I have been itching to try hammock camping for years now. I’ve seen them around at campgrounds and heard about how great they are from owners, but, until now, never actually heaved my carcass into one and spent the night there. Let me just go ahead and tell you: I weathered a heavy storm in a Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle XL and I freakin’ loved it.
But let me back up a bit. I researched hammocks heavily when I was preparing for an AT thru hike back in 2010. I ended up opting for a freestanding tent instead–the venerable MSR Hubba–because I figured I had plenty of experience with tents, and switching into a whole new sleeping system would make life weird. Basically, I was a big ol’ feathery chicken about it. Bgaack!
The Candy Conundrum
In early 2011 I made the startling discovery that my ass is made entirely of citified candy, so I quietly decided not to pursue a thru hike after all. I opted instead for shorter but more far-flung trips to Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua, as well as weekend trips around home. I’m now engaged in the slowest AT section hike in history. I should make it to Katahdin sometime before my 60th birthday.
I have spent many a night in a tent, going back to my days as a boy scout and later as a summer camp counselor. But since learning about hammocks, every time I wake up in a tent with a rock lodged in my spine and a scorpion investigating my shorts, the idea of the hammock comes floating back to me. What are they like?
I got my chance to find out at this winter’s Outdoor Retailer show. I wandered by the Hennessy Hammocks booth and tried out a couple of their hammocks. They were so comfortable! I began moaning loudly about how much I wanted to try one. I then interspersed those moans with childlike sobs about the low wages of a professional adventure humorist. Being good people who are no doubt ardent supporters of the arts, the Hennessy folks agreed to let me take a hammock with me to review for Tripleblaze, if I’d just knock it off with the moaning and whatnot. Imagine my joy!
I decided to wait until thru hiker season, when folks appear in our North Georgia mountains and set out for Maine. I would take the hammock and my soft hindquarters to the hinterlands and experience the same hardships I would have faced were I not so citified, and I would triumphantly endure these hardships for one whole day.
Look out, Les Stroud. Survivorman Jr. up in this piece.
The Coming Storm
The only problem with the weekend I picked is that weather was in the forecast. I arrived at Hawk Mountain shelter around 1:00pm to find only two other souls inside: a thru hiker by the trail name of Rodeo and her dog Scout. That meant I could easily claim a spot in the shelter for myself and stay dry. The coming storm was predicted to be heavy. But no! I was there to spend the night in the hammock, and I vowed to do just that.
As the afternoon went on, more and more people showed up. The shelter filled up long before dinner time, and I was officially stuck in the hammock regardless of how bad the weather got. I decided to take extra care to ensure my pitch was up to scratch.
Here’s my first pitch. You can see the wind is blowing the Deep Jungle’s rain fly around quite a bit.
I carved some tent stakes out of sticks and used a couple of rocks to secure the fly tighter to the hammock, like so:
I ended up being glad I did that, because the forecast wasn’t joking about the rain. It began around 7pm. The assembled 20 or so hikers scattered from around the shelter’s fire ring. Some scampered to tents. Most climbed into the shelter. I lay in my hammock.
The rain picked up steam and stayed heavy all night long, and I mean all night long. Usually when a storm rains hard it can only keep it up for a few hours or so. Not this one. It chucked down with rain straight on through until morning. But you know what? I was warm and dry all night long.
I can’t say enough good things about how the Deep Jungle kept the rain out. It was a little weird bobbing to and fro in the wind at first, but over the course of the night I came to not only get used to it, but to enjoy it. Being rocked to sleep by mother nature ain’t bad, y’all.
Weight for it
Okay, I’m going to talk a little bit about what it’s like to use this hammock on the trail, but keep in mind before I start that the model I have is far from Hennessy’s lightest. I have the Deep Jungle XL, with a claimed weight of 2lbs 3oz, but Hennessy also offers ultralight models going down to more like 1lbs 15oz.
Here’s my hammock on the scale, showing 3lbs 3.9 oz:
But keep in mind that weight includes the carrying bag, which you don’t need on the trail, as well as the hammock packing system, the “snakeskins” (2.3oz) which are also optional:
Taking the weights of those two items off, we get down to the claimed weight of the Deep Jungle XL. I also took along the included webbing straps for tree attachment, and a couple of carabiners to make attaching them easy. All told, the system, as I put it on the trail, including optional equipment not prescribed by Hennessy (namely the carabiners at 4.5oz), ended up at 3lbs 12oz. Again, though, keep in mind that ultralight weight is not this particular model’s intended strong suit. I’m just talking relative weights because it’s what backpackers talk about outside of food and the weather.
Even so, the system’s weight is comparable to the weight of my Hubba, seen here on the scale at 3lbs 4oz.
Keep in mind that one thing the Hennessy’s got over a traditional tent is packability. Inside the snakeskins, the Deep Jungle XL looks basically like, well, like a snake. Or a pile of intestines. But a snake sounds nicer.
One thing I love about this hammock is how it packs into my pack. It is willing to be shoved into wherever there’s room. I like my pack to look like a tight round sausage of gear rather than like a lumpy mess, and having a shelter system that is moldable is really nice to me. You can jam a tent in your pack too, but poles are poles and stakes are stakes. They are harder to bend.
The weather got down to around 50°F that night. I was in my Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20° bag, wearing a base layer, pants, shirt, stocking cap and soft shell. I subscribe to the wisdom that if you don’t go to bed wearing everything you have, you brought too many clothes. I was also sleeping on Hennessy’s insulation pad, which reflects body heat back to the sleeper. I was plenty warm all night, despite being quite worried that being off the ground in the storm would let the wind blow every calorie of heat off me and into the night. Not so!
Check out this view of the Deep Jungle XL the next morning, after a couple of inches of rainfall.
Had I pitched my tent there, I seriously doubt I’d have had a fun night. It was a poor choice on my part to pitch there, but since I was off the ground it only impacted me in the morning when I went to step out of the hammock.
In my tent I’d have been splish-splashing around all night like an extremely irritable fish.
Now that I know the Deep Jungle can keep me dry and happy in a storm, I’m really looking forward to spending some summer nights in it. Without the insulating pad, being off the ground is going to be really nice for a guy who is typically a sweaty mess at any temperature above about 60°F.
All things considered, if you are on the fence about a hammock purchase like I was, my advice is to go on and land on the hammock side. They make great shelters, and figuring out all the tricks to customize your system for you is a lot of fun.
The Deep Jungle XL retails for $339, but again, it’s one of Hennessy’s heavier duty models, so check out their catalog for some more modestly priced options.
Thanks to Hennessy Hammocks for providing the Deep Jungle XL for review!