Choosing a Double- or Single-layer Hammock
Philip Werner’s recent post on choosing between a single- or double-layer hammock delivers some strong points about double-layer hammocks:
The two layers form a pocket that can be used to hold a foam or an inflatable sleeping pad. The pocket helps hold the insulation in place and gets it out of the living compartment where it can be clumsy to deal with.
I like reading and following SectionHiker.com, because Philip is someone who has a breath of experience and I learn a lot from him. But he’s missing some key points here. While it is true a double-layer hammock helps hold a traditional sleeping pad in place, there are other key reasons to consider them, some more important to folks than others.
Benefits of a Double-Layer Hammock
- Bug protection—Mosquitoes have been known to bite through single-layer hammocks (especially those with lighter fabrics) since the pressure from laying on the woven fabric can ease the fibers enough for their proboscis to poke through. A double-layer hammock provides a tighter cross-section of protection and is ideal in hot, muggy areas where bugs pose a real problem and you don’t need a pad or underquilt to stay warm.
- Greater weight capacity—Adding another layer of fabric can increase the weight capacity by nearly 75%, depending on the fabric. This is actually the leading reason folks buy double-layer hammocks. According to Dream Hammock’s calculator, a double-layer 1.6 oz HyperD increases from 280 lbs to 448 lbs capacity. Going to a lighter weight 1.0 oz fabric only drops the total capacity to 430 lbs. This is a great option for big and tall campers who want the added weight capacity without adding significantly to the pack weight. Here is an example of a few basic hammocks (no mosquito netting) as a quick comparison:
Hammock Dimensions Layer Pack Weight Capacity FreeBird 120×60 in single layer 1.6 oz 11.22 oz 280 lbs FreeBird 120×60 in double layer 1.6/1.6 oz 21.84 oz 448 lbs FreeBird 120×60 in double layer 1.6/1.0 oz 17.86 oz 430 lbs Kammok Roo 120×67 in single layer 2.5 oz 24 oz 500 lbs ENO DoubleNest 112×74 in single layer 2.5 oz 19 oz 400 lbs
- Lightweight Comfort—While any hammock is subjectively “comfortable,” some folks who want to go lighter with their gear often pick thinner fabrics that stretch. A lot. For some, too much stretching can be uncomfortable. Adding a double layer of light fabric reduces the overall stretch, increases the comfort, and still keeps the pack weight lower than other options.
- Securing a Sleeping Pad—As Philip mentioned, a double layer hammock is a great option for pinching a pad in place. I want to clarify his point, however, that not all double-layer hammocks can hold all pad types (some even have the layers sewn together and can’t hold pads), or hold multiple pads. Most double-layer hammocks are built without gusseting, making the layers absolutely flush once weight is applied. Adding really thick pads, or layering multiple pads actually causes pads to buckle and can be uncomfortable. One of the few double-layer hammocks I’m aware of that has a gusseted second fabric layer is the DD Hammocks Jungle Hammock. The Hammock Bliss Tandem Hammock—essentially two hammocks sewn together—can be hung as a pseudo-double-layer hammock with a variable amount of gusseting. The Hammock Bliss SkyBed and Amok Draumr hammocks have de facto “pad sleeves” that will only accommodate a specific type of pad. If you choose a double-layer hammock to hold a pad, be sure to check if it has a pad sleeve, two true layers, or gusseting to ensure your insulation of choice will work.
Benefits of a Single-layer Hammock
Basic, single-layer hammocks are the backbone of any modular hammock camping system are commonly used for recreational lounging. A single layer of fabric is the norm for hammocks, even camping hammocks. It is simple and efficient. Your options are almost unlimited, especially if you choose a cottage vendor who can make a custom hammock to fit your size, fabric choice, and suspension options.
For most folks, a single-layer hammock will be all they will ever need.
Which hammock style should you choose if you want to go camping?
- You’re just starting out and don’t need/want to invest much in the sport.
- Your goal is to hammock camp as simple, light, and fast as possible.
- You don’t need the extra weight capacity.
- You don’t need the extra bug protection.
- You don’t plan to use a sleeping pad when camping (see notes below).
- You’ll be camping in a temperate or tropical zone where your insulation needs will be low but need for bug protection is high.
- You’ll be camping in freezing temperatures where you need to maximize insulation by using an under quilt and a pad/vapor barrier.
- You want the lightest hammock available that still supports your weight and comfort needs.
- You want the extra weight capacity a double layer provides.
- You want to take advantage of the pad sleeve/layer (see notes below).
A few notes about hammock insulation
Philip focuses much of his article on the insulation options for double- or single-layer hammocks. He makes valid points about sleeping pads and hammock under quilts, but I need to clarify a few things:
- You don’t need a double-layer hammock if you want to use a pad. While a pad sleeve or double-layer can help hold a pad in place, they aren’t necessary, nor are they perfect at doing it. One of the best ways to use a pad in a hammock is to just put it inside your sleeping bag. This keeps the pad in place even better than a double-layer hammock because the pad always moves where you do.
- Most folks use pads in hammocks. Under quilts are very popular with veteran hammock campers, but even the long-time hammock veterans started off with using sleeping pads. The reason? Pads work pretty good as an insulator, they’re inexpensive, and most likely you already own one. Some hangers never use or plan to use an under quilt. I recommend most beginners start off with a pad just to get a feel for how hammock camping works. Investing in an under quilt or a double-layer hammock shouldn’t be a barrier to hammock camping.
- Many cottage vendors who sell under quilts are not building them on-demand. Most sell standard sizes and have them in stock. The larger cottage vendors like HammockGear.com and Warbonnet have ramped up production over the years to meet demand and are operating more like small manufacturers than a true “out-of-the-garage” one-person shop. The real challenge is that you don’t usually find under quilts in large retailers like REI except for the few mass-market varieties from ENO, Kammok, and Yukon Outfitters. When ordering from a cottage vendor, plan time for shipping. In the case where you’ve chosen a small cottage vendor who does build on-demand, you’ll have to wait for production too.
- In most cases, you don’t need to buy multiple under quilts. If you’re like most folks and primarily do 3-season camping, a single under quilt will be all you’ll ever need. Gear junkies and folks who camp year-round or in extreme conditions may find it necessary to customize their gear closet to have a range of quilts for varying conditions. This is true of sleeping bags and top quilts too. However, under quilts have an advantage over sleeping bags in that they can be easily vented in way to make a 20°F-rated quilt perform like a 50°F-rated quilt. Because of the unique way an under quilt hangs below a hammock, most can be adjusted to provide more air flow. For gram-weenies, having multiple quilts is more about saving pack weight than worrying about being too warm.
- Hammocks are not inherently more expensive, nor are double-layer hammocks inherently less expensive because they can hold a sleeping pad. You need very little to go hammock camping, in spite of the marketing hype from some companies to the contrary. If you are worried about using a pad, try the sleeping bag tip mentioned above or pick up my book to learn more tips on staying warm in a hammock without breaking the bank.