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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Jacks R Better Bear Mtn Bridge Hammock > Test Report by Rick Allnutt

 Jacks 'R' Better
Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock
Test Series by Rick Allnutt


Initial Report - 18 December 2008

Field Report - 10 February 2009

Long Term Report - 8 April 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Rick Allnutt
EMAIL: rick@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 55
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
GENDER: male
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (1.8 m)
WEIGHT: 190 lb (86 kg)

Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a three-season base pack weight of about 8 lb (3.5 kg) and skin out weight of 17 lb (8 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in all four seasons, and many trips to state parks, with a total mileage of about 1550 miles (2500 km). I am a gearhead, a hammock or tarp camper, and I make much of my own equipment. 

Trail Name: Risk

Risk's Ultralite Hiking Page: www.imrisk.com


INITIAL REPORT
18 December 2008

bridge hammock

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Jacks 'R' Better
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.jacksrbetter.com
MSRP: US$ 199.95
Listed weight: 2 lb 5 oz (1050 g)
Measured weight: 2 lb 6 oz (1080 g) including bug net, compression poles and tri-glide fasteners. 

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Most of the nights I have spent outdoors in my hiking have been spent in hammocks. I have used almost every sort of camping hammock. I have also introduced hammock camping to dozens of folks either by giving them a hammock or loaning them one while we hiked together. Before heading out on such a trip, I have always advised that my hiking buddy try out the hammock at home. Most people, after a night of sleeping in a hammock have a few questions about how to get used to the natural curve of a hammock. The head and neck is not normally a problem, but knees can be a problem for the novice hammock camper. The issue is that knees don't bend backwards or "sidewards" and sleeping in a hammock requires some adjustment to the shape of the hammock. Answering questions about knees has been important to get them to enjoy hammock camping.

setting up the hammockWith the Bridge hammock, the design's main goal is sleeping flat - not somewhat flat, but really flat - flat enough that I need a pillow when sleeping in the Bridge.  In the photo above, you can see my wife lying down in the Bear Mountain Bridge hammock. Notice that I have taken the picture from a low perspective so the actual shape of the bottom of the hammock can be seen. Her feet and legs are the same height as her back. She has her hands behind her head so that she can see me taking the picture. If she had put her head back, her head would have been the same height as her back. Now that's flat! In the photo to the left, I am laying down flat, except my hands are behind my head. And this flatness is achieved without sleeping on the diagonal of the hammock. In both photos, we are right in the midline of the Bridge hammock.

stuff sack The Bridge hammock stuffs into a stuff sack as pictured on the right. The stuff sack that came with my Bridge was a size too large, so I have substituted a smaller silnylon sack.  The package is about 9 x 4 x 4 in (23 x 10 x 10 cm). The four half spreader bars are 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter and 17 in (43 cm) long.

Suspending the hammock requires finding two stout trees the right distance apart. I have made due with two trees that were 11 ft (3.4 m) apart. That is the absolute minimum. I have also suspended the hammock between trees that are 16 ft (5 m) apart. The pictures in this Initial Report are from that set. I think the sweet spot would be at approximately 13 ft (4 m) apart. For me, this is just about exactly the distance I can reach with the ends of my hiking sticks held out to my sides and parallel to the ground. 

tri glideThe hammock straps can be tied with a four wrap knot or the tri-glide fasteners presently supplied with the hammock can be used. The tri-glides can reduce the length of strap necessary by several feet, more than making up for their weight. They are just as easy for me to use as tying a hammock knot. They are quite robust and have no moving parts. I have found the easiest way to fasten the tri-glide is to slide the tri-glide so that it is a foot (30 cm) or so from the tree on the standing portion of the strap (the part that goes to the hammock). I turn the strap so that the tri-glide is facing me, as I have photographed to the right. I take the strap around the far side of the tree and bring it back toward me and to the tri-glide. Now, I can push the end of the strap through the right side of the tri-glide so that the right amount of slack is taken up by the strap. Next, I feed the end through the left side of the tri-glide. Of course, this needs to be done with the strap on each end of the hammock.

ringIt takes some experimenting and some experience to know how tight the hammock needs to be at this point. It needs to be loose enough that both spreader bars can be inserted between the rings on the corners of the hammock. The first couple times I guessed how loose it needed to be I was wrong. I had hung the hammock up too tightly.

The way this hammock is designed, the primary hammock strap is attached to a welded ring on each end of the hammock. This ring is attached to two spreader straps that connect the corners of the hammock with the central ring. In this photo, I have also attached the suspension cord for the Mt Washington underquilt to the central ring with a cinch knot.

corner with spreaderThe next step is to slide the two halves of the spreader bars together and insert the spreaders between the corner rings. This is done at each end of the hammock. Here, to the right, is a corner ring with the end of a spreader bar attached to it. Also going through the corner ring is a suspension cord.

Please note that before connecting an underquilt, the metal portion of the suspension cord needs to be fed further through the ring so that the metal on the cord is to the left (the hammock side) of the spreader bar. While I am on the subject of the spreader bars, there is a clear note that comes with the hammock which says that the spreader bars are not meant to be pulled on. That is worth remembering. When lying down in a hammock, I need to pull on something to pull my head toward the end of the hammock. With this hammock, like all hammocks, the best way to do that is to grab the edge of the hammock and gently scoot toward the head end. Pulling on the spreader bar to do a chin-up is absolutely guaranteed to bend the spreader bar and make it useless. (Replacement bars are available from Jacks 'R' Better if someone forgets... )

Once the spreaders are in place, it is time to get just the right final tension on the hammock straps. One very good way to do this is to attach the bug net all the way round the edge of the hammock.
Omni tape is the hook and loop fastener used to attach the bug net to the edge of the hammock. It is a clever strip which replaces the male and female sides of more common hook and loop fastener. With this tape, the hammock and the bug net each have the same tape at their edge, but the tape will stick to itself. Finally, with the bug net on, I adjusted the straps until the grosgrain ribbon in the center of the bug net was straight and suspended off the hammock like a roof. I looked at the hammock when this amount of tension had been applied, and now I find that I can hang the hammock with that same tension even when I do not use the bug net.

storage pocketThere are a couple other features of the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock worth describing. First, there is a handy little organizer made of bug netting. The top of this sack has a strip of double sided Omni tape sewn to it.  So, with the strip of Omni tape along the top, it can be applied anywhere along the circumference and the bug net will stick to the other side of the tape just as well as to the Omni tape on the circumference. I like to place the pouch at the end of the hammock, but it would work equally well on the side, either inside or outside the hammock. Quite clever, these Jacks are!

pad pocket Did I mention that the Bridge hammock is double bottomed?  (It is.) On the bottom of the hammock, accessible from one end, is the entrance to the double bottom of the hammock. This feature allows me to use just about any camping mat that will keep my back warm. I will be reporting on the use of pads in this double bottom in my Field Report.

Well, that's about all I have discovered about the Bridge hammock so far. It is a cool hammock with loads of features and each one seems to be very well thought out and well designed. Of course, the hammock also works as a camp chair, just to take a load off and think about the day's hike. 

lounging

SUMMARY

The Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Bridge hammock is a unique design that allows me to lie flat even without lying across the diagonal as I usually do in a gathered end hammock. It is reasonably light weight and very sturdy. The spreader bars keep me from feeling any shoulder squeeze as I have felt in other hammocks. 

The things I really like about this hammock are:
- I can lie flat and my knees feel great at the end of a night's sleep.
- The tri-glide system works well and can be adjusted easily in the middle of the night if the hammock has drooped a little low.

I thank Jacks 'R' Better and BackpackGearTest.org for selecting me for this test. Come back in a couple months to see what new features I have discovered and how my knees are feeling after the flat sleep.


FIELD REPORT
10 February 2009

Bridge Hammock in the Field

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

20 December 2008 – Night at South Llano River State Park, Junction Texas. Hammock camping. Low of about 45 F (7 C). A beautiful clear night with lots of astronomy accomplished.

11 January 2009 – Sleeping out in the hammock with clear skies and low temperature of 31 F (0 C). Warm, comfortable sleep despite the temperature.

13 January 2009 – Sleeping out in the hammock with clear skies and low temperature of 29 F (-2 C). I slept warm with only shorts and a shirt.

23 January 2009 – Garner State Park Texas. Testing gear and doing astronomy at this dark sky site. Tested the hammock and underquilt in cold windy conditions. Low of 30 F (-1 C).

30 January 2009 – Cat’s Meow Star Field, Fredericksburg, TX. Cold night doing astronomy in the Texas hill country. Clear skies, temperature about 27 F (-3 C). Hammock camping with underquilt.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Used without the underquilt, I was quite coldI have used the Bridge hammock on five occasions thus far. The more I sleep in this hammock, the more I appreciate the flat sleeping contours. It is easy to sleep on either side, and easy to sleep on my back. I find that I am a little more comfortable sleeping with my feet a few fingers higher than my shoulders, but this is because I like to have lots of room for my feet at their end of the hammock. This is absolutely the best hammock experience I have ever had for having that feeling of being able to move my feet without cramping them on the sides of the hammock.

I have used the hammock mostly with an underquilt. I attempted to use it with a single layer of closed cell foam in the double bottomed slot designed for that purpose, but with even moderate night temperature of
45 F (7 C) the hammock was too cold for me to sleep in. I needed to get up and put the underqult on it. This seems to have been due to my shoulders lying against the side of the hammock where there is no double bottom and hence no insulation from the foam in the double bottom. I am sure that if I had used closed cell foam pad in the hammock, I could have slept at this moderate temperature, because I have done so on many previous occasions, but this is technically untested at this point.

I have enjoyed using the tri-glide fasteners. They are quick to place in the right position for a comfortable lie, and they are very fast to adjust in the middle of the night if the hammock sags or the trees begin to bend.

I have mostly used my clothing as a pillow in the hammock, and I have found that using a pillow is essential for a good night's sleep. Trying to sleep without a pillow in the Bridge hammock is like trying to sleep in bed at home without a pillow. The hammock sleeps that flat.

Thus far, most of my sleeping in the hammock has been with a down quilt, and I find that the quilt works just as well in this hammock as in other hammocks. It works better in this hammock than it does sleeping in a tent. (The sides of the hammock hold the quilt edges against my back so that cold air does not get under the quilt.

During one of the nights I spent in the hammock, there was a cold front that came through in the wee hours of the morning. The wind picked up a lot and the temperature dropped suddenly to freezing. I found that even with an underquilt that it was necessary to also use a layer of closed cell foam in the hammock to truly sleep with comfort.

SUMMARY

This hammock really allows me to sleep flat.

What I really like:
- Lots of room for my feet
- The hammock has exactly the right amount of snuggle factor to feel comfortable

What I wish was different:
- The double bottom pocket does not cover my back when I sleep on my side


LONG TERM REPORT
8 April 2009

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

27 March 2009 - Another moonless weekend of astronomy - I tried to use the hammock on the first of two nights out. The weather was cold with high winds. Low temperature of 32 F (0 C).  I ended up escaping to the back of my pick-up truck. It was too cold for me to sleep in the hammock.

Over the testing period, I slept outdoors six nights in total.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The hammock has held up well over the full testing period. There have been no technical problems with the construction or the use of the hammock. Though I carried the bug netting with me several times, the winter weather never gave me the opportunity to have any flying insects I needed to protect myself from.

I continue to sleep very comfortably in this hammock. Probably the most notable pleasure is the lack of any ache in my knees. In other curved hammocks, I have needed to make sure that I put a foot behind an extended knee so that it did not become sore from stress that tends to bend the knee backwards. With the Bridge hammock, this was never a problem.

I tried several ways to stay warm in the hammock. Neither of the two obvious options kept me warm enough in winter temperatures when there is any wind. I found that I do not stay warm with a closed cell pad in the pocket under the sleeping bag, because of my shoulders not having any insulation behind them when I sleep on my side. (I sleep on my side almost all night long every night.) The down external cover for the hammock was wonderfully warm when there was no wind. However, with a little wind I was chilly. With a lot of wind, I was downright cold. On the latest night with the tops of the trees blowing back and forth like brooms and the temperature at freezing, I was too cold to stay in the hammock with down insulation.


SUMMARY

This hammock really allows me to sleep flat.

What I really like:
- Lots of room for my feet - also my knees are comfortable
- The hammock has exactly the right amount of snuggle factor to feel comfortable (in windless conditions)

What I wish was different:
- The double bottom pocket does not cover my back when I sleep on my side
- The down comforter, attached to the outside of the hammock does not keep me warm when there is wind.

I thank the Jacks for allowing me to test the Bridge hammock.


Read more reviews of Jacks R Better gear
Read more gear reviews by Rick Allnutt

Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Jacks R Better Bear Mtn Bridge Hammock > Test Report by Rick Allnutt



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