Hammock Camping - Speer
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Sunday, 10 May 2009 15:20

speerHammock Camping: There's No Going Back

Larry Luxenberg talks with Ed Speer.  See the end of the interview for background information about Ed Speer and Karen Souza.

LL:  Everyone else has been perfectly happy sleeping on the ground. Why did you feel the need to take up hammock camping?

Ed Speer:  Camping hammocks offer two obvious advantages over ground sleeping. First is the comfort; a properly made camping hammock really is far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. In fact, most people who've switched say they'll never sleep on the ground again - I even have some customers who've replaced the bed in their house with a hammock! That superior comfort comes from the fact that the hammock fabric contours to your body's shape, eliminating the pressure points common to sleeping pads and even most bed mattresses. It's those pressure points on shoulders, hips, knees and ankles that cause sleepers to toss and turn trying to get comfortable. Hammock sleepers avoid those pressure points since the hammock fabric follows the curvature of the body and gives support between the usual pressure points. Of course, it all depends on having a properly made hammock and many commercially-available hammocks don't have suitable fabrics, bug nets, tarps or suspensions-there is a big difference between recreational yard hammocks and camping hammocks.

Second, camping hammocks offer unparalleled convenience since they can be set up in forested terrain in thousands, if not millions of places that are unsuitable for ground sleeping. The hardwood forests that cover most of the world are ideal for hammocks. The terrain may be steep, moderately sloping, rocky, wet, muddy, covered with fallen trees or prickly vegetation, and yet may still be suitable for the hammock camper. Stealth camping couldn't be easier as one can readily find sites away from the crowds. The Leave No Trace organization endorses hammocks since they help disperse campers in the wilderness, thus avoiding the environmental damage common to over-used established ground camping sites. The hammock camper might also choose a scenic site such as a beautiful mountain top not otherwise suitable for the ground sleeper. In the mountains, the hammock camper can easily hide from the cold wind by choosing a site on the steep protected side of a ridge. Of course another great convenience of hammocks is avoiding those nasty creepy crawlers on the ground such as ticks, ants, slugs, spiders, scorpions, snakes, chiggers, etc.


LL: Surely this doesn't work when it is raining, cold or mosquitoes are around?

Ed Speer:  On many backcountry trips, camping hammocks can be the only shelter you need, so like a tent, they must protect from the rain and mosquitoes. Thus, suitable camping hammocks must have an adequate tarp and bug netting. A tarp large enough to extend well beyond the edges of the hammock is the most desirable as it allows one to enter and exit the hammock without getting wet during a rain. And being able to change clothes, load and unload your pack and even cook meals under the tarp without getting rained on also requires suitable sized tarps. Bug netting on the hammock is necessary for many backcountry sites; and no-see-um netting gives the best protection. In addition, treating the hammock fabric with Pyrethrin insecticide or using a sleeping pad inside the hammock can prevent mosquitoes from biting through the bottom fabric of the hammock.

LL:  What if there are no trees to hang your hammock on?

Ed Speer:  Then you may have to sleep on the ground. A well-designed camping hammock, like my Speer Hammock, easily adapts for use on the ground. The tarp sets up ‘A-frame' style using hiking poles or long sticks for supports and the hammock becomes a bivy sack on the ground with the bug net held up by the tarp support poles. I always carry a thin CCF pad just for such an occasion. Unexpected cold weather may also dictate that you need to set up on the ground--it's always warmer on the ground and you can go back to the comfort of the hammock once the cold has passed.

LL:  Do bears ever use the hammocks as slingshots or other toys?

Ed Speer:  So far, bears seem to be avoiding hammocks. While they have become habituated to ground sleepers in many backcountry areas, they're still wary of the person sleeping three feet off the ground! In my book, I tell the story of a bear in camp that sniffed within inches of my ground-sleeping buddy, but never came within 20 feet of me in my hammock. Lying on the ground, my buddy's loud yelling wasn't able to scare off the bear; however, as soon as I yelled from the hammock, the bear ran away. I've had similar experiences with stray dogs wandering into camp. While there are some stories of bears rubbing against occupied hammocks, I suspect these are vivid nightmares rather than actual events. Of course bears will probably eventually become habituated to hammock sleepers. But hammocks offer the chance to avoid bear encounters totally by avoiding those backcountry ‘lunchroom' sites where bears have become a nuisance.

LL:  What have been your biggest adventures while hammock camping?

Ed Speer:  OK, this is another bear story! On a six month, 1,600 mile, solo kayak trip along the west coast of Canada in 1989, I was prepared for some serious bear encounters. Knowing what was to come; I took the advice to hang my food to heart and decided to hang myself as well! I made my very first camping hammock (none were available for purchase at that time) and rigged it with climbing gear so I could raise it at least 15 feet off the ground! While it took hours to make camp every night, it was highly successful and I never had any bear problems that summer. I often slept on rocky forested coasts with lots of bear activity, but the highlight was the two nights on Admiralty Island (average of 1 Brown bear/sq mi, highest density in the world). My first sight of the island from the kayak was 4 Brown bears staring back at me! Due to unexpected bad weather, I spent the next 36 hours safely in my hammock high in the trees and greatly enjoyed watching Humpback whales feeding just off shore. While I always slept without worry, I met numerous other campers that summer who were very stressed because of the ever present bears.

LL:  Were you always a fanatic?

Ed Speer:  Needless to say, I've been camping in a hammock ever since that kayak trip to Alaska! But I tell other stories in my book about hammock camping in the jungles of South America, along the Appalachian Trail, canoeing in the Quetico Provincial Park in Canada and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area in Minnesota, the Everglades of Florida, and elsewhere near my home in the southern Appalachians. I started making and selling camping hammocks after so many people asked me to make one for them. They just make so much sense--they're a no brainer actually. Once you've tried them, you'll never go back. I greatly enjoy hearing from satisfied customers, like the guy who called me from the Appalachian Trail late one morning to complain that he had just woken up because his hammock was too comfortable and all his ground-sleeping hiking buddies had already left for the day!

Karen and I love to turn people on to hammock camping. It really is rewarding to be able to have such a positive influence on our fellow campers. We sponsor four hammock camping events each year where folks can learn from and share with each other. My hammock camping book includes lots of advice and information, including how to buy a hammock, how to stay warm, how to make your own hammock, etc: www.HammockCamping.com . Our hammocks, make-your-own kits and unique one-of-a-kind accessories can be found at: SpeerHammocks.com

All the best and Happy Hammocking!




Ed Speer and Karen Sousa run Speer Hammocks out of their home in Marion, NC, escaping to the mountains of western North Carolina whenever possible. They are active members in many outdoor-focused organizations including the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Speleological Society, and the Geological Society of America.

Ed has a long association with the outdoors. Growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina only wetted his appetite for more outdoor adventure. His parents were avid campers who took him on many outdoor trips. Before long, he was leading his own trips into the wilderness and spending more and more time in the outdoors. By his college years, he was an accomplished backcountry traveler who was comfortably hiking, camping, canoeing, rock climbing, fishing and caving throughout the US.

Ed turned his love of the outdoors into a career as an exploration geologist, which greatly expanded his time outside. Earning Geology degrees from the University of Missouri and the University of Arizona led to work assignments throughout the western and southern US, as well as parts of Canada, South America, and Africa. His successful career focused on gold and diamond exploration. After years of acquiring the necessary skills, he turned to epic outdoor adventures, including a 1,600-mile solo kayak trip along the west coast of Canada and Alaska. More recently he has hiked over 5,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, including two complete hikes from end to end.



Contact information:

Speer Hammocks, Inc.
Quality Hammocks for Adventure Camping
3947 Mudcut Rd
Marion, NC 28752
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Hammock Camping (the book)
The Complete Guide to Greater Comfot, Conveninece and Freedom
Also FREE reports and Hammock Camping Newsletters!

Hammock Camping (FREE e-zines)

Hammock Camping-L (email group)
A FREE open discussion group. Learn from the experts!


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 May 2009 15:59
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