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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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Trekking Treez backpackable hammock stands

After years of development, today we release our Trekking Treez hammock stands. Trekking Treez function as trekking poles on the way to camp, and then as your hammock stand once there. (Bring your own “trees.”) Weighing not much more than the trekking poles you’d normally carry, and packing to just 20 inches long, they are truly ultralight backpackable — something few if any other hammock stands can claim — and will accommodate almost all camping hammocks out there. Hammocks aside, they are probably the strongest trekking poles on the market by a large margin. Also probably the heaviest, but still pleasant to use!

On granite at Loon Lake, Sierra Nevada

The first backpackable stand we know of was the Handy Hammock stand, now apparently discontinued. Its poles were impressively light. These worked with shorter hammocks than Trekking Treez, involved a delicate trussing system, came with 12 ground stakes weighing more than the poles, didn’t support tarps at higher than the level of the hammock, packed to a longish 28 inches, and did not function as trekking poles. Still, they inspired Tensa Outdoor’s Todd to buy a set before ever meeting me, Cheryl. Me, I like to make things, especially if I see a better way.

Backpacking in summer 2014, uncomfortable as often in my tent, I got mad and bailed out to my day hammock for the night. I have not slept on the ground since that eye opening (or eye shutting) night. I joined Hammockforums.net as Raftingtigger, and started devouring information on hammock camping. I saw quickly that a holy grail of hammock backpacking was a trekking pole that doubled as a hammock stand. After several more trips marred by worry over finding the right trees, making such a thing became a project. Then in July 2015, poster Sirenobie posted a prototype mashup of standard trekking poles and a trussing system like the Handy Hammock. Out to the shop, and soon I was hanging from my hiking poles.

This worked for a few nights, but it soon became clear that standard trekking poles aren’t strong enough as a hammock stand even at my 135-lb weight. The adjustment clamps would slip, de-tensioning the critical truss lines. I added hose clamps, and then the smallest diameter segments failed. One night I fell and repaired things three times before dawn. I needed purpose-built poles.

I built those poles from aluminum in small batches, and started a company TiggzCraftworkz to share the fun. I called them NoGround Trekking poles. They were taller than the Handy Hammock, so would accommodate 11-foot hammocks with proper sag and enough room for the underquilt. NoGround poles also used a trussing system similar to Handy Hammock, but the anchors were simpler and lighter. These were also an idea found on Hammockforums.net, now available as our Tensa Boomstakes. I spent an inordinate amount of time handcrafting every single pole, pre-tensioning the lines, turning many parts on my lathe. By the end of 2018, with Tensa Outdoor running, it was time to retire NoGround, or rather reinvent the product in carbon fiber, the only material strong and light enough to work in trekking-pole diameters without fussy trussing.

Trekking Treez have been in prototype for about a year now, and have gone on many of my adventures. They are now ready for prime time. Is there still room for improvement? Of course: we’re always improving everything. But we think we’re already close to the limits of material science on the basics, so don’t expect major changes soon.

Above the treeline on Mt. Hood

Why three hammock stands?

We now offer three distinct hammock stands: Tensa4, Tensa Solo, and now Trekking Treez. Is this really necessary? Which one to choose?

Broadly, our mission is to keep hammockers aloft, off the ground and even beds unless they choose, regardless whether trees or rules cooperate. Seen this way, three stand designs might not be enough.

Trekking Treez (TT) as lightest and most compact is the best backpacking choice among our stands, especially if you already use trekking poles, which makes part of the weight “free.” It is otherwise functionally similar to the less expensive Tensa Solo, which began its life as a budget version of the former “NoGround” predecessor to TT.

Tensa Solo remains the budget choice, lacking trekking pole functionality. It’s heavier than TT, but certainly manageable in a pack, especially if you bring only one to pair with a single tree or other hanging point.

Tensa4‘s design does not depend on strong ground anchoring, so it’s the most reliable choice, working even indoors. It is also the heaviest, and intermediate in cost between Solo and TT. While people have hiked for miles with Tensa4, its weight around 12 pounds makes it better for car or motorcycle camping, at home or in hotels.

As a table:

Deployability Portability Cost
Tensa4 Almost anywhere: tiny footprint, indoor/outdoor, level or sloped ~12lbs/5.5kg, carry-on luggage, easy to move deployed $$$
Trekking Treez Footprint is ~1.5 parking spaces, outdoor only, most soils ~2.9lbs/1.3kg more than typical trekking poles (no tree; half if 1 tree), carry-on luggage $$-$$$$
Tensa Solo Footprint is ~1.5 parking spaces, outdoor only, most soils ~7.3lbs/3.3kg (no tree; half if 1 tree), carry-on luggage $-$$

Hang Safe, and don’t Go To Ground.

Cheryl aka Raftingtigger