Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock
Test Series by Sophie Pearson
Initial Report - May 26, 2009
Field Report - August 4, 2009
Long-term Report - October 9, 2009
Name: Sophie Pearson
Height: 5' 8" (1.71 m)
Weight: 180 lb (82 kg)
Email address: sophiep3 at gmail dot com
Location: Tampa, Florida, USA
I first started backpacking as a teenager in England. I did a
28-day trip in the Arctic, but most of my backpacking experience
has been weekend to 10-day trips, in a range of terrains and climates.
I am a volcanologist so I also do day hikes carrying loaded packs over
intense terrain. Nowadays I am generally in sub-tropical climates. I
am heading increasingly towards ultralight packing, and unless I am
sharing I use a bivy. I try to pack around 20 lb (9 kg) for long
weekend trips but have carried over 50 lb (23 kg).
This is a light-weight backpacking hammock that includes mosquito netting.
It is stored in a double-ended stuff sack, which is fairly generously sized.
The ridgeline is a piece of white string that works as a guide for how tight to string the hammock, and holds the netting up.
The hammock includes a large shelf that needs to be staked out so as not to rest on the person in the hammock.
At the feet there is more material to the right so that I can lie asymmetrically and flat.
I chose the webbing suspension that uses two tri-rings and a carabiner. It's really easy!
May 26, 2009
Year of Manufacture: 2009
MSRP: US $170.00
Material: Double layer 1.1 oz sq yd (31.8 g sq m) dark grey
Suspension: Adjustable webbing
The weight includes the webbing. The length that I measured was to where the suspension was connected at each end. I think that the width must include the shelf as my measurement is significantly smaller. My measurement was just across the base of the hammock.
|Net Weight||24 oz (680 g)||N/A|
|Weight||31.7 oz (899 g) ||31.5 oz (893 g)|
|Length||120 in (305 cm)||115 in (292 cm)|
|Length Ridgeline||101 in (257 cm)||101 in (257 cm)|
|Width||72 in (183 cm)||57 in (145 cm)|
|Length of webbing||14 ft (427 cm)|| 13 ft 11 in (424 cm)|
|Weight of webbing||7.7 oz (218 g)||N/A|
|Dimensions stuffed||N/A||14 x 6 x 5 in (36 x 15 x 13 cm)|
The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is a very light-weight backpacking hammock. The bottom section is made of what looks like Silnylon (although I couldn't find any information anywhere to confirm this) up to about half-way on the front side, and two-thirds of the way on the back side. The top section is mosquito netting. The two are divided on one side by a full-length zipper, which zips from both ends and is double sided. A piece of white rope runs the length of the hammock but is tighter so that it sits above it and the netting hangs over it. This is the ridgeline. The material is gathered at each end using the same type of rope, which is then tied to the suspension.
Both front and back where the material and the netting meet have an elasticated guyline and are asymmetrical - the front has slightly more space at the head end while the back has a large pocket made identically to the hammock itself. At the foot end there is more material at the back than the front. Half-way down the hammock, where the shelf ends, there is a panel of black material that appears to be thicker and stronger than the material that the rest of the hammock is made of.
I got the double layer hammock, which basically has two bottom layers with an opening between them that runs from the foot end to half way up the hammock. This is for a sleeping pad. Single layer versions are also available. There are 2 other options as well, a heavier material (1.7 oz sq yd/40.3 g sq m) for the hammock bottom which is dark green, and the choice of straps/lines or webbing for the suspension. I got webbing, which is 2000# 1 in (2.54 cm) polyester in black, basically thick straps like those used to tie things to roof racks. At one end of each strap there is a loop with a fairly large carabiner through it that says Warbonnetoutdoors.net. Further down the strap it feeds through two triangular rings which slide up and down easily to give the desired length.
The hammock arrived simply packed in a cardboard box with 2 sheets of A4. These very briefly described how to set up each type of hammock and then talked about the lesser environmental impacts of a hammock if it is done right. There were two real points about the setup I bought. 1) A half-hitch slip knot needs to be tied above the rings to prevent slipping and 2) the ridgeline should be taut but not tight. If it is as tight as a guitar string the hammock is strung up much too tightly.
I would have quite liked a picture of how to hang the hammock, but it turned out it is fairly self-explanatory. The strap passes around a tree or pole or whatever it is going to hang from. The carabiner clips through the two tri-rings (at least that is what I did) and the loose end of the strap is pulled until the desired height and taughtness are reached. A knot is then tied in the loose end close to the ring. Initially I put the strap around the tree a couple of times as I used to with a rope, but then it doesn't move to the desired length, so I just put it around the back of the tree and clipped the carabiner on at the front and that worked much better.
I found it tricky to get the ridgeline right so that it was taut but not tight. I had to adjust it a number of times and I still think it was probably a bit tight. I also found that my head was lower than my feet, but that was simply adjusted. It took me a while to figure out first time, but second time it seemed really easy and very quick.
This hammock is really beautifully made. I couldn't find any loose threads, pulls in either material, or seams that were wonky or looked like they might be a point of weakness. It is also light, and less than half the size of my backpacking tent. It came in a 0.5 oz (14 g) double-ended stuff sack, which it fits in comfortably and would still squash quite a bit.
I wasn't sure what to expect for the webbing/suspension, but it is simple and strong and takes seconds to put up. That is great as I am terrible with knots! The carabiners look sturdy and are rated to 500 kg (1100 lb), far beyond what the hammock could take. The rings are easy to slide tighter, but it is hard to get them looser, especially when they are under pressure. I have to feed the strap through part way and then pull it tight and then do it again. When the hammock was tied to a tree the suspension held fine, even without the knots. However, I also tried hanging the hammock from large eye hooks, so simply clipped the carabiners to them rather than feeding the straps through or around. It turns out that with that different configuration the rings don't hold as well, and I took a nice tumble landing on my elbow (ouch)! With the knots in it held fine though.
Setup is now really quick and easy, although I have a feeling that getting it under the right tension might take me some practice. According to the instructions, the straps pass around the tree just above head-height and they will be at about a 25-30 degree angle. When I did that the hammock hung quite loose so I lowered the straps and pulled them tighter and it worked better. This could be because I have short legs and a long torso, so to get it tight enough it was too high for me to get in, but would work for someone taller. With the eye hooks and
horizontal bars like the gazebo outside my apartment has, the height of the straps can't be controlled. This means that it is pretty much impossible to get it tight enough. When it is, I can lie pretty much flat with my head to the left and my feet to the right. When it is looser or if I lie parallel to the ridgeline it is not flat enough to sleep on anything but my back. It seems very comfortable though!
I really like the design of the hammock. Having mosquito netting is vital in a Floridian summer, but it can be thrown over the back when I want to sit in it as a chair or if I am in a bug-free area. The material comes up high enough to give me some privacy too, which is a big deal for me. There seems to be a lot of loose material, but maybe when I have played around with it more I will find that it needs it.
I like the fact that I get into the hammock from the side. I know that some hammocks have openings along the bottom, and that does have its advantages, but it seems like it would be a pain in the middle of the night, and especially if I was lying on a sleeping pad. This one is the traditional way for a hammock, and so far I like it! It feels strong and sturdy too; once I am in the hammock (gingerly after it slipped that once) I have no worries about shifting my weight around, rolling over or generally moving a lot.
The shelf is a nice feature and I have already used it. It is big enough to store quite a lot of stuff - I put my bivy, headlamp and a sweater in there and there was still space. I was working in the hammock though and discovered that with my netbook inside, the shelf hangs down against my shoulder and feels a bit claustrophobic, even with the guyline staked out. It seems that it works better with lighter things in there.
I initially wondered why the guylines were elasticated, but once I got in with them staked out and the hammock could still swing, I got it! The guylines are really simple, just a long piece of elastic with a loop at one end for the stake and a toggle at the other to get the desired length. It is fairly thin bungee cord but so far it has not shown any signs of snapping or loosing its elasticity. The hammock can definitely be used without the guylines, but it felt much more spacious when they were used.
Website and customer service
I have used hammocks car camping for many years, but have never had a backpacking one. From looking at the website I was totally in the dark. What is the 1.1 for? What does double layer mean? What are the different types of suspension and the advantages of each? After trawling the internet for a while I found answers to these questions (more or less) but I think it would be really nice if the Warbonnet website included a glossary of hammocking terms. I also have a couple of minor quibbles about details on there. They say that the webbing is woodland camo pattern but mine is definitely black. Also, the material is supposed to be dark grey, but I would call mine green. I did wonder if I was sent the heavier, green version but the weight matches what I asked for. Perhaps if I saw it next to a green one I would call it grey though!
When it comes to customer service I have nothing but praise. Brandon personally contacted me, as he does all customers, to check which options I wanted for the hammock, and to make sure that they worked for me (for example, the 1.1 material is only recommended for weights up to 200 lb/91 kg). He then let me know when it would be shipping, and acknowledged my email when I told him that it had arrived. I really feel like I could contact him with any issues or questions, which makes such a nice change in this big, corporate world!
August 4, 2009
I have used the hammock on 6 trips in the last two months (I seem to have developed an allergy to my apartment!). Two were three-night trips (one was kayaking), one lasted two nights and three were one-night ones. Other than a three-night backpacking/whitewater rafting trip to Tennessee, they were all in either north or west central Florida. Locations varied from ocean-front to mountain top to middle of the woods to river bank. Temperatures ranged between 51 and 95 F (11 and 35 C), but were usually above 70 F (21 C). Humidity was anywhere up to 100%, rarely below 40%, but it only rained on the three-night kayaking trip. That is extremely unusual for our subtropical summers here, I guess I am lucky!
Corrections to Initial Report
First off I have to correct a couple of things I said in the Initial Report. 1) The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is not made of Silnylon; I have no idea what it is made of! 2) I was hanging it wrong. The carabiners don't clip to the rings, they clip around the strap next to the tree. The rings are then under less tension so the strap can be tightened or released much more easily (believe me, it makes so much difference!) 3) The opening between the two bottom layers of the hammock is at both ends, so essentially the two layers are only attached at the middle and ends. The kind folks at hammockforums.net read my report and emailed me to put me straight. I'm kinda nervous knowing that they will be reading this bit to tell you the truth!
The strap should actually be clipped around a tree, and then a knot tied below the tri-ring to stop the strap from slipping. It works much better than the way I first did it! I found it worked better when the straps were a bit tighter than this.
The all-important thing! I have to say, I am in love. I sleep as well as in my own bed (except when I get jumpy, but I will get to that later). In a tent I slept OK, but I roll a lot in my sleep and every time I turned over I would at least partially wake up. Plus my hip would often end up really aching. In the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock I sleep straight through, don't even need to move and nothing aches at all. After the three-day backpacking trip the others were talking about how much they long for their beds, and I was wondering if there was anywhere to hang the hammock in my apartment!!! The footbox makes all the difference because it is not under tension, so no matter how curled up the hammock is, I can always get it so that my feet are lower than my head. I generally find that I end up just slightly off flat - when sleeping on my side there is a curve downwards where my hip is, but it's not uncomfortable. I have been so impressed, and am now offering my old, simple linen and string hammocks to friends, because I know I won't be using them again!
Another thing that I have been impressed by is how stable and sturdy the hammock feels. After falling in it the one time, I was pretty ginger getting into it. After maybe two nights though I completely trusted it and was turning comfortably. I have also got changed in it, which definitely impressed my co-campers! The only dodgy moment was when someone walked past and looked in to say good morning and I had to grab my sleeping bag to cover up! I didn't have any worries about it flipping, splitting or generally reacting in a way I wouldn't want.
The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is so comfortable. My hip generally sits slightly lower than the rest of me, but my head is always higher than my feet thanks to the footbox.
Florida is not the ideal place for a hammock - trees are often very far apart, palm trees are not as rooted as other trees so they bend more, and when I am kayaking we often sleep on the beach. Having said that, there was only one trip where I couldn't find anything to hang the hammock from. That night we tied the ends of the hammock to beach chairs weighted with water, and I lay on the ground. It meant that I still had the protection of the bug netting, but it really made me realize how much more comfortable hanging is.
Despite lying on the ground and hanging the hammock between weighted beach chairs, I was pretty comfy.
I am a perfectionist, and here I think the ridgeline is a mixed blessing. It makes it easy to tell when the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is really far off horizontal, but I will frequently spend 30 minutes adjusting it to try and get it perfect. There was one night when I just threw it up, and it was still really comfortable. Because of the footbox, even when it is pretty sloped my head is still higher.
Unfortunately after a pretty good night's sleep the misjudged tide meant we had to make a quick exit!!!
I am really sold on the long straps with the tri-rings. Once I had been corrected about how the suspension system works, it is a breeze to hang the hammock, and so long as I tie a knot above the rings it holds great. Because the straps tighten on the knots it does give a bit when I first get in, so I generally hang the hammock so that I have to lift up a hip to get into it. The knots end up very tight, but so far I have always been able to undo a half-hitch. It turns out that palm trees are not that strong, so one night when I had it hanging between two of them and the knots weren't totally snug against the rings, the hammock dropped significantly when I got into it. By the morning I was on the ground. The poor trees were leaning at a crazy angle compared to the night before, although they were still alive! I avoid palm trees whenever I can now, but that is not always an option. The straps are really nice and long, which is great because it gives me a lot more flexibility about which trees to use. I have had to displace the odd banana spider (which are enormous), but other than that it has been fine!
The palm tree was a little more vertical the night before.
Temperatures in Florida in the summer are hot, to say the least! In the day I never stray too far from a river or the ocean if I can help it. At night however it cools down a lot, and I have found that the hammock is fantastic on the really oppressive nights because any breeze runs above and below me, so I am considerably cooler than being in a tent. It has surprised me how many times I have got my sleeping bag out, just to lay over me and put my feet into. I have tried three different types of insulation below me; nothing, Therm-A-Rest, and RidgeRest. Nothing was OK on the really hot days, but I would not do that again unless someone needed to borrow my sleeping pad (as was the case that night). Some form of insulation definitely makes the temperature more consistent and comfortable. My Therm-A-Rest worked fine between the two layers of the hammock, pushed all the way to the back so that it was lying along the same line as I would be. It is quite a bit narrower than the RidgeRest though, so I ended up with a cold left elbow. My Therm-A-Rest is 11 years old so doesn't inflate all that hard, which is good because it needs to give a bit to fit with the shape of the hammock. The RidgeRest worked great. Because of the width, I would use a RidgeRest given totally free choice, but I don't own one and I don't think the difference is enough to make it worth going out and buying one. Comfort-wise there really didn't seem to be much difference between the three options.
Sleeping in the woods in Florida in the summer, the insect-keeping-out abilities of this hammock were pretty much tested to their full extent. I did end up one night with bites on my feet, but I'm pretty sure that was before I got into the hammock. Other than that it has been stellar. I can hear the mosquitoes buzzing around me (always fun!) but wake up in the morning with no more bites than I had when I went to bed. One of my friends has a different backpacking hammock and he woke me up in the middle of the night because the bugs were biting him so badly through the hammock that he put up a tent at 3am!
One thing that I am not so keen on is that the netting is really reflective to light close up. This is entirely unavoidable, but it means that when I am in the hammock and I turn my headlamp on I cannot see anything outside of the hammock. There was one night where I could hear loud and aggressive voices getting progressively closer so I shone my flashlight to try to see if it was someone from my group. I couldn't see a thing! I ended up getting so jumpy that I couldn't get back to sleep and eventually moved into my 2-man tent with the friend who was borrowing it!!!
The other minor criticism I have is that the netting opens on one side, but I always seem to hang it the wrong way around! I have found that pulling the strap out of one end and attaching it around a tree, then closing that end and feeding the hammock out of the other end keeps it from dropping on the ground or getting tangled up. However, until it is a fair way out there is no way to tell whether I have tied up the foot end or the head end. Pretty much every time I have ended up getting the hammock almost up, then realizing I have put it up with the back to the rest of my camp. I have to take it down and turn it around. I think I'm going to tie some colored cotton at the head end of the stuff sack so that I can tell the difference, I just keep forgetting!
Glare from the headlamp onto the netting means that visibility out of the hammock is essentially zero on a dark night.
Although the hammock is great against bugs, it doesn't have any protection against rain. I have found condensation to be less of a problem than in a tent, and the hammock dries fast too. However, it needs some kind of tarp in case of rain. For my kayaking trip I bought a really cheap blue one and hung it above the ridgeline. That worked great, but it is big and heavy so I wouldn't want to backpack with it. Backpacking tarps generally run at least $50, and I am a poor student, so I have been putting off buying one. In the meantime I have been taking my bivy bag, and figured that I could get inside that if it starts to rain. The hammock would get wet, but me and my sleeping bag would stay dry. So far though, and incredibly for Florida, it hasn't rained since that first kayaking trip, so I haven't had the chance to check out that configuration. I keep the bivy in the shelf next to me when I am sleeping, but I have never needed to get it out. Maybe before the long-term report . . .
I don't have a backpacking tarp, but my big, heavy tarp works fine to keep the rain off (and as a clothesline!). The camera lens is foggy from the damp.
I love how small and light the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock is. My friends were complaining that their packs were really heavy compared to mine, and I know the tent was a large part of that. It is really easy to fit the hammock in my pack too because it is thin and fairly long, and is flexible and squishy. So much easier than a tent! It is also much quicker to take down (putting up takes me a while because I am so fussy about it being horizontal, and keep putting it up the wrong way around). It's really nice because I tend to procrastinate in the morning and it means I'm not last to be ready by quite so much!
I still really like the elasticated guy lines. I have found that it feels more spacious when they are staked out as far as possible. One night there wasn't anywhere they could be staked, but the hammock was still perfectly comfortable to sleep in, I just didn't use the shelf. Another night I had it staked out, and the post-grip popped off (I think someone tripped over the guy line, although they weren't owning up!). In the morning I found it, and tied a knot at the end of the guy line so it couldn't come off totally again. Other than that, I have really had no problems with anything failing, stretching, breaking, or generally showing signs of wear. I wish my other camping gear was this well made!!!
October 9, 2009
I have used the hammock on two more trips - a three-night one in northern Florida, and a two-night one in Yosemite National Park, California. Temperatures ranged between 36 and 95 F (2 and 35 C). It never rained. Elevation varied between 0 and 8840 ft (0 and 2650 m), with a maximum elevation change in a day of 4800 ft (1600 m).
This hammock has continued to function like a dream. It is so comfortable, quick to put up and lightweight. It still looks as good as the day it arrived. I never imagined that one piece of gear could make this much difference!
As I was doing a 2-month extended trip including backpacking in California I did not want to take any big camping gear on my last trip. I just threw in the hammock and a sleeping bag. Even at 36 F (2 C) I was fine without any insulation when I was fully inside the sleeping bag. To be honest, I doubt I will bother with a sleeping pad in future as it saves weight and space and the difference in comfort is minimal for me.
As I mentioned in the field report, I kept putting up the hammock with the opening away from camp. I tied an extra knot in the drawstring at the head end of the stuff sack and so long as I can remember which end the knot is, that has worked fine! I also mentioned the reflectivity of the mesh, but I found that by putting the flashlight right up against the mesh I can see out. Another thing was getting the ridgeline horizontal. I have become more relaxed about that and just throw the hammock up and have not found it a problem at all.
Somehow I have managed to avoid rain in all of my backpacking trips, I have no idea how (especially considering that it has been the rainy season in Florida). This means that I have avoided having to spend the extra money on a tarp, which for me is the biggest disadvantage of this setup. For car camping or kayak camping a big, cheap tarp works fine, but I would not want to take one of those backpacking. I love waking up in the morning with a view of trees and mountains, and the high sides of the hammock give me enough privacy to do that without feeling visible, but I have a feeling that one day the weather will catch me out!
I am totally sold on the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock. The only time I wouldn't use it is if I was sharing with a friend who only had a 2-person tent so we needed to split the weight. It has lasted incredibly well considering the amount of use it has had, the tension it is under, and how much I move around at night. I never realized how much I woke up in the night in a tent, until I started sleeping in the hammock and would only wake up with the daylight! The nights lying awake in the tent wishing for the day to start so I could walk around and not ache any more are a thing of the past. Yay!!!
Easy to get into and out of
Quick to put up and take down
Keeps the bugs out
Can be used with Therm-A-Rest, Ridgerest or nothing
Double-ended bishop sack keeps the hammock off the ground when putting it up
Shelf can hold quite a lot of light-weight gear
Have to buy a separate waterproof cover, which is expensive
Had to tie knots in the guylines to stop the post-grips popping off
Can't tell which is the head and which the foot end when stuffed
This concludes my long-term report. So many thanks to Warbonnet Outdoors and to BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the (awesome) Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock!
Read more reviews of Warbonnet Outdoors gear
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