How To Sleep In A Brazilian Hammock

Laying correctly in a Brazilian hammock

A gathered-end or “Brazilian” style hammock is meant to be hung with a deep sag so you can sleep diagonal to the center line. The hammock in this photo is the KAMMOK ROO.

People in South American have a tradition of sleeping in hammocks that dates back thousands of years. The traditional Mayan or Brazilian1-style hammock is simply a rectangular fabric or tightly-woven net that is gathered at the ends and hung with a low, deep sag that looks much like a smiling face. The suspension lines coming from the anchors to the hammock create a 30 to 50 degree angle. The sag creates a deep pocket that keeps the center of gravity low and stabilizes the occupant inside.

The amount of sag is determined by the size of the hammock. If the hammock is long, for example the KAMMOK ROO pictured above is 72 x 129 in. (183 x 328 cm), having a deep sag improves the comfort and diagonal lay. For smaller hammocks, for example the Grand Trunk Ultralight is 54 x 114 in (137 x 290 cm), a shallower sag is better.

To sleep in a Brazilian-style hammock, enter by spreading the fabric apart the fabric and sitting down in the middle. Next, swing your legs inside. Lay down in a diagonal position with your feet right of center and your head left of center (or vice-versa). The diagonal lay is the key. Again, the longer an wider the hammock, the deeper you can hang it, and the more diagonal you can lay until you can turn nearly perpendicular.

The design of the Brazilian-style hammock and the sleeping method are tried and true, yet most people I meet have never seen a hammock set up correctly, or think of the more modern spreader bar hammock with the thick ropes. Spreader bar hammocks are typically pitched tight to achieve a “flat” lay. The problem with this method, and the spreader bars that hold the hammock fabric or rope, is that it raises the center of gravity making the hammock prone to tip. In addition, most people instinctively try to lay end-to-end, just like on a bed, and end up in a “banana” shape and not flat at all.

Cotton Rope Hammock with spreader bars

If you try to pitch a Brazilian-style hammock with a tight pitch (nearly horizontal), you will create a “canoe” effect where the sides are pulled taut and the middle sags down. It is nearly impossible to sleep on the diagonal when you pitch a traditional hammock too tight. One side effect of a tight pitch is excessive shoulder squeeze as the hammock turns your shoulders inward. Another side effect is the excessive weight load you put on the anchor points. Hammock manufacturers and retailers conservatively rate their hammocks below their true breaking point as a liability protection, so some people mistakenly think it’s no big deal to have “excessive strain” because the hammock hasn’t ripped yet. Let’s just say I warned you.

Symptoms of a hammock that has been hung too tightly

  • Extra shoulder squeeze
  • Extra fabric flapping in your face
  • “Canoe Effect” where the rails of the hammock are really tight but the center is loose
  • The hammock is a little wobbly (the center of gravity is too high)

There are a lot of hammocks on the market today, and not all are created equally. While I haven’t done the math on hammock dimensions yet, I’m convinced there is a relationship between hammock width and length that makes a “perfect” hammock (could it be the Golden Ratio?). In my own experience I’ve found that longer hammocks are better, all things being equal. If a hammock is really wide but lacks length, the extra width is wasted as you won’t be able to hang the hammock deep enough to take advantage of it. In other words, the wider the hammock, the longer it needs to be.

  1. I use the terms “Mayan,” “Brazilian,” or “traditional” to refer to any hammock that has a gathered-end design. There are distinct differences in gathered-end hammocks in terms of materials or fabrics used, but they are pitched and hung in the same way. Some argue that the Mayan hammock with its tightly-woven mesh is the most comfortable gathered-end hammock since the material stretches in a unique way to provide more comfort in commonly strained areas like the head, knees, and ankles. Your mileage may vary.

  12 comments for “How To Sleep In A Brazilian Hammock

  1. June 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Great work. I have been researching some information about hammock width this article was a lot of help. The model I was considering had three different widths (one was nearly 8′ wide) but the same length hammock as the more narrow ones. Guess its true what they say; “sometimes less is more”.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Derek
      July 4, 2012 at 11:28 am

      I know ENO sells a few models that are all the same length but different widths. I wish they would make the wide ones longer as it would improve the overall design. All things considered, the narrower hammocks at that same width (ENO models) are the best deal since the extra fabric is wasted and just flaps in your face when you sleep.

  2. Adam Skinner
    July 4, 2012 at 5:30 am

    I’m lying in a Brazilian hammock right now =) I think you’re right about having the correct ratio of length to width, but I also think this can be mitigated through the use of mini spreader bars, which mimic the geometry of a longer hammock.

    • Derek
      July 4, 2012 at 11:27 am

      I’ve often wondered about mini spreader bars in gathered-end hammocks — not to duplicate a rope hammock, and certainly keep the signature deep sag, but to keep the side rails from going taut. I’ll have to give it a try.

  3. September 23, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Very useful instructions and tips. It helps me to answer questions which my costumers have when they buy hammocks in my store
    Often I just direct them to your website. Thank you.

  4. Geri
    April 10, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    so helpful on the Golden ratio!!! It should work fine :) if we only count the fabric dimensions, I guess, the rope shouldn’t really count, should it?

    • Derek
      April 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      If you’re talking about the suspension, than yes. Some hammocks use nettles that should be considered part of the overall length.

  5. tigermomma
    October 18, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Thank you for your article! I’m trying to figure out how wide the hammock needs to take advantage of the diagonal lie. The hammock I’m looking at is 9′ 10″ Long x 4′ 7″ Wide and I’m 5’5”. Wondering if it’s too narrow. Thank you!

    • Derek
      October 18, 2014 at 6:44 am

      Narrow hammocks benefit from a natrower hang angle, maybe 20°.

      • tigermomma
        October 18, 2014 at 11:15 am

        Thank you Derek! I’ll give that a try!

Leave a Reply