I distinctly remember the moment I realized that I was done with sleeping on the ground. I’d been cycling through China and Central Asia for almost four months, and was camped out beside a road in the Wakhan Corridor of southern Tajikistan. I had a good camping mattress, a Thermarest NeoAir, but months of nights in the tent had finally caught up with me. My shoulders ached, my hips ached, and my arms went numb all night long as I turned onto one side and then the other. That night lasted roughly a million years, and in that time there was not a single moment of actual rest.
When I discovered hammock camping a year later, therefore, it was a revelation. A friend lent me her setup, and after a night pitched up in a bit of national forest in south-eastern Utah, I woke up feeling better rested from a night of camping than I had in years. I wasn’t sore and I wasn’t tired; it genuinely felt like I had been sleeping on a cloud. It was then that I realized what hammock camping should really be called: comfortable camping.
Though cyclist tourists and bikepackers often raise an eyebrow when they first hear the word 'hammock', the truth is that hammock camping has come a long way to being a true tent alternative. Weights are competitive with anything but the most ultralight tents, setup is straightforward, and with an integrated insect netting and full-coverage rainfly, bug- and weather-proofness are both outstanding. Yes, you need trees to make it work, but outside of steppes, deserts or alpine environments, it’s a more than viable option. And because it doesn’t require flat or level surfaces for a comfortable pitch, a hammock can actually work better than a tent in many places.
All of which brings us to the Warbonnet Blackbird. Warbonnet Outdoors is a small outfit that handmakes all of their gear—including hammocks, tarps and quilts—in their workshop in Evergreen, Colorado. They offer five different hammock models, but it’s their original Blackbird (and its larger sibling, the Blackbird XLC) hammock tents that made the company famous.
|Blackbird XLC||1 lb 5.75 oz|
|Double Layer Blackbird (lightweight)||1 lb 5.75 oz|
|Double Layer Blackbird XLC (lightweight)||1 lb 11.75 oz|
|Double Layer Blackbird (heavyweight)||1 lb 11.75 oz|
|Double Layer Blackbird XLC (heavyweight)||2 lb 1.75 oz|
A classic end-gathered style hammock, the Blackbird features an asymmetrical design that allows the user to lay diagonally across it, with extra room for the head on one side and a roomy footbox on the other. This means that users can lay completely flat inside the hammock, rather than in a banana shape, reducing strain on knees and neck and even allowing comfortable side-sleeping. (If you’re a dedicated stomach sleeper sorry - a hammock probably isn’t for you.)
Both the Blackbird (designed for people up to 6’) and the Blackbird XLC (for people up to 6’6”) come in three different variations. There’s a single-layer version and heavyweight double-layer version (both made entirely of 70D or 40D ripstop fabric), as well as a lightweight double-layer version with a 20D interior and a 70D or 40D exterior. The single, lightweight double and heavyweight double are comfort-rated to a weight limit of 250, 275 and 400 lbs respectively, and are available in a wide range of colors (including camo, ooh la la). The double-layer version, in addition to adding robustness, allows you to slip a sleeping pad in between the layers for insulation (comments on the effectiveness of this later). All of the models feature an integrated bugnet for stargazing and to keep biting insects out. This is attached by a full-length zip, and can be folded out of the way and tied back if desired.
Unlike hammock tents from a number of other manufacturers that include a rainfly, suspension and associated stakes and hardware, everything from Warbonnet is a-la-carte. This means that your setup is highly customizable, but can get spendy fast. Suspension options include the lightweight Dynaweave 'whoopie' system, but for most users, the straightforward webbing-and-buckle system will be easiest. As for tarps to keep the rain off, you’re spoilt for choice. There are seven different models ranging from good coverage (the 'Minifly') to total down-to-the-ground coverage (the 'Superfly'). And if you want the full luxury experience, Warbonnet sells both full-length and ¾-length down underquilts for insulation, with temperature ratings ranging from 40F/5C all the way down to 0F/-17C (and below!).
Before ordering, I contacted Warbonnet directly to get advice on choosing a hammock. As a side-sleeper who is 6’ tall and 210 lbs, I was advised that the best choice would be a Lightweight Double-Layer Blackbird XLC, which I ordered in a stealthy dark foliage green fabric.
Over almost two years of frequent use, the Blackbird has become my first-choice shelter for hiking and car camping, as well as bikepacking, where it packs down to about 30% larger than a 1.5L Nalgene bottle, and lives packed lengthwise across the bottom of my Wald 139 basket.
Setup is the first hurdle in getting a comfortable pitch, and has a significantly steeper learning curve than the average tent. It helps to watch a few videos to get a sense for how it goes, and you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time for trial and error the first few times you set it up. After you’ve pitched it a few times, though—finding trees an appropriate width apart, attaching the straps at the right height and tensioning them to just the right level—you’ll start to see prospective pitches everywhere.
As for liveability, it’s hard to overstate just how roomy the Blackbird is. There’s simply a massive amount of space to lounge, stretch and turn in—better than any of the three conventional tents I own. Similarly, though internal storage space for gear is often a pain point for hammocks, the Blackbird is designed with a massive storage shelf that will happily swallow up a book, water bottle, headlamp, spare clothes and more. As a downside, it’s not possible to fully sit up beneath the integrated bug netting (though it gets pretty close), meaning that changing clothes inside the hammock can be a bit of a chore.
The sleeping experience is what most distinguishes a night in the 'mock, of course, and that’s where the Blackbird shines. Both back sleeping (lying diagonally) and side sleeping (best in a fetal position) are incredibly comfortable. During a night in the hammock I find that I sleep more deeply, wake less often, and experience minimal to no discomfort from pressure points or numbness. On a less clinical note, lying there weightlessly cradled as you stare up at the stars above is utterly magical, and it is impossible to recommend it highly enough.
Insulation is, of course, often cited as the Achilles’ heel of hammocking, and it’s true that with the air circulating under you, you’ll likely get a cold back at temperatures lower than about 15C / 60F. It’s possible to mitigate this with a heavyweight bag—my Feathered Friends Flicker 20F quilt will keep me cozy in the Blackbird down to about 10C / 50F—and depending on where you live, this may be enough for three-season use. When the mercury really drops, however, you’ll need something more. I’ve slept many nights at or below freezing (down to about -5C) with my Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm sandwiched between the layers of the Blackbird, and though it’s true that the mat does shift around beneath you, I’ve remained toasty and comfortable. If keeping the mat underneath you proves too taxing, an underquilt works a treat, though it’s another additional purchase on top of an already spendy setup.
If it isn’t already abundantly clear, I love hammocking. I will extol its merits to people at parties or strangers on the street, simply because it’s so damn comfortable. The Warbonnet Blackbird I’ve been using for the last couple of years is the Rolls Royce of the hammock-camping world: very well made, luxuriously comfortable, and notably expensive. Its versatility and light weight make it an easy first choice for almost any environment, and it’s my go-to shelter for bikepacking. If you’re not already sold on the benefits of hammock camping, it’s worth trying it out for a few nights before taking the plunge. If you’re already a convert to the cult, however, and can afford the hefty price tag, the Blackbird is an easy recommendation.
Get the Blackbird here for $175 USD.
|Supremely comfortable and roomy|
|Great storage shelf|
|Total system gets expensive quickly|
|Steep setup learning curve|