by John Hartmann
To preserve beautiful wild places for the future, visiting the wilderness is best done with minimal impact. The Blackbird XLC hammock by Warbonnet, a Colorado-based, family-owned business, is a flexible, all-weather camping system that leaves no mark on the landscape. It’s comfortable, too.
The hammock is available in a lightweight version, designed for backpackers looking to save every possible ounce of carried weight, and a heavier version, with a double layer of fabric which increases its weight-bearing capability. The Blackbird is an asymmetric design, so that a sleeper lies on the diagonal. Initially a little counter-intuitive, the arrangement creates a sleeping position that is fairly flat. It is easy to sleep on your back, or roll from side to side, but the hammock isn’t quite flat enough to allow sleeping on your stomach. It takes an overnight or two to find the sweet spot, but once you do, it becomes second nature, and then the Blackbird is a wonderfully comfortable place to bed down.
A nice feature is a built-in shelf at the head end. If you like to read before turning in, you can stash a book and flashlight within easy reach, and they won’t wind up underneath you in the night. There is a full-coverage bug net that zips to the perimeter of the hammock. In cold weather, the net can be swapped for a top cover, which Warbonnet says increases the temperature rating by about 10 degrees, with small areas of netting at head and foot ends to provide ventilation.
Another consideration for cold-weather camping with a hammock is heat loss from below. The double bottom of the XLC is designed for slipping a closed-cell foam sleeping pad between the layers. This is sufficient insulation for me for three-season camping. For winter camping, Warbonnet makes an insulated underquilt that provides even greater warmth and becomes part of an integral weatherproof cocoon. For rain, the company offers several sil-nylon or sil-poly tarps, ranging from minimalist to maxi in coverage. I opted for the middle size, the 11′ x 8′7″ Thunderfly. All the flies have fold-away flaps, which deploy to form a secure hood at each end to keep out wind-driven rain.Warbonnet offers several different suspension systems; I chose nylon climbing slings and carabiners for anchoring around a tree limb or trunk (which is less likely to injure the tree than cord attachments) and a webbing-and-buckle system to attach the hammock to the slings. Adjustment is simple, intuitive, and practically bombproof, and it only takes a couple of minutes to set up or take down. Lightweight, easily packed or stowed, simple to set up, weatherproof, and well-made of durable materials, the Blackbird XLC is well worth a look if you are searching for a leave-no-trace option for sleeping.
John Hartmann lives in central Vermont. He built his Ilur dinghy, WAXWING, to sail the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, and along the coast of Maine.
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