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Trekking Treez on the Pacific Crest Trail, the End

Above is at Sonora Pass, around 10,500′. It was a windy night, but not too cold, and the hammock’s tie-outs kept the sway down. This was the only overnight two-pole hang north of the desert, as trees were usually available. Here I chose to hike past the trees for this morning view, to say nothing of the jaw-dropping sunset. Besides, here on this treeless side of the ridge was the first signal in days. It was a challenging hang, on steep loose scree where no ground-dweller would ever think to camp, but I’d gotten very confident of my Treez skillz by that point.

The end

Thanks to our unique product Trekking Treez, I believe I’m the first PCT hiker to have used only a hammock properly hung through 100% of the “unhammockable” sections of this trail. I thought often of the ancients of Central America who seem to have invented hammocks on this same cordillera in the tropics, long before Columbus, and how this same elegant technology is enjoying a renaissance among hammock campers all over the world. I’m proud to play the smallest part.

I hiked my best hike. I came home to Portland in early July from Dunsmuir, California, in the shadow of magnificent Mt. Shasta, near trail mile 1500 since Mexico. I wrote about all of my hike personally, and my decision to call it short of Canada on my Facebook, if that interests you. I’m still adjusting to life back in the fake world, slowly navigating a shallow depression after so many overwhelmingly beautiful, soul-shaking days stacked on end. I feel hollowed out and grateful. Tender blissful grief. It’s hard to move on from the greatest adventure of my lifetime by far (except maybe parenting, ongoing!).

It’s not always about the hammock: Trekking Treez as hiking poles

I needed Trekking Treez for hammocking only a few times north of the desert. The most unique thing about them is their hammock function, but they also have some unique features as trekking poles.

If I got a nickel for every set of broken poles, or parts of them, that I came across along the way, especially those abandoned in hiker boxes, I would be a few dollars richer. When you read reviews of ultralight trekking poles, you’ll see that a chief complaint is that they break. This is natural for anything super light. Light is nice for obvious reasons, but I wonder how many of the broken poles I found got replaced with something more sturdy?

Trekking Treez weigh about 12 ounces (340g) in hand, each. (There are more parts weighing about the same per pole in the pack.) This is lighter than some well-reviewed aluminum trekking poles on the market. But because they are instead carbon fiber at this relatively high weight, they are likely the strongest trekking poles you can buy. Most manufacturers using carbon fiber use this strong material to strip away every last unnecessary bit of it, resulting in exceptional lightness. We’ve gone the opposite direction, using the least amount of material necessary to produce poles strong enough to support adults in a hammock. As a side effect, they are strong enough to use in ways that would constitute abuse for ordinary trekking poles.

Icy snow

In the deep, steep, crusty snow fields of the high mountains in spring, an ice axe is often essential, especially to arrest falls on fatal icy chutes. Trekking Treez do not replace an ice axe for this specific critical function. The other main use of an ice axe is to plunge through the crust, deep into the snow, and use the head as a hand-hold, to prevent slipping and falling in the first place. TT are brilliant for this. I used them over dozens of hours traversing snowy spring slopes, never worrying that I’d snap one, even when my feet slipped and my whole weight was on the handle.

I had an ice axe with me in the San Jacinto mountains in March, but entering the Sierra Nevada in May, I brought no axe. This felt foolish on some of the hairier north faces of passes around 14,000′, but that also helped me appreciate that I had such stout poles to stab into the ice.

Water crossing

Safety at water crossings, especially whitewater, nearly requires poles. Hopping from polished rock to rock, or teetering on logs slick and shaky, it’s vital to plant the carbide tips onto the rocks above and below the surface for balance. The more weight you can safely transfer to the poles, the more confidently you cross. And if your tip slips down an underwater chuckhole, and you torque it falling, will it snap? TT aren’t indestructible, but I soon came to rely on them in ways I wouldn’t dare treat ordinary poles, even to vault across larger gaps with no run-up. I became proud of crossing a dozen or more fast streams daily without getting my shoes wet, Parkour-style, where hikers with normal poles would opt to ford, more slowly and with different hazards.

Super long reach

By the time I reached Yosemite, I had embraced another unique feature: their extra length. In normal hiking mode, the poles offer a typical range of height adjustment. But we offer pole extensions for hammock mode, because the foot end must be higher than any normal trekking pole. There’s no reason not to use hammock mode for other purposes, however. At maximum length, TT has the grips at a whopping 63″ (160cm)! I wish I had video of me gondola-ing across a harrowing high log over whitewater, where I used both poles fully extended for stability. We could rename “hammock mode” to gondolier or even trapeze mode. True gymnasts will love our poles even if they don’t hammock. I suppose John Muir would have chopped down saplings at these crossings, that today would violate Leave No Trace. Yes, we called them Treez for their hammock function, but there are many more uses of tree-like poles than hanging hammocks.

Who needs separate tarp poles?

I often hung my hammock between trees on steep slopes. Once, a chance of rain meant I pitched my tarp. The ground falling away downslope meant the tarp would block the view unless I could prop it up. Again, normal trekking poles would have been far too short for this. TT maxed out were just right.

A hiking staff by any other name

A cousin of trekking poles is the hiking staff. Carried singly instead of in pairs, hiking staffs are taller and heavier than trekking poles, meant to bear a user’s whole weight safely as needed. TT fits this bill perfectly when the tall hammock foot is installed. Admittedly, we haven’t tested how durable the hammock foot (as opposed to the carbide trekking tip) is when used over long distances, but on softer surfaces it should hold up pretty well, certainly better than hiking with the rubber tips covering the carbide. (Those feet fall off and get lost really fast; their best use is just to protect other items from the sharp carbide tips when the poles are packed.)

Actually innovative straps

Another feature of TT, unique in a market of barely distinct strap and grip assemblies picked from large factory catalogs, are the hand straps. It’s hard to get excited about straps, but these are special, developed just in time for my hike as a hard test. I made a video about how our ultra-wide, ultra-soft Ultrasuede straps replace sun gloves, sweat mops, and snot rags, and also encourage good technique by supporting your whole hands comfortably, so you don’t feel need to grip the grips, interfering with their free pendular motion. I forgot to mention in the video that adjusting the straps extra long, so you can hold the poles with only 2 fingers below the grips, reduces the swing weight of the poles. This makes them feel lighter in use than they are.

Make with the photos already

For the sake of a complete accounting, below are all instances where I used TT to hang my hammock in the Sierra and Northern California sections of the PCT.

Just land here? This is the last of a three-part series.

  1. Tensa Trekking Treez on the Pacific Crest Trail
  2. Trekking Treez on the Pacific Crest Trail, Part Two
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Origin of the Tensa4 hammock stand

Origins would be more correct.

When I set out to make a portable hammock stand, my first goal was to improve upon the portability of an existing, proven design. That effort failed. In attempt to recover losses having bought expensive carbon fiber poles for the failed prototype, I tinkered for months with alternative designs until stumbling upon what worked, far better than I had hoped.

As soon as I showed anybody the design, all told me to keep it under wraps until I applied for a patent. I did that in a provisional filing, enjoying the little ego stroke that comes from giving the government money to file away a formal statement of how clever you think you’ve been. The lawyers said it was well-written, even, for a non-lawyer. I told myself at the time that I was trying to wrap the idea in a protective container so some entrepreneur could safely buy and manufacture it. I didn’t think I would be involved directly in anything so quixotic as a hammock stand company.

Soon came to my attention a 2011 photograph published on the Hennessy Hammock web site’s Letters page showing a pair of remarkably similar structures on an airfield:

I set out to find the person responsible for this, using the aircraft’s markings to look up the registration. Pilot Leonard Jensen designed and built those two, enjoying them briefly before stashing away with no further action. I admit I felt a pang of disappointment that the photo had been published, since the prior existence of so similar a design put a big hole in the side of my provisional patent claims. Leonard shared more detailed photos of his creation recently, built for the ages in heavy aircraft aluminum:

Meanwhile, Cheryl and I teamed up to evolve my expensive, fragile (but really light) prototype into a viable product. Known as Raftingtigger on Hammock Forums for energy levels reminiscent of A.A. Milne’s Tigger, Cheryl was already busy making and selling hammock stands of her own design, so there was nothing too momentous about taking on a new design, just a lot of fun collaborating on the details. Our confidence buoyed by the enthusiastic reception of what I dubbed the “tensahedron” design in Hammock Forums, (now with over 150,000 views and over 1000 comments in the largest thread alone), we formed Tensa Outdoor, and we’ve been busier than expected ever since.

Thunda down unda

Just this week, another bomb dropped in the origin story. Not only weren’t we the first, neither was Leonard. Earlier still there was a whole product line built around essentially the same concept, a stunning example of convergent evolution. From the crypt of dead websites, circa 2007-2012, the Wayback Machine, comes The Aussie Anchor, available in six fantastic colours:

It’s slightly terrifying that the company shuttered, of course. It’s like finding the dessicated corpse of the twin sibling you never knew you had in an attic crawlspace. Are we next? Cockiness is no asset. While I can rattle off half a dozen ways our realization is better, it’s also more expensive. I prefer to think the Aussie Anchor was merely ahead of its time. I have more than once been involved in commercial endeavors where this was the case, a pioneer laboring in fields that, a decade or more later, afford others more success. Hammocking has come a long way in popularity since, with crucial developments like underquilts, more generous cuts, structural ridgelines and so on becoming common, raising the waterline for all.

It can’t have helped that shipping their less-compact product outside of Australia was no less costly than it is for us today to ship into Australia, while Australia’s entire population is roughly 60% that of California alone. At a time when hammocks seldom seemed serious alternatives to other sleeping arrangements, worthy of similar outlays, the product was priced well below ours. Knowing what it costs to make such things, I suppose profits were insufficient to carry on, let alone grow. Inventor Joe Askey-Doran of Tasmania: if you’re reading this, drop us a line please!

Massachusetts, 8 August 1876

Hot on the heels of learning about the Aussie Anchor, I came across this 150 year-old patent, now hanging on my wall:

Plunder gratefully

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, a harvest festival overlaid with colonial narratives about moments of peace between indigenous people and those who received asylum on this continent. I digress, but do read about Tisquantum, who helped the Pilgrims even after he escaped slavery from those same Pilgrims’ countrymen years earlier.

Hammocks were the bedding of the Taino people Columbus encountered, and of the tribes Amerigo Vespucci met all along the northeast South American coast, where hammocks remain normal bedding to this day. These people were conceived, born, bred, wed, healed and buried in their hammocks. Pressed for gold, the friendly Taino instead gave Columbus their most elegant technology, hamacas. In 500 years of obliviousness to the gift, the colonizer culture still thinks $1000 slabs of petrochemical foam offer the ultimate in sleeping comfort, while hammocks (ignorantly complicated with tippy spreader bars to look more like European beds) are regarded as summertime lawn furniture for the indolent rich.

Post-genocide, we can never know how many generations before Columbus’s encounter the people had risen into hammocks above lumpen, filthy, critter-crawling beds, all the ways how and to what geographic extent, but in the Caribbean they were hung from posts in their houses, not just to trees. Did they have stands? If three people from hammock-naive cultures conceived of this simple 4-pole design independently within little more than a decade, what could people who made hammocks their lifetime beds invent over centuries?

At a stone complex estimated to have housed 200 people, the Puerco Pueblo ruins in eastern Arizona, abandoned over a century before Columbus, are petroglyphs of mysterious meaning. One guess is that we are seeing looms. I see ancient alien hammock stand technology transfer. Quite seriously, researchers have found cacao residues in pottery at the nearby (astounding) Chaco Canyon pueblo complex in New Mexico, as well as at sites in southeastern Utah, dating from around 1000 CE, together with the remains of Macaws. Neither cacao nor Macaws thrive within 1200 miles south of these sites, indicating a robust trade network among these distant Maya and Aztec people — who used hammocks — and Ancestral Pueblo. It is thus conceivable that these are not abstract symbols, but pictographs representing the hammock stands they appear, whose materials and construction techniques are common to the simple lashed ladders used for access to local dwellings and kivas, whose entries were frequently from above.

Happy Thanksgiving.