Hammocks have a well-earned reputation as one of the most comfortable pieces of furniture in existence. Maybe you’ve bought one, read the instructions on how to hang it, found the perfect site, and set it up – but now what? How are you actually supposed to use it? Not to worry – we’ve got you covered. Follow these steps, and you’ll be swinging in serenity before you know it.
Step 1: Double-Check Your Suspension
As a general rule, before you get in a hammock, you should always double-check each of the suspension connections to ensure that they are securely fastened. Our previous article, How to Hang a Hammock, details exactly how to set up your hammock and suspension safely and with a desirable level of sag. Optimal comfort is only possible if your hammock is hung correctly, so feel free to brush up on the process if you have any questions about how to set things up.
Step 2: Sit in Your Hammock
Once you’re confident in the suspension setup, it’s time to give your hammock a try and take a seat! Stand next to the low point (middle) of the hammock with your back toward the hammock. The fabric should be resting gently against your upper calves or the back of your lower thighs. Take a half-step backwards toward the hammock fabric. Reaching down in front of you, grab the near side of the hammock body fabric with one hand and reach behind you to grab the far side of the hammock body fabric with your other hand. In one fluid motion, squat into a seated position while you spread the hammock fabric out behind you, ensuring that the far edge of the hammock body fabric is at least at the level of your mid-back. Spreading the fabric out behind you as you sit will ensure that you don’t accidentally sit “over” the hammock and wind up on the ground. As you sit into the hammock fabric, ease into transferring your weight to the hammock slowly and without bouncing so that you do not apply large dynamic loads to your hammock and suspension.
If you are using a spreader bar hammock, it is important to position your backside as close to the middle of the hammock’s width as possible. Because spreader bar hammocks are hung much more tautly than classic South American gathered end hammocks, the center of gravity of the hammock system and occupant is much higher. This leads to a tippy feeling, which is made worse if your weight is distributed unevenly. In contrast, the gentle sag of classic South American hammocks creates a lower center of gravity, making tipping a near-impossibility and balanced weight distribution much less important.
As you apply your body weight to the hammock, be sure to pay attention to your anchor points. If they flex significantly inward, you may need to find a stronger pair of trees or posts. A good rule of thumb is that if the trees or posts flex inward with a displacement of more than 1” at the suspension attachment point, you should look for a new site.
Step 3: Lie in Your Hammock
Now that you’re seated in the hammock, it’s time to recline into a horizontal position.
Stretch the hammock fabric out behind you and in front of you as you rotate your legs into the hammock and lie backwards. The most comfortable position in a classic South American hammock is on a diagonal—possibly the most crucial and commonly overlooked aspect of hammocking. People that are new to hammocking often incorrectly assume that one should lie with feet pointing toward one gathered end and head pointing toward the other gathered end (along the axis of the hammock). This assumption leads to a constricting position and results in knee over-extension and painful neck support. In actuality, hammocks are meant to be reclined in at an angle—roughly 30°-45° rotated from the axis of the hammock. LA SIESTA suggests using a body angle of around 45° if the width of your hammock allows for it. An off-axis body position results in a horizontal cradling feel.
This is the step where it really pays off to set up your South American hammock with plenty of sag. Taut South American hammock setups with insufficient sag prevent a diagonal body position from being possible. So if you’re struggling to rotate to that magic 30° angle, double check your suspension to make sure you have enough sag.
Unlike classic South American hammocks, spreader bar hammocks are intended to be laid in straight along the axis. A relatively flat body position can be achieved by aligning your body with the midline of the hammock. Positioning yourself down this center axis also keeps the weight distribution balanced across the width of the hammock, reducing the risk of tipping. In order to enter this position once seated in the spreader bar hammock, merely grip the fabric on the left and right sides of the hammock, lift your legs into the hammock, and rotate 90° while reclining.
Step 4: Adjust Your Body Position
Getting comfortable in a hammock is all about finding what works for you, so a bit of trial and error is initially helpful in discovering what feels right.
For classic South American hammocks:
The same position will not necessarily be comfortable for everyone. Try moving your body up and down along the hammock to change the elevation and level of support at your head and feet. Many people actually like their feet to be slightly higher than their head, so don’t assume that a perfectly level body position will necessarily be right for you. Wider hammocks allow you to stretch out more, allowing for a flatter lie and increased comfort. So, be sure to utilize as much of the full width of your hammock as possible. Ideally, your head should touch one edge of the fabric, while your feet should touch the other. LA SIESTA designs their standard hammocks to have a length/width ratio of 2.0-2.2, for optimal comfort lying at a diagonal. LA SIESTA’s travel hammock offerings utilize a length/width ratio of 1.5-1.7, as the fabric edges are typically used differently in a travel hammock setup.
For spreader bar hammocks:
Because spreader bar hammocks are intended to be reclined in along the main axis of the hammock, the only position parameter to experiment with is your body’s location along the main hammock axis. If your head feels too high, slide in the direction of your feet, and vice versa. Like classic hammocks, the wider your hammock the more room you have to stretch out and experiment. If your knee joints ever feel over-extended, try relieving strain by rotating to your side or bending your knees and hip joints upwards in a symmetrical “frog leg” position.
Some hammockers enjoy using small neck pillows while others prefer placing a pillow beneath their knees. The point is, try different body positions and sleep arrangements, and find what feels most comfortable for you. If at first you can’t achieve the level of comfort you had hoped for, take another look at your suspension and experiment with different body positions. Once you find your own personal comfort zone and learn to replicate it, you’ll have set a new standard of relaxation for the rest of your life.
Illustrations by David Merkley and Kate WilliamsThere are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?