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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free Hammock > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
Hammock Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
Initial Report 28 June 2016
Field Report 19 September 2016
Long Term Report 7 November 2016
The Hammock Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free maybe a mouthful, but it's a lot of hammock for the money. Mine was sent from the Australian distributor and included a hand-written note from the designer, Dov. The note suggested this hammock is designed to work only when a sleeping pad is inserted in the sleeve, and shouldn't be used any other way. That in itself is a departure from most hammocks, and is one of the strong selling features of this hammock. Hammock Bliss say there hammock is designed to give a much flatter lay than other hammocks, and that's due to it being designed around the use of a standard inflatable sleeping pad. This has me intrigued as in the past I've found the only times I ever get out of bed without back or hip pain is when I've been sleeping in my hammock as it provides a form-hugging shape and eliminates pressure spots. I'll be interested to see how the claims of a flatter lay affect my back.
My hammock arrived in a standard express post satchel, wrapped in a zip lock bag. It's quite a compact package. The Sky Bed comes packed in an integrated stuff sack which has a cinch cord closure. There's a logo patch on the outside and a couple of grab straps for ease of handling. Pulling the hammock out of the stuff sack always reminds me of that magician's handkerchief trick - it just seems to keep pulling and pulling out for ages! I laid the hammock out on a table to do an initial inspection and found the stitching to be of excellent quality with no loose or pulled threads. The workmanship appears to be of a very high standard.
The first thing I noticed was that the suspension system appears quite different from what I'm used to in that it has a single 100 inch (254 centimetre) length of climber's rope at each end. The rope was passed through at the gathered ends of the hammock and tied with a loose knot. The rope was doubled to make it extend about 50" (127 cm) from the hammock at each end. The loose ends of the rope had no knots and weren't joined (to create a big loop rather than two individual ends) so I was at a bit of a loss as to how they should be joined to the suspension. More on this later...
On the outside top of the bug net there's a little pouch located about a third of the way in from each end and this contains the guy lines for pulling the bug netting away from the hammock. It's very different from the standard ridge line on many hammocks. What a great idea to include the two pouches for easy, tangle free, storage of the lines. I could also see a few (there's six in total) bright yellow loops attached to the netting which are for attaching things like torches or other lightweight items. Cleverly, while these loops are sewn to the webbing seams, they actually pass through the seam so there's a loop inside the netting and a loop outside. I was concerned about hanging any weight from the netting but once I realized it's actually the webbing that will take any weight.
There's also a divided pocket at each end which looks like they will be perfect for a phone, glasses and maybe a water bottle.
Opening the bug net is easy - there's a full length double zipper which allows the net to be opened enough to flip out of the way if it's not needed. One of the things I'll be interested to see is if the bug net suspension system takes the pressure off the zipper as this is often a point of stress on my other hammocks that have a fixed ridge line.
Inside the hammock is a large silver pocket made of parachute nylon. This forms the integrated sleeve which my inflatable pad is placed into. I liked the fact that there is a kind of flap, a bit like a pillowcase, which will tuck over the end of the hammock to hold it in place. I've used foam pads in my double layer hammock before but have always found they slide around in the night and I end up off the pad and freezing my butt. The Sky Bed system looks like it should eliminate that problem.
There was a small black and white leaflet included in the packaging which describes the hammock features on one half and the Set-up instructions on the other. Now, here's where we come to what seems to be a common problem when purchasing a hammock. Of the four I own, three seem to expect a certain level of knowledge about hammocks, how to hang them and how to use them. The assumed knowledge is that I know the perfect knots for tying my hammock to the tree straps, that I know all about the need for insulation to prevent 'Frozen Butt Syndrome' and what I can expect when I lay in a hammock for my first night. It's kinda an imposing learning curve for a beginner. Fortunately, I've hung a few different hammock types so I've got a fair idea of what to expect.
One of the interesting things I noted in the instructions was the very second point: the first thing to do is to insert an already inflated thermal pad into the pad sleeve. This is what makes the Sky Bed different to other hammocks - it's designed to work with a sleeping pad. Other hammocks can more-or-less accommodate a pad but it's never a requirement, whereas the Sky Bed won't perform properly without a pad. The remainder of the instructions cover the actual hanging of the hammock and entering or exiting.
I was very interested in the point that the Sky Bed can be adjusted for comfort: hang it a bit looser and it will feel softer, hang it tighter and the lay is flatter. That's quite counter to most other hammocks where the idea is to hang fairly loose to get the comfort. Pulling another hammock tighter will result in a most uncomfortable lay so that's where using a sleeping pad makes a difference.
The features section of the page also indicates this hammock is machine washable and dryable. I should imagine that would be perfect for reducing the funk on prolonged trips, like hiking the PCT for example.
A copy of the instruction page is shown above.
Sadly, I was only able to give the Hammock Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free a very short try. While I'm fairly used to hanging hammocks with carabiners or whoopie slings, I've studiously avoided having to tie knots as I don't trust my knotting skills and because I've ended up on the floor a couple of times due to things slipping. In this instance, I bit the bullet and went with the knots. I met with reasonable success.
The first thing to do was to insert my inflatable pad into the sleeve. The fit was fairly snug but I think that's a god thing - less sliding about.
Next, I looped the tree straps around a convenient tree. I then tied the climbing rope suspension to the loop in the tree strap using a double half hitch. I repeated the process at the other end. It was then I found my trees were a bit far apart so instead of using the suspension rope doubles, I adjusted it to use a single length (rather than the double length) to reach to other tree strap loop. I'm not sure that's how the rope is intended to be used, but it works if the trees are not ideally spaced. To adjust the rope, I simply loosened the overhand knot at the gathered end of the hammock and pulled the rope through before tightening the knot again.
After hanging the hammock, I reached into the little pouch to retrieve the line for the bug net. Although I tied this to the trees, it only just made it length-wise. In some of the pics on the Hammock Bliss web site, it looks as though the bug net is tied to the tree straps also. I'll have to try that next time. Using these ties really does lift the bug net up and away! I wasn't sure how well it would cope once I put my considerable weight in the hammock: would the bug net lines become too tight? I'm glad to say they didn't.
Undoing the YKK zip makes it easy to open the hammock right up so sleep gear can be put where it's needed and to make it simple to enter or exit the hammock. The first thing I noticed was a lovely flat bottom on the hammock due to my pad being in place.
After gingerly (always gingerly for the first time for absolutely every hang!) climbing in the hammock, I swung my legs up and laid down. I immediately noticed how flat the lay seemed, even though my pad was far from optimal. Sadly, I'd forgotten I only owned a 3/4 length pad, which shows how long it's been since I used one! Even with this shorter pad in place, I found I was really comfortable. I'm not going to report on the lower third of my body as there was no pad under it and it will be interesting to see the difference when I have a full-length pad in place. I've now ordered a state-of-the-art sleeping pad (I deserve it!) so can't wait to try the Sky Bed out then.
One of the things I immediately noticed when laying in the hammock was there was no coldness under me. A real problem for hammock campers is trying to keep warm due to there being no insulation layer between me and the air. While that's nice in summer, on a cold winter's night it can be not only uncomfortable but downright dangerous. Hammockers often spend large sums of money to buy underquilts to hang under the hammock, thus keeping the cold air away. I've developed a system of foam pads, mattress protectors and winter sleeping bags, all of which weighs a ton, but the Sky bed looks ready to revolutionize my winter camping routine. Of course, laying in a hammock on a sunny day for five minutes is very different to spending a frosty night in it, but I have great hopes that using a pad will work for me.
After laying in the Sky Bed for a few minutes, I noticed I was a lot closer to the ground than when I'd climbed in. It appears there was some stretch in the straps or climbing rope. From past experience I've often found this to be the case when using straps and suspension systems for the first time. I'll be keen to see if that continues. Of course, it could also be my poor knot tying that let some slippage occur...
I was pleased to find the internal pockets are at a perfect position for me to put my phone (it takes an iPhone 6 Plus easily) and glasses. That will make finding things so much easier during the night. I also found the loops of cord will be well positioned for hanging my small lantern if I want to read. Love it!
The photos on the Hammock Bliss web site all show people laying in the hammock with the head to the left (when facing the hammock) and feet to the right. While that's also how I laid, I'm not really certain it matters. That's something I'll report on later.
I can't wait to spend a night in the Sky Bed Bug Free as this looks to be a really well designed and thought out hammock. Although not the lightest hammock on the market, the potential weight saving by using a simple inflatable sleeping pad more than makes up for this. There are some lovely features, like the gear hang loops, the internal pockets and the bug screen which really value-add. I'm hoping that as my knotting prowess improves, I'll feel more comfortable trusting my weight to my knots! Personally, I would have preferred some kind of spliced loop in the suspension ropes to make them quicker and easier to use with something like a carabiner, but I'm sure I'll have no problem adjusting.
Although the instructions are a little vague around the actual methods for hanging, I can see that practice will make perfect.
In all, the Hammock Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free looks like a quality piece of gear and one that I'm really going to enjoy getting to know!
That concludes my Initial Report, so please check back in around two months for my Field Report. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Hammock Bliss and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series.
Although I've hung the hammock in my back yard quite a few times to experiment with it, sadly, I've only been able to spend two nights in the Sky Bed so far. While they were at the same location, they were two separate trips to Mylestom, New South Wales, Australia. The first night was clear and very mild with a low of around 6 C (43 F). Winds of around 28 km/hr (15 kts) brought a decided chilliness to my camp and, as I was stealth camping, I couldn't have a fire so I retired early that night.
My second camp was warmer with a low around 14 C (57 F), lots of cloud and no wind. That made for a much more pleasant night! Both nights were car-based camping trips.
My experiences with the Sky Bed have been pretty mixed to date: there are many things I absolutely love about it, but I few things I'm finding really hard to get along with.
The single most interesting and useful feature of this hammock is the pad sleeve. It's incredible just how much difference using a pad makes to comfort! With my other hammock, I'm used to carrying a lot more insulation layers to go between its double layer design but I almost invariably find the insulation ends up in a little bunch exactly where I'm not sleeping. Trying to keep that insulation where it's needed is an ongoing battle as I'm too stingy to buy a proper underquilt. Not so with the Sky Bed. My pad slips in the sleeve and stays right where it's put all night long. That's a real joy! My best indication that this system really works is laying in the hammock at night and finding, because I'm rather large, that while my torso is toasty warm on the insulated mat, my arms are on an uninsulated section are quite cold unless I tuck my quilt under me. That certainly works well enough to ensure I stay warm all over.
Although I can achieve a fairly flat lay, I've noticed there is still that familiar discomfort behind the knees that indicates they are a little hyper-extended. Having said that, it does feel less noticeable in the Sky Bed and is easily solved by putting a small pillow under my knees.
Not having to worry about migrating insulation layers makes it so much easier for a restless sleeper to toss and turn. I knew that whether I stayed on my back or rolled on my side, my sleeping pad would stay absolutely locked in place. That has added to the overall impression of the Sky Bed.
I've also found the bug netting to be great at keeping the bugs out. The almost full length zipper makes it easy to open the netting to get my bedding set up and then I can simply zip the netting closed and know I'll have a bug free sleep. It does take a little time to trust that the irritating whine around my head is actually frustrated mosquitoes on the outside of the netting, not inside. I'm sure they ramp up the whine by many decibels just to annoy when they find they can't bite. One thing I have noticed is that I tend to be sleeping closer to the netting in this hammock due to the location of the sleeping pad sleeve. It seems to need me to be very close to the netting and, if the netting suspension hasn't been tightened properly, I find the netting lying on my face. Some very happy mosquitoes got a good feed before I recognized the error of my ways and tightened things up.
I've become more used to the rope suspension and have found it to be quite easy to get a safe enough knot to trust. I have found the ropes are quite stretchy, though, and even though I start with a fairly tight hang, I'm considerably lower after a few minutes in the hammock. I've learned to tighten my suspension a bit tighter than normal to allow for that stretch. I'm guessing that as the ropes age, they will stretch less. One of the things I've found difficult with the Sky Bed is getting the right tension to create a comfortable lay. I'd read that keeping the suspension tight will give a flatter lay but, honestly, that hasn't been my experience on either of the nights I've spent in the hammock or the dozen or so times I've hung it at home. There seems to be a sweet spot where the ropes are tight enough to give a flat lay and loose enough to not feel like it's straining the hammock. I've tried hanging loosely as well and that didn't improve the lay at all. For me, this seems a harder hammock to get 'dialed in'. I'm guessing that practice will help. I've also used the ropes doubled, as intended, and retied the rope to be a single length if needing more length (yes, I stupidly forgot my hammock straps one night).
Perhaps my biggest bugbear so far has been with using a sleeping mat in the sleeve. As you'll see from the photos, I find my hammock and pad curl up to look like a DNA helix most of the time. I'm not certain if this is because my pad is slightly too large for the sleeve but it doesn't seem to matter whether I have the pad under-inflated or inflate it to rock solid. This has also affected my ability to lie in the hammock as I find I've got a large curl of sleeping mat coming up the right side of my face and shoulder. At the other end, my feet need to be pushing down fairly firmly to stop the mat curling up there. The problem is lessened if I deflate my pad somewhat, but not eliminated. My feeling is this sleeve would work better with a thinner pad but I don't own one to check this for certain. I'm hoping to buy a cheap closed cell foam pad to test this theory before my Long Term Report is finished. At present, it feels like the pad sleeve is too long for a hammock of this length. It feels as if I need some extra material between the sleeve and both the head and foot positions to give me more space to be in the hammock. I do feel a bit pressed to the edges.
I've really enjoyed using all the pockets and hang loops that are inside the Sky Bed - my glasses, phone, torch and water bottle all have somewhere to live that makes them easy to reach in the dead of night. I've used the integrated stuff sack as a place to put my camp shoes when retiring for the night.
I still haven't found the perfect way of hanging the bug net suspension cords. I've tried tying them to the hammock suspension straps when I've done a fairly loose hang, but when I get in the hammock I find the cords have become quite slack allowing the bug net to sag. I've tried tying them around the trees but, generally, I've found they are too short to effectively reach around a tree. I'm expecting I'll add some paracord to them to add some extra length before the next report.
I'm still nervous about the stitch holes in the fabric - I can see daylight through the stitching when laying in the hammock, but this does not appear to have worsened at all.
I'm hoping to spend quite a few more nights in the hammock in the next month so hope to have ironed out the bugs by my Long Term Report.
So far, I'm having a love-hate relationship with the Hammock Bliss Sky Bed Bug Free - there are some really unique features that have the potential to make this an ideal hammock but I'm finding it very hard to get an ideal lay. With summer approaching, I'll need less insulation under me so I'm hoping I'll find that creates a flatter lay and eliminates most of the problems I've discussed above. Watch this space...
Things I like:
Integrated bug net
Pad sleeve keeps a sleeping pad still and stable
Adaptability of the rope suspension
Plenty of internal storage
Integrated stuff sack
Not so much:
Feels a little cramped for a larger person
Pad curls up the edges of the hammock
Bug Net suspension needs to be quite tight to stop it sagging
Harder to get a perfect lay than other hammocks I've used
LONG TERM REPORT
During this phase of testing I've spent a further five nights in my Sky Bed. Firstly I spent three nights of a road trip at various locations: a showground (Very open grassy terrain), a roadside rest area (a few stunted trees amid the rubbish) and a camping area (nice!). Weather was cool to very cool, 14-8 C (57-46 F) overnight with cloudy days. No rain but heavy dew in the mornings.
I spent a further two nights in the Wedding Bells State Forest where the terrain was open dry sclerophyll forest and brush. Temps were around 16 C (61 F) overnight and 24 C (75 F) during the sunny days.
My first three nights of this phase were really a repeat of my first two nights during the Field Report - not overly comfortable. However, my last two nights were far more successful thanks to an email from Hammock Bliss' Dov Frazer. Dov was able to clue me in to the error of my ways and his guidance made all the difference. The first thing Dov pointed out was that I needed to use a 'standard' size pad in the hammock. The one I'd bought for this test turned out to be one of a number of 'standard' sizes which seem to be brand specific. For fairness of testing, I purchased yet another pad which fit the dimensions Dov supplied. It seems the optimal size is 72"x20" or 183 cm x 51 cm. This size pad fits a whole lot better in the hammock and while there was still some curving of the mat it was nowhere near as pronounced as with my previous pad. I was also able to achieve a much flatter lay with minimal bunching of the pad around my head and shoulders. I'd still suggest future versions incorporate a small slit at the bottom of the pad pocket to allow one to reach in and pull the pad down inside the pocket rather than having to push it from the top only.
Dov also pointed out that mats with either no baffles, or longitudinal (running the full length of the mat) baffles seem to work much better than those with horizontal baffles as they create more rigidity to work against the asymmetrical design. That makes sense to me. It does mean that to use this hammock one must either own the correct size pad or be willing to purchase one. As I said, there seems to be an enormous difference in 'standard' between brands so best to go by the actual measurements.
The other revelation was that the mosquito netting works best when it's strung from the attachment point, through the tree strap or suspension rope, then back to the other side of the hammock to fasten to the second yellow loop. Eureka! Suddenly my bug net was no longer flopping in my face. Don't know how I hadn't figured that out before. Lying in the hammock I still found I had to be a bit careful about where I positioned my arms and legs as they could easily come in contact with the mesh, thus allowing a bloodsucker feast to occur.
Finally, Dov mentioned that unlike many hammocks, the Bug Free works best over a shorter hang distance. He recommends the hammock be hung no more than 60 cm (24") from the trees at each end. Having read that a tighter hammock gives a flatter lay, I think I may have also been over-tightening my suspension. Loosening it a little has given a flatter lay.
Those last two nights were far more comfortable and have helped me come to a better understanding of this hammock. I feel that I still don't have it perfectly dialed in, but am much closer now. I still noticed the familiar pull on the back of my knees, which is easily resolved with a small pillow or jacket put under the knees to support them. Funnily, the Bug Free actually seems more comfortable when sleeping on my side (which is how I normally sleep at home), and that gets a big tick from me.
I did notice that having a pad in the hammock can make it quite warm for naps during the day. The added insulation left me hot and sweaty on waking. With that in mind, I'd suggest this is more of a three season hammock - excluding summer - with the pad in place. Hammock Bliss doesn't recommend using the hammock without the pad as it's less comfortable.
In summary, I've had mixed results with this hammock but when set up according to some specific guidelines I can see it could be quite comfy. The main criteria being to use the correct size pad and the right distance between trees. Once it all comes together, the hammock has plenty of room and the bug net stayed well away from my face. I loved the insulation of the pad during colder weather and I'm not sure if it would completely remove the need for an underquilt in colder climes, but in my area it was sufficient to keep me warm overnight. One of my favorite features is the plethora of pockets inside the netting to store my phone, glasses torch and other bits.
When done right, this hammock does give a fairly flat lay and is a superior lay for side sleepers.
I'll certainly continue to use this hammock, especially in cooler weather, and expect with further practice it will become very comfy.
That concludes my Long Term Report and this test series. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Dov Frazer for his most helpful comments and both Hammock Bliss and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series.
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