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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Hennessy Jungle Explorer and Expedition > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Hennessy Hammock Jungle Explorer Zip
Test Report Series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: May 4, 2016
Field Report: August 11, 2016
Long Term Report: October 13, 2016
Author trying out the Jungle Explorer Zip for the first time
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing and kayaking. I enjoy hiking with family and friends but also hike solo occasionally. Most of my hiking has been in the Southeastern US. I hike throughout the year but actually enjoy late fall or early spring the most with some winter hiking mixed in. I don't like hot and humid weather of summer unless I can escape to the mountains where it is cooler. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability to a degree. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food and water.
The Hennessy Hammock Jungle Explorer Zip is built to handle big guys, or someone like me, right on the border of the weight limit of lighter duty models and likes the extra room. As can be seen in the specs listed above, this hammock utilizes some pretty robust materials. For anyone not familiar with Hennessy Hammocks, they can best be described as a portable, hanging bug fortress that just happens to be (for me at least) the most comfortable way to sleep in the outdoors. The Zip in the title differentiates this model from the Classic in that it utilizes a zipper along the entire length of one side and is entered and exited from that side. For the record, the Classic models use a bottom entry slit that seals itself when you get in. Having used both types, I find the side entry much easier to get in and out of. In fact, I have 3 classic style Hennessy's including the original Hennessy model I bought sometime around the year 2000. The Jungle models all feature a double bottom which allows the use of a pad in between the layers. This is huge in my opinion, having struggled to stay on my sleeping pad in hammocks without this feature. The Explorer Zip is about a foot longer then the Expedition Zip and uses slightly bigger suspension ropes and tree hugger straps. I'm nowhere near 7 ft (213 cm) but I have used the standard length model and I find the extra length is more comfortable and the interior feels roomier. All Hennessy Hammocks come with SnakeSkins and a water collection system. Because it is bigger, Jungle Explorer Zip comes with the SnakeSkinsXL.
I've been a hammock junkie ever since I bought my first Hennessy about 16 years ago. But first, I'd like to expound on that a bit. I was a ground dweller (tent user) like every other hiker I knew. I started hearing rumors of folks using hammock and was curious. I finally relented and picked up a cheap military style knock-off for the grand total of $20. That was 20 bucks down the drain. But perhaps it was worth it to my hiking buddies when on the very first night I used it I flipped and could not extract myself from the hammock. After a long wait (so they could stop laughing) they helped me out. I spent the next 3 nights on the ground in my hammock because the suspension was torn and the hammock could not be used off the ground. I was not completely ready to give upon the idea so I saved up for a better hammock, which turned out to be the original Hennessy. I paid $79 for the hammock and haven't slept on the ground unless absolutely necessary since (I got roped into testing a tent). I have purchased several more Hennessy hammocks as upgrades and so my wife and kids wouldn't be jealous.
Then, in 2009 I tested a Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle Long. It has become my go to hammock and I have used it around 50 nights. So, my initial impression of the Jungle Explorer Zip is that it is very similar to the Deep Jungle, but, is made of heavier duty materials. The body fabric and fly is slightly heavier. The suspension rope and zipper is bigger. Setup is the same, but I found a few new features on this hammock. There is a loop of stretch cord inside on the non-zippered side at about the shoulder area. It hangs down about 13" (33 cm) so anything tied to it might be in the way. I was not sure what its purpose is, but I did a little research but found no mention of the cord, then saw on the little card that came on the hammock the words "Elastic "hold open" for mesh". I'm thinking it's to hold the bug netting back out of the way but haven't tried it yet to see how it works.
Elastic "hold open" for mesh
The other glaring difference was that the fly now comes with guy lines attached at all four corners. The side tie out guy lines are necessary but I was a little confused as to why the ones on the ridgeline were there. Since I use the prusik which is still provided I figured they was just supplied for occasions when the fly might need to be set up without the hammock or maybe if expecting gale force winds. However, a friend (Thanks Kurt) pointed out that the directions printed on the stuff sack actually recommend using the guy line and that if you look at the diagrams of this hammock on the website it actually shows the fly tied off separate from the hammock. I plan to use the prusik sliders so I'm glad they left them as an option. If I find I need to use the guy lines I will but they are kind of in the way. Not really a difference but I also found while reading the directions for the pad that the head end is opposite the head end on the Deep Jungle. Or at least opposite of how I've used the Deep Jungle every single time I've used it. I checked and yep, I've been sleeping in it backwards the past five years. I honestly don't think it matters as long as the pad is not moving and I never had any problems with it shifting.
It goes without saying, always test/setup/familiarize yourself with any equipment that your life may depend on. No, it's not hard to set up a hammock, but until the knots are mastered and the basic principals of a good hang are learned, a few practice runs are in order. So here are the basics for the Jungle Explorer Zip. Upon arriving at the campsite, find two suitable trees, preferably 13 to 16 ft (4 to 5 m) apart to hang from. I find five of my normal strides to be a perfect distance. It's possible to hang from other object but I'll leave that to the imagination. Look for strong healthy trees for obvious reasons but really big trees are harder to hang from than trees from about 6" (15 cm) up to about a foot (30 cm) in diameter. Check for any widow makers (dead branches) overhead. It is also nice to find trees on pretty level surfaces but one great advantage of a hammock is the ground can be sloped, rocky or otherwise unsuitable for a tent.
Since this is the initial hang, the hammock may touch the ground, but after installing the SnakeSkins this is no longer a worry. The first step is to thread the suspension ropes through the big end of each half of the SnakeSkins. Then grab a webbing strap (also know as a Tree Hugger) and wrap it around one of the trees at about head height. The farther aperture the trees are, the higher the attachment point needs to be. Pass the suspension rope through both tree hugger loops and pull the rope while estimating how close to pull the hammock towards the tree. Secure with a figure 8 knot, which by the way, should be memorized. Now go to the other end of the hammock and repeat the same process on the other tree. I learned from a friend (thanks Derek) that leaving a little sag in the suspension ropes will help keep the fly taut overnight but some folks like to pull them banjo tight. Hennessy does warn against pulling the suspension too tight. Anyways, because I probably put more sag than normal, I do find I need to tie off a little higher on the trees. If my guess was good the hammock should be evenly spaced between the two trees and high enough to comfortably set in the hammock. If not, then readjust. I have found that elevating the foot end just a tad helps avoid sliding towards that end. Now attach the fly. The underside will be the side on which the seam tape can be seen. Since the corners for the ridge line aren't obvious, look for a long seam from one corner to the other, that's the center line. Now determine which are the long and short sides and match them to the side tie-outs on the hammock body. As noted earlier, I like to use the prusik slider so I attach the fly to the hammock using the o-ring on the fly and the hook located on the end of the prusik slider. The prusik can then be slid along the suspension rope to center the fly over the hammock and achieve a taut fit. Find the guy lines at the two side corners, pull them out and stake them securely. Don't over tighten the first side since it will be pulled from the opposite side when moving to the other side. Some folks use a separate stake for each side pull out and fly but I just attach mine to the o-ring on the fly which is staked. I pull it to where it is semi-tight and then tie it off and leave it. The hook on the end won't allow it to pass trough the o-ring but I still manage a no slip knot that says in place. It looks like this from inside the hammock.
side pull-out attached to rainfly
If I expect high winds I just move my fly stakes a lot closer to the hammock and I've never had any problems using this method. Also, since the water collection system is recommended for high winds I may hang a bottle of water at the fly corner and see how that works.
Take down is basically the reverse but I leave my fly attached. The SnakeSkins are plenty big to accommodate everything. I also note the head end and tie a knot in the webbing strap so that I know which end is which the next time I hang the hammock. I pull each side corner of the fly under the hammock then over the ridge line and wrap the stake out string around the whole thing several times just to get it out of the way. I bunch and stuff the material and strings as I work the SnakeSkin towards the center of the hammock. If I don't I find I have a big wad in the middle that is to big for the SnakeSkin. I do the same thing from the other end and pass it over the first SnakeSkin by several inches. Also, don't forget to empty the overhead storage pocket. I've had to rehang my hammock to retrieve glasses or gloves I left inside on more than one occasion. Here is what it should look like when done, ready to unstrap and pack away.
SnakeSkins ready for duty
The Radiant Double Bubble Pad XL
I was provided the pad (a $34.95 accessory) and based on previous experience with the Deep Jungle, I consider it a necessity. Yes, other pads will work, but most of them are not near wide enough in the shoulder region. This pad measures 35" (89 cm) wide at the shoulders and slowly tapers down to around 18" (46 cm) at the foot end. It is slightly rounded on both ends but measures 77" (196 cm) from tip to tip. It is listed at 72" (183 cm) long. The claimed weight is 13.9 oz (390 g) but mine weighed in at exactly 16 oz (454 g) at my local post office. I weighed mine inside the mesh stuff sack so that or the extra length may account for the difference. The stuffed size is approximately 15" (38 cm) with a diameter of 8" (20 cm). Speaking of the stuff sack, it is a great idea but mine is about an inch (2.5 cm) too short. I say this because when the pad is folded as it should be, the cinch string is right at the end of the pad so it does not want to be cinched down around the end. In other words, though unlikely, the pad could slip out of the stuff sack. Here is what it looks like all cinched down.
Radiant Double Bubble pad in mesh stuff sac
I have not spent the night in the Jungle Explorer Zip yet, having only set the hammock up for inspection and to install the SnakeSkins and rainfly. However, I did take the opportunity to relax in the hammock for about 30 minutes and nearly went to sleep. It is very comfortable. This hammock certainly appears to uphold the attention to quality and detail I have come to expect from any Hennessy Hammock. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with the hammock, what sleeping arrangements I use, how it handles wind and rain and all the other nuances I may discover during the test.
Test Locations and Conditions
I spent my first night in the Hennessy Jungle Explorer Zip on May 13th at the KOA in Townsend Tennessee which sits at an elevation of 1036 ft (316 m). The overnight low was 48 F (9 C). There was no rain and it was not very windy.
My second night was 2 weeks later (May 27th) on a short overnight hike near Grant Alabama. The elevation was approximately 1200 ft (366 m) and the overnight low was 56 F (13 C). It did not rain and the winds were calm.
Field Test Results
My first 2 nights in the Jungle Explorer Zip were pretty much non-eventful, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I used the bubble pad both nights and felt it was adequate for the temperatures I encountered. The biggest issue I had was setting up the hammock at the KOA campsite. I called and made my reservation over the phone and was hoping to be able to pick my campsite upon arriving. However, the primitive section was full so I had no choice. When I looked over my site I immediately knew I might be in trouble because the only trees that were suitable for hanging were very large and about 20 steps apart. The 42 in (107 cm) tree straps would not even come close to reaching around either tree and it took nearly all the suspension rope to get the hammock hung. In the future I will take a couple of extra tree huggers along so that I can be sure I can hang even if the trees are not ideal. If I didn't already have some I would just order the next size up. I also forgot to pack any stakes but bummed a couple from the family camped in the next site over.
My campsite in the KOA in Townsend Tennessee
I turned in shortly after riding my ElliptiGo too and from a nearby barbecue restaurant. The temperature was around 60 F (16 C) and I was a little sweaty from my ride. I wore a heavy weight wool top and bottom with sweat pants over the bottoms. I had on wool socks but took my booties and a light fleece jacket in the hammock for later. I used my bike light to read awhile before turning in, a Blackburn 2'fer simply hung over the ridge line. Due to the way it's made it shined most of the light to the side but still lit the inside of the hammock up like daylight. I had no problem reading. After about an hour I had dried completely and it was starting to cool off enough to go ahead and put on my booties and cover my upper body with the fleece jacket. I slept soundly, only waking up once around 2 AM to get up and pee. I had an empty bottle for this so I wouldn't have to walk to the facilities which were quite a ways from my site. Anyways, I was getting a little chilly so I grabbed an extra jacket from my truck to throw on my legs. I then went right back to sleep and slept until my alarm awakened me at 6 AM. I dressed for the days adventures inside the hammock since I didn't have a tent and a few nearby campers were already up and about. It took a little contortion but the roominess of the long (XL) model helped.
Using clothes instead of a sleeping bag
I got back at the campsite around 1 PM after a morning ride around the Cade's Cove loop. I had several hours to kill and was still recovering from a bad cold so I decided to rest in the hammock for a while. I had on gym shorts and a tee but felt just fine, my phone told me it was 64 F (18 C). The campground was noisy but I went to sleep very easily and slept for 2 hours. I had set my phone alarm for 4 PM to wake me in case I overslept. I woke up about 15 minutes before it went off.
I had planned to spend another night at the campsite but got a call from home while eating supper and had to return home. I was able to take the hammock down in the dark with no problem. The snake skins held the hammock and fly and stuffing them in only took me a few minutes. I did have my fly attached directly to the suspension ropes using the prusik knot that was on the suspension ropes even though Hennessy recommends using a separate line to hang the fly on this particular hammock. I gave the tent stakes back to the family next door and headed home.
I basically wore the same clothes on my next overnighter in some local woods a few weeks later. Only this time I did not have to add the extra jacket midway through the night. I slept great and woke up feeling as well rested as I do at home. I had hiked about 4 miles the evening before but my pack load was pretty light. The main thing I noticed was that my Gregory Keeler pack was just big enough to hold all my gear. At 5300 cu in (86 L), the Keeler is my winter pack and the largest pack I own. If I decide to use one of my lighter and smaller packs I'll have to strap the pad on the outside of my pack.
I hung the Jungle Explorer one more time on July 8th. My friend from England, Tim Woodier was visiting a couple of nights while on a 7000+ mile (11270 + km) cross country ElliptoGo tour. My job was to feed him and show him why North East Alabama is the greatest place on earth.... OK, got a little carried away, but we did hike to the holler and go swimming. But he also needed rest, the man had ridden 157 miles (253 km) the day before in 97 F (36 C) heat and well over 100 F (over 38 C) heat indexes. So what better way to rest him up than to let him relax in a hammock. I set the Jungle Explorer up in the front yard and invited him to try it on for size. He was really impressed. But alas, it was another very hot day so he didn't relax long, we then headed off to tour a much cooler Cathedral Caverns.
Summary So FarDespite limited use I have to say the Jungle Explorer Zip is a home run. It is a little on the heavy side compared to most of the other Hennessy offerings but I love the extra room inside this hammock. The pad is pretty bulky to pack, however, the pad is still one of the lightest options for bottom side insulation. It is not complicated to use so I plan to continue using it for most conditions. I have looked at adding the supper shelter or an under quilt to use in the winter but I can add more pads to my setup for a lot less expense. Now that fall, and hopefully cooler weather is just around the corner I anticipate using the hammock on some longer backpacking trips. I can't believe I'm saying this but I hope it rains at least one night so I can test the storm worthiness of the shelter. If it doesn't, I may just have to set it up in the yard when storms are forecast.
Test Locations and Conditions
Summer seemed to last a little longer this year but we finally got some Fall weather beginning in late September. As soon as the temperatures were more pleasant I went on three short overnight hikes on local trails. The first trip on September 20th saw a low of 64 F (18 C) and trip length was 4.5 miles (7 km). My next overnighter was on September 30th with an overnight low of 52 F (11 C) and trip length was 7 miles (11 km). My last overnighter was on October 11th with an overnight low of 46 F (8 C) and total trip length of 6 miles (10 km). The terrain was typical hardwood forest with lots of elevation lost and gained, small stream crossing, slick rocks etc. However, with a severe drought in play many of the streams I crossed were dry with the exception of the main creek which though not dry is at very low flow. I experienced no rain and wind was not a major issue on any trips.
Long Term Test Result
One advantage of taking relatively short trips was that I was able to avoid the hottest part of the day. I would leave a couple hours before dark and arrive at my campsite just in time to set up before dark. In fact, once I decided to turn the hammock around after discovering a hole in the ground on the side I would be exiting the hammock and had to rehang the hammock in very dim light. This also meant I had several hours to kill before turning in for the night. Normally this is time spent cooking and just socializing with my hiking partners but I was hiking solo and brought snacks instead of cooking meals. As a result I spent a couple of hours lounging in my hammock each night. It was warm enough that I was able to use my extra clothes as a pillow and passed the time on my phone checking email and on FaceBook. On the last two nights I was using a sleeping bag which I also used as my pillow while relaxing. On the last night I noticed there were no bugs flying around so I even sat in the hammock for awhile. This was slightly more comfortable then laying lengthwise in the hammock because I was setting up more. However, my knees did feel the pressure of the edge of the hammock which caused me to shift positions frequently.
I used the Radiant Double Bubble pad on each trip. It worked great for all temperatures I encountered including the last night when it dropped to 46 F (8 C). On the September 30th trip the hook on the foot end did come untied from the grommet on the pad but it was still hooked to the hammock center pull out where it is hooked to keep it in place. I don't know when it happened in the night but I did get up 4 times to pee that night. However, the pad stayed in the proper position. I also used the fly attached to the ridge line just like I always have. Of course with no rain I really did not need it and pulled it back from the head end on this night.
My sleeping setup on the September 20th was sweatpants on the bottom along with thick wool socks. I brought my booties but never needed them. For my upper body I had on a light wool t-shirt and a medium weight fleece jacket. I kept my Crocs just outside my hammock so that when I needed to get up I could easily slip them on. I kept a water bottle on the ground standing up in one of the sandals. I hung the hammock low enough so that I could easily reach out and grab my drink when I got thirsty.
On my September 30th trip I was using a new 20 F (-7 C) sleeping bag. This bag has zippers on both sides instead of a single zipper like most. I was able to stand up outside my hammock and wear the sleeping bag like a giant poncho. I would sit down in the hammock and remove my sandals before lying down. I found it was much easier to use this bag because it was already in place under me when I stretched out. It was then a simple matter of pulling my knees high enough to get my feet inside the bag. The major difference on this trip was that I unhooked the fly from the head end of the hammock and folded it back over the lower end. The side tie outs determining where it folded. I didn't fasten it or otherwise secure it but it stayed in place all night. Other than needing to go pee 4 times and poking my eye with a limb I enjoyed a good night sleep. I could have used a less warm sleeping bag but was able to vent this one enough that I didn't overheat.
Entering hammock with fly pulled back and feet out of sleeping bag
Ready for some Zzzz's
My last overnight trip on October 11th was the coolest night of testing. I used the same 20 F (-7 C) bag but this time I decided to try it as a quilt. In other words, none of the bag was under my back from about my knees on up. My feet were inside the bag from the pocket created where the side zippers stopped. I wondered if my backside might get cold but it did not. In fact, it sweated a little more this night. I think because I didn't have anything but a t-shirt between me and the non-porous pad other than the top layer of the double bottom hammock. The only thing I really noticed other than being much freer to toss in my sleep was that my ears were slightly cooler than I would have liked. I don't pack any headgear but a light watch cap would have been perfect. It was windy on this trip and I contemplated pulling the fly back like I did the last time but in the end decide to leave it fully deployed. Pulling it back does make getting in the hammock easier because I don't have to duck under the fly to get in. However, since I was using my sleeping bag like an over-quilt it was no problem to get in and out of the hammock. Again, I think I would have been fine with a less insulated bag.
As much as I liked my older Hennessy Hammocks that are in the classic configuration (bottom entry) I plan to use their size zip models from now on. It makes getting in and out easier and I love being able to reach out and get things off the ground. I think the double bottom is also the way to go. The ability to slide a pad in between the layers is so much better than placing a pad inside the hammock. The fly on this hammock is slightly bigger then the fly on my Deep Jungle so even though I didn't experience any rain it covers all the edges of the hammock really well, especially when I stake it off close to the hammock. In other words, with the ability to add more pads and block off the wind and rain this is a serious contender for cold weather camping.
The rest of the Hennessy Hammock layout is unchanged from the classic. I know some ground dwellers (tent users) claim that a hammock makes it harder to keep all gear handy or dry. I haven't really had any issues keeping my gear safe and available. The overhead pouch is still the perfect place to keep my glasses and phone out of the way. I hang my light from a carabiner on the inside ridge line. I usually hang a small stuff sack with snacks and anything else I might want or need on the same inside ridge line. I usually hang my pack off the outer ridge line at the head end of the hammock next to the tree. If expecting rain I carry a large trash bag and just put my pack on the ground under my hammock. I already have everything I need for the night out of the pack. But the trump card for me is comfort. I just sleep so much better in a hammock. I also find it difficult to crawl into most backpacking tents and changing cloths inside is almost impossible. With my hammock I can stand under the fly and do anything I need to do while standing pretty much straight up. The fly gives enough room that even if I'm rubbing against it I don't hurt anything.
This concludes my Long Term Report. I would like to thank Hennessy Hammock and BackpackGearTest.org for this test opportunity!
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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Hennessy Jungle Explorer and Expedition > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes