Equipment Gear Reviews

The Hennessy Deep Jungle Camping Hammock: Long-Term Review & Photos

I love hammock camping on bike trips. It’s convenient, comfortable, and a lot easier to find a pitch than people tend to think.

Rather than hammock camping in general, which I’ve written about in the past along with other alternative sleeping systems, in this piece I will be taking a closer look at my own camping hammock of choice: the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle Zip.

Since mid-2013 I’ve been using this hammock regularly on bike trips and hikes (as well as at basecamps and festivals), so it’s definitely due a thorough writeup.

Shall we begin?

The Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle: In Brief

The Deep Jungle camping hammock, designed by North American hammock specialist Tom Hennessy and available under the Hennessy Hammock brand, is among the most versatile, weatherproof and full-featured models in the company’s range.

In spite of its serious-sounding name, it’s highly suited to the variable conditions found in temperate zones, as well as the tropics.

Optional extras extend its versatility yet further, and, as with all outdoor gear, knowing how to get the best out of it will make your time with the Deep Jungle all the more enjoyable. (Keep reading for few of my own pro tips.)

The Long View on the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

Over many years of using the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle in a range of environments (mainly from Europe through to West Asia), I’ve always been most impressed by two things: the quality of the manufacturing, and a deeply thoughtful design which really maximises the rig’s versatility.

Professional-grade camping hammocks are the kind of product for which sheer quality – not competitive pricing or sales volume or clever marketing – is the key to long-term success, as customers in such a tiny, specialised niche tend to be quite vocal when they come across good gear that works well.

As I write, it’s exactly 20 years since the first Hennessy Hammock went on sale. Given they essentially sell a single product, the fact that they’re still around is a strong indicator that Hennessy hammocks are more than fit for purpose.

An In-Depth Tour of the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

The body of the Deep Jungle hammock is a double-layered sling of lightweight, mosquito-proof 30D nylon. Over the top is a permanently-attached insect mesh. This unzips fully along one side to allow entry and exit, as well as for the mesh to be fully folded back.

When rigged, a ridge-line of taut paracord allows the sling below to slacken while suspending the mesh above you, creating the floating cocoon shape with which users of gathered-end hammocks will be familiar. The big difference lies in that the ridge-line ensures an identically-shaped rig every time – something few other hammocks can boast, and a genuine plus point for the Hennessy system, given the relatively long learning curve inherent to hammock camping.

Some people find the gathered-end style a little claustrophobic, but all of the Hennessy models differ in another way from standard gathered-end hammocks in that they’re asymmetrical.

The result is that you will find yourself lying on a diagonal to the ridge-line, with your head slightly to the left and your feet slightly to the right (from the point of view of the user).

This has two noticeable effects. Firstly, it creates more living space in the sling. Secondly, it allows you to lie more or less flat, with your hips resting on the taut centreline of the sling and your extremities out in the slacker side areas. From this position you can easily pull down the edges of the mesh and see out, further reducing any feeling of claustrophobia.

Importantly, when fully zipped up, the hammock as a whole is claimed to be impermeable to the biting insects generally associated with a forest environment. I’ve found this to be true in practice, too.

Thick paracord is used for the two 3m-long suspending ropes, which, together with the webbing straps you’ll wrap around the trees or posts, allows for ample adjustment for the many different situations in which hammocks tend to be rigged.

(If you’re not used to ultralight hammocks, you’ll no doubt be nervous as you lower yourself into the sling for the first time, but those cords can support more than half a tonne, and the webbing straps are made of the same stuff as car seatbelts. Fear not!)

The standard rainfly supplied with the Deep Jungle is a slightly skewed diamond-shaped sheet of lightweight silicone-coated nylon with a taped seam down the middle. The corners of the longer diagonal of the rainfly clip onto two sliding anchors which are knotted to the suspending ropes, just beyond each gathered end of the sling. By sliding these anchors you can precisely tension the rainfly each time you rig the hammock.

Across the shorter diagonal, the corners of the fly are designed to be tied off with guy-lines to suitable anchors (branches, ground stakes, etc), creating a doublet of triangular awnings sloping down and away from each side of the hammock.

The asymmetry of the fly is deliberate: once you lie down diagonally, you’ll see how the shape provides more coverage for your head and feet (it also makes it easier to enter and exit). The guy-lines are several metres long, allowing a lot of flexibility in finding anchor points for the rainfly.

All of this stuffs into a compact, breathable drawstring sack, which comes emblazoned with setup instructions – particularly useful while you’re still new to the system.

Options When Ordering the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

When you order the Deep Jungle, you’ll have the option to choose from a variety of rainflies, including the larger Hex model which, as the name suggests, sports six anchor points instead of four. As well as the silicone-coated nylon version of the Hex, you can also choose from a range of cheaper, heavier and tougher 70D polyester rainflies in a variety of colours.

If you’re expecting really wet weather, or you’re not concerned about minimising weight and pack size and would prefer a more substantial awning under which to stow all of your gear (and your bike), you might opt for one of the Hex rainflies.

The Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock rigged with a Hex fly The Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock rigged with a Hex fly

At the other end of the scale, you can upgrade to a ‘hyperlight’ 20D silnylon version of the standard rainfly and shave a few grams more off the complete package.

The standard 42-inch (107cm) webbing straps can be swapped out for longer 72-inch (183cm) or 96-inch (244cm) straps at no extra cost. I originally got the regular straps, and on a fair few occasions I’ve been wishing I had the longer ones. Unless you really need to save weight – in which case you can compensate by a certain amount with clever rigging – I would suggest going with at least the 72-inch straps, which will allow more flexibility in terms of tree-trunk diameter and spacing. For full flexibility, get the 96-inch straps (and wrap them a couple of extra times if you need them to be shorter).

The optional insulation system for the Deep Jungle is essentially a reflective sheet of bubble-wrap designed to be inserted between the two bottom layers of fabric and held there with a couple of elasticated snap hooks and grommets.

It makes considerably more difference to your comfort than you might imagine – if you’ve ever slept on the ground without a camping mat, you’ll be aware of how much body heat is lost to the surface you’re sleeping on, and the same is true with hammocks and the cold air below. For anything other than the hottest climates, I would highly recommend adding one to your order, or using your own camping mat (see below for some tips on this).

Finally, if you’re particularly tall and/or heavy – the standard Deep Jungle is rated for users up to 180cm/6′ tall and 115kg/250lbs in weight – consider the XL model, which is rated for users up to 213cm/7′ and 136kg/300lbs.

Rigging & Usage: Getting the Most Out Of the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

Between the Hennessy Hammock website and Youtube there are more than enough tutorials on basic rigging techniques for all Hennessy Hammock models.

Rather than regurgitate the process, I will offer some ‘pro tips’ from personal experience to help cycle tourers and bikepackers get the most out of using the Deep Jungle.

Tips for Packing & Preparation

Firstly, when preparing for your trip, there are a few things I’d suggest you add to your packing list – and to your skill set:

  • In case of a lack of suitable anchors for the rainfly and/or side elastics, I would suggest carrying at least two lightweight ground stakes. You can use your bike as one of the anchors too – I sometimes lie mine on the ground and tie one guy-line off to the frame or rear rack – but if it’s very windy or gusty it’s better to have a secure ground stake than something that might get dislodged and slacken your rainfly in a storm.
  • Learning how to tie a suitable slide-and-grip knot will make adjustment of the rainfly a cinch (no pun intended), as well as making you feel like a proper bushcraft pro. The rainfly fabric tends to slacken a little when it gets wet, and you won’t always get it shedding water perfectly until you’ve built up some experience, so adjustability comes in useful throughout the duration of a pitch, not just at the time of initial setup.
  • The Deep Jungle is supplied with a couple of plastic snap hooks and a hanging mesh pocket for storing bits and bobs inside the hammock, but I find a couple of suitably-rated carabiners come in useful for hanging panniers, shoes, etc, from the suspension ropes beneath the ends of the rainfly, especially when the ground is wet.

Tips for Insulation

The Hennessy Double Bubble insulation mat is extremely light but does add a fair bit of bulk. It’s also far from comfortable when used as a ground mat.

If you want a more versatile (and more packable) system, you might prefer to experiment with modifying a regular inflatable sleeping pad for use with the hammock instead. On this topic:

  • The optimal solution is to permanently affix two elasticated snap hooks to your sleeping pad in the same configuration as the Double Bubble, perhaps making use of the fabric patches and adhesive supplied with your pad’s puncture repair kit. (As a reminder, these hooks attach to grommets between the two layers of the hammock sling, ensuring your mat doesn’t slide around during the night.)
  • I’ve had best results with lower-profile ‘self-inflating’ mats which have a little foam in the core, as they provide more insulation when slightly under-inflated. Doing this allows the pad to wrap around you better when you’re lying in the hammock.
  • Wider pads also work better than regular-width pads for the same reason. Conversely, narrow and minimal ultralight mats are next to useless.
  • Needless to say, expect a little trial and error with all of this!

Tips for Rigging

When rigging the hammock, and especially if you’re new to hammock camping, here are a few points to bear in mind:

  • Think carefully about height. Too low and you won’t be able to stash your bike and gear beneath the rig, you’ll have less flexibility in finding guy-line anchors for the rainfly, and it’ll be harder to enter/exit. Too high and you won’t be able to reach your shoes in the morning or fire up the stove you thought you’d left within reach.
  • There’s a steeper learning curve to hammock rigging than with tent pitching, as you get used to the shape the hammock takes when you’re lying in it, how much tension you should apply to the suspension ropes to compensate for when the hammock is loaded, and other such nuances. As with all such skills, best to practice before you need it!
  • If you want to feel less enclosed, and suitable anchors are available, you can rig the rainfly guy-line higher on the zip side of the hammock to allow a better view. Make sure the roof is still slanted, though, so that if it does rain unexpectedly the fly will still shed water rather than collecting it.
  • In dry weather you might be tempted not to bother with the rainfly. However, remember that sleeping under a tree canopy means that leaves, seeds, insects and other things are likely to gently fall on you throughout the night. The rainfly is therefore for protection from solids as well as liquids!
  • Conversely, in wet weather, it’s better to steepen the sides of the rainfly. Not only will there be less chance of water pooling but you’ll also have more side protection (from wind, wind-blown rain, and water splashing up from the ground). It’s a bit trickier to enter and exit the hammock, but far less inconvenient than not being able to sleep because you’re wet!

Tips for Usage

When you’ve rigged the hammock and have your camp set up, I’d offer the following tips for getting the most out of the system:

  • When entering or exiting the hammock, resist the temptation to only partially unzip the door. Instead, unzip the whole way, as instructed. There’s a good reason for this: you’ll put a huge strain on the zip slider during entry and exit if you don’t. If you want the hammock to last, get into the habit of fully unzipping it each time.
  • If you’re in a relatively bug-free spot and want to use the hammock for sitting or lounging, it’s possible to unzip and pull the mesh all the way back over the ridgeline. In this configuration you can sit on the perpendicular of the sling, either cross-legged or with your legs hanging over. There’s full back support in this position and it’s an excellent way to relax, meditate, cook, read, write blog posts about hammocks, or do whatever it is you like to do when you’re not cycling or sleeping.

Tips for Worst-Case Scenarios

In the situation every hammock camper seems to dread – being unable to find two suitable trees or poles – here’s my advice with the Deep Jungle:

  • Using your bike as an upright support can allow you to rig the system as a makeshift tarp shelter. First, attach the rainfly to the suspending ropes. Next, stand the (unloaded) bike at the head end of the hammock, then pass the suspending rope over the top tube and stake it out on the far side of the bike. Finally, stake out the suspending rope at the foot end, followed by the sides of the rainfly. Ta-da – instant tarp and bivvy!
  • If your bike doesn’t have a stand, you can clove-hitch the suspending rope to the frame before you stake it out.
  • Alternatively, flip your bike upside down and stand it on its handlebars for stability (remembering to protect your expensive Brooks saddle from whatever’s on the ground).
  • Again, learning a slide-and-grip knot for the ropes and guy-lines will make such a rig infinitely easier to adjust.
  • Place your sleeping pad or insulation sheet directly on the ground to protect the delicate hammock fabric. A space blanket* works in a pinch.
  • There is a whole page on the Hennessy website about setting the hammock up on the ground (though it assumes you have trekking poles).

If you think this might be a regular-case scenario, rather than a worst-case one, it might be better to bring a waterproof bivvy bag and a length of paracord instead, then use the tarp alone for a shelter – or, of course, to reconsider whether a hammock is appropriate in the first place if there are that few trees around!

The Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle: In Summary

Camping hammocks seem to have become somewhat en vogue in recent years, with most of the usual big outdoor brands now selling them. Most seem to be designed for casual use at best, and none, in my opinion, come close to the balance struck by the Hennessy between lightweight portability, adaptability to a huge range of conditions, and proven durability over time.

The Deep Jungle model in particular is one of the most versatile hammocks in the range, and that versatility can be extended further with the options available when you’re ordering it, by developing your rigging skills, and by knowing how to get the best out of a product with a relatively long learning curve.

In short, if you’re looking for a professional-grade camping hammock for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip that can deal with more or less any situation you could reasonably throw at it, you’ll find little more respected a hammock on offer than this.

Base pricing for Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle Zip at the time of writing is USD $289.95 / GBP £249.95 / EUR €279.95 / CAD $339.95. You can order them direct from Hennessy’s UK, USA, EU and Canada websites, where you can access the full range of buying options and take advantage of seasonal discounts.

Philosophy Of Travel

The Curious Truth About How Bicycle Touring Extends Your Life

I was over at the Adventure Pedlars bunkhouse the other day, chatting with the owner Pete about all things long-distance cycling, when he told a story that really resonated with me.

When he and his wife Alice were nearing the end of their big honeymoon ride from the UK to New Zealand, and were crossing Australia with not an awful lot to do, he said, they’d gone back over the journey that had got them there and found that they could mentally ‘re-run’ the entire trip, remembering each and every day’s events: where they’d cycled, who they’d met, what they’d eaten and where they’d slept. Amazingly, they’d been able to do this with no memory cues whatsoever.

It reminded me of similar experiences I’d had while writing Janapar back in 2012–13. Next to my writing chair I’d had a stack of hand-scribbled diaries to refer to whenever I wanted. Not just that, but I’d had thousands of photos to look back on, and hundreds of hours of video footage to play back in search of things I’d forgotten.

But I barely touched any of them. Instead, the 3½-year journey played itself back in my mind’s eye with sparkling clarity. I wrote the vast majority of that book from memory alone. Only later in the process did I fact-check a few things against the records I’d taken at the time. Practically all of it was bang on.

Now, in case you’re under the impression that Pete, Alice and I are blessed with remarkable memories, consider this possibly more familiar scenario:

I have been attempting to learn the Armenian language for over ten years. While I’m able to understand the gist of most conversations, I still cannot quickly recall simple words such as ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘give’, ‘take’, etc. There are still several letters in the Armenian alphabet which I get mixed up and, try as I might, simply cannot commit to memory.

Why exactly is that? Why is it that can I recall the minutiae of a million roadside encounters that I made no attempt to fix in my mind, yet hours of diligent study and practice are unable to make a permanent register of the association between a shape on a page and the sound of a simple consonant?

This question has been bubbling away in my head for a long time, but I think I’ve arrived at a speculative answer – with curious implications for the bicycle traveller. (You might want to get a cup of tea at this point.)

Road kill

Your Memory: An Evolutionary Perspective

When it comes to understanding why things are the way they are, especially in the case of our species, it’s often useful to turn to evolutionary principles.

We humans have evolved this fantastic capacity to conscript our past experiences for an internal record we call ‘memory’. Memory is the foundation of our identity, underpins our every daily decision, and is drawn into all our future planning. Since too little time has passed to make us biologically distinct from the last era of hunter-gatherers, it makes sense to assume that our memory evolved to serve the needs of that primitive type of society.

What kind of memory would offer the best chance of survival to our forebears, whose lives depended on finding food and identifying hazards?

It might sound obvious, but it would probably be one that was adept at spatial and visual learning – in other words, remembering where things were and what they looked like.

A thought experiment clarifies the point. Imagine visiting a friend’s house for the first time, and being given a couple of minutes to visit every room in the house. Would you recognise that house the next time you visited? Would you be able to remember your way to the bathroom? I’m willing to bet that you probably would, because even with the most limited exposure – and without any conscious effort – we are incredibly good at committing places and images to memory.

You might argue that you’d struggle to pick out any particular one of a row of Victorian terraces after a single visit, which is why we invented house-numbers rather than typing ‘the house with the dark blue door and the recycling bin perched on the wall to the right and the pink fairy lights in the living-room window’ into the delivery address form on Amazon.

And you’d be right, because we evolved to live in an environment carved by geological processes; one without our modern sense of orderliness imposed upon it, and one in which almost every landscape was in some way unique.

No stopping here

The Parallels Between Bike Trips & Memory Palaces

So it should be no surprise that I can still clearly remember the nameless Romanian gypsy village in which I stayed the night in a small house belonging to a one-eyed lady with a side-parting and her mushroom-hunting husband with a huge mural of Christ crucified on the wall and a badly-tuned television blaring the most awful Balkan Pop long into the night – but that I can’t remember how to pronounce Զ.

With the slowness and awareness engendered by riding a bicycle, I had plenty of time to take in the hugely varied landscapes through which I passed, and the never-ending stream of unique faces, places and happenings that I encountered every day.

These are precisely the things that my memory evolved to store – not the abstract sounds of a second language or writing system, or the even greater abstraction of random strings of numbers that telephones, calendars and credit cards have given us.

It might also explain why my memories are less pronounced in the emptier, not-so-visually-exciting places. Much of the Nubian desert has blended into a compact series of sandy, rocky and rather warm impressions, and northern Scandinavia has become a much more succinct tract of spindly pine trees, vast snowfields and frozen lakes than the month-long ride actually encompassed.

Joshua Foer writes in Moonwalking with Einstein* about the vast and ancient body of knowledge surrounding the limitations of our memory – and, more poignantly, how it might be worked around.

Many of us will have heard of the ‘memory palace’ concept, perhaps through the mainstream media. The original BBC series of Sherlock had Benedict Cumberbatch depicting our favourite sleuth’s descent into a memory labyrinth from which he was able to pluck the most archaic of facts. The mentalist Derren Brown cites it in Tricks Of The Mind* as one of his most commonly-used devices for committing abstract information – numbers, dates, lists of words, an ordered list of every English king or queen together with the dates they reigned – to memory. Tony Buzan has built a megalomaniac’s empire based to a large extent on these ideas.

The memory palace is not a fad. Records of the technique exist from Ancient Greek society almost 2,500 years ago, at which time — with writing still being at a very early stage of development — it appeared to be such a fundamental part of of every thinking person’s toolkit to the point that it was barely worth mentioning.

The point of bringing up the memory palace concept is the astonishing parallel it has, in my view, with bicycle travel.

The user of the technique begins with a location that they are familiar with – a direct play to our innate skills with spatial memory – and then scatters unique, often outright bizarre, occasionally provocative, and therefore memorable images at particular spots, thus taking advantage of our excellent visual memory.

This journey, of course, is one of the imagination, but by virtue of imagining this palatial sowing and reaping as a full three-dimensional multi-sensory experience – featuring not just sights but sounds, smells, textures and tastes – the resulting memory is just as strong as if the journey had happened for real.

A journey by bicycle – or, for that matter, by foot, or any other slow and engaged style of travel – leaves precisely the same impression. We become intimately familiar with our surroundings by virtue of our ambling and exposed mode of transport. In them, we encounter an endless string of new and unique faces, landscapes, cultural artefacts and random occurrences. Simply put, a cycle-tourist’s daily routine is practically identical to a well-realised journey through a memory palace.

Is there any wonder our experiences stick in the mind so stubbornly?

In a society where memory has long been marginalised in favour of external records in books, websites and other directories, which can be accessed at any time through any number of ever-more invasive devices, we now pay little attention to how our memories are actually set up to function. We use them increasingly little, and when we do, we use them badly. We repetitively hammer our brains with foreign vocabulary in an attempt to bludgeon it into sticking there. Our education system blasts our children with facts to remember, but gives them not an ounce of guidance on how to remember them.

Above the treeline

Live Longer. Ride Bicycles.

Modern society places the preservation of life at the very peak of its objectives. Authorities plough countless millions into health and safety. We have never been more obsessive about diet and fitness. The institution of medicine is constantly looking to cure yet more killer diseases in order that our physical longevity might be extended yet further.

In my view, our subjective sense of longevity has much more to do with richness of memory than with candles on a cake. We are all aware of how a month (or a year) can seem to zip by in a flash, and how, conversely, a week or two of the right kind of activity can feel like it lasted for months (or years).

Especially as we grow older, we look back and consider the way in which we’ve spent our lives. It’s doubtful that we’ll spend much time counting our birthdays. More likely is that we’ll think about the places we’ve been, the people we’ve met and the things we’ve done.

I have no problem with the belief in the value of living longer. Life is the greatest privilege of all, and has the potential to be endlessly fascinating. But I want to question the unit of measurement. What is the point of living a hundred years if the memory of it has become a blur of routine interspersed with brief moments of respite?

I have come to the conclusion that the 3½ years on the road that became Janapar lasted longer than the previous 23. This is my subjective truth. I cannot imagine how short the same few years might have seemed had I followed an office-bound career as a web developer.

It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to put my finger on just how the life I chose had such an effect, and there must be countless other ways in which to achieve the same thing.

If nothing else, though, I hope I’ve convinced you that travelling by bicycle will, in a very real way, extend your life.