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Trekking Treez on the Pacific Crest Trail, Part Two

I have now reached Kennedy Meadows South, mile 702 of the Pacific Crest Trail, thus ending the desert segment and beginning the Sierra Nevada. I have not once slept on the ground so far thanks to my Warbonnet Blackbird XLC hammock and Tensa Trekking Treez as my sole sleeping arrangement. Mission accomplished!

I have needed to use one or both Treez 20 nights thus far, out of 58 nights total, so about a third. Below is a gallery of all 20 of those hangs. Because it is faster and more convenient to hang from trees, other poles, or rock features than from Trekking Treez, I used TT only when there were no reasonable alternatives. I could have used TT 100% of nights if that were my goal. As trees are more reliably available at points north, I expect to use the poles in hammock mode going forward less frequently.

Even though trees are available below treeline in the Sierra ahead, camping below treeline will not always be desirable, because safety and speed calls for crossing the high passes early in the mornings when the remaining snow is harder. Tomorrow I will set out with 12 days of food aiming to reach Vermilion Valley Ranch without descending below 10,000’ to resupply. I plan to hang from the poles above treeline amid the rocks to speed my way. This should make for some epic photos at the very least.

Another reason I will keep using the poles ahead is that they are much stronger as trekking poles than ordinary ones. While they absolutely do not replace an ice axe where necessary, I feel much more confident using Trekking Treez for stability in deep snow or boulder fields, that commonly cause ordinary lighter poles to break. The trail and hiker boxes along the way are fairly littered with snapped and bent poles. I have salvaged still-new carbide tips from these abandoned poles twice already, as I have worn through the originals.

I began this hike with a small amount of anxiety about whether TT would always work for me, given the unknown ground conditions of the desert segment. These feelings are now completely gone. Ground sleepers often stop hiking earlier in the day than they want, solely because they lack confidence of finding suitable flat, clear tent sites ahead before dark. I always hike as long as I want, knowing I can figure something out almost anywhere, whether the ground is sloped or flat, rocky or soft, and of course whether trees are present. This to me is liberating, and speeds my progress.

Of course, the greatest support to my speed and comfort on trail is the consistently restorative sleep and day lounging the hammock provides. Sleeping with feet slightly elevated is fantastic for recovery, aiding venous return from overworked legs better than the compression hosiery and pack-under-legs strategies ground sleepers often use.

In reality, a bigger issue than lack of trees for using a hammock exclusively on the PCT is the wind. While using a tent in high winds isn’t pleasant either, suffice to say it’s very good that I don’t get seasick. Guying the sides of the hammock out to ground minimizes but does not eliminate the sway. One night a stiff cross wind spinnakered me in the hammock to perhaps 30° off plumb several times. Using a tarp for wind protection can add a little warmth and stability, but at the expense of a deafening roar beyond earplugs’ ability to make soft, and the tarp’s guylines must be very strongly anchored to resist the blast.

Wind passing under the hammock draws away heat that ground sleepers retain for a given amount of insulation. When winds are up, I find using an underquilt protector essential to staying warm even when the overnight low is 25°F higher than the rating of my quilts. Equipped with 20°F quilts and protector, I was always warm enough even on the six nights I woke to ice in my water bottles.

I’m pleased to report that regardless of wind or other challenges, never once did the system collapse to drop me in the night. It is also true that my initial anchor placements failed maybe a dozen times in total during setup and testing. Proving the anchors with some hard bouncy test sits is an important part of setup. In the worst case, in an immense burn zone with dead loose soil, I had to re-set 2 of 4 anchors 3 times over half an hour before I could rest confident that they’d hold the night.

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Tensa Trekking Treez on the Pacific Crest Trail

Several people have recounted thru-hiking the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail using a hammock as their primary sleeping arrangement. All of the reports we’ve seen describe frequently sleeping on the ground with their hammock in the 750-mile desert sections from the Mexican border to the southern Sierra Nevada, after which trees become more reliably available. Sleeping on the ground (or even beds) isn’t what we mean when we say hammocking.

What if you could reliably hammock in the total absence of trees, say above treeline in the Sierra, or on brush-covered slopes where no tent can go, or on a sandy plain full of cactus, all within the constraints of lightweight, long-haul backpacking?

I’m Todd, Tensa Outdoor co-owner, now about 150 miles into my northbound PCT thru-hike attempt, using Tensa Trekking Treez and a Warbonnet Blackbird XLC hammock as my only bed. My business partner Cheryl not only engineered this system of trekking poles that converts to a hammock stand, but she’s retired from her medical career allowing me to step away from the business these months to show what it can do. I’m a very lucky man at 56.

So far, I’ve spent not a single night on the ground or even in beds when overnighting in civilization. My goal is to hammock the entire way, as I have every night since 2013 under easier conditions. Indeed, I’m carrying no sleeping pad or similar ground arrangement. I’m pretty sure I’m the most comfortable hiker on trail, and I’m having the time of my life!

I’m also field testing some new and experimental elements of Trekking Treez that will likely soon become standard or optional elements of the system. So far, everything’s performing beautifully in very tough conditions.

Right this moment I’m in my hammock hung from the log joists of a rustic cabin while resupplying in Idyllwild below Mt. San Jacinto, where I learned backpacking as a child in the 1970s. Nostalgia overload! Tomorrow I take on the mountain.

Here’s a gallery of every hang I’ve made so far, all 14 nights. I’m keeping a record for bragging rights to show how Trekking Treez make it possible to tackle trails like this without compromising on the restorative comfort of hammocks, safely and reliably.

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One tree, two hammocks

It’s much easier to find one good tree than two correctly spaced, especially in the American west. And where there are no trees at all, often a vehicle can support one side of a hammock. We design our hammock stands to exploit these facts to the fullest, offering Tensa Solo and Trekking Treez singly instead of in pairs. This assures better portability and economy than any other stands we know. Even Tensa4, that doesn’t come in a single-side variant, can hang two hammocks from a single tree or similar support.

Earlier this summer my son and I hiked part of Mt. Hood’s Timberline Trail. We brought a pair of Trekking Treez, as the glacial stream crossings are much safer with poles than without, to say nothing of the treacherous scramble below McNeil Point. Using a single pole per person is half the weight and expense of two, while Trekking Treez’s strength, much greater than typical trekking poles, inspires plenty of confidence even under full body weight.

When we reached our overnight destination of Elk Cove late in the day, in the tree-sparse high alpine zone, we made use of a single Whitebark Pine to hang both our hammocks, far more quickly and sociably than if we’d needed to find separate pairs of trees. We could have pitched tarps, but the clear skies gave us unforgettable views of the Milky Way and even the Neowise comet.

Later in the season, we traveled to Crater Lake. Smoke from the wildfires had only begun to dim the views, but we found refuge near the headspring of the Rogue River on the western slope of the volcano. Not wanting to leave our river view or bushwhack too much to find four suitable trees clear of underbrush, we split one Tensa4 stand into two halves to hang us both from one tree.

A single stake under the head end apex secures a V-shaped guyline running along the ground to prevent the feet from sliding treeward. The same stake provides an anchor point to prevent the stand tipping for more security; we just hung our packs from the head ends instead. It was useful to have had two extra ball loop connectors than come with the stand to connect the feet to the ground straps, but otherwise we used no additional parts.

We brought the stand along because we planned later to camp at hot springs in the treeless scrub near the Alvord Desert, where we’d hang from the roof rack of our vehicle in a similar manner. Sadly, the wildfire smoke became too oppressive even that much further east, so we ended our trip without photos of that arrangement.

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Hammocks banned in hammock paradise

Hammocks and the tropics go together like tacos and more tacos. Hammocks were born in the tropics. Hammocks on a beach are as ideal, iconic, romantic, and often elusively unrealistic as driving a convertible sports car on a beautiful, empty, twisty country road.

You can’t always get what you want.

The sad truth is that fewer and fewer popular tropical travel destinations accommodate hammocks well or at all, at least close to the water. Either trees are absent, too small, or protected by regulation from the damage that visitors inflict with poor hanging practices. Hanging from shallow-rooted palms or under coconuts can even be deadly. Hammocks are not allowed to be hung from trees in Dry Tortugas National Park, for instance, only a few hundred miles from where Columbus found the Taino people enjoying hamacas as their regular beds.

That’s why customer Matt S. and his girlfriend were “the envy of most of the other campers” with their Tensa4 stand, which happens to pack to carry-on size:

Tensa Outdoor partner Cheryl is a passionate scuba diver and an every-night hammock sleeper. She recently enjoyed a 15-day diving trip in Baja California with her husband. In four of the five places they stayed, both outdoors and in, hanging hammocks would have been impossible without Tensa4, either for lack of hanging points or by regulation. With the stand, she was able to sleep every night as she is accustomed, in unmatched coolness and comfort.

On the return leg, in Joshua Tree National Park, she quickly rigged up a novel hammock chair stand she dubs Tensa3, which is simply 3/4 a Tensa4. When the light is just right, the pyramid focuses the cosmic rays to decalcify her pineal gland, right smack dab in the middle:

Could you use such an arrangement to field dress hunting quarry? Suspend a cauldron over a fire? Frame a lavvu or tipi-style shelter? Prop up … most anything? Of course. Poles predate and surpass the wheel in general usefulness.

But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

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Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii

That’s Navajo for Valley of the Rocks, or Monument Valley. Sited within the Navajo Nation, there’s no image more iconic or clichéd for the US desert Southwest. The first written account of the place is from a US Army officer in 1859, who found it “as desolate and repulsive-looking a country as can be imagined,” citing the lack of tree cover. No place for a couple of Norwegian hammocks, surely.

The Mitten and Merrick Buttes, yeah, behind the weird hammocks. Photos by AZsteelman.
Amok Draumr transverse hammocks pining for the fjords. Tensa4 on the right; DIY tensahedron on the left.
Sunrise after what must have been a sublime night of stargazing.

Hammock camping in the US is much more popular east of the Mississippi than west. The humidity of eastern summers makes tents miserable, while hammocks are famously cool without bottom insulation. Then of course, there are lots of trees too. Out west, the most common reaction among tent campers to the idea of hammock camping is “that’s fine if you have trees.” Many who have discovered the comfort of hammocks keep and travel with a separate ground-based system “just in case.” We are putting an end to this.

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Tensa Solo in photos

Tensa Solo with Dream Hammock Darien, jealous Helinox chair, and Honda CB500X, not included with Tensa Solo, on either Mars or Oregon’s Alvord Desert in fire season. Photo by Cliff Volpe.

Our Tensa Solo hammock stand hasn’t gotten as much attention as Tensa4. It may be less striking, but Solo is the ticket when you need a much lighter, more compact solution than Tensa4. It’s cheaper, too! Solo’s relative obscurity stems partly from our prior lack of many good photos of it in use, pictures being worth a thousand words. Now that we’ve gotten a fair number out into the world, customers are starting to post great stuff:

Notice tarp extension, extending the … tarp
Bikepacker’s dream. Yes, that’s a Surly Troll with B+M dynamo lighting system, Ergon GP3 Biokork grips, Brooks Cambium C17 Carved saddle, Schwalbe Big Apples, and Alfine internal gearhub holding up the head end, not that we notice this sort of thing.
Even this earlier version of Tensa Solo is far superior to ACME hammock stands. Saguaro is not for hanging. Dream Hammock Darien. Photo by Cliff Volpe.

Which should you choose, Tensa4 or Tensa Solo? It comes down to reliability versus portability. Tensa4 is extremely reliable, able to be set up indoors or out, but at 10-13 pounds, it’s not suitable for backpacking. Tensa Solo at only 2.3lbs (1.04kg) per side is pack friendly, but you must be able to set down strong anchors, two per side, making it less reliable in uncertain ground conditions. It’s still very likely to work in most places, but that last lacking measure of confidence can loom large when you depend on a hammock for rest and shelter.

You don’t have to choose: you can convert one Tensa4 into four Solos with our Conversion kits, so you can have both at far less than the cost of buying separately.

Tensa Solo anchoring tips

If you suspect that the ground you’ll be trying to pitch in is extremely hard or rocky, you may want to use heavier metal hammer-in nails instead of the Orange Screws we include, which work best wherever they can be driven in. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other generally, but of suitability for specific conditions. More tips:

  • Tie to the base of a firmly rooted woody shrub or exposed rock feature, with or without the Orange Screw reinforcing.
  • Excavate any very loose soil until you uncover firmer, and drive the anchor into that.
  • Hit a big rock, root, treasure chest? Excavate enough opposite the hammock side either to tie to the object itself if massive, or to drive the anchor in behind it.
  • Check your anchors between nights, repositioning if they seem loose, especially if there’s been rain.
  • Anchors driven further away from the stand, with longer guylines, tend to hold better than those positioned close, soil conditions being the same.
  • Heavier users, or those facing exceptionally loose or soft muddy ground devoid of reinforcing roots: more anchors. We include only 2 per pole, but more work. Pass the guyline through the anchor heads in a manner that equalizes the load on them.
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Simon of Tier Gear Tasmania posted this stunning capture by M. Coss of a bushcrafted tensahedron hammock stand under a massive chalcedony overhang, amid giant tree ferns, in front of a marsupial tiger’s cave lair.

Tensa4 offers a degree of portability beyond what people can easily make for themselves, but portability isn’t always important. We love that the basic design is at once non-obvious and simplicity itself, within reach of anybody with a machete, some rope, and a few minutes. Of course, leave-no-trace camping ethics preclude chopping down poles on site, just as they may preclude hanging from delicate trees. In this case, the culled vegetation was the invasive weed Large Leaf Privet.

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Hammock vs. tent

This fun video is making the rounds. OK, it might not be completely fair:

Hammocks are easy to love, but it’s a rare hammock camper who’s never had trouble finding just the right trees in just the right place. It’s this uncertainty that compels many hammockers to keep a tent in reserve, and discourages many tenters from even getting started with hammocks, especially outside of heavily wooded regions. We aim to change this.

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Boundary Waters

Customer JSBar shared some photos of our kayak-friendly Tensa4 hammock stand in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Too good not to share!

Yes, plenty of trees around, but the stand lets you pick your spot, even moving it easily to suit wind, sun, or viewpoint conditions. JS noted the welcome absence of sway from the high winds in the trees.

Tensa4’s low-tension anchoring requirements let it work in shallow soil over bedrock. Even a big rock is often enough.

Also works without a tarp. Otherwise you might confuse it with a tent on stilts.
Porch mode with a paddle
Nice to be off the ground. Winter cometh. Thanks to the recent invention of the underquilt, the ancient, elegant sleeping technology of the Taino and other Native Americans of the tropics now works even in arctic zones.
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Life’s a beach?

Customer Alan Smith sends video with the message: “This mindful moment was brought to you by the Tensa Outdoor Tensa4 hammock stand, Warbonnet Blackbird, and the Orange Screw which held my 250 pounds while screwed into the sand even after gently shaking, wiggling, swaying, and bouncing.”

The Orange Screw he mentions comes bundled with our stand. Made in Washington state of recycled polycarbonate, the Orange Screw is the best all-around ground anchor we’ve tested. Some less expensive anchors hold as well in sand or mud, but can’t be driven into harder ground. Some anchors can be pounded into very hard ground, but those don’t hold well in loose stuff at all.

When the ground is too hard to drive in an Orange Screw, we’ve found that thin nail or shepherd’s hook tarp stakes are enough to hold up the Tensa4, where the anchoring is necessary only to maintain the stand’s balance, not to bear the weight of the user.