Home / Backpacking Skills / Guide to Hammock Styles and Designs by Derek Hansen

Guide to Hammock Styles and Designs by Derek Hansen

Open, multi-way, treble hammock
Open, multi-way, treble hammock

Single. Double. Triple. Bridge. Gathered end. Spreader bar. With all the different styles and designs of hammocks available, choosing the right one can be confusing, particularly if you’re intending that hammock for a specific purpose, such as a thru hike on the AT. I’ve tested and seen just about every type of hammock and I hope this quick overview will help you satisfactorily sift through the silt.

Hammock Styles

While there are many styles, designs, and options that differentiate hammocks, I first classify hammocks into two main styles: open and jungle.

Gathered-end, open hammock
Gathered-end, open hammock

An open hammock is your basic, everyday style and refers to any design that has no bug netting and is open to its surroundings. A jungle hammock, in contrast, is any design that has an integrated, encapsulating bug net.

Gathered-End Jungle Hammock: The Warbonnet Blackbird XLC
Gathered-End Jungle Hammock: The Warbonnet Blackbird XLC

Hammock Designs

In terms of hammock design, there are a few common categories such as gathered-end, bridge, spreader bar, single-point, multi-point, and hybrid. Hammock designs can be either open or jungle style. For example, you can have an open gathered-end hammock or a jungle-style gathered-end hammock. There are open bridge hammocks and jungle bridge hammocks as well as multi-point jungle hammocks. Open hammocks are more common indoors and for basic recreation at a city park or a backyard. Jungle hammocks are more convenient and prevalent for camping.

A gathered-end design is the most common and is often identified by big brands such as ENO, Grand Trunk, and Kammok. A gathered-end design is about as simple as hammocks get, with a rectangular shaped fabric bunched up along the short ends and hung between two anchor points.

Open, gathered-end Hammock from Kammok
Open, gathered-end Hammock from Kammok

A gathered-end design can defy logic in how to properly hang and lay in one, but they are so simple to use and inexpensive to buy that most folks ignore the learning curve and use them just about any way they want. When properly hung, a gathered-end hammock has a relaxed, catenary curve that allows the occupant to lay across the fabric in a recumbent, ergonomic lay. The center of gravity is low, making this a very secure, non-tippy design.

The terms “single,” “double,” and even “triple” are most often associated with gathered-end hammocks and refer not to occupancy but width. Nearly all brands who sell “single” and “double” variations use the same fabric and construction techniques so each hammock has the same weight limit.

Spreader bar hammocks are often seen on picture postcards showing exotic hotels or secluded tropical beaches and the obligatory swimsuit model. The identifying characteristic is a pole, or wooden bar, that spreads the hammock out on the short ends to flatten the fabric out.

Spreader bars raise the center of gravity, making this design very tippy. Spreader bar hammocks tend to be heavier and bulkier designs because of the added hardware and accessories required. A popular jungle style is the Lawson Blue Ridge hammock.

Bridge-style, jungle hammock (net not shown) - JRB Hammocks
Bridge-style, jungle hammock (net not shown) – JRB Hammocks

A bridge design is a more modern entrant into the hammock universe. It also uses spreader bars, but the hammock is engineered like a suspension bridge (hence the name) allowing the occupant to have a true head-to-foot flat lay while the fabric curves above them. This hammock is more stable than a spreader bar hammock but can be a little wobbly.

Depending on the catenary cuts on the fabric and the length of the spreader bars, a bridge design can look a lot like a barrel cut in half. This design can contribute to a slight shoulder squeeze. Like spreader bar hammocks, bridge designs are typically heavier than gathered-end designs although there are a few ways to get to a “trail” weight by substituting multi-use items like trekking poles for the spreader bars.

Open "bat-style" hammocks are suspended from a single point.
Open “bat-style” hammocks are suspended from a single point.

Single-point designs, as the name suggests, are hung from a single overhead anchor point. Portaledges, aerial yoga hammocks, and bat hammocks all fit into this category. Single-point hammocks require a little more engineering to not only reinforce the anchor point, but to allow enough room for the occupant and provide enough stability during movement.

Tentsile Stingray
Tentsile Stingray

Multi-point designs have become more popular with brands like Tentsile firing the imagination. Multi-point hammocks often span large spaces and use three or more anchor points to create a platform for two or more occupants. Multi-point hammocks tend to be the heaviest and most robust of all designs due to their increase load capacity and hanging requirements.

Hybrid designs include the rest of the wild and wonderful variations, but are typically a smaller subset of other design categories. The Clark Vertex two-person hammock is a popular variation, but we’ve recently seen hot tub hammocks and alpine convertible hammocks as well.

Derek’s Buying Advice

If you’re looking for a hammock, first ask yourself how you intend to use it, most of the time.

• For all-around, everyday use — In most cases, get an open, gathered-end design. A spreader bar hammock can look nostalgic, but can often be more tippy than useful.

• For 3-season car camping — Any design would work well if weight and bulk are of little concern, but be mindful about multi-point hammocks that may not work in most state parks.

• For backpacking and thru-hiking — Focus on gathered-end, jungle style hammocks. These hammocks will be the lightest and most convenient for every-day camping use.

About the Author

Derek Hansen is a lightweight backpacker, former Scoutmaster, and “hammock enthusiast” who enjoyed his first hammock hang at age 14 at the BSA Beaver High Adventure base in Utah. He is the author and illustrator of The Ultimate Hang: an illustrated guide to hammock camping.

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12 comments

  1. Love my hammock , for cooler nights I just throw my under quilt on , rainy days I put my tarp up . Best sleep I get is when I’m in my hammock …

  2. I have learned a lot from Derek. I have his book and his app. I want to say this in the nicest way possible: I do wish that someone who writes about hammocks would learn the difference between lie and lay.

  3. Any Recommendations for a UL hammock with bug net and double layer?

  4. Reading reviews and narrowed it down to Warbonnet XLC Blackbird and JRB Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock. Has anyone who has used both formed a preference?

    • Having used a regular Blackbird and a JRB BMB – they’re kind of hard to compare. The bridge will give you a flatter but tippier lay. I find that it pinches my shoulders together and like the diagonal lay of the Warbonnet much better. Once you get used to it, it’s much more comfortable.

  5. I came across the exped ergo hammock combi. Total weight 50.8 includes tarp and everything else that is included in their package. Has some awesome features.

  6. Forward March and the Hungry Pup, Ga-Me, '93

    I switched from sleeping on the ground to hammocks in 1998 and have never looked back. I’ve used a Vermont Voyager (gathered, jungle style) and a Jack’s ‘R Better bridge-style, but my backpacking hammock of choice has long been a very light and cheap, home-made, modified Spear Hammock (gathered, open style). Just last year I switched from using a pad and sleeping bag inside the hammock to under- and over- quilts. A great improvement, except that a night breeze would blow through my under-quilt fabric, robbing all the insulating value. So I bought a Hammock Sock, which adds 10 ounces, but solves the wind problem and provides bug protection, which I had been lacking (although I only had a problem with bugs at night once or twice in hundreds of nights out). It’s taken a while, but I think I finally have the right combination of light-weight, warmth, bug protection, and sleeping comfort.

  7. Matthew Ballenthin

    Philip, quick question. I have long been a tent user, but would like to try my hammock, which is an eno double nest. In my tent I use a thermarest (4.5R) with a 20 degree EE revelation quilt for three season camping into the 20’s without issue. I will be hiking in northern MN in may with average temps in the 35-55 (low-high) range. Do you think I can just transfer my quilt and pad to the hammock and add a tarp and do okay as long as I managed wind appropriately? Thanks so much for your time. Matthew

    • That wouldn’t work for me. I’d be cold. Try augmenting it with a Zlite (inexpensive) and see if that works. I’d experiment close to your car before relying on an inflatable pad in a hammock in cold weather. Adding a sock for wind protective will also help tremendously.

      • Matthew Ballenthin

        Excellent. We should have some similar temps moving through the twin cities soon so will likely do some backyard testing. Thanks so much.

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