Think you know how to choose a hammock? Think again!
If you’re a ‘proper’ hammock enthusiast and you already like hiking and exploring, then perhaps you can skip this one and you really do know what you’re doing. But if you’re like 99% of Americans, then you probably have very warped expectations of what a hammock should look like, how it operates and how it feels.
And it’s probably completely ruining your enjoyment of hammocks!
Think of a hammock and what comes to mind? For a lot of people reading this, it will be a string seat that stretches across two trees and has a bar at either end.
The rope that’s used to make it will be in a big criss-cross pattern with large holes and climbing on might bring up terrible images from Tom & Jerry – spinning around multiple times or being forced through the gaps and coming out in chunks.
A lot of people assume that hammocks are difficult to climb into, that there is a ‘knack’ to them and that they are only really comfortable once you’re used to them.
None of this is true. And the hammock you’re picturing is an example of something that has been ‘over designed’…
So what should a hammock look like?
They actually come in all shapes and sizes but fundamentally, a hammock is just any piece of material that has been attached to two anchor points and that you can sleep in. It should have a slight dip in the middle - about the shape of a banana - and it should never spin.
Not only is this type of hammock MUCH comfier – being proven by research to lead to a much deeper and more restorative sleep – but it is also much safer. In fact, it should be nearly impossible to fall off/out of a hammock once you’re in it. That’s why hammocks were regularly used in the navy – to help keep sailors safe while they slept.
Naval hammocks are made from canvas and have no bars, meaning that they can wrap around the sleeper and envelop them like a pea in a pod. If the boat sways, then the hammock sways and it would need to turn completely upside down for the passenger to fall out.
In fact, this can even mitigate the effects of sea sickness by counteracting the effect of the boat moving!
So how do you go about choosing the perfect hammock? The first trick is to avoid the spreader bars at either end which pull your material taut. Instead, look for hammocks that are made of material all the way through and that will simply come to a point at the ends.
This is what will allow them to wrap around you and make it that much easier to sleep. Want to stay more upright and see over the edges? Then you just need to lie diagonally instead so that you can kick one leg over the edge.
In terms of material, you want to stay away from rope if you’re planning on sleeping. Rope is handy for staying dry and that is why it’s quite popular around pools and at resorts. However, if you want a hammock that will actually be comfortable to sleep in then you should look for some form of woven fabric.
The best of course are the hand-made ones that use traditional methods and that are designed by people who actually use those hammocks on a regular basis. The material will also depend somewhat on where you plan on staying.
A more breathable fabric is of course preferable in warmer weather, whereas colder climates will benefit from something less ventilated and perhaps even quilted!
But of course it’s not always just about comfort. Depending on your intended use, you might decide there are other things that you covet more than just comfort – for instance if you’re planning on taking your hammock camping and you want a portable hammock, then you might be looking for a hammock that is simply very light and rolls up into a small ball.
If you’re looking for a hammock to use around your home meanwhile, you might want one that comes with an attractive hammock stand. There are plenty of options and they go far beyond that typical rope hammock with the unfortunate spreader bars!