After spending a few weeks reviewing the Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock I felt a little like the food critic Anton Ego from the Disney®/Pixar® animated film Ratatouille when he flip-flopped on his critique of Gusteau’s restaurant. Perhaps I can appreciate his predicament as he faced standing up for something he had dismissed before.
In my case, it is defending the case for the spreader bar hammock.
A Little History and Clarification
(If you’re up on your spreader bar hammock history, skip to the good stuff.)
Perhaps a caveat and a clear definition are appropriate to insert at this point. Generally speaking, the term “spreader bar hammock” refers to the relatively “new” back yard American-style hammock that uses thick cotton rope, loose weaving, and wooden spreader bars.
According to some sources, river boat captain Joshua Ward is credited with inventing this woven rope hammock back in 1890s. By the time Captain Ward began experimenting with hammocks, the “traditional” design brought to Western culture by Columbus had already seen various alterations. The secure, non-tippy deep sag and tight weave had all but disappeared in favor of smaller fabric hammocks hung with a more shallow sag in order to fit more sailors aboard ship.1
Captain Ward pitched the hammock tight from end to end to attempt a “flat,” bed-like lay, using spreader bars to further flatten the entire surface. I have wrestled with this sort of hammock multiple times and had my share of wobbly tip-outs. These experiences with what I would call “modern” spreader bar hammock design is the backbone of my general disdain of spreader bar hammocks. (For a thorough treatise on the spread of modern spreader bar culture, check out the “Hammock Brainwashed” article, part of the Sleeping in a Hammock series by Seth Haber. Highly recommended.)
It’s Not The Spreader Bar’s Fault! (Well, at least not entirely)
To be clear, nearly any hammock pitched tight suffers from a high center of gravity and can be tippy. Spreader bars contribute to, but are not solely responsible for, tippiness. In fact, traditional Nicaraguan hammocks are often constructed with spreader bars on the end and don’t suffer from being tippy. Folks have also discovered that adding mini spreader bars on a Brazilian-style hammock has the effect of artificially lengthening the hammock, eliminating calf ridge discomfort, and providing a wider bed for a diagonal lay.
The trick is to pitch a hammock, with or without a spreader bar, with an appropriate sag. That sag differs based on the size of the hammock, but by simply dropping the center point down, the tippy nature is nearly eliminated. (For help achieving an appropriate sag, check out my Hammock Hang Calculator.) The deep sag also allows the occupant to sleep diagonally across the center point, allowing for a flatter lay.
I continue to affirm my position that the modern spreader bar hammock with the tight pitch, wide spreader bars, and woven rope design is inherently tippy and uncomfortable for long-term sleeping, for reasons beyond just the spreader bar.
The Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock is Different
On the surface, the Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock appears structurally similar to a modern woven spreader bar hammock. Yes, the Lawson uses spreader bars, but the similarity stops there.
First, the spreader bars on a Lawson are short—they do not extend the entire width of the hammock body. This is an important distinction because it plays into the way the fabric interacts with the bar, the tautness of the fabric, and the lay.
The fabric at the end of the hammock is also gathered and pleated, creating a pocket that helps lower the center of gravity further.
In addition, the Lawson doesn’t suffer from the sometime extreme tippiness from modern rope hammocks. What really spreads the fabric apart in the Lawson isn’t the bars, it is the tent poles used to open up the bug netting. The poles have some flexibility, so there is some “play” in the lay of the hammock.
I literally took the Lawson apart and rebuilt it numerous times, and worked with different hang angles and other options. What I found is when the Lawson is hung with a typical 20 to 30-degree angle on the suspension lines, it acts much like any Brazilian-style hammock in terms of overall lay, comfort, and stability.
When empty, the Lawson hammock appears to hang with a tight pitch, but appearances are deceptive.
The spreader bars on the Lawson achieve what some are finding with mini spreader bars on gathered-end hammocks: the elimination of bunched up fabric that can cause a ridge running under your legs, contributing to calf strain and hyperextension.
The Lawson hammock can be a little tippy based on how you pitch it, but overall I find it a viable competitor in the all-in-one camping hammock category.
|MANUFACTURER||Lawson Hammock, North Carolina, USA|
|YEAR OF MANUFACTURE||2013, made in China|
|MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDATIONS||It will accommodate individuals up to 6 ft 3 in (191 cm) tall and up to 250 lbs (113 kg).|
|MATERIAL||Body/Rain Fly: 210T Polyester with PU coated to 1000 mmHammock: 210D Poly/Oxford PU coated to 1500mm
Rope clews: 6 mm nylon rope with polyester cover
Spreader bars: 16 x 1 mm powder coated steel
Arch poles: 8.5 mm Aluminum
Bug net: 110g/m2 Polyester mesh
The Suspension System
The Lawson hammock uses rope clews to connect the hammock to the anchor point. The ropes are threaded through the spreader bars and then tied to the hammock through metal grommets. Having spent some time reverse engineering hammock clews, I knew my way around tying and reconstructing the clews. The model I received didn’t have any metal hardware on the clews, only a rope loop (some earlier models used steel rings). While serviceable, the rope loop wasn’t my preferred attachment point. The loop can be removed and replaced with a climbing-rated carabiner or a lightweight aluminum descender ring that can make it easier to attach longer straps, Whoopie slings, or other suspension systems.
The Lawson hammock is one of only a few all-in-one camping hammocks that comes complete with everything you need for a shelter, and it also happens to be the least expensive. Having a tarp as part of the kit is a big bonus for those looking for a simple set-up and don’t want to bother with the a-la-carte method.
The tarp is designed to “wrap” around the hammock. The corners of the tarp clip to the hammock body where the tent poles attach, by means of small shock cord loops. There are also patches of hook-and-loop patches that allow the tarp to grab onto the hammock. By wrapping around the hammock, the tarp is designed so you don’t have to guy out the corners, but guying is possible and recommended for a tighter pitch.
I found that the hook-and-loop attachment on the tarp wasn’t very effective and came detached once I got into the hammock. Further, the hook-and-loop is nearly impossible to secure once the bug net is zippered closed when I’m inside.
The ends of the tarp wrap around the hammock clews with some plastic hardware and shock cord. The hardware is mismatched for its use. I would recommend swapping a simple mitten hook instead of the strap clip that comes with the hammock. As you can see from the photo, I only used one clip to secure the tarp; the extra hardware can be safely removed.
The Bug Net
One of the things I really loved about the Lawson was the roomy interior, made possible thanks to the tent poles. For the price, I would have expected fiberglass poles, but the Lawson uses quality aluminum tent poles instead. The tent poles pull apart in odd places (to my mind) creating several pole pieces, but it they still function well. The shock cord running through the poles keeps the poles together and makes assembly and packing easy.
The bug net, and hammock, is accessible from a single zippered entry on one side. It is important to remember to let the “door” hang out of the hammock when entering so you don’t end up laying on it, or adding stress to the seams and pulling on the door while getting in.
The body of the hammock has a waterproof coating on the exterior to enable the hammock to be pitched on the ground. The Lawson also features bathtub-style “floor” with taped seams for weather protection. I mentioned that the ends of the hammock are slightly gathered and pleated, creating a pocket, of sorts, that lowers the center of gravity slightly. The polyester fabric is a personal favorite as it has less stretch than nylon so I get a firmer lay while still benefiting from an ergonomic lay.
Under quilts work great with the Lawson hammock. Thanks to the four pole attachments, it’s easy to connect an under quilt, and because the fabric is pulled out, there are no air gaps to worry about. To use my under quilts, I had to loosen the gathered ends so the quilt lay flat, and then I looped the shock cord around the pole connection points.
Sleeping pads also work fine with the Lawson hammock. Again, because the fabric is pulled flat, the pads don’t curl up as they do with gathered end hammocks.
The Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock is a very affordable all-in-one camping hammock for base camping and selective backpacking trips. Because of the additional weight from the spreader bars and tent poles, the hammock is not the lightest option available, but it is comparable to many single-occupant tent shelters.
- Roomy interior, thanks to the vaulting tent poles.
- No leg strain or hyperextension. Very comfortable lay.
- All-in-one kit includes hammock, bug net, and tarp at a very reasonable price.
- The spreader bars and tent poles put it on the heavy side (1.7 kg/3.8 lbs).
- The hook-and-loop attachment for the tarp is less effective.
Tips and Recommendations
If you are looking at the Lawson hammock, here are some ideas to get you hanging:
- Pitch the suspension at a 30-degree angle before attaching the spreader bars.
- Sleep on the diagonal.
- Use a pillow!
- Pitch the foot end slightly higher than the head end to keep from sliding.
- Add guy lines to the tarp corners for a secure storm-weather pitch.
- If you are concerned about tipping, use tie-outs to hold the corners. I recommend the Jacks “R” Better Self-Tensioning Lines.
- To eliminate weight, remove the spreader bars and tent poles.
- If bugs aren’t a problem, you can remove the tent poles and lay on the hammock or flip it upside down.
Disclosure of material connection: The author (Derek Hansen) was provided with a free sample from the manufacturer for testing and evaluation purposes.