Hammocks vs Tents
During our trip, Dan and I slept in tents, and most nights this was not a problem. However, after we reached south Florida and mangroves dominated the shoreline, there were a few days where there was no solid ground to camp on. We were forced to paddle far out of the way—once well past dark—to find solid ground.
Had we carried thru-hiker’s hammocks, like a Hennessey Hammock we could have tied them up to mangroves and slept above the water. A hammock frees you, and makes any location a possible campsite. For trips through the 10,000 Islands, Everglades, and the Keys, a hammock is invaluable.
When I mentioned using hammocks to a friend, he had visions of gators at alligator farms leaping from the water to snatch chickens suspended from strings. To be honest, that image unnerved me as well, but as far as I know, an alligator has never attacked someone sleeping in a hammock hanging over water. Most of the time, people are too big for alligators to consider us food (and if one wanted, it could attack you in a tent on the ground just as easily). As always, keep any food and smelly items like toothpaste away from your hammock at night.
Since weight is not a limiting factor and a hammock takes so little space, I recommend carrying both a free-standing backpacking tent and a hammock.
Many times during Dan and I's trip, I wished for a tarp. Palm trees offer little shade on a beach and having a simple tarp to string between them would have been great. When we arrived at camp in bad weather, it would have been nice to tie up a tarp first, and then set up our tents beneath it.
Since the trip, I have made myself an inexpensive and ultralite Tyvek tarp and I recommend one for every paddler. Tyvek is the material used as a vapor barrier in home construction, for FedEx and USPS Priority Mail packaging, and fancy waterproof maps. The material is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), marked under recycling code #2, and is endlessly recyclable.
Backpacking gear manufacturers sell similar ultralite tarps made of silnylon. These are expensive however. And for the DIY enthusiast, silnylon is not as easy to work with as Tyvek. Big box stores like Home Depot sell rolls of Tyvek that are 9ft wide and 100ft long for about $105, but this is far too much material to make a single tarp. Instead, you can buy Tyvek by the foot from places like antigravitygear.com. I bought a piece six feet long, giving me a tarp that is 9x6 feet, and added brass grommets.
Once you have a sheet of Tyvek, buy a ½-inch solid brass grommet kit (about $8 at a hardware store). The kit should include grommets, a hole cutter, a matched mandrel and anvil pair, and a backer block. At each corner and at the halfway point of each side, set the grommets about an inch from the edge. At each grommet point, double up the material or place a nylon patch over the area before adding the grommet.I did this and am confident the guy lines will snap before the grommet pulls out.
A new sheet of Tyvek is noisy, making the whips, crackles, and crunches of a big sheet of paper. The noise is irritating, but you can ball up the sheet a few times or run it through the washing machine. This puts thousands of creases into the material, which makes it quieter and softer. After extensive use, Tyvek develops a unique patina but this does not compromise its strength or waterproof-ness.
If your tarp is irretrievably torn apart in a storm, you can recycle it. If your local municipality does not recycle #2 plastic, mail it to DuPont.
Address and mail the envelope to:
Attn. Shirley B. Wright
8401 Fort Darling Road
Richmond, VA 23237
Not a good idea on Florida beaches. While I saw many hikers on the AT use Tyvek as a DIY tarp tent, I have two reservations about using Tyvek as a DIY tent material when beach camping:
Tyvek is not as durable as rip-stop nylon. Tyvek is tear resistant and so grommets will not rip out even in high winds. However, it is cut and punctured easier than a sheet of paper. The first
time you set a Tyvek tent on the beach, shells will cut into it. So will the cones of Australian pines (common on Florida's beaches).
But of course, the classic tarp tent design does not include a bottom — you sleep on a pad on the ground. And so without a bottom, a Tyvek tarp tent is safe from shells, right? Yes, but I don't think it is wise to use a classic tarp tent when beach camping in winter.
As I mention on the weather page, about once a week a cold front will come through, and along its leading edge will be very strong winds and freezing rain. Beaches provide no cover from the wind. Even a campsite in a state park won't be sheltered from winds coming off the sea. I have experienced what seemed like a perfectly calm night when walking through the woods a hundred yards from the water, while on the beach, strong winds were blowing steadily with huge gusts.
A tarp tent just isn't sturdy enough to be set up or stay up in those conditions and a tarp tent without a bottom won't keep you dry.