What’s it all about?
The Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asymmetrical Classic (that’s a mouthful) is a single person shelter that sets up suspended between two trees; complete with bug netting and rain fly.
The whole assembly packs down to a mere 860 grams and when fully set up it resembles a floating stealth space ship.
Trying to sleep like a banana doesn’t seem very appealing and Hennessy overcomes this with an asymmetrical design so you sleep at an angle across the middle of the hammock. This effectively spreads out your body-weight to flatten the hammock’s sleeping area.
Hennessy makes a number of different hammock models with various designs and features. I tried out the Ultralite Classic model, which supports a person of up to 6ft at 200lbs and has a velcro closure.
I borrowed the hammock from a friend after I saw him use it on a hike in Cape Chignecto, Nova Scotia. I wanted to try it out on my recent hike up to Egypt Lake near Banff. I was interested in finding a lightweight solo shelter and the Hennessy seemed to fit the bill, especially with the ability to pitch it just about anywhere as long as you aren’t above the treeline.
The Hennessy Hammock is unique from any other tent that I’ve set up so I would recommend taking the time to practice setting it up and understanding the lashing system before heading out to the wilderness. Once you have a good handle on the picking of appropriately spaced trees and roping up the hammock it is actually quite quick and simple to set up.
The hammock body is tied between two trees as one would expect from a hammock and then the tent fly is suspended above the body. To achieve the asymmetrical design you then peg out the sides of the body and fly to make a polygon shape.
The design of the hammock is quite sturdy and after I got over my initial apprehensions of plunging to the ground in the middle of the night I realized that, as long as you found some well-built trees, the hammock wasn’t going anywhere. The nylon lower body is attached directly to the upper bug net and you crawl backwards into the shelter from a velcro opening on the bottom. This sounds more difficult than it is and altogether makes it one of the most bug-proof shelters I’ve seen.
The tent fly does an effective job at stopping precipitation; for which I am extremely thankful, as I spent my first night in the hammock in snow and the second night in heavy rainfall. The fly is suspended high enough that you get the benefit of a double walled shelter in that there is plenty of airflow without the condensation that can form on some single wall tents such as my OR Nighthaven.
To save weight in the summer months you could likely do away with a sleeping mat altogether. Although, because you are compressing all of the sleeping bag insulation below you it is necessary to carry a sleeping mat for insulation sake during the shoulder seasons. Hennessy does sell a four season insulation addition called the Supershelter that weighs in at 450 g, although I have not tried it out. I used the Thermarest NeoAir, which actually worked quite well because it added some support and kept the hammock edges from compressing my sleeping bag on the sides.
What’s not so good?
All would be well and good with the Hennessy Hammock except for one simple fact: I couldn’t fall asleep.
I am a side sleeper and despite the manufacturer’s claims that the hammock provides a perfectly flat surface, it does not. Even a marginal curve when you are trying to lay on your side is quite uncomfortable and unnatural and thus I could not achieve a suitable sleeping position.
I was hoping that by the second night I would be so exhausted that I would just fall asleep on my back regardless. It was a strange feeling, as I was tired and the hammock provided a very nice area to rest, but rest was all I could do despite counting hundreds of merino wool clad sheep.
It would also be very difficult to sleep in the hammock if you tend to toss and turn in your sleep as I do. It is already difficult enough while backpacking to stay on a skinny slippery air mattress and to roll left and right in a mummy bag without suffocating and the whole hammock assembly doesn’t help.
Even if you are a back sleeper there are some other drawbacks to hammock life. While going lightweight means you usually have to wiggle, crouch, and bend in funny yoga positions to get dressed or undressed in your small shelter, the Hennessy is all but impossible to change in. This is great if you have fair weather and privacy, however it could make for an unhappy morning to hop out and have to put your layers on in the rain. It is also awkward to climb in and out of and any gear you want to ensure stays dry or warm ends up piled around you while you are sleeping.
Although it is not as light as some of the Cuben Fiber tarp products out there, it can offer weight savings based on not having to pack a sleeping mat in summer and it has excellent bug protection and double wall style ventilation.
While I really like the idea of the Hennessy Hammock I realized that it is not the solo shelter for me. If you are a back sleeper and are willing to accept some of the limitations of a hammock design, then the Hennessy seems to be a very well made and well thought out product. Depending on the terrain and environment you are hiking in, a shelter that requires trees could either be your best friend or your worst enemy.
If you can, try one out before you buy and let me know what you think below in the comments!
Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpackers Asym Classic