Apologies to the hammock, the "old mother" who embraces and comforts
May 20, 2016 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Chris Columbus "discovered" the hammock just as he "discovered" the Americas, being the first European to kick off the flood of "new world" explorers, a number of whom commented on the hanging woven net beds they saw. They brought the design back to Europe, as they took cotton, canvas and other cloths to the Americas, where they were quickly adopted by sailors and navies, with some innovative designs. Today there are a myriad of variations (slideshow) on the simple little sling that has survived for more than 1,000 years, used as a bed, birthing table, cradle, sofa -- even as a final resting place.

Hammocks were used briefly in prisons (Google books preview), until prisoners realized they could utilize pieces as weapons. Hammocks made the life of the sailor safer, and they were used through World War II, and as seen there, are durable enough that some remain to this day, with ongoing repairs. Speaking of repairs, maintaining your hammock was a break from the usual Navy chores, called Rope Yarn Sunday. Apparently hammocks were used up to the Korean War in US Navy vessels, when the Navy shifted over to bunks or racks.

Hammocks aren't just for tropical climates, ships, and porches of the well-to-do (Google books preview), they also provide a way to pack light when camping. Whatever your use, you can make your own hammock, with five other designs collected on Bob Vila's website, and tips on making a hammock for backpacking.

If you want to read more history, poetry and musing on the humble hammock, here's HAMMOCK VARIATIONS, Essays, Poems, Proverbs, Travelers' Tales, and a Film About God's Own Bed by James J. Bogan.
posted by filthy light thief (32 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Lastly: hammock lore and history, and the optimal lying position (diagonal, not length-wise).

Here's an unnecessary video: The History of the Hammock presented by Hammock Town, which I link here only to provide you YouTube's rabbit hole of related videos, currently including Bedroll & Haversack Camping in the 1800s: #5 Hammocks, Winterizing the Hammock for the Common Man, and Minus 40ºF Hammock Backpack Trip in Ely, Minnesota.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:05 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Inspired by daisystomper's suggestion in the Futon thread, the third bed-type post yesterday (#1: What Ever Happened to Waterbeds?, and #2: Have we hit peak mattress?), which I dubbed happy nappy day.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:09 AM on May 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

You know those wind up things they had on baby swings to keep them tick-tocking along while mom or dad did something elsewhere? I want one of those for my hammock hangs.

Great post by the way, I'm debating making a hammock/tarp combo my go to for camping and have really enjoyed lurking on the hammock camping subreddit. Between that and the make your own gear subreddit there's some really cool inspiration for that sort of thing. I did actually go so far as to get a cheap ENO hammock from REI during their last members-only clearance sale but haven't hung it yet. That reminds me, I need to look into hanging hardware...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nice post!

I'm a big lover of hammocks and own several for various purposes. One for my porch, one in my back yard (on a stand), and a small one that I bring car camping, not to sleep in, but just to hang out in during the day. I haven't taken one backpacking because I find there are very few places in the New England back country where they're practical.

We also have a Cobble Mountain Hanging Chair, which our friends refer to as the "heaven chair" because sitting in it is like floating on a cloud, which I guess is where heaven is. It's probably the greatest chair ever made.

There's about an 99% chance I will be relaxing on rope at some point this weekend.
posted by bondcliff at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was just thinking yesterday about hammocks for a couple of reasons.

1) I have no idea why I don't have one and I'm probably going to open an AskMe about what kind I should get for my particular backyard situation.

2) I realized the Business Hammock/Hammock District bit from The Simpsons is basically the "Who's On First?" of my lifetime and I will probably never enjoy a comedy bit more than it and I'm okay with that.

Hank Scorpio: Uh, hi, Homer. What can I do for you?
Homer: Sir, I need to know where I can get some business hammocks.
Hank Scorpio: Hammocks? My goodness, what an idea. Why didn't I think of that? Hammocks! Homer, there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut, that's on third.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Hank Scorpio: There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.
Homer: Mm-Hmm.
Hank Scorpio: That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on third.
Homer: Oh, the hammock district!
Hank Scorpio: That's right.

Hank Scorpio: Back to the hammocks, my friend. You know, there's a little place called Mary Ann's Hammocks. The nice thing about that place is Mary Ann gets in the hammock with you.
Hank Scorpio: I'm just kidding.
Homer: Oh.
Hank Scorpio: You know who invented the hammock, Homer?
Homer: No.
Hank Scorpio: There's something for you to do: find that out.

And now I DO know who invented the hammock.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:21 AM on May 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Nappy day? Naps and nappies are completely different things.

And now I'm off to go figure out a hammock plan for my deck.
posted by mattamatic at 8:24 AM on May 20, 2016

Obligatory Simpsons
posted by fings at 8:25 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, there was a hammock out in the back yard hanging from the tree. I spent a lot of time sitting in that thing reading during the summer. Nowadays I occasionally see people chilling in the park or on one of the wider medians in a hammock slung between a couple of trees.

I think I need a hammock in my life again.
posted by egypturnash at 8:28 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

And now I DO know who invented the hammock.

Happy to help. Now I want to know who invented the "hamack tree", as mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Hammocks (which also notes there's a Festival of Hammocks in the municipality of Conception Quezaltepeque in El Salvador). Perhaps it is from some confusion around or relation to the term hammock referring to an "island" of hardwood trees surrounded by wetlands.

With nothing more to add, I'll share this image of a large bear in a very sturdy hammock.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:54 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's a history story about hammocks:

In the mid-late sixties, there seems to have been a movement to get navies to rid themselves of the hammock. Up to that point, sailors inhabited combines living/sleeping spaces. During the day, tables would be set up in various ways, and at night hammocks would be suspended from the deckhead (ceiling) much as they had been since the days of the gun deck and the wooden ship.

This was, in the eyes of a lot of observers, a hopelessly primitive way of living. It would be much better if proper modern technology could be introduced, and the sailors allowed to sleep in bunks like civilised people.

I've heard several accounts, from sailors serving at the time, about how they strenuously objected to this 'reform'. The reformers, in turn, held up these objections as classic examples of how hidebound traditionalists were standing in the way of progress for no better reason than 'it's always been that way'.

Thing is, the sailors weren't (just) objecting to the loss of traditional folkways. In stormy weather, a hammock would swing with the roll of the ship, giving the sleeper a relatively stable and comfortable night. Someone confined to a bunk, meanwhile, would be tossed around mercilessly, sometimes ejected onto the deck. Only landsmen, those unused to getting in and out of a hammock, would prefer a bunk to the better adapted technology of the hammock.

I study the history of Cold War navies and have heard this story in a number of contexts and from a number of different people, but I've never had time to explore it properly. I think it's really fascinating, though, because it's almost a perfect little object lesson in how people from the twentieth century saw technological progress and people in general can misunderstand the reason for traditional practices.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:59 AM on May 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Thanks! I was trying to pin down when Navies shifted away from hammocks and back to bunks (which were used before hammocks, so hammocks actually represented "new" methods, replacing the bunks of old for exactly the reasons you mentioned).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2016

Hammock is one of the few English words derived from the Taíno language, along with barbecue.

So sadly, we owe the pleasure of lying in our hammocks and watching our barbecues to the rapid slaughter and enslavement of a whole people by Columbus and his pals.
posted by mubba at 9:22 AM on May 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

If there are serious historians of the hammock here, can somebody explain what this hammock-like thing in the Luttrell Psalter is? It has intrigued me for years.
posted by Emma May Smith at 9:37 AM on May 20, 2016

Did I overlook it, or did you not link to Hammock Forums? They're lovely people there, and very passionate. They answer the questions of noobs, and share long discussions about lore. They have SO MANY designs for DYI projects, from hammocks themselves to under quilts, top quilts, tarps, hammock stands (Turtle Lady, Turtle Dog, tensegrity, packable, etc.), bugnets (Fronkey and otherwise), bishop bags, snakeskins, and tons of related things. There's also discussions on how to hang your hammock. We all agree that straps are better than ropes, and nylon straps stretch so use polyester webbing (mnemonic: "we Prefer Poly, and say 'No' to Nylon").

Hammocks are hot, baby! Lots of Boy Scouts are converting from sleeping in tents to using hammocks. I have one in my car truck and another at home, and all my kids have one: I rigged poles and posts around the yard so they can hang out all summer long in the shade.

REI sells the very approachable ENO line, but consider spending the same money on a home-based vendor, referred to as a "cottage vendor," for better designs made with better materials. There are a lot of them out there to chose from. (PM me for names, if you are curious.)

And don't forget Shug Emery's hammock videos: fun, smart, and useful. "HOOOOO, good buddy!"
posted by wenestvedt at 9:41 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Emma May Smith, that looks like it really is a hammock, hung from a marlinspike hitch at either end.

Consider that hammocks are cheap, often made from a sheet of fabric gathered together at the ends with a rope, and don't require a lot of carpentry like a bed frame does -- nor are there rushes to replace. Perfect for a lowly scribe!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anyone interested in the state of hammock camping (and "suspended leisure" in general) would do well to check out the blog the Derek Hansen maintains at theultimatehang.com. Lots of short pieces, plus drawings right out of his very good book.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:47 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

wenestvedt: Did I overlook it, or did you not link to Hammock Forums?

The "with some innovative designs" link above the break goes to a Hammock Forums thread, but I didn't call out the site more than that. Thanks for calling them out more specifically.

Nappy day? Naps and nappies are completely different things.

I often think in rhyming words, or make words rhyme, but I'm sure there's a better catch-all phrase for bed-related objects.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hammocks are one of those things were it is worth it skipping the more affordable starter models and going in for a good one.

A cheap hammock (too small to comfortably lie down perpendicular to the hammocks axis, a low thread count that leaves huge holes and concentrates pressure in a grid on your skin, thick scratchy threads) sucks, and will make you hate hammocks forever.

A proper hammock will leave no marks on your skin, is tightly woven enough that bugs will have trouble reaching your skin, but you get good ventilation, and large enough to allow at least two people to have comfortable sexy times in many positions.

I used to hitchhike and camp all over southern Mexico and central America with such a hammock. It was my most expensive possession, but paid for itself after the first night of peaceful sleep between two trees when everyone else was trying to sleep in their sleeping bags and tents on muddy rocky ground.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Holy cats, I love hammocks. It's my lunchtime, and now I am going to spend it hanging out in a hammock, like I did the other day: next to the Providence River, feet up, in the shade with a book.

(That hammock is a purple Hammeck Breezy. Hammeck is one of those small cottage manufacturers; they recently suspended sales, which is sad; I hope they come back. That hammock came with a double-ended stuff sack, 1" nylon straps with cinch buckles, and a static ridgeline. And yes, there is a whole world of hammock-y crouton-petting if that's what you're into.)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:02 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

My partner brought home a $20 hammock from Guyana. It's hung in the shade of our fig tree. Our life has not been the same since. I highly recommend it to anyone on the fence about a backyard hammock.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

So when the navy moved from hammocks to bunks, I assume that the rolling was a problem. But with how large ships are these days, was it? How much do ships really roll? My guess is that modern navel ships are large enough to not have that be a problem.
posted by rebent at 10:55 AM on May 20, 2016

I was on a missile submarine, which is hardly the biggest ship the Navy has to offer, but my experience was in Sea State 8+ In the northern pacific. At cruising depth we felt only the gentlest of rocking, but every time we came up to periscope depth it grew so violent that unstowed gear would end up everywhere and yes, a few unfortunate sailors ended up dumped out of their bunks.

Submarines are designed for submerged ops and sea-keeping is hardly as important, but from the few surface folks I knew this was comparable to life on top. Aircraft carriers are better, but not immune (See here) and as for cruisers or frigates I've heard tales of rolling greater than 50 degrees where walls briefly became floors and guys genuinely feared capsizing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:29 AM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

My guess is that modern navel ships are large enough to not have that be a problem.

You're being paged by the heavy seas subreddit. Some of that stuff is truly terrifying and I pity the sailors that must be cowering below decks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

When we used to do our vacations in the Riviera Maya/Yucatan, any good Mexican tourist hotel (versus international tourist hotels) had hammock hooks in the walls and usually a hammock in the closet or you could get them at the front desk. On a hot night, the hammock was far more comfortable than the bed, though we could not get the hang of sharing one.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2016

This is my living room right now. I do not have the level of Hammock Knowledge that other people in this thread seem to have - I just bought this travel hammock because it was $50 at the time and I figured I could take it to the beach and the park. I am now obsessed with it. (It bows too much for comfortable sleeping though.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:13 PM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just started camping with a hammock a few months ago, and once I learned the secret (lay on the diagonal!) I've become a massive fan. I was never a huge fan of hammocks before, you know the typical rope-netting/wood spreader type. They were nice for a few minutes but I could never really get comfortable in the way that the hammock lifestyle seemed to promise. Doing some research, and there is a dizzying amount of info and options on hammocks out there, led me to learn a couple of truths for consistent, amazing comfort.
- Cheap hammocks are too short for me (5'10") Anything under 10' compromises comfort.
- Getting the right 'hang' was a pain, until I used a structural ridgeline (~83% of the length of the hammock). Now everytime I hang the hammock, it has the right amount of sag for me to stretch out comfortably. Here's a photo of a hammock with a ridgeline.
- If you're going to sleep in one outside and it's less than 70 degrees, you need insulation on the bottom, underquilt or pad or something. I use a cheap closed cell ridgerest pad that I cut down a little.

I am now more comfortable sleeping in camp than in my own bed. I also have it hung up in my back yard and spend more time out there than on my couch. I'm really really tempted to put hooks in my living room to I can hang indoors too, but I don't know if Mrs. Gofargogo will be happy about that. There are only two drawbacks I've found to cracking the hammock code, first there's no decent way to cuddle, second it's really hard to not become some over enthusiastic evangelist for all things hammock.
posted by gofargogo at 4:12 PM on May 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

In my old house I had both indoor and outdoor hammocks, but where I am living now I both can't drill into the walls, and I haven't figured out a way to find the space for a hammock stand. It will be a sad summer without a hammock to nap in.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dip Flash, some folks have used short (4'?) poles at either end with a backstay, when there are no trees. That also means no shade, but perhaps you can rig one from fabric or Tyvek?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:46 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

but I'm sure there's a better catch-all phrase for bed-related objects.

mmm, sleep
posted by infini at 3:51 AM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's a photo I took of a hammock made from a length of split bamboo.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:25 AM on May 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

You don't have to join the Navy to enjoy a hammock on the water.

I tried hammock camping last year and am now a convert. I started with a borrowed ENO setup and ended up making my own hammock, rainfly, and underquilt. The hammockforum DIY section, some ripstop nylon, and a borrowed sewing machine was all I needed to end up with a backpacking sleep system that was lighter and cheaper than anything store bought. The key for comfort for me is length; I am a side sleeper so getting a flat lay requires a longer hammock. Mine is 11' while the ENO is 9'4", it really makes a difference.

If you're looking for a back yard, shade tree hammock, there's a hippy commune in Virginia that makes some of their income from hammock sales. So you can really stick it to the man while having your siesta.

I'd also like to add a word of caution in hanging your hammock, most residential construction is made to carry vertical loads, not horizontal loads. Depending on how you hang your hammock, you can add several times your weight in horizontal shear force. I've heard grumblings from people in my local trail club about damages to railings and ladders in Shenandoah National Park shelters that are thought to be caused by hammocks. And then there's a bummer story in the news a few days ago about a 13 year old killed when a hammock pulled down a masonry pillar on top of her. So be mindful what you hang on.
posted by peeedro at 9:50 AM on May 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yesterday, I saw this post and went down to REI. Today, I am sitting in a hammock strapped to a couple of trees in Ravenna Park, a few blocks from my apartment. I am gently swaying and listening to the wind in the trees, and reading.

Thanks for reminding me of those summers swaying under the tree with a book, Filthy Light Thief!
posted by egypturnash at 4:13 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

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