The indigenous people living in the equatorial rainforests of Central and South America share their home with some of the world’s deadliest creatures. Which raises the obvious question: just how do you get a decent night’s sleep in a damp, steamy jungle surrounded by jaguars, crocodiles, spiders and snakes (not to mention the occasional poison frog)?
The answer, of course, is a hammock: a bed strung between two trees—a simple but ingenious life-hack for rainforest residents, who had no choice but to learn how to coexist alongside the planet’s most professional predators. If worrying about getting strangled by a Boa constrictor could keep you up at night, then you’d better develop some survival tactics, pronto.
The first hammock
No one knows for sure what the first hammocks were made of, but it’s a safe bet that they were 100% organic—organic plant material, that is! Long before the age of cloth and fabric, the clever inhabitants of the jungle simply made use of the world around them. Early Spanish treasure seekers told tales of hanging beds made from leaves, bark or vines—a plant-based platform that kept its occupants safe, dry and cozy.
The seafaring hammock
European visitors to the New World quickly realized that the locals were onto something. The hammock turned out to be a dream come true, not only for jungle explorers but also for mariners, who were tired of rolling out of bed while bobbing around on the ocean. Take a length of canvas, tie it to rungs along the ship’s lower decks, insert sleep-deprived sailors, and voila! Instant ‘rock-a-bye baby.’ The British Royal Navy adopted the hammock in the late 16th century, and soon boats were filled to the brim with satisfied sailors slumbering away. They were such a hit that any seaman worth his salt would take his hammock along on shore leave.
The military hammock
As trade winds carried sailing vessels around the globe, so the humble hammock traveled from port to port, raising eyebrows, turning heads and inviting naps. As with any cutting-edge idea, military-minded folks began to strategize how it could help give armies a tactical advantage. Theory became reality during World War II, when fighting expanded from the battlefields of Europe into tropical zones in Burma and the Pacific Islands. The US military experimented with impermeable roof panels and mosquito netting, allowing solders to wage war in swampy and sweaty destinations.
The camping hammock
The camping hammock owes much to the military design—the rain cover and bug mesh makes getting some shut-eye in some seriously inhospitable regions a breeze. Camping hammocks are manufactured from blends of natural and synthetic fabrics that are strong yet incredibly light-weight. Don’t want to share your hangout with creepy-crawlies? You’ll love the velco or zipper entryway that closes once the occupant is snug inside. The rain cover overhangs the edges, keeping out torrential downpours and even snow.
The “relaxing” hammock
Head to a beach these days and you can’t swing a cat without hitting a guest lounging in a wide net-style hammock. Many beaches feature spreader bar hammocks to help their guests relax, which are a North American adaptation of the traditional Latin American hammock. The adaptation, however, came at the expense of the comfort and convenience of the traditional Latin American hammock, which are made from carefully dyed and woven cotton. Latin American hammocks are designed for optimal comfort and relaxation—they just require a couple of trees or a hammock stand to rest upon, and a big, boozy drink to add to the relaxation experience.
There are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?