A hammock is essentially a piece of fabric, rope or netting that can be suspended between any two anchor points. Usually, this will be accomplished through a metal ring and a carabiner, which might be attached to a tree or some kind of post via a sling or a nail.
The result is a swinging piece of material that you can lie back in and drift off – and it’s absolutely perfect for resting, sleeping or swinging.
So why hammocks? Why should you be interested?
Well, didn’t you know? Hammocks are all the rage!
Hammocks have numerous advantages over other types of seating and they have recently come back into vogue as a result – bolstered by the hipster movement and by sites like Pinterest. In this post, we’ll take a long look at what hammocks are used for, why they’re so popular and how you should go about setting up your own…
There are many things that make hammocks so popular and that have given rise to a recent surge in interest.
The first great thing about hammocks is that they are completely unique and really stand out from other items of furniture. If you have a hammock in a room, then it is going to instantly stand out as being different and interesting and really make for a visually striking feature.
It’s ideal if you want a quirky and unique looking place to sit in your room and it’s really just excellent Pinterest or Instagram fodder!
But hammocks aren’t only unique in the way they look – they also have a unique feel when you’re sitting in them that just can’t be found anywhere else! Hammocks invite you to chill and relax, quite unlike any other form of seating in the world.
When you’re in a hammock, there is no option to prop yourself up and not a firm surface in sight. No firm arm rests, no firm cushions… just lots of hanging fabric for you to envelop yourself in.
The gentle swaying and swinging of the hammock also seems to ideally encourage relaxation. If you like the sounds of being rocked to sleep, then you’re going to love the sensation that a hammock can provide!
Hammocks are also able to create a feeling of weightlessness. You may have seen various mattresses advertised for their ability to adapt to the shape of the body and thereby offer support that feels like you’re floating on air.
But even the best mattress in the world pales in comparison to what a hammock can offer – as hammocks are completely flexible while having no hard materials. You literally are floating on air, albeit with a minimal amount of fabric between you and the ground.
But perhaps what really makes the hammock such a chilled experience is the association we all have with it. To most of us, hammocks are synonymous with sunny beaches and exotic locales. When we think of hammocks, we imagine taking our favorite book and mojito and unwinding in the sun while listening to waves lap against the shore.
Nothing quite says ‘relaxed travel’ like a hammock.
And let’s face it: a sofa can be found in a hospital waiting room. A chair is what you sit on when you’re at work.
But a hammock has pretty much no other function besides resting while travelling!
Then there’s the practical considerations of hammocks.
No, a hammock is not going to be ideal for every scenario. We would not recommend making a hammock your only form of seating in your home!
But in the right context, a hammock has practical advantages that nothing else can offer.
For example, a hammock can be folded down to be incredibly small, compact and light. If you’re going on holiday, then you can throw a hammock into a backpack and that way, you’ll have a seat anywhere that you decide to go!
Likewise, hammocks can be placed in places that no other form of seating could be. This is why there are so many inventive applications to be found on the web. They’re surprisingly commonly found in stair wells, or over large bodies of water! And of course they’re ideal for the garden, where they won’t need to worry about getting rained on or blown over.
Then there’s the fact that a hammock can be easily erected and taken down again. That means you can have the hammock up when you need it and gone when you want more space.
Oh and they’re cheap too! Want to add more seating options to your spare room without breaking the bank? Then just invest in a hammock and you’ll be able to do exactly that without spending too much money and while keeping plenty of space in the room for whatever else you may want to use it for!
Read this if you want more reasons to get a hammock!
So what is a hammock and where did the hammock come from?
Actually, the hammock has quite an interesting history and it might not be exactly what you expect.
Early use of the hammock dates back many centuries though it’s uncertain where they emerged first. Spanish colonists for instance reported the use of hammocks by Native Americans in the West Indies and elsewhere during the Spanish conquest. The work itself comes from Taino culture and is actually Arawakan (Haiti) for ‘fish net’.
This invites a comparison to fishing nets and suggests one possible origin!
Hammocks were actually first woven from bark however and came from the hammock tree. This material would eventually be replaced by sisal fibers, which were more abundant.
They were popular in Central and South America early on because they were able to offer protection from various diseases. They did this by keeping the user’s body off of the ground, in turn keeping them away from snakes and various insects.
This encouraged Christopher Columbus to bring the hammock back to Europe from various islands, thereby sowing the seeds for their eventual popularity in the Modern World.
Various sources contest the earliest use of hammocks however. Some 19th century sources suggest that they can from the Athenian politician Alcibiades.
Another type of hammock in early use though was the naval hammock. Naval hammocks were used in sailing ships from around 1590, at which time they consisted of a canvas sling. Hammocks have a unique benefit for use at sea – as they are able to swing with accordance of the movements of the boats and the waves.
This in turn means that the user is not going to be thrown out of the hammock and onto the deck and it may also be able to help minimize sea sickness. These are actually serious issues and prior to the introduction of hammocks, some sailors would be killed or injured by being tossed off of their berths!
Naval hammocks tend to wrap more fully around the sleeper, almost like a cocoon, providing extra support and making it nearly impossible to fall out. In this scenario, the hammock also has the advantage of being very light (thus not increasing the overall weight of the vessel) and allowing for many sleepers to share the same accommodation without taking up too much space.
Naval hammocks continued to be popular during World War 2 and today they are even being sent into space! The benefit here is largely space related – as astronauts need to be able to make the most of their space when they are not sleeping and hammocks can be readily packed away.
During the Apollo program, the Luna Module for instance was equipped with hammocks for the commander and lunar module pilot to sleep in!
El Salvador also has a long history of using hammocks and it is sometimes even referred to as the ‘Valley of Hammocks’. This is because the Native Americans that lived there used hammocks as a way to survive multiple earthquakes! Today, hammocks are still a big part of the culture there and are used for afternoon naps.
You’ll often see them hanging from doorways, inside homes or on outdoor terraces! Mexico also has a rich history of using hammocks which are today sold throughout the world, while Venezuela is famous for using hammocks that can sleep entire families!
As you can see then, the hammock has a rich and storied history with no singular ‘origin point’ universally agreed. Hammocks arose in various places at once independently which is a testament to just how versatile, practical and comfortable they are.
From preventing the deaths of sailors in WW2, to aiding in space flight, to decorating hipster homes; the hammock continues to be an integral part of our culture and a popular feature in homes throughout the world!
This history also explains the connection that hammocks seem to have to travel and relaxation, as well as hot climates. And it shows why we may often associate them with seafaring as well.
It also explains why there are so many different types – and today we’re seeing more inventive uses of hammocks than ever – including all manner of alternative ‘swinging’ furniture.
With all that in mind, perhaps it is time that you got involved with your own hammock?
You’ll find plenty more on the history of hammocks over at the Wikipedia page.
When it comes to choosing a hammock, it’s important to consider the purpose of the hammock. There are many different types of hammock, including the banana hammock, rope hammock, jungle hammock and more.
The type of hammock you ultimately choose will likely be dictated by the intended purpose of your hammock. That is to say that a hammock you’re intending to use for sleeping indoors might be quite different from one that you want to use for relaxing occasionally outdoors. Likewise, you might want something else entirely for camping.
Whatever the case though, there are a few factors that will hold true no matter what hammock you’ve chosen and these need to be considered when choosing your hammock. Likewise, bear in mind that a hammock can often fall into more than one category.
Check out our full primer on camping hammocks here.
For instance, a spreader bar hammock is a type of hammock that utilizes a bar at either end in order to keep it open. This can be useful, as it makes it much easier to slip onto your hammock without having to unravel it first. On the other hand though, it also means that the hammock is not going to be as portable and that it won’t fold up into a bag.
So a spreader-bar hammock can also be a rope hammock or a sleeping hammock but it probably won’t be a camping hammock.
Other factors to look into are the material used. You have rope hammocks for example, while Mayan hammocks and Nicaraguan hammocks are made from cotton or nylon string, woven into a supportive net. Mayan hammocks have a looser weave. Brazilian hammocks are meanwhile made from cotton or fabric and are a little more durable.
You need to decide what your requirements are in these regards as well. For instance, do you need a highly durable hammock that you’re going to use outside, potentially for two people to relax in at once? Or are you looking for a more comfort-oriented hammock?
Then there is the personal preference of deciding what kind of material you personally prefer to sleep or relax on!
Knowing your own weight can help you to look for a hammock with the necessary max load.
For ultra-light backpackers and hikers meanwhile, you’ll need to look for hammocks that don’t weigh too much themselves – of course you don’t want to add too much weight to your luggage, especially if the whole point of your hammock is to keep things light while you’re on the move!
As well as weight, you need to think about the length of the hammock. If a hammock is very long, then it might provide more comfort for stretching your legs out, while a shorter hammock will be better suited to sitting in. If you’re very tall, you may need to make sure that the hammock is long enough to accommodate you!
You also need to look at the length of the attaching lines. This will tell you how near the two anchor points need to be. If these are very short, or if they aren’t adjustable, then you will limit the number of places where you can potentially use your hammock! Note as well that this factor is tied closely to the comfort of the hammock and the length.
In other words, the length of the attaching lines and distance between the anchor points will partly determine how much slack is in the hammock. This in turn impacts on how supportive (or unsupportive) the hammock will be.
Note that another factor here is the optimal attaching angle. This is related to the distance and slack and allows you to know when you’ve found that Goldilocks spot that’s ‘just right’. In most cases, the optimal angle for attaching your hammock will be around 30 degrees.
Of course as well as length, you also need to think about width. The width will impact greatly on how secure and comfortable you feel and if your hammock is very narrow, then you’ll of course risk rolling out of it onto the ground! Depending on whether you have spreader-bar, this can also impact on how cocooned you’ll feel inside the hammock.
Then there’s the matter of how your hammock attaches to the trees, posts or wall. Some hammocks will come with webbing straps known as ‘tree huggers’ which loop around trees to make attachment points.
This is very useful for the ultralight traveller or hiker, as it means they can look their hammock around all kinds of things – but it’s worth checking what the diameter of the tree trunk or post needs to be.
The anchor points are also interestingly what will determine how much weight your hammock is able to bear. That’s because the weight can also potentially break the attaching cord or the anchor itself.
This is also once again related to the angle of the attachment and the more taut the hammock, the more of the pressure will be transferred to that anchor.
This is another reason that 30 degrees is often considered that sweet spot – as it transfers the most weight and reduces the chances of anything snapping.
Then there are all the other manners of attachment you can use. If you plan on hanging your hammock at home or in your garden for example, then you might choose to install a permanent hook for your hammock.
Other j-hooks can be used to drive into walls and even wooden beams – it would work on trees too, although it’s important to consider the environment when doing this and not to harm any trees while hanging your hammocks.
It’s also possible to use regular rope as your own tree strap, to use chain or to get a free standing hammock stand (which we’ve covered here). You can also get inventive depending on your situation. Stuck for two anchor points while out and about? Then how about parking up near a tree and then securing your hammock between the tree and your own car!
We’ll be looking at how to set-up and hang hammocks more in a later section and you’ll see how to find the optimum height and slack.
Hammocks can also come with a number of different features and this is the final consideration when comparing your options.
For example, some hammocks will come with a thin mattress or quilt. While this can offer some support and additional comfort, the main purpose of this is in fact to keep the sleeper warm and to prevent cold air ventilation from underneath.
Another feature some hammocks come with is a ripstop construction, which helps to provide additional durability and might be worth looking for if your hammock is going to be put through the ringer. Other hammocks even include a slit at the bottom which allows you to enter from underneath rather than the top!
Then there are hammocks with pockets, which can be useful if you want to store items there – such as a book to read for example. Mosquito nets are also common features, which are useful for camping hammocks in particular. And lastly, some hammocks will feature a ridgeline that lets you more easily set up the hammock.
All these different considerations, features and specifications can help you to make the right decision for your hammock and help you to pick between different options once you’ve chosen the type of hammock you’re looking for.
Speaking of which…
First up is the sleeping hammock. With so many different types of hammock available, the main reason that most of us will still want a hammock is so that we can kick our feet up and drift off – whether that’s outside or indoors.
Millions of people all around the world still sleep regularly in hammocks and some people will even prefer them over beds thanks to the comfort we discussed earlier. There may be health benefits of sleeping in a hammock too, depending on how your back is put together – but we’ll touch on that later.
So what makes a good sleeping hammock? Well, multiple types of hammock can also be sleeping hammocks, so this is often going to come down to selecting the type of material you want and then finding the ideal hang. How can you spot the ideal hang? It should look like a banana! Hence the term ‘banana hammock’ (no, not that kind!).
Many people also prefer a hammock with no spreader bar for sleeping. That’s because this allows them to feel cocooned and wrapped up in the hammock so that they won’t fall out! What’s more, is that the feeling of being enveloped can make the experience all the more comfortable.
Finally, consider quilted hammocks or hammocks with thin mattresses if you want something a little softer, warmer and more comparable to a traditional bed.
A lounging hammock is, as the name suggests, a hammock intended for lounging. That means lounging rather than actually going fully to sleep. It’s a great looking hammock and perfect for a garden, a poolside or the backyard.
Generally, the main difference when choosing a lounging hammock is that it will often feature a spreader bar. This makes climbing on easier and it also means the hammock looks a bit nicer by the pool.
Other lounging hammocks will come with their own stands. Many of these are designed to be able to hold two people, which is great for chilling out with a partner or a close friend.
Lounging hammocks for these reasons are more likely to be a permanent or semi-permanent feature and they will often have a more aesthetically pleasing design. Note that they also tend to use synthetic materials like vinyl and acrylic because these are more likely to dry quickly after it has rained or you’ve sat on it after a swim in the pool.
Rope hammocks are actually also surprisingly common for lounging, seeing as this a) has a great nautical/tropical aesthetic and b) dries easily.
Lounging hammocks will often come with attractive features such as pillows or blankets. They may be intentionally coordinated with other items of outdoor furniture and they’re quite common to find around hotel resorts.
A hiking hammock is a hammock that is intended for hiking or backpacking. This will be a hammock that is specifically designed to be highly portable and will often be made from a light material that can be compacted into a small ball and stuffed in a bag without adding too much weight or taking up too much space.
Despite this, these hammocks also need to be highly durable – often holding up to 400 pounds – and they need to be very roomy for sleep. Ideally, they should be quick to erect.
Of course most hiking hammocks are not going to feature spreader bars as these aren’t terribly convenient for storage. They will also usually come with tree hammock straps, which are perfect for quickly finding a spot in any forest.
Look for webbing straps that will protect the bark of the tree. Features like mosquito nets or pockets may be a boon here and once again, you want a material that will stand up to a bit of rain.
A hiking hammock can actually be a very important part of your hiking apparel and can keep you safe and comfortable while also letting you get more from your journey.
For instance, a hiking hammock can actually serve as a makeshift shelter – if it is water resistant then you can erect it and sit underneath it in a storm! It can also be used for shelter or can become a sling for carrying supplies where necessary.
Here’s another exciting use for the hammock which we didn’t touch on earlier: the extreme hammock. In 2015, rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free climbed to the top of EL Capitan in Yosemite National Park. That is a 3,000 foot asset with no climbing tools, up a seer granite surface!
They were the first climbers ever to accomplish the feat and it took them a total of 19 days. How was it possible? Simple: they climbed with hammocks which they could use to sleep thousands of feet in the air, attached to the cliff face itself!
For hiking and backpacking in more extreme and dangerous forest and jungle meanwhile, you have the BAT Hammock. This is a hammock that allows you to seal yourself in, entirely protected from insects and the elements.
Extreme hammocking and vertical camping have actually become incredibly popular and could now be considered almost to be extreme sports in their own right! There are also a number of different games, such as ‘extreme hammock spinning’ which involves spinning someone around while they grip to the hammock for dear life (try this at your own risk!).
Couples’ hammocks are of course hammocks that are designed for two adults. These tend to be 8 feet in length and will hang between two larger supports.
They will also normally have spreaders and can often hold up to and above 500lbs. They can come in a variety of designs and styles, with some being highly decorated and accessorized to make for quite a luxurious experience!
This is also known as a double hammock and we’ve written all about it!
The jungle hammock is also known as the Venezuelan hammock. The Venezuelan hammock uses a fine netting that is cool in warmer climates and often has drip strips at the end of the suspension ropes to help prevent rain from entering the rope.
Modern Venezuelan hammocks will often use colorful or decorative patterns and are regularly hand-woven. These hammocks are ideal for bohemian homes and are also very practical for outdoor use.
The jungle hammock was meanwhile developed by the US Army in WW2, based heavily on the design of the Venezuelan hammock. This hammock would be used inside underground trenches but today it is a very popular design among outdoor enthusiasts and campers, making it a good choice for a camping hammock!
The Mayan hammock is made from colourful woven cotton or fabric. These hammocks are similar to the naval hammocks discussed earlier, in that they are designed to cocoon around you when you nestle yourself inside.
The Nicaraguan hammock is meanwhile very similar to the Mayan hammock, except that the weaving tends to be significantly looser. Both these hammocks are traditionally woven by villagers and artisans from their respective locales, which make them popular among travellers and those looking for a worldly décor for their home.
Brazilian hammocks are made from cotton fabric, which is gathered at both ends by a hand-crocheted lace. These hammocks aren’t quite as breathable as woven hammock and therefore they can get a little hot in warm climates. This makes them better for colder countries but also well suited for sleeping!
As mentioned, naval hammocks were used centuries ago, were popular in WW2 and today find themselves inside space shuttles. They are durable, practical and efficient.
These hammocks are made with heavy cotton or canvas, are 72’’x36’’ in size and have grommets sewn into each end for easy attachment. They do not feature spreader bars and are intended to wrap closely around the sleeper.
Once you’ve chosen your hammock and picked one that is perfectly suited to your intended purpose, the next step is to hang it. Even the best hammock in the world won’t offer a good night’s sleep if you aren’t careful to hang it correctly.
So what makes the perfect hang for a hammock? As mentioned, it’s pertinent to get the distance between the two attachment points correct, relevant to the size of your hammock and attachment cords.
Ideally, this should give an angle of about 30 degrees for the attachment points and that should create a slight dip in the center that looks like a banana.
There are also individual differences to consider here though. For example you might be someone who prefers a little more back support, in which case you may prefer less slack in your hammock.
Your weight can also play a role and specifically will define how high up the attachment points need to be, seeing as it can affect whether or not you touch the ground! If you weight 130lbs and have a preferred sit height of 15 inches, then you might hang your hammock higher than someone who weighs more and has long legs for a higher sit height of 19 inches!
Note that the distance between anchor points is going to be less than the overall length of the hammock when you’re using hammocks without spreader bars. For hammocks with spreader bars, it’s fine to be a little more taut. In this case, the minimum distance is equal to the length of the hammock when fully taught.
When attaching your hammock, you will normally wrap your web or cord around the tree. Webs are used to protect bark and it’s important to be conscientious when choosing this, as you don’t want to cause unnecessary damage. It’s important when doing this to make sure that you use the supplied carabiners/hooks or to use a knot that won’t come untied.
A good choice of knot is the ‘figure 8’. This knot has the excellent properties of being impossible to untie by pulling from the rope but still being easy enough to unravel by hand. To make this knot:
It’s also possible to purchase additional items such as ‘microrope’ or ‘smartrope’ which can help with hanging. We wrote a big post on hammock gear to help out, which also includes mosquito nets and more! We’ve also reviewed hammock tree straps and more!
Check out this link for 101 ways to hang a hammock!
Wow… who knew there was so much to learn about hammocks? Well, you’ve done well to make it this far and now you’re almost ready to jump in and start enjoying your hammock! But before you do… how to get in?
When lying on a hammock such as a Brazilian hammock, the key is to lie from corner to corner, rather than lying straight across it. Why? Because this way, your back will remain straight and you’ll get more support, which actually makes it better for you. You can also kick one leg over the side casually!
As an added bonus, this method means that the edges of the hammock won’t come up and wrap around you. That makes it better suited to looking at the view!
If you’re in a naval hammock however, then you’ll want to sleep right in the middle and now the entire purpose is that you get nicely cocooned inside.
To get onto the hammock, try to start by sitting upright in the center. Then just bring your legs up straight in front of you and pivot to sit down. Don’t try to lie straight in it, or you can end up spinning around!
And there you have it! Now you really do know everything you could possibly ever need to know about hammocks. Whether you’re using it as a fun addition to your décor, a tool for adventure, or just something you can use to hang by the pool; you’ll find that hammocks can bring you a lot of joy and relaxation.
Just spend a little time looking around the site to find your perfect hammock and to learn how to get the most from it and you won’t turn back!
You may just find that your bed starts to collect dust…