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Hammock Buying Guide

The Only Hammock Buying Guide You Ever Need To Read

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I. History of the Hammock

  • Purpose and Origin
  • Transmission and widespread use

II. Purpose of Hammocks

  • Stay-cation relaxing,sunbathing
  • Sleeping
  • Honeymoon
  • Hammock Camping
  • Office Naps

III. Types of Hammocks

  • String/rope
  • Fabric – quit, cotton, canvas, nylon
  • Hammock Tents
  • Cacoon Hammocks

IV. Suspension

  • Spreaders
  • Cord-based system
  • web-based system
  • advanced techniques

V. Research on Hammocks and Sleep

  • synchronize brain waves
  • cognitive benefits

I. The Hammock History Primer

The hammock is an object that you immediately recognize. It invites you to chill. Perhaps you have napped, sunbathed, snuggled, or even camped in a hammock. But how much do you really know about the ultimate relaxation machine?

Can you answer the following questions?

  • Hammocks originated in what part of the world?
  • The original purpose of the hammock was?
  • When and how did the hammock become an international sensation?
  • What institutions have used hammocks and for what purpose?

Maybe you know these answers. But you might be surprised by some of the lesser known facts in the long, interesting history of this sling that has provided so much relaxation for so many years.

Mayan Indians used hammocks 1,000 years ago in Central America. They were probably woven from bark or plant fibers. The word ‘hammock’ may originate from a Haitian word for fish nets, which probably described their appearance.

mayan indian hammock

Because of the hammock’s practicality and ease of transport, it was adopted and widely used throughout South America, Central America and Mexico. Through the centuries cultures developed distinctive styles and materials that still characterize their hammocks today.

We will discuss some of these culturally iconic hammocks later. Used for rest and sleeping, hammocks also provided many other benefits.  Sleeping off the ground protected people from animals, snakes and insects. Hammocks also were efficient in extreme weather conditions.

Hot coals placed under the hammock provided warmth; breezes under and through the hammock allowed for cooling ventilation.  Sick individuals were isolated in their hammocks and avoided close contact with family and community.  This factor helped slow the transmission of disease.

Spanish Colonists witnessed hammocks being used by native peoples in the West Indies in the early 1500’s.  Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés described the hammock in this entry,

“The indians sleep in a bed they call an ‘hamaca’ which looks like a piece of cloth with both an open and tight weave, like a net … made of cotton … about 2.5 or 3 yards long, with many henequen twine strings at either end which can be hung at any height. They are good beds, and clean … and since the weather is warm they require no covers at all … and they are portable so a child can carry it over the arm.”

hammock

It was Christopher Columbus who took a hammock from the Bahamas and introduced it to Europe.  The new-fangled hammock created quite a sensation with both the wealthy and underprivileged.  Eventually, weavers in Europe began to make hammocks. Some were sent to the New World. Hammocks became an acceptable alternative to a bed.

hammock history

By the mid-16th Century, hammocks were used by both the Spanish and English natives. Previously, sailors had actually been injured or killed when they were thrown from bunks during rough seas. The American Navy also used hammocks from the Civil War through Vietnam.

The navy hammocks were made of canvas so they would be more durable.  But these proved to be less flexible, breathable and comfortable than the original models.

hammock history

Hammocks played several other roles throughout history. British prisons introduced them in the 19th century as an economical way to house prisoners. American frontier farmers used them as an inexpensive sleeping solution.  And during the building of the Panama Canal, hammocks covered with netting thwarted mosquitoes and helped end the rampant yellow fever epidemic.

We are the fortunate recipients of a rich history.  Hammocks are produced throughout the world today and offer a huge variety of styles and functions. This guide will examine the purpose, types, suspension options and research.

II. The Purpose-Driven Hammock

The modern hammock is still a sling, suspended from the ground, but hammocks have become have become specialized. Their design and construction is determined by purpose.

The Sleeping Hammock

The hammock was originally designed for sleeping.  Millions of people throughout the world still sleep in hammocks and the interest in sleep hammocks is growing. Why You Ask?

sleeping hammock

Advocates claim there are many benefits to a good night’s swing:

  • Comfort.  Because there are no pressure points, the body is able to completely rest.  Supported. Suspended.  Sleeping in the hammock is like floating on air.
  • Stress release.  The gentle, sway of the hammock is comforting.  The mind and body easily relax, recognizing a primal rocking motion that soothed us as children.
  • Better sleep. Modern sleep studies verify that hammocks provide benefits including longer, deeper sleep.  We will look at the specifics of these studies later.
  • Affordable.  Many people spend thousands of dollars trying to get a bed that allows for a good night sleep.  Not to mention the accoutrements—high thread count sheets, luxurious pillows, fashionable bed ensembles.  A hammock seems like a real bargain in comparison.
  • No bed to make!  Enough said.

What hammock is best for sleeping?

  • The original hammock design works best.  This hammock has material at  both ends, with a natural curve in the middle.  No spreaders or hammock stand.
  • The hang of the hammock is critical for a good night’s rest. It should not be hung  too tightly. A tightly hung hammock will squeeze the shoulders and be limp in the  middle.
  • In the ideal hang, the hammock will resemble the shape of  a smile or a banana.  You will be able to use the entire width of the sling.

How do you sleep in a hammock?

  • Start by sitting in the middle of the hammock. Then swing your legs inside.
    Lying lengthwise in the center of the hammock. Then gently move your feet about 8-12 inches to one side and your head and upper torso 8-12 to the opposite side. You will sleep at this diagonal
  • The hammock will cradle your body.  The curve of the hammock will imitate the natural curve of your spine. Sweet dreams!

The Lounging Hammock and Hammock Chair

You don’t have to go on vacation to relax. A hammock placed invitingly in the backyard, next to a pool, just whispers, chill. This type of hammock looks great by the pool or in the back yard.  It provides the perfect surface for getting a tan.  The lounging hammock often looks different than the sleeping hammock.  This difference developed over time.

hammock chair

When Christopher Columbus introduced the hammock to Europe, many people were bothered by the aesthetic of the limp sling of material.  Eventually spreaders, cross pieces at each end, were developed to keep the hammock taut.

  • Spreaders and stands. The lounging hammock is characterized by the wooden spreaders at each end. The hammock is usually suspended by hanging hooks and chains.  Often the lounging hammock is suspended by a stand that stretches the material between two poles.  These hammocks are typically designed to hold two people.
  • Durable. This hammock is often a semi-permanent fixture that is assembled and left outside for the season. These hammocks are designed to endure. Suspension ropes, chains and grommets are all weather tough.
  • Synthetic material. Vinyl and acrylic are often used so that the pool-side hammock dries quickly.
  • Decorative. The lounging hammock can be a statement piece in the décor.  Designer decorative and fabrics that coordinate with the outdoor furniture are available.  Accessories can include pillows, container bags, and decorative hanging straps.

If you have ever jumped onto a taut lounging hammock, you know it is east to flip out. Solution: The hammock chair. Described as a ‘cradle’ or a ‘swing’ these hammocks offer support and leisure.  Hammock swings can be suspended from a porch beam or tree limb or attached to a stand.

III. The Hiking Hammock

Cocooned inconspicuously, you can observe the details of the natural world as they magically unfold. In a hiking hammock, you hang with nature. You’re part of the landscape.  Hiking hammocks work well for either family campers or backpackers. The design of the hammock serves both functions perfectly, because the hammocks are:

  • Tiny. The hiking hammock stuffs into a bag the size of a softball.  When the hammock is suspended, the attached bag becomes a handy pocket for glasses, a flashlight, or late night snack.
  • Light. The hiking hammock weighs less than two pounds. It eliminates the weight and bulk of a sleeping bag. This is ideal for a backpacker who can easily put the hammock in a pack, or for a family whose entire sleeping gear could be carried in a small pillow case.
  • Strong. A single hammock for one person can hold up to 400 pounds.
  • Roomy. The unfolded hammock is about 91/2’ by 41/2′.  That is plenty of space to stretch and relax.
  • Fast. It takes about two minutes to set up the hiking hammock. It usually comes with two carabineer clips that can be attached to hooks.
  • Comfortable. A night in a hammock is heavenly, especially compared to sleeping on the hard ground. “Tall or large campers and campers with injuries, arthritis or bone spurs and back pain tell us about finding their first night of comfortable camping in many years . . .”
  • Resilient. The hammock is often made of strong, breathable nylon.  The material is light weight, durable and can dry quickly.
  • Multi-purposed. The hammock can be used to carry supplies.  It can also be used as a camp chair, eliminating the need for more furniture.
  • Shelter. Because they are easy to transport and set up, the hammocks provide necessary shelters for Peace Corps volunteers, forest fire fighters, smoke jumpers, emergency field hospitals, international disaster relief workers, and as survival equipment for military and SAR personnel.
  • Accessorized. In addition, to the many benefits of the camping hammock, you can purchase elements to meet specific needs, including: insect proof mosquito netting,  webbing straps to  protect the tender tree bark, weather proof tarpaulins, and insulation systems that  allows the hammock to be used in all seasons.

camping hammock

Maybe the best reason to use a camping hammock is that it is environmentally friendly. Use it and leave no trace!

Extreme Hammocks

In 2015, Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, made a free climb, without tools, up a sheer granite surface to the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The 3,000 foot ascent was accomplished without climbing tools. Caldwell and Jorgeson were the first climbers to accomplish this goal.  It took 19 days.  Each night the team rested in in shelters thousands of feet in the air. Caldwell commented, “We have three double portaledges set up. It’s like a five-star hotel up here!”

The need for dependable, light weight shelter is necessary for those who participate in extreme expeditions.

  • In the 1950’s the first portaledges, a combination hammock and tent, were developed by mountain climbers scaling the European Alps.
  • Americans later developed the B.A.T. which looked like a hammock with a tarpaulin above it.
  • Today, climbers hang from steep inclines in an extreme activity called vertical camping that has become quite popular.  One hammock designed for this activity hangs from the side of a mountain by a single point. It has the shape of a spider sac or a soft Victorian pocketbook.  The hammock is described as light, compact, and very affordable. It does not use frame ledges.

Extreme hammock-ing is enjoying great popularity. Currently a German resort, Waldseilgarten, offers guests the chance to sleep in hammocks placed against cliffs 2,000 meters high.  Other extreme and sometimes bizarre hammock activities have been in the news including:

  • Extreme hammock spinning.  A young man holds desperately to a hammock as a friend on each ends spins it rapidly over and over.
  • Extreme sleeping. Groups climb into trees to slumber high off the ground.
  • Bear in hammock. In Florida  a brown bear was videotaped lounging in the backyard hammock. I guess this would only be an extreme sport if someone asked him to leave.

Hammocks Built For Two

Of course. Hammocks are not just made for singles.

hammock tentThe couples’ hammock is designed for two large bodies.  The bed is 8 feet in length and hangs between two 14 foot vertical supports.  Some hammocks have spreaders and some have traditional fabric at each end. They can support over 500 pounds. Many of the hammocks are beautifully decorated and fringed and represent the style of the country where they were made.

couples hammock

The term ‘couple hammock’ is often synonymous with hammock chairs.  The advertising for this product promises comfort, intimacy and erotic delights.  ()

No matter the style, it is important that the couple hammock is suspended securely.  A hammock hung indoors should be attached with chains or ropes to heavy hooks that are drilled into the center of wall studs or ceiling beams.  The suggested distance between hooks should be at least 12 feet. If the hammock is suspended outside, the supports should also be substantial.  The hammock should be hung at least 6 feet from the ground.

The hammock chair suggests a contractor be contacted to ensure the chair is adequately supported. It also advises the seat of the chair should be at least 16″ from the floor.

Types of Hammocks

Spreader Bar Hammocks

These hammocks are named for the wooden or metal bars at the head and feet of the hammock. Spreaders stretch the hammock fabric taut so that it becomes a perfect surface for sunbathing. These hammocks are frequently seen in back yards and next to pools, and are often suspended on hammock stands.

hammock stands for sale

Because the hammock bed is stretched tight, the user must carefully balance.  You may feel unstable moving in this hammock.  It is not considered as comfortable as other types for sleeping.

A single bar hammock has one spreader at the head of the hammock and two attachments on each corner at the foot for increased stability.

Venezuelan/Jungle Hammocks

Travelers to Central and South America in the twentieth century were introduced to the Venezuelan hammock.  They embraced them for their comfort and practicality.   The breathable material of this hammock helped to prevent fungal infections and was cool in the sweltering climate. Fine netting placed over the hammock protected users from venomous snakes and insects. Waterproof sheets warded off the continual rain.  Drips strips placed on the suspension ropes kept rain from streaming into the hammock. Insecticide rubbed on suspension ropes deters unwanted six legged boarders.

These utilitarian Venezuelan hammocks became prototypes for the jungle hammocks that were developed by the United States military and used by the Army in WW II.  The Marines also used these jungle hammocks, but suspended them inside underground trenches.

Venezuelan Hammocks

Today, Venezuelans still use this hammock, but also produce colorful and decorative handmade hammocks with hand-woven cords for sale throughout the world.

Jungle hammocks have become very popular with outdoor enthusiasts.  Usually they are made from nylon or polyester.  Options for the jungle hammock include a waterproof fly, mosquito netting, and even camouflage material.

Both hammocks are inline hammocks, so the sleeper rests lengthwise in the center.

Mayan/Nicaraguan Hammocks

Colorful woven nets constructed of cotton or nylon strings, the Mayan and Nicaraguan hammocks look like cocoons when you are nested inside. The Mayan hammock is traditionally woven looser that than Nicaraguan.  Both hammocks are handmade, woven by artisans and villagers. The thread count and quality of construction can vary. (Wikipedia)

Brazilian Hammocks

Cotton fabric gathered at both ends with hand crocheted lace at the edges, characterize the Brazilian Hammock. Not as ‘air-conditioned’ as a woven hammock, the Brazilian Hammock is probably more suitable for cooler climates and makes a comfortable bed.

Naval Hammocks

From navy use in the 1500’s to space travel in the 20th century, these hammocks have been valued for durability and efficient use of space. Usually they are made from canvas or heavy cotton.

The design of these hammocks has been consistent.  A pattern for a Royal Navy hammock in 1775  describes the product.  It was made with a heavy cotton or canvas base, 72″x 36″ in size, with grommets sewn into each end.  Ropes were strung through the grommets, and attached to a ring at each end that were used to suspend the hammock.

Travel or Camping Hammocks

These light, nylon hammocks are often housed in a small material pocket. The entire hammock weighs less than two pounds.  The hammock can be outfitted with a mosquito net, a bottom slit for easy entry, a ridge line for easy set up, and special webbing straps for attachment.  Unlike tents, hammocks do not impact the environment and have become popular with those who want to “leave no trace.”

Hammock Suspension: How to get it up

To be at its best, the hammock needs to be elevated and supported.  There is as much to consider about suspending the hammock, as there is to deciding what type of hammock is best for your needs.

The Perfect Angle

In a non-spreader hammock, one that has material attachments at both ends, the key to a good night’s sleep is to make sure the hang of the hammock is loose— like the contour of a smile or banana.  (The perfect angle of repose is usually 30 degrees, but can vary between individuals.)This sweet curve depends on several factors:

  • the distance between the two attachment points
  •  the height of the attachment points,
  • the sit height (ideal distance of hammock from the ground so that you could sit in it comfortably with your feet touching the ground),
  • and the ridgeline length (hammock distance from end to end)

Of course, the ideal hang of the hammock will differ, just as people differ. The hammock hang calculator form the Ultimate Hang is a helpful tool that takes into consideration the user’s weight and height.  You simply plug in the variables and the hammock calculator advises how high the hammock should be suspended and how far apart the hammock supports should be.

  • For example, one camper weighs 130 lbs., has a preferred sit height of 15 inches and a hammock ridgeline of 108 inches.  To achieve the ideal 30 ° angle, the camper will hang the hammock 67 inches from the ground between trees or other supports that are 15 feet apart.  The suspension line from the foot of the hammock to the tree will measure 50 inches.
  • Another camper, who weighs 350 lbs. and has a sit height of 19 inches, will hang the hammock  80 inches from the ground in order to achieve the same comfortable angle.  The suspension line from the foot of the hammock to the tree will also measure 50 inches.
The Attachment

The actual suspension lines will also affect the hang of the hammock.  The basic concept is to wrap a web, cord, strap or rope around a tree or support, secure the strapping to the tree or support and then attach the strap, cord, web, or rope to the  either the hammock attachment, or thread it through the hammock channel, or loop it  behind a large knot that you tie in the end of the hammock cloth. You can purchase the components of the suspension system or build your own.

Pre-made suspension systems:

There are a large number of different takes on the basic concept.  This one seemed fairly representative:

  • Tree hugging straps  from 6’ to 10′  made from nylon tubing can support over 400 lbs.  They vary in  weight from 9-12 ounces. The straps wrap around the tree without insertion points to damage the  bark.
  • Or steel wall mounts and screws can be used with ropes or cords to add attachment points to any structure and support 400 lbs.
Do It Yourself Suspension

For those who want a visual example,  Professor Hammock on YouTube demonstrates a variety of ways to attach a hammock to the  tree.

Materials
  • You can choose from 30-50 inches of 1 inch webbing Strap , Amsteel cord or rope
  •  You may use a carabineer, metal rings, cinch buckle or knots
Hammock Stands

When there are no trees are available and you want a hammock that you can put up quickly  at the beach or in the back yard, you might consider a hammock stand.

Free Standings

The stand is a structure that you can attach the hammock too.  Stands can be made of a variety  of materials from metal, to bamboo, to hardwoods.  Some stands are specifically designed to  support hammock chairs and some for the traditional hammock lounge.

Some hammock  stands are portable and some are pieces of furniture that can be difficult to move. Hammock stands can used with hammocks that have or do not have spreaders.

Portable/Camping

One example of this type of portable stand was an arachnid appearing contraption that consists of ground plates, guy lines, stakes and struts.

The stand is light and portable and can hold up to 275 lbs.  It is not freestanding, bit it is packable and easy to assemble.  It does leave an  imprint  on the ground. (theultimatehang.com)

Rock the Night Away- Research on Hammock Sleeping

Hammock users feel that they experience a restful sleep in their hammock. Now research has proven this is true. In 2011, neuroscientists published a sleep study that indicated hammock sleep increased the length of non-Rem sleep (needed for good rest) and increased brain activity.

Sophie Schwartz, professor of neurology who led the study at the University of Geneva, said that rocking is “changing things in your brain.”  Increased brain plasticity measured from hammock sleeping could help individuals recover from stroke and other brain diseases.

The swaying motion of the hammock might also synchronize the brain to increase memory and help with sleep dysfunctions.

To get a good night sleep it is important that the hammock is correctly suspended so the sleeper gets the perfect angle of repose.  That said, sleep in a hammock, a simple device that has been around for hundreds of year, can be transformative.

Hopefully you enjoyed this guide, we will continue to add to it to ensure your hammock needs are covered!

Luiz

Luiz

Chief Hammocker at Hammock Town
Luiz is the Founder and VP of eCommerce at Hammock Town. On weekdays you can find him working from coffee shops around the world and exploring unchartered territories with a hammock on the weekends.
Luiz
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Luiz
Luiz is the Founder and VP of eCommerce at Hammock Town. On weekdays you can find him working from coffee shops around the world and exploring unchartered territories with a hammock on the weekends.
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