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.

ALICE Compass Pouch Hack – Accommodating the Baseplate Compass

ALICE is a friendly-sounding designation for an obsolete American military load-carrying system. It stands for “All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment”. Sure, it should be APLWICE (pronounced “Appleweece”) but I won’t tell if you don’t.

ALICE gear was made of a nylon packcloth, which was around 250D to 300D for the gear junkies out there. It was relatively light weight and it dried quickly after being wet. It was perfect for jungle use. Indeed I still have a couple of ALICE rucksacks as well as a few ALICE compass pouches and maybe a canteen cover or two stashed away. It’s all pretty common and has been superseded so ALICE gear can probably be found on ebay or in surplus stores for cheap.

The venerable ALICE compass/field dressing pouch is a bit of a crap design. Sure, it holds an obsolete American field dressing OK, but it fits compasses very poorly – even the Cammenga M1950 lensatic compass for which it was supposedly designed. The compass bounces around inside the case and the metal alloy belt clip on the back of the compass is ferrous. Everyone knows that ferrous metals and compasses don’t mix and a compass certainly should not be stored next to a clip which can affect the magnetic field of a compass. That leads to a compounding inaccuracy of the compass over time.

The compass pouch was not designed with baseplate compass pouches in mind. But since I wanted to securely carry a baseplate compass in one of these pouches, I’d have to find a way.

Standard ALICE compass pouch. My trusty old Swedish Silva expedition compass for scale.

Standard ALICE compass pouch. My trusty old Swedish Silva expedition compass for scale. The press snap is bronze and is non-magnetic.

Rear view of the ALICE compass pouch showing the metal "keeper" which just happens to be made of a ferrousmetal alloy and attract a compass needle. Bad juju.

Rear view of the ALICE compass pouch showing the metal “keeper” which just happens to be made of a ferrous metal alloy and attracts a compass needle. Bad juju.

Being a committed tinkerer who wanted to affix an ALICE compass pouch to the lefthand shoulder strap of my UL backpack, something had to be done to correct the many shortcomings of the ALICE compass pouch, and quickly.

Although a little longer than the Silva Expedition 5 model pictured above, my military Silva 4/54 baseplate compass still fits the ALICE compass pouch comfortably. It feels terribly unprotected so the pouch would need to be padded. Then there was the matter of the metal clip. I’d have to make one out of brass or aluminium or maybe even use plastic.

Components for the hack - ALICE compass pouch, piece of foam sleeping mat and a plastic clip (not shown)

Components for the hack – ALICE compass pouch, piece of foam sleeping mat and a plastic clip (not shown)

Dipping into the spares crate I found a piece of foam from an old fold-up German sleeping mat which I cut to the correct size and folded appropriately. After folding the foam around the compass it was inserted into the pouch. The compass was now beautifully protected from shock and from being scratched by the the press snap. Just had the belt clip to go.

 

Compass in the open pouch. Foam is held securely by the shape of the pouch and the compass can be extracted and inserted without risk of the foam working its way out.

Compass in the open pouch. Foam is held securely by the shape of the pouch and the compass can be extracted and inserted without risk of the foam working its way out. Note the drainage grommet has been removed from this pouch. It was sticking up and was in the way so I went after it man to man with a pair of pliers.

Case closed. The compass is very secure and well protected in this pouch after the hack.

Case closed. The compass is very secure and well protected in this pouch after the hack.

I was all ready to use a large zip tie or a plastic MALICE clip to replace the metal belt clip, but then I stumbled across a nylon Aussie ICLCEclip which is compatible with the ALICE gear out of the box and has no magnetic effect on compasses.

Problem solved - nylon clip on hacked compass pouch at left. Metal clip fitted to unhacked compass pouch on right.

Problem solved – nylon clip on hacked compass pouch at left. Metal clip fitted to unhacked compass pouch on right.

 

Adrenalin Shaving – Part 1 – the Straight Razor

RazorAlthough I shave with my grandfather’s old Rolls Razor (known as a “straight razor on a stick”) more often than with my straight razors, I most definitely prefer the quality of the shave you receive from a traditional straight razor. In my opinion you get a better shave from a 100-year-old straight razor than from the latest Gillette Mach 25-whatever cartridge razor. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, book a shave at your local barber shop.

Aside from giving an epic shave, the straight razor has a few other benefits too…

1. It’s hardcore. You’re dragging a surgically sharp 4 inch exposed blade down your pretty face, under your sensitive nose and over your vulnerable throat. All it would take is one accidental sideways slice… If the risk doesn’t get the blood pumping the first time you try straight razor shaving then all I can say is you lack imagination. I call it adrenalin shaving – an extreme sport in which you can partake every morning – in your bathroom, wearing only a towel. Sadly, it does become routine, but while it lasts, the buzz is great.

2. It’s good for the planet. How many cartridge or disposable razors does a man buy over his lifetime? How much energy has been expended in the manufacture, packaging, transport and retailing of those items? A man with a straight razor (or a Rolls Razor) and the skills to maintain it can opt-out of the razor economy for good if he so wishes, while still looking good.

3. It’s good for the bank balance. How much does a man spend on cartridge or disposable razors over his lifetime?

4. It’s a big fat “screw you” to the Razor-Razorblade Model, a business model whereby the peddler peddles dependent goods for different prices – one good (say, a cartridge razor handle with a “starter” blade) is sold at a discount, while the second dependent good (a packet of razor blade cartridges unique to the handle in question) is sold at a considerably higher price. Once you’re hooked, you’re locked in as a victim of this business model until you’re able to claw your way out of it kicking and screaming.

#4 above is a big one since it has completely warped male grooming and turned it on its side in order to make profit off an activity (shaving) which most men HAVE to do every morning.

5. 110% of the time it will lead to unexpected sexual encounters with attractive women who are inexplicably expert at barber-style straight razor shaving.

I learned to shave with a modern cartridge razor. My dad learned with a double-edged (DE) razor (disposable blade Gillette razor) and so did his father before him. I am the first in three generations of my family to learn and practice the ancient and honourable art of daily shaving without lining a large corporation’s pockets.

How did the ancient Egyptians ever shave without modern cartridge razors? What about the Romans or the Chinese? They didn’t need cartridge razors, neither did any of the well-groomed men throughout history up to the wide proliferation of Gillette’s Razor-Razorblade Business Model in the 1910s. In 2013/14 we don’t need proprietary cartridge razors either. We can still grab a razor with one blade which will last us a lifetime. All it takes is some spare change and a willingness to learn.

So what do you need to begin straight razor shaving? I use the full kit, but as a bare minimum when starting out you’d need the following:

A shave-ready straight razor.

Razor-2

Very few factory razors are shave-ready out of the box. That goes for Timor, Dovo, Gold Dollar and all the rest of the modern brands. You can check places like eBay for vintage razors which have been honed by an expert and are ready to go. Or you can purchase a vintage one in good condition (look for a later post on this topic) and send it to a local “honemeister” – google it – who can make a decent razor shave-ready for a small fee. You can “cheat” and pick up a “shavette” instead to test the waters. This is a straight razor which takes disposable blades. If I didn’t know how to hone and strop my own razors to make them shave-ready, I’d bite the bullet and visit Whipped Dog  and pick up one of his “sight unseen” shave-ready restored vintage razors for $40 or so. Remember, a good razor is one-time investment.

Soap.

Razor-3

I use Proraso soap, which is a dedicated wet-shaving soap which needs to be applied and lathered with a shaving brush. If you buy this stuff, you need a shaving brush as well. If you want to keep the outlay to a minimum while you try-before-you-buy, then simply use your existing shaving cream straight out of the can as normal.

Shaving Brush.

Razor-5

Badger bristle brushes are the best, followed closely by some of the nylon offerings and then boar bristle and horsehair. My home shaving setup includes a badger brush, but for my travel kit I prefer a boar bristle brush. I’m not that pedantic about brushes – get whatever you can most afford or find locally. Obviously if you’re vegan, go for the nylon brush.

Shaving cup.

Razor-4

For a couple of years I simply used an ex-army steel canteen cup, so you can see this is not a critical choice. Just use an old coffee mug or tea-cup.

Aside from hot water and a towel, that’s the basics. You can apply pre-shave oils or aftershave and moisturizer, but they are the icing on the cake. The four simple items above will take off your beard in a manly, forthright and traditional manner.

For more information on what you’ve seen in this post, I encourage readers to visit “The Shave Den”, a discussion forum which specialises in the topic of traditional shaving. Link appears in the links column funnily enough.

If you want to skip ahead, here’s the book from which I learned just about everything I know about traditional shaving and razor maintenance – “The Art of Shaving – What Every Man Who Shaves Ought To Know”

Next post in this series will look at shaving with a straight razor without the requirement for post-shave corrective surgery.