Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW - The Ultimate Hang

 When I first started my blog several years ago, the landscape had very few online backpacking resources and even less about lightweight backpacking.  I was motivated to document everything I had learned both to help remember it myself but also to serve as a one-stop resource for others too.  With over 10,000 hits per month, my theory has proven true to a certain degree.  Over the years, many other great blogs, forums and communication tools have been established and it’s fair to say that resources about lightweight backpacking are fairly plentiful nowadays.  Unfortunately, not all facets of the outdoor industry are so thoroughly covered.  Hammocking falls into this black hole to a certain degree and those interested still need to do a great deal of piecing together research to gain a broader understanding.

As noted each year when I attend Trail Days, the outdoor industry seems to be pushing towards hammocking.  Materials, accessories, suspension and design have evolved dramatically in a very short timeframe and it is entirely possible to find highly functional hammock systems which are very comparable to even the most lightweight ground-dweller shelters.  Many highly skilled cottage manufacturers offer custom gear which revels the quality and workmanship of more mainstream outdoor merchandisers.

Hammocking still isn’t entirely mainstream however.  Outdoor markets may or may not have a small shelf dedicated to hammocking, and even then, usually accessory gear is absent (i.e. underquilts, top quilts, tarps, suspension, etc.).  Also, the hammocks represented are from those such as Eagles Nest Outfitter (ENO) which is arguably an entry level brand that dedicated hammockers likely wouldn’t take seriously.

Noting the industry shift (from conventional shelters to hammocking), it’s hard not to consider hammocking.  The problem is, much like what motivated me to start my blog many years ago, there are very few one-stop resources to learn about techniques, technology and gear.  Hammock Forums and its members are a spirited bunch who offer tremendous home-grown insight, but finding compiled information is challenging to say the least.  More often than not, those who want to learn about hammocking are forced to use organizationally-challenged forums or find individual blogs of more experienced hammockers.

Fortunately, a very capable, competent, contemporary, colorful, complete and useful resource is available – The Ultimate Hang, An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping written and illustrated by Derek Hansen.

Written, illustrated and published in the same spirit as Mike Clelland’s (!) wonderful books, The Ultimate Hang is exactly what any novice or experienced hammocker needs to fully understand the nuances of hammocks, gear and technique.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is amazingly complete and trendy – meaning you can save a lot of time and effort in research and self-study by simply reading this book.  It is a very clear and detailed view of the history and trends of hammocking which not only spells out how to be safe and secure, but how to lighten your load, stay dry, and have fun while leaving virtually zero impact.  Methods to keep warm, bug free, hanging and suspension techniques, and even MYOG are included.  It is well worth the investment and great illustrations help drive home the narrative.
I particularly liked how very comprehensive information could be gained just from the pictures or the narratives on their own merits.  I liked that so many specific manufacturers and their gear were specifically named as all too often outdoor books talk in generalities and trying to find the same product commercially is difficult, especially when there is a delay in book publishing.  I learned quite a bit from the book and even found a product I hadn’t heard of which likely would have helped me a couple years ago when I tried unsuccessfully to adjust an underquilt (Arrowhead Equipment triangle adapters).  The book goes into great detail on the versatility of a hammock system and makes a great case as to why it is better than tent.  I particularly like all the tips throughout.  One that caught my attention was to put a small CCF pad in the footbox of my quilt and not just under my quilt between the quilt and the hammock.  This explains why hammocks frustrated me at times in the past as my feet always seemed cold because my feet would constantly roll off the pad.  With the pad inside my quilt, I can’t wiggle away.

I had the opportunity to briefly meet Derek Hansen, the author, at Trail Days this year.  Hansen is clearly passionate about hammocking and being able to articulate his passion so clearly and completely is of great benefit to the industry.  Having so much information available in one location trumps all other resources available.  Owning a mini-library of backpacking and technique books, I can honestly say this one is my new favorite.  It is extremely comprehensive and the illustrations pull everything together perfectly.  It is clear a lot of thought went into it and readers will get a lot out of it.  It took me two days of non-dedicated and sporadic reading to make it through because it is one of those books where I found I wanted to press on and it was plenty simple enough despite my lack-luster gene pool.

I highly encourage experienced hammockers and those with an open mind to consider purchasing this book, and for that matter, a hammock!  If for little more, educate yourself about an alternative to more conventional shelter systems and help fund a fellow outdoor enthusiast who put his talents for illustration and writing to good use. Having a one-stop shop to tell you everything you need to know about hammocking is invaluable.  Although I have shied away from a lot of discussion about hammocks in the past because of my own inexperience or failures, I hope to have a few more articles about this topic in the immediate future as this activity is very much relevant and practical.

(Disclosure: This product was provided to me free-of-charge for the purposes of this review and is owned by me.  However, any information contained herein is my personal opinion without bias.)

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