This article is intended for backpackers who normally sleep in a tent and are interested in learning more about hammock-based shelters, and specifically Hennessy Hammocks. When I first tried a Hennessy a few years ago, I found that it was very difficult to really understand how they worked from the explanations I found online at the Hennessy web site. So, in the following article I try to explain the basics from the perspective of a non-disciple.
When I originally bought an Ultralight Backpacker A-Sym (31 oz.), it took me over one year of experimentation to understand when to use it as a shelter and how it is better than a tent under certain conditions. Despite the marketing, hammocks are not ideal for 4 season use, but they do have distinct advantages over tents in certain weather conditions and terrain.
The Hennessey Hammock hangs from two canvas straps that you wrap around trees about 10 feet apart. Each canvas strap, called a tree hugger, has loops at the end: you tie the hammock to the loops to protect the trees’ bark. The hammock has a top half made of mosquito netting and a bottom half that you lie on made of heavy nylon. The sides are sewn together to form a completely contained space that you sleep inside of. You enter the hammock from the bottom or the side if it has a side zipper and sit down on the edge, slowly raising your legs up over the side until you can stretch out inside.
You are now lying down in your hammock. Above you is a black cord the runs the entire length of the hammock. This is called the ridgeline. The Hennessey comes with a little pocket that hangs from the ridgeline that you can put your glasses or an LED headlamp into. You can also hang other gear off the ridgeline like your boots, wet socks, or whatever.
Before you go to sleep, you want to hang up your rain fly over the hammock. You can hang this over the ridgeline and stake down the sides or you can suspend it separately between the two trees. The degree of separation between the fly and your hammock and the direction of the wind can make a huge difference is how warm or cold you get at night. This will take some experimentation on your part, but you’ll be cooler if you have more airflow, just like in a single walled tent.
I do not recommend that you try your new hammock for the first time if the nighttime temperature is less than 55-60 degrees F. The bottom of the hammock is a poor insulator and your sleeping bag will not provide you with much insulation because you will be sleeping on it. Hennessey Hammock sells some additional fabric and insulation layer add-ons that can extend the temperature range of your hammock.
I’ve tried them all, but I prefer a product called The Nest, (see my review) from a manufacturer called Jacks R Better that makes extremely high quality quilts and aftermarket products for Hennessy Hammocks. Hammocks and quilts go hand-in-hand and you may end up reconsidering your insulation system and getting rid of your sleeping bag because it’s easier to use a quilt than a sleeping bag in the enclosed space of a hammock.
Hammocks are great for a limited temperature range. I prefer to use them in late spring through early fall. They are fantastic when it is raining and the ground is very wet. Your friends will be envious. They are also good for camping is heavily forested mountainous areas where the ground is a very hard or good campsites are hard to find. Hammocks are also excellent for stealth camping when you want to camp away from other people in a wilderness setting because they have a much lower impact on the environment than tents.
I hope this article and video provided you with valuable information. Please write to me or comment below if you have any questions or something you’d like to add.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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Good Job on the articles you have here, thank you for putting your time into it!
I hiked over 510 miles in about two months on the Appalachian Trail from latter part of August to October. I used a Hennessy Hammock the entire time and NEVER regretted it, not once. It provided wonderful shelter in all kinds of weather and temperatures, light wt. packing, stealth camping, and overall, was a winner. I met two other backpackers on the trail using them and we all agreed, tent campers don't know what they are missing! No one can ever get me back in a tent again.
Nice review. I would comment though that if you do sleep on a sleeping pad in the hammock (it's a little akward at first to manuver) that you can easily sleep in it in the winter. I actually did this last weekend and it was in the 30's.
Thanks for the comment Dave. As I read the authors comment about the limited temperature range of a hammock I wondered if a sleeping pad would extend it.
I have a Hennessey Hammock, but rarely use it. They're not that comfortable for side or stomach sleepers. For some people they work great, especially those with back problems who might not be able to camp otherwise. And they do expand the terrain you can camp on. This weekend DripDry and I are taking another group out backpacking, but the campsite is very limited. We'll be taking our Hennessey's to conserve space for the others in tents.
My two most memorable times in the hammock have been in extreme weather. Winter camping in the low teens was the coldest night of my life, even after putting on every piece of clothing. Summer camping in a thunderstorm got exciting because I put one side of the rain fly too horizontal trying to increase the wind flow. Water pooled on the flat side pulling it down, while pulling the other side up eventually exposing me to the rain.
Thanks for the article. Hennessy hammocks are great hammocks for camping. Agreed they are probably best for spring through fall camping but an underquilt will help in colder temperatures.