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A New User's Look at Hammocks
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Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
A New User's Look at Hammocks on 07/20/2011 20:09:34 MDT Print View

I have been researching and testing hammocks over the last few weeks and I would like to share what I have found. Please bear in mind that this is my myopic view from a newbie's perspective.

I was researching other equipment on the Web and was checking prices at and I saw a very basic hammock for $15 and bought it on impulse. I had seen occasional posts on hammocks on BPL and references to the Web site and wanted to try one. The ability to camp in steep, rocky, or wet terrain had its appeal and I never have slept well on the ground. While waiting for the $15 hammock to arrive, I did more research and ordered a Hennessy Expedition Zip model hammock and some suspension hardware.

I wanted a hammock for day hikes and multi-day trips. As I mentioned, campsite selection is increased. You are off the ground, so steep terrain, low brush, roots, rocks, mud, and even running water can be dealt with. All that is needed are two anchor points roughly 6 feet off the ground and 12 to 15 feet apart. Two trees are the typical anchor points, but rocks, cliff faces, posts or other solid anchors can be used with the proper hardware. There are some models that can be used on the ground like a hooped tent or bivy.

Hammocks can be low impact shelters. Wide web straps have been developed for anchoring to trees without damaging the bark and most setups use 2 to 6 stakes. The ground is only disturbed by the camper's footprints and a few stakes; the usual compression of soil and plant life is avoided.

Weather and insect protection can be excellent. Some manufacturers have complete, coordinated systems incorporating insect screens and tarps, or you can build a system from components and select the tarp size you prefer.

The real appeal for me is the comfort of sleeping in a hammock. Surprisingly, you don't lay in a curve-- the sleeper lays diagonally and rather flat and the lower back is well supported. Of course there are no rocks, sicks, or uneven ground to cause discomfort.

Some of the components overlap with ground-based camping gear. Quilts work very well with hammocks and conventional sleeping bags can be used. Sleeping pads can be used, but there are hammock-specific systems for insulation. Tarps are used extensively, with cat-cut models being on the top of the list, with a range of sizes and the same fabrics you are used to seeing with ultralight backpacking-- PU coated, silnylon, spinnaker cloth, and Cuben fiber tarps are all well represented and the same strengths and limitations exist. Some of the hammocks are an asymmetrical design so the tarps for them may look a little different. The larger cat-cut tarps are in the 10'x12' range and can be used for conventional ground pitches.

The bottom insulation systems are mostly made from the same materials you are familiar with in ground camping. Some hammocks have a double bottom and a pad can be used between the layers. Other systems use quilts with down or polyester fill and have all the same issues you are used to with quilts and sleeping bags. It was a surprise that hammocks need a fair amount of insulation on the bottom. You are up off the cold wet ground, but there is still a lot of convection loss to the air and most hammock bodies use breathable fabrics. As with ground camping, any insulation between you and the hammock body will be compressed and lose its value, so some sort of additional insulation is needed when temperatures are below 70F. Condensation and vapor barrier techniques are much the same as with ground camping.

You can buy hammocks as a complete, coordinated system or purchase separate components. The coordinated systems can be used with other components and customized to the user's needs. Weight issues are much the same as your ground-based gear. Multiple use, high-performance materials, and minimalist designs all come into the picture. There are bare-bones hammocks that run 7 ounces and complete systems getting into the 4-5 pound range.

Examples of coordinated systems are brands like Hennessy or Clark hammocks. They come with hammock body, a suspension system to attach it to the trees, a tarp, and extra covers and insulation accessories. Other manufactures offer components and you can mix items to make your own system. You can buy suspension hardware, a hammock body with or without an integrated insect net, separate insect nets, tarps, topside quilts, and bottom insulation.

User weight is an issue with hammock systems. Fabric weight, construction, and suspension systems all factor into the total capacity of the hammock. There is a range of sizes available to suit the weight and height of the user. Weight limits run roughly 200 to 300 pounds with the majority being in the 225 to 250 pound range. You will see hammocks with light fabrics and basic suspensions given the same capacity as ones with much heavier fabrics and obviously more robust suspension. My guess is it more legal than scientific. Caveat emptor! The rule with hammock users is "don't 'hang' farther than you want to fall" --- or what you don't want to fall on. Most setups are at chair height, which aids getting in and out of the hammock and using the hammock as a lounge chair. Most users frown on rigging in high places. You can fall out of a hammock in your sleep, but it is usually difficult and rare. Big wall climbers use hammocks and remain in their harness while sleeping.

Hammock bodies are made from nylon or polyester fabric and are typically breathable. Some inexpensive (and lightweight) hammocks are made of parachute-like fabric, with some of the high-quality cottage-made examples using 1.2oz to 1.7oz nylon and single or double layers. Some hammocks are a simple rectangle with a channel sewn in each end and gathered with climbing-quality rope or a carabiner. Other methods use gathered fabric with a whipped end-- wound with line and tied. It is possible to make a usable hammock by tying a knot in the fabric and tying the support lines below the knot. The sides of the hammock are typically a simple hem. The channels and seams for a gathered end are usually triple- stitched for strength and safety. Those of you who sew shelters, packs and sleeping gear would find it very easy to make a basic hammock. Most hammocks have a banana shape and are anchored at each end. Some manufacturers use an asymmetrical design, with extra fabric for the user's head and feet to allow a more comfortable diagonal position. Laying on a diagonal is flatter and supports the lower back and legs. Bridge hammocks have some sort of spreader bar at the ends and a flat area for the user to sleep; they allow the use of conventional pads and mattresses for insulation.

For insect protection, some models use integral zippered screens much like a double wall tent; others use a separate bag or sock arrangement with a zippered entry or gathered ends with typical no-seeum mesh.

The suspension is where the hammock is attached to the tree or other support. Some use a climbing-quality rope that is integrated into the body of the hammock; others use a high-performance line like Amsteel Blue or Dynaglide in a an adjustable loop called a whoopie sling. Web and buckle systems are used too. Most users use a web sling around the tree to attach the main suspension and tied directly or using a climbing carabiner or proprietary hardware.

Tarps are much like you are used to seeing with conventional shelters. The smaller tarps are used in a diamond pitch; the larger tarps are pitched as an A-frame. Some of the larger tarps have sections that can be closed as doors and some have accessory beak-style doors available. Fabric choices are identical to ground shelters, with silnylon, Cuben, PU-coated and spinnaker cloth versions available. All the strength and weaknesses found in ground tarp fabrics apply to hammock shelters. Flat tarps can be used, but the vast majority offered are catenary cut. Some are attached to the ridge line that is part of the existing hammock system. Most are pitched using lines attached to tie-outs or a separate ridge line. The bottom edges use guy lines and stakes like conventional shelters.

On the underside, some manufacturers offer a bottom cover or weather shield. They are usually silnylon. There can be condensation issues, as a closed environment is created with the warm sleeper above and layers of insulation between. Hennessy offers their SuperShelter that incorporates a silnylon cover and a shaped open cell foam insulation layer, used along with a space blanket between the hammock bottom and the foam.

For me, bottom insulation is the dirty little secret of hammock gear. If you think you can buy a hammock with a tarp and use your existing sleeping bag and pad, you are partly wrong. Hammocks are cold when used below 70F-- there's just no way around it. Granted, they come to us from tropical cultures, where the cooling is a benefit, but for temperate climates and at altitude they need some help. Pads will work, but they detract from the comfort of laying on the hammock surface and they need some help-- a typical 20” wide pad won't cut it. A 24” pad will get by and one that is 66' long (or more), 32”-36” wide at the top and 18” at the foot end is better. Speer Hammocks developed a nylon sleeve for sleeping pads called a Segmented Pad Extender or SPE, that uses a standard 20” wide CCF or self-inflating pad, along with 5"x19" sections of CCF pad in sleeves on each side to insulate your arms and shoulders, which can get cold when the sides of the hammock compress your sleeping bag or quilt.

A popular bottom insulation system is a quilt that hangs below the hammock on shock cords, called an under quilt or UQ. Construction materials run the same gamut as quilts and sleeping bags, with down or polyester-based fillers and sewn-through or baffle construction. Under quilts can be full-length or partial. Users have used under quilt systems in sub-zero conditions with appropriate topside insulation. One YouTube video shows a user with a system that was warm at minus 26F! Search YouTube for “hammock shug” for a very entertaining and informative series of videos on hammock camping. Shug (like "sugar") really does know his stuff with hammocks and he is quite the clown.

Another bottom insulation option is a “peapod” that is basically a sleeping bag with openings at both ends and slips completely over the hammock. Some are like a semi-rectangular bag and others have a face opening like a mummy bag and draw closed at the top end.

Alternative bottom insulation options include the Hennessy foam/space blanket/weather shield option that I mentioned, and an Insultex-based system is offered by Molly Mac Gear.

On the top side, quilts and sleeping bags are used. It can be a tussle getting into a mummy bag in a hammock and quilts are an easy solution. The same issues exist with bottom insulation compressing as with ground camping. The same fabrics and fillers are used and your ground camping quilt is identical to those offered for hammocks, with an open bottom and a footbox.

That's what I know so far. I have tested a basic system in my yard in moderate conditions. I slept better than any other night outdoors on the ground. I am still working out bottom insulation options, with the SPE, a Z-rest pad, space blanket and a multiple-use poncho/weather shield. I am using a Hennessy Expedition Zip model hammock system and I have the larger Hennessy Hex tarp for harsher weather. I have modified the Hennessy suspension with whoopie slings, carabiners, and custom 1”x8' polyester webbing tree straps.



Hammock manufacturers:

Clark Jungle Hammocks :

Claytor Hammocks :

DD Hammocks :

Eagles Nest Hammocks

Grand Trunk

Hammock Gear

Hennessy Hammocks

Ticket To The Moon Hammocks

Speer Hammocks

Trek Light Gear

Warbonnet Hammocks


2Q & ZQ Hammock Specialties (Hennessy Bugnet Zipper Mods)

Arrowhead Equipment


Molly Mac Gear

OES Tarps

Tree to Tree Trail Gear

Whoopie Slings

Thomas Hood
(ATTom) - F
warbonnet on 07/20/2011 20:28:30 MDT Print View

Holy crap that was a just buy a warbonnet and be done with it.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
nice on 07/20/2011 21:01:34 MDT Print View

Nice summary. I have a Henessey. I was surprised and pleased at how comfortable it was. If my backyard had more than one tree, I'd have a lot more nights in it by now. The hammockforums folks are insatiable tinkerers! Good for DIY ideas, bad for the wallet.

8' is long for a tree hugger. You have big trees in your neck of the woods?

Mike Hensel
(mike220) - M

Locale: Northwest
A New User's Look at Hammocks on 07/20/2011 21:09:24 MDT Print View

Heck, in our neck off the woods we have some of the worlds largest. ONP

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
Re: A New User's Look at Hammocks on 07/20/2011 21:26:35 MDT Print View

nice write up, but you missed a popular vendor ;)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: A New User's Look at Hammocks on 07/21/2011 00:07:56 MDT Print View

mike wrote, "nice write up, but you missed a popular vendor ;)"

Cut and paste right off the Hammock Forums :) Computers are supposed to save drudgery, not create it!

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: nice on 07/21/2011 00:21:33 MDT Print View

Spelt asked, "8' is long for a tree hugger. You have big trees in your neck of the woods?"

Other than the redwoods, the biggest :) West slope of the Washington Cascades and the Olympics. It's easier to make the straps smaller than larger! Long straps can extend the slings when needed too. A 1"x8' polyester strap is only 1.9oz,

Paul Gibson
(pgibson) - F

Locale: SW Idaho
Re: A New User's Look at Hammocks on 07/21/2011 16:02:30 MDT Print View

Dale, great job putting all that together. For some folks the change to a hammock can have a sharp learning curve. Info like this that condenses and outlines the basics helps. I would hope you would post this at HF if you haven't as it would be a good intro sickie.

And Te-Wa's quilts are definitely worth mentioning. I finally got a chance to see a set last month and the workmanship is meticulous. I make this stuff and would have no qualms about having some Te-Wa quilts in the gear pile. :)

BER ---
(BER) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
vendors of hammock related items on 07/21/2011 16:54:22 MDT Print View

nm. Missed them on your list but now I see them. Wish you could delete your posts! Stupid software.

Edited by BER on 07/21/2011 16:56:33 MDT.

Alanna M
(muledog19) - F

Locale: Upper Peninsula of Michigan
GREAT intro to Hammocks post... on 07/22/2011 14:33:16 MDT Print View

I've been going through the ground to hammock process myself and I also have found the underside insulation issue the trickiest to deal with. Also, hammocks are a great way to get into sewing and DIY gear. They mostly require a lot of straight stitch hem work, which is a great baseline for other projects. I didn't sew at all up until about a month ago. Now I'm on my 4th hammock and 3rd bug-net and I'm about to start a silnylon cat-cut tarp. I'm in my 30s and I can't explain how happy my mom is to have me dropping by to use her sewing machine! She used to try to get me to sew dresses and stuff as a kid, which was a completely fruitless effort. I was way too much of a tomboy to pay any attention. And talk about comfort on the trail... I've even had my 35 pound dog in the hammock with me and slept great. Although there is a learning curve. I learned how to sleep/live in a hammock about 10 years ago in the Peace Corps. I can't believe I never thought about taking one backpacking until recently! Like Dale said, sleep on the diagonal!

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: GREAT intro to Hammocks post... on 07/22/2011 15:05:28 MDT Print View


It was interesting getting on the diagonal the first time. You are fiddling with getting the right amount of slack in the hammock, gingerly climbing in and hearing your new suspension creak a little, letting your full weight come down on it, swinging your feet up into the hammock and stretching out, not sure how stable it will be. That leaves you in a banana curve, with your feet high. And then you wiggle a little sideways, getting your head and feet swung about 20-25 degrees and you find yourself laying flat, with your back nicely supported, and it is stable. If you set the hammock for sitting height, you can reach down and push off a bit, letting the hammock rock you gently. You can feel the air cooling your back and you can gaze up into the canopy of branches and leaves above.

It really does add to the experience of nature. You are comfortable, with no hard ground, rocks, sticks or creepy crawlies, and you are aware of the sun, breezes, and the trees. You can't beat it!

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
Re: Re: GREAT intro to Hammocks post... on 07/22/2011 17:32:21 MDT Print View

Dale, this was seriously one of the best dissertations on hammocks.. and you are a newbie?! hard to believe! 9.5/10

and Paul.. you are too kind. thanks man!

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: GREAT intro to Hammocks post... on 07/22/2011 20:12:40 MDT Print View

Te-Wa! You make under quilts, right?

You should see the poncho under cover I designed along with an under quilt made from a space blanket with polyfill and another made from an AMK Thermo Bivy with polyfill.

Somewhere along the line I need to get a lightweight under quilt. I got a Hennessy Expedition with a PU coated Hex tarp and it is KILLING my pack weight.

Silnylon poncho in multiple use mode as a hammock under cover or weather shield. It also holds up the bottom insulation.There are shock cords in the hems with toggles and mitten clips to attach it. It has a collar, but no hood. 59"x104", 9.7oz with stuff sack and hardware, 7oz bare bones. Nicely made by Taylor Seigler.
Combination poncho and under cover

My "no-sew" space blanket under quilt made with an AMK double HeatSheet and 4oz polyester batting. The current version has one 1/2" batt and is 10.5oz. About 48"x60". The sides are fastened with double-stick tape and the opening end has stick-on Velcro dots. It goes between the main hammock and the silnylon under cover.
SpaceQuilt Model 1

I wanted something more durable, so I cooked up a similar version using the original model AMK Thermo Bivy and polyester batting inside. 33"x72", 1.5" loft and 22oz. Bulky and heavy, but warm and you can make one in 15 minutes. The current model AMK Thermo Bivy is 36"x84" and could be hung on any hammock with shock cords. That bivy has been in my gear locker for years!
SpaceQuilt Mark II

Edited by dwambaugh on 07/22/2011 20:13:41 MDT.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
hex tarp weight on 07/22/2011 20:39:23 MDT Print View

Even the silnylon hex tarp is 15 or 16 oz, I believe. Once I have enough experience to know exactly what I want, I'm saving up for cuben. I love the amount of coverage the larger tarp gives and for winter more coverage is a must for blocking wind, but a whole pound for only half the shelter system is a killer.

Love the space blanket pad. I plan to patch something together from the reflectix sheets and metallized tape Arrowhead sells. Of course, I plan to DIY a whole UL modular system eventually. ;)

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
Re: hex tarp weight on 07/22/2011 21:45:03 MDT Print View

guys, several cuben tarps out now. i have Joe's model since i trusted his work on previous zpacks purchases. tarp is 11x8.8, straight cut (cuben does not stretch remember) and it is very versatile in pitching configurations. here it is over both my wife and my hammocks in "offset a-frame" mode.
with zing-it guylines and tensioners, 6 ti stakes and stuff sack it is (iirc) 9.1 oz
for having NO cat cuts, it still pitches pretty tight, and like i said, versatile.


Edited by mikeinfhaz on 07/22/2011 21:50:12 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: hex tarp weight on 07/22/2011 23:49:55 MDT Print View

Zpacks is certainly one brand on my radar.

BTW, MLD makes cat-cut Cuben tarps. It's in the cut, although the stretch of other fabrics creates some qualities too.

Oware does too, but not the big ones for hammocks: offers a cat cut Cuben tarp with doors ($309).

BER ---
(BER) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
OES tarps on 07/23/2011 05:55:59 MDT Print View

Brian at OES is starting to put out some nice looking cuben tarps as well. They are not listed on his website, last time I looked, and are a custom item by request.

The MLD cuben hammock tarp: The one I had was of excellent quality. It was not cat cut along the edges but pitched very tight. Pics on my HF gallery here:

Edited by BER on 07/23/2011 08:27:34 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Cat cut tarps on 07/23/2011 06:44:06 MDT Print View

I wonder how much curved bottom and side edges effect the structural strength of a tarp compared with the catenary ridge line? For example, the MacCat and Warbonnet tarps have pronounced curves on all edges. It certainly looks cool and cuts weight, but it cuts coverage too. I understand the strength and wind resistance created, but I don't have the engineering background to get the real advantages of the ridge line vs side/bottom cuts.

Hammock tarps can be more radical as the real business is happening in the upper half of the tarp while it is happening in the bottom half for ground camping. The Warbonnet The Edge tarp is 126" long on the ridge and 63" on the bottom with a 94" width. On the ground, it would be better to sleep athwart-ships with that design.

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Lawson Equipment Cuben Hex Hammock on 07/23/2011 09:11:54 MDT Print View

Please include Lawson Equipment when you're looking at Cuben tarps. He builds a hex tarp with the following dimensions:
- Ridgeline - 11'
- Width - 9'
- Bottom Edges - 7'

He does a small cat cut to help ensure it's a tight pitch and I had him add grommets to the corner tieouts to facilitate holding it up with trekking poles. Here's a photo:

Lawson Equipment HexaLite Tarp

It's 10.4 ounces with guylines, the stuffsack, and four 7" Ti stakes.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
Zpacks hammock tarp on 07/23/2011 11:43:46 MDT Print View

keep in mind too, Joe uses the lightest functional material @ .51oz/yd. last i looked, everyone else used .75 or heavier. if you want more durable, then pass on Zpacks. BUT, i feel with care and prayers to Thor that huge pinecones dont come tumbling down, you'll be OK.

another bonus of Zpacks: you can customize to the gills. want a Black cuben tarp? it comes in .74 weight. consider the coverage of this tarp, the durability of .74, and the color that absorbs more heat (winter camping?) and its a clear winner (ok, its actually a translucent black winner). also, it blocks most of that full moonlight that drives me nuts. lowest price out there, iirc.

so, maybe i am a label Whore after all. ;)

Edited by mikeinfhaz on 07/23/2011 11:47:33 MDT.