Clark North American Hammock
Hangin' Out in the Clark
The Clark Jungle Hammock is a lightweight, easily-packable shelter for solo paddlers trying to save weight and space. It is also designed for those who don't want to waste time searching for level, dry ground in order to put up a tent, tarp, or similar-type shelter. Its easy setup would be invaluable in an emergency, or when setting up camp in the dark. The Clark could be ideal for campers who can never get comfortable sleeping on the cold hard ground, even with foam or inflatable pads. It could also benefit those who, like me, have the trouble of waking up horribly stiff in the morning due to circulation problems or limbs "falling asleep" during the night.
The Clark's design is well thought outsort of like a cross between an A-frame tent and a hammock, but without the use of any poles. Obviously, two stout trees (or other solid objects) approximately 10 to 12 feet apart are needed to hang the hammock, but you can also pitch it on the ground like a bivy, in a pinch. It is fully enclosable just like a tent thanks to its WeatherShield option.
I keep my Clark loosely packed in a 17 1/2" x 8" stuff sack but it certainly wouldn't be hard to fit it into a smaller, 15" x 7" stuff sack, either. In fact, with a compression stuff sack, it will compress down to a remarkably small 9" x 8" bundlesmaller than the footprint of a standard sheet of paper! I just prefer to pack mine a little on the loose side. Either way, it shouldn't be a problem to find room for it in the hull of most kayaks.
The North American model weighs in unofficially at 3.4 lbs. which is sort of hefty for a shelter its size, but it's all because of the rugged materials used in the Clark's constructiona price I'll gladly pay. Even at this weight it's still lighter than most tents. This is definitely no toy, and it will last for years without having to "pamper" it along. Throw your worst at the Clarkit can take it!
Sleep Like a Champ
When the Clark hammock first arrived, I promptly took it out in the back yard to try it out. I wanted to see how fool-proof set-up was, so I resisted reading the instructions that came with it. I tied the two ends of the hammock up, then the two middle points on the fly to the same trees as the hammock, and finally staked out each corner of the fly. Piece of cake! I unzipped the WeatherShield and folded it back into its available pockets on top, unzipped the mosquito net and got in. "Whoa, this is nice", I thought to myself as I lay there gently rocking back and forth in the breeze. Within 5 minutes, I had already fallen asleep!
Let me say that the Clark is probably not for you if you easily get claustrophobic, because it has a "coccoon"-type fit. It's not too constricting around the shoulders and hips, and you can use a closed cell or inflatable sleeping pad to help spread the sides of the hammock further away from your body, but you'll still be sleeping in closer quarters than the average tent. Overhead clearance is not a problem, as you have a good two feet or so above your head. I can easily toss and turn and even sleep on my side in the Clark, but there's no comparing it to the size and space of a regular tent. To me, the experience is a lot like a baby sleeping in its mother's arms. When it comes to my solo trips, that's all I really need from a shelter: a strong but cozy place to sleep that can be set up and taken down in a minute. The extra space of a normal tent, compared to the Clark, seems like overkill to me. It's just wasted, unused space and believe me, I'm no "ultralight extremist" when it comes to gear.
The XL rainfly is another great feature on the Clark. It leaves plenty of room to cook meals or do other camp chores under, even in a downpour, thanks to its large size. This keeps you from feeling "boxed in" like you would inside a regular tent during a rainstorm. The Clark's rainfly gives you the freedom to stand up, move around, and see what's going on around you like a regular tarp would.
If you pitch the hammock close enough to the ground at normal sitting height, you can use it as a "chair" while cooking meals on a campstove, doing other projects, reading and writing, or for just relaxing and enjoying your surroundings. Regrettably, in all my experience with it I haven't had the Clark out in the rain yet, but I tested its waterproofness when I first got it with a garden hose in the backyard. Everything was bone dry inside and because of the materials it's made of, the hammock dried out very quickly too.
At first I thought the pockets underneath the hammock were a gimmick, but after using the Clark for a while I have come to realize just how great they are; not only for storing gear, snacks, a water bottle or other stuff that may be needed during the night, but for their insulating properties as well. The pockets trap air creating air space between you and the "elements" which can greatly improve warmth on chilly nights. The pockets inside the hammock are great for my travel alarm clock and flashlight (or other small gear I want to keep close at hand). It also has two small tabs sewn at both ends inside the hammock. I strung a piece of paracord between them to make an "indoor clothesline" which is handy for drying socks, or for hanging a flashlight to read by.
I also like the fact that the Clark can be used like a regular hammock. The WeatherShield and mosquito netting are easily folded down out of the way and the hammock used as an "open-air" hammock with or without the rainfly, too. This is perfect for those nights where bugs or rain are not a concern, or for use during a lazy day in camp.
Another thing I like about the new model is the camouflage color. This helps to keep a low profile and blend in with your surroundings. The camo color also keeps from spooking wildlife, possibly making your trips a lot more scenic and eventful. There's nothing like kickin' back in the hammock and having a deer or flock of wild turkeys walk right past you, which is what commonly happens to me when I camp in the Clark.
Just about the only gripe I have about the Clark is the price. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't mind paying for quality gear that is going to last for years. I would just prefer getting quality gear that will last for years at a cheap price. (Who wouldn't?) The Clark is definitely worth its price for what it was designed for, but if you want more inside room for your money, buy a tent. Personally, I don't like spending any more time than I have to in a shelter (to sleep or to get out of the rain) so I didn't need the extra room a tent of the same price would give me. Besides, I already have a good tent.
Another minor drawback with the Clark is the fact that since it is a solo shelter, if an emergency were to come up there is absolutely no room for two people to share it, except underneath the rainfly. I suppose if it really was an emergency, though, that it would work just fine.
Lastly, some people may have trouble simply getting used to sleeping in a hammock. From all I've seen, heard, and experienced, very few people have tried hammock camping. It may take these people, who know nothing but tent camping, awhile to "re-train" their bodies to get used to sleeping up in the air. This includes those people whose experience in a hammock is limited to just taking a nap, not a full night's sleep. It is definitely a different sleeping experience, but to me, one that is amazingly refreshing.
The Clark North American Camoflauge Hammock with XL Rainfly is a shelter I would highly recommend to anyone searching for a "bomb-proof" solo shelter with a few added luxuries. It's ingenious design and practicality make it a shelter worthy of sharing space with your favorite sleeping bag. Although the size is smaller than a tent and the price is somewhat steep, the Clark is a shelter worth its weight in gold simply for the incredible rest you will get from using it on trips. Isn't that what shelters are for?
[Editor's Note: Read Fred's article The Jungle Hammock Advantage for information about choosing the right jungle hammock to suit your camping needs.]
© 2007, Wesley Kisting