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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Jacks R Better Bear Mtn Bridge Hammock > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock

Initial Report - January 13 , 2009
Field Report - February 5, 2009
Long Term Report - April 9, 2009

Thomas Vickers

41 years old
Male
5 ft 11 in tall (1.8 m)
175 lb (79 kg)
redroach@pobox.com
Southeast Texas, Houston Area


Tester Background:
I grew up in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Camping was a quick trip into the mosquito-infested woods behind the house. My style has evolved and over the last 4 or 5 years, I have begun to take a lighter weight approach to hiking gear (I still use sleeping bags and tents, just lighter versions). While I have flirted with lightweight hiking, I feel that I am more of a mid-weight hiker now. My philosophy is one of comfort, while carrying the lightest load possible.

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Manufacturer Information:

Manufacturer: Jacks 'R' Better

Website: http://www.jacksrbetter.com

Year Manufactured: 2008

MSRP: $ 199.95  US


Materials: 70D rip stop nylon material and high strength polypropylene webbing

Capacity: 6 foot 3 inches tall and up to 225 pounds of capacity. (191 cm tall and up to 102 kg)
Information From Tester:
(all measurements approximate)


Weight:
Hammock (includes suspension webbing):
1lb 10.25 oz (744 g)

Bug net: 5.75 oz (164 g)

Gear pocket: 0.30 oz (8 g)

Tri-Glide: 0.40 oz (11 g)

1/2 spreader bar: 1.80 oz (51 g)
Whole spreader bar: 3.65 oz (104 g)

Measurements:
Hammock: 88 x 29  in (224 x 74 cm)

Suspension webbing (one side): 118 x 1 in (300  x 2.5 cm)

Initial Report
January 6, 2009

Initial tester expectations:
A huge selling point for me is the Jacks 'R' Better website. It is full of helpful pictures that illustrate not only what their products look like, but also provide plenty of inspiration for how to set up and use their gear.  The page for the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock is no exception.  There are at least 10 photos on the product page that show a variety of features and uses for this hammock. I really did come away with what I thought was a great idea of what this hammock was going to be like and if I had any questions about it once it arrived, I also knew that the webpage was going to be a great reference.

Manufacturer's description:

 The Jacks ‘R’ Better Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock is a true lay flat, sleep straight hammock.  It achieves these notable results by departing from the common “gather end” design to utilize a suspension bridge technique.  The design of the hammock incorporates spreader bars on each end.   These are a two piece design constructed of thin wall, one inch outer diameter, aluminum tubing with notched, rubber coated ends to fit into the secondary rings at the hammock corners. The hammock comes complete with a removable bug net made of no-see-um netting that secures to the perimeter of the hammock body with omni-tape and requires no additional lift tabs or ridge lines.  The four ounce, separable bug net may be left at home when insects are not a threat.

Tester's Description:
The Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock is a non-gathered end hiking hammock. The main body of the hammock is constructed of black 70D rip stop nylon and is shaped like a "U" in cross section.  Both ends of this "U" shaped piece of fabric are enclosed by flat pieces of material.

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The sides of the hammock are held apart at each end by spreader bars.  These are two piece aluminum poles which attach to the metal rings on each corner of the hammock. These rings serve as attachment points for the suspension webbing and also for the spreader bars.

The hammock body is ringed around the upper outside edge by a strip of hook and loop fastener.  This strip of fastener is used to attach the gear pocket and the bug netting when they are needed.   There is also an optional pad pocket located underneath the hammock.  It allows for a sleeping pad to be inserted into the hammock body.  This pocket runs the entire length of the hammock and is open on only one end.  

The hammock itself is attached to a multi part suspension system.  The first part of this suspension are the metal loops that are attached to each of the upper corners of the hammock body.  The spreader bars are made of aluminum with rubber coated ends that are notched to fit into the metal rings

 

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These rings serve as the attachment points for the spreader bars and the 0.75  in (2 cm) wide and 20 in (51 cm) long  sections of polypropylene webbing.  On each end of the hammock, these lengths of polypropylene webbing attach to another metal ring.

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This design supposedly creates a rain break that does not allow water to run down the webbing and get the hammock wet.  There is an additional 118 in (300 cm) length of polypropylene webbing that attaches to this metal loop and serves as the primary suspension strap for the hammock.

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Jacks 'R' Better included a pair of aluminum tri-glides that can be attached to this strap and serve as a fast and easy way to set up the hammock.

The hammock has no ridge line, so the bug net lies flat across the top of the hammock when in place. The ring of hook and loop fastener on the hammock corresponds to the edges of the bug net so that it can be connected completely as needed. The gear pocket also attaches to this strip of hook and loop fastener and can hang inside or outside of the hammock.

Setting it up:
I wanted to get the hammock set up so that I could take pictures and I am glad that I did this before hitting the trail with the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock.  The first thing I missed in the included instructions was to hang the hammock at about waist level.   I hung it too high and had to restring it once I realized that there was no way I was going to get into the hammock. The
polypropylene webbing does not stretch or give as much as I expected and when I hung the hammock at shoulder level (expecting some stretch and sag from the suspension and hammock) I could not get in.

My next surprise came when I wanted to loosen the suspension strap/tri-glide to lower the hammock.  The strap had tightened up in the tri-glide to a point that I had to go get a screw driver to pry it out. I learned very quickly that I should leave some slack in the suspension strap because it does not stretch and if I do not, then it has to be pried out of the tri-glide.

Once I got the hammock hung correctly, I had to get the spreader bars in place. There were no included instructions for this and I was running back and forth between the computer and back yard trying to figure out how to do it without hurting the hammock. The Jacks 'R' Better website pictures saved the day for me, but I also learned that a third reason for having slack in the suspension strap is to make inserting the spreader bars easier. Not easy, but easier.

I got the first one in place, but the second one was always a bear. I worried that I was going to rip or tear the hammock in some way even after several tries, but I did finally get the spreader bars in place.

I could not have done this initial set up without the website help and I am still not pleased with the amount of effort needed to insert the spreader bars.  There is a little part of me that is worried that I am still doing it wrong, but I will probably send the manufacturer an email to ask questions about this issue before I hit the trail with the hammock.

As a little addendum to the report, when I finally got to measuring and dealing with the stuff sack for the hammock, I found a card attached to the stuff sack that clearly walked me through each of my steps above. Each thing I had to learn on my own was neatly spelled out in the correct order. I am not sure how I overlooked these instructions in the first place, but I wanted to be clear that at this point the error was all mine. Jacks 'R' Better provided an excellent set of hanging instructions, I just missed them for awhile.

Hanging out:
Once inside the hammock I was surprised about the comfort and fit.  I found it challenging to get into a top loading hammock since I am used to other designs, but I liked the way that I sunk down into the hammock itself.  I then saw how the bug net worked. It had been my fear that it would press against my face since it lays flat across the hammock, but I sank far enough down into the hammock that there is plenty of room between myself and the bug net when in use.

Final thoughts:
I really like the feel of this hammock when I am in it. It is comfortable and just a bit different from all the other hammocks I have tried or used.  There has been a great amount of time spent by the manufacturer in the design of the hammock and it is apparent in the fine details.  The way the optional bug net and gear pocket attach is a very good example. While not conventional in their approach, these two items provide a great deal of flexibility in using this hammock.

The other detail that jumped out at me were the suspension system. It was designed to keep me dry in the hammock and to be easy to set up. The addition of the tri-glides made me think that Jacks 'R' Better is dedicated to improving their product over time. The suspension system was good as is, but I can see the benefit and improvement of adding the tri-glides.

The sleeping pad pocket is just icing on the cake.  It is one more detail that makes this hammock a very flexible sleeping system.  It does not cater to one type of hammock camper, but to anyone that wants to hang in the woods. If there is a special need for a hammock camper, Jacks 'R' Better seems to have thought of it and offered some type of option on this hammock. 

Despite me missing the included instructions, the company website did save the day for me when it came to the first time setting the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock up. Next time I will learn to dig through the packaging a bit better.

Things I like:
1. Flexible design
2. Suspension system
3. Comfortable

Things I don't like:
1. Spreader bars are difficult to install



Field Report
February 2, 2009


Locations:

Sam Houston National Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Total nights use: 10
Night temperatures: 28 to 70 F (-2 to 21 C)
Precipitation: Freezing rain, light rain, and mostly no rain.
Wind: 0 to 15 mph (0 to 24 kph) steady wind (gusts up to 20 mph/ 32 kph)

Setting it up:
After my initial attempts at getting this hammock set up and my battles with the spreader bars, I decided that there had to be a faster and easier to way to do this. I finally settled on the process of spacing the hammock between two trees and loosely hanging it around knee level. Then I would insert the spreader bars and take the slack out of the suspension straps till the hammock was hanging tightly at about waist level.  Not only did I no longer feel like I was fighting the spreader bars, but I also did not feel like I was going to damage the hammock by inserting the spreader bars. 

I also got used to setting the tri-glides with a bit more slack than I initially used so that the suspension webbing did not tighten up to a point that I could not loosen it or the tri-glide in the mornings.  One thing I have really grown to like about this hammock is that the suspension straps are all that are required to hand it and sleep in it. No guy lines or any other supplemental tie out points are required.

The one issue I have with the hammock is that in windy situations it can be a bear to set up. The hammock body likes to flip over and over in the wind with the great side effect of twisting the suspension lines.  This is not a design flaw in the hammock, but just a side effect of working with a giant piece of cloth when the wind is blowing. 

Accessories:
I have not needed the mosquito netting at all during this part of the test. I did install it once to see how easy it was to do.  My impression from this experiment is that it is going to really have to be worth my while to install the netting since it was not quick or easy in my view. It took time and quite a bit of effort to get it attached around the entire perimeter of the hammock in a useful way.  Other than that, I do appreciate the fact that the mosquito netting is not an integral part of the hammock's construction. I am very happy about being able to save weight and leave it at home when I will not be needing it.  In the next portion of the test I plan on using the mosquito net more often to see if familiarity with it makes the process of installing easier and less time consuming.

Spreader bars:
I am really torn in my opinion of the spreader bars.  They are very useful in holding the hammock open and despite the manufacturer's warnings against it, I have found them a great place to hang my headlamp and my watch/thermometer.  The location of the spreader bar right above my head makes it really easy to check the time or temperature without having to dig my watch out of a gear pocket. The same goes for my headlamp. I can loop its band around the spreader bar and hang my reading light right above my head and out of my way. 

On the downside they are a rather clunky and heavy addition to my pack. I carry them in a side gear pocket and lash them down with my pack's compression straps. This is no different from tent poles when I used a tent, but not being used to spreader bars or poles on my other hammocks, I am just not comfortable with them yet.

Keeping warm:
So far I have used an under quilt every night in this hammock. On one evening the temperature rose to 70 F (21 C) and I went without the under quilt for a few hours till the temperatures dipped.  With that being noted, I have not taken the opportunity to use a sleeping pad in the integral pad pocket instead of the under quilt. This is a goal for the next phase of this test so I can at least see how well I fair with a different type of bottom insulation.

With the under quilt in place, keeping my backside warm in this hammock has been easy. My only real concern about keeping warm has been from the top of the hammock. The hammock is open (even with a tarp over it) and keeping my face warm was often a serious task.  I have an idea about using hook and loop fastener to attach a reflective safety blanket to the top of the hammock (like the mosquito netting) to help keep warmth in the hammock. This is not really a problem since I know how to keep my top warm and the big issue of keeping my back/bottom warm has been solved by using an under quilt. 

The design of this hammock is what got me to thinking about putting a covering over the top of the hammock to hold in heat.  I lie in the bottom of the 'U' shaped hammock body with plenty of room between my body and the top edge of the hammock.  I am not sure if I will put the vent at the foot or head end of the hammock, but I will probably need some type of opening to keep my breath from condensing and getting my sleeping bag and myself wet.

Final thoughts:
I have been very comfortable in this hammock in some very windy and cold conditions (by my standards). I have yet to encounter anything that I see as a design or construction flaw in this hammock. I have finally figured out how to set it up without too much effort and it takes down very easily as well. There are no problems getting the hammock body and the suspension system into the stuff sack and it makes a pretty small package in my pack.  

In fact, I really like the idea of having the entire suspension system attached to the hammock at all times. This keeps me from losing parts along the way and also means that when I pull it out to set it up, I know everything I need is going to be there, not several miles down the trail. 

The one thing that I am still learning to do is get in and out of the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock.  It is a top loading hammock and it swings a bit much for my taste if I try to get in slow and steady. I have resigned my self to a quick 'plopping' in place over one side in order minimize the swing and sway of the hammock. I have never been dumped out while trying to enter or exit the hammock, but I have a feeling that I will deal with that moment sooner or later.  I also have noticed that the hammock sways crazily from side to side when I try to sit up in it. This may be me and my unfamiliarity with the hammock, but I have come very close to flipping myself out just by sitting up in it. 

Overall, I am very impressed with this hammock. There was a lot of thought and care put into its design.  It is usable in a wide variety of situations and is very adaptable as a shelter.

Things I like:
1. Easy to set up
2. Roomy
3. Spreader bars are great for hanging LIGHT gear

Things I do not like:
1. Swaying due to top loading
2. Swaying when I sit up in it
3. Spreader bars


Long Term Report - April 9, 2009

Locations:

Sam Houston National Forest
Other locations in Southeast Texas

Conditions:
Total nights use: 7
Night temperatures: 32 to 70 F (0 to 21 C)
Precipitation: Heavy Rain
Wind: 0 - 25 mph  (0 to 40 kph) steady wind (gusts up to 35 mph/56 kph)
Hammocks: Jacks 'R' Better Bear Mountain Hammock

Getting things hung:
Due to the amount of rain that I have seen during this part of my test, I spent a great deal of time getting better at hanging this hammock.  For the first time during this test, the weather forced me to hang my tarp first and work under and around it to hang the hammock.  The great news is that the tri-glides make hanging this hammock, even in poor conditions, a snap. 

One thing that I discovered is that I do not have to completely thread the end of the hanging strap through the tri-glide.

This was first due to my haste, but when I was taking the hammock down in the morning and realized that the end of the strap had only been threaded through one half of the tri-glide and held I decided to try it again. This has allowed me to put up my tarp first, hang the hammock, and then adjust the location of the hammock under the tarp without completely threading or unthreading the hanging strap through the tri-glide. I am not sure how safe this truly is, but I spent at least four nights with both tri-glides and hanging straps threaded this way and never once wound up on the ground due to it giving out or slipping. It is a definite plus because I can adjust the hammock quicker this way and it makes for a faster put up and take down sequence for me.

Keeping dry:
One of my main concerns about any hammock and rain is whether or not the water will run down the suspension system and get the hammock body wet.  According to the Jacks 'R' Better website, the use of the metal rings in the suspension system is designed to prevent water from running down the main webbing straps and getting the hammock wet.  From the amount of rain that this hammock has seen during the last seven nights of use, I can definitely state that the hammock body never got wet from water running down the suspension straps.

The straps themselves got quite soaked, but they seemed to dry very quickly once removed from the rain.  While they never dried while stuffed in the stuff sack in my pack, once they were home, out of the rain, and lain out, they were dry within a couple of hours.  Due to the constant rain on my trips during this phase of the report, I never got the chance to try out my idea of hanging the suspension straps out of my pack and on the outside of the pack body to dry while I hiked.

Another issue that I always worry about is whether or not the suspension system on my hammocks will stretch when wet. The next round of good news here is that the suspension straps on the Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock did not appear to stretch any extra when wet and bearing my weight. I always woke up hanging the same distance off the ground as when I crawled in.

Other features:
I am disappointed, but also relieved that I have not needed to use the bug netting that comes with this hammock. I have tried to install it a couple of times, but other than that, I have just never needed it during the winter months. One thing I really like about the bug netting is that I can carry it (and always did) just in case it was needed. It was an option that I must have during the summer months and I like the fact that if I did not need it, I could always save the weight in my pack by leaving it at home. 

The bottom pad pocket is another feature that I like the idea of, but never really got to experiment with. I have several sleeping pads, but the under quilt I used with this hammock over the winter kept me too comfortable to even make me consider pulling out a pad.  What I do know is that this pocket makes a great storage site for extra clothes, stuff sacks, and any other soft items that I did not want to hang in my pack at night. It also meant that I could keep all my stuff sacks for my hammock, tarp, and quilt in this pocket and in the morning I could take everything down without having to mess with my pack.  It is convenient, useful, and unless I looked very hard for it, difficult to tell that it was even there.

I still have great reservations about the spreader bars. They hold the hammock open and are a great place hang my headlamp and watch (despite manufacturer warnings not to).   Many times I wanted to adjust my position in this hammock and my first reflex was to reach up and grab the spreader bars.  This is another no-no and I had to work really hard not to do it. It just seems like such a natural thing, but the manufacturer says that it should not be done and I never wanted to find out the consequences. 

Getting in and out:
One of my few complaints about this hammock is due to it being a top loading hammock. For me, it was often difficult to put my sleeping bag in and then get in without flipping myself or the sleeping bag out. While not a huge problem and one that more coordinated people will have no issue with, it was a constant worry for me.

I also had to learn quickly that sitting up in this hammock was also very likely to get me flipped out. On many occasions I felt like I had to sit up and the hard side to side swaying of the hammock convinced me to lie back down. For me, this hammock is made for the prone position and anything else is liable to get me flipped out and onto the ground.

Sleeping:
I am a side sleeper and I am happy to report that no matter how I wiggled or curled up, this hammock was comfortable and roomy to sleep in. I really liked the way I sank down into the hammock and was able to change positions to stay comfortable.  I never felt that I was too close to the upper edges when I was inside and it gave me a feeling of being more sheltered than I probably was. 

Another thing that I like about this hammock is that because of the spreader bars, the body of the hammock is held open and there is never a feeling of being cocooned or smothered while inside. This makes the hammock feel rather roomy while I am inside of it and makes it a much better place to lounge when I am not quite ready to get up in the morning or when I am reading before I doze off.

Final thoughts:
I have spent quite a few cold and now rainy nights in this hammock. It has gotten easier to hang and has always been easy to take down and stuff into my pack. It actually takes up much less room than I would have expected, even with the bug netting. 

It is comfortable, which is why I like hammocks, and roomy which is an extra added bonus. I can put spare gear in the hammock near my feet (my pack spent some nights there) and not feel crowded or cramped. This really makes it feel and work much more like a hanging tent than a hammock for me. It is nice to get the comfort of a hammock with some of the extra space of a one person tent.

One thing that I am not keen on is the spreader bars. They have performed wonderfully during the course of this test and have never caused any problems. They are really no different than packing tent poles and they do not seem to put any more stress on the fabric of the hammock than tent poles do on a tent body. Still, deep down inside, something about bars/poles on my hammock makes me uncomfortable. It is a personal thing that is not supported by any problems or issues that I encountered during this test.

I love the tri-glides and the suspension straps for hanging this hammock. It keeps me from having to tie and untie knots and it makes hanging the hammock much easier.  Anything that keeps me from dealing with knots is definitely a good thing. At this point I have found that the ends of the suspension straps are fraying a bit. Probably from being pulled in and out of the tri-glides, but it is not a real problem. A little flame applied to them should melt any loose threads and keep the straps healthy for a long time to come. 

One last bonus is definitely the pad pocket/sleeve under the hammock. I have not used it with a pad, but it is an excellent storage place for extra gear. 

I want to finish this report off by saying that this hammock far exceeded my expectations. I am a hammock camper by choice, but this particular hammock is all that anyone wanting to try hammocks or keep using hammocks could want. It combines comfort, durability, and ease of use into a package that is easy on the pack and my back. 

Things I like:
1. Flexible design
2. Ease of hanging
3. Comfortable

Things I don't like:
1. Spreader bars



Read more reviews of Jacks R Better gear
Read more gear reviews by Thomas Vickers

Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Jacks R Better Bear Mtn Bridge Hammock > Test Report by Thomas Vickers



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