In my last post, I promised an article about the minimum requirements someone who was interested would need to meet in order to start sleeping overnight in a hammock outdoors. Because visually it’s difficult to picture some of the things I discuss in this article, I have also supplemented some of the descriptions with some short videos. Hopefully that will help you understand what it is I’m talking about.
Hammocks are really very simple. At its most basic level, a hammock is simply a piece of cloth suspended on both ends that one can lay on. Nothing to it, right? Well, yes and no. If all you want is a comfortable nap on a warm day, then yes it can be very simple. However, if you want a sleeping system that you can carry with you and use in a variety of temperatures and weather conditions then a little more thought has to go in to the process.
At a minimum, a complete hammock system one would use for camping would contain four main components: the hammock itself, a way to suspend the hammock, a shelter to cover the hammock (and its occupant) from inclement weather, and insulation for the occupant so that he or she can remain comfortable. Additionally, in certain places and during certain times of the year, protection from insects must be considered. In this article we will discuss the hammock itself and hammock suspension, and also use some visual aids to help you see what the heck I’m talking about.
The hammock: There are many types of hammocks available, both commercially made and fabrics one can purchase to make their own. I’m not going to attempt to cover them all. I will share what Cathy and I have used and do use. We first started hammocking with ENO (Eagle’s Nest Outfitter) hammocks. We still have them, and still use them from time to time. However when we camp overnight we have moved to using DIY (Do It Yourself) hammocks that we fashioned from table cloths. (Did he just say table cloths? )(Yes. Yes I did.) We ordered two Sage Green Crinkle Taffeta table cloths from tableclothsfactory.com (other colors are available). Then we whipped the ends similar to what is shown in this video and made our own suspension, and that’s what we use to sleep in currently. They are more comfortable than the ENOs (not that the ENOs were uncomfortable) because they are about a foot longer although they aren’t as wide. Additionally they are MUCH less expensive! For someone starting out who is willing to do something simple to save some money, I recommend going the DIY route over purchasing commercially.
Both the ENO and our DIY hammocks are what is known as “gathered end” hammocks. There are also other kinds of hammocks, the bridge hammock and the perpendicular or 90 degree hammock. Here is a video that explains each of these types, if you’re interested. I’ve been so satisfied with my simple gathered end that I just haven’t bothered looking into any alternatives to this point.
The suspension: Just as there are different types of hammocks, there are different types of suspension as well (you will notice a continuing theme here!). When we first started with our ENOs, we used the suspension that came with them, called Atlas Straps. Basically they are a series of loops sewn into a strap, and you hook your hammock to the loops using a caribiner fastened to each end of your hammock. In my opinion after researching several various types of hammock suspensions, this method is the simplest way to hang a hammock. No knots to tie, simple hardware and very intuitive. Here’s a short video showing the Atlas Straps, and me hanging an ENO hammock.
However, for backpacking the Atlas Straps are weighty and bulky, so to help alleviate that after some research we settled on using tree straps and whoopie slings. (Did he just say “whoopie” slings?) (Yes. Yes I did.) From Wikipedia: “A whoopie sling is an easily adjustable rope sling designed for tree pruning or tree removal. The whoopie sling works by wrapping the sling around the trunk of a tree or a heavy load bearing limb and pulling the end of the rope within the sling through a spliced choker. By adjusting the size of the eye in the rope through the choker the user is able to adjust the length of the sling constricting around the tree without needing knots. It is also becoming more common (usually in smaller diameter) for suspending hammocks during hiking or camping.” Hope that helps!
After carefully considering how to better explain to you what a whoopie sling is, I figured a short video would be much more informative.
They are amazing devices, and the really cool part is that we spliced them ourselves. It’s a very satisfying feeling when you make stuff, use it, and it actually works!
Finally, one more short video on how we hang a hammock using a whoopie sling, so that you get the whole picture.
There are numerous other types of suspensions, using various types of straps and hardware, and honestly I don’t know them all or even understand some of the ones I do know about. One great thing about hammocking is how each hammocker can tune their individual gear to fit their preferences.
The hammock and suspension are what is needed, minimally, to actually hang a hammock and lay in it. A brave soul could actually spend the night in it as well, but to ensure maximum comfort more equipment will be needed. We will discuss those in our next edition, so stay tuned!
A few helpful links: (Warning: the author of this article is not responsible for the time, money and energy spent in the event that the reader decides to immerse him/herself in the hammocking netherworld.)
“Shug” Emery’s “Hammock How-To for Noobs” video playlist: Shug is a circus performer, unique individual, and very knowledgeable in the Way of the Hammock. He does a much better job than I explaining this stuff. (He’s much more entertaining as well!)
Hammock Forums- A complete resource for all things hammock. Be careful, you may never come back!