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Synthetic fabric, insulation, and a whole lot of stitching — these simple elements make up virtually all outdoor sleep systems. However, any experienced camper or backpacker will tell you that the way in which these elements are chosen and combined can make a tremendous difference.
There's a delicate balance between durability, weight, and protection from the elements that must be carefully considered before choosing any sleep system. Sometimes, this is contingent on your environment — an exposed bivvy bag isn't going to cut it on a frigid windswept tundra. Other times, it's contingent on your pack load, since you don't want to be the one carrying a luxurious 6-man tent up a steep mountainside. Trip duration is also an important factor — can your shelter adapt to a long-term survival situation, with changing seasons and varying weather conditions?
Although the majority of outdoor enthusiasts stick to tents, hammocks can be a versatile alternative with some substantial benefits. This is especially true if you're in a warmer region where wooded areas are plentiful. Hammocks are lightweight and compact, providing more pack capacity for other resources. They're also fast and easy to set up and tear down, without the annoyance of carefully-folded tent layers and rigid poles. This makes them a good option for ultralight backpacking loadouts or emergency bug-out bags.
Campers who prefer tents will usually argue that hammocks will inevitably leave you with a frozen backside due to wind chill, but that's not necessarily the case. You'll just need to prepare insulation for all sides of your body to fend off the cool night air. A sleeping bag provides one layer of warmth, but a secondary layer beneath your body makes a huge difference when you're sleeping in a hammock.
A complete hammock camping setup generally includes the following elements:
Klymit is well-known for its inflatable air pads and sleeping bags, so we were pleasantly surprised to see the company branch out into the hammock market with its new Traverse Double Hammock. This means that, with the exception of the optional tarp, you can now get a complete hammock system from Klymit.
In order to test this system, we picked out three items from Klymit's web site, two of which were added to the company's lineup within the last six months. We've listed them below, along with their MSRP and packed weight.
This combines to a total cost of $460 and a total weight of 5.5 pounds.
We loaded these items into our backpack and headed out into the mountains of southern California. Although it's only February, temperatures in the region are comparable to springtime in most other states — clear skies with temperatures in the high 30s at night and low 60s during the day. Considering the 35˚F comfort rating of the sleeping bag, this weather sounded just right for testing our setup.
The first piece of our system was the new Traverse hammock, which arrives in a bright green stuff sack along with tree straps and carabiners. This sack measures roughly 5″ x 8″.
Loosening the drawstring on the stuff sack, we turned out its contents and began setup of the tree straps. Each strap unrolls to 11 feet long, and the hammock itself is a little over 9 feet long, so we found two sturdy trees that were about 20 feet apart. Any time you sleep under trees, it's wise to ensure there are no “widowmaker” branches or other pieces of dead wood which might fall onto you in the night.
The included straps were wrapped around each tree at head height, and pulled through the end loops. Each strap has 18 daisy chain points where the hammock can be connected via its included carabiners.
After turning the hammock out of the stuff sack, we hooked up the carabiners and made sure the height and tension felt comfortable. With adequate tension, you'll be able to lay relatively flat inside the hammock.
The Klymit Traverse is a “double” hammock, meaning it's large enough for two occupants. However, this additional space also allows a single occupant to lay diagonally, resulting in a flatter and more comfortable body position. We prefer double hammocks for this reason.
The Traverse also features a diagonal seamless hem, which supports weight naturally in our preferred sleeping position. The 70-denier ripstop nylon construction felt quite durable, and is rated for up to 400 pounds.
The next part of our setup was the air pad. It is constructed of 20-denier polyester, and measures about 5″ x 10″ inside its red stuff sack.
To reduce heat loss, the Hammock V pad has an added layer of Klymalite insulation between the top (red) and bottom (gray) surfaces. This version of the pad is 7.7 ounces heavier and $30 more expensive than the non-insulated Hammock V, but adds one more barrier to keep your backside warm all night long.
Two flush-mounted valves on the air pad are clearly marked “inflate” and “deflate”. After unrolling our new air pad and blowing 20 deep breaths into the inflation valve, the pad was ready to place inside the hammock.
The Hammock V pad features four Side Rail Wings, which are designed to contour to a hammock as the occupant lies down. This creates a barrier to shield the sides of the body against cross-breezes, further reducing heat loss during the night. These wings also expand the sides of the hammock, giving it a roomier feel.
With the hammock and pad in place, we turned to the last piece of our three-part system.
Sleeping bag temperature ratings can be confusing, since some manufacturers advertise a rating that's the absolute lowest safe temperature for the bag. In other words, you'll survive the night, but you won't be comfortable. Thankfully, the temperature in Klymit's sleeping bag names correlates with each bag's EN Comfort Rating. This is a third-party standard that defines the temperature at which a user should be able to sleep comfortably, rather than the temperature at which he or she will simply survive (known as the EN Lower Limit).
The KSB 35 has an EN Comfort Rating of 32˚F, and an EN Lower Limit of 21˚F. So, the white duck down insulation in this bag can keep you alive in sub-freezing temperatures, but will be most comfortable in temperatures above the mid-30s.
We unpacked the bag from its 13″ x 7″ stuff sack, and unzipped the full-length zipper before laying it out atop the Hammock V pad.
Climbing into our hammock, we rolled onto the open sleeping bag and zipped it up to chest height. This would be quite comfortable for summer nights.
For cooler weather, the KSB 35 features a secure hook-and-loop closure point, and a draft collar that wraps around your shoulders to retain heat. Fully zipped-up with the hood in place, the bag felt nice and toasty, but the roomy chest area still yields enough space for the occupant to move around inside the bag.
This sleeping bag is constructed from 20-denier ripstop nylon with a DWR coating that will repel dew and other light moisture. If there's any possibility of rain, you'll want to set up a ridgeline and tarp to protect your hammock from getting soaked. We always carry a small Snugpak Stasha tarp, lightweight stakes, and a 30-foot bundle of 550 paracord for this purpose. These items add less than a pound to our pack.
During our time in the hammock, nighttime temperatures dipped into the mid-30˚F range with little to no wind. We slept in the clothes seen in these photos, plus wool socks and a beanie.
Although we felt slightly chilly during the dead of night, we weren't uncomfortable. If temperatures had dropped another 5-10 degrees or wind had picked up, we probably would've been uncomfortable. So, the 35-degree rating for this setup seems accurate. If you prefer to stay extra warm at night, adding a thin fleece sleeping bag liner or a soft shell jacket might be a good idea — or you could just upgrade to one of Klymit's 20-degree bags. You could also add an underquilt around the exterior of the hammock.
As for the Insulated Hammock V air pad, we were impressed by its performance. Despite feeling slightly chilly on top through the sleeping bag, we didn't end up with a cold backside. The pad's side wings also kept our shoulders warm and blocked drafts. Our only gripe is that it's a bit difficult to squeeze all the air pockets out of these flaps as the pad is deflated, but that's a relatively minor issue.
The Traverse Double Hammock did a great job supporting this author's tall 6'5″ frame. With a little adjustment of the carabiner placement on the straps, it was easy to minimize sag, especially while laying diagonally along the seamless hem.
As a complete sleep system, these three items from Klymit performed admirably. Although tents will always have a strong following, this system might just win you over to the hammocking side. It's light, easy to set up, and surprisingly comfortable in cool weather. For more information on this hammock, air pad, and sleeping bag, go to Klymit.com.