Long nights in the hammock…

Winter hiking is awesome hiking. No bugs. So many less people. The views are more open because there are and many leaves, as much scrub brush, and less weeds. You’re less likely to get poison ivy and more likely to get frostbite. But there’s one thing that Summer has that Winter lacks – Long days.

In the summer, you can get up at 7 and hike until 8, provided you don’t boil to death in the heat or pass out from dehydration. In the winter, it’s get up at five an hope to hike until 4:30 before finding a campsite, and hoping you get crap set up before dark. Then what do you do? Is making a fire worth it? Do you really need to burn wood for light and warmth? Sure, it’s nice if there’s a crowd of you, because many hands make light work. Plus, it gives you someone to talk to across the flames. But – if it’s just you, now you have to make the fire, maintain it, watch it, and ultimately put it out, all by yourself. And fires are a lot of work.

Either way, odds are you’ll probably be in bed a lot earlier than normal. On a recent hike, fires were a bad idea. There were already forest fires within 30 miles of us, there was a severe drought, and a burn ban (we thought). So we were freezing and retreated to our tents by 6:30. So what do you do? If you go to sleep at 6:30, odds are by 4am you’re going to be wide awake. Nothing sucks like lounging around cold in the hammock with nothing to do. I try to stay up as long as I can.

That’s where the phone comes in. Serious hikers poo-poo the phone. “Get off the grid!” they’ll tell you. “Disconnect!” they’ll say. “Put away your device and live a little!” they’ll belch. Sure, all well and good during the day when there’s stuff to look at and things to do, but when it’s 7:30 and you’re staring at the roof of the tent, the phone can be a nice diversion.

First: Leave it in airplane mode. Disconnecting is good. What’s the point of driving to the trail, loading up a house on your back, and living like a caveman, if you’re just going to get the campsite and take a selfie, while catching up on bullshit social media stuff.

Sometimes I’ll start by looking at pictures I took during the day. Get rid of the crappy ones and maybe edit the others by cropping and color-correcting. It’s pretty amazing what phones will do with pictures these days.

There’s always games, phones have a crap ton of games available and the ones that aren’t super graphics intense may be a bit easier on your battery and such.

I like watching movies – it’s pretty amazing how long the battery will last when watching a movie on the phone. Depending on the phone and the brightness setting you could watch hours and hours of movies before you need a charge. But how do you get the damn things on there? There are subscription services (apparently NetFlix lets you store movies temporarily now), and if you buy movies, they often come with a “digital copy”.

Let me just say I HATE the way they do digital copy. There are several services the studios use and they all are complicated and suck. Why can’t they just include a disc with an MP4 on it, sized for the phone? Well, I guess because someone would take that 2GB file, upload it to the internet and people wouldn’t buy the disc. So – I had to learn how to do it myself.


AnyDVDHD – a great piece of software sold from overseas somewhere. I think the company is in Russia, but you pay them through China or something. It’s a bit weird, but they had to escape getting sued and such. See – AnyDVD’s ONLY job is to strip the copy protection from your movies. DVDs and Blu-Rays you buy can’t be copied without some help, and that’s where AnyDVD comes in. You put the movie in your PC, and the software sits there, quietly waiting to strip the copy protection. Click “Rip to Hard Disc” and wait. Be warned, a BluRay can have something like 32 Gigabytes of stuff on it. You will need a bit of hard drive space until you can convert it, and maybe an hour or more while it copies stuff. DVD’s go MUCH faster.

Wonderfox – This is my favorite conversion software for DVDs (not blue ray). You tell it where to start, what to output, and what size it should be. I like 720×480 just because it works fine for iphones and the movies come out between 1 and 2 gigabytes. Wonderfox is also great for children’s stuff. You bought a DVD of a dance recital your child was in. Your child’s part was 3 minutes long, in the middle of a 90 minute show? Pick the begin and end spots and hit Run, and you’ll get just the 3 minute part you want, perfect for sharing on Facebook.

Handbrake – Handbrake is great for BluRay movies. It works for DVDs too, and it’s free. I just like the interface with wonderfox better. But, if you’re wanting to do BluRay movies, it’s pretty good. Much like Wonderfox, Handbrake is not as simple as Wonderfox, but it’s not bad. Chose your input movie, your output size, and click run. Wait an hour or two and you have a 2 gigabyte movie. Delete the big version to free up space.

After doing this, you should have digital copies of your movies in MP4 versions, perfect for watching on the trail. Drop them into itunes (or whatever android uses), check your “home movies” folder, and there they are. Sync them to your phone and go hiking.

If you got totally confused with this, give it to a 14 year old. They probably are doing this already. A word of warning – you have to buy this stuff from overseas. Use a credit card you don’t use often, and call your bank. They will likely think it’s a fraud attempt. As soon as you’re done, call them back and keep an eye on your statement. I haven’t had an issue with either AnyDVD OR Wonderfox. There are tons of other things out there that claim to do the same stuff, I can tell you these WORK.

  • A word of warning: Making copies of movies you own is a bit sketchy, but probably legal. There are many schools of thought on that, and many differing legal opinions. Making copies of movies you got from Netflix or your friends is definitely not okay.

Taco Wrap Completion

After a weekend of sewing and measuring and testing and sewing some more, the Taco Wrap is complete. I wasn’t sure going into this how successful it would be, and even when I was finishing it up last night I wondered if I had just wasted several hours and a bunch of fabric.

But I hung it up in the yard a few minutes ago and I have to say I’m pleased with my efforts.


The Taco Wrap is dual colored. Green on top, blue on the bottom. This was more for ease of assembly than for aesthetics. Above you see the suspension and the ridge line exiting the end of the hammock, with a little triangle thing on the end to help make it easier to sew on the top. The tie-dye came out nicely, I think.


Another view on the outside on the opposite end, before I got everything tightened up a bit.


Here you can see a bit of the detail where the tie-out point is. The blue bottoms fabric I did in a snake-belly pattern and the top I did a classic spiral shape, although a lot of it got cut off. When I attached top to bottom I decided to make it easier on myself and only put a zipper on one side. This helped lighten the hammock just a bit, and made assembly a lot easier. In hindsight I think I should have put a little zippered opening on the opposite side, just in case I need to reach out and adjust my underquilt. With three rows of stitches in there now, it would be hard to change. The zipper is on the left side (when you’re laying in the hammock), the same side as most of the vent/window. The makes it pretty easy to identify the head end in night, and also which way to orient any underquilt, since some of them have more stuffing on the upper torso and head part.


A view inside, laying in the hammock, looking down towards the feet. The black solid lines above outline the window, which is about 18 inches wide, 24 inches long, and roughly horseshoe shaped. It is not completely removable, but when unzipped it rolls up and tucks away on the ridge line.


Another view, down towards the foot end. The hammock is surprisingly comfortable and roomy, despite what it looks like sitting on the floor. I’m thinking of adding a pocket on the left side past the zipper. I’m always looking for places to store stuff in my hammock. Somewhere to stash a headlamp or socks or gloves. This is after all, a cold weather winter hammock. Being completely enclosed in the summer would be tough, even with the vent open.


Looking above with the vent/window partially open. Working with double-ended zippers and bug netting was a new thing for me. With the green dyed fabric and the bug netting on the table, at one point it looked like a camo wedding dress. I can zip/unzip the window from either end or in the middle, so I just have an opening above me, or just on the side, or completely open it up. On the outside is a non-opening bug net, protecting me not only from last-minute late season bugs, but adding a little protection against drafts, even with the window open.


The is a view up and towards the foot end with the window completely open. The bug net does a pretty good job of keeping the drafts down, and the window is wide enough I get a good view out the left side. Not so much on the right side, but the left is pretty decent.


Above my head and to the right is one pocket I went ahead and added while sewing the hammock together. Its large enough to hold a phone and small charger, as well as eye drops, ear buds, and a few other little odds and ends. I’m thinking about putting one big enough for my hammock pillow (14×9) way up in the back. No matter how I try, by the time I get my sleeping bag arranged, the pillow is way up under me. It would be nice to have a place to store it while getting ready or going for a midnight pee break.


Final look down the hammock, with feet spread so I could show off the dye pattern. I really couldn’t get a good ceiling picture because of the angle.

So how did the Taco Wrap come out? I’m pleased overall. It took a lot of sewing and swearing, but it was a fun project. I don’t think I would want to try another one any time soon, it was really in depth and required a lot of thinking and rethinking about what to sew when, how to sew this or that, and how to not stitch the whole thing together by accident.

The window – If I had put the window more centralized I would have had a better view out the right side. As is, my view to the right is severely limited. But – I was really aiming for a condensation vent and window at my head, which meant more of a window on the left side because of the shape given the hammock by the tie-outs.

Weight – I was really happy with this. I used 1.6 ounce hyper-D nylon for the top and bottom. I could have gone with 1 ounce on the top, but I already had placed my order from RipStopByTheRoll. The whole hammock was built with their stuff. (4 yards green, 4 yards blue, 1 yard bug netting, 1 section amsteel for suspension, 2 mini triangle tie out rings). For comparison, my Hammeck Netty (made from 1.6 ounce fabric and bug netting) weighs in at 1 pound, 1.1 ounces. The Taco Wrap weighs in at 1 pound, 2.2 ounces. Why so close, I wonder? The hammeck has zippers on both sides, with double pulls on both zippers. That probably made up the weight difference, but I’m not sure. Either way, I was really happy how light the whole thing turned out compared to the Netty.

Construction – I felt my construction was as solid as any of my other hammocks. It feels good, although some of the stitching could be a lot better. The Hyper-D fabric is bad about stretching when pulled in certain directions. The makes it really hard to sew decent seams across different pieces of fabric when joining them. You wind up with pieces that don’t line up at the end. It can make rolling hems difficult too, as they stretch downstream. But, I’m not selling the thing, so if I have a few wonky-looking sections it will still work fine. From 10 feet away it looks pretty darn good. I just have to find somewhere really cold to go now.


Taco Wrap – Phase two.

If you’re following the construction of the Taco Wrap (And why wouldn’t you, because its so AWESOME), last night to the chagrin of those living with me, I tie dyed my stuff.

The blue bottom piece I did with the “snake belly” fold, basically like a piece of paper with an accordion fold. It always looks strange, like a snake’s bottom side. The top piece, which is green, is done in the classic spiral. Its going to look really cool when the sun comes up in the morning and I’m looking through the spiral, navy blue on green.

The colors are a little wonky on the wood floor with no white comparison (thanks, cell phone camera), but you can at least see the pattern.

img_5630 img_5631

Next I have to put the hammock suspension back together, test the ridge line length, get everything set up just right, and then prepare to attach top to bottom. The biggest issue is going to be making the window and attaching the bug net. I anticipate much wailing and gnashing of teeth for that.

The Taco Wrap

Most hikers that spend a lot of time with the same group, or hike long distances on the AT, have a trail name of some sort. My hiking friends gave me the name Taco because I sleep in a hammock. Some people call hammocks “Bear Tacos”. There was even a Kickstarter project at one point called exactly that: The Bear Taco hammock.

It’s not the best trail name, I agree. It sounds like I really love Mexican food or something. I heard an awesome trail name this weekend. They named a guy Crime Scene, because he uses a little wood-burning stove, gets sooty, and leaves little black fingerprints all over everything. His gear looks like the Crime Scene guys have been dusting for prints, evidently.

But – I digress. This past weekend I was camping along the Foothills Trail in South Carolina down by a river. It was a bit cold, but nothing terrible. I wasn’t sure about the weather and how cold it might be, and if there would be bugs. Normally I take my open top, netless hammock in the winter. Laying in it at night though, I was quite surprised by how well the bug net cut down on the cold breeze. Evidently there is a lot of drag created by the little net holes. I unzipped the net just a bit at one point to adjust my under quilt, and a cold breeze blew in like I opened a window. This got me thinking – how could I better insulate my hammock for the cold, while still letting out nasty condensation and breathing.

Hennessy Hammock sells something they call the Over Cover. Its basically a cloth top with portholes that clips over the bug net.

Hennessy Over Cover
Hennessy Over Cover

It looks pretty interesting, and much like what I’ve tried to do in the past using various clothing items on my ridge line. But, instead of an extra piece of cloth to carry and rig, it would be nice to have something completely attached. I already have to string up a tarp, then a hammock, then a Grizz Beak on the end if it’s cold/wet. Now I’m looking at yet another thing to put up. To keep camp simple and fast (especially in the cold) it would be nice to have something fully integrated.

My last hammock came from Hammeck, a company that has since gone out of business temporarily while the family concentrates on other things. But, they sold something called the Envy S, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I found a video online and took a screenshot.

Envy S top with door
Envy S top with door

In this hammock, (hammeck) you climb in and zip it closed. Then, If you want a lot of air moving through, you unzip it from the inside and there’s still a bug net. But if it’s cold outside, you can zip the thing completely closed if you want. So, bug protection, wind protection, and still in hammock form. Perfect! But, since they’re shut down, I have to make my own.

The Taco Wrap. Something to completely wrap up Taco.

The first step in making this thing was to put together a hammock blank. Those are REALLY easy. I’ve gotten to the point where I can cut and hem a single-piece hammock in an hour. It’s really not that hard. It took me just as long to make the ridge line and loops for the ends. I’m getting to the point that I don’t much like working with the amsteel rope. It’s just a pain in the ass making loops and such.

By the end of the night I had made a hammock and ridge line, ready for suspension testing. OF course, I have to take it apart and tie dye it… it wouldn’t be a Taco Hammock without Tie Dye!

The next step will be preparing the top cover and deciding how much of a window I want. After that’s done, I ‘ll tie-dye the top as well, then begin cutting windows and installing top fabric.

Back on the Foothills Trail

The Foothills Trail (or FHT) is a 77 mile trail that runs around the northwest corner of South Carolina, and up into North Carolina for a bit, before coming back to rest at Table Rock state park in SC.

Our meetup.com group had planned a trip to the Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail this weekend. Unfortunately, the AT was partially on fire and very dried out. So, we changed our plans to hit a section of the FHT that was not on fire, and not dried out. The thing about the Foothills Trail is, the eastern portion of it runs along a river and you’re never more than about a mile from water at any point.

So myself, Mike, Cowboy, and Michelle left Columbia Friday, at bright-ass early in the morning and drove up to Sloan Bridge (SC Highway 107 almost to NC), dropped a car and headed to Oconee State Park to start walking. The day was nice and cool, with clear blue skies, and we made very good time over mostly flat land. Our planned stop was PigPen Falls, which is nicer than it sounds. Evidently there are two trees you can’t camp next to, because those two trees have “no camping here” signs on them. We were going to avoid those two trees, but it turns out time was on our side. It was only 2pm. We walked another 3 miles, which put us to having a slower, easier, second day.

Our campsite was right along the Chattooga River. There were some rocks sticking out into the water, and we had plenty of flat room to spread out. Despite it only being 4pm or so, I was starving. I set up my hammock in “Porch Mode” because it wasn’t supposed to rain, and then went and laid out my dinner.

Dinner consisted of a previously seasoned, seared, and frozen tenderloin. I cooked it over my Snow Peak canister stove, because there was supposedly a burn ban in place. Accompanying the steak was a piece of bagel, some Chai Latte, and Apple Brandy, courtesy of Michelle. After dinner, most of us tied up our UrSacks. I helped Michelle hang her food bag PCT style, which was a comedy of errors reminiscent of when I used to hang mine. It was good and dark by the time we were done.

Because we weren’t allowed a fire according to several posted signs about a statewide burn ban, by 6:30 everyone was cold and it was dark. I retired to the hammock, intent on staying up as late as possible. I made it to 8:30 before I fell asleep with my phone playing music. I woke up much later and the phone was dead. After plugging it into my charger, I discovered it was 3am, and needed to sleep more. It was quite chilly, but I slept rather well, even after deciding maybe “porch mode” wasn’t the best choice for laying in a hammock in 30 degree weather. “Close and tight” would have been a better use of the tarp, to keep some wind off. But the river sounded good. Someone’s snoring did not, but it was on the edge of my hearing and I slept pretty well.

It really amazed me how well the mosquito net kept out the cold wind. I mean, it’s a net, you’d think the wind would blow right through it. But apparently there’s enough drag on the fibers that it slows down a lot of breeze. The few times I opened the net to adjust my underquilt or turn off my ENO lights, I was greeted with a blast of cold air. It was during the middle of the night I decided to go ahead and sew my “Taco Wrap”. Based on the Hennessy OverCover, the “Taco Wrap” will be a zip-on covered top, sewn from 1 ounce fabric and bug netting. It will cover up to my torso in solid fabric, and my chest and head area in a combination of solid fabric and mosquito netting – which will let out moisture and prevent me from suffocating.

Saturday morning we got up late and hung around taking it easy. After all, with our increased walking distance the day before, we were going to be way early for our rendezvous with Leslie. We got to King Creek Falls a few minutes early, and stopped for a snack. Then we headed up the hill and had a conundrum. The junction of the Foothills Trail and Chattooga Trail apparently happens in three places, and we weren’t sure exactly where she was going to be. Thomas and Mike went ahead, and Michelle and I waited at the Burrells Ford parking area. Within about 5 minutes Leslie came bounding down the hill with no pack. She was on a ridge waiting for us and we never showed up.

There was a bit of confusion because there is a spur off the FHT that runs down to the Chattooga, but it’s not really the Chattooga trail, itself. It’s like a mile long “on ramp”, that bypasses a bit of the Foothills Trail, and the Burrells Ford parking lot. We walked down together, with the pack, and began to get worried about Mike and Thomas. We asked a few people along the main trail if they had seen two guys northbound and they told us no. Finally we arrived at the East Fork trail intersection and found Mike and Thomas. When we arrived, Mike gave us the good news. They had run across a group with a campfire, and were told the burn ban had been lifted in the area. Sweet, hiker TV time.

It turns out that Mike and Thomas guessed we would eventually have to come that far, and had been resting peacefully for about 30 minutes after a nice flat hike, while we hiked uphill half a mile and then downhill for a mile. It was at the point that Mike made one of the most awesome suggestions in the history of hiking. The place we were talking was the intersection of the East Fork trail and the Chattooga River Trail. The East Fork ran only 2.5 miles up to the Fish Hatchery. Mike suggested we camp out, then walk back here, and head to the fish hatchery.

The final phase of the day began with a 2 mile hike to Ellicot Rock where we planned to camp. The path was in need of repair and was full of deadfalls we had to go up and over, or crawl under. Mike had told us it was supposed to rain this evening, and we weren’t looking forward to crossing back over these paths in the wet and rain. When we arrived at the campsite, it was in pretty bad shape. Fine for a tent or two, complete with a little sandy beach, but bad for hammocks. Almost every tree was dead, with at least 8 large “widow makers” overlooking the tent site. Not really what I wanted to sleep under during a thunderstorm. A quick poll was taken, and we walked a mile back to our “Plan B” campsite (Or as Amy Schumer would call it – Plan A). This put us a total of 3.5 miles from the car in the morning – instead of 7.5. We headed off.

The Plan B (A) Campsite was at the confluence of the Chattooga River and a stream coming in from the side, on a point in the river. Anxious to get rid of some weight in fire starters and paper towels that I had wrapped my bagels in, I started piling up little sticks. By the time the final hiker arrived, we had a little fire going. The ground wasn’t entirely flat, and the next camping area was almost another mile away. Everyone was tired and it was getting close to dusk, so we made do. I wound up next to another hammock person, sharing a tree in common, and the tents fought for space. We ate dinner and Michelle earned the trail name “Cricket” when she stepped on one that scared her. Strange behavior for a vegetarian…

We told stories and watched “Hiker TV” around the campfire until about 8pm. More Apple Brandy was passed around and we had a fine and pleasant evening. The rain started just as the fire died to coals, and we retreated to the tents. It wasn’t long before my tree-mate was asleep, and after fighting my own hammock into submission, I found I couldn’t sleep for anything. What was worse, someone was snoring over the noise of the river and the stream. It was a constant dull roar. Nothing I would do would drown out the noise. Finally at about 1230 in the morning, I gave up and took a Percocet left over from my Wisdom teeth getting pulled a year ago. Goodnight.

At 7am I woke up in a drug-induced fog, to a cold rain. Packing up in the rain is always an interesting experience, but it is better knowing it’s your last day, and no matter how wet stuff gets that you have dry clothes and a warm car waiting at the end of the trail. Mike and Leslie quickly outpaced the rest of us, and before long Thomas had gone ahead as well. I was worn out and sticking with Cricket, knowing that someone had to go get the cars anyway. We arrived at the shelter at the end of the Fish Hatchery Road, and Thomas was guarding the packs belonging to the others. Not having had anything to eat, I finished off my beef jerky and heated up a cappucino, and then huddled cold and wet in the corner, covered with my sleeping bag liner. When Mike and Leslie arrived, we split up and headed off to pick up the last car.

One tradition we always do is stopping for food on the way home. It’s nice to eat something not boiled or rehydrated or in a bag. We went to a mexican place in Walhalla SC, and I had some of the most god-awful hot Camarones Diabla I’ve ever tasted. “Satan’s Shrimp” was the perfect name for these ultra-spicy little morsels of Hell. They were equally hot the following afternoon, if you know what I mean.

Of course, planning the next trip is as much fun as reliving the last one. So, I find myself looking at maps and thinking ahead, even as my stuff is strewn all over the house drying out.

The final tally? 29 miles, and 8000 feet of elevation gain.