I don’t love sleeping in tents. There, I said it. Actually, that’s not 100% accurate. I don’t mind sleeping in tents, but my back hates it. No matter how good my sleeping pad, by the end of a night of ground sleeping I’ve got aches in places I didn’t even know I could ache. Over the course of a summer this has a cumulative effect, so that by the time September rolls around my upper body feels like someone has been using it as a punching bag and I spend most of the fall trying to convince my back not to quit on me.
Last year, I decided to try something different. My theory was, and stick with me here because this is (ahem) groundbreaking, that the ground is hard. And it’s uneven. And that’s not comfortable. But what if I didn’t have to sleep on the ground? Wouldn’t that be more comfortable?
I looked around at various hammock tent options and found the Opeongo Aerial. Unlike other hammocks, this one is designed to let you lie flat. This is accomplished by taking a standard solo tent and adding some thick metal spreader bars across either end. Those spreader bars are attached to a suspension system that you strap between a pair of trees anywhere between 10-20 feet apart. Before you know it, you’ve got a tent that’s hovering 2 to 4 feet off the ground and one of the best night’s sleep you’re ever going to have on trip.
Because you’re effectively setting up a tent on a slack line, the set up for the Aerial is a bit more involved than a traditional tent. The tent itself goes up quickly. It’s a two pole system (but those two poles are attached together). The main ridge pole slots easily into small straps at either end of the tent and attaches to the tent fabric via a few clips. The smaller pole forms a T across the ridge pole and clips to the outer edges of the tent, making for a roomy space high enough to sit up in with a minimum of effort.
The next step is where you add a bit more time compared to other tent setups. Don’t get me wrong, suspending the tent between the trees isn’t overly challenging, but it might take a bit to get it to the level you want it at, particularly the first few times. You start by taking two separate strands of webbing and wrapping them around a tree at either end of the tent. The ends of the webbing slot into buckles attached to either end of the spreader bars. This creates what the folks at Opeongo call a four point suspension system, and it’s why the tent can be so flat. From here it’s just a question of getting the tent to the level you want. It takes a bit of adjusting at first, but I found that by the end of my first trip with the Aerial I had the system and steps down pat.
Using The Aerial
Once you’ve got the tent set up and level, it’s time to test it out. There are doors on either side of the Aerial, making for easy access no matter which side of it you’re coming from. There are mesh pockets at the head and toe, and a mesh … I don’t know if you’d call it a pocket or a platform? on the roof. Between these three pockets I’ve found there’s more than enough space to hold the things I want overnight, like my flashlight, Kindle, chargers etc. For the rest of your stuff, there’s a gear hammock that attaches beneath the tent and holds pretty much everything else you’d maybe not actually need to access but would usually have in your tent with you.
I’m somewhere in between 5’10 and 5’11 and I can lie down comfortably in the tent. I’m not sure how much longer I’d be able to say that if I was too much north of 6 feet. If you’re a former high school basketball star, it’s probably worth checking with the folks at Opeongo before ordering your Aerial.
My biggest concern when I started with the Aerial was how it would hold up in bad weather. It kind of looks like a kite waiting to take off hanging there between those trees. I worried that a strong wind would send me flying. The good news is that, so far, it’s held up just fine to the weather Algonquin’s thrown its way.
The rain fly attaches easily to the top of the tent and is held in place by guylines staked to the ground. I’ve been out in the rain a few times now, and the fly has done a good job of keeping the tent’s interior dry. Similarly, I’ve had a couple of nights with a decent amount of wind and so far I haven’t blown away like I’m Dorothy on my way to Oz. I’m still not sure how it would hold up in a really bad storm, but nothing I’ve experienced so far would suggest it’ll be a huge problem. If I was really concerned about it I’d probably just set the tent up lower to the ground.
There are two main drawbacks to the Aerial that I don’t find with other tents. The first is the one I’ve already mentioned, set up (and take down) time. This tent takes longer to put together and take apart than other tents. It’s not hours, but it’s noticeable. Part of it may be that I’m finicky about how I store things, but I find the process of rolling up the webbing in particular feels like I’m burning time.
The other downside is related to those magical spreader bars that make the Aerial so great. They’re heavy. And they don’t pack well. Buy virtue of being extremely sturdy metal bars, the spreader bars add weight to your pack and mean that the Aerial is longer than any of my traditional tents when it’s packed up. This is a problem because those extra couple of inches kind of throw off my entire packing scheme. I’ve had a tough time fitting the tent into my pack, and I’ve had to settle for strapping it to the outside of my bag for most trips, which I don’t love.
Despite the drawbacks I just mentioned, I love this tent. All you need are two relatively sturdy looking trees and you can give yourself a level sleeping surface with exactly zero pressure points below you. There are no words for what a difference this has made for me. Sleeping in the aerial feels like sleeping in a bed. I use a sleeping pad for warmth, but you could easily get away without one if you wanted to trim weight. The tent interior is big enough to fit me comfortably, and the gear hammock that hangs below it gives me more than enough room to store all my stuff. It’s easy enough to put up and take down (if more time consuming) and the overall design is well thought out for a solo tent.
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