All over Ebay, Amazon and occasionally in your local supermarket, you’ll find cheap (hopefully) parachute silk hammocks. Some come with a hefty price tag despite being made of similar or usually identical material. There are literally hundreds of manufacturers now.
Material: Virtually all ‘parachute silk’ hammocks are made from 210T taffeta nylon. What does the 210T mean? It stands for 210 threads per square inch. It’s a measure of the density of the fabric. While 210T material isn’t ripstop (if you snag it on a branch, your keys, a belt buckle and damage the fabric, expect that hole to turn into a split), so long as you’re reasonably careful they should last for years. The positives are comfort and price. As with any ideal hammock material, it’s breathable (if not, condensation/sweat leads to an uncomfortable soggy back!). For the rest of this article, I’ll use parachute silk and 210T hammock interchangeably.
Prices: Prices for these hammocks tend to range from under £7 to £60. The difference… very little apart from size (and a higher price doesn’t mean a larger hammock… although logic says it should!). There’s much hype about single layer/no mossie net hammocks… these hammocks are a rectangular strip of material (or several strips sewn together which make a rectangle) with a rope or cord running through each end which draws the fabric together at the ends. That’s it! No special tailoring required. All the 210T hammocks I’ve seen have triple stitched hemming and depending on size, the comfort levels are identical (which it would be, being the same material). When hammocks are made of identical material, it’s hard to justify the huge price difference in parachute silk hammocks beyond hype and marketing.
Not all hammocks are the same, and there are different materials used, some stronger, some softer and that and added features such as double underlayers, built in netting, better quality zips, top covers, internal storage pockets justifies higher prices. The same can’t be said when hammocks have none of these additional features or differences. These 210T hammocks are pretty much identical.
You needn’t be paying more than £10 for a 140cm wide 210T hammock. Prices for 2m x 3m hammocks normally hover between £17 to £30 (occasionally a seller will have one for £10 if you shop around). The last 2m x 3m wide hammock I bought was decent quality with no loose threads… and yes, I found one for £9.99 on Amazon. That offer’s ended… but they do come up!
Size: Parachute silk hammocks tend to be 140cm or 200cm wide. Many sold as ‘double hammocks’ aren’t. A 140cm wide hammock is not a double hammock. That’s misleading nonsense. It’s a reasonable sized single. Some 210T hammocks are even narrower at 120cm wide… avoid these (the narrower width puts pressure on your shoulders and you won’t be able to lay on a diagonal, so they’re less comfortable and you’ll sleep like a banana). Fine for kids… small kids at that! Hammock width and length is important for comfort. 140cm wide is ok for comfort, but a 200cm wide hammock is simply more comfortable and worth paying the extra (if you can find a deal, sometimes the larger hammocks are the same price!).
Why the extra width? If you lay diagonally across a hammock, the hammock flattens out and you don’t have that ‘banana bend’. This allows you to sleep or relax on your side without your knees being bent at an odd angle and pressure on your hip or calves. As you can see in the picture above, in a 2m wide hammock you can “starfish”.
Comfort: 210T material is very comfortable in part because it isn’t ripstop. Ripstop material includes stronger threads woven in with the fabric as reinforcement. While woven in ripstop threads strengthen the fabric, the fabric then tends to have less ‘give’. A lack of reinforcing threads leaves the fabric stretchier, so it conforms better to your body. The differences are marginal, but still noticeable. If you thought cheap hammock material was less comfortable, you’d be wrong, and trust me when I say even ripstop fabric can rip if you abuse it.
Weight limit: 210T fabric will normally support around 400lbs in weight. You’ll see adverts which say more…. but take the higher weight estimates with a pinch of salt. Some claim to hold much higher weights, but that is static weight. When you climb into a hammock, swing, shuffle about or turn over you apply ‘shock’ force to your hammock fabric. Those claims are misleading. Generally, I’d say a 210T hammock would be fine for someone weighing up to 350lbs. Fine for most of us, but if your partner, kids and dogs are in there too…
Hammock weight: The 2m x 3m hammocks weigh in the region of 500 grammes plus whatever carabiners/suspension you use. One of our group members recently had a DD superlight hammock split, and replaced with a larger 210T parachute silk hammock. Compensating for the area of the larger hammock, the weight difference was only 2%! 210T is a light material.
The downsides and compensating
They’re single layer: If camping in them overnight, or on anything other than warm summer days you’ll need some insulation for your back. If using a sleeping mat, these can be a pain in single layer hammocks as they shift about. A double bottom layer sandwiches a sleeping mat in place. Hammock material and sleeping mats tend to be slippery. If you’re using an underblanket… no problem.
Non-Ripstop material: You need to be careful not to snag your hammock on sharp objects. Be careful of car keys, boots, belt buckles! I’d think twice before having a dog jump in… more than one 210T hammock has been destroyed by a labrador’s claws! Without ripstop material, the hammock is likely to split if it becomes damaged. Be careful and you should be fine! I haven’t had one split yet but the cats are banned from mine too!
No tree straps: These hammocks rarely come with tree straps. Tree straps are essential so the weight of you in the hammock doesn’t cause damage to the tree bark. Ropes are too thin and constrict the tree bark. Any campsite owner, park ranger or fellow hammocker worth their salt will not approve! Tree straps should be at least an inch wide. In some states in America, they insist on tree straps being 3 inches wide. Buy yourself some tree straps, or upgrade the suspension to looped/daisy chain straps.
No integral midge netting: Depending on where you chill or camp, midge netting can be an essential. You can buy separate midge nets, but these need to be the right size! A 3m long parachute silk hammock is not going to sit well in a midge net designed for 2.7m hammocks. While some parachute silk hammocks come with a built in midge net, these are usually poor quality and the thread density in the netting is too low to keep out midges. One exception is sold by Onetigris where the netting is of decent quality. Watch out for and avoid hammock mosquito/midge netting which looks sheer and is green. I’ve come across too many people who’ve found this tears easily. You’ll find lots of these hammocks on Ebay and I would avoid them. Cheap is fine… cheap and prone to breaking is not!
Rope and Carabiners: The rope and carabiners these hammocks come with tend to be ghastly. The rope is stretchy nylon (and it’s normally too short to be useful), and the carabiners are heavy steel, and some come with sharp edges on the clasps (not a good thing with material which can split if it’s snagged). You can buy cheap 12kn wiregate carabiners on Ebay for about £2 each if you don’t mind waiting for them to be imported. On Amazon for £6.99 a pair for UK delivery. These are far lighter, have no sharp edges, and are strong enough for hammock suspension. Do the upgrade. 12kn carabiners will hold over 2,000lb, and the aluminium ones only weigh 20 grammes.
The rope which connects the hammock to the carabiner can also be replaced. The ends of the rope are sealed by burning, and can have sharp edges where the nylon hardens as it burns. I upgade mine with 2.5mm wide, 8″ long Amsteel continuous loops. Amsteel is far stronger, less bulky, and has no sharp edges. There’s also no knot to become undone. It’ll cost you around £6 to do this and the loops can be bought from Henge Hammocks (no we’re not on commission, but their service is good and many people in our Facebook group use them for hammock accessories).
2.5mm Amsteel will support roughly 1,600lbs in weigh. Why have something which can support so much? Hammock suspension equipment should ideally support 5 times body weight to cope with ‘shock force’ from getting in, getting out, swinging, turning over and shuffling into a sleeping bag. Amsteel is so light it floats on water and a popular material for hammock suspension due to this.
Few of the (much) more expensive hammocks are as wide as a 2m x 3m parachute silk hammock and you can often pay hundreds of pounds for these, they normally have to be imported from the US which also involves import duties. For day time lounging in a hammock in a non-midgy/mosquito area, for comfort and value for money, they’re well worth the money.
These cheap hammocks are a contender for comfort, even when compared to the much much more expensive hammocks.
Back Insulation: For overnights and chillier days you can use a sleeping mat to insulate your back or go for one of the synthetic underblankets. Personally, due to the width of the 2m wide hammocks, I’d go for the underquilt made by Snugpak. I use a DD underblanket simply because I already had one which works well enough, but Snugpak’s is 24cm wider. There are cheaper synthetic underblankeds, but these are narrower still and more usually used with shorter hammocks.
Bug Nets: As for adding a mosquito/midge net, you want one long enough for a 3m wide hammock and your choices are a little limited. While bulky, the best quality in my opinion is by Thermarest. In addition to being roomy, it has an internal ridgeline to hold the netting away from you and material on the bottom which will not snag leaf litter. The downside is it’s a little bulky as it reaches to the ground, and is expensive with current prices on Google showing between £52.95 and £68. Last year, one store was selling them half price! A cheaper alternative is the Mosquito Net Cocoon made by Hammock Bliss for around the £40 price mark. 2100 holes per square inch make it more than midge proof, and it’s 3m long. Unigear is even cheaper at under £20 on Amazon.
Suspension: There’s lots of choices here. Whoopie slings and tree straps, looped/daisy chain straps, and webbing with cinch and buckles being a few of the more popular. We’ve an article coming soon on suspension options, and will link from here when published.