For the past few winters, I’ve been playing with “non-traditional” insulation options for extending my hammock camping in cold weather: vapor barriers, hammock socks, and top and bottom covers. This season I spent a lot of time designing and testing a hammock sock, but I was so irritated by the amount of condensation and frost that I abandoned it.
For me, finding the best solution for winter warmth is a balancing act. I prefer lightweight, multi-use gear, and while the sock I designed was light, it wasn’t multi-use, and I hate frost and moisture buildup. A bigger tarp would eliminate drafts, but could be heavier and bulkier (or costly, if I went with a ground-to-ridgeline cuben design). Plus, they take longer to pitch. Thicker and bigger down quilts for winter are expensive, but I’d prefer to extend my 3-season quilts than invest in a winter set that wouldn’t get as much use[1. If I lived in an area where it was colder, I’d probably invest in a winter quilt set, but for most of my trips, a 20-degree rating is usually sufficient.].
Hammock socks can add about 10 degrees of warmth by trapping the air around the hammock and creating a wind block. Another technique that can achieve similar results is by using windproof, breathable covers around just the insulation—like a clamshell instead of a 360-degree sock. I turned my efforts to this “shell” approach to save weight and reduce condensation. These shells are often referred to as top and bottom covers, or simply weather shields. As the name implies, these shells can be used year-round, especially with waterproof materials, which can provide additional weather protection with smaller tarps, like the asymmetric tarps from Hennessy Hammock. An added bonus with weather shields is that your head remains uncovered, reducing or even eliminating any breath condensation issues.
I was still in do-it-yourself mode, so I went looking for some material to craft into shells for my quilts. I came across the Jacks “R” Better Weather Shield, which takes a DriDucks UltraLite2 Poncho and modifies it into a 3-in-1 poncho, under cover, and sleeping bag shell (or top cover). To my delight, the Jacks also sell a modification kit and the DriDucks poncho separately. I purchased both the mod kit and the poncho and set to work to create my own Weather Shield.
Image courtesy of Jacks “R” Better. This image shows the Weather Shield deployed as an under cover on a JRB Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock.
I have to compliment the Jacks on this design. First off, DriDucks rain gear has long been a popular choice as an inexpensive waterproof/breathable shell for backpackers and thru-hikers. It’s also field repairable with Duct tape, and it is extremely lightweight[2. Don’t get too excited. The DriDucks does have a drawback: it’s not super durable. As lightweight materials go, it’s not tissue paper, but I wouldn’t go bushwhacking in it.]. The Jacks’ design was deceptive at first glance: the image on their site look like it’s just an under cover, but they also include some Omni-tape (self-adhering Velcro, hook-and-loop ribbon) so the Weather Shield can convert into a sleeping bag shell or top cover. The completed kit weighs in at only 9.6 oz (272 g)[3. Trimmed down, it weighs only 8.8 oz (249 g)], which is lighter than most rain jackets. The kit is also very easy to make with only minimal sewing skills. All the materials were cut to size and ready to assemble so all I had to do was sew.
Since I’m a visual learner, I went to the drawing board to illustrate the Jacks “R” Better Weather Shield for anyone else who attempts this project or one like it. I should note that the Jacks “R” Better Weather Shield and kit versions do not come with suspension. This is because the Weather Shield is designed to fit the JRB quilts and eliminate a second set of shock cord. Jacks “R” Better does sell a stand-alone Under Quilt Suspension System, or you can fabricate your own.
Using The Weather Shield
My first time using my DIY Weather Shield was during a two-day camping trip with my Boy Scout troop. It rained steady for both days, with temperatures just above the freezing point. I admit I was gloating a little about my hammock to some dads who tagged along. “Hammocks hang high and dry,” I prophesied. When I finally snuggled into my hammock for the night, I noticed my top quilt was wet in places. “It probably touched the ground while I was getting into bed,” I thought to myself. Later in the night I felt water droplets on my head that woke me to the fact that I had a problem. What I brushed off earlier as ground water had turned into a small puddle on my top quilt. The tarp I was using was seeping a lot of water through the ridge line, and if I didn’t act quickly, my insulation would be soaked; a bad proposition for winter camping (or any time of the year for that matter). I had rigged the Weather Shield as an under cover, but I unclipped it, cinched the foot end and connected the OmniTape to create a top cover. After tucking my top insulation into the foot box, I draped the top of the Weather Shield over my head and hammock.
I slept the rest of the night snug, warm, and dry. In the morning I was pleased to find the inside of my DriDucks poncho/Weather Shield was also dry—no condensation. The outside was another matter: the entire top cover was soaked with puddles of water everywhere, and rain still droned on outside. The Weather Shield saved my insulation and kept me from an emergency bail-out, or worse, admitting my hammock wasn’t a superior weather shelter.
A little weight can be saved (1 oz/28 g) by eliminating one cord lock on the poncho hood and consolidating the draw cord into a single cord lock. Removing the built-in stuff sack also saves weight and garners another spare cord lock.
Fold then roll the Weather Shield and use a rubber band to keep it “packed.” Store in an outside pocket for moisture control and easy access.
Close all OmniTape/Velcro strips before packing to prevent damage and inadvertent “clinging.”
“DriDucks” uses 2-ply microporous polypropylene and is lighter than the “FroggToggs,” which uses 3-ply microporous polypropylene. Both are from the same company.
To seal off the hood: pull the hood inside the hammock; cinch the hood as tightly as possible, then wrap the draw cord around the hood to “goose neck” it. Finish with a simple Clove hitch.