Dutchware Chameleon Review
Cons: Can get pricey depending on options, ridge-line not removable
Manufacturer: Dutchware Gear
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Dutchware Hammocks began with a Kickstarter campaign and took off with great success in the hammock camping community. We tested it side by side with other popular hammocks to see how it held up and are impressed by its simple-yet-comfortable end-gathered design, its inclusion of all the features a hammocker wants, and the nod to the discerning nature of diehard hammockers who want to select just the features they want and leave the others behind. The Dutchware Chameleon wins our Top Pick for Customizable Hammock because it is a true chameleon, allowing you swap components out to adapt your hammock to your environment. If you're intrigued by the Dutchware Chameleon, we also recommend taking a close look at the Dream Hammock Sparrow, an almost identical hammock that we found performed just as well and had close to the same level of customization available.
The Chameleon is among the most comfortable hammocks we tested. Most essential to comfort in an end-gathered hammock is the size and the Chameleon is one of the two longest we tested, measuring in at 10' 8". It is listed at 11' but we may be measuring from different places. During our testing, all hammocks were measured from the point the fabric ended and the suspension began. We found this length gave us lots of room to maneuver into just the right diagonal position to get very close to flat, so it didn't cramp our feet or heads in the fabric pinch at the ends.
Also very important to the comfort of your 'mock is the width. The Chameleon falls in the middle of the tested models for width at 58" coming in a bit narrower than the slightly more comfortable Warbonnet Blackbird yet significantly wider than the ultralight but not very comfortable models. Dutchware offers a wide version of the Chameleon that boasts an additional 10" in width. We didn't test this model but can't imagine it would be anything but comfier.
The next component that contributes to the comfort of a good overnight end-gathered hammock is the symmetry. Any asymmetric hammock tends to give more room to your feet and head. Dutchware is different here; the hammock itself is symmetrical but the bug net is asymmetrical. We found that when relaxing in it in "chill mode" (no bug net), we could lay either direction equally comfortably, but we noticed the fabric pushes your feet toward the center some just like any other symmetrical end-gathered hammock. When we put the bug net on, the tension of the hammock fabric and netting gave the hammock more of an asymmetric feel, with more spacious foot and head zones. Another model with this same design is the Dream Hammock Sparrow. The added asymmetry makes the Chameleon more comfortable for overnight sleeping than a basic end-gathered model but it didn't have quite the spacious feel that we got from the built-in footbox and headspace in the Warbonnet Blackbird.
Although most of your time in a hammock will be spent lying down, being able to sit up comfortably is a nice benefit. We couldn't sit up without our heads pushing against the netting, but we had the room to awkwardly change clothing and get the sleeping bag all arranged. For a netted hammock that you can sit completely up in, check out the Dream Hammock Sparrow. Its ridgeline length to hammock length ratio gives it the highest ceiling of any model we tested. The only thing we found a bit awkward with this hammock was when using it to lounge or sit in without the bug net, the ridgeline can end up right in your face.
The Chameleon comes with tie-outs that can be easily snapped on or off the sides of the hammock to tie out the sides for added livability. Tying out the head and foot angles of the hammock makes it easier to keep your sleeping bag and pad in place when moving around. When they are not tied out, the loose fabric and netting can brush up against your face. The tie-outs aren't necessary for a comfy sleep and ditching them at home can make pitching your hammock quicker and easier, not to mention, slightly lighter.
Dutchware scored high with a nice lightweight hammock but because the margins are so thin, score alone isn't necessarily the best indicator of how light the hammock is.
To look at weight differences between hammocks we need to make sure we are judging side by side those with similar features and accessories so we are getting a true apples to apples comparison. Here are the weights of the hammocks with bug netting and the suspensions we tested:
- Dream Hammock Sparrow: 26 ounces
- Dutchware Chameleon: 28 ounces
- Warbonnet Blackbird: 26 ounces
- Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker: 22 ounces
- Sea to Summit Pro: 31 ounces
Both the Chameleon and the Blackbird are using the heavier buckle and webbing style buckles. You could cut a couple of ounces by opting for the whoopie sling suspension when purchasing. An advantage that the Chameleon is that the bug net can be completely removed when you don't need it, saving you 5 ounces on the Chameleon.
Ease of Set Up
A hammock that is easy to set up typically means that it has an intuitive and quick suspension system. The Chameleon we tested used a quick-adjust buckle system, and the integrated bug net and ridgeline made the set up of accessories a non-issue.
The customizable nature of the Chameleon allows you to select their Beetle Buckle with webbing suspension (the type we tested), a whoopie sling suspension with tree straps, or no suspension at all if you want to build your own. Dutchware sells 10 types of suspension systems and all kinds of suspension components a la carte so you can always get something different if you later decide you don't like what you have.
We tested the Beetle Buckle suspension. It uses 1" flat webbing an easily adjustable buckle with little hooks on one end that allow you to connect and disconnect the continuous loop on the hammock quickly. The set up is very similar to the webbing and buckle system we tested on the Warbonnet Blackbird except that the Blackbird's suspension was permanently attached. The detached suspension allows you to set the straps in the trees and then connect the hammock, a helpful feature for keeping the hammock off the ground in wet conditions.
The Beetle Buckle has a small hole in the center that is designed to allow you to add a spreader bar between two hammocks so both can hang from the same trees. We didn't test this feature but like the prospect of added versatility.
The integrated ridgeline on the Chameleon is a feature that we find useful for a few reasons. First, if you have left the bug netting connected, setting up the hammock, ridgeline, and netting involves the single step of connecting the hammock to the suspension. Second, you can check to see if you have set your hammock up with optimal tension for comfort by feeling the ridgeline tension when lying inside. The ridgeline should be somewhat taut but not so tight you can't bend it easily with your hand.
Staking out the head and foot angles of the hammock is an extra step that some models don't have. As we mentioned before, it is an optional step, so we feel that rather than it being something that detracts from the ease of set up, it's a bonus feature that you can choose to use for added comfort.
We wish that the Chameleon came with stakes for tying out the sides but we didn't really expect it to since they are geared towards customers who want to choose everything themselves. How would they choose a stake that everyone would love? Dutchware does, however, offer a selection of nine different stakes on their site.
Protection and Durability
The Chameleon's construction and materials gave us no reason to questions its durability. The 1.6 oz fabric we tested is sturdy yet soft to the touch. The titanium buckles are beefy enough to impart confidence and light enough that we didn't think twice about their weight.
As with any lightweight equipment, you'll want to take good care of the hammock and avoid sharp objects. When buying the hammock, you can opt to use a lighter 1.1-ounce fabric or the burlier 2.4-ounce fabric depending on your own priorities around weight and durability.
The zip-in bug netting will keep out all but the most industrious mosquitoes. The way the netting zips to the hammock, a small 1" hole is left at either end, but the hammock makers have protected this hole with a covering sewn into the hammock body itself. A mosquito would need to do some serious route finding to make its way inside with you.
We are a bit skeptical about the durability of the zipper in the Chameleon. It is a plastic toothed zipper that slides very smoothly but is more prone to snagging than a coil zipper. As soon as one tooth gets damaged, it will have to be replaced entirely.
You can add a second body layer onto the hammock. This second layer can give some protection against wind on its own, but the real intended use is as a sleeping pad pocket. Our testers much prefer using sleeping pads in their hammocks when the hammock has a pocket. Otherwise, the pads slip all over the place. For new overnight hammockers who already own a sleeping pad, this second layer of fabric can make starting to hammock camp in cooler weather much less of an investment.
For protection from rain, Dutchware has a selection of ultralight tarps made of both Dyneema and sil-nylon fabrics. We haven't tested these yet but we like that they have designs similar to the beaked Warbonnet Mini Fly that we tested with the Warbonnet Blackbird and Ridgerunner hammocks.
A chameleon adapts to its environment with ease, which explains the naming of this hammock. Dutchware clearly put a lot of priority on creating a versatile hammock that can be used in any scenario.
The fully removable, zip-on bug netting is unique to only the Chameleon and Dream Hammock Sparrow in the models we tested. It has the lighter weight and easier in/out access of zippered netting as compared to the sleeve style netting that are more finicky to get in and out of. It retains the versatility that these sleeve styles offer in that it is completely removable. We love this feature for trips in the early and late season when you don't expect many bugs or if you just want to take your hammock to a slack-lining session at the park.
Another unique feature of the Chameleon is the reversible bug netting. You can opt for a symmetrical bug net if you choose, but we tested the asymmetric option and learned that you can change the lay direction by flipping the netting over. The zippers are double-sided and open on both sides of the hammock and in both directions! For someone who is new to overnight hammocking, deciding which direction you want your head to go before you ever lie in the hammock is like trying to select the most comfortable shoe before trying any on. How would you ever know until you try? The Chameleon lets you change your mind on the head direction as often as you like. This is one difference we found between the Chameleon and the Sparrow; the Sparrow is not reversible and lay direction needs to be selected when purchasing.
Zippers that open up both directions on both sides of the hammock make it easy to get in and out regardless of which way you set up. When using a hammock as your shelter it can be frustrating to walk up to your system after a midnight pee and duck under the tarp just to realize the zipper is on the other side and have to navigate tarp guylines in the dark as you walk around the other side. Don't ask me why I can't remember what side of the hammock I just got out of.
We aren't sure if this is a pro or a con, there is no endpoint for the zippers. This means you have to remember where along the hammock you closed them together. We like that we can choose where the zipper closes and make it close to our heads for easy reach. We realized in the dark, we don't always remember whether we put them at our heads, feet, or in the middle and if we positioned them in the same places on both the right and left side of the hammock. A small glow in the dark pull could solve this problem if it became an issue for you.
Much of the versatility of the Chameleon is in the ordering and the ability to add and subtract components. You can choose to purchase the hammock, bug net, tarp, suspension all separately or you can buy them together. You select fabric weights and colors as you make your online purchase. Only with Dutchware Hammocks are you able to choose from so many options: 2 sizes, 3 fabric weights, 9 solid colors, 31 printed patterns, single or double layer fabric and in which fabric for each, whoopie sling or webbing with buckle suspension, type of bug net, top cover for cold weather, integrated sidecar pockets, and a whole variety of other accessories. It can be hard to make all these decisions if you are new to hammocking but for the discerning hammocker, being able to customize your hammock to this extent is a luxury one doesn't often find.
We feel that although the Dutchware Chameleon isn't cheap, at around $200 for the hammock, netting, and suspension, it holds enormous value. Because of its versatility and the fact that you can buy exactly the components you find useful, it can truly be the only hammock you need. A tarp can be added on from Dutchware or many other brands for whatever price suits your budget.
If you are on a tight budget you can purchase a Chameleon without the netting and add a cheap tarp until your funds are in place to upgrade. Because the comfort of the hammock is the most important thing to get dialed in we like the idea of spending the money on the right hammock, and skimping on the accessories if you need to cut costs.
If you are looking for a suspended backcountry shelter but are too, shall we say discerning, to accept the features chosen by anyone other than your superior mind, the Chameleon is sure to please. A hammocking connoisseur's dream, the ultra customizable Dutchware Chameleon hits the sweet spot for features, comfort, and versatility.
— Elizabeth Paashaus