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Hands-on Gear Review
Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter Review
Cons: Limited durability and protection, cheaper fabric
Bottom line: The Ultralight Starter is a very affordable and easy to use hammock that provides a great entry point to try out hammocking without breaking the bank.
The Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter is an inexpensive introductory hammock, and wins our Best Buy Award for the second time in a row. This simple polyester model is the best option for anyone on a budget or anyone who wants to try out hammock camping without a huge investment. While not an ideal backcountry hammock, for $20 you can't go wrong. It's a full $50 cheaper than any other model in our test and hundreds of dollars cheaper than the expedition packages we tested. If you find yourself falling in love with hanging under the stars in the wilderness, you can always upgrade to something warmer and fancier and still have the Ultralight Starter around for a lightweight camp chair, gear sling, or general warm weather companion.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Hammock camping is a great way to experience the outdoors in a totally new way, and the Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter can help make that a reality for a mere $20. What better way to indulge your curiosity for lounging and sleeping up off the ground than with something fun and simple that won't break the bank? Weighing only 12 ounces, this hammock is also a viable option for ultralight backpackers, though most may prefer the lighter weight and increased durability of the Grand Trunk Nano 7 instead.
The Ultralight Starter is 9'6" long by 4'6" wide, which is a bit larger than many ultralight hammocks. Most of our testers found it to be a nice width — wide enough to get cozy but not so wide as to have a ton of excess fabric. The polyester fabric was, however, quite slippery and not as comfortable as some of the other fabrics we encountered. It's not quite as soft to the touch as parachute nylon, and some may prefer to upgrade to the ENO Reactor or the Grand Trunk OneMade Double TrunkTech because of this. That said, for how bare bones and simplistic the Ultralight Starter is, we were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable we could get in it. Adding a sleeping pad and bag made it even more comfy.
Those curious about starting hammock camping will get an idea of what it is like at a low cost in the Ultralight Starter. Also, if you are a backcountry expert that can sleep just about anywhere, this model will offers an extremely lightweight and very portable sleeping solution that will more than get the job done. The nice thing about this hammock is that it's a tiny investment and, if you decide to upgrade to a fancier model later, this one can still be used as a camp chair, gear sling, an under-sling to collect condensation, or any number of other creative uses.
While this definitely wasn't the coziest hammock in our test, it also wasn't uncomfortable by any means. We found it more comfortable than the Nano 7 and about on par with the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip and the ENO SubLink Shelter System. All in all, we were pleased and more comfortable than we thought we would be for $20.
As the name implies, the Ultralight Starter is a very lightweight hammock, weighing just 12 ounces including the S-hook hangers. While the Nano 7 is substantially lighter at 7.5 ounces, and the Sub7 is only 6.4 ounces, we feel the value of the Ultralight Starter helps offset the small amount of additional weight. It also has 6 to 7 inches more width and length than the Nano 7 and the Sub7, which gives it a slight edge in the comfort department. Of the ultralight models tested, only the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker was bigger, but it was also substantially heavier.
Keep in mind, however, that the Hennessy is the only one of these ultralight models that included a suspension system. This is something you will need to acquire or build for yourself and that system will obviously increase your final weight.
Ease of Set Up
The Ultralight Starter comes with cordelette attached to the ends, but not enough of it to set up without additional gear or a ready-made suspension system. It also comes equipped with lightweight S-hooks, so the hammock can be easily hooked into whatever strap or suspension system you choose. A suspension system is not included, so this is something you will have to buy or make out of your own webbing or rope. If using rope, be prepared to pad the trees with towels, foam, etc. Damaging the bark layer of a tree can kill it quickly. We do not condone suspending any hammock with rope alone.
The small size of the Ultralight Starter fits easily between a variety of trees and anchors, providing more options for set up than some of the larger models we tested. It stuffs easily into the attached stuff sackójust be careful of the sharp edges of the S-hooks so as not to puncture the fabric. Replacing the hooks with lightweight carabiners is a nice option, just be sure they are properly weight-rated.
Durability and Protection
Since polyester is typically not as long-lasting as parachute nylon, one question we had before testing this hammock was whether or not the fabric would hold up to extended use. While we did not find any issues with the stitching or seams failing, there were many users who felt that the material did not hold up to harder camping. The stitching at the gathering points and seams frays easier and faster than other models, though there was no affect on the actual strength and performance of this hammock in the time that we had it.
For someone looking to do more actual camping (as opposed to lounging and napping) we would recommend upgrading to a nylon model that is stronger and more insulated, like the ENO Reactor or an expedition model, like the Warbonnet Blackbird, our Editors' Choice Award winner. If you need to stay lightweight but would like options for variable weather, check out our Top Pick for Ultralight Versatility, the ENO SubLink Shelter System.
The Ultralight Starter is at home on ultralight backpacking trips and as part of a campsite during warm seasons. It is not a great hammock for bugs or difficult weather, and with a low weight capacity of only 200 pounds it is not meant for more than a single person at a time.
As with all small and light hammocks, it can be easily taken on any trip where anchors will be available. We enjoyed taking it on day hikes and rock climbing trips where down time was a given. If, on the other hand, you plan to use your hammock more for camping and sleeping, there are many upgrades or more suitable models available. Check out the ENO Reactor if you want to stick with an open model but need more insulation, the Warbonnet Ridgerunner if you prefer side sleeping and bug protection, or the Hennessy Expedition Asym Zip for a serious backcountry setup. All of these increase substantially in weight and price, however.
Backpackers looking to save weight or campers looking to get started hammock camping on a budget will enjoy the simple setup and great value of the Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter. It will serve you best in fair, clear weather and is recommended for only one adult at a time, as the weight rating isn't very high.
The Grand Trunk Ultralight won our Best Buy Award yet again, as it is an incredible value, at only $20. With such a modest price there is little reason not to take this product along on the next backpacking or camping trip simply to try it out. Do remember, however, that suspension isn't included and an average price for that component from Grand Trunk or another manufacturer is $20-30. So you will be paying as much for the suspension as you paid for the hammock! To avoid this, you can research ways to create your own suspension from webbing and climbing carabiners. Rope can also be used if you don't want to spend any extra money or are in a pinch, but be sure to pad the back side of trees used for anchors so as not to damage them.
A skeptic can try out basic hammock camping with very little investment by trying out this hammock. Eventually it should be upgraded or replaced with a more serious and durable option if you plan to sleep out in varied weather. However upgrading won't make this one obsolete — keep the Ultralight Starter around for backyard lounging, an easy extra camp chair, or as a gear sling to hold your pack while you're sleeping in something else. For $20, what have you got to lose?
— Penney Garrett
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