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Debate: Hammock vs Portaledge vs Tent
Should I revert back to camping with a tent? This was the question I recently asked myself when I realized that I simply don’t sleep well hanging in a hammock. I understand that most people who try out a hammock NEVER go back to sleeping in a tent because they find hammocks to be so comfortable. Unfortunately I just can not get used to the “hug” of a hammock and every time I sleep sprawled out in a tent I consider selling my hammock. But on the opposite side, every time I go camping with a tent I obsess over the beautiful trees that I don’t get to climb and sleep in.
In other words, I have two options: 1. go on an adventure where I have fun climbing big trees and enjoying lounging in the sky at the cost of uncomfortable sleep. 2. sleep comfortably in a tent at the cost of less adventure and boredom from a lack of climbing. In the debate of option one (hammock, fun, bad sleep) versus option two (tent, boredom, great sleep) I choose option one. So how do I resolve the issues of option one?
A portaledge. I love my “Monster Proof Hammock System” because I am sure I couldn’t find a lighter tree camping setup but the decision to start using a portaledge was based on ease of setup. Ease of setup directly affects tree choice, time of setup, and most importantly comfort. When hammocking up in the canopy finding a setup location that has a useable width, has level anchor points, and doesn’t have any branches impeding into the space is quite difficult. This usually results in a suboptimal setup which causes discomfort and awkward situations. A portaledge can be setup in any tree, even one without branches, and the sleeping surface is always level, roomy, and comfortable. At this time in my life sleep is very important to me so I choose to haul the extra weight for a guaranteed good night sleep.
I believe the quote is “necessity is the mother of innovation” which is why I assure you that my nearly perfect tree camping setup will eventually become lighter and lighter until it meets my strict weight standards and turns into the ultimate tree camping rig. I think breaking the five pound barrier (including ledge, bedding, rainfly, straps, and anchor) is totally possible. For now, enjoy the tutorial of my current setup!
THE 15 MINUTE PORTALEDGE – LIGHT & COLLAPSIBLE
You can build your own portaledge in less than 15 minutes. Simply follow the first four steps and you are done!
Buy a Gander Mountain Cabin Cot ($69.00). I have tried building a portaledge with many different cots with varying degrees of success. The first cot I got for free off Craigslist (see the “Junkyard Portaledge”), it worked awesome! But the main frame was only two pieces unlike the six piece Gander Mtn frame which made it very bulky to carry. The second cot was a steel frame and it weighed like 20 pounds which is ridiculous for a solo cot.
Remove the rivets. MAKE SURE TO PUT A PIECE OF WOOD UNDER YOUR CHOSEN RIVET or you will burn a whole in your floor, ask me how I know… Take a hand drill and choose a bit that is a hair smaller than the rivet. Drill from the inside toward the outside of the frame due to the shape of the rivet. The head will pop off and you can push the rivet through but sometimes it requires a tap from a hammer and nail. Only remove the four rivets connected to the frame (do not remove rivets from the middle leg).
Replace the newly removed rivets with four 1.5″ x #10 screws and four wingnuts. You can now remove the middle leg and break down the frame into six pieces. The middle leg is the seventh frame piece and is required because it acts as a spreader bar and prevents the frame from “hourglassing” and bending the tubes.
Attach the webbing. I chose to use Tape Craft 1″ Light Weight webbing. I bought the webbing from REI for $0.30 per foot. It is significantly lighter than using climbing spec webbing and more than capable of holding a single portaledge. If you made it this far you should have no problem tying the suspension but I recommend an overhand-on-bite and using this loop to girth hitch the frame. The girth hitch will tighten under the weight of your body and prevent the webbing from sliding towards the center of the ledge. I also recommend tying a piece of cord on BOTH sides of the middle leg (see picture below) which means the small bolts do not have to bear any weight. After you tie the webbing to the frame attach each of the other ends to a big locking carabiner.
Seriously it is that easy. But you will notice that this suspension technique is bulky and hard to adjust for different angled trees. This is why I recommend you check out “Anchor Ideas”.
Once you finish building your ledge you will understand why I chose this specific cot. It breaks down very small! Here is a picture of it strapped to my pack.
This portaledge is not limited to just tree climbing. I brought it to my local crag when my partner and I were practicing multipitch techniques. I set it up 40′ off the ground and used it to belay my partner up the rest of the climb. Having a comfortable belay ledge is 10 billion times better than a hanging belay! At one point I was sitting on the portaledge and my partner asked if he could stand on it with me. I thought, “Hmm, this is just an aluminum cot built for camping on the floor. Would it be a good idea to do this?”. The smarter part of my brain said it was a bad idea but the awesomer part of my brain took over and I told my partner to do it and hope for the best! There was a lot of creaking and other weird noises but the portaledge held us both (him standing on the head end and me sitting in the middle) without spontaneously combusting!
The TREEfool Portaledge Of Love
This project had so many pictures that I needed to give it a separate page:
The Junkyard Portaledge
This is what started the portaledge avalanche of ideas. Old aluminum cots make awesome portaledges because they are simple, cheap, and very light. I found this one in the outdoor section of craigslist. Price? FREE!
BUT THEN! I drove past a pile of free stuff the other day and noticed there was an old cot so I of course had to snatch it up. Like most of the old cots I have found it is a very light aluminum frame and the best part is that it FITS ME!!! It is like a gift from God because I could not find any cots online with an aluminum frame that were longer than 72″ (this frame was 76 inches!!!). So I ripped off the old material and built a new removable bedding for it. Check it out!
Buy six cam buckles and replace the included webbing with your Tape Craft 1″ Light Weight webbing. The cams can be bought at Home Depot or Menards (which has a smaller and lighter version) for about $8.00 per pair. I made this step even cleaner by purchasing three rappel rings and sewing the cam buckles in place. Less knots, less bulk, less weight.
Designing A Rainfly For Tree Camping
What is the difference between a rainfly for rock climbing and a rainfly for tree climbing? Two things: mosquito proofing and durability. In big wall rock climbing a rainfly is only used in bad weather as a last resort. There are no mosquitoes 1000 feet up a rock wall unlike climbing in a forest where mosquitoes are ever present. For this reason tree portaledges need big mesh windows to handle the condensation build up that occurs from having the rainfly deployed at all times. And as for durability, tree bark is much nicer than sharp granite rock so materials such as ultralight 30d silnylon can be used as opposed to 200d oxford which is the standard for rock climbing.
I stealth camp for most of my tree camping trips because where I live there are many forests with beautiful unclimbed trees where I dont have to worry about noisy RV’s, dogs that bark all night, or piles of beer cans from drunken idiots. The following tarp was developed for my main ultra light stealth camping portaledge so I chose to order five yards of 30d Silnylon in dark brown (I recommend buying from BearPaw over Seattle Fabrics).
This tarp is VERY easy to make. If you graduated highschool and own a sewing machine then you will have no problems. I followed a very old tutorial by The Wall Pirate at this link http://taiwanrock.50webs.com/pirate_portaledge_rainfly.html. I thought his tutorial was perfect but then this happened:
BUT DO NOT WORRY! You will not screw up like I did. You will not waste TWO WHOLE FREAKING DAYS trying to solve a geometry problem like I did. Just remember this: the top line in his diagram will NOT be straight. The following diagrams should help you understand how to easily draw your own pattern. I recommend you draw a scaled replica onto a large piece of paper. So 10cm on your final product will equal 1mm on your replica pattern. You can then use this scaled down version to order the correct amount of fabric.
In the following picture draw line #5 by using a corner on a piece of paper. Measure the two required lengths from the corner out ward. After you have completed this “mini pattern” use it to draw the third right angle in the correct spot on your diagram.
Measure and cut your fabric!
Sew the top outside corners together towards the middle. Just one straight line! Keep the stitches tight so that you can seam seal it with just a small amount of sealant. The hole will be covered by the top cap.
I recommend you add a small strip of webbing at the top BEFORE sewing the two corners together. This will make the stitches at the top less prone to ripping the material.
Add a window. The tarp will be a fully enclosed doorless sauna without a window so I decided to make the window VERY big to avoid condensation build up. The window takes up roughly 50% of the airside of the rainfly.
The Best Topcap Solution
Now we have to cover that big hole with a top cap! I wanted a 100% waterproof build so I chose to copy Metolius’s design based on information at this link: —-
I bought a big bar of – inch wide x – inch thick aluminum from Menards and a 3/4 inch drill bit ($20!) and began the testing process to make sure the aluminum was strong enough. At one point my wife was upstairs and she screamed “LOGAN WHAT IS HAPPENNING!” because apparently the bathroom was flexing up and down due to my top secret testing processes happening two stories below. The aluminum test piece survived with no noticeable damage even though it saw static and dynamic loads much higher than what I will produce when hanging from it on my ledge. Still, I decided to play it safe by remaking the plate with – inch thick sides and using two plates for a totally worry proof anchor.
I cut my plates to – inch x – inch with a jigsaw but you can use a hack saw if you don’t own many power tools. I left 1″ extra at the end for clamping purposes which is cut off after all holes get drilled. I drilled the 3/4″ holes with a handrill but would have loved to have a drill press to keep the holes perfectly centered. Hand drill tip: drill a hole into a piece of wood and clamp it to your aluminum plate to prevent the drill bit from wobbling off center.
Cut two single hole outer plates. Clamp all four plates together and drill four – inch holes for the screws that will hold the plates together.
Sand the shit out of every corner! If you are using Silnylon like me even the smallest bur could tear a hole in your material.
Draw up, cut, and sew your top cap. The circumfrance and height is determined by how low the hole on your tarp is. I used the following pattern because the top is folded, not sewn, which means no leaks.
*Picture of Top Cap Diagram*
Insert the plates into your top cap and use a nail heated over a flame to pierce holes. Make sure you don’t make holes in your tile floor (ask me how I know that). Bolt everything in place then take an old knife and heat it up over the flame to cut out the main hole. This works as good as cutting through human flesh with a light saber, haha. In other words, it works very well.
I had some extra 500D polyester laying around so I cut a few small squares to protect the silnylon from any sharp edges I may have missed with the file.
Weight Comparison List
under construction (comparing hammock vs portaledge vs etc)
Where To Buy Portaledge Materials
I am not exaggerating when I say that this list took me MONTHS to compile. A lot of research, (do not underestimate “a lot”) went into finding out what materials, tubing thicknesses, hole diameters, and corner connectors are used on traditional portaledges. Seriously guys, if you use this list for future articles or projects I would appreciate if you referenced TREEfool.com for helping you find the materials. Thanks!
Portaledge Manufactures & Material Specs
Metolius Double Portaledge = 3’9″x7′ – 13lbs 12oz – $750 – 1.125″ 6061 aluminum triple butted
Black Diamond Double Portaledge = 4’3″x6’9″ – 19lbs 13oz – $700 – 45mm double butted 6061 aluminum
Runout Custom Double Portaledge = 3’6.5″x6’3″ – 9.12 lbs – $675 – 1.125″ 6061 aluminum
Fish Double Portaledge = 6’5″x3’7 – ?lbs – $990 (fly included) – 7/8″ 4130 chromoly
eMachineShop.com = they have a free CAD software program that you can design any aluminum corner out of 6061 aluminum for a price that usually starts at $50 per corner but decreases with the higher number of orders. (Let me know if you are interested in a group buy and we could get them for around $15 each!)
RunOutCustoms.com= this guy is awesome. I learned a lot from his research and he was cool enough to sell me some old corner pieces that he had left over. They only fit 1″ OD tubing so this limits your tubing choice greatly (1″ aluminum is too skinny, 1″ chromoly is too heavy). If you ask politely he may be able to help you out.
OnlineMetals.com = There is no need for another option because this seller is great. They have aluminum, chromoly, titanium, and many other materials. Tubing sizes and wall thicknesses are seemingly limitless. Shipping prices are fair. Descriptions are superb (OD and ID measurements listed to the thousandths!)
– Buy “tubing” not “pipe”
– 6061 aluminum is the best priced aluminum
– 1.125″ aluminum tubing with .058″ wall diameter (1.009″ ID) fits perfectly over 1″ tubing and has great strength to weight ratio to use as main tubing or as a connector piece over 1″ tubing
– 1″ cold roll 4130 chromoly is a much more durable and stiff choice than 1″ aluminum. Use a wall thickness of .035 because anything more will be way too heavy.
bearpawwd.com = These guys sell the cheapest 30d silnylon I could find although their color options are limited relative to the competition. They are my favorite to buy from because they’re a small company that has great service.
seattlefabrics.com = Most DIYers are familiar with Seattle Fabrics. I only use this company when I need a rare fabric color.
rockywoods.com = I bought my 400D packcloth from these guys due to their variety of colors and because the sold the specific plastic buckles that I wanted.
Anchor Cam Buckles
HomeDepot = These buckles have a weight rating listed on the package. They are sold with green webbing in packages of two. Don’t use the webbing. Weight is 1 ounce each. ~$7 for two
Menards = These buckles also come in a package of two but with black webbing. They are bulkier and twice the weight of the first option. They have weight ratings on package. ~$8 for two
Seattlefabrics.com = They sell individual metal cam buckles but no weight ratings are listed. $2.50 per buckle
Please ask me any questions you may have about building your own portaledge and rainfly.
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