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 cinched back with a toggle.
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 end of the sling. By sliding these anchors you can precisely tension the rainfly each time you rig the hammock, and adjust the tension as changes in moisture, sun and other factors demand.
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.
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 sheet of bubble-wrap laminated with reflective foil, 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
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 and other Hennessy hammocks.
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 one 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 rig a little higher and 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 and tie it back using the supplied toggle and grommet. 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.