Now that we have covered the basics of what a hammock is, how to hang a simple gathered end hammock, how to stay warm and protect yourself from weather in a hammock, we should talk about strategies to employ when actually making a hammock or hammock related gear purchase. There are many strategies one can employ when going about this decision, but in this article I will focus on three different strategies. Of course the first step to take before making any gear purchase is RESEARCH. Educate yourself on what you will need, and what is available. The links provided to our previous “Hammocking 101” articles are a good start, not to mention tutorials and articles by other enthusiasts such as Sean “Shug” Emory and Derek Hansen of “The Ultimate Hang”. Also, I can’t recommend enough that you join in the conversation over at Hammock Forums, a community of hammock enthusiasts who love talking about hammocks and all things hammock related. Their general willingness to share their knowledge and experience has helped me tremendously.
Once you start down the “rabbit-hole” that is the world of Hammockery, it is easy to become overwhelmed by terms like “footbox”, “gear shelf”, “cuben fiber”, “dyneema composite” and the list goes on and on. Just as in any other area of interest, you can pretty much spend just as much money as you want to spend on outfitting yourself with a hammock setup. Conversely, you could go the other way and buy something that for lack of a better word, is simply garbage. Here’s one recommendation I have regarding sourcing your hammock related purchases. Go with the smaller, cottage-type vendors over the larger “industrial” corporate vendors. This isn’t because you can’t get a quality product from the “big guys”, you can (as long as you do your research). But, although hammocking is becoming more and more mainstream out on the trail, there is still a lot of specialized knowledge that goes into gear selection and purchase, and the “big guys” (for the most part) are not yet able to provide the kind of support and assistance a new hanger needs to get off the ground safely and comfortably. The smaller cottage vendors, for the most part (again, do your research), will answer all your questions, offer practical advise, and make suggestions for you based not on their profit but your particular needs.
In this post we will outline three different strategies. Please note that I am going to name some branded items that are well known for being high quality and some specific vendors that are known to provide great customer service. These vendors are some of the smaller cottage vendors that we have already discussed, but there are many more (have I mentioned the need for research?). However this does not mean that I endorse these products or vendors (or that any of them have endorsed me), this exercise is for demonstrational purposes only. Also, I will not list any prices as these are subject to change, but will give a final estimate based on pricing as of the writing of this article. I will include links at the bottom of this post to the vendors mentioned.
The first, and simplest, method would be a “kit” strategy. Buying a hammock “kit” would entail selecting a single vendor and purchasing everything you need to get off the ground from that vendor. This is probably the simplest way to get going. Arrowhead Equipment sells a ready-made kit with everything you need to stay out overnight or multiple nights in a hammock for three season use, and smaller kits with less components in case you already have some of the components or want different options. This strategy does have limitations, though. As of this writing, Arrowhead was the only vendor I could find that sold a complete kit with all the essentials covered. There are a few other vendors that sell all of the individual necessities, but thus far none of them seem to be offering bundled complete packages. (**Please see note at bottom if you know of a vendor who does.)
Another strategy, and one that seems to be popular, is the “buy once, cry once” (henceforth, BOCO). Using this paradigm, the beginning hammocker buys (usually expensive) quality equipment from well known vendors that have many of the popular bells and whistles that some people rave about. Let’s look at a setup that someone using this philosophy might purchase.
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s start out with the ever-popular Blackbird XLC from Warbonnet Outdoors. This hammock is definitely a fine piece of work, with an integrated footbox and gear shelf, and a zippered bugnet. A winter top-cover is also available. In addition, Warbonnet makes an under-quilt that is specifically designed to fit the Blackbird, known as the Wookie.
For a tarp, Warbonnet certainly has some great options, but because you are BOCO, you want the top-of-the-line lightest weight Dyneema Composite (formerly known as Cuben Fiber) tarp. Very lightweight, strong, and completely waterproof. Hammock Gear sells a Standard Dyneema (Cuben) Fiber Tarp with doors that will fit the bill. While we’re there let’s pick up one of their top quilts.
Then of course we will need some miscellaneous items, such as a ridgeline for our tarp and some guy lines and stakes (titanium of course). Please note this is just a rough estimate, but we’re up to about $1,180 at this point. Personally, the BOCO strategy would have me crying pretty hard! However, if you are someone who can spend that kind of money up front on a hobby, then this would be a solid strategy.
That said, there are holes in this strategy. For instance not many people who truly enjoy hammocking have just one hammock, or tarp, or set of quilts. If you watch “Shug” on YouTube, you will see that he has a veritable stable of hammocks, tarps and quilts, and often mixes and matches his ensemble according to the type of trip he’s taking and personal preference. It also seems that some of his favorite items are ones he made himself, rather than top-shelf vendor offerings. And he’s not the only one, either. Many hammockers think that the right number of hammocks to own is “the ones that I own currently, plus one more.”
Another potential problem with this strategy is versatility. For the purposes of this exercise I used pricing that will give “three-season” coverage. For camping out in deep winter, heavier insulation and possibly more tarp coverage may be needed. For warm weather/midsummer camping, you may prefer lighter quilts and a smaller tarp. You may also find that you prefer a bridge hammock over a gathered-end hammock. There are a number of factors that make you regret your initial BOCO purchase.
Personally, I tend to lean toward the other end of the spectrum. Not exactly “bargain basement”, but let’s call it getting “bang for your buck” (BFYB). Employing this strategy, for instance, instead of spending over a hundred dollars for a hammock, go simple and just get a simple gathered end hammock made from a quality fabric, or you could even sew your own from a ready made kit. For a tarp, you could also DIY from a kit, but admittedly that does require some more advanced skills than sewing a simple hammock. Hammock, tarp and other DIY kits are available at Ripstop By the Roll and Dutchware Gear. Alternatively, UGQ (Under Ground Quilts) Outdoor has a great “penny pincher” series of tarps that only cost a little more than a DIY kit.
For insulation, our friends at Hammock Gear have a great “Econ” series of quilts. A three season down top and underquilt combo can be had for a very reasonable price there. Of course we still need the guy lines and stakes, but aluminum will do and we can cut out some dollars there as well. And, we will need a bug net in warmer weather, so let’s throw in a “Fronkey” style net as well. At this point, employing the BFYB method, we are hanging in a complete setup for $500, slightly less than half of the money required for the Buy-Once-Cry-Once strategy. Admittedly, that is still a chunk of change, but perhaps to some it’s a little more palatable than over $1000.
There are of course ways to save even more money. For instance, instead of down insulation, you could go with synthetic offerings. Synthetic insulation is heavier, but properly applied just as effective. Of course, if you already have a ground setup, you could use your existing pad and sleeping bag as mentioned in the “Insulation” article. Aside from the vendors already mentioned, there are a plethora of different vendors out there selling hammocks and the accompanying equipment. (I purchased my top-quilt from a smaller vendor offering a discount on Facebook, for instance. Jared at Mid-Atlantic Mountain Works was a pleasure to do business with.) From time to time the different vendors may have sales, or have “seconds” or cosmetically blemished but perfectly functional gear for substantial discounts. For the talented, DIY offers a potential for substantial savings as well. Buying used gear is also a good way to save. Hammock Forums has a used gear sale area, and there are also groups on Facebook dedicated to selling used camping/backpacking gear.
Employing the BFYB method, you can still research available options and styles, and upgrade components of your system at a later date. The bonus is that when you do upgrade (and you will, no matter which method you use), you now have extra gear to lend to your friends!
The BOCO and BFYB philosophies are also applicable when buying individual pieces of gear. Also keep in mind that these methods are not mutually exclusive. Whether you are the BOCO type, or the BFYB type, or like to simplify the process and buy a kit, you will most certainly enjoy the benefits of your newfound “elevated perspective” and will be saving your body and mind from some uncomfortable nights tossing and turning on the cold hard ground!
Arrowhead Equipment- http://www.arrowhead-equipment.com/
Dutchware Gear- https://dutchwaregear.com/
Hammock Gear- http://hammockgear.com/
Mid-Atlantic Mountain Works- http://www.mid-atlanticmountainworks.com/
Ripstop by the Roll- https://ripstopbytheroll.com/
UGQ Outdoor- https://ugqoutdoor.com/
Warbonnet Outdoors- https://www.warbonnetoutdoors.com/
**If anyone knows of a vendor besides Arrowhead who sells a complete kit (hammock, suspension, bugnet, insulation, tarp) please post in the comments. I will update the article accordingly. Thanks!