time. The Warbonnet Blackbird XLC is by far and away the best overall hammock system in the world in my opinion. I loved it so much, I got rid of my house so I could travel and live in it full time. They even have a new model they just released, in which we will do a write up on later. But the changes made to the Blackbird XLC are exactly what was needed to take the system to the next level.

During these travels, I’ve lived in my hammock in Puerto Rico after the Hurricanes devastated the island. I lived on the front of an airport, to beaches along the coast, to the front porch of buildings. I traveled from a tropical environment to a winter environment and that made a world of difference in how I set up my hammock to endure the weather. We recently camped out in just above zero temperatures in Northern PA and stayed extremely warm in our shelters even in a foot of snow.

Insulating Hammocks in Below Freezing Weather

The main problem with hammock camping in cold weather is the issue with convection underneath you. Wind blowing below you will suck heat away from you quicker than anything else and that is why you must know how to properly setup for winter hammock camping. There are many ways to set up for winter hammock camping conditions, but not all are equal.

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Different ways of setup:

  • Top Quilt and Underquilt- This is my preferred method for winter hammock camping. But it is also the most expensive and least modular for other uses. The top quilt is only 3/4 of a sleeping bag, eliminating weight from the bag where it isn’t needed. When in a hammock, it does no good to insulate underneath yourself with a typical sleeping bag because the insulation becomes compressed and provides no warmth. That is why an under quilt is so important because it makes up for the lack of insulation underneath you. And since the under quilt isn’t compressed by your body, it will provide substantial warmth. Down is the material of choice for insulation on hammocks, especially if conditions are consistently below freezing. The only time synthetic insulation would be better is if the conditions were constantly wet. Even then most down quilt manufacturers use silicon-treated down these days, so them getting wet is less of an issue than in the past.
  • Sleeping Bag and thermal pad- The next best option isn’t as warm, but it allows you to utilize sleeping bags you already own instead of having to purchase quilts that can really only be used for winter hammock camping. The problem with this option is that traditional sleeping bags are difficult to get in and out of in a hammock. The underneath portion of your sleeping bag is useless and a thermal pad is absolutely essential for staying warm. No matter how good your sleeping bag is rated, you will still get cold underneath you without a thermal pad.
  • Utilizing Tarps for warmth- One of the most important options for warmth is how you use your tarp. I’m a firm believer in having a tarp that will block the wind and rain from all directions. These triangular or partial coverage tarps aren’t good enough for cold conditions. Because if the wind can blow across your hammock because the tarp doesn’t block it all the way around, you are likely to get cold. The Warbonnet Superfly tarp is the best I’ve seen so far in these types of tarps. It is constructed to act like a tent around your hammock and if you want to block the wind in cold conditions you’ll need to put your tarp flaps all the way to the ground. This will block the wind effectively and make your shelter much warmer.
  • Blackbird XLC Top Cover and Under Quilt Cover- Recently Warbonnet changed some aspects of their Blackbird XLC. They added a top cover that can be purchased at any time because they aren’t custom to each hammock anymore. And they also have two vents added to them, which are essential for letting out moisture from your breath. The top cover itself will add around 15 degrees of warmth to your winter hammock system, but the problem with the original design was condensation build up inside the hammock from your breath throughout the night. This was a very big problem before because your breath would freeze to the inside of the hammock, causing your insulation to get wet. They have also designed a new underquilt cover, that is designed to block more wind and help keep your underquilt compressed against the hammock. This was a problem before with any underquilt, because if you moved too much the quilt could slip off. And this new design prevents that as well as adding more wind protection for winter hammock camping.
  • Thermal Pads- I truly believe that whether you use a sleeping bag or quilt system, that you truly should use a thermal pad for both setups. Its amazing how much warmth a Therma-rest pad can warm you sleep system up. In fact, I’d say it’s the single most important thing for staying warm when winter hammock camping.

Benefits of Winter Hammock Camping

 

If you have followed our social media, you know that we are HUGE advocates of winter hammock camping for many reasons. Here the reasons we choose hammocks above other shelters:

  • Fast setup and flat ground not needed. You can camp on the side of hill, next to a waterfall, or anywhere you can find trees. There are even ways to setup them up without trees.
  • No need to clean the ground up on your site or prepare sleep area.
  • Super Lightweight and Packable. The warbonnet blackbird XLC weighs only around 3 lbs for the whole system and more if you add quilts and other accessories.
  • SuperFly tarp can be used as a tent if hammock not needed.
  • Most comfortable night sleep you can get in the woods. The blackbird XLC forces your body to sleep in an anatomically correct position and has eliminated all my back pain. I’ve considered hanging one in my bedroom when I quit being homeless.
  • Lightweight and Packable
  • Durable and comfortable- I’ve had the same hammock for 3 years and it has no noticeable wear of any kind, even after living in it full time for the last six months.

Conclusion:
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Of all the choices available for cold winter camping, hammock camping with quilts is by far and away our favorite. The only downside to hammock camping versus other types of camping is you can’t have a fire next to any hammock system. The material is too lightweight to have a fire anywhere even close to it. We recommend keeping your hammock a minimum of 20 yards away from any fire. Other than the lack of exterior heating capability, the only other downside is you must have trees to hang the hammock. But even if you don’t you can put your superfly tarp straight to the ground and it can double as a floorless tent. All in all, you can’t go wrong with a Warbonnet XLC hammock system. If you can’t afford one, ENOS is a great secondary option. But they aren’t even close in comparison to quality, comfort, or utility uses.

Recommended Winter Hammock Camping products:

Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic Foam Sleeping Pad for Camping, Hiking, and Backpacking, Regular – 72 x 20 Inches

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – Blaze Under Quilt

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – Ignitor Top Quilt, Royal/Charcoal

Warbonnet Under Quilt

Warbonnet Top Quilt

Warbonnet Blackbird XLC Full package from SIGMA 3 Systems (Our Hammock Setup of Choice)

Warbonnet SuperFly Tarp

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – AirLoft Hammock Mattress, Hammock Accessory, Royal/Charcoal

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – JungleNest Hammock, Includes Hammock and Bug Net, Grey

By Robert Allen

After almost two years of testing the Warbonnet Blackbird XLC hammock, we have come to the conclusion that this is the best hammock system on the market for the money. I personally bought one of these a couple of years ago and have tested it in almost every kind of weather imaginable. This hammock is just about as bomb-proof as you can get for a lightweight piece of sleep gear. Various SIGMA 3 instructors have also purchased it and used it all over the country, they have all come back with the same conclusion. Amazing!

We are proud to announce that we are the first company to ever offer their products outside of the direct manufacturer. Warbonnet is American Veteran owned and each product is hand made, so you can be assured that they are quality and not foreign junk. I was so impressed with the product after buying it at full retail price and testing for two years, that I contacted the owner and told him we had to sell them. He finally agreed to let us sell his Warbonnet Blackbird XLC to SIGMA 3 customers. As many of you know our store only sells products that our instructors own, have tested, and wholeheartedly believe in. I have to admit that I didn’t like the idea of hammocks at first because I’m a stomach and side sleeper, so I was hesitant to spend money on something I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable in. After years of using them though, I’m a total convert from tarp and tent camping. I almost never use any of my other shelter equipment anymore after using this system.

The Best Hammock

The Blackbird XLC is a larger up-graded version of the Blackbird.  It has all the same standard features as the Blackbird such as choice of suspension, built-in bug netting, shelf/footbox, but in addition the XLC is about 12″ longer having a hammock body roughly 132″x 63″ with an overall length(ridgeline length) of 111″ which gives you about 11 inches of tarp overlap at each end of the hammock if using an eleven foot tarp. The XLC is rated for a user up to 7’0″.  The netting is fully removable, you have the option to purchase an optional winter Topcover that can be used in place of the netting in winter time, the Topcover is a breathable fabric matching the hammock body, it will trap about 15 deg of heat compared to the outside air temps, so it is particularly useful for those that do lots of cold weather camping. Like the hammock fabric itself, the Topcover made of breathable fabric that has a DWR water “resistant” treatment, it will shed light moisture, but is not waterproof and is not a replacement for a tarp. The thing we probably best about this hammock is the convenient built in shelf you can put gear in out of your way. Watch the video for more details.

Color: Olive green
Weight capacity: 400 LBS
Item weight (webbing/buckles): 2 lb. 7oz.
Item weight (whoopies): 2 lb 4oz.
Fabric: 1.7oz/70D Nylon (x2)
Price: $200

The Best Hammock Tarp

I have probably owned 30 different tarps over the years as a survival instructor and I can honestly say that the warbonnet superfly tarp is my favorite. It weighs only 1 lb 3 oz and packs up to the size of a pop can. Even if you don’t like hammocks you’ll love this tarp if you like camping on the ground.The reason I like it so much is because it has doors that fold down on both sides and it makes it a 4 season tarp. It blocks out the wind, rain, and snow no matter what kind of weather conditions you find yourself in. When weather is nice I like to fold up one side to enjoy the views and when the weather is bad I batten down the hatches and close in all the sides. For the weight and pack-ability it can’t be beat. It is just like having a floor-less tent and still all the advantages of a tarp. There are certainly cheaper options available, but we guarantee that after you try a tarp with the doors you won’t want the smaller versions available. Warbonnet offers a tarp that is the same size and price as the ENO profly, but it doesn’t have the doors. In comparison with other tarp makers, they are about the same price as the rest. In fact, ENO offers a Housefly tarp that is the same as the superfly, but after testing we found it wasn’t near the same quality. You can see that in our video below when we tested them both in the snow. The ProFly tarp collapsed under snow weight and the superfly held up because of extra tie outs.

Item weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
Ridgeline Length: 11’0”
Width: 10’0”
Fabric: 1.1oz/30D 2000mm NeverMist™ Silnylon
Price: $130

 

Other Brands:

There are numerous other brands and options available out there and we have tried almost all of them. I’ve personally owned the ENO hammocks, Hennessy, Grand Trunk, and Snugpak hammock. The blackbird xlc is by far and away a much better hammock system than all of them. Clark hammocks is also an option but they are substantially more expensive for a system that has a smaller tarp, no shelf, and doesn’t lay quite as flat.

BUY ONCE CRY ONCE!

You could certainly find cheaper hammocks, as there are numerous systems out there available but our philosophy is to buy the best and only spend the money once. We guarantee that if you like hammock camping, you will upgrade your system in the future and end up spending way more money in the long run. One of our main jobs as survival instructors is to test gear and we test a lot of it. We never put our name behind something that we don’t absolutely love and our reputation is the most important thing to us. You know that we are biased in this review because we are selling the hammock, but I can assure that this hammock is amazing and I give you my word you will love it.  After years of testing, I can assure you I have never had a better nights sleep in the woods. Thank you for supporting SIGMA 3 Survival School and I hope that one day you get to try out this amazing piece of gear and like it as much as I do!

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