Adventure Racing

"The hammock was fabulous.... In that jungle setting it provided all the safety and comfort required. I managed to stay well ventilated — actually cool — and could even spread my clothes out inside to dry them. ...I'd race with it again any day." Jenny Hadfield of Team Synterra

Recommended for the Fiji Eco Challenge

Since Borneo, Tom has continued to shave weight off the hammocks, trying to break the one pound barrier for a complete shelter system. The result was the new 15 oz. Adventure Racer. Tom travelled to Nadi, Fiji before the race to personally deliver last-minute orders of the new 15 oz. Adventure Racer A-sym and to demonstrate the new fast and easy set-up system incorporating "SnakeSkins".

When the word got around that there were extra 15 oz. Adventure Racer hammocks available at the pre-race orientation, they went fast. Racers thanked him for incorporating their suggestions from Borneo into the new product and set off into the impenetrable jungle with Hennessy Hammocks tucked into their ultralight packs!


Hennessy Hammocks chosen for OLN Global Extremes Adventure Race

The revolutionary features and the light weight of Hennessy jungle hammocks made them a natural choice for the Costa Rican jungle segment of the Global Extremes Mt. Everest Challenge. There were three teams and 12 racers for this portion and each team had its own team color hammock rainfly.

Recommended for Borneo EcoChallenge

Scott Flavelle, EcoChallenge's technical advisor, discovered the great features of Hennessy Hammocks during his pre-race planning trip to Borneo. Hennessy Hammocks were recommended by name for all participants, staff, and press for comfort and protection in the leech- and disease-infested Borneo jungle. Those that used it, loved it. Those that only took two for their team said that they should have taken four. Many of those that didn't take Hennessy Hammocks said that they wished they had used them. The Original saved the day for many participants.

Tom travelled to Saba, Borneo to debrief hammock users as they came off the trail. They said the 36oz. hammocks worked great but could they be any lighter or smaller? Tom showed them prototypes of the Extreme Light Racer, which weighed 22 oz. and were given as prizes to the top three winning teams for the Borneo race.



Dear Tom - Let me start by telling you what a joy your product is. If you remember, I met you in Borneo at the EcoChallenge. Having your hammock was one of the best pieces of gear we carried during the race. Quick to set up, quick to take down. With all of the nasties that lurk in the jungles of Borneo your hammock provided a wonderland of comfort, protection and dryness. The entire team feels the same way. One night on the side of the Segama River after a torrential downpour I was awakened by my teammate Ruben Perez exclaiming "God damn! That was the best sleep I've had!" This after a storm that should have left us soaked, cold and miserable.

-- Alexander Basile, Team Goonies


Gear Reviews

Adventure Racing Magazine
Shelter you can race with! Dream time

Let’s dream up the ideal shelter for adventure racing. Beyond offering protection from wind, rain, and bugs, it should be light and pack small. As long as we’re just dreaming, why not make it weigh less than a pound and pack down to the size of a one-liter water bottle? It should deploy and collapse quickly, let’s say under a minute. Let’s also make it pitch without using any poles or pegs. Heck, why not even make it float on a cushion of air two feet above the ground?

Well, it’s time to stop dreaming, because the new “Adventure Racer” from Hennessy Hammock meets all the dream specs we just listed! In an exclusive preproduction review, Adventure Racing Magazine tested a prototype of the new model, and compared it with two other lightweight Hennessy models, the “Ultra Light Backpacker” and the “Extreme Light Racer.” Here are the results.

Not your father’s hammock

While the Hennessy Hammock can trace its origins back to the WWII jungle hammock, the current design is a totally new generation of hammock. It is impossible to tip over. It has plenty of interior room. You can sleep on your side or back, and switch positions effortlessly.

The body of the hammock is solid nylon taffeta. A canopy of no-see-um netting is sewn onto the body, and is supported by an internal ridgeline. A separate silnylon rain tarp completes the package. But this description doesn’t convey the Zen-like integrity of the design. There are no seams in the body or tarp. The hammock lines are tied to the hammock body rather than sewn to it. The tarp tensioners use Prussik knots, rather than metal or plastic gadgets. In short, the Hennessy Hammock doesn’t have a single superfluous component or joint. Each part flows into the next with minimum fuss and maximum reliability.

You enter this hammock by walking through a slit in the bottom. Once inside, you turn around and sit down . Pull your feet up into the hammock and your body weight puts enough tension on the fabric to pull the slit firmly shut. For an even more secure closure, some models feature hook-and-loop strips along the length of the slit.

Being inside the hammock just feels good. You’re snuggled into a secure pod of protected space with one or two feet of headroom between you and the bug netting. You have an unobstructed, 360-degree view below the tarp. It’s wide — you can lie with your spine on a diagonal to the ridgeline. In fact, that’s the preferred sleeping position. When you’re on the diagonal, the hammock magically flattens out, letting you sleep comfortably on your back or side.

Evolution of the racing models

Tom Hennessy brought his unique hammock design to the marketplace in May of 1999 after creating over  fifty experimental models and making countless improvements. The hammock was eagerly accepted by lightweight and ultralite backpackers, and created a wave of interest in hammocking. Carolyn Burnham, an REI product manager, says “Tom’s innovation has made him a leader in the creation of an entirely new segment in the outdoor market.”

The original “Expedition” model hammock weighed 2.5 pounds. In response to customer requests, Tom created the Ultra Light Backpacker model using lighter fabrics that reduced the weight to 1.7 pounds. Further refinements resulted in the new Asym version, cleverly cut in an asymmetrical pattern that accommodates diagonal sleeping and maximizes the coverage of the seamless silnylon tarp.

The Extreme Light Racer model came into being as a result of the Eco-Challenge: Borneo. When Eco-Challenge race staff went to Borneo to scout the location, they took along a Hennessy Hammock. On reaching Malaysia, they quickly realized that the Hennessy was the ideal shelter for the humid, insect-ridden jungles.

The Eco-Challenge web site for the race recommended the Hennessy Hammock by name, and it wasn’t long before racers were pressing Tom to come up with an even lighter hammock. The resulting Extreme Light racer featured still lighter fabrics, and eliminated some of the convenience features found in the Ultra Light Backpacker. Resulting weight: 1.2 pounds.

Those who used Hennessy Hammocks in Borneo were enthusiastic about them. We interviewed Jenny Hadfield of Team Synterra and Jack Crawford of Team Evolving Systems to get their input.

Jenny used an Extreme Light Racer, and had high praise for it. “It was August in Chicago when I left for the race, so I thought I was used to heat and humidity. But in Borneo it felt like it rained all the time. Things never dried out. It was essential to get sleep, but on the ground or in an open hammock the quality of sleep was poor. That made the Hennessy Hammock well worth the weight.”

“The hammock was fabulous,” she says. “In that jungle setting it provided all the safety and comfort required. I managed to stay well ventilated — actually cool — and could even spread my clothes out inside to dry them.” She found the lightweight hammock easy to carry, and said “I’d race with it again any day.”

Jack Crawford used the heavier Expedition model on the boat legs of the race, where weight was less of a concern, and relied on a traditional net hammock everywhere else.

“Since the hammock is completely suspended between the trees, you don’t need flat ground below you,” Jack observed. “I even camped on the side of a hill one night. The Hennessy is an advantage in a hilly area.”

When asked to compare the two hammocks, Crawford said “In the Hennessys, we didn’t have to worry about the bugs. I still have nightmares from the net hammock experience, particularly from one night when I woke up pretty much nose-to-nose with a tiger leech that was inching towards me on a drooping branch.”

The unqualified success of the Hennessy Hammock in Borneo established a precedent. Next year’s race in New Zealand required a four-person tent as mandatory equipment, but it was acceptable for each team of four to carry two Hennessy Hammocks.

Feedback from adventure racers kept Tom Hennessy pressing on in an effort to make a hammock that was even lighter and faster to deploy. “My approach,” he said, “was to establish a baseline of comfort, then make the Adventure Racer as light and fast as possible.” 

The Adventure Racer

Our prototype Adventure Racer weighed in at an astonishing 0.97 pounds — that’s 15.6 ounces.

Weight isn’t the only improvement in the Adventure Racer. This model is super-fast to deploy and pack up thanks to the addition of two nylon sheaths that Tom calls “snake skins.”

The snake skins slide over the fabric of the hammock from either end. Using the snake skins, we were able to put up and take down our Adventure Racer in well under a minute. 

Comparison of the models

Let’s look at the three models we tested. We’ll start by noting the similarities.

Each hammock comes in a ripstop nylon stuff sack, with instructions printed on the outside.All three models are rated for 200 pounds, but this allows a generous safety margin. The main hammock ropes are 1,450-pound test, polyester-sheathed Spectra, about 1/8 inch in diameter, and eight feet long at each end.

The three models include shock cords to spread the sides of the hammock base. For the Adventure racer, these are integrated with the tarp tie-out cords.All models use 1.1 ounce (20D) polyester no-see-um netting.The tarps for these models are almost identical. They’re made of 1.1-ounce silicone nylon or “silnylon” (30D ripstop nylon impregnated with silicone).

The tarps measure roughly 10 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 8 inches, but the tarp for the Ultra Light Backpacker is cut in an asymmetrical pattern that offers better coverage for the same overall dimensions.
The best way to look at the differences between the models is to summarize them in a table.

[1] The 30 denier nylon used in the Adventure Racer is “high tenacity” nylon. This material is about 50 percent stronger than standard 30 denier nylon. This means that while the base of the adventure racer seems gossamer thin, it’s actually stronger than the 40 denier material in the Extreme Light Racer.

[2] We measured the ridgeline length to indicate the overall hammock length.

[3] In the Adventure racer, the tarp cord (the cord used to tie out the sides of the tarp) is integrated with the body cord (the shock cord used to spread the body). The other two models include separate tarp cords of the lengths shown.

[4] Tree-hugger straps are 42-inch lengths of one-inch wide nylon webbing. These wrap around the tree to protect the bark.

[5] The mesh gear pocket, gear clips, hook-and-loop door seals, and tree-hugger straps are available by special order, but are not standard with these models.

Our review and observations

Our review process was fairly low-tech. When we received the hammocks we weighed and inspected them. We found the workmanship and quality of the hammocks to be outstanding.

On the first day, we pitched them a couple of times to gain familiarity with them.

After a few practice runs, we timed ourselves to see if we could meet the setup times printed on the stuff sacks. Then we concentrated on getting the best time possible for the Adventure Racer. In all cases we were able to set up the hammocks in the specified two minutes.

We also pitched the Adventure Racer on the ground, to prove that the hammock was a viable shelter option in locations without trees. While it was on the ground, we also verified that two people could fit into one hammock.

Note that any of the models can be pitched on the ground using one or two hiking poles. The poles are used to raise one or both ends of the ridgeline, and must be tied off to available rocks, or to four tent pegs.

Over the next few weeks, we bagged overnights with each of the models to test their durability and practicality. There were absolutely no surprises there.

We found it handy to carry a pair of aluminum tent pegs to simplify and speed up the process of tying out the tarp lines. We also found that by tying the hammock over to one side of the tarp, we could create an ample cooking area during rainy weather.

During a race, the gear you carry will probably fit into the hammock right beside you. There’s also plenty of room at the narrow head and foot to store gear. The ridgeline that runs the length of the hammock is ideal for storing clothing or hanging your shoes.

On overnight hikes, we stored our pack on a groundsheet underneath the hammock. The tarp kept it perfectly dry. This is also an option when racing with bulky or heavy gear.

If there is any downside to hammocks as shelters, it’s the problem of keeping your back warm. When the temperature drops below the mid-fifties, you’ll need some kind of sleeping pad. Think of the hammock as a suspended three-season tent. You’ll never need a sleeping pad for comfort, but you may need it for warmth, and you’ll need it in exactly the same circumstances as you would for a tent.


Determining the best model for adventure racing was simple. The weight and speed of the Adventure Racer made it the clear favorite.

We think the Extreme Light Racer is viable in adventure racing, too, especially if your stature or gear requires a little extra room.

The Ultra Light Backpacker is a great shelter, especially with its innovative asymmetrical geometry, but the weight advantage of the other models puts it in last place for racing gear.

However, we wouldn’t discount any of the Hennessy Hammock models from use at base camp or in transition areas. They are all remarkably compact, lightweight shelters.

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