The High Mountain Gear "Taco", a review and how-to for the lightest inflatable portaledge
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
The Taco is fundamentally nothing new. Its an extremally simple concept on a very old idea, the single point hammock. The traditional single point big wall hammock has one relatively extreme drawback, it tries to crush your shoulders and hips. One solution is to add some sort of sleeping pad. The pads traditionally used with hammocks were various iterations of closed cell foam pads. Adding an inflatable pad would offer a considerable amount of rigidity and provide a solid platform. The problem here is that coated nylon fabrics don't play well with inflatable pads. The fabric is super slippery, and it will attempt to eject any sleeping pad along with any primate that is attempting to mount said sleeping pad. That's where the idea of the taco came in. The Taco adds flaps on all 4 sides and adjustable straps to accommodate a wide range of different pad geometries. And with that simple addition, the Taco again makes the hammock a serious contender as a comfortable and viable big wall sleeping platform.
Kyle setting up version 1.0 Taco on the FA of Jotnar on Mount Index
Weight: 1 lb 13 oz
Size: 76" x 49"
Packed Size: without a pad it will pack into a cylinder about 5" diameter by 10" tall
Pad Dimensions: 18"-26" Wide and up to 78" long
Where to buy: Kyle is only selling them direct on his website, see the button below.
How its been Tested
The first iteration of the Taco came in the spring of 2020. I met Kyle at his studio in Ballard and we busted out a working prototype in a few hours. We created a fully encapsulated sleeping pad "sock". The next week Kyle boldly committed to it for a big first ascent on Mount Index. We took 8 days to climb the wall and didn't find a single ledge large enough to sit on, the Taco, and maybe Kyle got more than they signed up for. There was a lot to be learned from that first test drive. Firstly, he had made a fly for it and had it adjusted so the straps were relatively short, maybe hanging 3-4 ft from the master point. Kyle reported that the shortened distance from the master point put extreme stresses on the sleeping pad. The suspension was constantly in a battle against the sleeping pad to crush Kyle into the shape of a taco.
Kyle in the first version of the Taco, notice the vertically oriented baffles "cupping" his body
The Taco got put on the back burners. We had ideas in our minds on how to utilize them for personal objectives, but their potential as a marketable product seemed grim. This design relied on a specific model of pad. How do you sell something and be like "you have to buy this one specific model of pad from this one other company"?? That, and the amount of sewing labor that went into the thing wouldn't hit a price point that people would find that attractive
In the winter of 2021, Lani and I were in WA and decided to pay Kyle a visit. We convinced him to give the Taco another go. We had come up with some sleeping pads with horizontally oriented baffles meant to counteract the Taco-ification experienced with version 1.0 We approached the design the same way and made a similar product to the first prototype, but it just weighed too much. We started brainstorming other ideas and landed on a single layer hammock style design with flaps to capture the pad. At first we just had the two "love handles" holding onto the pad width wise. The first time I tried to get in it shot me out on Kyle's living room floor. Clearly it needed a way of capturing the pads front to back. After a quick error correction to the design we shoved the large, horizontally baffled pad in and it fucking worked. Way better than we were expecting. Just out of curiosity we pulled out Kyle's Neo-Air and put it in. To our amazement it actually felt more rigid than the larger, heavier pad. Our theory is less leverage on the sides of the pad. The weight numbers started crashing downward. The weight of this version of the Taco, made with pack cloth was somewhere about 1 lb 10 oz. The next task was identifying fabric. The pack cloth did not look very happy in this application. It would likely be "fine" if one were delicate, but wall monkeys being the destructive gorillas they are, it didn't seem great... Ripstop seemed to be called for, Kyle did hours of research balancing price point, weight and durability to decide on a fabric that weighed slightly more but seemed many times more choochy.
Fast forward to Feb 2022 and Lani and I got our hands on the first pair. We went straight from the post office in Vegas to a crag in red springs to test the design out and make sure things will work. After verifying that things were the way they should be we started staging for an FA on Mount Wilson. Early the next morning we headed up for a 3 day wall, partially to test version 2.0 of the Taco, partly to scratch that itch that can only be scratched by doing something stupid. The route wasn't exactly as contiguous as we wanted it to be, but the Tacos performed super well. The ledge that we had to work with sucked so we had to hang the Tacos at pretty suboptimal angles but found them adequately comfortable, and infinitely better than not having a ledge. We have plans for a number of objectives this season to put the Tacos through the wringer, we will post updates as we attempt to destroy them!!
Myself at the bivy on the FA of Taco Tuesday on Mount Wilson. Note how I am in the Taco backwards.
Set-Up and Use
The Taco can exist in 4 distinct modes. Solo, Double, Elevator, and Chair. Solo is as it sounds, one masterpoint one ledge. Solo is the most comfortable option. It is possible though not super recommended to stack two Tacos side by side into a Double configuration. This really only works if this inside person has a burly pad and you REALLY like each other. Even still, the inside person gets pretty smashed unless they sleep on their side. It may be possible to add a spreader bar or two to make this work but we haven't played around with that yet. Elevator mode refers to stacking the Tacos vertically, there are two burly clipping loops on the center straps of all tacos. If anchor options are limited it is possible to clip one below the other. This, again isn't super comfortable for the top person but is doable if there are no other options. If possible, a better option is to just grab a bit of rope and extend yourself a second master point. The last mode is for lounging. There are strategically placed clipping loops at the head and on the center straps to convert the Taco into a recliner. This will be super nice for those pursuing big wall free climbing and have a lot of down time in the sun. The extra material of the taco also extends out a bit over your face to provide some shade while roasting at the block...
This video covers initial setup. Once you get the strap adjusted to a pad, we find you don't really need to adjust them again for a while. This makes set up and tear down as fast as blowing up your pad and rolling it up.
Here is the setup at an anchor. None of the Taco is rated to be a clipping point!!! Make sure you are connected to a Solid anchor with a Solid tether at all times!
Here's a video on turning the Taco into a recliner
Lani hanging out in recliner mode, the loops are configured for a 90 degree angle with a single carabiner. You can adjust how far back you lean by stacking carabiners or putting a quickdraw in.
To spreader bar or not to spreader bar
Lani enjoys our ghetto spreader bar sans pad...
I feel like this ultimately comes down to the sleeping pad that you have at your disposal. There will be a wide range of rigidity depending on the pad that's put in it. We have found that any pad with horizontal baffles does great, ones with grid type patterns do ok, and ones with long vertically aligned baffles do quite poorly. If you test out your pad and determine there is more shoulder crushing than you had signed up for, you may want to make a spreader bar for your Taco. The design of the Taco allows for easy incorporation of a spreader bar. There are 3 sets of sewn loops on the suspension at the head, waist, and halfway up the waist straps. You can easily connect your spreader bar to any of these 3 points to accommodate different goals. The one at the head will provide more shoulder room. The one at your waist will provide more hip room, and the one halfway up the waist strap will open up all 3 air side points a little bit (but will open the shoulders slightly less than if you put is straight on the head side clipping points). The spreader bar in the videos is super crude. I would recommend 1/2" PVC or 3/4" as it doesn't take much load. We used a 24" piece and found it could have been a bit longer. Two other designs we had thought up are 1: fixing bolts in the ends of the pipe that stick straight out that would insert into the webbing loops, this would eliminate the wasted length of the carabiners folding back on themselves. And 2: Take a length of aluminum dowel and epoxy a couple donut shaped wood stoppers at the ends (creating an aluminum "tit" that can be put into the webbing loops). There are likely a thousand ways to skin that cat, and your creativity and a few bucks at a hardware store will likely make something work if you find you need one. In the end, we have found that with a Neo Air pad, or other horizontally baffled pads, the spreader bar doesn't actually add a whole lot of comfort but your results may vary.
Here I am talking a bit about the spreader bar on a Neo Air pad. In this case, the spreader bar doesn't actually add much hip or shoulder space.
This video shows the taco with a deflated pad... and me groaning
Application and Limitations
It should be obvious to say, but this is not a rigid, framed portaledge. The durability of the structure is limited to the durability of the pad inside. Use a burly pad, and you are less likely to run a flat, use an ultralight delicate pad, and you run the risk of poking holes. Extra caution should be taken in remembering to remove your nut tool. All that said, it will still work as a standard single point hammock if your pad takes a shit. Treat the Taco how you would treat your backpacking sleeping pad.
I think the best way of thinking of the Taco is that it is the most rigid hammock on the market. I would not feel good about flagging it or using it at belays (standing). If you are on a route where you are considering these tactics, its likely out of the scope of application for a Taco. The niche where this thing fits the bill is alpine climbing and walls with abundant natural ledges. The Nose, Salathe, NA wall, Lurking fear and RNWF Half Dome all come to mind. In all of these there are mostly ok natural ledges with maybe one hanging bivy. In the case of Half Dome, it opens doors for a folks who can't blast to big sandy. You can bivy anywhere on the route on the way to big sandy and still be light enough to avoid hauling. Two other benefits come in the form of simply being a tarp. The Taco will protect your sleeping pad on all these routes. Modern sleeping pads are way to fucking delicate, I've popped well over a thousand dollars of pads in "fast and light" applications. The Taco also happens to be made of pretty burly waterproof material, similar to that on portaledge rain fly. If you are in a pinch, you can take your pad out and pitch the taco as a single person tarp. This combined with a bivy sack should be sufficient for a good bit of weather (this assumes you can get to a real ledge in the case unexpected poor weather rolls in). Kyle has stated he is unlikely to market a dedicated fly for the Taco, the logic being that the product is more suited for applications with a bivy sack. If you ask nicely and offer dollars he will probably make one for you. The design for a fly is pretty simple, maybe he will add it to his site.... If you think this is a necessity then shoot him an email, ears are open.
For the future, Kyle is (maybe as I am typing) making the prototypes for a Dyneema fabric Taco Supreme. We did a rough estimate for weight and came out to about 1 lb. Its going to be slightly smaller and will only accommodate pads to 72". This is exciting and opens doors for a new era of lightweight hanging sleeping systems. We plan to get a couple Thermarest Uber-light pads to test out for the potentially Ludacris weight of 1.5 lbs. The weight savings here should open some eyes on application both domestically and abroad. Our eyes are set on routes deep in the cascades and sierra, where 20+ mile approaches guard second ascents and unclimbed walls. Friends are scheming possibilities in Patagonia, where you will be able to just climb until you can't anymore and not worry about finding a ledge.
If your new to big wall climbing and want to kick start your wall career, then check out Lani and I's course we offer in the link below.