Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Classic Review
Cons: More complicated to set up, bug net isn't removable, smaller tarp
Manufacturer: Hennessy Hammock
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
Be prepared for almost anything the weather or terrain throws at you with the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker. Solid construction and a unique asymmetrical design mean better durability and more comfort than we saw with any other ultralight model.
The Ultralite Backpacker is not the most comfortable option we tested, but it holds its own and is still more comfortable than the larger, heavier end-gathered day models we tested.
At first, we didn't think this hammock was particularly comfortable. But each time we pitched it, we learned more about how to properly adjust the hammock and our bodies for maximum comfort. There's a very specific way to set up and lay in Hennessy hammocks — to the point that the back of the bag has detailed instructions printed on it. This can be a bit frustrating at first, but if you stick with it, we feel confident that you will find the sweet spot and be able to get quite cozy in this impressive expedition model.
As with other asymmetric end-gathered hammocks, we can achieve a reasonably flat position in the Hennessy. Even though the Hennessy Ultralite is narrower than many similarly designed models, our testers had enough room to sleep on their backs, sides, or even curled up in the fetal position without feeling confined by the nylon. Because the Hennessy is also shorter than some models that ranked a bit higher in comfort, the sweet spot is a little more elusive. It is designed to fit users up to 6', but Hennessy has a variety of models of varying heights to accommodate taller folks. Users over 5'9" might be better served by one of their longer models.
We tested two different versions of this model — the Classic, which has a unique bottom entry, and the Zip which opens like most hammocks, via a zipper on the side.
Entering the bottom of a hammock feels weird at first. It's like climbing into your bed by going up through the bottom of the covers, but the more we tried it, the more convenient we found it. You simply walk up to the end of your hammock, duck into the opening, then turn around and sit down. When you lift your legs, the opening closes on its own. But, there is a big but.
The velcro that holds the entry closed drove us bonkers! It snagged our pants and caught on any soft material we put into the hammock, not to mention the sound of getting in and out of your hammock. We aren't saying zippers operate silently, but velcro is like a bull horn announcing your entry and exit to every camper in the area. So, as much as we liked entering the bottom, we couldn't deal with the velcro. We didn't try it but think that the entry would stay closed just fine if you removed the velcro. So if a bottom entry is your dream, maybe you could try removing it, just keep the velcro in case you need to stitch it back on if you find your legs falling out in the middle of the night.
The zippered entry is pretty standard, allowing you to enter the hammock from the side, as with pretty much every other hammock with integrated bug netting. We didn't find much of a difference in comfort between the two models except that the calf ridge, the spot where the fabric tension sometimes pulls a tight area under your calves, may have been a bit more pronounced in the bottom entry model.
As much as we like the mechanics of bottom entry and not needing to close anything, we recommend the zippered entry to get away from the loud, fabric-damaging velcro.
If weight is your top concern and you want a full shelter, none we tested is better than this Hennessy. The Ultralite Backpacker weighs 22 ounces on its own and 33 ounces for the whole package with the rain fly. This is lighter than all of the full shelters we tested and even lighter than some of the hammocks alone. Our next lightest shelters offer a little more protection from the rain but are a good deal heavier.
Yes, it seems impressive that some of the tiniest models barely register on the scale at under 6 ounces, but realize that this does not include straps for hanging and does not provide anything for bugs or rain. Once you add all of that in, their system weights come in significantly heavier than the Hennessy Ultralite. Those hammocks are great to throw in your back pocket for an impromptu lounge, but for real camping in variable conditions and terrain, this is a much better lightweight buy.
Durability and Protection
The Ultralite Backpacker offers pretty outstanding protection for an ultralight model. We feel more confident in the nylon material this hammock is made of than that of other ultralight hammocks we tested. Hennessy made this shelter both ultralight and durable by reducing the amount of fabric found in many hammocks. The asymmetric design cuts out the excess, and the smaller tarp also shaves ounces.
The rain fly included with the Hennessy Ultralight feels small. Its diamond shape barely covers the hammock with fairly small margins. However, the way it attaches and moves with the hammock provides more protection than we expected. The fly is actually tensioned on the same cord that the hammock hangs on, which means if you swing, the fly swings with you.
Hennessy even came up with an innovative idea to increase your protection in bad weather and overcome the tarp stretch that all sil-nylon tarps suffer when wet. Included with the hammock shelter are two rain catchment funnels. They screw on to a standard water bottle or soft water bottle like Platypus then hang from the corners of the rain fly. When it rains, and you need additional protection, the water runs down the rainfly and into the bottles. The weight holds the rain fly taut even as it stretches and pulls it down to shelter you better from blowing rain. In the morning you have fresh water to drink! How creative is that?! We tested it on a rainy night and, in the morning, found one full water bottle on the windward side and a partial bottle on the other side.
Hennessy offers larger rain fly upgrades for an additional cost if you aren't comfortable with the minimal fly or know that you will be sleeping in wet, windy conditions regularly.
Ease of Set Up
This hammock has a noticeably steeper learning curve than pretty much any other models we tested, and it took us longer to get pitched and get comfortable. But for those that don't mind a little practice and enjoy the process of tweaking their rig, this is an excellent hammock in all respects.
The one place this hammock struggles a bit compared to the other models is with its ease of setup. In some respects, this seems unfair because, after a bit of practice, this system is really as easy to set up as any other. But the initial learning curve and the amount of tweaking it takes to learn how to lay is mildly frustrating.
The lashing can be fiddly, and it's hard to hold the tension on the thin rope when tying it. The Hennessy is best pitched tautly, and, because the cord holding it is only around 4mm, it can dig into your hands when you are trying to keep it tight. Getting the lashing tied can be even more difficult, and when it is above our heads, our arms get tired as we lash it four times over as recommended.
If you purchase this hammock we highly recommend spending some time watching videos and practicing in your backyard before going out for an extended trip. The instructions on the back are difficult to understand, but the videos on Hennessy's website are extremely helpful. We include links to some below. If you find yourself at the end of a long day trying to set up this hammock in the dark for the first time we can pretty much guarantee a swear word or seven will be uttered.
One annoyance is that the rain fly is asymmetrical, just like the hammock, and needs to match the shape when it's pitched. There is no sort of color-coding to help guide this process, so it's an eye-balling process. We recommend somehow marking the corners that align with the hammock to make this process much easier.
We tested one other accessory from Hennessy that we found helpful in setting up: the SnakeSkins. They are two long waterproof nylon tubes that you keep on the ends of the hammock or just rainfly.
When stuffed, your hammock takes on the appearance of a pet boa constrictor in your pack. You can hang the entire shelter without removing the SnakeSkins, meaning everything stays clean and dry on wet, muddy sites. When storing only your tarp, the snakeskins prevent a wet morning dew from soaking everything in your pack and allow you to pitch the tarp first, giving you a dry place to get set up when it's raining.
Considering you are protected from insects and weather and also able to remain lightweight, this could be considered a versatile hammock. However, a few things bring the Ultralite Backpacker down in our ratings. The tree straps included with the hammock are quite short (42") which will fit trees up to 12" in diameter, so if all you have around you are large trees, you will have a problem. The straps can be upgraded to 72" or 96" for free, which we recommend, but you need to order directly from Hennessy to get this option. The rain fly is also a bit on the small side, and we saw a theme with other reviews online in which people expressed frustration about this. The rain fly is also a parallelogram, effectively restricting it to being used one way (matched up with the hammocks asymmetrical body).
With the zippered entry version, you can roll the bug netting up to the ridgeline, but you can't get it entirely out of your way to be able to hang out around camp without netting around you. In the bottom entry model, there is no way to pull any of the netting off to the side as it is sewn in all the way around. Still, the fact that both of these features are included at all is a huge plus, and something we appreciate.
This hammock is a bit of an investment over a basic day use model. But, then again, the suspension, bug net, and rainfly are all included, it's very comfortable, and it's reasonably priced. For an ultralight full shelter hammock that rates high in comfort, we couldn't find a better price.
If you don't need to go ultralight, the the Hennessy Expedition is almost identical to the Ultralite Backpacker but offers a significantly cheaper price tag for an added 10 ounces.
The Ultralight Backpacker takes some time and patience to learn how to set up and get comfortable in, but once you do, we think you'll be happy with this purchase. It's the lightest weight full system we tested and includes everything you need to get started on serious hiking and camping adventures in the backcountry.
Other Versions and Accessories
For taller or shorter people, they offer many size options. See a comparison on Hennessy's website.
All of Hennessy's Jungle Series hammocks have a double layer bottom and are bigger.Insulation pads, underpads, under covers, and over covers are all available from Hennessy to help you further insulate your setup for colder weather conditions.
— Elizabeth Paashaus and Penney Garrett