2020 NEHHA Winter Hammock Hang
Once a year in the dead of winter, a bunch of crazy folks gather at the Chesterfield Scout Reserve in MA for a weekend of sleeping in hammocks, gathering around a campfire, sharing food, hiking, biking, ice fishing, and just general goofing around.
Let me back up a little. NEHHA stands for North East Hammock Hangers Association. It is loosely run by a small group of hammock camping enthusiasts. There are a number of other similar groups around the country which all host various “hangs” in interesting locations. NEHHA hosts the Winter Hang as well as a Spring Hang in Ashby, MA. There is also the Great Pumpkin Hang in NH on an enthusiast’s property that lies in the midst of some of the best hiking in the NorthEast as well as the Lighthouses & Lobster Hang in Pemiquid, ME area. That typically includes a lighthouse tour as well as a lobster bake. Most all of the hangs include some sort of raffle to raise money for a charity as an extra bonus. Cottage Vendors of hammock camping gear donate their products as a way to advertise to the hard core hammockers. Additionally there are often other hangs organized in the northeast and can be found in the regional section of hammockforums.net. As an example, a “paddle in hang” was organized on Flagstaff Lake in Maine and ran three years in a row.
So back to the Winter Hang. This is my third year in a row attending and have yet to have a truly cold winter hang. That is partly a good thing as it makes staying warm easier, but it’s also a winter hang, so it would be good to have the challenge. Our daughter joined me this year as she now has the proper gear to stay warm all night in her hammock. The key is to have a comfortable camping hammock and most importantly to have proper insulation! The under quilt is the one piece of gear it is advised to invest in heavily. The top quilt is also important but one can utilize an old sleeping bag and even layer insulation on top. The UQ must fit your hammock properly so as to minimize air gaps and have enough loft to keep you warm in the temps you plan to sleep. ALWAYS, test your gear at home in a safe place where you can bail if you get cold! Hypothermia sucks. You don’t want to experience that. My wife has strict rules concerning pushing the temp limits. If I get cold outside and bail, I am to warm up by the woodstove before I am allowed to go to bed. So far I have been down to -8F and been toasty warm all night long. Below is my backyard setup when I went down to -8F
I digress, yet again. We arrived at the hang Friday around lunch time to a warm welcome from our good friend Tim and the other folks who arrived before us. We unloaded all our crap and parked my truck in a ditch for the weekend. We set up a pop up shelter with walls as our kitchen as it was supposed to rain possibly and we figured it would be nice to be dry. Typically if the weather is inclement we string up a GIANT tarp to cover the whole campfire area. It never rained though this year which was nice to not have to bother with that. We then dragged my JetSled out into the woods to find two tree pairs for our hammocks. We additionally grabbed a third tree pair to put a spare tarp between for our gear as previously mentioned, it was supposed to rain. Setup of our camping hammocks in decent weather begins with 1” tree straps about 6’ up the two trees, depending on how far away they are from each other. Then attaching the hammock and adjusting for the right angles and height. Then one would attach their UQ and place your top quilt inside the hammock so it lofts nicely. After that, you string the tarp over everything and pitch it either tight down for cold or bad weather or leave the front up more if it is nice and warm, called “porch mode”. The beauty of the camping hammock is that it can be pitched most anywhere. This includes many places where a tent could never go.
This particular weekend turned out to be quite warm for winter. Two problems arose with our hammocks because of this. The first was that as the ground thawed, our tarp stakes slowly got loose! We had to check them during the day and before bed every night to reset them. The second problem was that as the snow melted under our hammocks, we got bad condensation on our Under Quilts! On a two night trip like this where we didn’t pack up and move between nights, it wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been if we had had to pack up and move. Our UQ’s would have been wet and the down insulation would not have worked as well. This is where synthetic insulation shines or an Under Quilt Protector.
Once we were all set up, we headed to the campfire to hang out and make lunch. The biggest function of a group hang typically surrounds cooking and eating. That’s the truth. The folks who attend make AMAZING food too. Much is cooked in cast iron cookware as we tend to like to cook that way. We have a couple who attend from Buffalo, NY who bring fabulous wings and others make many different dishes such as dutch oven mac and cheese, bacon wrapped venison tenderloin cooked over the fire, pot roast, stews, pierogi, etc etc. We have an organized potluck dinner Saturday evening but people tend to make extra for every meal and share. You will NOT go hungry at a group hang!!
The campfire is set up right in front of a lean-to and a tripod is erected with adjustable cross members to hang kettles for hot beverages. We usually have one with hot water, one coffee, hot cider, and chaga tea. We also have one or two grills that are mounted on spikes which are great for grilling and cooking food on skillets. They are fully adjustable and both of the ones we had this year were hand made by attenders.
During the day Saturday we decided to hike around the pond at the camp. It took about an hour or so and there was some bushwacking to be had. It was very warm but the ground was snowy and icy which made for sketchy footing. It was good to get away from camp with a few people and get some exercise for sure. Last year I brought my ice fishing gear which was fun but I was not sure the ice would be good enough this year for that so I skipped it.
On Sunday morning we got up and made breakfast and essentially packed as slowly as possible as we really didn’t want to leave. This group of people, which was actually a mixture of folks from all down the East Coast, is just a wonderful crew to hang out with. We had so much fun and met some new people as well. These hangs are a great way for beginners to learn anything they might need to advance their hammock camping skills. There is a wealth of knowledge and opinions surrounding hammocks and related gear at these gatherings. If you are interested in getting into hammock camping, check out the hammock forum at: Hammock Forum
Until the next hang!!