The Jungle Hammock Advantage
by Fred Moore
If you are considering a jungle hammock for a lightweight, easily packable shelter to add to your "arsenal" of gear for canoeing or kayaking, you've come to the right place. This article will arm you with the information you need to choose the right hammock to suit your needs.
What is a Jungle Hammock?
A jungle hammock is generally classified as a solid-bottomed hammock (not the mesh "fishing net" style) with mosquito-netted sides, and sometimes, a tarp or rain-fly on top. They are very versatile shelters which can be used just about anywherewith, and sometimes without, trees. Most are very stable and downright difficult to fall out of. Most all jungle hammocks made today use lightweight, fast-drying fabrics that can take a fair bit of abuse and neglect. Most jungle hammocks can be set up in under 5 minutes once you get the hang of it.
Jungle hammocks keep you off the ground and, in that respect, can make finding a suitable campsite easier. All you need are a couple of stout trees the right distance apart and you're in business! If you've never slept in a jungle hammock before it may take you a night or two to get used to the experience, but it can be surprisingly comfortable (if not downright luxurious) after a long hard day of paddling. They really support and cradle tired back muscles.
Choosing a Jungle Hammock
The options are almost endless when choosing a jungle hammock, but keep the basics in mind: your height, weight and sleeping style. I am 6 feet tall and around 275 pounds, so I wouldn't want a hammock with a bed length of 5'9" or a weight limit of 200 lbs.! Do you like to sleep on your side or your stomach? Do you easily get claustrophobic? Do you camp in Florida or Alaska? Do you need extra room for gear or your sweetie to join you? All of these questions are important, but start by checking to see if the hammock will accommodate your height, weight and sleeping style. After all, that's its main purpose!
Another factor could be the weather you expect to encounter on your outings. (Hint: Always think worst-case scenario.) A strong summer thunderstorm or late-season cold front definitely deserve consideration when choosing your jungle hammock. Most of the jungle hammocks on the market are 2- and 3-season rated with a few boasting 4-season ratings. All around, a well-built 2- or 3-season hammock should be just fine for most of your needs. Some have extra large rain-flys or tarps for more added protection from the elements.
From this point on, the rest really boils down to personal tastes. Unless you are wanting to go ultralight or use the hammock for backpacking as well as canoeing/kayaking, you can expect most jungle hammock models to fall within the 3 to 5 pound range and be very packable. You can also find ultralight models weighing in at mere ounces. (Yes, less than a pound!)
There are many different makers and styles of jungle hammocks on the market today. Some are side-entry, some are bottom-entry. Some are flat like a bed, others are shaped like a cocoon. Some have very large tarps, some have none. Some have pockets throughout. Most are made only for one person but some can accommodate two. Prices vary greatly. As stated, this is where you have to do your homework and find the options and price you like the best. Below is a list of only a few companies and their products to give you an idea of what options are available on the market. Check them out.
Again this is not an exhaustive list, just enough to get you started. I encourage you to check out each of these websites and look at the hammocks to get an idea of the different options and set-ups available. Call the companies and ask questionsthey love it!
Make Your Own
If you don't feel like taking a chance and shelling out big bucks for something you might not be happy with, make your own hammock first and try it out! All you really need is a lightweight solid-sheet hammock ($10-$50), a mosquito screen, a tarp with some paracord or rope, and maybe a few stakes. Many campers probably have most of this stuff already. For a total of around $50-$100 you'll have a homemade jungle hammock. If it doesn't suit you for sleeping, it can still be a very useful for storing gear or just for lounging around camp.
Drawbacks and Possible Solutions
Some of the limitations of jungle hammocks are pretty obvious. Very few models are big enough for more than one person. This could be a problem if you rarely take solo trips or absolutely refuse to sleep alone. That's where a tent has the advantage over the hammock. It's certainly not the only type of shelter you will want to own, because in the "world of camping gear," one size rarely fits all.
Some models can be "tippy" also. This goes without saying: It's a hammock! Most of the models mentioned above, however, claim to be very stable. What makes a hammock unstable is how flat the bed is. The flatter the bed, the more tippy. (Stay away from hammocks equipped with spreader bars on the ends!)
Cold-weather camping presents another problem. Jungle hammocks are worth every penny during the spring and summer months, but in fall and winter (when the temperature drops) some models can get a little cold. Remember, though, that there are some good "4-season" hammocks out there that fully enclose you like a tent. Some even offer "quilt-like accessories" to increase their warmth. The main problem during colder weather is that when you lay in your sleeping bag, the bag is compressed under you and the cold can get to your underside because the insulation has been compressed and has lost its loft. The same is true in a tent. This can be remedied, however, by putting a pad under your sleeping bag, or by adding a sleeping bag liner. Some hammock models have built-in pockets to accommodate a pad just for this purpose.
Other problems could be pranksters untying your hammock during the night or "clotheslining" yourself as you walk by. If either of these scenarios happens, it's time to pick a new paddling partner and get some new glasses!
I hope this overview of jungle hammocks has helped you to make an intelligent decision when it comes to choosing what's right for you. Just remember the basics of height, weight, sleeping style, and weather when considering a certain modelthe rest is just extras. And remember, the jungle hammock can be a light weight, versatile shelter that packs small and can be set up almost anywhere in almost any season. I hope to see you out there somewhere swinging!
[Editor's Note: Read Fred's review of the Clark North American Jungle Hammock to learn more about the Clark brand of hammocks and the specific North American model.]
Tent, Tarp, or What?
© 2006, Wesley Kisting