Perhaps there is nothing that symbolizes a life of lounge-y leisure more than someone swaying away the day in a hammock. Even better, add in a book, perhaps splayed open face down, because its reader fell asleep.
In our lifetime, a hammock has been consistently synonymous with relaxation; however, its origin suggests anything but.
The earliest hammocks were woven out of tree bark or palm fronds and were widely used in Central and South America as protection from crawling insect bites, disease transmission or deadly animals, like venomous snakes. The Native Americans of El Salvador believed that hammocks fended off earthquakes. And in the late 16th century, the suspended beds were adopted by the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy as space savers and because they kept sailors safe – not thrown onto the floor – from the ocean’s capriciousness. Likewise, it provided a more comfortable, balanced slumber than a rigid bed while at sea. Even astronauts, from the Apollo 12 lunar mission forward, slept in hammocks because contact with the cabin floor was far too cold.
Now, evolutionarily, we seem to only associate hammocks that comfortable, balanced slumber. The main thing to consider when looking to purchase a hammock is how you plan to use it. This will get you started on the right track of research, reviewing specs like weight capacity, material, portability and pack size.
If you are simply wanting a hammock to enjoy in your backyard, first evaluate if you have trees that will accommodate such or if your purchase requires a stand. The benefit of a stand allows you to enjoy a certain amount of portability while still maintaining location permanence. This is ideal if you want to follow the shade (or sun) around your yard. While a bit more expensive than cloth, a rope hammock will provide that classic look to your landscaping, not to mention they are weather- and rust-resistant and extremely durable.
To avoid those pesky waffle prints on your legs, go for a cloth version instead, one that’s a cotton-polyester blend. It’s quick-drying, easy-to-clean, and the color and comfort options grow exponentially with this choice, as they often come with a bit more padding than their rope cousin.
A fun addition to backyard leisure are tent hammocks. Its teardrop, enclosed shape is eye-catching, and it functions as a chair, a tent and a hammock all at once. A final popular stationary option is the chair hammock. Great for porches, these provide the utmost in comfort and cushiness. Think of it as a suspended rocking chair.
Let’s say you prefer to stretch out outside the boundaries of home or you’re a city dweller, and the only option for a relaxing swing is to pack up a hammock and head to the nearest public park. Portable hammocks are also great for college students who enjoy a “backyard” the size of an entire campus.
Weight is the biggest factor to consider here. And pack-size. ENO is a leading brand and offers the SingleNest Hammock for such uses. It weighs only one pound (yet can hold 400) and packs down to the size of a softball. The nylon material is smooth and silky and may result in unintended napping. College students are likely the most at-risk for this side effect.
Weight and pack-size, again, are the name-of-the-game with hammocks you intend to take on camping or hiking trips. Accessories to consider when hammock camping are rainfly or bug nets and perhaps even a sleeping pad, to keep your backside warm-n-toasty. Also handy for camping purposes is one that comes with storage pockets. If you prefer your overnights in the elements with a loved one, ENO makes a DoubleNest, suitable for two.
Sure, our ancestors’ ancestors slept in hammocks for practical reasons, but is spending an entire night strung up really OK for your body? Sleeping cocooned certainly seems more appealing than sleeping on hard ground, and many tout that a hammock nap is far superior to one in an actual bed, the tossing and turning fundamentally curtailed. Ergonomically, it’s best for your back to pick a size that is at least two feet longer than your height. This will allow you to stretch out diagonally across the hammock and mitigate the amount of “droop.”
It’s important to note that most hammocks don’t come with straps. This will allow you to research different suspension systems according to your advanced (or novice) scout skills or how versatile you want your ensemble to be. Go ahead and conduct research on the following buzz words: guy lines, carabiners, tree straps, daisy chain suspension and whoopie sling suspension.
No matter your preference, the golden rule of hammock hanging is always be as tree friendly as possible. Choose healthy, hardy trees and use a tree strap at least 3/4 inches wide, upwards of two inches is even better. Knowing you are protecting the prosperity of the canopy above will assure ease into a breezy, guilt-free – and conveniently snake-free(!) – dreamland. Someone should’ve tipped off Adam and Eve.
Nancy S. Moseley is a Blacksburg-based freelance writer who has never slept, or even lounged, in a hammock. Though she considers herself fairly adept at scout-like skills, she, much to her chagrin, lacks the skills required to easily relax.