In mid-February 2015, four of us set out to tour the Huracan 300 race route, a mishmash of singletrack, sandy roads, jungle bushwhack, murky water crossings, and a few paved highway connections. The race record holders have knocked it out in sub 30 hours, but we rode it at a more leisurely pace, taking eight days, seven nights to finish.

Given the mixed conditions, our shelter choices were paramount to comfort on the trail. Paul used a non-freestanding Tarptent Contrail, carrying the fabric portion up front in his Wanderlust Sawtooth handlebar bag with stakes and folding pole in his frame bag. Joe used a Hennessy Hammock Explorer Ultralight Zip, carrying it wrapped up in Snakeskins and lashed to his top tube. Let’s see how we fared on a few select nights of the tour:

Day 1: Santos Campground at Trailhead in Ocala. Low temp: 35F and raining.

Joe: We arrived at our trailhead in the rain, and I still had to assemble my bike from the box. I strung my rainfly up first without the hammock, and we were able to hang out under it while I assembled the bike. Later, I strung the hammock where we had been standing and spent a dry night sleeping soundly.

Paul: Setting up in the light rain was fairly quick, but once set up, I was kind of left hanging out in my rain gear while waiting on the other guys to get their shelters up. Fortunately Joe and Travis (the other hammocker in our group) had their flies up, so we had a good social space to hang out under for a bit. I had a relatively dry night in the Contrail with sufficient room to spread out my wet rain gear.

Hennessy Explorer Ultralight +1

Shelter Comparison

Day 2: Ross Prairie campground. Low temp: 25F. We came upon this state-run campground near dusk, on a breezy and cold night. The campground host showed us to a barren, wind-exposed site with no trees. We begged for something different, since a hammock doesn’t set up well in the grass. He made an exception and allowed us to camp in the woods.

Joe: Once we got into the trees, we were fine. It was sheltered from the wind and I found a good spot to sling my hammock, setting the rainfly close to the mesh for heat retention. I love the flexibility of this system, but there are a lot of long, thin lines to trip up on. Even through a below-freezing night, my 30 degree Big Agnes Fishhawk and Thermarest ProLite kept me reasonably warm.

Paul: I found a great, level spot behind shelter of some trees and brush to help cut down on the wind. Though it was a cold night I slept pretty well, wearing most of my off-bike clothing to supplement my 35 degree Montbell Down Hugger sleeping bag and Thermarest pad.

Tarptent Contrail +1

Shelter Comparison

Day 5: Lake Apopka observation platform. Low temp: 50ish. Lake Apopka is a marshy zone full of large hungry critters, like alligators and feral hogs. For that reason, we utilized an observation platform that overlooked the water, pitching two tents and two hammocks in a 10×15 foot space.

Paul: At first, I considered sleeping on the platform with just a sleeping pad and bag, but once the wave of mosquitos came out to feed, I quickly changed my mind. With a relatively large footprint, it was a struggle to get the non-freestanding Contrail tied out efficiently from points on the tower railings. Eventually I got it taut enough to climb inside and keep the bugs off. Despite a less than ideal, cramped setup and some early morning condensation droop, I enjoyed a pleasant sunrise over the lake.

Joe: This was an ideal spot for the hammocks. We strung one above the other for maximum space saving, and didn’t bother with the rainflies. The mosquitoes were thick but the mesh did its job, and I was well ventilated on this humid night. We were all treated to an incredible chorus of frogs and gators.

Hennessy Explorer Ultralight +1

Shelter Comparison

Day 6: Big Buck Camp. Low temp: low 50’s. We camped in a grove of palms and pines, just before a waist-deep river crossing that we would ford the next morning.

Paul: This was one of the best campsites on our trip, in my opinion. A nice, dry, level site for the two tents and sufficient tree options for the hammocks. We had great evening temps which contributed one of the few nights on the trip I slept with my sleeping bag unzipped and on top of me like a blanket with the Tarptent flaps open.

Joe: It took me a while to set up today. Stringing the hammock on palm trees is a little sketchy, since the trunks are a bit squishy and full of bugs that climb out on your hand. But one advantage of a hammock on a muggy day is the inbuilt drying line that it gives you. No fly tonight, and plenty warm.

Tarptent Contrail +1

Shelter Comparison

In the end, the shelters tied. Both shelters performed well for the route – dry, comfortable, bug-proof, and very packable for a lightweight bikepacking setup. Paul’s Tarptent Contrail was maybe a little less work to set up, while Joe’s Hennessy Hammock was a special treat to hang out in. We finished the tour with smiles and high fives, happy to have seen some of Florida’s backcountry by mountain bike.

Shelter Comparison

5 Comments

  1. nice read I did not know Florida got that cold. I would like to go do that route thanks for the story.

  2. Interesting article, glad to see the Contrail performed well.

    FYI: Tarptent is no longer making the Contrail. Our newest model, the ProTrail, is a much improved, more robust version of the Contrail.

  3. Nice read — be great to know the weight difference between the two systems, all-in (stakes, poles, biners, tarp, etc). It’s a tough call between the systems — def like the pitching flexibility and ease of the Tarptent offerings, plus the bottom-side insulation of mother earth. But I sleep better in the hammocks, so long as it’s not too chilly.

    PS> Henry, the Protrail looks awesome! Def like the double a-frame improvement to overcome the pooling issue at the foot-end of the Contrail from the early days.

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