A Simple Tip to Finding the Best Hammock for Your Buck: Learn to Count.


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You know how to count already — or at least there’s a calculator on your phone, right? But you may not know what you should be counting when shopping for a hammock.

I’ll show you an easy method for cutting through the fluff to find out exactly what you’re getting for the money when shopping rope hammocks.

As you’ll soon see, numbers don’t lie. Sellers of low-quality, overpriced hammocks do.

Rope = $$$.

Hammocks consume plentiful quantities of rope to manufacture. The first thing through many hammock makers’ minds when trying to cut costs is inevitably:

“How do I make a hammock with less rope?”

So to increase profits, the thickness of the rope is decreased. The quality of the material itself — usually cotton in cheaper models — is downgraded, leading inevitably to durability issues and discomfort. But straight out of the box, it’s hard to tell the difference.

“Our rope is .25 inches thick!” — A boast you might hear fairly often. But how dense is that rope? How thick is it under tension? These questions won’t be answered, because it’s assumed you won’t care.

Pawleys Island Rope Hammock spreader bar
The thickness and tensile strength of Pawleys Island Hammocks has become less and less common as others cut corners to ship inferior, less safe hammocks at lower prices.

The difference can mean spending $100 dollars every year to replace an old hammock, versus spending a little bit more for a model that will last multiple seasons.

Cut the BS. Count rope yourself.

This is less daunting than you may expect. The key is to focus not on the weave of the hammock body itself — the part you’ll be laying on — but on either end of the hammock, where wooden spreader bars stretch the weave into a rectangular shape. Along these bars, holes have been drilled for ropes to pass from the hammock bed to the ring knots on either end, from which the hammock hangs.

Begin paying attention to these spreader bar openings, and you’ll begin to notice subtle differences from brand to brand. Some spreader bars may have 18 holes, others as many as 24. The difference can mean dozens of feet of rope. Fewer holes = less rope in the hammock body, making for a less comfortable, less sturdy bed with more gaps for your limbs to slip through. The weave of the bed may look thick in a product picture online, but the true litmus test is always the spreader bar hole count.

24, we’ve found, is the magic number for true comfort in a rope hammock. It’s almost like bedding fabric with a high thread count — try it, and you won’t stand for anything else after that. Difference is, the price only goes up nominally for a huge increase in quality. It’s just a matter of knowing what you get for your money when going with an established brand that hasn’t cut corners to have the lowest price.

Looking deeper: the Bowline Knot.
how-to-tie-a-hammock-bow-line-knot
A guide to tying a bowline knot. They withstand an incredible amount of force over long periods of time, and can tell you a lot about a hammock’s quality.

Bowline knots line the area just below the spreader bar openings. They’re simple knots that do lots of work: bearing weight and maintaining the integrity of the woven hammock bed. The bottom loop of the knot holds up loops from the bed weave. If a product image of a rope hammock online has a zoom feature, you should be able to count the ropes that pass through each loop:

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Bowline knots on a Pawleys Island Rope Hammock.

Two ropes from the bed pass through the bowline knots in this Pawleys Island Hammock — a standard set by the brand, but not uniformly followed. In addition to reducing the number of spreader bar openings, manufacturers reduce the total length of rope required to weave a hammock (greater than 1000 ft, in the case of Pawleys Island and Hatteras Hammocks brands) by reducing the thickness of the hammock bed. Because of the intricacy of the weave, you wouldn’t be able to tell from a cursory glance at a product image that a weave had been thinned.

The telling feature is the number of loops strung through each bowline knot. While premium brands run two loops per knot, cheaper varieties will run as little as one per loop, or even more deceptively, pattern multiple one-loop bowlines after occasional two-loop bowlines, in patterns like 2-1-1-2, or 2-1-1-1-2. These money saving “tricks” create an uneven weave that looks passable in photos, but is extremely uncomfortable to lay down in for any significant amount of time.

The Measurements Provided versus “Hidden” Measurements.

Product specs on most hammock selling websites will provide at minimum a hammock width. This is usually the width of the spreader bars, but as you’ll begin to realize, spreader bar width never guarantees a certain number of spreader bar openings — and as a consequence, bed thickness. The number of openings + the number of loops attached to the bowline knots is always something worth asking about. Narrower, one-person hammock can get away with fewer openings, but the best single hammocks have luxurious weaves even at smaller widths.

Take Hatteras Hammocks’ smallest rope hammock, for instance. Though only 45 inches wide, it still runs two loops per clew knot, and its spreader bars boast 22 holes. That is a seriously comfortable hammock in a compact package.

Hatteras Hammocks Polyester Rope Hammock

(The Hatteras Hammocks Small Polyester Rope Hammock, $179.99)

Compare that with one of the widest hammocks on the market: Pawleys Island’s Presidential Polyester Rope Hammock. At 65 inches wide, it also runs two loops per clew knot, but with 6 additional spreader bars openings, for a whopping total of 26 holes per spreader bar. That’s a lot of hammock. Anything less than that for a competing hammock of similar width is going to cause discomfort.

Pawleys Island Presidential Rope Hammock

 (The Pawleys Island Presidential Polyester Rope Hammock, $199.99)

More good news: we did a lot of counting for you! Here’s a breakdown of ideal hammock spreader bar hole counts by width from our top three hammock brands:

Manufacturer Sizes Width (Inches) # of Spreader Bar Holes
Hatteras Small 45 18
Details
Large 55 22
Details
Deluxe 60 24
Details
Pawleys Island Single 48 20
Details
Large 55 22
Details
Deluxe 60 24
Details
Presidential 65 26
Details
Nags Head Single 49.5 18
Details
Double 55 20
Details
Extra Wide 60 22
Details

We can conclude from this cross-section of top brands that only hammocks 50 inches wide or narrower should have the low-end 18 hole counts, and extra large hammocks (60+ inch width) should have at minimum 22 holes per bar.

If you like math, or even if you don’t, there’s a simple ratio to look for when shopping rope hammocks. Spreaders should have 1 opening for every ~2.5 inches of width:

ratio-of-spreader-bar-width-to-number-of-spreader-bar-holes-on-hammock

This ratio has provided the highest level of comfort and stability in hammocks we’ve tested. Anything less skimps on a quality bed weave and lacks a basic level of safety and comfort. Bottom line: hammocks below this ratio aren’t worth it — even for a cheaper price.

A Picture Worth Less Than a Phone Call.

Don’t have your abacus with you today? Don’t feel like staring at product images or poring over specs? Call customer service and ask about a hammock you’re unsure of. Many manufacturers lack the resources to individually photograph each hammock size, and since the products look very similar, you may see an image of a larger hammock substituted for a smaller one.

For greater peace of mind, call customer service to ask about the measurements and hole counts of a hammock you’re interested in. If they aren’t helpful, maybe you should consider giving DFOhome’s hammocks a look, and giving us a call at 1.800.398.6004.

Learn more on our podcast discussing this key difference in hammock spreader bar and rope quality:

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