Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hammock Equipment: The Underquilt

For those of us that absolutely love to hammock camp, there is a decidedly big difference in what it takes to keep warm in the colder months over tent camping.  When outside temps drop below 60F [for some 65F], hammock camping can get downright uncomfortable.  Even what may seem like a mild temperature during the day can cause a major chill in the wee hours of the night when your body slows down and that can make for a really horrible experience.  Trust me, I've been there.  Being cold when trying to sleep just doesn't work.  If you can't get warm, sleep won't come.

My Warbonnet Blackbird and Hammock Gear Incubator 20F
But hammock campers like you and I need not retreat for the season.  With the proper equipment, the hammock season can very easily be extended by 4-8 weeks or more.  And for those that just never say quit no matter the weather, there are means and methods to stay warm in some of the bitterest temps.

One of the  most popular and most effective methods to keep warm is through using what the industry calls an "Under Quilt".  Sometimes referred to as the UQ for short, the under quilt is a layer of insulation [sometimes goose or duck down, sometimes synthetic materials] that is positioned under the hammock and that provides an insulation barrier between you and the wind sweeping underneath.  The thicker that insulation layer, the more protection and warmth you'll receive.

For those that aren't in the know about how insulation works:  Insulation's ability to keep us warm degrades quickly when compressed and most types of insulation also lose thermal value (warming ability) when wet.*  The loft, or thickness, of the insulation layer creates a barrier that heat and cold do not quickly or easily penetrate.  So, keeping that layer between you and the cold keeps the heat your body generates reflected back to you and on the side exposed to the cold, that lower temp air won't easily pass though to you.

*Side note:  I've seen proof that Wiggy's trademarked insulation material called Lamilite actually does not lose it's insulating value even when wet.  That's super impressive and I'm keeping a close eye on their product line as they've recently started a hammock friendly line of insulating products.

As with most anything, if costs aren't a consideration then keeping warm and comfortable is a breeze if you'll pardon the expression.  Down [either from duck or goose] is arguably the best insulation material known.  Again, Lamilite, I'm quickly learning might be a serious contender in the hammock game.  But, by and large, down is the most popular insulating material in Under Quilts and it comes at a fairly high price tag.  Since loft, or thickness, plays a big part in insulating value, the more down in an under quilt, the lower it's temperature rating and the higher the price tag.

Under Quilt "Jargon" Explained:

There are a few buzz words that float around in the Hammock world that made me feel a little uneducated so here's my attempt to get you in the know on all those terms.

Baffles - Most under quilts have pockets of duck or goose down that are sewn into the quilt to keep the stuffing in it's proper place.   Imagine a pillow.  That's one big baffle and if you grab one end of it and shake, the stuffing can tend to move and make the pillow lopsided.

Thus the 'invention' of the baffle.  Some under quilts have more baffles than others and in some synthetics I've seen have none.  I'm a baffle fan.  It makes sense as it keeps the down from moving where you don't want it.

Temperature Ratings - Most manufacturers publish a temperature rating on their under quilts and it's fairly subjective as to how warm you'll be in any of them.  That's not to bunk the ratings that they're given, but rather to just let you know that some people sleep warmer than others.  What might be warm for you might be too warm for someone else or vice versa.  Needless to say, the lower the temperature rating, generally the more down the under quilt contains.

Temperature ratings will hold true looking at under quilts from one manufacturer.  But put two 20 Degree under quilts side by side from different manufacturers and one may very well contain more down than the other.  There doesn't seem be any 'rules' for establishing temperature ratings.

Fill - The term 'fill' is a measurement of the loft or thickness of the down fibers.  Shop around and you'll see ratings of 500, 800, 850 and more. And those numbers correspond to how much space 1 ounce of their fully expanded [non-compressed] duck or goose down takes up in cubic inches.  The higher the number, the more loft and the more insulation value.

Whoa, that's a lot of space you might say.  Yes it is but down is incredibly light so remember that old pound of lead, pound of feathers brain teaser?  The pound of feathers is a great big bag full.

And here's the million dollar question:  Will a 20 degree bag with 700 fill be warmer than a 20 degree bag with 500 fill?  Answer: Not exactly.  The 700 fill bag will have used less down to achieve the 20 degree rating and will weigh less.  But both bags will still get the job done.  When carrying weight is important, the higher fill down products tend to win out.

[Note: all info above on "Fill" courtesy of Eastern Mountain Sports]

Primary and Secondary Suspension - That there's a mouthful.  But in simplest terms, the 'suspensions' in an under quilt are those cords and ties which 'suspend' the insulation under your hammock and keep it snug under you.

A quick note:  Even the most expensive, best filled, loftiest under quilt made won't keep you warm if it's not suspended properly under you.  It needs to be snug and right up against your body.

The Primary Suspension is the two cords running along the length [the longest part] of the hammock.  The primary suspension is pictured above as the top cord.  This is the cord that attaches your under quilt to the head end and foot end of your hammock.  Think of it as the under quilt is a hammock for your hammock.  You won't tie the primary suspension to the trees like you do with your hammock.  Instead, it attaches just above the gathered end of your head end and foot end.  The primary suspension keeps the under quilt from falling to the ground.

Most under quilt manufacturers attach the primary suspension to the quilt in a channel. [See Hammock Gear's photo above].  Putting the primary suspension in a channel allows you to slide the under quilt up toward your head end or down toward your foot end to keep it positioned where you want the warmth.

The Secondary Suspension [pictured under the primary suspension] stretches your under quilt from your head end to your foot end.  It elongates the under quilt to keep it snug underneath you and also to give you the most coverage.

Shock Cord - I think this is one of the neatest terms in the Under Quilt [and Tarp] industry.  Shock cord [also called bungee cord] is a super cool way to name elastic cord.  Shock cord is stretchable yet strong and it's elastic value is relatively high.  There aren't any shock cord 'values' or 'weights' as there are in describing down, for instance but the cords do come in different thicknesses - 1/8", 3/16", etc. to give you some idea of their strength.

Shock cord is a great product that keeps tension on hammock equipment like under quilts and tarps without using static or non-moveable lines.  Having under quilt suspensions made with shock cord keeps them very forgiving and easily adjustable from one hammock to another.  And having shock cords set up on tarp tie out lines makes for less severe tripping hazards and more taut tarps.

The Main Players in the Down Under Quilt Business:

Loco Libre Gear:  George Carr manufactures all types of Hammock related gear out of Lindenwold, NJ.  All is 100% US Made which is a big winner with me.  I don't own any of his gear yet but it won't be long.

Loco Libre has two main styles of under quilts - The Habanero and the Carolina Reaper.  You can order them with either Duck Down or Goose Down and he's got just a ton of options on colors, fill, stitching and more.  One big thing I see that seems to set him apart is that he sews the under quilt baffles in the direction of how his customers lay in their hammock.  And Loco Libre is also the only manufacturer that I've seen offer a "Chevron" shaped baffle which, according to Loco Libre, keeps the down positioned the best.

Hammock Gear: Adam and Jenny Hurst and team are another fine cottage vendor of hammock 'gear' especial.  Based in Reynoldsburg, OH they also manufacture their product line right here in the USA.

Hammock Gear also has two types of under quilts; the full length Incubator and the 3/4 length Phoenix.  Each of these quilts is customizable and boasts one of the widest variety of color options for inside and out.  If you're looking for colors with a bit more pizzazz such as orange, blue, purple or yellow, here's your place to shop.   But they also offer all the other popular woodland color options for those looking to keep things stealthy.

All of their down filled products come with numbered temperature ratings - 0F, 20F, and 40F but as I mentioned above, those figures can be a bit subjective so keep that in mind.  With all of their under quilts equipped with 850 fill Goose Down they remain super lofty and ultra light weight no matter the choice.

I personally own and use their full length under quilt - the Incubator 20F.  The quality is top notch and I've kept warm when using it.

Jacks 'R' Better: Jack & Jack are both prior service US Army Officers with over 50 years of duty between them.  Founded in 2004, Jacks 'R' Better has been churning out one great product after the next. In addition to their [3] most popular under quilts they also manufacturer a bridge hammock and numerous tarps.  Jack and Jack both have extensive product knowledge and you can tell that their knowledge and experience in the outdoors shines through the product line.

All of their under quilts use 800 fill power goose down and they also offer as an add option, a treatment called Activ-Dri which keeps the down drier [it is the most effective when the driest] without sacrificing loft.  And as one would expect from these experts, they've got some very interesting data on the added performance benefits that the Activ-Dri offers.

One very important note about Jacks 'R' Better is that they, unlike most other under quilt manufacturers, keep an inventory of their under quilts at the ready giving them the distinct advantage over their competitors when a customer is in need of an under quilt quickly.  Lead times from other vendors can creep into the 8-9 week range so plan ahead.

Warbonnet Outdoors:  Warbonnet Outdoors manufacturers three under quilts - the Yeti, the Lynx [for Bridge Style Hammocks] and their newest add to the lineup, a product they call the Wooki.  As many know, Warbonnet Outdoors is also known for manufacturing one of the best gathered end hammocks on the market - the Blackbird [and the Blackbird XLC].

All of the Warbonnet under quilts are filled with 800 fill Activ-Dri Goose down and are made to order.  Warbonnet offers a limited color choice [brown, olive green or grey] and generally categorizes their under quilt temperature ratings as "3-Season" or "Winter".

In addition to their ever-popular hammock, Warbonnet also offers a respectable line up of tarps and hammock accessories.

So, if you are looking to extend your hammock season by 4 weeks or more, the under quilt is really the most effective way to keep warm and comfortable as the temperatures drop below 60F.  There are, of course other ways to keep warm but the under quilt is one of the most effective.

To set the record straight there are two main types of hammockers - backpackers and campers:

Backpackers, like the name, enjoy packing up a few choice belongings, carrying them on their back then hiking to their destination.  That hike could be two miles or ten miles.  If you've got all day to devote to an adventure, backpacking is a great time and is often rewarded with peace, solitude and whatever victuals you've opted to bring along to enjoy at the end of the day.

Backpackers opt to keep their packs light so the light weight down under quilts are one of the lightest, warmest options out there.  Synthetics also provide warmth but at a higher weight value.  And the compressive quality of goose or duck down wins over most synthetic materials as many of the under quilts I mentioned above can easily compress into a stuff sack just marginally bigger than a football.

[Note: Storing down in a compressed state will degrade the insulation value so be sure to keep your under quilt out of its stuff sack when it's not on the trail with you.]

Hammock campers, on the other hand, often spend far less time reaching their destination and often opt to drive right up to their camping site.  The reward for them is not only the hammock experience and all the pleasures of the campaign experience, but also the fact that they are nearly unlimited with what luxuries and comforts of home they can 'tote' along.  With the campsite so close to the car, hammock campers can bring whatever their car can carry.