The night I thought I became a bear burrito!

As you well know, our company specializes in adventure camping tours, often providing the equipment for participants so that they can try the experience on their own, prior to investing in technical gear.  We have long been using Mountain Hardwear Tents (see my review on the Drifter 3), but I ran across Hennessy Hammocks when chatting with a fellow rider, who was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I checked out his system, and it seemed like a possible good fit for our company and a viable option for motorcycle tourists.  I contacted the company and ordered two different versions to try out and see if this could work with our company.

Let me start with a statement.  I love a hammock.  You’ll likely see me hanging in one under the pier at the beach (shade and water!) or swinging in one on a sailboat (from the mast to the bow)… BUT, I never sleep in them, as I tend to be a stomach or side sleeper.  With much trepidation, I pulled out the system and packed it (along with a tent – just in case), to head out on a personal 4 day motorcycle tour up into the mountains of Virginia.

img_2068Day one found me at Clinch Mountain Wilderness Area, a favorite fishing spot.  I arrived at dusk, with only about 15 minutes of daylight left.  I quickly found two substantial trees and rigged the Hennessy Hammock up.  I choose to take the Explorer Asym Classic version with me on this trip, which has a Velcro opening in the bottom of the hammock for ingress/egress.  Most people stop me at that point, and ask how I stay in the hammock with a large opening in the bottom.  A quick demonstration of getting in and out immediate belays their fears.  I ate dinner and then wandered over to my new sling for my night’s rest.

With an asymmetrical hammock, you don’t lie as a “banana”, but you cross the centerline with your feet on one portion, and your head on the other.  It seems to be about 5-10 degrees, and it is amazing how much flatter you lie.  With the bottom entry, I had no fear of bringing any flying critters (mostly moths that evening) and the bug netting was nicely appointed with plenty of room so that there was no feeling of claustrophobia.  The ridgeline (inside the netting) also includes a mesh bag, which was perfect for storing my headlamp and glasses.

With the temperature only projected at getting down to 65 degrees, I did not bother with the sleeping pad.  I used my 45 degree down sleeping bag as a quilt, and surprisingly only needed a wadded up fleece as a pillow.  There really was no swaying, but I drifted off to sleep within a few minutes (which is typical for me).  I did wake up around 2am to relieve myself, and with the headlamp and glasses above me, it was quick to make my orientation and exit the contraption.  It was at this point that I realized that I had slept soundly for almost 5 hours, which is a little different from my normal “camping” routine.  I returned to the hammock, and once again, I was asleep within a few minutes.

img_2069Morning came quickly, and I got out of the enclosure to make a quick bit of oatmeal and coffee before starting to fish.  It was not until I was halfway down the road to the trout stream that I realized that I was NOT sore.  I’ll be brutally honest, even with the best sleeping system on the ground, the first night is usually a bit of a stretch from our queen bed at home, and I do feel a little tight after a night on the ground.  I continued on for a good day of fly fishing, catching more than enough for dinner (and several I returned to the water).  I finished my fishing about 11am, and then headed back to break down camp.  After lunch, I broke down the Hennessy Hammock system within two or three minutes.  This trip was still about motorcycling, so back to the beautiful tarmac in Virginia and a winding route over Big Walker Mountain.

Night two and three were spent up near Bastian, Virginia, on private land.  I was already resigned to the fact that I would not need the tent, but it was a good thing because the terrain would not have been acceptable.  It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t even bother looking for a flat piece of land the first night, as I was committed to the hammock.  This is where the beauty of the hammock system excels.  Finding two suitable trees was not hard, and I set up the hammock again in just a few minutes.  Practicing safe camping, I prepared my dinner and ate quite some distance from the sleeping area, as this was bear country and there had been several reported sightings.

Heading to bed, I walked along the trail back to the Hennessy Hammock, and I literally almost stepped in a pile of bear scat.  Keep that in mind.  Well, it was once again off to swinging slumber.  As I was in the east coast, and our humidity tends to reign supreme, I had incorporated the included rain fly on all nights.  This would prove helpful as a storm did roll through that night.  I awoke to the rain, but remained dry with the ample coverage of the included rectangular fly.

Again, the morning greeted a very rested and comfortable camper.  I ate breakfast and took a short hike, before heading back out on the open road.  As I would be staying here again tonight, I left my rig hanging in the same spot, as I went wandering off on the Virginia scenic byways for hours on end.  Day three came to a close, and after another wonderful dinner, I retreated to my personal enclosure.

For the third day in a row, sleep came quickly as I experimented with sleeping on my side.  Again, early in the wee hours of Sunday morning, nature called.  As I relieved myself, my thoughts drifted to nature, and the fact that I was not hearing ANY.  No owls, no crickets, no nothing. Mind you, that had not been the case for the first few nights.  As I sat back down in the hammock, my thoughts went racing back to the number of bear sightings and the evidence I had previously spotted.  I immediately thought… I am a bear burrito or a banana suspended above the ground = or literally “low hanging fruit”.  Sleep would prove difficult for 30 minutes, but I finally drifted off.

img_2028At 5:15am, as the sky was starting to lighten up, I awoke with a start.  My adrenaline was pumping and I was instantly awake.  I reached for my glasses, and after donning them… I listened.  I heard the sound of moving items, and I quickly decided to get out and see what was going on.  I tried to make a lot of noise, which was difficult as the hammock system is quite stealthy.  I grabbed my Aerostich motorcycle boots (see review here) and started banging them together.  I figured with their solid construction, I could beat the bear into submission if he came my way.  Once satisfied that nothing was still around, I made coffee and started breaking down my camp.  As I headed back to the motorcycle, loaded with my supplies, I came across several LARGE rocks that had been uprooted from the soil.  The bear had been in the vicinity, looking for grubs or something, but decided that the taste of motorcyclist was not on his menu.

Overall, the Hennessy Hammock system is quite ingenious.  The other model is the Explorer Asym Zip, which has a substantial zipper running along the side from stem to stern.  When using the hammock in cooler weather, the supershelter insulation system is fantastic.  Personally, I think that this underquilt system works perfectly with the zip model, as it was easier for me to get in an out.  I’m also less concerned about flying insects when I’m camping out in the cold.  You must really consider insulation in a hammock, even in warm nights.  Think of your hammock as a bridge, and just like real bridges, air can pass under the hammock and lower the temperature of the swinging person.  The four season system included a contoured open cell foam pad and a space blanket.  I used the system in below freezing temperatures (ok, just barely below freezing), and was quite cozy.

The system is really quite perfect for solo motorcycle tourists, as long as there are trees to hang your hammock from.  The system can be used on the ground, in the event you are motorcycling in an exposed area, like high desert in Utah.  The sleep I’ve gotten from the hammock has been unremarkable… which is a good thing.  We tend to only really remember bad nights.  We have utilized the Hennessy Hammock systems throughout 2015 in varying weather.  It is a quality built product, and we have had nothing but positive comments about the systems.  I look forward to many more nights gently swaying between the trees!

Line Dempsey

Line Dempsey has been guiding adventure tours for many years. Having been born and reared in NC, Line got his start in leading tours in the 1980's with unsupported bicycle tours of the state of NC, SC and Virginia. Line worked in the tourism industry for 10 years prior to leaving for graduate school. Line began leading motorcycle trips in NC, VA, SC, as well as a trip to the lower east corner of the US ( Key West ). For the last 14 years, Line's work has allowed him to travel throughout the state of NC at least once a week and he's seen most of the overlooked side roads of our beautiful state. Line has explored NC via bicycle, kayak, motorcycle, rock climbing, hiking and by sailboat.

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