If you're looking for proper protection and versatility in a lightweight package, the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Classic is a fantastic option. It was one of the few hammocks in our review that comes with a rain fly and suspension without an additional upgrade. The only other models with this feature are the REI Flash Air, ENO Sublink, and the Hennessy Expedition Asym, which is a heavier, burlier version of the Classic. The Ultralite Backpacker is a well-executed marriage of lightweight materials, solid construction, and backcountry-ready features. It is the lightest shelter we tested by a full 10 ounces!
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
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. The position and comfort are very similar to the Editors' Choice, Warbonnet Blackbird. But because the Hennessy is both narrower and shorter, 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.
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. The shelters from Warbonnet are both a little more comfortable than the Hennessy Ultralite but this is because the Blackbird has more fabric and a foot box and the Ridgerunner has spreader bars. Therefore both Warbonnet models are significantly heavier.
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 an 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 shelter, the Warbonnet Blackbird provides a little more comfort and offers a little more protection from the rain but is a full 10 ounces heavier.
Yes, it seems impressive that the Sub6 and the Sea to Summit Ultralight barely register on the scale at 5.7 and 5.8 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, the weight comes to a full 42 oz, 10 oz 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.
We tested the Sea to Summit Pro as part of a system we put together with other Sea to Summit accessories that consisted of the hammock, ultralight suspension, a bug net, and a rain fly. But even considering the hammock part of that package only weighs 16 ounces, the whole bundle weighs 42 ounces — considerably more than the Hennessy Ultralite. We like the versatility of the Sea to Summit package, it has a larger fly, and allows you to leave pieces behind. But if you know that you will always want your bug net and prefer a roomier diagonal lay, the Hennessy is a better purchase.
Durability and Protection
The Ultralite Backpacker offers pretty outstanding protection for an ultralight model. Correction — it offers outstanding protection, period. The ultralight part is a bonus. Right out of the bag you are equipped for bugs and rain with a bag barely over two pounds. Pretty impressive.
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 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. Another option for those who want a bit more protection from the elements are both Warbonnet models. We also found the tarps from Sea to Summit and ENO to have more coverage than this one.
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.
Hanging the Hennessy is not rocket science, but if you are looking for the most user-friendly, no-fuss pitch from a lightweight hammock shelter, the ENO Sublink or Sea to Summit Pro systems don't require any learning.
We tested one other accessory from Hennessy that we found helpful in setting up: the SnakeSkins. Like the longer tree straps, they are an upgrade that is free when ordering directly. 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 is a very 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, though if you're looking for a complete system with more versatility, check out the Sea to Summit Pro and accessories, which we awarded Top Pick for Ultralight Versatility.
This hammock is best for people who plan to go on extended backpacking trips where comfort, protection from the elements, and weight are all important issues. The Backpacker is a great setup for the serious camper who wants to ditch the weight of a tent yet still be covered for weather unknowns.
At $ 220, this hammock is a bit of an investment over a basic day use model. But, then again, the suspension, bug net, and rain fly are all included, it's very comfortable, and it's reasonably priced. We considered all of this and awarded the Hennessy Ultralite the Best Buy for Backcountry Shelter.
For smaller folks, the REI Flash Air is only $180 and includes everything that this model does but is much simpler to set up. Unfortunately, it's not very comfortable for anyone of average height or taller.
The 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
If you don't need to go ultralight and want a bit burlier setup, the Hennessy Expedition Asym Zip is almost identical to the Ultralite Backpacker but offers more room and a $70 cheaper price tag.
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.
Videos from Hennessy
We found the video of how to tie the lashing extremely helpful.
And the instructions for hanging the hammock gave some excellent tips for getting the most comfort and protection.
— Elizabeth Paashaus and Penney Garrett