Q:

What does the Gear Guy think about hammock tents?

What does the Gear Guy think about a hammock tent, such as the Hennessy, for New England summer solo camping? Rob Cambridge, Massachusetts

May 11, 2005
Outside
Outside Magazine

Hennessy UltraLite Backpacker

A: I think it would be just dandy. Hennessy's UltraLite Backpacker ($170; www.hennessyhammock.com) weighs only one pound, 15 ounces. That's about the same as a very light bivy bag, but because you don't need any sleeping pad, ground cover, or even poles, the weight savings are considerably greater. Plus it has its own bug netting to give you a sleep as undisturbed as in any tent.

I'm not a hammock user myself because a lot of terrain where I camp lacks assured tie-outs (i.e., trees). But in even moderately wooded terrain there are very few places where you couldn't use a hammock (which, in an emergency, can of course be used as an on-ground shelter). Chances are it will be easier to find a spot to hang a hammock than a flat spot to pitch a tent. And hammock users swear by the comfort, breathability, and protection from the elements. (One note: I remain mildly skeptical of the comfort claim, but the Hennessy hammocks are designed to hang very level so you don't feel like a banana.) One knock against hammocks is that they are a little colder than tents because they compress the insulation around the sleeping bag. Not an issue in the summer for most places, but in colder temps pack along a Space Blanket or other heat-reflective item.

Of course, the Hennessey UltraLite wins you savings in the weight department, but not necessarily in the pocket. Well-regarded solo shelters like REI's Roadster ($139; www.rei.com), though about twice the weight, generally cost the same or less yet give you a few more options in varied terrain, as well as a better way to stow and organize your gear.

At the end of the day, then, backpacking with a hammock comes down to personal preference. By all means try one. We tend to get into ruts about gear, such as the belief that we "must" use a tent. There are alternatives, and a hammock is a good one.

Read reviews of solo shelters in Outside's "Friendly Confines" (September '04).

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