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Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock
Test Series by Hollis Easter
Long-Term Report - 13 October 2009

Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock review by Hollis Easter

The Warbonnet Blackbird is a fully-enclosed camping hammock that offers roomy comfort with a gathered-end design.

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Reviewer Information:

The author
The author

Name: Hollis Easter
Age: 28
Gender: Male
Height: 6'0" (1.8 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Email address: backpackgeartest[a@t)holliseaster(dah.t]com
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 also love climbing rock and ice.

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).

Product Information:

Manufacturer: Brandon Waddy, doing business as Warbonnet Outdoors
Year of manufacture: 2009
URL: warbonnetoutdoors.net
MSRP: $160 US
Color: Olive drab
Size and type: Double-layer 1.7 fabric weight (units not specified)
Suspension type: adjustable webbing with tri-ring buckles

Measurements: Listed Measured
Hammock weight:~31 oz (880 g)30.0 oz (850 g)
Straps weight (pair): 6.0 oz (172 g)
Carabiner weight (pair): 1.6 oz (48 oz)
Suspension weight (pair):~7.7 oz (220 g)7.6 oz (210 g)
Stuff sack weight0.5 oz (15 g)0.5 oz (15 g)
Total weight:~2 lbs 7.2 oz (1,110 g)2 lbs 6.0 oz (1,075 g)
Dimensions:120 in x 72 in (305 cm x 180 cm)71 in x 41 in (180 cm x 105 cm) (see below)
Ridgeline:101 in (257 cm)101.5 in (257.8 cm) (see below)
Strap length:14 ft (4.3 m) with loop in one end13 ft 7 in (4.1 m) with loop in one end
Stuffed size: 15 in x 6.5 in x 5.5 in (38 cm x 17 cm x 14 cm)

It's very difficult to measure the size of a completed hammock appropriately. The only really useful measurement is ridgeline length, and even that has room for confusion and doubt. Although my size measurements are different from Brandon's, I attach very little significance to that fact.

Brandon included a pair of lightweight Warbonnet carabiners with my hammock; these are normally available at an additional cost. I'm not sure whether the carabiners are included in the quoted weights, although I assume they are.

Brandon's website lists the straps as being offered in a woodland camouflage pattern; my straps are black.

Product features (from manufacturer materials):

  • Hammock allows an asymmetrical lay while using symmetrical netting and pull tabs
  • Has a large storage shelf inside the hammock, approximately 2 ft2 (0.19 m2)
  • Full-length zipper allows netting to be stowed over the ridgeline when not needed
  • Includes a choice of webbing or cordage suspension options
  • Includes a double-ended stuff sack
  • Offered in od (olive drab) green, dark grey, or mint green in either of two fabric weights
  • Design includes an internal structural ridgeline

Initial Report - 30 May 2009:

Introduction:

Lying down in the Blackbird
Lying down in the Blackbird

I first became aware of the Warbonnet Blackbird hammocks when several people started writing about them at Hammock Forums, a website about backpacking with hammocks. I've been a member there since last year, and have found it to be an invaluable repository of information. I wish I'd known about it when I started learning about hammocks!

As I understand it, Warbonnet started out doing business through Hammock Forums, and has only recently moved to a stand-alone website format. Brandon Waddy is the proprietor; he's also the chief designer, stitch master, and shipping czar. Warbonnet hammocks are not presently available in stores, and each hammock is made to order.

Warbonnet's website is new, and its pages are quite sparse. There are few photographs, and the descriptions are not particularly clear. Brandon knows that the website needs some work; I imagine that, with his order list full and nobody to help with sewing, the website probably sits on the back burner.

With that said, I'd like to offer a few specific recommendations for the website. It would be really useful to have some clear photographs depicting the different suspension systems: this would help to make the descriptions clearer. For example, it isn't presently clear why I would choose a double layer hammock or a single one, and it would be easy to explain that.

One orders a Blackbird by emailing Brandon directly. I found Brandon very easy to work with, and he guided me easily through the process of choosing a hammock. In the end, the clear choice was for the double 1.7 hammock: he felt that it would be a lot more comfortable given my weight. I asked a lot of questions, and he was always quick to respond. This helped to mediate the website issues. I felt very confident placing my order after corresponding with Brandon. I also chose to purchase one of his Yeti torso-length down underquilts at my own expense.

Since Warbonnet is a one-man shop, there's a waiting list. Brandon quoted me a wait time of about three weeks, and that's what it took. My hammock and underquilt arrived in great shape.

Brandon included a typed sheet of instructions with the Blackbird. I found the instructions easy to follow, and noted that they specifically covered some issues I had when I first started being a "hanger". For instance, it's important not to string up the hammock too tightly, since that just adds strain to the system without offering any positive effect. I liked the instructions.

I really appreciated that Brandon's instructions talk about the importance of Leave No Trace practices when hanging. There are many places where state campgrounds will not permit hammock use because of damage to trees. This damage is easily prevented by using webbing straps, and Brandon makes a point of explaining why the Warbonnet suspension systems use webbing. To my mind, this is great: it's always good to inform customers and help them to be conscientious users of the outdoors. Good on ya, Brandon!

The adjustable webbing suspension system
The adjustable webbing suspension system

Hammock description:

The shelf
The shelf

The Blackbird stows in a black silnylon stuff sack that opens at both ends–what's called a BlackBishop sack in the hammock world. This design allows the stuff sack to be stored on the hammock's suspension, and makes it easier to stow the hammock. The sack is very light and very slippery. I liked the fact that the drawcords are thin and lightweight rather than being overbuilt. The hammock stows fairly easily in its sack, although it can take a bit of wrestling. The stuff sack seems fairly large, but the packed hammock can easily be compressed quite a bit more.

In case my readers are unfamiliar with fabric terms, I'll take a moment to explain. Silnylon is a fabric that's relatively new to the outdoor industry; its longer name is "silicone-impregnated nylon". A special manufacturing process impregnates the fibers themselves, rather than coating them as many after-market waterproofing treatments do. The result is a fabric that's naturally waterproof at low water pressures, that's very slippery, and is quite strong: the silicone treatment allegedly helps the fabric to stretch rather than tearing.

The other fabrics used in the Blackbird are a nylon taffeta (a strong woven fabric used for the hammock body) and no-see-um mesh netting, used to help keep insects out of the hammock.

Hanging the hammock is very simple. I take the end of the hammock's webbing, which has a carabiner attached, and toss it around a tree trunk or sturdy branch. I could take an extra turn around the tree, although I haven't felt the need so far. I then clip the carabiner onto the standing part of the webbing and cinch the whole thing up to the tree.

Getting out
Getting out

I was quite concerned about the carabiner system at first, since my rock climbing training leads me to worry about cross-loading carabiners. I worried that the cinching would crush the carabiner against the tree, weakening the system. So far, my worries seem unfounded. Even when the hammock is weighted, the carabiner doesn't get pressed against the tree trunk.

Okay! So now I start walking away from that first tree, allowing the hammock to spill out of the stuff sack as I go. I open the other end of the stuff sack, pull out the webbing straps from that side, and attach them to the other tree. Great! Now I need to set the tension on the hammock. Each strap is connected to the hammock via a pair of "tri-rings": triangular steel rings with little bumps and file jimps (incisions). The straps go through the tri-rings in a Garda hitch, and this makes it easy to adjust the tension. Once I've got the hammock set the way I want it, I tie a slipped half hitch with the webbing for added security.

I am astounded by how quickly I can set this hammock up. My first attempt at setting up the hammock took exactly two minutes and thirty seconds; taking it down took two minutes and forty-eight seconds. For me, that's a huge improvement in setup time over my previous hammock.

When I was ordering the hammock, I wasn't aware of the real versatility that comes with the webbing suspension. Although it's nice to be able to adjust the hammock's tension so easily, there's an even better benefit: I can hang from trees of any size! With other suspension systems, I've often found trees that were just too big to use, since I couldn't get my suspension around them. I haven't yet found a tree that's too big for the Blackbird's straps.

Each side of the hammock has a side tie-out that can be used to create a more expansive feeling inside the hammock. The hammock works fine without them, although the "shelf" (more about that in a moment) profits by being staked out.

I think the design of the tie-outs is really clever. The hammock body has two tie-out points on each side, and they're connected by a loop of black cordage that also runs through a small sliding metal ring. Here's the clever bit: a piece of shock cord with a loop in one end and a cordlock on the other. I run the shock cord through the sliding ring, then stake the loop to the ground. I can adjust tension with the cordlock, if needed. The great thing is that the sliding ring automatically equalizes tension between the two tie-out points, helping to keep everything taut.

The Blackbird features a full-length two-slider zipper on the hanger's left side, which lets me enter the protected confines of the hammock. To get into the hammock, I generally unzip the hammock about halfway on each side, then pull the netting over my head and sit down onto the hammock body. It's important to sit on the body, not any of the seams; this hasn't been a problem for me, but it's important enough that Brandon mentions it in the instructions.

Once I'm sitting, it's simple to rotate my body clockwise and pull my feet into the hammock. Even with my full weight in the hammock, the zipper isn't under tension, so it's always easy to open or close. I tend to leave both zipper pulls right near my elbow, rather than closing them up at one end. The zipper pulls are very small, but I haven't had any trouble using them. If I were doing serious cold-weather hanging, I might attach some longer pulls to the zippers so they'd be easier to use with gloves.

Inside the hammock at last, I'm already comfortable. The straps stretched a little bit the first time I lay in the hammock, but they seem not to stretch anymore. The first things I notice as I'm lying in the hammock are that my back feels pretty flat, my knees don't feel torqued, and my shoulders don't feel squeezed. The design of the Blackbird offers a very roomy interior, and it's quite impressive how spacious it feels even though I'm a big and tall guy.

Looking up—since that's what I do most in the hammock—I see the grey Amsteel Blue ridgeline that helps to keep the Blackbird set at a constant amount of sag. This is not adjustable, but that hasn't been a problem so far. Amsteel Blue is a braided line made of Dyneema ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene; it features very high strength with low weight and almost no stretch.

Footbox (with Yeti underquilt installed)
Footbox (with Yeti underquilt installed)

I find it interesting that the Blackbird seems, so far, quite tolerant of imperfect setups. I've eyeballed the head-foot balance each time rather than using a line level to make sure the hammock is flat. Each time, I've found it easy to shift myself around inside to get a flat and comfortable bed. Sometimes I'm lying a bit closer to "true", with my spine parallel to the ridgeline; other times I'm fully asymmetrical, with my feet tucked way out into the footbox. I just seem to find a good place to lie.

The footbox is an interesting piece of design. It's a gusseted pocket that's stitched into the hanger's right side of the hammock, and it offers a bunch of space for my feet. I have big feet, and there's still plenty of room for them in there. Inside the hammock, though, I don't notice the clever engineering of the footbox; I just notice that there's plenty of room for my feet and legs. Good work, Brandon.

Clever side tie-outs
Clever side tie-outs

It's a bit hard to see out of the hammock when I'm lying down. A band of fabric above the zipper blocks my view on the left side, and there's a wall of body fabric on my right. I can easily see outside the hammock by sitting up, though. View isn't everything, anyway—I often wear a blindfold at night because the sun wakes me up far earlier than it summons my hiking companions.

If I reach straight up and then follow the netting down to my right, I reach the "shelf" area of the hammock. The shelf exists because the Blackbird is made with symmetrically-cut netting, and it offers a handy place to stow some gear inside the hammock. It seems relatively stable when I'm getting into and out of the hammock; that's something I'll be waiting to see during the field testing portions of this test series.

If I want a seat in camp, I can open the zipper completely and then flip the netting over the ridgeline, getting it out of the way. I doubt I'll be using that very much during the buggy portions of the year, but it's a useful option especially for cooler weather. The ridgeline hits the back of my head when I'm sitting in the hammock, which is a bit uncomfortable, but it isn't bad.

Sitting up in the hammock is a bit claustrophobic, because my head hits the mosquito netting. It's not a big deal, and may be less pronounced if I'm hanging from trees that are closer together; we'll see. I don't tend to sit in hammocks very much anyway—I'm only in there if I'm planning on sleeping.

I ordered the double layer hammock model on Brandon's advice. What that means is that the hammock has two layers of fabric in the bottom portion; this gives a flatter lay and also reduces stretch. The layers are stitched together near my left elbow and along the whole right side; the rest of the left border is open, allowing access to the "pad pocket" created there. If I'm going to rely on a foam pad or air mattress for bottom insulation, I can put it into the pad pocket to keep it from moving around. A neat feature, I think!

Some of my photographs also show the black Yeti underquilt installed on the hammock. It was 40 F (4 C) outside during my photo shoot, and I was getting cold while lying in the hammock!

So far, I'm impressed by the Blackbird. Brandon has invented some great features for his flagship hammock, and seems to have implemented them well. The construction quality is very high: straight and even seams, beautiful stitching, and good work all around. In my backyard testing, I found the hammock very roomy, easy to enter and exit, and comfortable inside. I'm very much looking forward to getting out in the woods with it.

Check out all the shoulder room!
Check out all the shoulder room!

Field Report - 11 August 2009:

During this period, I slept in the Blackbird hammock twice, and also spent quite a few afternoons resting in it at home. So far, I think it's very comfortable, easy to pitch, and easy to use. I like it! Now that I've got the tarp issues sorted out, I expect to be able to use the hammock much more easily in the future.

I used two different tarps in the field:

  • Hennessy Explorer UL tarp, semi-catenary cut, 120 in x 70 in (304 cm x 178 cm)
  • MacCat Deluxe tarp, catenary cut, 130 in x 104 in (330 cm x 264 cm)

July 6-7, 2009: Lampson Falls

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
45 F (7 C) to 60 F (15 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 800 ft (240 m

I spent the night out at Lampson Falls, a beautiful local spot with a fairly good-sized waterfall. Total distance was about 2 miles (3 km), with minimal elevation gain. I have since learned that, when camping near a waterfall, it is wise to bring earplugs.

July 31-August 1, 2009: Lower Wolf Jaw Mtn.

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
50 F (10 C) to 80 F (27 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) 4,175 ft (1,273 m)

A friend and I hiked through the midnight rain to a campsite along Johns Brook, where we set up camp. The next morning, we met another friend and I led the crew on an ascent of the Bennies Brook Slide on Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. We climbed the steep, wet open rock for about 1,500 vertical feet (460 m), finally reaching a hiking trail that led to the summit. A great trip: good friends, labradorite in the brooks, and good views. Total ascent was about 3,200 ft (975 m), and distance about 12 miles (19 km).

Morning by Lampson Falls
Morning by Lampson Falls

A Night In The Blackbird:

I've decided to share some observations about the Blackbird in a narrative format, with some comments at the end. So here's my description of a night in the Blackbird.

Pete and I roll into the parking lot just before midnight on Friday night. The weather, forecast for clear skies, is dropping water on our heads. What a surprise! It's rained all but three days since mid-May, so I'm not shocked. We get our gear together, sign into the trail register, and head off into the muddy darkness of the trail. After about 40 minutes of walking, we decide to make camp in the trees.

I walk into the woods and, after a moment, spot a likely pair of trees. They're about eight paces apart, which is a good width for me. I'll try it. Out comes my new MacCat Deluxe tarp; I tie it to the trees, tension its ridgeline, and stake out the sides with guylines clove hitched around stakes; from that moment onward, I'm dry and working mostly beneath the tarp.

I open one end of the hammock's stuff sack and, keeping the hammock inside it, pull out the suspension strap. I lengthen the strap as far as it will go, and then make the quick trip out to run the strap around the tree and clip it onto itself with the carabiner. I run back underneath the tarp. I adjust the length of the strap so that the hammock's end falls just beneath the edge of the tarp, and then I start walking toward the other tree, spooling the hammock out of its stuff sack. I then open the second end of the stuff sack, pull out the suspension strap, and zip out to the second tree to clip it.

Back under the tarp, I tension the strap to get the hammock approximately level. I spend a minute faffing around with the straps, adjusting them and trying to get the ridgeline level. This is hard given that the ground is very steeply sloped here, and it's dark, and I'm working with a headlamp in the rain. I curse myself, not for the first time, for having left my line level at home. With my other hammock, I no longer needed it, but it appears that there's a learning curve for this new hammock.

Pretty soon, though, the hammock is set the way I want it, and I tie backup knots in the straps. I grab a couple of sticks and use them to stake out the side tie-outs. Glancing at my watch, I notice that about five minutes have elapsed so far.

Time to sort out my insulation! I pull the torso-length closed-cell foam pad out of my pack, unfold it, and toss it into the hammock, where it will insulate my feet and legs. Next out is my down quilt, which will keep me warm inside the hammock. Tonight I'm using a quilt rated for 20 F (-7 C); when I overheat, I'll just push it to the side for a while. I toss the quilt into the hammock, to let the down start lofting up. Next out is my Warbonnet Yeti down underquilt, which quickly attaches to the hammock. My inflatable pillow goes into the shelf, along with a sack stuffed with my raincoat, extra shirt, and extra socks. I throw my blindfold and MP3 player in there, too.

Hammock on the left, shelf on the right
Hammock on the left, shelf on the right

After a few minutes of chatting with Pete, it's time for bed. I unzip the side of the hammock, duck my head inside, and sit down. Off come the boots; I tuck their laces inside, then place them directly beneath me. My socks go inside the hammock on the ridgeline, where they'll dry a bit before morning. I pull off my gaiters and clip them around the side tie-out lines, where they'll stay protected from rain and (I hope) will dry a bit by morning. I pull myself into the hammock, zip the edge, kill a couple of mosquitoes, and start to relax.

Stuff sack of clothes goes beneath my knees; pillow supports my neck. Some campers come along at about 2 in the morning, flashing their headlamps all over the place. They focus them repeatedly on my tarp, which gets a bit annoying, so I wake up enough to put on my blindfold. I'm thinking that there's something else I should do tonight . . . .

In the morning, I get up and stretch. I've slept well enough that I'm a bit pressed for time since our third friend will soon arrive. Sure enough, she walks up as I'm standing around outside the hammock, so I decide to take the hammock down and eat breakfast later. It takes me about fifteen minutes, moving slowly, to strike camp. Stuff comes out of the hammock and goes into my pack; then the hammock gets shaken out and packed into its sack, which then goes into my pack. Finally I shake the tarp to dry it a little bit, then stuff it and put it away. When I get home and take it out to dry it out, I'll find a little inchworm happily walking along it, none the worse for its trip through my backpack.

I glance back at my campsite and notice that it is impossible to see where I slept: the trees bear no scars from the straps, and the ground betrays nothing about my location. Leave No Trace backpacking can really be this easy.

Sleeping quilt drying over the ridgeline
Sleeping quilt drying over the ridgeline

Commentary:

I'd like to point out a few things from my story about setting up the hammock. First, I'm impressed at how much the Blackbird forgives when it comes to site selection. It worked perfectly on the first pair of trees I tried, even though I was estimating distance in the rain while using a headlamp. That's really useful when it comes to setting up camp quickly.

The area where I camped that night was completely unusable for tents. Even if there weren't rocks and little tree stumps everywhere, the ground was steeply sloped. The campers who stumbled in around 2 a.m. spent nearly an hour wandering around looking for a tent site. There were dozens of other places I could have hung my hammock. Site selection is easy.

If you're new to tarp-based camping, notice that I spent most of my setup time completely protected from the rain. This makes a big difference in how I feel while I'm backpacking, because it doesn't take me very long to have a sanctuary where I can start drying out. The whole thing is very quick to set up and very quick to strike.

Sleeping in the hammock is very comfortable. The Blackbird gives me a bit of room to wiggle around, which is nice. I like the zippers on the side, partly because they make it easy to get in and out, partly because they make it easy to reach out and grab my water bottle from where it sits on the ground. The fabric of the hammock is comfortable against bare skin, and no mosquitoes have succeeded in biting me through the hammock fabric.

I like the Blackbird a lot, but there are a few nits to pick. Although the shelf is huge and useful for storing a bunch of gear while I'm inside the hammock, it flops down in a way that precludes seeing it from inside the hammock. If I want something from it, I have to root around and find it by touch. I had a frustrating moment while looking for my headlamp, which had lodged itself inside my rolled-up pants. I wish there were some form of pocket on the ridgeline for items like my headlamp and MP3 player. I'm also very careful to place objects into the shelf, rather than dropping them, so that they don't rip the mosquito netting.

I had hoped that my old Hennessy Explorer tarp would work with the Blackbird. It does—as long as I pitch it perfectly and there's no wind. However, in each of my backyard tests, the hammock get wet when I tried to use it with the Hennessy tarp. That's no criticism of the Hennessy tarp, because it was designed for a different hammock.

I ordered a MacCat Deluxe tarp from Brian MacMillin of Outdoor Equipment Supplier. He was waiting on delivery of some materials, which meant that my testing got put on hold. Given that it's rained hard 75 of the last 80 days, I wasn't willing to go into the woods without a tarp that fit the hammock.

The MacCat Deluxe fits this hammock really well. I'm looking forward to getting out more during the Long-Term Report phase now that I've got a bombproof tarp.

In summary, the Warbonnet Blackbird works very comfortably so far. It's small in my pack, relatively light, and easy to set up in the field. It's quick enough to set up that I've sometimes set it up at home just so I can go lie in it to read a book. It protects me from insects, supports my back, and forgives my poor site choices. I like it a lot!

A beautiful spot for a camp
A beautiful spot for a camp

Long-Term Report - 13 October 2009:

During this period, I slept in the Warbonnet Blackbird for three additional nights. I also got very sick with some form of influenza and had to cancel all my trips for more than a month, so my testing period was shorter than I hoped.

In brief, I love the Blackbird, and I plan to continue using it in the future. It worked very well for me, and I rave about it to anyone who will listen.

August 31-September 1, 2009: Kayaking Little Tupper Lake and Rock Pond

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
35 F (2 C) to 75 F (24 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 1,500 ft (460 m)

My first kayak-camping experience took me from the launch point on Little Tupper Lake through a long slough and onto the relatively remote Rock Pond. The others in the group continued a four-day traverse of the Lake Lila/Low's Lake route while I paddled back alone and returned to the office. Total distance paddled was about 15 miles (24 km). Overnight temperatures were near freezing, and there was noticeable wind. I discovered the joy of portaging a 17 foot (5.2 m) sea kayak alone with all my gear, too!

September 12-14, 2009: Duck Hole and Mountain Pond

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
40 F (4 C) to 70 F (21 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 1,500 ft (460 m)

A friend and I hiked along long-disused lumber roads from Coreys Road to Duck Hole, one of the wildest places in the Adirondack park. In many places, the trail sees so little foot traffic as to be almost indistinguishable from the surrounding forest, and it took some skill to remain on the right path. I was surprised to see how quickly the forest has filled in this once-busy corridor. At Duck Hole, we spent a very enjoyable evening listening to the resident chorus of loons. It began to rain overnight, and we waited out the morning rain inside a lean-to while listening to the loons. We returned by the same route and camped near Mountain Pond before heading to the airport on the morning of the 14th. Total distance hiked was about 23 miles (37 km). The second night was clear and starry, and therefore quite cold.

The Blackbird at Duck Hole
The Blackbird at Duck Hole

The Verdict:

Quite simply, I adore the Blackbird. No bones about it.

Every once in a while, a piece of gear comes along that's so good it's hard to imagine what life was like without it, that works so well that people on the trail offer to buy it. The Warbonnet Blackbird is that good.

My Long-Term Reporting phase yielded basically the same results as the Field Report phase: the Blackbird is a versatile, comfortable, easy-to-use shelter that provides me a great night of sleep whenever I string it up. I find that I often just lie in the hammock, gently swinging, zoning out in blissful comfort as I gaze up at the sky or listen to the wind.

I've especially appreciated the Blackbird during the past few months because of an injury: I sprained my back (paraspinal muscles) quite badly while teaching myself to do kayak Eskimo rolls. (I learned, though! Without a teacher!)

So in among all the stretching, anti-inflammatory medications, and thrice-weekly visits to the chiropractor, I've been in a lot of back pain. Hiking can aggravate the pain, especially with a full pack on. I guess my strongest endorsement of the Blackbird is this: except for the times when I've been lying on my chiropractor's table, the only times I've been without back pain in the last month have been while lying in my Warbonnet Blackbird. As soon as I get into the hammock, my back starts to relax into the cradle of the fabric, and the pain begins to ease.

I got to verify the difference the hammock made on one of my backpacking trips, when I spent the evenings lying on my sleeping pad in a tripmate's tent. After an hour or two, my back was pure torment—to the point where I was almost in tears. Everything hurt! Even parts of my body that had been fine before lying down felt disjointed and troubled.

Yet, each night, everything calmed down as soon as I went back to my hammock and snuggled in. If this is a design feature, Brandon will sell a million hammocks. If it's a placebo effect, I don't care! My back feels good in the hammock. Maybe he should rename it the "Backbird" and sell it to physical therapists and chiropractors.

I meant to try different kinds of insulation, but the combination of the Yeti underquilt and torso-length closed-cell foam pad worked so beautifully that I saw no reason to mess with the system. It was very quick to set up, and it had the benefit of leaving me a foam pad to sit on during meals and rest stops. I tried the pad inside the pad pocket, but with a torso-length pad for my legs, it didn't make much difference. The short pad is already easy to maneuver. I expect that when winter comes I'll start tucking a full-size foam pad into the pad pocket for serious insulation.

Getting up for midnight bathroom breaks is very quick and easy with this insulation system—no hassle at all. This marks a very significant improvement over previous hammock and tent systems I've used. With the Blackbird, I just push my quilt out of the way, unzip the side, swing my feet out and into my waiting shoes, and I'm out. Reversing the process is simple and quick and doesn't really wake me up. Wonderful!

I got into the habit of using an inflatable travel pillow (shaped like a horseshoe) in the hammock. It makes my hanging setup much less "touchy", since I can compensate for a slightly off-level hang by adjusting the firmness of the pillow. A good investment. I also continued my habit of hanging my gaiters from the side guylines at night, which kept them from blowing away while also keeping them near and protected from rain.

The mosquito netting on the hammock was very effective at keeping out insects, which is most welcome: the bugs have persisted well into October this year.

I still bring tent pegs for the side guylines, but except for Mountain Pond, I haven't used them—I almost always use twigs that I find on the ground instead. At Mountain Pond, the ground was extremely rocky and required metal stakes... but if I hadn't been camping with a tent-user, I probably would have chosen a different site. I find that camping with ground-pounders alters my site selection noticeably, and it's more fun to camp with fellow hammockers. We aren't constrained by flat ground!

The shelf is a very effective space now that I know how to use it, although I sometimes have to sit up to reach small items in the bottom of it. Because of restricted site locations, I've often had to angle the shelf downwards—I would need more space to be able to set it up parallel to the ground. I've usually been camping with tent campers, and that tends to mean that they get the open areas and I get to carve out a space among the tightly-packed evergreens. It's a testament to hammocker ingenuity that I've always been able to find a space so close to their tents. One night I had to use my spare cord to tie a tree out of the way overnight!

The adjustable webbing suspension system has been rock solid and very easy to use. In my opinion, it more than justifies the few extra ounces. I made sure to tie the backup knots each time, and I never had any slippage or problems with water running down the straps. The straps are very easy and quick to adjust, and they're quick to take down when it's time to strike camp. If I ever build another hammock, it will get adjustable straps like these. As a side note, my straps are now covered with tree sap. Who cares? That's what they're for. It doesn't impede their function at all.

I note that Brandon has updated the Warbonnet webpage (linked above). It's quite a lot better, and now features videos demonstrating the Warbonnet products! Nice work.

Through the time I've used the Blackbird, I've begun seriously moving toward a lighter, smaller pack—I'm now using a 3000 in^3 (50 liter) pack, which means space is at more of a premium. Even amid my efforts to trim pack weight and size, the Blackbird works well. It's a smaller package than my old tent was, and it's light enough for my needs. Here, too, I return to the question of "what's really important in the woods?" For me, sleeping well is a very high priority. I believe that the Blackbird helps me to hike better, because it helps me rest.

Thanks in part to the Blackbird, I've managed to get my total pack weight including consumables down below 33 lbs (15 kg) with some luxuries. My back is also grateful for that, I'm sure! The Blackbird's stuff sack seems to fit pretty effortlessly in my pack.

Goodnight from the Warbonnet Blackbird
Goodnight from the Warbonnet Blackbird

In Closing:

I'm pondering what really matters about this whole gear testing thing. It's easy to get wrapped up in the fervent cries of "new!" and "improved!" that pervade the outdoor gear world, and one can get sucked in by features, bells, whistles, and details. In focusing on the Ten Thousand Things, we may miss the forest while looking for hammock trees. I think that what matters most about gear is how it helps us to enjoy the wilderness; after a while, features are just details.

I can't overstate the beauty of waking up in the woods without pain—feeling rested and relaxed, without knots in my muscles and bruises on my pressure points. At Duck Hole, I lay in half-darkness for hours, listening to the songs of Northern Loons as they closed up shop for the winter. I wouldn't trade those memories for anything, and the Blackbird made them possible.

So, in the end, what stands out about the Blackbird is the way that it makes every other aspect of my wilderness experience more fun. A feeling of glee comes over me when it's time for bed out in the woods, because I know that I'll actually get some rest. I know that I'll lie comfortably, listening to loons and gazing up into the sky, contemplating my place in the universe.

And as I douse the embers of my fire and wend my weary way to bed, I am profoundly grateful for the hammock that helped make it all possible.

Likes:Dislikes:
  • Communication with Brandon was fantastic
  • I can easily lie flat in the hammock
  • Roomy shoulder area keeps me from being squeezed
  • Adjustable webbing suspension is wonderful!
  • Clever side tie-outs make it easy to get a taut pitch
  • Double-ended stuff sack is easy to use
  • No-see-um netting helps to keep out the winged hordes
  • Shelf gives me room to stash some gear inside the hammock
  • Ridgeline is good for drying socks
  • Side tie-outs let me dry my gaiters overnight
  • Side zipper facilitates easy access
  • I sleep very, very well
  • Hammock needs a fairly large tarp for weather protection
  • Hard to see items when they're in the shelf

I thank BackpackGearTest.org and Warbonnet Outdoors for allowing me to test the Blackbird Hammock. It is truly fantastic.



Read more reviews of Warbonnet Outdoors gear
Read more gear reviews by Hollis Easter

Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Warbonnet Outdoors Blackbird Hammock > Test Report by Hollis Easter



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