Hammocks are totally unique among other pieces of furniture. Sofas, chairs, and beds offer the same degree of comfort regardless of how they are set up or where they are placed. A downside of this consistency is the inability for users to customize their furniture to their own personal comfort preferences. In contrast, the comfort and feel of a hammock is almost entirely dependent on how it is hung.
While even the most luxurious and well-made hammock will be uncomfortable if it is not set up properly, hammocks afford their users the unique opportunity to fit their furniture to their personal preferences on the fly. This post will walk you through a few steps to help you set up classic South American gathered-end hammocks and spreader bar hammocks for optimal comfort while lying in a hammock. Here are a few steps to help you to set up your perfect hang.
Step 1: Select a Site
You might be stringing up your hammock in a man-made setting, in which case a hammock stand makes for convenient, effortless setup. Otherwise, you’ll want to find two healthy trees or sturdy upright posts for your attachment points. If you are out in nature looking for the perfect pair of trees, the process gets a little trickier. Hanging on spindly saplings could result in damage to the trees or even a fall injury, so if there’s any doubt, go bigger. Typically trees with a diameter of at least 1’ are good selections for hammock hanging. Be sure that there are no diseased or damaged overhanging branches that could fall if the wind kicks up.
No matter the setting for your hang, your attachment points should be at least 3 meters apart—preferably between 3.5 and 4.5 meters (12-15 feet), depending on the length of your hammock and the versatility of your suspension system. The average person’s step length is around 28.5″, so the ideal separation distance should be somewhere between 5 and 6.5 steps for most people. The further apart your hang points are, the higher up your suspension will need to attach. So even if you have plenty of length in your suspension, hitting the 12-15 foot target is still recommended.
For gathered-end South American (Classic) Hammocks:
For typical attachment point separation distances, your hang points should be at least 6’ above ground level. The further apart your trees or posts are, however, the higher up your suspension attachment point will need to be in order to achieve a desirable level of hammock sag. LA SIESTA recommends that the attachment point height of a classic hammock be roughly half the distance between the two attachment points. For example, if your posts or trees are 14 feet apart, your suspension would need to attach at roughly 7 feet above ground level.
For spreader bar hammocks:
Spreader bar hammocks are intended to hang much more tautly, with less sag. For this reason, a spreader bar hammock typically is hung at attachment point heights lower than classic hammocks. LA SIESTA recommends hanging the suspension point at about 25% the length of the hammock. Due to the more taut pitch, spreader bar hammocks often require a larger attachment point separation distance than gathered-end hammocks, with a minimum target separation distance of roughly 4 meters (13 feet).
Some secondary considerations might be worth taking into account, especially if you will be camping or sleeping overnight in the hammock. Sharp objects beneath your hammock could snag the hammock fabric during setup. Additional considerations like shade coverage, wind exposure, and lighting can influence temperature comfort.
Step 2: Attach Your Suspension and Hammock
Countless hammock suspension methods are available to the modern hammocker, each with its own trade-offs. Casual loungers may value ease of use over other features, while backpackers may desire minimal bulk and weight at the cost of convenience. Attaching your suspension typically involves two separate connections: hammock-to-suspension and suspension-to-attachment point. Whatever suspension you utilize, it is crucial to ensure that both of these connections are firmly fastened in accordance with your particular suspension’s instructions. As described in Step 1, the height of your suspension depends on the distance between your two anchor points.
Step 3: Adjust Your Suspension
Once your suspension is connected and your hammock is hanging, it’s time to dial in the perfect hang by adjusting the length of your suspension. This step varies significantly between classic and spreader bar hammocks.
For gathered-end South American Hammocks:
One of the most common mistakes new gathered-end hammock users make is to hang the hammock too taut. Doing this puts a large strain on the suspension, forces an uncomfortable lying position, and causes the hammock fabric to close in tightly around the hammocker like a claustrophobia-inducing cocoon.
Gathered-end hammocks are intended to be hung with a deep sag. LA SIESTA recommends that a properly hung gathered-end hammock take the rough shape of a banana. This banana shape corresponds to a suspension angle of roughly 30° with respect to horizontal. Virtually any suspension angle is possible given a sufficiently long suspension; however, the smaller the angle, the more stress is put on the hammock fabric and suspension. As gathered-end hammocks become more taut, comfort decreases, and you won’t be able to achieve a comfortable diagonal body position.
For spreader bar hammocks:
Spreader bar hammocks are meant to be hung much more tautly than gathered-end hammocks. The reason behind this is that spreader bar hammocks are reclined in along the axis of the hammock, whereas gathered-end hammocks are most comfortable and flat when reclining off-axis, on the diagonal. One thing to consider when setting up your spreader bar hammock is that the more taut the hammock, the higher the center of gravity, and the more tippy it will feel. As mentioned before, increasing hammock tension also drastically increases the tension forces applied to the suspension and hammock, so it may be advisable to hang your spreader bar hammock with slightly less than maximum possible tension.
Once you have achieved an appropriate level of hammock sag for your hammock style, make sure that the head end and foot end of the hammock are roughly level, and that the hammock is roughly chair height (12″-18″) off the ground. All three of these heights are easily adjusted by raising or lowering the two suspension attachment points.
Step 4: Re-Adjust Your Suspension if Necessary
Setting up your hammock the first couple of times will involve experimentation. Don’t forget all of the parameters that can be altered in your search for the perfect hang. For gathered-end South American hammocks, remember that increasing suspension length and hammock sag generally encourage diagonal off-axis body position, which increases comfort. For spreader bar hammocks, if your joints feel over-extended, make the hammock more taut and flat by shortening the suspension. If the foot and head ends of the hammock are not level, simply raise or lower one of your suspension attachment point heights accordingly. If your hammock fabric stretches significantly with your body weight and results in the loaded hammock brushing the ground, increase both suspension attachment heights. Hang in there as you first learn how best to use your hammock. With just a little bit of initial experimentation, you’ll be ready to relax for years to come.
Illustrations by David Merkley and Kate WilliamsThere are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?