Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hennessy Hammock - Deluxe Explorer Asym

Having become intrigued by many exuberant reports of using a camping hammock instead of a tent, I splurged and ordered a Hennessy Deluxe Explorer Asym hammock from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I also ordered a universally recommended accessory, a couple of silicone nylon sleeves called "snake skins" that slide over the hammock ropes and allow you to quickly set up and take down the hammock without letting it touch the ground.

Here's the complete hammock kit next to my usual camping standby, a relatively small 2-person tent.

The hammock kit weighs about 3.5 lbs including carabiners and pegs (more on that shortly), versus about 5.5 pounds for the tent.

The main issue with packing a tent for a two-wheeled adventure is what to do with the damn poles? They certainly don't fit into my Wolfman Expedition soft saddlebags. Ideally they should be wrapped in at least the fly sheet so they don't rattle or slide out sideways onto the trail somewhere. So I end up strapping them cross-wise to my seat, which adds more clutter in a critical area that I'd prefer to keep open. The hammock has no rigid parts which makes it a breeze to stuff into soft luggage.

Setting up the hammock takes only a few minutes and entails first looping a couple of seatbelt-like straps around two conveniently-spaced trees. I used a couple of old carabiners to connect the ends of the straps, which enables using a Garda hitch to attach the hammock rope. The Garda hitch is nifty in that you can easily pull one end to adjust tension, and it stays locked in place. Other hammock users recommend using a couple of climbing descender rings in the same configuration, but that adds unnecessary weight and cost in my opinion. You could also use a clove hitch on one 'biner at each end.

For the Garda hitch, it's a good idea to add a simple back-up knot as shown, so the Garda doesn't slip. (In a climbing application I'd reverse the gates of the 'biners for safety, but that's not necessary here.)

Pulling the ends to not-yet-tight brings the hammock into position. Since it'll sag once you put your weight on it, now's the time to adjust tension and height so the hammock can work as both a comfy seat and bed. There are two side-lines on the hammock that can also be staked out to the ground but I didn't bother this time.

Attaching the fly means just clipping the two ends and pulling the ends tight. In this pic, you can see the snake skin in idle position over the rope. As a bonus, the snake skins provide an additional barrier to rain running down the rope and potentially into the hammock.

Staking out the fly with two pegs gives it an adjustable profile to meet weather needs. The nice thing about the fly design is it also creates a nice covered area under the hammock where you can store your boots or other gear out of the rain. Larger flies are available, but the stock version seems adequate except perhaps in horizontal rain. 

Overall this is a pretty stealthy setup that becomes all but invisible when set up in the woods and leaves no trace when taken down. Also, eliminating the need for a flat, drained site opens up many more options for camping.

Now the big question: what's it like to be inside the hammock? Although I haven't had a chance to sleep in it yet, I can say that it's surprisingly comfortable. The trick is to lay in it diagonally, which puts your body flat. The fabric bunches up under tension and it takes some minor getting used to having the hammock form a cocoon around you, but it also allows some give. Turning to rest on your side is not a problem. Other hammock users almost universally report how much more comfortable it is to sleep in than a tent, because it naturally removes pressure points.

The "Deluxe" model is 6" longer than the standard Explorer and suitable for taller guys like me (6'-1") and up to 300 lbs. It also incorporates a zippered entrance versus the Velcro version of the model down. Staking out the sides would allow a bit more room to form naturally, but it's easy enough to make room just by pushing on the sides.

I haven't tried putting a sleeping pad inside yet, but this is highly recommended for cooler nights since the exposed bottom of the hammock naturally promotes the loss of body heat. My pad of preference is a 3/4 length Thermarest which folds up smaller than the hammock. We'll see how well it conforms to the inside of the hammock and maintains its position under me during sleep.

Taking down the hammock is quite simple with the optional snakeskins: leaving them mounted on the ropes allows you to just bundle the fly and hammock into a tube without it touching the ground.

The slippery silicone nylon weighs practically nothing and slides easily over the hammock materials.

The result is basically a long turd floating in space.

This is easily coiled into the stuff-sack or your saddlebag. 

Total take-down time is a couple of minutes.

I'm very curious to see how this rig is to sleep in. Hopefully there'll be a chance to give it a more thorough test before winter hits. Obviously it's not a couples solution, but then I usually ride alone so that's not a problem. Looking forward to updating this review! 

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