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Hammocks: Continuous Ridgelines or Not?

Continuous Ridgeline System in use - note how ridgeline is suspended above the fly
Continuous Ridgeline System in use – note how ridgeline is suspended above the fly

Many hammock hangers choose a continuous ridgeline for suspending their tarps between two trees. I used this technique after buying a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock and Superfly tarp from a friend who’d set up his tarp suspension system this way, but quickly discarded and replaced it with something much simpler called a  two-line or split-line system using Dutchware Stingerz.

Continuous Ridgelines

A continuous ridgeline suspension system has two main parts:

  • The ridgeline, a long piece of cord that you tie between two trees – 25 to 30 feet of ZingIt (urethane coated dyneema fiber) is a good length. People often secure the ridgeline to trees using metal hardware instead of a knot, like a Dutchware Hook at one end and a Wasp at the other, but there are a thousand variations.
  • A pair of prusik knots attached to the ridgeline, You attach the ends of your tarp to the prusik knots so you can slide the tarp back and forth along the line, in order to quickly position it over your hammock, so that the ends are covered by your tarp.

Don’t know what a prusik knot is? (see this video) It’s also called a triple sliding hitch. It’s a way to secure a self tensioning loop on a line so it can slide along it and then lock in place when put under tension.

Pros and Cons of Continuous Ridgelines

The biggest benefit of the continuous ridgeline system is that it gives you the ability to quickly slide your tarp into position over your hammock. Assuming you set up your tarp first, this helps you keep your hammock dry in the pouring rain, because you can move it over your hammock body after you attach the first set of webbing to a tree.

While a continuous ridgeline system is kind of complicated to set up if you want to do it yourself (especially if you’re trying to come up the newbie hammock learning curve), you can buy pre-fabricated continuous ridgeline systems that take the guesswork out of sourcing your own cord, hardware, and knots.

But continuous ridgeline systems fail when the prusik knots jam up and won’t move without some serious two-handed fiddling to loosen them up. This turns into a wet clown show if it’s chucking down rain when you’re trying to hang your hammock, because you don’t discover the jam until after you’ve lashed the first set of hammock webbing to a tree and your hands are full of hammock. While you can avoid this scenario by replacing the prusik knots with yet more hardware, such as Tato Tarp Connectors, you have to wonder whether all of this line management, not to mention your tarp guy-outs, is really worth hassling with.

I decided it wasn’t.

In the Two Line Suspension, the line is connected to the tarp using a Dutchware Stingerz. The line is looped around the tree and then secured to the Stingerz antenna.
In the Two Line Suspension, the line is connected to the tarp using a Dutchware Stingerz. The line is looped around the tree and then secured to the Stingerz antenna.

A Two-Line Hammock Tarp Suspension

In the two-line hammock tarp suspension, you run separate lines from the tarp ridgeline to a tree. It’s about as basic as you can get. I attach a Dutchware Stingerz to the tarp using its built-in biner clip, and then run a 15′ ZingIt line tied to the Stingerz around the tree and back to the Stingerz, where I lash it around the antenna. The hook on the Stingerz makes it possible to put a lot of tension on the line, much like the loop on a trucker’s hitch knot.

Dutch demonstrates:

This system usually doesn’t require any tarp repositioning because I use a Warbonnet Superfly which is a very large 11 x 10 foot tarp with end doors. The Superfly overlaps the ends of my hammock  by 15-16 inches on each side and I can easily adjust the length of the hammock webbing if necessary to get it under the tarp in pouring rain, since my hands are free.

I like this system better than a continuous ridgeline because it goes up very fast, it can be adjusted very quickly if necessary since I’m using hardware instead of knots, and there’s much less line management involved. I can also easily move the Stingerz and cordage to other tarps I use in no time, simply by unclipping the Stringerz biner from the tarp.

On hindsight, I can’t help wonder if continuous ridgeline system wasn’t first developed as a workaround to using smaller hammock tarps, where there was much less overlap between a tarp and a hammock. Just a thought, but it would provide a historical explanation for why people still use continuous ridgelines with much larger tarps.

Published 2015.

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  1. I use a CRL and love it. I can have my tarp hung in under a minute, and it’s easy to center the tarp over my hammock. I’ve never had any issues with the prusiks getting stuck or jammed. With a split line system, I always feel like I’m fiddling: loosen this, tighten that, back, forth, to and fro. There were many times when I couldn’t get my split line set up to my liking and adopted a “screw it, it only a 50% chance of rain” attitude.

  2. My only shelter is a 2-person Ray-Way tarp, which is a split-line, so it’s what I always use whether on the ground or in my MYOG hammock. The coverage is great so no need for readjustments.

  3. Excellent review of new gear for fine tuning. Combined with a field report and micro details — just what I like. Need a great summary guide to the ever changing cottage Industry small supplier field. Led me to ck Dutchware’s current catalog too. Lots new there inc hammocks. None of this shows up in Backpacker Magazine, it’s too specialized and not parka/boots/tent/heavy pack expensive sportswear. Keep it coming please!

  4. Counterpoint:
    Your “hindsight” helps explain why this setup works great for you but others that have an 11′ hammock & tarp shouldn’t toss out the Continuous ridgeline (CRL) just yet.

    Your scenario is putting a shorter hammock (10′) under a large tarp (11′) In this scenario, you will need very few “micro” adjustments to get your tarp placed over your hammock – just get it close enough & call it a day. Many (most?) hammock enthusiasts,though, don’t pick a 10′ hammock.

    When you put an 11′ hammock (with an effective rigdeline of 111″) under an 11′ tarp (ridgline of 121″), you really need to make sure the tarp covers the ends to avoid rain hitting you. With the “two line” system, you may be walking back & forth from end to end to get it just right, and if it is raining it could be a “clown show” you describe, but for a different reason. This is where the CRL shines with its ease of adjustment.

    I will also mention I’ve been on hammockforums for a few years & haven’t heard anyone mention prussik’s jamming, so that issue could be unique to the setup you bought.

    Finally, while I’m being pro CRL in these comments, even I continue to play around with different ridgeline setups. Each has their strengths & they continue to stick around for reason.

    • I learned about jamming prussiks from Derek Hansen. I hadn’t realized that other people were experiencing the same thing as I was.

    • To each their own. I have the 11’ hammock (Blackbird XLC) and the larger 12’ tarp so I don’t need to adjust to much if at all. Through all the reviews and research done I’ve found that it all depends on your setup and what works for you. I use Dutch flyz personally but all the different options are out there, which is great!

    • You can combine the systems as I have by using an adjustable end ridge line which ties the end of the line around the tree with a knot bone and a prussick attached to the end of the hammock. this way you have the best of both worlds and a water drip before the tarp as well. This setup has worked great for me.

  5. I’m sticking with the CRL for now, mainly for reasons TallPaul describes: not a lot of wiggle room between the length of my hammock and size of my tarp. But I also had issues with my prussik’s jamming, especially when wet and taught, so I switched to Dutchwear Stingerz and dutch hook – much easier to deal with.

    The other reason for a CRL for me is being able to hang wet clothes under the tarp to dry (I run my line under the tarp instead of over). All that said, I’ve decided to ditch my hammock ridgeline, which I could never quite get right. It was either too loose or too tight, and I just didn’t want the hassle of another line to mess with. I think I’m close to the setup that works for me, but there was definitely a lot of tinkering involved. I smell an opportunity for simplification.

  6. I use line locks on my hammock gear cuben tarp, and use my super fly for winter camping with a 2QZQ center pole. Dutchware is great and addictive!!

  7. When I first started hammock camping I used the split line system because it seemed simpler to me. However, I’m 6’3″ and need an 11 foot hammock, and like Paul said, it can be a pain to fiddle with a split line system when you have a longer hammock. I use Dutchware’s continuous ridge line and I love it. Also I’ve never had a problem with the prusiks jamming, even though I wrap mine around five times so I know they won’t come loose. Different gear works for different people.

  8. I also use the CRL with a WBBB and and their Edge Tarp. I have the the Tato Tarp Connectors and they work great ( I too had concerns about wet prussiks).

    Has a hammock system found its way into your pack on a regulat basis? If so, under what circumstances do you choos to carry it?

  9. I just bought a used blackbird from a friend. I plan to mainly use it on the AT down south, since I learned how bad the tent sites are at shelters (and along the trail) on my last section hike in April ib Northern Virginia. I tried a bunch though before deciding on the WBBB. . .

    • I have used both tarp methods but after a very gusty night found that the continuous ridge line could not keep the tension and I got some serious billowing in the super fly. Since that night I only use line locks or Dutchware. I have 2 tarps the super fly and cuben hammock gear tarp with doors. I hind sight I would have done the cuben hammock gear tarp without doors so if I had to go to ground easier to set up and bought 2QZQ cuben grizz beaks for hammock use if needed.

  10. I think there are pros and cons to both methods. For me a CRL is pretty much idiot proof so I like it.

    One of the fun things with hammocks is that there is so many different ways of doing things and everyone’s setup is different. Hammocks are still “new” and innovation is constant.

  11. I’m relatively inexperienced at hammocking and have use the continuous ridgeline method exclusively so far. I might try a few other techniques as time goes on. So far, it’s worked for me and I haven’t had to pitch one in pouring rain, however, I’ve cowered under the finished setup more than once as I waited out a storm.

  12. A continuous ridgeline is the easiest thing in the world to put up, but, if you are using Zing-it for your ridgeline, it’s no wonder that you’re having prussik problems.

  13. I am relatively new to hammocking, too. When everything is set up properly, I sleep way better in my Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker A-Sym hammock (original style with bottom entry) than in a tent or shelter. But, the fly of my HUB hammock is too minimalist for me—too susceptible to misalignment between fly and hammock body when lines sagged in rain (or if I hadn’t carefully aligned it to start with!). I switched to a larger (and lighter) HammockGear Cuben fiber fly and will use it with a continuous ridge line (CRL) that is separate from, and not attached to, the hammock suspension line for the first time on my next trip. Now, if the hammock sags, I hope it won’t drag the fly down with it. To center the tarp over the hammock, I will use a small biner attached to the clips at the ridgeline of the fly and attach each biner to a prussick on the CRL. I haven’t had problems with prussiks jamming–I use 4 or 5 wraps to ensure lock-down. I think it may be important for the line size (diameter) comprising the prussik to be the same size as the line to which it is attached. Anyone see any problems with this? Better to find out in advance via SectionHiker than in the pouring rain on a trip! If this doesn’t work, I like the looks of Dutchware’s Stingerz for use with a two-part (non-continuous) ridgeline. Except, I like the idea of hanging my socks from the CRL under the tarp!

  14. I personally feel that continuous is the way to go, and if it’s presenting much difficulty you’re doing it wrong.

  15. Another good reason for a CRL- if you use a pole mod attached to your tarp’s guy outs, the CRL will help support the poles and keep them off the tarp’s ridgeline

  16. Dutchware CRL with my Mamajamba and (soon) Hammock gear tarp. Almost instantaneous setup, great adjustability. I rode out a gnarly storm (40-50 knot winds, pounding rain, hail) in my backyard with this setup (plus doors on one end of the tarp) and it performed flawlessly, even after a stake on one corner of the tarp pulled out. Screwing around factor: zero.

  17. I’m new to hammock camping. I just got the XLC WBBB. Trying it out tonight first time. I have an asymmetrical tarp from simply light designs. It says 140 inches long, so it should cover my 11 foot hammock. I’ve set it up a few times so far and I’ve just tied the long ends of the tarp to the trees or the biners (if long dustavce between trees). Anyone have experience with the assyms? Blowing rain would be a problem.

  18. I have a few things I like with a tarp setup.
    – I want the line “permanently” attached to the tarp.
    – I don’t want to go from tarp to tree and back to tarp because it is extra line that I don’t need–I only need to go tarp-to-tree.
    – I want to be able to set up in cold weather with gloves on.
    – I want to be able to setup without my tarp touching the ground.
    – Less hardware and weight is better
    – Easy setup and take down is better

    This is what I do . . .

    15 feet of zing-it lark’s-headed onto each end of my WP SuperFly tarp (I have 15 foot straps on my hammock). On each line I have a Dutch fleaz which I have fed the zing-it through the hole so the fleaz can slide along the zing-it freely. I have tied a knot in the other end so the fleaz can’t get lost (with a Dutch “cord end” to make it look professional).

    I leave the fleaz at the knot end so, when I’m ready to deploy, I grab the fleaz and slide it down the zing-it as I go around the tree while the tarp is in the stuff sack under my armpit then hook the fleaz to the zing-it and lock it down near the tree. I already know approximately where the hammock will hang so I know how much line to let out. Then, I slowly walk to the other tree letting the tarp out of the stuff sack as I go to keep it off the ground. I go around the tree and hook up the fleaz the same way only, this time, I pull the line taught before I lock in the fleaz. If I think I didn’t get it centered at that point I can leave the right amount of slack and then go tighten the other end instead since it is so easy to adjust the fleaz. Once I hang the hammock I can re-adjust but it is almost never needed.

    When I pack up, I unlock one of the fleaz and slide it to the tree end of the zing-it against the knot before I wrap up the line. Then I let it stick out the end of the stuff sack so it is ready to deploy.

    I use Dutch beetle buckles on my Chameleon so I can either adjust the tarp by unlocking the fleas, sliding them where I need them and re-locking . . . or the hammock by sliding the beetles up/down the strap. Clown factor is not be totally eliminated but it is minimized.

  19. I like to use a continuous ridge line above the tarp. I secure the line ( I use 550 cord) to the tarp tieout with a half hitch, then go around the tree and back thru a minibiner (clipped on at the tie out)and run the line across the top of the tarp. At the other end, I run my line thru another minibiner (clipped to the other tieout) and around the tree, then back thru the tie out and toward the tree again. I use a taught line hitch to tighten it up. The downside is taught line hitches are a hassle with extra tag end line. Other than that, works like a charm. Here is a good illustration. The only thing I do different is use a taught line hitch instead of an adjustable Prussia.

  20. Great discussion, has helped me understand a bunch of little details :)

    I’m using the Hennessy asym tarp that came with my Hennessy Explorer Deluxe, and it has worked well so far. I’m in Sweden, so have had a few nights of rain and wind, have kept dry and warm. Coldest temperature has been around 8°C (46°F) so nothing extreme.

    In good weather I’ve used the Hennessy method of connecting the tartp to quick mounts with prusik knots on the hammock suspension, but in nastier weather I’ve run the tarp lines mounted at each end around the tree and tying off with a trucker’s hitch. I’ve found that even the “low strength” version of the trucker’s hitch (the loop is then loose, held only by the tension, and the fastening done using a slip hitch) has worked well with no slippage, although I have now tied a more solid loop on either side (just a simple directional eight on a bight) so that I don’t need to mess around at all.
    Even so, I found that doing a trucker’s hitch from scratch in the dark and rain wasn’t hard and took only a few seconds.
    Of course, after adjustments require loosening a part of the hitch, but I don’t need to release it completely, and tightening is easy due to the 3to1 ratio provided by taking the line back through itself.

    I will definitely try some of the Dutchware hardware, looks good, and am going to buy an extra tarp (and at least one more hammock, have only two now ;) )

  21. Thanks for the info and comparison. In both the continuous and split ridgeline examples, the ridgelines wrap around the trees, making direct contact with the tree bark. Isn’t damage to the bark a concern, especially for lines of 1.75-2.2 mm diameter? Does one put sticks, bark, or another spacer material between the ridgeline and the tree? Is there a configuration that would allow the ridgeline to be attached to the hammock straps to avoid possible damage to the trees? Simply attaching the ridgeline to the strap carabiner doesn’t seem to be the answer, since tension on the ridgeline would depend upon tension on the hammock suspension. Or, should separate ridgeline straps be used for flexibility in height adjustment?

    • People just tie off on the tree. The weight of a tarp is so low that it doesn’t hurt the bark.

    • Yes the line will damage the trees. Especially trees with softer bark. You should use straps instead if you care about tree damage and leave no trace principles. Most people claim it doesn’t damage the bark because the damage is less noticeable than from a hammock. Less damage of course is not the same thing as no damage. More and more restrictions are going up for hammock camping due to tree damage. We are not doing ourselves any favors by pushing the limits of what’s acceptable.

  22. I like using a two line (AKA split line) with a Loop Alien on each line. I like the Loop Alien for being easy to adjust, and for not having any pointy bit that can potentially make a hole in the tarp when stored with it. A nice video on how to use the Loop Alien is here:

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