The Warbonnet Blackbird is a backpacking hammock tricked out for multi-day trips where comfort and convenience trump the simplicity of a simple sling hammock. Complete with built-in bug netting, a ridgeline, and extra storage, the Warbonnet Blackbird is an exceptionally comfortable hammock that can adapted for a wide range of weather conditions in forested terrain.
Available with a single layer or double layer bottom (which has a sleeve to hold an insulating sleeping pad), the Blackbird is gathered-end hammock, meaning that the ends of the sling are bunched together or “gathered,” attached to a suspension system, and hung between two trees. While this produces a curved shape, the Warbonnet has a special foot box that allows you to stretch your legs out flat, providing a flat lay which back sleepers and side sleepers will find comfortable to sleep on.
Transitioning from Ground Shelters to Hammocks
If you’ve been spoiled by lightweight shelters weighing two pounds or less, transitioning to a backpacking hammock like the Warbonnet Blackbird (a tarp is also required) will be a bit of a shock since backpacking hammock systems are not inexpensive and they’re not terribly lightweight.
While you can try to stretch your existing gear by using a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad to insulate hammocks in cooler weather, you’ll soon come the realization that the lightest weight and most versatile insulation components are a down sleeping quilt called a top quilt, and an underquilt to keep your back warm.
|Warbonnet Blackbird Single Layer Hammock (1.1)||$170||21 ounces|
|Warbonnet Superfly 11' x 10' Tarp||$140||15 ounces|
|Hammock Gear Burrow 20 Top Qult||$264||19 ounces|
|Hammock Gear Incubator 20 Underquilt||$249||22 ounces|
|Total||$823||77 ounces (4.82 pounds)|
While you can trim your insulation weight and expense by camping in a warmer temperature range, a hammock based backpacking system is going to be more expensive and heavier than one where you sleep on the ground.
Advantages of Hammocks over Ground Shelters
Despite the cost and added weight of hammock shelter and sleep systems, there are very real advantages to sleeping in hammocks over ground-based shelters.
- You can sleep just about anywhere as long as they’re two stout trees nearby that you can hang the hammock and tarp from. Wet ground, crappy tent sites, and wooden platforms cease to be a concern because you’re “above it all.”
- You can pitch your hammock in the rain after setting up your tarp to keep it dry.
- You can avoid crowded camp sites or shelters if you want a little privacy and prefer to sleep by yourself.
- You have a much lower impact on the environment than tent camping, making it possible to stealth camp when you feel like stopping for the night, without leaving much of a trace.
In my book, a good night’s sleep “outweighs” the importance of carrying an ultralight base weight, especially on multi-day or multi-week backpacking trips where I need good sleep to help my body recover from the exertions of the previous day.
The Warbonnet Blackbird is the most comfortable gathered end backpacking hammock you can buy. In addition to the added foot box, the Blackbird has an exterior side pocket where you can stash gear at night, freeing up more interior space for you to occupy. Located at the head end of the hammock, the pocket is large enough to fit a pair of shoes, a water bottle, a head lamp or other small accessories you want to keep close.
The inner sleeping compartment is covered with bug netting strung over a center ridgeline. Entry is from the side through a long two-way zipper, which makes it easy to swing your legs out when you want to exit. The netting can also be rolled out-of-the-way when not needed. Guy lines are located on both sides of the head end of the hammock and can be staked out to provide more interior space, although they’re not required for use.
The Blackbird is available with a single layer or double layer bottom, which creates an interior shelf that you can insert of foam is inflatable sleeping pad into to insulate your back at night. Back insulation is needed, even in summer. to block heat loss and prevent what is known as CBS, cold butt syndrome.
If you get a Blackbird with a single layer bottom, you will want to sleep with a foam pad inside the hammock, which can be awkward, or use some sort of exterior underquilt. Warbonnet sells full length underquilts for cold weather, and well as torso length models, which are popular for warmer temperatures when less leg insulation is required. In addition to a better weight to warmth ration, the biggest advantage of an underquilt over a foam pad is its compressibility and packability.
Warbonnet Hammocks are available with several different suspension options. My double layer Blackbird uses the standard tree hugging webbing straps, a carabiner, and buckle based system that the company offers, although lighter weight whoopie sling or line-based options are also available. Once secured to two trees, you tighten the webbing straps by pulling them through a simple buckle system to tighten the webbing straps so they hang at a 30 degree angle.
Warbonnet has a good video on their site that illustrates the webbing suspension system and the other lighter weight options you can select when you purchase a hammock. I bought my double layer Blackbird used and decided to keep the webbing strap system it came with for simplicity. If I were buying a new Blackbird from Warbonnet, I’d probably opt for the Whoppie sling suspension because it’s slightly easier to adjust.
Warbonnet sells a number of tarps, some large and some a good deal smaller, that can be used to provide rain and dew protection for the Blackbird. I opted for the Warbonnet Superfly, which is 11 by 10 feet in size, and includes a pair of end doors which are useful for blocking wind or rain. Made with 1.1 oz/30D silnylon, the Superfly is best thought of as a 4 season tarp given the amount of coverage it provides. Seam sealing of the tarp ridgeline is not required given the way it’s sewn, which is a nice feature.
While the Superfly can be pitched in a classic A-frame style, it’s also easy to prop up one side with trekking poles to provide better air flow and a better view. All of the perimeter guy out points on the Superfly have plastic buckles, making it easy to slide them over your trekking pole tips for this purpose.
My only real complaint about the Superfly doesn’t have to do with the product, but how the product is sold to consumers. I think Warbonnet should pre-package its tarps with a pre-configured, out-of-the-box suspension system attached to the Superfly. This would help people new to hammocks overcome the hurdle of figuring out whether they want a continuous ridgeline setup or not and how to configure and use one. Customers would still be able to buy a “naked tarp” as well, if they have the know-how to roll their own suspensions.
Ease of Setup
Setting up a Warbonnet Hammock is easy with just a little practice, since you can hang it between two trees 13′ to 20′ apart without having to worry much about finding a flat campsite free of roots and rocks. Simply secure the webbing straps around a tree, hang the hammock, and adjust the tension of the straps as needed.
Hanging a tarp is also simple, but only if you’ve figured out how to configure a continuous ridgeline or a split line suspension, a skill that can be intimidating for people who’ve only used tents in the past. Once mastered however, hanging a hammock shelter system and taking one down is quite fast, even in the pouring rain (see also Hammocks: Continuous Ridgelines or Not?)
The Warbonnet Blackbird is an ideal shelter system for camping in terrain that has a lot of trees, but few good ground sites for a conventional tent. Good for both back sleepers and side sleepers, the Blackbird has a built-in foot box that lets people lay nearly flat inside the hammock and an internal storage shelf and side guy outs that help ensure plenty of interior space.
However, choosing between buying a single layer or a double layer hammock bottom can be a tricky choice. If you’re already set on using an underquilt for external insulation, I recommend you get the single layer hammock. But if you want to use a lower cost sleeping pad or one you already own for back insulation, a double layer hammock is the way to go.
Whichever option you choose, there’s no denying that hammocks like the Blackbird provide a superior sleep and camping experience in forested terrain that lacks good tent pitches. If you’re a backpacker and find yourself faced with such conditions often, the Warbonnet Blackbird will transform your camping and sleeping experience forever. Highly recommended!
- Comfortable for back sleepers and side sleepers
- Excellent build quality and customer service
- Storage shelf is a must-have feature. Just awesome.
- Easy to set up at night and tear down the following morning.
- Hammock will stay dry in the pouring rain when pitched under a tarp
- Tarp does not include a suspension system or stakes. Prevents hammock newbies having a complete shelter right away.
- Relatively heavy and bulky compared to a ground-based shelter
Disclosure: The author purchased the product reviewed here with his own funds. The author also wishes to thank Kris Payer, Louis Brooks, and Tom Murphy for generously loaning their Warbonnet and JRB hammocks for me to try this summer.