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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Hennessy Explorer Ultralite A-Sym > Test Report by Hollis Easter
Hennessy Explorer Ultralite A-sym Hammock
|Height:||6'0" (1.8 m)|
|Weight:||205 lb (93 kg)|
|City, State, Country:||Potsdam, New York, USA|
|Backpacking Background:||I started hiking as a child in the
Adirondack Mountains of New York. As a teenager, I hiked my way to an Eagle
Scout award. I love winter climbing, and long days through rough terrain
abound. The peaks have become my year-round friends. I hope to return to
I am a midweight backpacker: I don't carry unnecessary gear, but neither do I cut the edges from my maps. I hike in all seasons, at altitudes from sea level to 5,300 ft (1,600 m), and in temperatures from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C).
Notable differences are marked in red.
Manufacturer: Hennessy Hammock
Year of manufacture: 2008
Hammock fabric: 70 D nylon taffeta, 160 x 90 high count
Canopy fabric: 1.1 oz (31.2 g) 30 D silicone nylon (also called silnylon)
Mesh: 1 oz (28.3 g) 20 D polyester "No-See-Um netting"
Listed dimensions (hammock): 108 in x 48 in (274 cm x 122 cm)
Actual dimensions (hammock): 108 in x 63 in (274 cm x 160 cm) (see below)
Listed dimensions (canopy): 120 in x 70 in, 140 in x 128 in diagonals (305 cm x 178 cm, 356 cm x 325 cm diagonals)
Actual dimensions (canopy): 110 in x 70 in, 140 in x 126 in diagonals (279 cm x 178 cm, 356 cm x 320 cm diagonals) (see below)
Listed weight: 39 oz (1,110 g)
hammock with support ropes and side lines: 24.0 oz (680 g)
canopy (fly) with tiedowns: 12.5 oz (355 g)
SnakeSkins (pair): 1.6 oz (45 g)
TreeHuggers (pair): 2.3 oz (65 g)
stuff sack: 0.2 oz (6 g)
everything except stuff sack (summed): 40.6 oz (850 g)
everything except stuff sack (measured): 40.0 oz (1,130 g)
support ropes: 120 in x .2 in (300 cm x 5 mm)
support ropes: 100 in x .2 in (254 cm x 5 mm)
side ties: 59 in x 0.1 in (150 cm x 2.5 mm)
fly ties: 118 in x 0.05 in (300 cm x 1.5 mm)
TreeHuggers: 46.5 in x 1.5 in (118 cm x 3.8 cm)
SnakeSkins: 82.5 in (209 cm) with tapering width
entry slit: 59.5 in (151 cm)
Listed packed size: 5 in x 12 in (13 cm x 30 cm)
Actual packed size (sack): 7 in x 12 in (18 cm x 30 cm)
Actual packed size (SnakeSkins): variable, but 16 in x 6 in (40 cm x 15 cm) to start
Weight limit: 250 lbs (113 kg)
Color: Coyote brown
MSRP for hammock: $219.95 US
MSRP for SnakeSkins: $19.95 US
My measurements differ from Hennessy's on the width of the hammock; I think this is because we're not measuring the same thing. My measurement is a diagonal measure from side tie-out to side tie-out, rather than a straight across-the-hammock line perpendicular to the ridgeline. This was the only way I could think of to measure a straight-line distance.
Product features: (from product website)
I found Hennessy's website to be relatively easy to use, although some of the navigation was a bit cluttered: in particular, I spent a while clicking through the top navigation bar after perusing the side one only to realize that they link many of the same pages.
Hennessy's website includes a lot of time-oriented language ("new larger fly", "new design for greater coverage", etc.) without any indication of when the pages were created. I also found some discrepancies: for example, the Explorer Ultralight A-sym is quoted in one place as 2 lbs 7 oz (1,110 g) and in another as 2 lbs 9 oz (1,147 g). These differences are small, but in a product described as "ultralight/ultralite", they may be important to buyers. The hammock's stuff sack lists its weight at 2 lbs 7 oz (1,110 g).
Since I'm a hammock newbie, one of my biggest tasks will be to describe the wealth of knowledge I'm sure to acquire in such a way that it makes sense for people without the experience. I'll pay attention to this need; I hope my other reviews speak to my willingness to work at it. Clarity, through language and photography, is something for which I'll strive.
It's important that my review, as a hammock beginner, test the Hennessy hammock fairly while also addressing a different question: is hammock camping for me? If it turns out that I don't like sleeping in a sling, I ought to address that fact while still providing an objective review of the hammock. I think I'm up to the challenge; I just think I ought to be clear what I'm testing here. I'm excited about trying the hammock!
The hammock arrived, neatly rolled, inside a nylon stuff sack bearing the model name, contact information for Hennessy, and setup instructions on the back. Also included were a pair of SnakeSkins storage tubes, which I'll explain later in this report.
Whoever packs these things at the Hennessy factory is a wizard deserving of adulation. I remain humbled by the origami-like quality of the folding and rolling that they did. Needless to say, my Hennessy hammock has never looked more beautiful than when it first came out of its sack. I fear it will never look so lovely again.
The weather in Potsdam this week has compared unfavorably to a Summer's day. Shakespeare would have been uninspired. It has been unseasonably cold and rainy, and rough winds have shake'd the darling buds of May, so I haven't been able to set the hammock up since the evening it arrived. I've had no luck photographing the hammock indoors: its lack of rigid structure makes it look like a heap of fabric inside, and the Coyote brown/black color scheme isn't working with my camera under artificial light. Oft is its (brown) complexion dimm'd.
Therefore will I wait for a day more lovely and more temperate to augment my ode with photographs, and will instead look to the ring of words to ply my tale of brave men and proud hammocks.
First things first. Hammocks need to hang between rigid supports. Usually, that's going to mean trees, although hammockers are apparently quite inventive, and they have been spotted hanging from lampposts, patio supports, road signs, antennae, tanks, and even rock climbing pro slotted into cracks. Hammockers, like raptors, seem adept at finding ways to live their chosen lifestyle even in environments seemingly foreign to them.
The hammock attaches to the trees (or whatever) using a pair of black nylon webbing straps called TreeHuggers. For the rock climbers in the audience, these are basically a giant dogbone. They've got loops in each end, and are designed to anchor the hammock firmly to the tree while accomplishing three tasks: spreading the load over a wider area; avoiding abrasion of the tree's bark; and preventing the supports from slipping down the tree.
Various lengths of TreeHuggers are available for sale, to suit most kinds of trees. I'm not sure that Hennessy stocks a Sequoia-sized TreeHugger, though.
After hooking up the TreeHuggers, one tensions the hammock using the support ropes. I could write a thousand words about this, but I think a few pictures will suffice once I get some decent weather. In any case, the support ropes are strong enough to support me, although they stretched significantly the first time I sat in the hammock. That seems to have been a one-time stretch.
The hammock body is made of 70 D matte brown nylon taffeta cut in a vaguely rectangular shape. It's hard to tell the exact shape because of the way the fabric has been stitched together to form the hammock's drape.
When I thought about hammocks before discovering the Hennessy hammock, I always pictured a sheet of fabric suspended from either end, with a person lying in the middle. Imagine, if you will, a length of chain suspended from two trees. In Latin, that chain is a catena, and the curve it describes is called a catenary curve. That curve is useful for all sorts of things, from bridges to electrical transmission lines to tarps that don't flap in the wind.
However, that curve changes based on how far apart its supports are, and it's less than ideal for sleeping because my spine is not a length of chain.
Tom Hennessy had a different idea. He designed his hammock to hang beneath the catena, and thereby solved the problem of constantly-varying curvature. The Hennessy hammock always keeps the same curve, which theoretically makes it perfectly comfortable each time. Hennessy patented the idea, and his hammocks are now the only commercially-available ones to hang from an integral ridgeline.
The ridgeline does double duty (how beautifully ultralight in philosophy) by also suspending the black No-See-Um mesh above the hammock's occupant. The mesh, by any other name as sweet, serves to enhance the sleeper's sanity by excluding undesirable elements like mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, black flies, horse flies, any kind of flies, really. This is good. If it crawls or flies, I don't want it on me.
The netting is securely stitched all around the hammock's perimeter, and is not removable. This may seem inconvenient, but it's a welcome feature for me: in the Adirondacks, there are bugs whenever there's no snow, and sometimes when there is. I don't imagine I'll want to remove the netting. The ridgeline keeps it up and off my face, which also protects against bugs biting me through it.
I find that the mesh obscures my vision somewhat when I'm inside the hammock, but that I get used to it pretty quickly. One thing I notice is that, when inside the hammock, I'm very much aware of how close to my face the hammock's body is. Time will tell how I adjust to that.
Speaking of being inside the hammock, how did I get there?
I simply moved through the Velcro-lined entry slit that extends down the center of the hammock from one end to the bottom. I pull it open, stand in the opening, sit down on the other side, and pull my feet in. Hennessy advertises that my weight will pull the slit closed, and it's mostly true. However, the Velcro closure is welcome, since it aids my Bug Exclusion Policy by closing any small gaps.
Getting out again is pretty simple, too: pull the slit open, put my feet through, and stand up. I find that I get some small scratches on my legs from the Velcro; while slightly uncomfortable, they're nothing that worries me.
I was initially concerned that I could inadvertently fall out of the slit while sleeping; I am no longer worried. That would be an impressive feat of fabric dynamics.
Once I'm in the hammock, I want to get the gear out of my pockets. I don't know whether there's any foundation to my fear that bulges in my pockets could rip the body, but I'd prefer to be blissfully paranoid rather than unhappily dumped. So I stash my pocket gear in the mesh pocket that hangs from the ridgeline. It has three sections, and seems simple enough. I'll report back on how well it holds camping gear in my Field Report.
The ridgeline also sports a pair of glove hooks, and a carabiner loop tied at each end. The hooks are little plastic clips that slide freely along the ridgeline, and they're strong enough to suspend my boots. However, I'm going to try some other solutions for the boots, since heavy objects slide to the center of the ridgeline. I'm sure I could also rig a friction hitch to hold them in place.
Hennessy states that the carabiner loops can be used for hanging packs, boots, etc., in the ends of the hammock. We'll see.
The hammock's body is asymmetrical, which is intended to allow the user to sleep "flat". I say "flat" because it's not exactly flat, but it's pretty close. If the hammock's ridgeline is North-South, I end up lying Northeast-Southwest, which keeps the bottom of the hammock flatter. I'll report on whether my spine loves it as much as Hennessy claims it will.
Back on the outside of the hammock, there's a plastic ring stitched to each side of the hammock. Attached, a piece of shock cord allows me to guy out the sides of the hammock body, creating a bit more room inside. These guy lines also dampen the swinging that can happen in a hammock, and I suspect I'll be marshalling them in my anti-seasickness campaign of 2008. The shock cord is very slightly frayed on the end, but not severely so. I'll watch it.
The ends of the hammock body are securely bound in black ripstop nylon sheaths, secured with black plastic cable ties. I imagine this is to protect them from both damage and tinkering. It also makes a nice smooth surface for the SnakeSkins to slide along.
As I move from the hammock toward the trees, I find a pair of attachment points for the Hennessy hammock's canopy or fly. The fly bears a plastic ring, which snaps into a purpose-built plastic hook on the attachment. The hook looks quite sturdy, and has a little detent built in to keep the parts from separating.
The hook connects to the support rope by means of a Prusik hitch, which slides easily along the support rope when loose and holds position when under strain. The movable connections are necessary because the angle of the support ropes changes based on the distance between trees. Therefore, the movable hitches theoretically allow a taut pitch every time.
Hennessy offers a choice of canopies for the Explorer Ultralite: a silnylon parallelogram-shaped fly, which I'm testing, or a larger hexagonal fly made of polyurethane-coated polyester.
The fly is made from silicone-impregnated nylon, and I can see the distinctive woven squares of ripstop fabric. There are several seams in the fly, and all appear to be factory-taped. There are some loose threads in the bartacks at the fly's edges, but the taping seems carefully done.
The fly is quite thin, and is translucent when the sun hits it. The light takes on a brown cast, which takes a bit of adjustment, but it's not bad. There's no danger of "forgetting that the sun rose" with this fly, though: I'd want a blindfold if I planned to sleep while it was light outside.
At each of the fly's four corners is a collection of hardware: a stitched webbing loop encircling a plastic ring and a plastic clip similar to a carabiner. Although the clips are superficially similar, there are small differences. The clips on the ridgeline ends have shorter tongues, and consequently larger gate openings. I surmise that this is to accommodate the width of the support ropes, to which I'm intended to clip them.
The tie-out corners of the fly also carry braided guy lines, hitched securely to the plastic ring. These are black and very thin, which makes them unobtrusive.
The guy lines are very slippery, however, which meant that I had to tie my friction hitches a couple of times before they'd stay put. I plan to leave them tied.
The fly is cut on the bias, which means it stretches into position. I'll be interested to see whether it stretches in the rain, too. The instructions are to tension the fly on the ridgeline first, and then to stake out the free corners at whatever angle seems appropriate for the conditions. I'll report back on that.
My measurements differ significantly from Hennessy's on the size of the fly. I checked the measurements twice to make sure. Given that silnylon stretches, perhaps Hennessy measures the fly when it's actually pitched, and thus longer? I have no idea.
Hennessy includes a black nylon stuff sack that functions as the retail packaging for the hammock. It features a parachute cord drawstring and has a hang loop at the bottom of the sack, which makes me wonder whether I could use the bag to hang something outside the hammock.
The back of the sack carries white printed instructions for setting up the hammock, including a drawing of the "Hennessy lashing" that Tom Hennessy recommends using for the support ropes. It also includes care and maintenance instructions, and echoes the admonition to "Test your hammock before you go".
The weather's been too lousy to set up the hammock more than once, so I will post more substantive commentary on any setup issues in my Field Report. However, I will state that some setup instructions are easier written than done ("Center canopy widthwise by attaching side adjustment cords equally tight to nearby tree branches or ground anchors at whatever angle seems right for the conditions" or "Adjust hammock until centered and ridge line is level and under light tension") and others are easier to do than to explain ("Wrap webbing straps one or more times around tree and bring loops together in line with the opposite tree.")
I think that I would have eventually learned the Hennessy lashing from the description on the back of the sack; however, I made short work of the lashing thanks to the good offices of the Hennessy website, Sgt. Rock's Hiking HQ, Shane Steinkamp's Place With No Name, and various other helpers.
The analogies that make the most sense for me are to think of winding a figure-eight around the standing part of the support rope and the TreeHugger junction, or to think of tying a boat down at a cleat. Both make sense in my head, and I've had no further difficulty.
Hennessy also included a pair of SnakeSkins free of charge with the hammock. SnakeSkins are a pair of tapering silnylon tubes that are used in lieu of the stuff sack to store the hammock. They protect the hammock from dirt and damp while it's lying on the ground during setup, but they also make pitching the hammock appreciably faster. Here's how:
Following the included instructions, I threaded one SnakeSkin onto each support rope, with the large (metal-reinforced) end pointed toward the hammock body. After that, hammock setup was the same as normal. The SnakeSkins just sit on the support ropes until it's time to put the hammock away.
Undo all the ground tie lines, and the hammock hangs freely between the support ropes. I gather the lines in the center, and fold them up inside as I begin rolling the hammock up from the bottom. Once my hammock roll reaches the ridgeline, I can just grab a SnakeSkin and pull it down the ridgeline, encasing the hammock and fly. Pull the other SnakeSkin down, and it swallows the hammock. I overlapped the ends slightly, and was basically ready to go.
The hammock is then secured inside a waterproof storage tube. If it's raining, the wet sides of the fly never have to touch the hammock's body.
Setting up the hammock is faster with the SnakeSkins, too. I have to center the hammock between the trees, and set up the TreeHuggers and support ropes as before, but once that's done, the setup is basically complete. Just pull back the SnakeSkins, adjust tension on the fly, stake out the ground ties, and we're done. Seriously cool.
Here are some of the general things I plan to examine during the remainder of this test.
Is it comfortable? How will I adapt to the hammock-style sleeping? I sleep on my stomach much of the time, although I'm also happy on my side. However, I can sometimes sleep on my back if there's something cradling me on the sides. Will the hammock be the answer to the question of how to avoid hard ground and kinked muscles? Will I suffer from claustrophobia while inside the hammock?
Can I adapt to the different style of camping, especially as regards keeping gear outside my sleeping area?
How tall and thick do trees have to be to support my weight and the hammock's tension? Physics classes and rock climbing experience make me wonder about load multiplication, and about how far up the trees I'll have to put the nylon supports. With static loads, it shouldn't be much of a problem, but if the ropes don't stretch (normally a good thing), impact loading could be a serious issue for the trees. If I hang it with a 30 degree angle from horizontal, each tree will be holding 215+ lbs / 98+ kg static load. With 1600 lb test line, that's no problem. But will it hold under all circumstances? How strong is nylon taffeta?
How much flexibility of tree diameter and spacing is built into the system?
When tightening the initial pitch of the hammock, will the pulley action of polyester suspension line against nylon TreeHugger cause friction abrasion or failure of either part? This can be mitigated by tightening the pitch manually, rather than torquing it against the TreeHuggers and pulling down, but I don't see a way to avoid it completely.
Hennessy advertises that the hammock is very quick to set up—less than two minutes to set up. I suspect that my times, at least at first, will rival my tent setup times, because I'll substitute pole assembly, threading, etc., for trying to find trees that are the right diameter and distance apart, adjusting height for comfort, and trying to stuff my sleeping bag into the hammock. How quickly will I learn to "eyeball" the distances so that the speed of pitch improves?
Will it be similarly quick to take down and stow, once I know what I'm doing?
Is there any provision for keeping rainwater from running down the suspension lines into the hammock? It'd be relatively simple to rig one using some cord; will I need to? It seems as though the SnakeSkins may do this automatically.
The instructions contain nothing about seam-sealing the fly. Will it keep out the rain?
Hennessy reports that one of the nice things about a hammock is that the condition of the ground beneath it matters little; neither rocks, nor snow, nor wet, nor mud can stop the Hennessy Hammock. This is likely true once I'm in it, but there's an important Hollis/Hammock interface to be negotiated first. Do I need good under-hammock terrain to get in and out comfortably?
How much gear can I bring in with me?
Where do I put the pack? Is there room to bring my 35L or 65+15L pack inside? I would guess not . . . so what do I do with it? I think this is a hammock camping question, not a Hennessy-specific one.
Can I bring a water bottle into the hammock with me, or will it just flop around and get in the way? Hennessy suggests using the carabiner loops; will the water bottle get in my way if hung there?
How's my temperature regulation? I'm normally a furnace, sleeping hot. Will it be an issue in the Hennessy, or will this finally give me a comfortable night's sleep when it's hot and humid outside?
Will either of my sleeping pads (closed-cell foam, inflatable) work here? Hennessy says they're needed for "cold weather". How cold is "cold"?
How often do I need to re-tension the fly, TreeHuggers, etc.? The existence of Hennessy's optional Automatic Fly Tensioners suggests that this might be an issue, especially if rain causes the silnylon and ropes to stretch. The AFTs allow users to attach water bottles to the bottom of the fly; rain sluices off the fly and into the water bottles, whose weight re-tensions the fly.
Is there room for my boots in the hammock with me when I'm sleeping?
Are the fabrics as windproof and waterproof as Hennessy claims they are? Is that a good thing? When it's hot out, I frequently open up my tent so that I'll get some breeze to cool down. Hennessy claims on its features page that the no-see-um mesh is windproof. Will this mean I get no happy fun breeze to cool me?
Is the fly big enough that it'll keep my pack dry underneath the hammock? Will I be able to cook underneath the fly if it's raining?
Do I stay dry from condensation as well as rain?
I'm looking forward to testing this hammock. I think the next few months are going to be an interesting time, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to try this out.
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information.
During the Field Report period, I set up the hammock many times. I slept in it for five nights: two at home, and three in Saranac Lake, NY while kayak camping.
Also during that period, I spent some time in the hospital having abdominal surgery, and although I can't comment on the Hennessy's ease of setup in a hospital room, I am pleased to report that I've had no pain getting in and out of the hammock since my surgeon cleared me to start using it again.
As a beginner in the hammock world, I've learned quickly about this new style of camping. I took detailed notes using an MP3 recorder during my learning process so I'd be able to follow the development of my hammock habits later on.
Rather than writing a summary report, I have included a journal of my hammock experiences, with some commentary at the end. I hope that the chronology will help readers see what the process of learning to hammock looks like.
My first setup attempt took about 20 minutes before I could get it to a workable pitch. I tried, for my first pitch, a pair of trees about 14 feet (4 m) apart, set on a slope, with a good-sized boulder in between. This ought to showcase one of the chief virtues of the Hennessy hammock: its separation from the terrain. If I can set up the hammock in a rocky, sloped spot, I ought to be able to set it on more forgiving terrain, too.
It took a while to find a pair of trees that were an appropriate distance apart. I hope my skill at this part of hammock-pitching will improve quickly.
I initially set the TreeHuggers too low, with the result that my hindquarters brushed the rock when I sat in the hammock. Another complicating factor was that I didn't tighten the support ropes adequately before getting into the hammock—I was worried about overtightening them, and my concerns proved unfounded. The support ropes may have stretched initially, but there was sufficient slack in my system that I can't really assess whether that happened.
After I sat in the hammock for the first time and discovered the gentle touch of rock on my hindquarters, I hopped back out and tightened the support ropes. I found no difficulty in understanding the Hennessy lashing, but I include a photograph in case others find it confusing.
I spent about 40 minutes lying in the hammock, trying to get used to this new sort of house. Lying on my back is quite comfortable, though I'll want a small pillow to support my neck for sleeping. Sideways was moderately comfortable, though I'm not sure I'll sleep that way. Sleeping on my stomach seems like it'll be a poor choice, as the curve of the hammock bends my back uncomfortably.
I haven't yet figured out how to lie completely flat in the hammock, but I hope it will come with time. I'm not quite used to the way the hammock wraps around me, but again, I suspect that of being a hammock thing, not a Hennessy issue.
A lot of us in the hammock-newbie camp express concerns about motion sickness due to swaying. I haven't slept in the hammock yet, so I can't speak to it for sleeping, but I did find that I took a while to acclimate to the rocking motion.
It took about 20 minutes to set up the hammock the first time, which was made all the more maddening by the mosquitoes and black flies that swarmed around me. That was the longest 20 minutes I've endured in quite a while! Even given my flailing around with the hammock "door" open, the hammock stood like a sanctuary among the ravaging hordes. I counted three insects inside the hammock; after a brief festival of bloodletting, they were all dead, and no more made it into my sanctuary. Blessed relief!
It's difficult to get a tight pitch for the fly. I think this is caused by rope stretch in the support ropes, because the fly is supported with Prusik knots tied to them. When I sit in the hammock, my weight stretches the rope, which brings the fly supports closer together, putting slack into the system.
I haven't yet found a simple solution to this. Hennessy includes a clip on the ends of the fly, and I wonder about attaching it to a line strung from the trees. This would allow the fly to remain tensioned, at the expense of additional setup time, complexity, and weight. We'll see.
I tried setting the hammock up in the same place the next day, to see how long it would take. I didn't initially set up the fly, and pitching the hammock itself took four minutes and sixteen seconds (4:16). This included time to untie the support ropes and reposition them, after I discovered that I hadn't succeeded in centering the hammock adequately. This time, I also set the hammock up a bit too high—it was perfect for standing on the rock and getting in, though!
This time, I tried putting on the SnakeSkins, to see what effect they'd have on the setup. Nota bene: the SnakeSkins go on the tree side of the fly attachment Prusiks. Don't pull them past the Prusiks. If I'd thought carefully about it beforehand, there wouldn't have been any issue, and it's a small thing anyway.
To use the SnakeSkins, I followed the Hennessy instructions:
"To collapse your hammock into the snake skin, release the side adjustment cords for the rain fly and hammock. Reach under the hammock, grab all four cords and fold them into the rainfly as you roll up the hammock inside the fly. Holding the rolled hammock in one hand, simply wrap your hand behind the reinforced ring at the larger end of the gathered snake skin and slide it over the rain fly and hammock to the mid point. Do the same from the other end and the whole hammock disappears into this two inch diameter sleeve. Then just untie it from one tree, coil it up, untie it from the other tree and throw it into your pack or tie the waterproof coil onto the outside of your pack. With a little practice, you will do this in less than a minute."
Even without practice, I was able to do the whole thing in less than three minutes. Pretty good!
I brought out a line level this time, and found that I'd set the hammock up with the head substantially higher than the foot. It'll take some time to get this right, but even so, it was pretty comfortable. I'm finding that the doorway sort of cuts into my left leg when I'm lying in the hammock, and I wonder whether I'll learn either to ignore it or to set the hammock up differently. Again, we'll see.
I've been using sticks as stakes for the hammock, though I've recently acquired a couple of thin aluminum stakes to play with. The sticks worked reasonably well, although they tended to bend and pull out.
|Temperature at waking:||Wind:||Elevation:||Gear:||Clothing:|
|~44 F (~7 C)||5-10 mph (8-16 km/h)||474 feet (144 m)||eggcrate closed-cell foam (CCF) pad, air-filled stuff sack as a pillow, and 45 F (7 C) bag.||light shirt, fleece vest, fleece hat, and boxer shorts.|
I set up the hammock in the backyard for the first sleep test. Forecast temperatures were down to 41 F (5 C), although I wasn't quite sure I believed it. I set up the hammock with a blue closed-cell foam pad (the eggcrate one from Wal-Mart that's 72 in x 24 in / 182 cm x 61 cm) and my new Kelty Light Year +45 Polarguard bag.
I used stuff sacks for organizing things inside the hammock. I tried using dry bags filled with air as a pillow—this was not particularly successful. I wore a fleece vest and brought a hat and socks in case the wind and cold were too much.
I didn't sleep well at all. I was cold much of the night, and there was a lot of cold air moving beneath the fly. I got up and re-pitched the fly at one point, trying to block some of the air. I'm honestly not sure whether it was wind or simply flow of cold air, since I was sleeping on a hillside.
This night's "sleep" really underscored the point that a sleeping pad is necessary inside the hammock on cooler nights. The parts of my body that were perched on the sleeping pad felt fine, but the moment a foot or shoulder slipped off, it became very cold indeed, feeling like there was no insulation at all. I got a lot happier once I put my hat on, though my shoulders remained cold.
I decided I'd try pitching the hammock with the feet a bit lower the next time, since I found it difficult to sleep with my feet "up". I don't like the sensation of lying with my head downhill, and I felt that way after following the conventional wisdom of hanging the feet high.
I've developed the habit of hanging things (like my Hennessy stuff sack full of extra clothing) from the glove hooks and then sliding them toward my feet, so they're out of the way. This seems effective, although I think I may also build an exterior gear hammock for myself. Small items go into the mesh pockets.
The ventilation in the hammock was superb, even with the fly battened down to stop the moving air. I didn't notice any condensation on my gear inside the hammock, but I also never felt that stuffy feeling I dislike about tents.
The flapping of the fly is very loud when I'm lying in the hammock. I trace this to the design of suspending the fly from the hammock's suspension ropes: when I sit in the hammock, everything stretches, leading to a slack fly. I've constructed a set of fly tensioners out of an old exercise band, and I'll see how they work. Without some additional means of tensioning the fly, whether through elastics or by tying it directly to the tree trunks, I fear I'll go mad from the flapping sound.
With the pad in the hammock, it's rather harder to slide around, so I need to consider my entry and egress plans carefully. The Kelty bag's zipper only extends to the waist, so my method so far has been to unzip and open the bag, then sit down on top of it, pulling my knees up until I can get the feet into the bag. From then on, it's easy.
|Temperature at waking:||Wind:||Elevation:||Gear:||Clothing:|
|~50 F (~10 C)||5 mph (8 km/h)||474 feet (144 m)||eggcrate closed-cell foam (CCF) pad, windshield reflector, clothing-filled stuff sack as a pillow, and 45 F (7 C) bag.||light shirt, fleece vest, and boxer shorts.|
Outdoor temperature when I went to bed was 57 F at 1:30 a.m., with light wind at about 5 miles per hour. I pitched the hammock in the same site as the night before, to see how my gear improvements affected the same site.
The first difference was that I tried using my homemade fly tensioners, built along the lines of Just Jeff's slingshot tensioners. Mine are built from exercise tube and parachute cord, and they work well to keep the fly tensioned. However, some part of the system (whether the silnylon or the side tie-outs) is still stretching, since the fly was flapping a bit by morning.
A comment about Hennessy's website: it gives conflicting instructions on how to pitch the fly. It seems important to tighten the side guylines first, and then do the support rope lines, and one set of instructions supports this. The other set of instructions says to tighten the main supports first, and then adjust the side guy lines.
My next gear addition was a lightweight foam pad from the local dollar store. It's sold as a reflective cover for a car's windshield. I placed it underneath my closed-cell foam (CCF) pad, perpendicular to it, with reflective side down. It was my hope that the additional insulation would keep my shoulders and arms warm.
I slept reasonably well, although I woke several times. Hanging the feet lower was a great idea, and made it much more comfortable.
There was some rain during the night, and I woke up a little bit damp. However, I think this might be due to condensation on my sleeping pad, since it doesn't breathe. It wasn't a significant problem.
My total time to pack the shelter, including taking sleeping bag, pads, and gear out of the hammock, was 11:33 from the time I started to the time when everything was stowed away. Not bad! Almost all of that time was spent under the still-pitched fly, meaning that I could have been dry.
|Temperature at waking:||Wind:||Elevation:||Gear:||Clothing:|
|~48 F (~8 C)||calm||1540 feet (469 m)||eggcrate closed-cell foam (CCF) pad, windshield reflector, clothing-filled stuff sack as a pillow, and 45 F (7 C) bag.||light shirt, fleece top, and boxer shorts.|
I arrived in camp well after dark, meaning that I got to see how I could do with finding a suitable hammock spot sight unseen. It didn't take terribly long to find a manageable set of trees, although the morning revealed some flaws in my setup. I tend to pick trees that are too close together.
I forgot to bring my line level, and ended up with my feet too high for comfort. I got up in the middle of the night to lower my feet—slightly harder when the hammock is full of gear, but still nothing too horrible—and immediately felt an improvement.
This pitch reminded me of the importance of tree spacing all around the hammock: there was a pine tree fairly close to the upwind side of the hammock, and it meant that I had to set the fly almost vertically on that side. In future, I'll look for sites that offer more room on the sides.
In the end, I didn't sleep all that well, but still felt rested. The sun woke me up at about 5:40, and I lay in the hammock until 6:30 listening to the sounds of the morning. The fabric of the hammock is translucent, so the sun wakes me as soon as it rises. I was warm all night.
I built a gear hammock for myself, again following Jeff's instructions, and hung it on the right side of the hammock's foot. It worked admirably to give me a spot to stash extra clothes, my hat, and other objects that I didn't want to leave inside my pack, which I left on the ground.
|Temperature at waking:||Wind:||Elevation:||Gear:||Clothing:|
|~42 F (~6 C)||variable up to 7 mph (11 km/h)||1540 feet (469 m)||eggcrate closed-cell foam (CCF) pad, windshield reflector, clothing-filled stuff sack as a pillow, and 45 F (7 C) bag.||light shirt, fleece top, and boxer shorts.|
I repitched the hammock in a different location, having found some trees that were further apart and lacked side obstructions. I thought this would be a good test, since the site left me exposed to the southwest, without any major windbreaks.
I've been pitching the hammock using stakes, rather than tying the side guylines to trees. Simple aluminum stakes have served very well, and have carried the strain the hammock puts on them, even in high winds.
The ground in my campsites hasn't been level, either in the sense of being flat or of being perpendicular to gravity. None of them would have been useful as a tent campsite, which speaks very well of the Hennessy's versatility. It's worth noting that, although the hammock is a solo shelter, it's sometimes helpful to have a friend: I had to climb up a tree to get my support rope high enough due to the sloping ground, and it was very useful to have my friend handing the support rope and TreeHugger up to me.
This evening was extremely foggy, such that the kayak trip to the island (normally a 40-minute journey) took more than an hour. We had to feel our way along in fog so thick I could barely make out objects (rocks) a boat-length away. It was awesome!
When I arrived back at the campsite (we were climbing a mountain during the day), I expected to find my hammock and sleeping gear drenched, as we'd been comprehensively doused by rain during our hike. Instead, I found them almost completely dry—nothing is perfectly dry when standing in a persistent fog. I was impressed by the way my gear stayed dry even when there were no trees to act as windbreaks.
I tied a blindfold for myself using a bandanna, and slept like a baby. With a full moon and an early sunrise, it's amazing how much light there was in our campsite. I'm very sensitive to light, so the bandanna makes a big difference. I plan to continue using it.
Even with the fog, there was no noticeable condensation on the inside of the fly. There was some condensation between my back and the top of my CCF pad, but I expected that.
I have sometimes found it necessary to put a small stuff sack pillow underneath my knees to keep them comfortable. I put it inside my sleeping bag, and it often ends up only supporting the right knee, but that's fine. I suspect that the need is related to how level the hammock is, but I don't yet know.
I slept warm all night, to the point of taking off my hat and opening up my sleeping bag.
|Temperature at waking:||Wind:||Elevation:||Gear:||Clothing:|
|~49 F (~9 C)||12 mph gusting to 22 mph (19 km/h to 35 km/h)||1540 feet (469 m)||light shirt, fleece top, fleece hat, and boxer shorts.|
I was camping with a large group of friends, and they all indulged their curiosity about my weird house in the trees and asked to try out my hammock. There was some initial trepidation about whether the hammock would hold; I assured them it would, and it did.
Several of them are now talking about buying hammocks for themselves. This stands as a testament to the Hennessy's comfort and ease of entry. One friend threatened not to get out of my hammock. I threatened to cut the support ropes. (Thank goodness he doesn't know it's against BackpackGearTest rules to damage gear we're testing!)
Having seven other people getting in and out of my hammock led to an accumulation of dirt, pine needles, and other random forest litter in the bottom of my bed. It was easy to clear: I stood in the entry slit and picked up the hammock fabric from inside, shaking the dirt out the entry. Problem solved!
I still go back and forth about proper tensioning of the fly, even with my homemade fly tensioners. I don't want to strain the silnylon, but I do want a taut pitch. I'm sure that continued experience will help me to figure this out. I've been using adjustable-grip hitches on all the guylines, and they've worked very well even on the slippery fly guylines, although they slipped a bit in the really heavy gusts.
I expected (but don't think I got) rain during the night, so I left my pack underneath the hammock tucked inside a contractor-grade trash bag. No problems there.
One thing I've really enjoyed is that I can take off my camp sandals as I'm getting into the hammock, and just leave them underneath. In the morning, my feet hit them as I'm stepping out of the hammock. It's very convenient.
I was warm most of the night, although I began to get a bit chilled during the really heavy wind gusts. I put my hat on at that point, and slept comfortably.
I find that it's pretty difficult to adjust my clothing when I'm inside the hammock, especially when inside the sleeping bag. This would probably be easier if I had a sleeping bag with a full-length zipper, but I don't. It takes some contortion to get any part of my body far enough off the hammock for the clothing adjustments to work. It's easiest to adjust upper-body clothing; anything that goes on my lower body requires work.
I was able, with some finagling, to change my shorts inside the hammock, and to get in and out of my half-zipper sleeping bag. However, the hammock lacks the easy privacy of a tent for things like changing into bathing suits. This has implications when camping close to other people.
Early in the reporting phase, I was concerned about the swaying of the hammock. I still notice it sometimes, but it's not a problem as long as my feet aren't too high. A line level is a useful training tool for figuring out how to hang the hammock so it's level.
I'm finding that the Velcro strip on the entry slit irritates my leg when I'm lying in the hammock. It seems to be under greater tension than the surrounding fabric, so it cuts into my leg. I wonder whether this hammock was just tied with that part a little too tight, since I can't imagine why it would be a desirable design feature. I don't notice the problem as much when I'm sleeping on a pad inside the hammock, but it's still there: after the Saranac Lake trip, I had a tender spot on my left calf where the slit pressed on it.
I'm really pleased with the "Coyote brown" color of the hammock. It blends in very well, to the point where I can easily look past the hammock when only about 60 feet (18 m) away. The thing I notice most about the hammock is its triangular shadow, since natural things are rarely so purely geometric. Now that I've added a bright orange gear hammock to the mix, it's harder to miss, but I could leave it off if stealth camping were an issue.
After my first night on the island, I noticed that the TreeHuggers had left marks on the cedar trees from which I hung. There were stripes on the trees, and the clear imprint of the straps was visible. When I checked the trees later that day, the marks were gone. I couldn't detect any noticeable traces of the hammock after a few hours had passed.
I found a great lighting solution inside the hammock: an LED lantern clipped onto the ridgeline with a mini carabiner. When the lantern is behind my head, it illuminates the hammock very clearly but never shines into my eyes or gives me glare. Nice! I just leave the carabiner clipped to the ridgeline when I pack up the hammock, figuring that since Hennessy includes rigid clips, a few more won't hurt.
Hammock camping is different from tent camping, and some of the differences are subtle. When I'm tent camping, I often retire to the tent before I plan to sleep, taking time to relax, read a book, or just settle myself down toward sleep. By way of contrast, I find that I only get into the hammock when I'm ready to sleep. I think it's just harder to putter around in the hammock, so I do it outside.
Every time I've slept in the hammock, I've been able to see through the mosquito netting to the outside world—the fly almost never blocks it off for horizontal viewing. This has required a bit of an adjustment in my thinking: the hammock doesn't provide as much of a psychological barrier between me and the outside world as a tent does. It hasn't been a problem, but I do occasionally notice it. There have been a few moments of fear, mostly about wild animals coming and attacking me while I was trapped in the hammock, but I've been able to let them go for the most part. This is, of course, nothing to do with the Hennessy hammock in particular.
I'm not quite sure whether I've got the correct side of the fly on top. I think I have, since it works well enough, but I occasionally wonder. I wish Hennessy could mark the fly in some way, to show me which side is meant to go on top. While they're at it, they could mark the SnakeSkins, to make it easier to tell which way the hammock is oriented. I use a mnemonic device: Feet First (the foot end is the one that has the SnakeSkin on the outside, and therefore is the first to be unrolled).
Another wish concerns the mesh pockets inside the hammock. They're installed so that the pockets open to the right, which means I have to use my right hand to use the pockets. This is inconvenient because there's little space on the right side of the hammock, but there's a maddeningly large amount of space on the left of the pockets. If they opened to the left, I could access the pockets much more easily.
I've come to really appreciate the fact that the pockets are stitched into three sections: my watch goes into the closest one, my MP3 player/dictation machine into the farthest, and the larger center section holds my headlamp, fleece hat, and anything else I feel like I need. This makes it easy to find things in the dark.
The hammock sits best if it's centered between the two trees, although it's tolerant of some variation there. However, it can be difficult to assess where the center is, especially if there are many trees around or if it's dark. It would be neat if Hennessy could weave or mark something into the support ropes to show position relative to the hammock. That might make centering easier.
I have had no issues with durability so far.
Hennessy's instructions about hammock sites include the direction to set the hammock up basically perpendicular to the prevailing wind. That's a good piece of advice, but it's seemed like the first factor to consider needed to be the availability of suitably-spaced trees. Given two otherwise-equal sites, the one that was perpendicular to the wind would be better, but it isn't always possible to achieve that. It's a goal, not a requirement.
I've found that it's pretty easy to get into the hammock even if there are small shrubs or rocks in the way. In addition, the only part of the ground I touch at all is the part under the entry slit—everything else can have rocks, shrubs, whatever, without any problem.
When I'm sleeping in a bed or on the ground, I virtually always end up sleeping on my front. However, in the hammock, I've always slept on my back. This has proven pretty comfortable as long as I have a pillow under my neck and under my right knee. My arms sometimes get restless; if that happens, I grab the hanging stuff sack with my extra clothes and put it on my chest, and that seems to calm my arms right down.
I'm leery of hanging anything especially heavy from the ridgeline, so my pack and water bottles have been staying outside, on the ground or in the gear hammock. Likewise the hiking boots and sandals, and my big straw sun hat. Basically, the only things that come into the hammock are those that are required for falling asleep. This requires a bit more planning at night, but it soon becomes automatic.
So far, I love hammock camping, and the Hennessy Explorer Ultralite A-sym has been a great introduction to it. I've found it to be comfortable and interesting, and it's brought me into closer contact with nature: I'm paying much more attention to my camping surroundings, as well as the weather and terrain, than I ever did while tent camping.
There has been a learning curve, and I know it will continue. That's part of the fun, honestly—the chance to try new ways of staying warm, and the opportunity to customize my backpacking home as I think of new things that might make it more convenient. It's been a blast so far, and I'm looking forward to the next two months of hammocking. Thanks, Hennessy!
During the Long-Term Report period, I slept in the hammock for five more nights: three in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, and two in New York's Adirondack Park.
I used the Explorer Ultralite while backpacking in Green Mountain National Forest near Stratton, VT from August 30–September 1. We intended a section hike of the Appalachian and Long Trails, but due to one hiker's injury during the first day, we made a base camp at Stratton Pond and did day hikes from there. Total mileage was about 18 miles (29 km) at elevations from 1,700 ft (520 m) to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).
I spent two nights in the hammock in the Adirondack Park near Keene Valley, NY from September 25–27, 2008. We camped in Wilmington Notch State Campground the first night, having arrived too late to hike in. The next night, we camped near Johns Brook Lodge, around 2,100 ft (640 m). Total mileage was about 9 miles (14 km).
Overnight temperatures during both trips ranged from around 38 F (3 C) to around 60 F (16 C).
Having given a pretty exhaustive description of my use in the Field Report, I'll summarize here. I still love the hammock: it continues to provide the best sleep I've had outdoors, bar none. I'm still learning how to use it properly, which I enjoy.
I've gotten pretty good at finding trees for the hammock. I can usually find a space for it that's pretty close to the spot where my tent-bound friends choose to sleep, and I've been cultivating the ability to estimate proper tree distance. I no longer start putting up the hammock only to discover that the trees are too close together.
I still sleep on my back in the hammock. For my comfort, I now carry two stuff sacks inside the hammock: a small one filled with hat, socks, etc., to support my neck; and a larger one filled with clothing to support my knees. Sometimes I'll put a wadded-up shirt on my chest so my hands can rest on something; sometimes not.
I find that if I haven't gotten the hammock quite level, I can wake up with a bit of pain in my lower back. A thin pad or pillow would probably help with this. I sometimes carry a line level to help level the hammock; I rarely use it even when I carry it.
I tend to put my extra clothing in my homemade gear hammock near the Hennessy hammock's foot, and leave my pack and other gear inside a contractor-grade garbage bag underneath the hammock.
The Long-Term Reporting phase gave me the opportunity to test the hammock's performance in heavy rain and in clear weather.
First, the good: When it rained, I stayed drier in the Hennessy hammock than I have ever been in a tent under the same conditions. There was simply no comparison. It took me a while to trust that the tarp would keep me dry, but it did. Usually, except when there was heavy wind, my gear stayed dry on the ground underneath the hammock, too.
During the last night of our Adirondack trip, it rained so heavily that I estimated the water flowing off each side of the tarp would fill a one-liter water bottle in about a minute. We got absolutely drenched, to the point where everyone else's gear got so waterlogged that we decided to bail out and cancel the trip. The gear in my hammock remained perfectly dry. To say that I was impressed is to understate things somewhat.
Now, the bad: Rain makes the support ropes stretch. During my night at Grout Pond in the Green Mountain National Forest, it rained heavily. I went to sleep, comfortably swaying in my hammock, which I'd pitched (as normal), as high as I could reach on the trees. I awoke in the night to feel my rump catching on something as the hammock swayed in the wind. Rising to investigate, I saw that rain had soaked the support ropes, causing them to stretch so much that the hammock lowered me onto a rock, which ripped a small hole in the hammock's bottom.
When I hung the hammock, the bottom of the hammock body touched my waistline, which means that it was a good three feet above the ground. I can't tell how much my body weight normally stretches the support ropes, but I'm not usually sitting on the ground.
Since the rock incident, I make sure to pad the ground underneath the hammock with my backpack. If the ropes stretch, I'll land on my pack, which is relatively smooth and soft.
To its credit, the hammock body hasn't ripped any further in the five nights I've used it since then. I contacted Hennessy's support department about it, and they promptly sent me a Return Authorization Number so I could send the hammock back for repair or replacement. I plan to do so once the weather grows too cold for hammock camping.
A far more pleasant experience came from my testing during clear weather. On one perfectly clear night in Vermont, I decided to leave the fly off the hammock, and sleep beneath the stars. Some dew showed up on my sleeping bag, which makes sense given that the fly wasn't there to catch it first.
I wholeheartedly recommend sleeping in a hammock under the stars. I gazed up at them all night long, drifting deep in thought. I felt like I was floating among the trees, deeply connected with everything there. I saw bats winging by, their silhouettes obscuring the sky for a moment. I heard quick footsteps moving by, and minutes later heard coyotes calling to each other. Something about being suspended in the air and looking up at the sky was truly magical, and I've never experienced anything quite like it.
I always use the hammock's ridgeline as a clothes line, both during the night and in the morning. At night, I stretch my socks over the ridgeline inside the hammock, hoping they'll dry out a bit. They usually do. In the morning, as soon as I get up, I pull out my sleeping bag and pads and hang them over the ridgeline outside the hammock, so that any condensation will dry before I pack them away. Even in the rain, they stay dry because of the tarp overhead.
I've never had really warm overnight temperatures during this test, so I can't comment on the hammock's comfort without the use of pads. I've taken the hammock down below the temperature rating of my sleeping bag, in relative comfort. I've embraced the habit of wearing a thin fleece jacket when sleeping--it makes getting up much more comfortable, and helps guard against cold spots. Working with sleeping pads inside the hammock remains a challenge, but one that I enjoy. I've found a workable solution with a standard closed-cell foam pad and a foam windshield reflector from the local dollar store. I plan to build a Segmented Pad Extender at some point, and may invest in a hammock underquilt sometime.
All the mechanics of staying warm aside, I can say that I've slept comfortably, in terms of temperature, almost every time. I was very cold at Wilmington Notch, but that was because I wriggled around and slipped off my sleeping pad, and was too tired to get up and fix it. Not really the hammock's fault. However, it does bear mentioning that once I'm in the hammock, I'm in: it's very hard to adjust without getting out of the hammock and re-entering it. That's not in any way a criticism of Hennessy, because I think it would be true of any hammock. It's just something that didn't occur to me before I started hammocking.
I still haven't managed to get that three-minute setup time that Hennessy advocates. I've stopped timing how long it takes me to set up the hammock, because it no longer seems relevant. I've been camping with tent-dwellers; if we're camping in a designated campsite, it takes me about as long to find a pair of likely trees and set up the hammock as it takes them to set up their tents in the convenient flat areas.
However, I can find places to hang the hammock in most wooded areas; flat spaces for tents are harder to come by. I think that, for social reasons, I didn't fully test the convenience factor of the hammock, since I wanted to camp near my ground-bound companions.
When I started this test, I was curious about how I would adapt to hammock camping: whether I'd like it, whether it would be easy to learn, whether I'd prefer tent camping in the end. It's been a long and fascinating road, and I expect it to continue.
I find that I'm looking with sadness toward a time when the weather will become too cold for hammocking, when I'll be forced back onto the ground. I've come to enjoy living in the trees. I sleep better, and have more fun. I'd have to carry three hammocks to equal the weight of my old tent. I stay dry, and so does my gear.
I rave about the Hennessy Explorer Ultralite to people I meet on the trail. I've tried hard to keep an objective viewpoint about it, I really have . . . but it will be a relief to be done with the test series, so that I can be really openly effusive about it. It's a fantastic piece of gear, and I am so grateful to have been chosen to test it.
I thank BackpackGearTest and Hennessy Hammock for allowing me to test the Explorer Ultralite A-sym. It's amazing.
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