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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Warbonnet Outdoors Blackbird Hammock > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock

Test Report by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - June 5, 2009

Field Report - August 11, 2009

Long-Term Report - October 13, 2009

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
Tucson, Arizona, USA

I'm doing more branching out from my Upper Midwest roots after having done all of the Superior Hiking Trail, Border Route and Kekekabic, and Isle Royale.  This year included hiking in Michigan, Wisconsin, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, North Dakota and Missouri.  Mostly Spring/Fall season hiker, but started to do more winter hiking/snowshoeing last year. I pack ~25 lb base weight but carry a LOT of food and do a 15-17 miles/day pace.  I am a hardcore hammock camper, bringing my tent only when there are no trees on the trail.

Initial Report

Product Information

The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is a true camping hammock, not a leisure model for backyard use.  It is designed to be suspended between two sturdy trees or poles in the backcountry.  It includes an integrated bug net for summer use, and the model I am testing has a sleeve for a pad beneath the sleeper for warmth.  Though Warbonnet (and other firms) sell both underquilts for warmth and tarps for rain protection, neither of these accessories are included in this test; only the hammock will be examined.

Product Information
Manufacturer
Warbonnet Outdoors
Manufacturer website
http://www.warbonnetoutdoors.net/
Year Manufactured
2009
Size/color tested/used
Double layer 1.7 od green with webbing suspension

Also available in:
  • Single layer 1.7 od green
  • Single layer 1.1 dark gray
  • Double layer 1.1 dark gray
MSRP
$160 US

Listed
Measured
Weight
~31 oz (879 g) +
7.7 oz (218 g) webbing =
38.7 oz (1097 g) total
36.8 oz (1043 g) total
Dimensions
120 in x 72 in with 101 in internal structural ridge line
(305 cm x 183 cm, 257 cm ridge line)
Length: 113 in (287 cm) from the ends of the ring buckles
Width: 49 in (124 cm) at the widest point between tieouts
Ridge line: 98 in (249 cm) measured from knot-to-knot
Packed Size
Not given
13.5 in x 5.5 in diameter
(35 cm x 14 cm)

It was nice to see that the listed weight was conservative, my hammock coming in almost 2 oz (54 g) less than advertised.  I chose the heavier weight fabric due to my substantial size and weight.

I'm not sure how the manufacturer measures their dimensions -- hammocks are very articulated pieces of gear and its hard to get people to agree on where and what to measure, and which measurements are significant.  I don't attach any importance to the discrepancies between the listed and measured dimensions in the above table.

Suspension

The supplied 1 inch (2.5 cm) webbing strap has a small loop in one end.  The webbing is rated to 2000 lbs (907 kg).  High strength is needed because the suspension system must support stresses that are many times the weight of the user.  The hammock is hung by wrapping the looped end around a tree trunk and clipping the loop to the strap with a load-bearing carabiner.  The carabiner was not supplied with my hammock.
Biner'd to a tree
If the webbing strap is mistakenly looped back to the ring buckle in a loop, only half the length of the webbing strap can be used to extend to the hammock, greatly restricting the usable tree distance for hanging the shelter.  Note that this procedure is not documented in the supplied instructions, but is (humorously) described in a video on the manufacturer's website.

The other end of the webbing is threaded through a ring buckle that is permanently attached to the hammock ridge line.  The same operation is performed at the other end of the hammock, and the webbing straps are tightened to the desired length.  When the straps are set to the desired length and hammock tension, a slippery half-hitch is used to prevent strap slippage through the ring buckles:
Hitched ring buckle
Note in the above photo the stuff sack is left on the ridge line making it easy to find and allowing the hammock to be stowed without touching the ground keeping it clean and dry.

Also available is a line/strap suspension system similar to the standard Hennessy configuration.  This is the setup I have used for over a year and I wanted to try something new.

In my first attempt to set up the hammock I only read the supplied instructions and did not watch the video or consult the copious information available in the online forums; I wanted to see if I could fly blind.  Well, I couldn't.  After trying to set it up without a carabiner I wondered how I would hang it from trees wider than my 20-foot (6.1 m) distant trees in my backyard when I doubled the webbing back on itself in a loop into the ring buckles (this is how some other hammock manufacturers suspend their hammocks).  The good news is I only ended up falling to the ground one time!

Once I watched the video, all was clear and success followed.

One final suspension note: the supplied instructions are clear about not setting up the hammock with too much tension on the ridge line.  The webbing straps should be looped around the support trees at head height or higher if possible, and the hammock allowed to "droop" at a 25-30 degree angle.  The structural ridge line will assure that the two hammock ends will be a fixed distance apart, and thus assure a fixed hammock curvature under load.  The instructions warn against stringing up the hammock too tightly, causing undue stress on the ridge line.  In my initial test I set up the webbing loops well above my head, and when I laid down in the hammock there was very little ridge line tension.

Hammock construction

The Blackbird is a Mayan-style hammock, intended to be laid in diagonally in order to achieve as flat a position as possible.  The first reaction many people have to camping hammocks is "Why my back could never tolerate sleeping all curved like that!"  In reality, when laid in diagonally a Mayan hammock like the Blackbird requires only a slight curvature in the spine, just enough to relax the back after a long day on the trail.  It can also be laid in on one's side, but it is not for stomach sleepers.

The Blackbird has an asymmetrical construction and is designed that the head is positioned on the left of the ridge line, and the feet to the right (as seen by the user).  There is some debate in the hammock community about what constitutes an asymmetrical hammock; the fabric may be completely symmetric, i.e. a rectangle, but the hammock is designed and constructed in such a fashion that there is clearly a "head" and a "foot" end, and it will feel differently if the user lays on a different diagonal.

The Blackbird has a generous footbox to allow the feet to move around nicely when they are positioned to the right of center.  To the right of the head is an extra "wing" on the hammock which is intended to act as a storage shelf for light items to be accessed during the night.

Tieout and shelfThe fabric where the head is positioned on the left and the shelf on the right each have a loop tieout with a piece of shock cord attached via a sliding ring that is designed to be staked out to keep the sides deployed.  It is not necessary to do so as the tieouts do not serve a structural purpose (though the shelf droops without the tieout), but in addition to keeping the sides stretched out for a roomy feel they also keep the hammock from rocking at night, a motion that some people find objectionable.

The photo at left shows the right-side tieout and shelf, with a blue stake bag shown on the shelf for scale.

Between the two ends of the hammock is a structural ridge line.  It serves two purposes:
  1. It provides a constant curvature to the hammock regardless of how tight or loose the hammock is tied to the tree.  This prevents the user from having to find the right tension by trial-and-error.
  2. It keeps the bug netting up and away from the user's face.
The tested configuration is a double-layered bottom (sleeve) hammock.  A pad is slipped into the sleeve at night, not to provide comfort but rather to act as an insulating layer to prevent heat loss from convective air currents under the hammock.

Bug Netting

Camping hammocks were originally used for jungles where bugs are a major issue, and most manufacturers supply a netting system.  For me this feature is key, as Minnesota is known for its voracious mosquitoes and black flies which can make camping miserable if they are not kept at bay while trying to sleep.  The Blackbird uses a zipper on one side of the hammock for entrance/egress.  The netting can be detached from the stake and thrown over the top of the ridge line when not needed or when the hammock is used as a seat:
Seated
The zippers have a short pull tab on them, I will likely tie something to them to make them more visible and easy to pull.  They worked well with no snag points.

Packing

The Blackbird is supplied packed in a double-ended stuff sack.  These are often left on the suspension lines of a hammock so that the hammock can be packed up without touching the ground on a rainy morning and getting wet or dirty.
Blackbird in the sack
The hammock fits snugly in the supplied sack, but I had no problems in re-packing it.  In the above photo one of the webbing straps was purposely left dangling from the sack to allow easy extraction.

Visual Inspection

The Warbonnet Blackbird appears to be a finely crafted piece of gear.  I could find no loose pieces, no frayed ends, no stray threads.  In fact I could find no manufacturing defects of any kind.

Planned Usage Configurations

Tarp Configuration

The tarp I will be using with the Blackbird during the course of this test is an 8 x 10 ft (2.44 m x 3.05 m) rectangular model from Integral Designs, a Siltarp 2.  This tarp provides a number of different configuration possibilities including A-Frame and diagonal setups that I intend to exercise with the hammock.  I may experiment with my Hennessy Tarp to see if it is usable with the Blackbird, as it is lighter than the Siltarp.

Pad Insulation

I will be using the Exped Multimat, and possibly my Therm-a-Rest Prolite-4 (long) pad.  The issue with the latter is that it is only 25 inches (64 cm) wide, and I am likely to end up with cold shoulders at night with it unless I add additional padding.  The Multimat is plenty wide at 40 inches (102 cm), but it is not nearly as warm.  This is something I'll be experimenting with during the course of the test.
Multimat being inserted into the sleeve
Multimat partially inserted into the sleeve

I also have the Open Cell Foam pad from my Hennessy SuperShelter.  If it fits and stays in place, I may try this out with a space blanket as that is the configuration that I have honed to perfection over the last year.

Impressions from initial use

Once I knew what I was doing, the webbing and ring buckle setup is easy, fast and reliable.  Entry and exit from the hammock is straightforward and avoids the squatting or ducking required when entering bottom-entry hammocks.  I felt very comfortable inside the hammock, especially in the ankle area where some hammocks tend to have tension along the center line.  I am very tall, but the hammock was plenty long for me; I did not feel at all constrained at the head or foot end of the shelter.  The interior felt spacious and airy.  Though I am difficult to see through the bug netting, I am laying in the hammock in the following photo.  The profile my legs make are visible in the lower left of the picture; I am laying quite flat with only a slight curvature in my spine.
Hanging in the BB
At first I missed the ridge line pocket of my Hennessy, but I quickly learned to use the side pocket to store my glasses, iPod and headlamp.

The Exped Multimat slides into the sleeve easily, though since it is not very stiff it has to be pulled in and not pushed.  It provided plenty of warmth for the 60 F (16 C) morning when I tried it out and stayed in place nicely when I rolled around.  I have tried using a pad/mat inside a different hammock that lacked a sleeve, and didn't care for the configuration as it slid around at night when I moved.

Summary

So far I am impressed with the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock. I am excited about getting it out into the backcountry.

Likes:
  1. Lightweight considering the double layer bottom.
  2. Comfortable, I particularly liked the ability to sit in the hammock with the netting unzipped.  I was able to lay very flat with minimal spine curvature.
  3. Easy setup.
  4. Well made.
  5. Pad sleeve makes it easy to keep warm using gear I already own.
Areas for improvement:
  1. Better setup documentation.  Hammock aficionados can and will consult the online information, but the manufacturer could expand on his supplied documentation at very low cost and raise the chance of success for those folks that are not so well plugged in.

Field Report

Test Conditions

Dates
June 11-14, 2009
July 11-12, 2009
August 1-2, 2009
Location
North Country Tail (NCT), Chequamegon section in northern Wisconsin
Mt Lemmon just north of Tucson - Mt Lemmon Trail (section of Arizona Trail)
Mt Lemmon, Wilderness of Rocks Trail
Altitude
1050 ft to 1650 ft
(320 m to 500 m)
7450 ft to 9100 ft
(2271 m to 2774 m)
7000 ft to 8100 ft
(2100 m to 2500 m)
Terrain
Heavily forested with maple and pine.  Streams, lakes, bogs and beaver dams. Mountain meadows, rocky ridges and trail.  All descent/ascent, almost no level hiking. Pine forests, rocky trail and outcroppings
Weather
Coldest nighttime low was 41 F (5 C), daytime highs around 74 F (23 C), very light winds.  Mostly sunny with rain shower June 13. Nighttime low of 60F (15 C), daytime high at lower altitude of 88 F (31 C) Nighttime low of 60F (15 C), daytime high at lower altitude of 90 F (32 C)
Under-insulation employed
Exped Multimat with space blanket
Exped Multimat with space blanket Exped Multimat with space blanket
Tarp used
Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in A-frame pitch
Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in A-frame pitch none

Observations

North Country Trail

I set out on this trip with some trepidation -- I was backpacking with about a dozen members of the Hammock Forums, experts on hammock camping and many experienced with the Warbonnet gear.

On the knoll
The Blackbird perched on a knoll above Porcupine Lake

Night one is depicted in the above photo.  We were camped high on a knoll above a lake in a grove of large pine trees.  I had no issues finding apropos trees to tie up to.  There was virtually no wind, so I didn't embarrass myself in front of the experienced tarp users I was traveling with.  I pitched the tarp in a typical A-frame with my two trekking poles making a slight "porch" in the front of the hammock.  I had no troubles setting up the hammock, though I found that I had to be careful to tie a tight "slippery half-hitch" on the webbing to make sure it did not slip.  The structural ridgeline guarantees a fixed distance between the hammock ends which makes for proper tension in the hammock base irrespective of how taut or loose the hammock is tied to the trees.  I found the ring buckle/webbing tieout design made for easy tension/height adjustments.

I learned on this first night that I could tie the hammock side tieouts to the same stake as my middle tarp line.  This is somewhat visible in the above photo in the back of the hammock, but the front tieout had not been staked out yet.  I appreciated having to use only 6 total stakes for both the tarp and the hammock.

I slept very comfortably that evening.  The large footbox allows a very flat posture, and I had no problems turning occasionally during the night despite my use of a mummy sleeping bag which many hammock users eschew in favor of the easier top quilts.  I did get a bit chilly underneath; it seems like the Multimat is not quite up to the task of keeping me warm at the low 40's F (5-7 C) despite the addition of the space blanket.  Donning my fleece pullover during the night took care of most of the chill, but not all.

One thing I noticed this first day was the bug net zipper would occasionally catch on the threads of the seam between the two sections of the pad sleeve openings.  It did not catch seriously enough to cause any big problem, just a slight reluctance of the zipper to close at that spot.  It seems like the seam that closes the middle of the pad sleeve is quite close to the zipper, and the threads can catch very slightly.

Tarp thrown back
Tarp front thrown over the top

The above photo shows the configuration of the next night's camp.  We were located right near a river, and the moist ground made for very lush vegetation.  I was able to find appropriate trees for pitching the hammock with a little brush clearing.  For the purposes of the photo, I detached the front tarp tieouts and threw it over the top to better see the hammock from the side.  Note that the hammock suspension line makes a great laundry line for drying socks!

I slept great on the second night with the gentle sound of the river lulling me into slumber.  It was a little warmer than the first night, and with my fleece on I was very comfortable.

Night three was in a national forest campground.  Hammocks were pitched everywhere, and the only obstacle I had for sleeping this night was the thunder of snoring coming from my compatriots.  Hammock camping does seem to encourage users to sleep on their back, which in turn seems to encourage snoring.

By the third night I had become accustomed to deploying and packing up my Multimat pad and space blanket in the sleeve.  The sleeve works well, though I did have some instances of the pad wanting to fold over at my left shoulder area.  The Multimat is very wide at 40 inches (102 cm), and it may be that the sleeve was not designed for such a wide pad.  I'll experiment on future trips with narrower pads to see how they fare.  Overall I am very happy so far with the comfort and ease of use of a pad with this hammock.

Mt Lemmon Trail

On July 5 I moved to Tucson Arizona to take a new job.  My challenge in testing the hammock from here on out was to find trees!  Fortunately Mt Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains is adjacent to Tucson, and there is an excellent highway leading to the top of the mountain where the weather is cool enough and the rainfall plentiful enough to provide trees to hang hammocks.  I drove to the top of Mount Lemmon on the afternoon of July 11 arriving at the summit mid-afternoon.  I took the Mount Lemmon trail (#5) descending down past the Wilderness of Rocks.  At a point where my quadriceps started to fatigue I climbed back to my camping site for the night.  Its a lot harder walking uphill than downhill at these altitudes!

WB on Mt Lemmon
Blackbird on Mt Lemmon

The campsite was perfect for hanging hammocks as can be seen from the photo above: plenty of sturdy trees, spaced nicely with no brush between them to obstruct the airspace.  The hammock set up with no problems.  After dinner I retired to my first night of mountain hammocking.

I was happy for the bug netting.  There don't seem to be any mosquitoes in the area, but several times during the night some big insect whacked into the bug net.  Better that than my face.

I did appreciate the shelf on this outing, as I placed far more material there than I normally keep inside my hammock.  It is very handy for extra clothing when the temperature drops.

It was reasonably warm that night, but quite windy, as I was pretty close to the mountain peak.  Around midnight I had to zip up my mummy bag to keep warm, particularly on the bottom.  The wind really robs the warmth underneath me in a hammock.

The next morning I packed up and made the short hike back to the car.  I have become accustomed to stuffing the hammock in the supplied sack, where it fits perfectly.  Overall, I was very satisfied with the experience of my first Arizona hammock "hang"!

Mt Lemmon - Wilderness of Rocks Trail

In my 2 years of hammock camping, I have never spent a night without a tarp over my head.  As I was setting up camp there was not a cloud in the sky.  July and August are monsoon season in Tucson, and though I used to think of this area as an arid desert, there is significant rainfall this time of year, especially at elevation.  I figured even if there was some precipitation during the night, the bug netting would prevent me from getting soaked for long enough to put up the tarp.

My concerns were unfounded.  I spent a glorious night with an open view of the stars, and the nearly full moon.  I slept like a baby.  It is an interesting experience to sleep in a hammock with no tarp: I am suspended above the ground, and looking up I see trees towering over my head.

The Blackbird performed flawlessly on this trip.  The webbing straps were plenty long enough to wrap around the substantial lodgepole pines I hung from.  I have been very happy with the performance of the Multimat in the hammock sleeve: it not only provides warmth, but also acts as a frame to keep the hammock base fully spread.  This is a great combination for moderate temperatures.  One rather odd phenomena I observed was a bit of an "electrical storm" inside the hammock when I ran my hand along the hammock base.  I'm not quite sure what contributions the dry Arizona air, Multimat, space blanket and hammock base fabric contribute, but its quite bizarre to see the base light up from small static electricity sparks as I run my hand along the base.

Perhaps hanging the hammock without a tarp made me more conscious of this, or maybe it was the tension (or lack thereof) on the side tieouts, but the bug netting seemed close to my face when laying in the hammock.  I'm going to have to play with this a little bit to see what is going on.

One technique that I discovered earlier on has now become standard practice for me: to prevent tangling of the side tieout lines, I place them inside the hammock while packing up, then gently close the zippers around them.  This keeps the tieouts inside the hammock and seems to prevent them from getting tangled with each other as well as with the webbing straps.

Summary

By the end of the first trip setting up the hammock was second nature, my initial confusion was long behind me.  This is a very comfortable hammock -- I sleep as well or better in it than I ever have in the backcountry.  My likes and dislikes are quite similar to my initial experience.

Likes:
  1. Lightweight considering the double layer bottom.
  2. Comfortable, I particularly liked the ability to sit in the hammock with the netting unzipped.  I was able to lay very flat with minimal spine curvature.
  3. Easy setup with straps and ring buckles.  The structural ridgeline does a good job of assuring proper tension in the hammock base.
  4. Pad sleeve makes it easy to set up and prevents pad movement at night.
  5. Bug netting does a good job of keeping insects at bay.
Areas for improvement:
  1. The zipper occasionally catches on the fabric between the two pad slits.
The concludes my Field Report of the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock.

Long Term Report

Test Conditions

Dates
August 15-16, 2009
August 29-30, 2009 September 12-13, 2009 September 19-20, 2009
September 26-27, 2009 October 9-11, 2009
Location
Mt Lemmon, Butterfly Peak just north of Tucson, Arizona.
Mt Lemmon, Samaniego Ridge Trail just north of Tucson, Arizona. Coronado National Forest in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Arizona in the Madera Canyon.  Old Baldy and Agua Caliente trails.
Coronado National Forest in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Arizona in the Madera Canyon.  Four Springs trail.
West fork of Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest just north of Sedona, Arizona. Cabin Loop Trail on the Mogollon Rim in the Coconino National Forest just north of Payson, Arizona.
Altitude
6600 ft to 7800 ft
(2010 m to 2380 m)
7150 ft to 9100 ft
(2180 m to 2774 m)
5500 ft to 8700 ft (1675 m to 2650 m) 5000 ft to 8100 ft
(1520 m to 2470 m)
5350 ft to 5800 ft
(1630 m to 1770 m)
6900 ft to 8000 ft (2100 m to 2440 m)
Terrain
Santa Catalina mountains: pine forest at higher altitudes, scrub oak at lower altitudes.  Trail is dirt in some areas, rocky in others.
Mountain meadows, rocky ridges and trail.  All descent/ascent, almost no level hiking. Forested mountains with open areas on slopes and saddles. Forested mountains with open areas on slopes and saddles. The hike was in a canyon with running creek.  Camping and hammock use was in a mature pine forest.
Coniferous forest with some oak and maple.  Some open meadow areas.  About 30% of the trip was road walking.
Weather
Night time low was about 55 F (13 C), daytime highs around 85 F (23 C), very light winds during the day but became quite strong, gusting to around 25 mi/hr (40 km/hr) at night. Clear during the day, clouded up at about 6PM.  High temperature about 80 F (27 C), low of 60 F (15 C). Sunny and clear at the start, about 75 F (24 C).  Thunderstorms developed in the afternoon and rain persisted throughout the night.  Low temperature was about 55 F (13 C).
Sunny and clear at the start, about 70 F (21 C).  Thunderstorms developed in the afternoon but cleared up by nightfall.  Low temperature was about 53 F (12 C). Sunny, temperatures from 53 F to 75 F
(12 C to 24 C)
Sunny, night temperatures were 25 F and 30 F (-4 C and -1 C), daytime temperatures up to 78 F (26 C)
Under-insulation employed
Exped Multimat with space blanket
Exped Multimat with space blanket Exped Multimat with space blanket Exped Multimat with space blanket Exped Multimat
Exped Multimat and Therma-a-Rest Prolite 4 Long
Tarp used
None
Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in diamond (diagonal) pitch Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in diamond (diagonal) pitch Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in diamond (diagonal) pitch None
None on night one, and Integral Designs 8x10 Siltarp in diamond (diagonal) pitch on night two

Observations

Butterfly Peak

The trailhead for this trip was actually the same as my prior outing to Mt Lemmon, but in the opposite direction.  This gives views to the north, whereas the Wilderness of Rocks trail gives views to the south.

I set up camp early, around 5:30PM on a ridgeline which afforded views to both the east and west.  I was hoping to get a nice view of the sunrise in the morning.

Blackbird on Butterly peak
Blackbird near Butterfly Peak

Note in the photo that my campsite was on quite an incline -- it would have been very difficult to pitch a tent on this site.  This is one of the great advantages of hammock camping, a level campsite is not needed.  Though it is hard to tell in the picture above the tree that I tied up to on the left actually is quite huge -- the base diameter is over 3 ft (1 m), yet I had no problems attached the webbing as the Blackbird ships with a generous length.

Once again I decided to tempt fate and go tarpless, though my tarp did accompany me in the pack just in case.  I had a glorious evening looking up at the stars through the pines.  The evening began quite warm, and I fell asleep with my sleeping bag beside me.  I awoke around 11PM a little chilled and put the bag over me quilt-style.  A few hours later I awoke again, shivering.  The wind was blowing like crazy on the mountaintop, and I was being robbed of heat beneath me.  I crawled into my bag and mummied up, toasty warm and slept through the rest of the night peacefully.

I did tighten the tension of the side tieouts when I pitched the hammock this time.  It seemed to help keep the bug netting and shelf fabric away from my face.

Samaniego Ridge Trail

The beginning of this trail overlaps the Mt Lemmon Trail, then splits off at about the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) point and begins to follow the Samaniego Ridge.  This was really tough going as this trail appears little-used, and is not well-marked.  I lost the trail about 3 times and had to backtrack.  I had to turn around earlier than I had planned, as the trail was blocked by fallen trees, and appeared impassable thereafter.  It was a pity, as I was hoping to hit Samaniego Peak.  I reached my campsite for the night around 5PM.

My campsite was a very exposed ridge.  It was completely open to the south, west and only a few trees blocked the view (and wind) from the north.  It was a great view, and I was looking for a breeze as the afternoon had been very still.  I will file this trip in the "be careful what you ask for" department.

Warbonnet on the ridge
Blackbird on Samaniego Ridge with Oro Valley 6000 ft (1800 m) below

The above photo illustrates both the exposed location and the diagonal tarp configuration with a pitch that most folks would consider not very taut.

When my tarp is pitched in an A-frame configuration as has been shown in all prior photos, it is barely long enough to cover the tarp ends.  By pitching on a diagonal I get almost 3 ft (just under 1 m) of additional ridgeline coverage, with little or no additional exposure to the sides as the hammock is widest at the center.  My tarp is not square, so the diagonal pitch is asymmetric but it seems to matter little which diagonal I choose.  For some people this tarp pitch may seem unnatural, but it is similar to what I have been accustomed to with my other hammock for several years.

When I woke up at midnight the wind was howling and my tarp was whipping as the wind changed directions.  My guess was that gusts were up to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour).  I was concerned my tarp would be in shreds by morning.  One of my stakes gave way, and I got up to weight the stakes down with boulders.  I thought about taking the tarp down, but the skies were not clear and I was concerned that it could rain.

I finally fell asleep after about 2 hours of listening to my tarp whipping around.  When I woke up the next morning my feet were down near the end of the hammock.  The wind was so strong that my slippery half-hitch at the foot end came undone and the webbing straps had loosened on that end causing me to slide towards that end.

I have come to like the convenience of the ring buckle/webbing suspension system, but clearly the hitch that keeps the ring buckle in place must be well tied or bad things might happen to the occupant.

Madera Canyon - Old Baldy

The Santa Rita mountains are the range just to the south of Tucson.  Madera Canyon is a popular destination for bird watching, in fact my wife and I had spent the prior Labor Day holiday day hiking, bird watching and relaxing at an inn at the top of the canyon.

I hiked up near the summit of Mt Wrightson, but had to bail out of going to the very top due to approaching thunderstorms.  After a rest I took the Agua Caliente trail to the Agua Caliente Saddle and spent the night there, descending to my car in the morning.

One thing hammock campers learn to do is understand where the best places are to hang their hammock in a locale.  In the Catalina's I camp mostly on ridge outcroppings.  In the Santa Rita's there are very few such outcroppings, and the best camping spots for me are the saddle points.  These give not only great views in two directions, but have enough level ground where trees of reasonable size can be accessed.  Much of Madera Canyon has incredibly steep slopes, and though there are plenty of trees it is just too dangerous to hang on a slope where, if I were to fall, I wouldn't stop rolling for 500 ft (150 m) or so.

I pitched my hammock just uphill from the trail at Agua Caliente saddle:

Blackbird on Agua Caliente Saddle
Blackbird perched on Aqua Caliente Saddle

As is evident from the photo, the hammock was pitched on a considerable slope where it would be impossible to sleep in a tent.  The photo was taken the next morning with the sun coming up over Mt Wrightson.

My timing on camp setup was incredibly lucky.  Just after the tarp and hammock were up it started to rain, at first just a sprinkle, but by sunset a steady downpour settled in.  There were a few wind gusts, one strong enough to uproot two of my tarp stakes.  There is nothing more fun than searching for stakes in the dark in the rain!  I seem to be having some difficulty learning the lesson that the very shallow soil in these mountains makes it advised to anchor my stakes with sizable rocks.

Despite the diamond pitch I did notice just a little bit of spray coming in through the bug netting during the night when it was raining really hard.  I don't fully understand how this was occurring, so I'm going to have to check my seam sealing on the tarp to see if that was the issue.

I did fully load up the hammock shelf during the night: fleece top, rain jacket, and a bag of night gear.  With this much bulk the shelf did have a tendency to lean in on me when I was laying on my back.  When laying on my side in a fetal position there was no issue as my back or knees pushed the shelf out of the way.  The lesson here is that the shelf and its tieout can take only so much weight before it sags inward.  I also pitched the hammock with the leg end a little bit too high over the head end.  The result was I spent the night closer to the head end and not using as much of the footbox as I should to provide optimal comfort.  Perhaps a line level from the local hardware store would have been helpful in preventing this.

Despite the rain, wind, sagging shelf and imperfect pitch I actually spent a very comfortable night and slept incredibly well.  I awoke at sunrise very well-rested and refreshed.

Madera Canyon - Four Springs

This was a bit of a repeat trip of the preceding weekend, but the ascent was up the north side of the canyon.  I set up camp a little early for me, around 3PM as I was slowed down in my forward progress by a bramble-covered section of trail, and the ridgeline I passed earlier was beckoning me back as a perfect camping spot.

BB perched

The pines were perfectly spaced for hanging my hammock, a bed of needles beneath, and a stellar view of Mt Wrightson, Tucson, and an unknown city to the south.  It doesn't get any better than this.  As can be seen from the photo, this would be another tough spot for a tent.  If the slope doesn't cause problems, the sharp rocks will.

I initially set up the hammock backwards, i.e. with the head tied to the higher tree instead of the lower.  I wouldn't have made this mistake if somehow the hammock was marked with the head and foot end, something easily fixed with a piece of tape applied to the webbing as a marker.  I also set up the side elastic on the left (entry) side with too steep of an angle, causing flaps of fabric about my head at night.

Once again the rain rolled in from Green Valley around 4PM but only lasted 30 minutes or so.  It was just one big cloud that I tracked all the way up the mountain.  There was no rain that night and it was very still, making for a very pleasant sleep.

Coconino National Forest - Oak Creek Canyon

This was a car camping trip.  We arrived at our campsite at around 10:30PM.  This was the first time during the test period that I had to set up the hammock in total darkness, with a headlamp as my only illumination.  Fortunately it was a nearly-perfect camping area for hammocks: lots of nicely-spaced mature pines with no brush obstructions.

I was able to set up the hammock in the dark with no problems at all.  Once I laid down in it I did notice I had set up between two trees that were slightly too close together, resulting in loose slack in the ridgeline.  I thought it would be a good experiment, and didn't move the hammock.  The ridgeline was high enough above my head that it did not dangle in my face.  There was nothing above in the sky but stars, and no forecast of rain so I thought it safe to leave my tarp in my backpack.  This turned out to be a great plan, as the stars were beautiful.

I spent a very comfortable night and woke up only once to drain my bladder of the remnants of the beer I drank before retiring.  The bottom line of this night for me was the the Blackbird design is forgiving of a small amount of ridgeline slack.

Coconino National Forest - Mogollon Rim

This was a 2-night and 2-day backpacking trip on a loop trail.  The first night was somewhat a repeat of the prior trip where we arrived at the campsite around 11PM and set up camp by headlamp right near the car.  This was the first time I added my Therma-a-Rest Prolite 4 mattress to the Exped Multimat in the pad sleeve of the hammock, as it was already quite cold when we were setting up.  Despite the cold temperatures that night (for Arizona) of 25 F (-4 C) with the two pads beneath me I was toasty warm all night long.  I could tell when I rolled off the Therm-a-rest pad: my shoulder would immediately get cold.

Night two we camped in an open meadow near a spring where it was obvious wildlife would come for water:

BB on the Mogollon Rim

We listened to elk bugling all night long, and in fact one of my camp mates heard an elk walk by her tent during the night.  It was a bit warmer that night than the previous, but I was still glad for the two pads beneath me.  It did seem that my Therm-a-Rest did shift around a bit more than I'd like.  This was not a problem with the wide Multimat as it was held in position by the sides of the hammock pad sleeve, but the narrower pad did not seem to want to stay on the diagonal.  It would be nice if the hammock design accommodated some way of keeping pads in position.

This configuration did make me really appreciate the pad sleeve design of the double-bottomed hammock.  I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been to keep two pads in place inside the main hammock.  The sleeve may not have held the narrower pad in place perfectly, but it is far superior to a design without a sleeve.

Summary

This is a great piece of gear.  One of the nice things that took a long time to dawn on me was the ease of getting into my sleeping bag in a side-entry hammock.  I am accustomed to struggling to get into the bag from a bottom-entry unit.  Many hammock campers prefer quilts, but I still like a bag.  The side entry was particularly appreciated in middle-of-the-night bladder-emptying exits and re-entries.

The double-layer hammock made it easy for me to re-use my sleeping pads as bottom insulation.  This is much preferred to a single-layer hammock and laying directly on the pad; it never stays in place.

After 4 months of use I've become quite accustomed to the adjustable webbing suspension.  It is very quick to set up, and the easy adjustments are fantastic.  The novice does need some care in tying the slippery half-hitch to avoid ending up on the ground, as I did several times.  The integral ridgeline does a nice job of always getting the perfect tension in the hammock fabric, as well as providing a handy place to hang various objects for quick access.

This is a very comfortable hammock.  I felt no pressure points or stress areas at any time.  The side tieouts do benefit from as horizontal a tie-out as possible.  Trees work great for this if convenient.  A steeper-pitched tieout can result in fabric and/or the shelf closer to my face than I prefer.

It seemed a bit of a pain to always be pitching a stand-alone tarp above the hammock for the last four months.  An integral tarp that was attached to the hanging straps would speed setup and tear-down, though integral tarps have their own set of problems.

Thanks to BackpackGearTest and Warbonnet Outdoors for the opportunity to test the Blackbird Hammock.

Kurt Papke


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Reviews > Shelters > Hammocks > Warbonnet Outdoors Blackbird Hammock > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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