If you’re thinking about buying a camping hammock or looking to upgrade, the length of a gathered-end hammock can make a big difference in your comfort.
The 4 foot rule of thumb
Most hammock experts recommend getting a hammock that is 4 feet longer than your height so you can lie nearly flat in it for sleeping. So if you’re 5′ 10″ tall, you’d want a hammock that’s 9′ 10″ long.
Why the extra length? The ends of a hammock hang at an angle so you can’t use the full length of fabric. So, the extra 4 feet of fabric gives you enough length to get a fairly flat “lay” for sleeping when you’re stretched out at night. Longer hammocks also make it possible to stretch out diagonally in a hammock, which is good for side sleepers who want a flat surface.
If your hammock is not long enough, you’ll sleep in a banana shape, which can lead to hyper-extended knees and knee pain. That’s why shorter length hammocks are best used for seats or lounging, rather than camping, at least for taller people.
This table lists the most popular camping and backpacking hammocks that people can buy off the shelf without buying a custom made hammock from a cottage manufacturer. While you can order a custom hammock from a cottage gear manufacturer, just understand that they have pretty long backorder delays and it’s not really necessary when buying a simple net-less hammock, unless you want a special color, fabric, or design.
Custom-made gear is nice, but it’s easy to make a mistake when you spec one out. I’ve done it myself. If you’re looking to buy your first hammock, I really would recommend that you buy one off-the-shelf. Most of them are quite inexpensive, like 25%-50% less than a simple custom-made hammock. Use it for a season and compare it to your friends’. It’s best to understand what you changes you want and why before you invest in custom-made gear, since there’s no return policy.
As you can see, longer hammocks are usually heavier than shorter ones. But the motivation for using a camping hammock is usually comfort and easy campsite selection, not gear weight. When you add in all the other pieces of gear needed for hammock camping such as tarp, bug netting, back insulation, and a quilt or sleeping bag, hammocks are not that much lighter weight than a ground-based ultralight shelter and sleep system. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the lightest weight hammock will be the best one for sleeping, just because it’s lighter weight than others.
I have several of the gathered hammocks listed: the 10′ Warbonnet Blackbird, a Thermarest Slacker Single, ENO Sub 7, and Hummingbird Hammock Single, and sleep best in the Warbonnet because the extra length lets me lie flat. I’m 5′ 11″ and it’s the perfect size for me.
The best hammock length for you will be one that you enjoy using. The four foot rule is just a guideline, but I’ve found it very helpful when buying hammocks for backpacking and wanted to pass it along.
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