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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Hennessy Super Shelter > Owner Review by Kurt Papke

Hennessy Hammock SuperShelter - Owner Review

Review Date: November 25, 2008

Tester Biographical Information

Name
Kurt Papke
Age
55
Gender
Male
Height
6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight
220 lbs (100 kg)
Email address
kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country Minneapolis, Minnesota USA

Backpacking Background: mostly in Minnesota and Oregon - all of the Superior Hiking Trail and Border Route, Isle Royale, dayhiking and backpacking in the Columbia River gorge.  Extensive dayhiking in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.  Mostly Spring/Fall season hiker, but easing into more cold-weather/Winter backpacking.  I am a passionate hammock camper -- I gave up my tent for a Hennessy Explorer Ultralight in March 2008 and have only used my tent one night since.

Product Description

One of the greatest challenges in hammock camping is staying warm, especially from below, a problem not shared by tent campers where the ground protects the camper from cold air.

The Hennessy SuperShelter system consists of two components that are currently purchased separately, but when first introduced were sold together.  The SuperShelter is sold in two sizes to match the hammocks they are paired with, in this report I will discuss only the larger size which fits my hammock, the Hennessy Explorer Ultralight Asym.  The two components of the system are:
  1. The UnderCover + UnderPad.  This supplies insulation and protection to the bottom of the hammock.  The UnderPad is an Open Cell Foam (OCF) pad with elastics that attach it to the underside of the hammock.  The UnderCover is waterproof, windproof SilNylon double-wall bottom cover that protects the UnderPad and camper from the elements, and protects the somewhat fragile UnderPad from damage.
  2. The OverCover.  It is uncoated 30D nylon and acts as a wind/air barrier.  It attaches to the hammock with elastics and covers the mosquito netting for extra warmth in cold, dry conditions.  It has a moderate-sized ventilation hole up near the head area to allow fresh air into the hammock at night.
Side view of covers
Side view of the Over/Under covers.
The OverCover is the green fabric atop the hammock.
The UnderCover is the brown fabric underneath.

OverCover breathing hole
Closeup of the OverCover ventilation hole.
The hammock mosquito netting is visible through the hole.

I have covered both components in this one Owner Review, because it is very hard to understand the Overcover separate from the Undercover/pad.

Product Information
Manufacturer
Hennessy Hammocks
Manufacturer website
http://hennessyhammock.com/
Year manufactured
2008

Undercover +
UnderPad
Overcover
Listed Weight (no stuff sack)
14 oz (397 g)
Not listed
Measured Weight (no stuff sack)
13.8 oz (391 g)
4.8 oz (136 g)
MSRP
$139.95 US
$39.95 US

Field Information

I purchased my SuperShelter system in April 2008, shortly after buying my Explorer Ultralight Asym hammock after determining that I did not care to use a sleeping pad underneath me in the hammock.  I have used the SuperShelter extensively this year on multiple backpacking and cross-country camping trips, spending in excess of 40 nights sleeping in it.  A sampling of the use locations and conditions are tabulated below.  In all the field uses through September 2008, only the UnderCover was used.  In the October & November 2008 field uses the OverCover was added to the configuration.

Dates
Location
Altitude
Approximate
nighttime low
temperatures
SuperShelter Photo
May 23-27, 2008
Border Route (BRT), northern
Minnesota in the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
1500 to 2100 ft
(460 to 640 m)
28 F to 50 F
(-2 C to 10 C)
Loon Lake, BRT
May 27-31, 2008
Superior Hiking Trail (SHT),
in the Superior National Forest
of northern Minnesota
600 to 1900 ft
(180 to 580 m)
23 F to 45 F
(-5 C to 7 C)
On the shores of Lake Superior
July 8, 2008
Mount Adams, Washington
6000 ft
(1800 m)
35 F
(2 C)
Mt Adams
July 11, 2008
Banks-Vernonia State Park,
Oregon
850 ft
(260 m)
60 F
(15 C)
Banks-Vernonia St Park, OR
September 7-14, 2008
Isle Royale National Park,
Michigan
600 to 1600 ft
(180 to 490 m)
40 F to 50 F
Isle Royale
October 14-17, 2008
Superior Hiking Trail (SHT),
northern Minnesota
800 to 1300 ft
(245 to 395 m)
28 F to 40 F
(-2 C to 4 C)
SHT in Fall
early November, 2008
Chanhassen, Minnesota
my backyard
925 ft
(280 m)
19 F
(-7 C)
Backyard testing

Usage Information

In the following narrative I describe how I pack/unpack the SuperShelter.  I attached the UnderCover to my hammock when I bought it and I haven't taken it off since.  The UnderCover gets rolled up into my snakeskins along with the hammock.

The OverCover I normally carry in a side pocket of my backpack.  It is really designed for very cold, dry nights, so I do not leave it attached at all times.  I find that once I do attach it to the hammock, I leave it on for the rest of the trip.

I carry the UnderPad separate from the rest of the hammock system.  This is not the only way to do this, in fact Tom Hennessy, the designer, just leaves his UnderPad in-place and rolls up the whole mess and stuffs it into his pack.  This is less effort, but the one time I tried this, it required considerably more space in my backpack.

Setup

Setup of the system consists of:
  1. Setting up the hammock as normal: tie the hammock to two trees with the "tree huggers" (webbing straps), slide back the snakeskins, stake down the tarp.
  2. Taking the UnderPad out of the stuff sack.
  3. Putting it in place in the UnderCover.  The UnderPad is not symmetric: the wide side goes at the "head" end of the hammock, the narrow end at the "foot" end.  Also, one side of the pad has an "egg crate" pattern.  This side faces up to maximize the trapped air.  If the pad is either installed upside-down or reversed (head/foot), the UnderPad loops used in step #5 will not be properly positioned next to the openings in the UnderCover.  If BOTH of these are backwards, the loops will be in the right place, but the full insulation power of the pad will not be achieved.
  4. Attaching the UnderPad elastics to the ridge line hooks.  These hooks are positioned along the ridge line with a prusik knot that slides up and down the ridge line to adjust the tension of the tarp.  I adjust the prusik to tension the tarp, and do NOT make any changes to accommodate the tension on the elastics of the SuperShelter UnderPad.
  5. Threading the hammock side elastics through the UnderPad side loops and the openings in the UnderCover and attaching them to whatever I choose.  It may be possible to attach the side loops in other ways, for instance by tying them to the hammock side tie out points, but I have found that simply threading the elastics through the loops easy to do and effective.
In my case I normally attach the hammock side elastics to my trekking poles which are also holding up my tarp as can be seen in the photo below.  I double up the hammock side elastics to provide more side tension by simply tying the loose end back to the plastic ring to which it comes attached.  This makes for easy looping over my trekking poles as depicted below, and provides me with adequate side tension on the hammock.
Side elastics attachment

In the picture below, the result of the setup process is visible.  The side elastics (not under tension in the photo) are threaded through the OverCover from the plastic ring attachment, then through the UnderPad side elastics at the top of the picture, and out through the opening in the UnderCover.  The silvery metallic fabric is the space blanket positioned atop the UnderPad.
Closeup of UnderPad side elastics

LayersIn the picture to the left, the various layers are more apparent.  Starting from the top is the green OverCover, the silver space blanket, the gray OCF UnderPad, then the UnderCover.

One of the UnderPad seams can also be seen in the picture.


Tear down/packing

The UnderCover & UnderPad come in their own stuff sack.  The fit is very tight, and I have had great difficulty in getting the UnderPad back into the sack, so I have switched to packing the UnderPad in a Sea-To-Summit 8 liter dry sack.  This allows me to carry it strapped on the outside of my pack, just like any other sleeping mat.  The UnderCover and OverCover are rolled up directly into my snakeskins along with the rest of the hammock including the tarp.  The OverCover comes in a lightweight plastic zip-lock bag, not really suitable for field use.

The advantage of storing the UnderPad in a dry sack includes:
  1. It is rolled up neatly and reasonably compact
  2. It is kept dry and protected
  3. It does not need to take up precious space in my pack interior
The main disadvantage of this approach is the effort required to remove the pad from the hammock, roll it up and place in the sack, especially in the rain.  The good news is that with practice I have become very adept at this.  The steps include:
  1. Detaching the UnderPad elastics from the ridge line hooks.
  2. Detaching the hammock side elastics from whatever they are hooked to and unthread them from the side UnderPad loops.
  3. Rolling up the UnderPad.  I do this in the UnderCover itself -- this keeps the pad clean and dry and allows me to perform this under the protection of the tarp.
  4. Place into the dry sack
  5. Strap the sack onto my pack
  6. Tear down the hammock as normal: roll up the hammock into the snakeskins, untie from the trees and place in my pack.  I have been pleased that the UnderCover and OverCover will all fit nicely into the #4 snakeskins along with the hammock and tarp.  I haven't had any difficulty getting all the gear into the snakeskins with the additional bulk from the SuperShelter.
The convenience of being able to roll up the UnderCover ad OverCover in the #4 snakeskins with my hammock cannot be overstated.  Deploying them is effortless.

Attaching the OverCover or UnderCover

The following procedure is not meant to be an instruction set to be followed by a prospective user, but merely to illustrate the steps required.  Both of the hammock covers in the SuperShelter system are attached to the hammock in virtually identical fashion:
  1. Detach both suspension ropes from the trees, if the hammock is already hung.
  2. Determine which end is the head/foot end of the cover.  The UnderCover has an elastic slit in it that matches the hook-and-loop slit opening at the foot end of the hammock, so the foot end has the slit.  The OverCover has a hole approximately 5 in (13 cm) in diameter at the head end.
  3. Draw the suspension rope through the opening at the end of the cover (this is more difficult if the snakeskins are left in place).
  4. Attach the cover elastic to the hammock end ridge line hook.
  5. OverCover: drape the cover over the top of the mosquito netting.
    UnderCover: drape the cover under the bottom of the hammock.
  6. Draw the other suspension rope through the other cover end opening.
  7. Attach the remaining elastic to the other ridge line hook.
  8. OverCover: thread the hammock side elastic through the matching hole in the OverCover.
    UnderCover: the side elastic is threaded through it in step #5 in the setup procedure described above.

Complexity of setup/tear down

Setting up and taking down the SuperShelter is actually much simpler than it appears in this report.  A lot of words are required to describe what is really a very simple procedure.  Hennessy has several short videos on their website that make it very clear how to do this.

Adjusting the configuration for changes in temperature

On a warm night I can simply not install the UnderPad.  Hammocks are surprisingly cold on the bottom at temperatures below 70 F (21 C), and so far I have never chosen to do this, but then again I do live in Minnesota.  I do occasionally omit the space blanket.

If I want to look at the stars, I can drape both sides of the OverCover to one side of the hammock.  Again, so far I have not chosen to do this.

Additional insulation

To be effective at temperatures below 50 F (10 C), I find I must use a space blanket on top of the UnderPad.  This has given me good insulation performance in all conditions listed at the top of this report.  It shocked me what a huge difference this makes.  The good news is the space blanket has very low weight and bulk, and once put in place over the pad it does not move all night even if I toss and turn.  I use an Adventure Medical Heatsheet, and it has lasted the entire season with no apparent damage.  I leave it on top of the UnderPad when packing, and roll it up inside the pad.  I find the space blanket gives me enough insulation to be comfortable down to about the freezing point with no additional clothing.

I have read a fair amount of discussion in the hammock camping community about why a space blanket is so effective when positioned above the UnderPad.  They are designed to reflect radiant heat and act as a wind barrier, but positioned just below the thin hammock bottom layer they also seem to act as a vapor barrier.  On warmer evenings I often use my mummy sleeping back as a quilt, and the somewhat moist warmth is quite apparent against my back.  In this vapor barrier role, it also protects the UnderCover OCF pad from absorbing perspiration which helps maintain its insulating efficiency.

I have been experimenting lately with the Exped MultiMat as ancillary insulation.  Information on those results can be found in my Exped MultiMat test report on backpackgeartest.org.

I have spent one night with my PrimaLoft parka in the UnderCover underneath the UnderPad (space blanket on top).  Temperatures dropped to 19 F (-7 C), and I was quite comfortable all night.  This shows that the SuperShelter system can be augmented with other cold-weather clothing to provide colder-weather performance.

Observations/Performance

Sleeping bag & clothing: I use a down 30 F (-1 C) mummy bag exclusively.  I typically wear lightweight silk long johns and top at night in most conditions.  I add a 200 weight fleece pullover, stocking cap and gloves on cold nights.  When I am expecting conditions below freezing, I substitute mid-weight Power Dry long johns and top for the silk.

The only night I have been truly cold in my SuperShelter was the one night on the SHT when the temperatures dropped to 23 F (-5 C).  My back and buttocks were quite chilled, but I was too lazy to get out of the hammock and put on my fleece pullover, which has kept me quite toasty on a number of other cold evenings.

I have slept through several nasty rainstorms in my SuperShelter, and so far I have yet to get a drop of moisture anywhere on my sleep system, even though I use the stock Hennessy tarp which many hammock campers consider too small for good protection.  I have not gotten up in the middle of the night and trudged out into the rain to see how much ground splash or rain the UnderCover has kept off of me, so I cannot say for sure whether it was the UnderCover that kept me dry.

For the first six months I owned the OverCover I never used it, though it was always in my backpack.  I enjoy looking out the side of my hammock at night, and I didn't want to obstruct the view.  As temperatures dropped this Fall, I decided to give it a try.  I was amazed at how effective it is.  It added at least 10 F (6 C) degrees of differential warmth over ambient on my October SHT backpacking trip.  During testing in my backyard, when the environment was 19 F (-7 C), the interior of my hammock (with me still in my mummy bag) was 32 F (0 C).  When I get out of my sleeping bag the interior hammock temperatures seem to rise another 10 F (6 C) from my additional body heat.  This makes doing chores in my hammock in cold temperatures much more comfortable, and has helped me overcome my reluctance to get out of my mummy bag on cold mornings.

The UnderPad has proven to be somewhat fragile.  On my May backpacking trip through the Boundary Waters the pad (in its sack) got severely poked several times by sharp branches from trees that have fallen over the trail.  This has resulted in several small holes in the OCF pad, but oddly enough, no hole in the stuff sack.  The good news is the pad holes have not grown, and they seem to have a negligible impact on thermal performance.

Conclusions

The hammock camper has many options to stay warm and dry in addition to a basic hammock system including sleeping pads and under-quilts. I chose the SuperShelter because it was less expensive than a down under quilt, and I hoped more comfortable than using my Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 pad in the hammock.   After 7 months of intensive use, I have not been disappointed.

One of the key benefits for me is that the UnderCover system does a great job of augmenting the stock tarp, which seems quite tiny.  This has allowed me to minimize weight in my backpack by not having to purchase a larger tarp to protect me from windblown rain.

Pros:
  1. Effective 3-season insulation system - keeps me warm.
  2. Keeps me dry, and the insulation performs well in wet conditions.
  3. Lightweight and not bulky.
  4. Inexpensive compared to down under quilts.
  5. Does not interfere with the comfort of my hammock like a sleeping pad would.
  6. Easy to pack/unpack, especially when used with snakeskins.
Cons:
  1. The UnderPad is somewhat fragile and susceptible to holes being poked in it.
  2. Attaching or removing the UnderCover or OverCover in the field takes a few minutes and requires that the hammock not be hung at the time.  This is a hassle in the rain or in cold temperatures when my fingers don't work so well.  This is not a major issue for me, as I leave the covers on for an entire trip or longer.
  3. Requires a space blanket in cooler temperatures.
  4. Requires additional insulation when temperatures drop much below freezing.
  5. The OverCover does not always fit tightly against the UnderCover top - there is often a 1-2 inch (2-5 cm) crack near my head.  This is not all bad, as it allows fresh air in near my head, and does not seem to have severely impacted thermal performance.
  6. Limited utility in a ground-sleeping situation.  Hammock campers have to be concerned with having to sleep on the ground in unusual situations, and unlike my Therm-a-rest pad the UnderPad would not be comfortable as a ground pad.  That said, so far I have never had to resort to sleeping on the ground, so this has been a non-issue for me.

Kurt Papke


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