Archival Gear – The First “Hootchie and Swag” challenge

Bushwalking in the Old Style - Australian conservation pioneer Myles Dunphy in the Blue Mountains in 1915.
Bushwalking in the Old Style – Australian conservation pioneer Myles Dunphy in the Blue Mountains in 1915. Dunphy and his companions traveled the length and breadth of New South Wales’ wilderness areas in the first half of the 20th century, often living for weeks at a time out of a traditional Aussie swag bedroll.

In a few weeks I’ll be participating in an event with a rather odd name –  “Bushcraft Challenge – Hootchie & Swag Low-Tech Overnight Bushwalk”.

Unlike most recreational hiking trips, this one has rules covering the types of equipment used.

“The Rules

No backpacks. For this one you’ll need to either improvise a comfy pack or else go for a swag/bedroll configuration with a shoulder strap, tuckerbag and a shoulder satchel. If you have army-style web gear (belt, harness, bumpack, 2 water bottles, 2 basic pouches, etc.) that’s also acceptable.

No tents, Goretex bivy bags or camping hammocks. Small tarps, hootchies or even lightweight canvas swags are all good. In a pinch a 2-3m long length of black builder’s plastic from the hardware store will do. You will also need to bring some cord.

No sleeping mats. Try sleeping on the ground without that Thermarest or yoga mat.

Your Bedding. Sure, take a sleeping bag if you feel like it, or you could be more traditional and use a wool blanket or two. Make sure that your setup insulates you from the ground.

No gas cookers. Esbit stoves and alcohol stoves are OK, but simply cooking on the campfire is best.

No elaborate cook sets. A billy can up to 2.5lt capacity and an enamel or metal mug are ideal and all you really need. If you want to bring a knife, fork and spoon set, that’s up to you.

Food. Bring whatever you want as long as you can prepare it using the specified equipment.

Electronics. Please limit your gadgetry to: a torch, a phone and a camera. We’ll rely wholly upon traditional map and compass navigation. Relevant map sheets will be posted prior to the walk if you want to brush up on your land nav.”

It’s all light years away from modern lightweight hiking equipment, but similar concepts have been used by explorers and wilderness travellers for centuries. Distracted by high-tech design and materials, have we forgotten how to make-do in the great outdoors with just basic gear and a good supply of common-sense? The purpose of this event is to find out.

Diagram of Myles Dunphy's "Dungalla" or "Dungall" (Dunphy/Gallop) swag and dilly bag system.

Diagram of Myles Dunphy’s “Dungalla” or “Dungall” (Dunphy/Gallop) swag and dilly bag system. From Milo Dunphy’s excellent book “The Rucksack Bushwalker and Camper”

The walk itself is a decent 22km length and the trip runs for two nights, the first night requiring a camp setup in the dark late at night. Being autumn the weather will begin to get a little chilly and possibly rainy so participants will need to think about what they’re doing in terms of their bedding and site selection.

Since the trip is still more than a month away at time of writing, I’ll note down how I intend to proceed. It’ll be interesting to revisit this topic after the smoke has cleared and see what worked and what didn’t. Most of my equipment for this walk is vintage or military surplus.

Group from the Melbourne Walking Club heading to Mt Misery in 1911. Note the large billycans which are hand-carried, allowing more provisions in the dilly bag. Image credit Melbourne Walking Club and Tony Heyes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/melbournewalkingclub/6919219991/in/photostream/)

Group from the Melbourne Walking Club heading to Mt Misery in 1911. Note the large billycans which are hand-carried, full of water. Image credit Melbourne Walking Club and Tony Heyes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/melbournewalkingclub/6919219991/in/photostream/)

Load-Bearing Equipment:

I’m going the swag/bedroll route. This means that I will need a dilly (or tucker) bag to balance the load. Additionally I’ll be taking some equipment which won’t fit in the dilly bag and that I’d like to be easily accessible such as a rain poncho. In the absence of a day pack, that means a shoulder satchel. I usually wear a belt out bush upon which I mount a canteen, a pocket knife pouch and a compass pouch. Since we’re practicing land navigation, I’ll have to take compass, map, protractor and pencils. This means taking a map case.

My gear for this walk, minus belt with canteen, etc.

My gear for this walk, minus belt with canteen, etc.

Swag – I’m using a canvas swag rather than trying to improvise a pack. Inside the swag will be a single blue bedsheet and a khaki wool blanket. The swag will be slung traditionally using a fencing wire strap hook.

Turn of the 20th Century leather and canvas Wolseley Valise military officer's bed roll.

Turn of the 20th Century leather and canvas Wolseley Valise military officer’s bed roll.

Dilly bag – I’m using a canvas British MKVII respirator case. The Dilly bag’s shoulder strap is knotted to shorten it and then tied to the shoulder strap of the swag bundle. When full, the dilly bag balances the load and helps bring the centre of gravity closer to where it should be for normal human walking.

Shoulder satchel – I’m using an Australian 37 Pattern haversack with a nice and wide US 1950s cotton canvas General Purpose strap.

Belt kit. I’ll be using a 2 inch brown leather belt with a canvas canteen pouch, a leather pocket knife pouch, and a webbing compass pouch.

Map case – I’ll be using a standard Australian WWII General Service map case with shoulder strap. The case will be tied to the lid of the haversack for convenience.

Shelter & Sleeping –

Swag – khaki canvas and leather Wolseley Valise, which was a private-purchase military officer’s bed roll popular from the 1880s until the 1950s. This is the pattern upon which many of the purpose-built Australian swags of the period were based. Indeed, the basic pattern appears in Ron Edwards’ “Bushcraft” series of books. It weighs a ton and unfortunately I don’t have a batman to carry it.

A workable pattern for a Wolseley Valise-style swag. Image from Ron Edwards' "Bushcraft 3".

A workable pattern for a Wolseley Valise-style swag. Image from Ron Edwards’ “Bushcraft 3”.

Australian WWII lightweight jungle groundsheet – A new old stock 1945-dated item which I intend to use as a groundsheet for this trip. Rolled in the swag

Olive drab US Poncho – Raincoat and tarp shelter if required. Rolled and carried under the lid of the shoulder satchel for quick access.

A blue cotton single bed sheet – A nod to tradition since I don’t have the blue wool blanket which gives the swag its nickname, “Bluey”. Carried in the swag.

Wool blanket – I’m using an early 1980s 100% pure wool South Korean army surplus cot blanket. The South Koreans do cold weather and sleeping gear particularly well. Folded and pinned with blanket pins into a sleeping bag configuration. Carried in the swag

Olive drab British Arctic Sleeping Bag Liner – This is a mummy-shaped and relatively lightweight olive cotton bag. Rather than use it for its intended purpose, I’ll be using it as the basis of a “palliasse” mattress. The idea is to pack the liner with bracken, dry grass or dead leaves from a fallen tree. This serves to insulate the sleeper from the cold, hard ground. Carried empty and rolled in the swag.

Vietnam-era Australian insect net – This is entirely optional and will depend on the weather. If it’s warm then I’ll take it because the bugs will be out in force. If it’s not, I won’t. The net will interface with a poncho tarp and includes a skirt which is tucked under the groundsheet, making the ensemble insect-proof. Rolled in the swag

Water, Cooking & Eating –

Much of this is carried in the dilly bag to help balance the weight of the swag.

WWI American Canteen – carries just under a litre of water. Carried in pouch on belt.

Billy can – 1930s vintage, made by Willow in Australia. Can heat just over a litre of water. The lid is used as an impromptu frying pan for bacon. Carried in the dilly bag and used as a food storage container

Australian Canteen Cup – perhaps one of the most useful items of camping gear I own. Nests with the canteen above. Although perfect as a boiling vessel, I’ll be using it in lieu of the traditional enamel mug or pannikin as both a bowl and as a drinking cup. Carried in pouch on belt.

Spoon – Carried in dilly bag.

British MkVII enamel water bottle – carried in the haversack, this allows the carriage of an extra litre of water for campsite use.

2x Match safes – Cylindrical US issue Olive Drab plastic match safes with waterproof matches and striker pads. Carried in the dilly bag and in the haversack.

Cooker – campfire

Navigation, Tools and Miscellaneous –

WWII General Service map case – Carries map, service protractor and pencils. Carried attached to lid of haversack

MkIII Marching Compass with lanyard – Vintage prismatic compass. Carried in compass pouch on belt.

Map of area – The current mapsheet for the area includes a full-colour aerial photo ortho map on the reverse. Folded and sealed in  a large ziplockbag and inserted into the map case.

Protractor – British WWII ivorine service protractor. Carried in map case

WWII-vintage map case with prismatic compass and all accessories.

WWII-vintage map case with prismatic compass and all accessories.

Pencil – Midori brass bullet pencil. Carried in shirt pocket.

Notebook – Field Notes “Expedition” waterproof notebook. Carried in shirt pocket.

10m cord – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.

6 x light tent pegs – for pitching the tarp. Carried in haversack.

Maglite XL50 flashlight – LED, rugged, very bright. Carried in shirt pocket.

Swiss Army 1920s-vintage Petromax folding candle lantern – with 2 candles, canvas case and matches. Carried in haversack.

Swiss Petromax folding candle lanterns with candles, matches and canvas case. I’m taking the green one (folded flat here) since it works better with standard household candles than the chromed one.

Pocket knife – I’ll take a basic locking jack knife. Carried in pouch on belt.

Clasp Knife – Australian early WWII-issue Whittingslowe clasp knife with blade, marlin spike, can opener and slot-head screw driver. This will be used for food prep and to open food tins – carried in the dilly bag.

Small toiletries roll – carried in the haversack.

First aid kit – carried in the haversack

Mobile phone and spare battery – Will be used mostly as a camera and carried in the haversack when not in use

Clothing –

For this trip I’m sticking with what I know – that means a combination of poly/cotton cargo pants and a quick-drying nylon shirt. I’ll be wearing my modern Keens waterproof hiking boots. I’ll have a windproof smock and fleece pullover rolled in the swag and will be wearing a wide-brim khaki fur felt hat.

However, if I was to go traditional with my clothing, this is what I’d use (for a relatively dry trip in mild to cool weather) –

Repro or second hand wool 50s/60s-era British/Commonwealth battledress or second hand suit trousers. Being wool, these are warm, even when wet. Worn with button-in braces for comfort since the waist is too high for a useful belt.

Wool socks

Repro WWII-style brown officer’s “ammunition” boots with hobnails – it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good pair of old-style leather-soled work boots that don’t have a steel-cap and which don’t cost upwards of A$200.The repros from What Price Glory are good value in my opinion.

Current-issue white US Navy surplus canvas ceremonial leggings/gaiters (dyed black, brown or khaki) – same specs and similar construction to the WWII-issue US Army leggings, but white.

Merino Wool singlet/t-shirt or a 60s-vintage army surplus string vest

Cotton drill military or work shirt

80s-90s Aussie Army surplus Lightweight wool v-neck pullover

Second hand light wool sports jacket

Wide-brimmed fur felt hat

Food –

Harking back to the archival food post, my menu for this trip is mostly traditional. It’s not lightweight, there’s most likely too much of it and it’s probably not even that nutritious. The food is carried in the dilly bag.

1 x tin bully beef

8 x biscuits ( commercial Arnott’s Sao cracker biscuits semi-hardened by dehydrating for 6 hours  STOP PRESS! I just discovered a hard biscuit which is very similar in size, taste and consistency to the old Aussie ration pack survival biscuits which themselves were similar to Aussie WWII-era Biscuits, Wholemeal – They are called Breakfast Crackers and seem to be a modern evolution of ship’s biscuits. Here’s the brand I bought – http://www.internationalgroceries.com.au/shop/fmf-breakfast-crackers-375g/ they cost around $2 a packet)

1/4 loaf black rye bread

100g Kaiserfleisch- cured, salted and smoked pork belly – sliced and used as bacon or shaved and used as flavouring in stew

100g salami

50g Butter

100g Hard cheese

1 x tin beef goulash

50g Dried peas

50g Dried mixed vegetables – home-dehydrated diced mixed vegetables -carrot, corn, onion, green beans, cabbage

50g Potato powder

50g Powdered egg

100g Uncooked white rice

Salt, pepper and spices (mixed herbs, onion powder, garlic, curry and chilli)

Beef bullion cubes

50g of sultanas

50g of cashews

50g of dried apricots

50g beef jerky

D-Ration chocolate bar – yes I make these

Ground coffee

Tea leaves

Raw Sugar

Alternate Equipment

What if I didn’t have all this cool vintage and surplus gear? What would I do then? Let’s see.

Load-Bearing Equipment-

Swag – Easiest and cheapest is a 2-3 metre length of black builder’s plastic or even a small poly tarp. Place your sleeping bag or blankets inside and fold the plastic sheet into an envelope. Secure the sides with duct tape strips – or not. When rolled, secure the bundle with two lengths of rope or cord and add a wide shoulder strap from a gym bag or similar. In lieu of plastic you could use an army hootchie (or any commercial hiking tarp) or even an appropriately-sized canvas drop cloth from the hardware store.

Dilly bag – a calico shopping bag or an old pillow case secured at the top with string. Tie the string to your swag strap to help balance the load

Shoulder satchel / haversack – You can find cheap ones like this – http://www.wellingtonsurplus.com.au/showProduct/BAGS/HAVERSACKS/HV0001/Jungle+Force+Web+Haversack+-+Model+WH-1

Shelter & Sleeping Equipment –

Swag -the above-mentioned 2-3m length of black builder’s plastic

Sleeping – use a normal sleeping bag and/or fleece throw rugs

Groundsheet – more black builder’s plastic

Tarp – more black builder’s plastic. Add tie-off points by tying small pebbles into the corners and halfway down the short edges.

Mosquito net – a single traveller’s insect net is OK.

Mattress – gather up dry grass, bracken or leaves from a fallen tree. Overlap and arrange them into a layer about 20cm thick. Lay your groundsheet on top and presto – instant, well-insulated mattress. Scatter your “mattress” before you leave the campsite.

A "mattress" made from natural materials, in this case leafy twigs from a fallen tree. Such a mattress is surprisingly warm and comfortable. Diagram from Milo Dunphy's "Rucksack Hiker and Camper"

A “mattress” made from natural materials, in this case leafy twigs from a fallen tree. Such a mattress is surprisingly warm and comfortable. Diagram from Milo Dunphy’s “Rucksack Bushwalker and Camper”

Cooking & Eating Equipment:

Water-bottle – Store-bought 1.5 litre water or soft drink bottle.

Billy can – empty food or coffee tin with a wire handle added

Spoon – raid your kitchen drawer

Matches – 2 packets of waterproof matches or a bic lighter.

Cooker – campfire

Everything else I’m sure you can work out.

A look at some WWI Compasses

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Through my recent eBay adventures, my vintage compass collection has increased dramatically. Some of my favourite new acquisitions are a pair of 1918-vintage US Corps of Engineers military marching compasses both made by Cruchon & Emons in Switzerland. These are the types of compasses that Horace Kephart might have used had he not considered compasses to be a waste of time outside of a field emergency.

Left: US Corps of Engineers Verner's Pattern Mk. VIII prismatic marching compass. Right: US Corps of Engineers mirror sighting compass.

Left: US Corps of Engineers Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII prismatic marching compass. Right: US Corps of Engineers mirror sighting compass.

The Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII Prismatic Marching Compass

Signed “C-E” for Cruchon & Emons (NOT “Corps of Engineers” as you would expect), the 1918-dated Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII prismatic was an absolute basket case when I purchased it. Incomplete, and with a heavy layer of dirt, staining and filth (inside and out) it looked like it had lain in a swamp for 50 years. A trip to a local hobby store saw me secure some brass bar for the replacement lid-opening tab and an assortment of correct-size replacement slot head brass screws.

Despite the complexity of the design, which includes both a dial-locking mechanism as well as a manual dial-damping button,  the teardown for cleaning wasn't difficult and only took about five minutes.

Despite the complexity of the design, which includes both a dial-locking mechanism as well as a manual dial-damping button, the teardown for cleaning wasn’t difficult and only took about five minutes.

The inside of the case under the dial was absolutely filthy – it went WAY beyond patina. After cleaning all the brass parts and giving them a mild polish with Brasso, the compass began to look great. Internal parts such as screw threads and the dial jewel were lubricated with pencil graphite and the missing parts fabricated and fitted until I can secure a junked case from which to cannibalise those parts.

Having polished the lid, it was hit with a light coat of black lacquer to imitate the brass blacking (an actual oxidization process) used on the compasses at the Swiss factory in 1918. You can see some strong remains of the original blacking on the mirror-sighting compass below.

Due to the potential radiation hazard from the remains of the radium illumination on this compass, all cleaning and restoration work was carried out while wearing a military-grade S10 respirator and surgical gloves.

The restored Verner's Pattern Mk. VIII prismatic compass.

The restored Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII prismatic compass.

It’s worth noting that the Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII compass was the standard British Commonwealth field compass for most of the First World War. British-marked wartime examples are common, but the US-marked ones less so due to America’s later entry into that conflict.

Cruchon & Emons Mirror Sighting Compass

This compass operates in a similar fashion to modern mirror-sighting baseplate compasses. One ring of indices on the dial is printed back-to-front and mirrored. To take a bearing, the user reads the mirrored bearing off the highly polished brass plate set into the lid.

The Cruchon & Emons mirror sighting compass. Note the highly-polished brass mirror which was the beating heart of this system.

The Cruchon & Emons mirror sighting compass. Note the highly-polished brass mirror which was the beating heart of this system.

Manufactured in Paris, France and in Berne, Switzerland by both Plan Ltd and Cruchon & Emons from 1915, the mirror sighting compass was never as well-regarded as the prismatic models. When introduced into US Army service in 1916, this mirror sighting compass was the most accurate marching compass ever fielded by US forces.

This example is a Berne-manufactured compass which dates to mid-late 1918. Although there are no date stamps, we can narrow it down due to the use of an aluminium dial (until mid 1918 they were enameled) and the brass mirror (brass mirrors were phased out in late 1918 and replaced by nickel-plated mirrors which wouldn’t tarnish under field conditions).

Like the Verner’s Pattern prismatic above, the compass is still highly accurate down to about half a degree when compared against a 1943 MkIII Marching Compass and a 2000s Silva 4/54 military baseplate compass

Instructions for use of the mirror-sighting compass. Image courtesy http://www.compassmuseum.com/images/hand3/plan_doc.jpg

Instructions for use of the mirror-sighting compass. Image courtesy www.compassmuseum.com

Despite the failure of any of the major militaries of the world to adopt the mirror sighting compass as standard (the US standardised on the Verner’s pattern prismatic compasses after WWI before adopting the lensatic pattern in the 1930s), the mirror sighting compass became a favourite amongst outdoor enthusiasts and wilderness travellers – particularly in North America. In the 1920s and 30s, outdoors outfitters Abercrombie & Fitch retailed a very similar compass, also made by Cruchon & Emons, proving that the type’s popularity as a general purpose direction-finding instrument did not wane for decades.

With index lines on the thumb-ring, the sighting window and the top of the lid, the mirror sighting compass is well-suited to field navigation with a map - of course, you do need a protractor to navigate effectively.

With index marks on the thumb-ring, the sighting window and the top of the lid, the mirror sighting compass is well-suited to field navigation with a map – of course, you do need a protractor to navigate effectively.

Marking on the base of the mirror sighting compass (L) and the prismatic (R).

Markings on the base of the mirror sighting compass (L) and the prismatic (R).

A Photo Comparison of the 1918 Verner’s Pattern Mk. VIII Prismatic Compass and the 1943 Mk. III Prismatic Compass

Sometimes it’s interesting to see the evolution of pieces of equipment over the years. Both the compasses shown below were state of the art for their day.

The Verner's Pattern (left) with polished case and blackened lid. GEC Mk. III prismatic compass (r) is in mint restored condition - all radium removed and replaced with Tritium and a mint-condition black lacquered case.

The 1918-vintage Verner’s Pattern (left) with polished case and blackened lid. the 1943-vintage GEC Mk. III prismatic compass (r) is in mint restored condition – all radium removed and replaced with Tritium and a mint-condition black lacquered case.

The Verner’s Pattern is a “dry card” type which means it can take a while for the north indicator to settle and give an accurate reading. Dial movement can be arrested by a damping button, which slows the movement without affecting accuracy. When the case closes, a tab on the lid engages a mechanism in the case which lifts and locks the dial to protect it from shock and damage.

The Mk.III prismatic has a liquid-filled capsule within which the dial card can move freely, but provides effective damping for quick readings when time is of the essence. As you can see from the photos, the beefy Mk.III is a monster when compared to the fine-featured Verner’s Pattern

This angle illustrates the size difference nicely.

This angle illustrates the size difference nicely.

Aside from the dissimilar damping mechanisms and the indexed rotating ring on the Mk. III, the basic theory of operation for both compasses is almost identical.

Aside from the dissimilar damping mechanisms and the indexed rotating ring on the Mk. III, the basic theory of operation for both compasses is almost identical.

The dials.

The dials.

The compass bases. The fibre friction ring is missing from the Verner's Pattern. Note the data on the Mk.III - The "B" prefix indicates this compass was manufactured by Francis Barker & Sons, while the lack of a date mark indicates it was one of a small batch of undated examples manufactured by F Barker & Sons in 1943 - a rare bird.

The compass bases. The fibre friction ring is missing from the Verner’s Pattern. Note the data on the GEC Mk.III – The “B” prefix on the serial number indicates this compass was manufactured by Francis Barker & Sons, while the lack of a date mark indicates it was one of a small batch of undated examples manufactured by F Barker & Sons in 1943 – a rare bird.

Archival Gear: Old Vs New Camping Hammocks

1942 US Jungle Hammock on the left - weighs in at 3.5kg. 2003-ish Hennessy Hammock on the right - weighs in at approx 0.85kg. Swiss army knife for scale.

1942 US Jungle Hammock on the left – weighs in at 3.5kg. 2001-ish Hennessy Hammock on the right – weighs in at approx 0.85kg. Swiss army knife for scale.

In this post we’ll be looking at camping hammocks. Specifically, we’ll be looking at a 1942 canvas jungle hammock and an early-noughties nylon Hennessy Hammock. The Hennessy is their first true ultralightweight option, the “Ultralight Backpacker A-sym” with a silnylon canopy.

Item #1 – the WWII US Jungle Hammock

Australian soldiers using American Jungle Hammocks in the Pacific during WWII - AWM collection

Australian soldiers using American Jungle Hammocks in the Pacific during WWII – AWM collection

Developed over a period of several months in early-mid 1942, the US Jungle hammock was an ingenious piece of equipment designed for soldiers operating in the disease-ridden “green hell” of the Pacific islands. It was intended to provide shelter from rain, protection from flying disease-carrying insects, protection from crawling insects and vermin, all with the happy side effect of supplying the user with a comfortable place to sleep in all weathers.

Thousands of Jungle Hammocks were rushed to the Pacific Theatre in late 1942. Here’s what the Official History of the US Quartermaster service had to say about the jungle hammock.

“Conspicuous among the pieces of equipment shipped from San Francisco in late 1942 was the jungle hammock, which was expressly designed for soldiers entering a combat area. This hammock was optimistically expected to take the place of tent, shelter half, canvas cot, and mosquito net in regions where these essential items could not be taken either because they were too cumbersome to carry or because of unsuitable terrain. One of the chief virtues ascribed to the hammock was that it permitted men to sleep off the ground and so avoid insects and dampness. Made of a lightweight duck fabric, it had a false bottom that provided a dead air space and prevented mosquitoes from biting the occupant’s back. Attached to and over this bottom was an enclosed zipper-opening mosquito net, which in turn was fastened to a rainproof canopy stretched over sticks placed in the ground. The hammock itself was suspended between neighboring trees. This ingenious piece of equipment never fulfilled the high hopes of its originators.

Light though it was, it still was too bulky to be carried easily. Most important of all, it proved impractical in operational zones. The Sixth Army reported that front-line troops did “not like to sleep above ground because of possible aerial bombing” and hostile infiltration, and “soldiers behind the line” wanted “to keep out of the way of
shrapnel.” In combat areas, the Sixth Army pointed out, it was “essential that troops sleep in fox-holes, dugouts,” or slit trenches.

Despite such reports, which flowed in from all parts of the Pacific, the OQMG continued to improve the hammock, simplifying its zipper opening and reducing its weight by increased use of nylon. More than 700,000 hammocks were manufactured in 1944, and 600,000 were scheduled for 1945 procurement. These articles, though not widely utilized by the combat troops for whom they had been developed, nevertheless proved valuable in other ways. Rear areas, recurrently afflicted by severe shortages of tentage and cots, found hammocks satisfactory substitutes. During the wet season, when rain fell incessantly for hours, flooding bivouac areas and preventing tents from being pitched, jungle hammocks kept the troops “high and dry during the sleeping hours.” Some men in rear areas, Lt. Col. D. B. Dill, OQMG observer, noted, consistently preferred them for the better protection they gave against crawling and flying insects and slept in them as often as they could. When constantly employed, jungle hammocks had one conspicuous disadvantage—speedy deterioration, which limited their life, according to Dill, to about forty-five days.”

After WWII, hundreds of thousands of surplus jungle hammocks appeared at army disposal auctions and in surplus stores, particularly in the US and Australia – two of the main wartime users of the jungle hammock. Extremely popular with hikers, bushwalkers and scouts throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s the jungle hammock soldiered on for decades. Although not quite extinct in 2013, the reputation of the original jungle hammock has suffered due to the proliferation of poorly-designed Chinese copies sold as a “GI Jungle Hammock”. Make no mistake, these knock-offs are pure crap – I say this from personal experience. They are too short, they are too narrow and the rain canopy isn’t big enough to provide protection from anything other than morning dew.  They might be OK for kids to use in the backyard, but they are not suitable for adult use in the wilderness. The original jungle hammock was.

Jungle Hammock available as army surplus from Lenn's in Sydney in late 1948 for the princely sum of 37/6

Jungle Hammock available as army surplus from Lenn’s in Sydney in late 1948 for the princely sum of 37/6. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s pre-decimal inflation calculator, that 3 pounds, 7 shillings and 6 pence would be worth A$185 today. That’s a fair chunk of change for 1948 and goes to show just how popular these hammocks were.

When I was kid in the late 80s and early 90s I inherited my uncle’s original WWII jungle hammock which he had used in the scouts throughout the 60s and 70s. He swore by it and after using it in scouts myself it forever converted me to sleeping in the air while out bush. Sadly that original hammock has been lost over the years, but in 2013 I became the proud owner of not only one, but TWO original WWII jungle hammocks. One is an absolutely brand new 1944 second pattern hammock which is going into storage until such a time as I can have a pattern made from it, while the other is one of the originals – a 1942 first pattern which is a little rough around the edges, but remains serviceable.

Denis, the nice old bloke from whom I purchased the one seen below, bought it as a kid in 1953 as brand new army surplus. He had to save up for months to pay the 7 quid the disposals store was asking. He and his mates used them for many years for camping and bushwalking and it had been in storage for a couple of decades before I bought it off him. The hammock had a 3-inch tear in the rain canopy and a few small rips in the cotton mosquito netting. These I fixed with waterproof cloth “sniper” tape, which is a completely reversible fix that won’t harm the originality of the hammock in any way, while ensuring the hammock stays serviceable.

Here’s a walkaround of the 1st pattern WW2 jungle hammock in pictures.

Prior to hanging the jungle hammock. Since it was dry weather, it's laid out on the ground prior to slinging it.

Prior to hanging the jungle hammock. Since it was dry weather, it’s laid out on the ground prior to slinging. Note how it’s folded in order to protect the relatively fragile waterproof canopy.

The hammock is slung loosely using two lengths of thick manilla rope. The suspension is original to the hammock and still works perfectly.

The hammock is slung loosely using two lengths of thick manilla rope. The suspension is original to the hammock and still works perfectly.

Hammock slung and unfolded, giving us our first glimpse of the rain canopy and insect netting. At this point, it's important to tie off the canopy to the hammock's main suspension rings. If one were to tie off the canopy to the trees, they'd rip the insect netting out as soon as they lay down in the hammock.

Hammock slung and unfolded, giving us our first glimpse of the rain canopy and insect netting. At this point, it’s important to tie off the canopy to the hammock’s main suspension rings. If one were to tie off the canopy to the trees, they’d rip the insect netting out as soon as they lay down in the hammock.

The instruction tag (missing with this example) states that locally cut sticks should be used to spread out the ends of the canopy. I used some deadfall sticks and tied them off to the corner loops of the canopy.

The instruction tag (missing with this example) states that locally cut sticks should be used to spread out the ends of the canopy. I used some deadfall sticks and tied them off to the corner loops of the canopy. The hammock is now slung correctly and ready for use.

In fine weather you can tie the canopy up to give better visibility. I've done that here in order to show the zippered entrance to the hammock.

In fine weather you can tie the canopy up to give better visibility and a nice breeze. I’ve done that here in order to show the zippered entrance to the hammock.

The original factory spec tag is still intact (along with the original repair kit). According to the tag this hammock was made on the 30th of October 1942, which makes it 71 years old at time of writing.

The original factory spec tag is still intact (along with the original repair kit). According to the tag this hammock was made on the 30th of October 1942, which makes it just over 71 years old at time of writing.

The view from inside the hammock. Once you're inside, the hammock is a fair bit wider than it looks from this image.

The view from inside the hammock. Once you’re inside, the hammock is a fair bit wider than it looks from this image.

Sniper tape repairs to the 71 year old cotton insect netting. I found this to be a relatively unobtrusive fix.

Sniper tape repairs to the 71 year old cotton insect netting. I found this to be a relatively unobtrusive fix.

To pack up the jungle hammock, you remove the spreader sticks from the canopy and untie one end. Fold the canopy up and start rolling while the other end is connected to the tree. This gives a nice tight roll and means you don't have to lay the hammock in the dirt/mud when you're packing it up.

To pack up the jungle hammock, you remove the spreader sticks from the canopy and untie one end. Fold the canopy up and start rolling while the other end is connected to the tree. This gives a nice tight roll and means you don’t have to lay the hammock in the dirt/mud when you’re packing it up. A surprisingly difficult photo to take.

To tie up my jungle hammock, I use an army surplus 60s-era sleeping bag carrier. This is a mess of straps that are perfect not only for the jungle hammock, but also for my canvas swag (bed roll).

To tie up my jungle hammock, I use an army surplus 60s-era cotton webbing sleeping bag carrier. This is a mess of straps that are perfect not only for the jungle hammock, but also for my canvas swag (bed roll).

Jungle hammock packed up. 3.5kg of 71-year old awesomeness.

Jungle hammock packed up. 3.5 kilograms of 71-year old awesomeness.

Item #2 – the Hennessy Hammock Ultralight Backpacker Asym (now sold as the “Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic”)

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic - image courtesy of the internet.

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic – image courtesy of the internet.

So what’s a modern ultra-lightweight camping hammock got to do with a blog which is devoted to vintage gear and “old ways”? When Tom Hennessy designed the Hennessy Hammock it was based in part on his experiences with the WWII jungle hammock above. That makes the Hennessy Hammock an important evolutionary step forwards from the old school canvas jungle hammock. Besides, I’ve used mine for years and love it, and that’s enough.

On the Hennessy Hammock website, Tom Hennessy, designer and inventor of the Hennessy Hammock tells his story – and it all started with an army surplus WWII Jungle Hammock. Here’s an excerpt:

At the age of 16, I would make 200 mile, weekend bicycle trips out of Washington D.C. into the Appalachian Mountains. I carried a minimum of food & water, a light sleeping bag and a WWII surplus U.S. Army jungle hammock. I loved this old thing because it rolled up so small and weighed so little and had no poles or stakes, perfect for moving light and fast.

Later at university, I loaned my hammock to a “friend” who never returned it. As the years passed, I continued to miss that little piece of gear and finally decided to duplicate my old army hammock from memory during my winter vacation.

The duplicate of the army hammock took less than a day to finish. As I was cutting and sewing, I began to see ways to overcome some of the army hammock’s shortcomings. The prototype needed to be more spacious inside to eliminate any sense of claustrophobia. It needed to be wider to allow resting or sleeping on the diagonal without curving your back. The netting had to be increased to improve air circulation and the weather fly needed to be adjustable and removable to create an open and airy feeling during good weather and yet close up for protection at night or during inclement weather.

The rectangular army shape evolved into a sleek diamond shape; the cord assemblies at each end disappeared to create more interior space by attaching the hammock fabric directly to the suspending ropes….

The rest is history.

Here’s a photo walkaround of the 860 gram Ultralite Backpacker Asym Hennessy Hammock –

Please note that for the photoshoot I stupidly forgot to bring the “treehugger” traps which protect the tree from the hammock’s main suspension cords. This is particularly important when tying to smooth-barked trees such as these scribbly gums. If I had slept in the hammock overnight, the trees would have been scarred for years. Leave no trace. 

How is that even a hammock? This mess of... I don't even know what it looks like... is a Hennessy Hammock and silnylon tarp.

How is that even a hammock? This mess of… I don’t even know what it looks like… is a Hennessy Hammock and silnylon tarp.

Nope. Still doesn't look like a hammock. One of the options which comes with the Hennessy is a set of "snakeskins" which are a silnylon sleeve which protect the hammock and let it pack up REALLY small.

Nope. Still doesn’t look like a hammock. One of the options which comes with the Hennessy is a set of “snakeskins” which are a pair of silnylon sleeves which protect the hammock and let it pack up REALLY small.

It's only when we slide back the snakeskins that it begins to look like a hammock - sort of.

It’s only when we slide back the snakeskins that it begins to look like a hammock – sort of.

My leave no trace philosophy extends to pegging out the sides of the hammock. I use deadfall timber (as seen here), rocks or adjacent vegetation.

My leave no trace philosophy extends to pegging out the sides of the hammock. I use deadfall timber (as seen here), rocks or adjacent vegetation wherever possible.

The hammock slung - minus tarp. It doesn't seem like it, but this hammock has far more room inside than the old jungle hammock.

The hammock slung – minus tarp. It doesn’t seem like it, but this hammock has far more room inside than the old jungle hammock.

Pitching the stock silnylon tarp doesn't require any extra tie-outs or pegs. The nylon rings at each end clip to the prussik'd hooks on the main suspension ine...

Pitching the stock silnylon tarp doesn’t require any extra tie-outs or pegs. The nylon rings at each end clip to the prussik’d hooks on the main suspension ine…

While the sides clip to the hammock-body's tie out cords - so long as you replace said cords with elasticated shock cord and tie a loop into them. The aforementioned is a useful mod for any camping hammock.

…while the sides clip to the hammock-body’s tie out cords – so long as you replace said cords with elasticated shock cord and tie a loop into them. The aforementioned is a useful mod for any camping hammock.

The view inside the hammock. OMG the bottom's torn out! That's because it's a bottom entry design, silly. This is a velcro slit which allows easy entry and easy exit. It snaps shut with your bodyweight with zero risk of falling out in the middle of the night. Sheer genius I tell ya! As Rick from http://brushnsoapnblade.wordpress.com/ says, " you get to be 'born' every time you get out through the Velcro slot!" What can I say? it's weird but it works.

The view inside the hammock. OMG the bottom’s torn out! That’s because it’s a bottom entry design, silly. This is a velcro slit which allows easy entry and easy exit. It snaps shut with your bodyweight with zero risk of falling out in the middle of the night. Sheer genius I tell ya! As Rick from BrushnSoapnBlade  says, ” you get to be ‘born’ every time you get out through the Velcro slot!” What can I say? it’s weird but it works.

With the canopy rigged for bad weather like this, you stay perfectly dry - even in a tropical downpour.

With the canopy rigged for bad weather like this, you stay perfectly dry – even in a tropical downpour.

Hennessy Hammock complete with canopy.

Hennessy Hammock complete with canopy.

When you're done you can put it into your pocket and away you go. Seriously.

When you’re done you can put it into your pocket and away you go. Seriously- that’s the complete Hennessy Hammock in a cargo pants pocket with room to spare.