This article on putting up a tarp and hammock one handed was originally written for Issue 3 of The Bushcraft Journal; if you don’t yet subscribe, you should give it a go! You can also see a video of a tarp and hammock going up one handed on this post.
In the last issue of The Bushcraft Journal I wrote about my attempts at 1 handed fire lighting, which culminated in me lighting a fire using a fire steel and birch bark. I’d made up a short story in which I broke a couple of fingers on my right hand, which is my dominant hand. The idea was, and is, to try out ways of completing common bushcraft tasks one handed; using my left hand makes it more interesting! The chances of breaking a finger or two whilst outdoors is reasonably high, and so I think worthy of enquiry.
Also, as much as anything, I’m doing this to deconstruct and analyse what I do and to investigate other ways of completing these tasks to broaden my bushcraft repertoire.
After getting a fire lit, my next task is putting up a tarp and hammock one handed, with my non-dominant left hand, and I feel a little daunted by it. My hammock comes out of the top of my rucksack and the tarp from the side pocket. They’re always packed away in the same manner and put in the same place; all paracord fastenings are tied using a figure 8, the tarp concertinaed, rolled up and the main line wrapped around it in 2 pieces.
There are many bits of kit on the market to ‘help’ with putting up a hammock involving rings, slings and tensioning lines of all descriptions, but I use the tapes it comes with; this reduces the amount of kit I carry, the complexity of my set up and the number of things that can fail
As it’s dry I decide to put my hammock up first as I find it easier to then position the tarp over it. For me the key to having a good night in a hammock is getting it taut in the first place – this requires a fixed point at one end and a tensioning knot at the other.
So I decide to tie an Evenk knot, sometimes called a Siberian hitch, at one end. When I teach this knot it can sometimes take a few goes for students to get right, but now as I think about it, most of the work is done with the left hand anyway, so it seems ideal for this situation.
So I find a couple of trees about 4 ½ to 5m apart and running at 90˚ to the predominant wind and make a start.
I flick the hammock tape around one of the trees from left to right. I clutch the standing end in my left hand and grab the working end with my teeth and place it on my left hand.
Using my teeth I wrap the working end of the tape around my left hand.
I rotate my left hand anti-clockwise about my wrist so that the loop I’ve just made with the working end passes under the standing end. This is definitely trickier than normal as I usually hold the standing end and working end together with my right hand, but I manage after a couple of tries.
I put my thumb through the loop running around my hand
I grasp the working end with my thumb and index finger.
I pull through a loop to make the knot a quick release one.
I pull the loop tight.
And push the knot into the tree. Sometimes at this stage I’ll put a stick through the loop so that it can’t be undone by mistake (or by a mischievous friend!).
So far so good, that’s one end of my hammock tied off, now on to the other end, where I’m going to tie a
Round turn and 2 half hitches
For the other end of my hammock I use a round turn and 2 half hitches with an added tensioning turn. This does put stress on the line and might well have any climbers reading this shaking their heads, but it works well to get a taut line.
I take the tape around the tree, duck under it, pass it back over itself and duck back under the tape. The tape is now over itself, but my arm is on the opposite side of the tape so I hold the tape in my teeth and re-position my hand.
Next I pull on the working end and, maintaining the tension, walk around the tree. I cross the tapes over at the back of the tree to provide some friction and in this regard the tape comes into its own having a large surface area.
Now for the 2 half hitches. After attempting, and failing, to keep the tension by holding the tape against the tree with my arm, I find that I can maintain the tension on the tape by holding the working end in my teeth. I can then bring my hand into play and make the first half hitch. I hold the working end on top of the standing end and form a loop. I then grasp the working end with my fingers, bring it under the standing end and pull it through its own loop.
From there it’s simple to make the second half hitch, although this time I pull a loop through instead of the whole tape and make the hitch quick release.
So my hammock is up and it’s nice and tight, a good start.
Now it’s time to move on to my tarp. I undo one end of the paracord wrapped around my tarp and lay the tarp in my hammock to keep it off the floor.
Because the tarp will be at head height, I don’t attempt the Evenk knot; instead I opt for a good old timber hitch.
I take the paracord around the tree and bring the working end over the standing end, forming an eye.
I wrap the working end around itself 4 times and pull the standing end tight. This is surprisingly easy to do with my left hand.
Now onto the other end of my tarp. I take the tarp out of the hammock, undo the rest of the paracord and tie another round turn and 2 half hitches, by and large in the same way as I did with the hammock. But because it’s higher up I find it difficult to maintain the tension on the line, and whilst I get it fairly taut, I’d rather it were more so.
I set up my tarp so that the paracord runs through the loops down the centre. This means that I can now easily position it above my hammock without having to redo any knots. To keep it in place, I tie a midshipman’s hitch at either end. This is a great hitch because it will slide along a rope, but it only moves in one direction.
I leave a piece of paracord about 20cm long tied to the loop on the tarp through which the main line runs. I run this piece of paracord parallel with the main line.
I put a half hitch around the main line.
I add another 2 coils.
I bring the paracord under the main line in the same direction as it was originally going.
I pull a loop through.
I pull on the standing end and the loop tightens.
I move to the other end of the tarp and tie another midshipman’s hitch.
Pegging down the tarp
As a rule I have my tarp with the back down low to the ground (to provide protection from the wind) and the front more open. So I start by pegging out the back, one corner first. I bring the paracord out at a 45˚ angle and use my body weight to push a peg partway into the ground, but I need to hammer it home. I use a thick piece of wood as a hammer and holding it in my left had gingerly hit the peg in. I find it tricky with my left but manage to avoid hitting myself, just!
This is where the midshipman’s hitch comes into its own; it is a great substitute for the runners on a guy line. So I tie a midshipman’s hitch, this time however I hold the paracord in my teeth whilst I tie the hitch with my left hand. After wondering how to tension the line, I settle on pulling with my hand and using my teeth to slide the hitch upwards. I repeat this process for the other back corner of the tarp and then the centre back fastening.
At the front of my tarp I have a tree at 45˚ from the corner and so I make good use of it. I bring the paracord around the tree at chest height and find that I’m now using my teeth almost without thinking about it. I tie a midshipman’s hitch and again use my teeth to move the hitch along the paracord as I pull it taut with my hand.
There isn’t a handily placed tree on the opposite corner so I use a pole instead.
I wrap the paracord once around the pole, keeping the pole itself in nice and tight to the tarp; this prevents the pole from moving around in the wind. Again I take the paracord out at a 45˚ angle, but also so that the angle from the ground up to the pole is 45˚ (like a right angled triangle). I stand on the paracord to keep the pole in place and use my log to hammer in a peg; I’m getting a better feel for it left handed. And again I use a midshipman’s hitch and tighten it in the same way as previously.
My tarp and hammock are up!
And it wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. I’m glad that my set up is simple and I feel this has been of benefit. But I don’t feel at all confident in being able to pack it away again in the same way that it came out, but that’s for another issue!
You can see a short(ish) video of me putting up a tarp and hammock one handed here.
Don’t forget to let us know how you get on trying it all out and if you have any suggestions.
You can see loads of photos from both of these courses, and all of our others, on our Facebook page.