Book Review: The Ultimate Hang

Hammocks were a big deal in my family. We had opinions about hammocks. I was raised with the gospel of hammocks, and I never deviated.

The best hammocks in the world are woven in the Yucatan Peninsula.

In a perfect world, one would always buy one’s hammock by the kilo at an ancestral cave-like Merida hammock shop.

Cotton thread, not acrylic.

Ropes should not be tied directly to the hammock ends.

One should lie in the hammock at a slight diagonal.

After extended exposure to salt winds, cotton hammocks should be washed by hand in cold water.

This gospel was so deeply imbedded in my psyche that I never questioned it and always felt entirely confident in espousing my hammock ideology as the bottom line. Recently my core beliefs were slightly shaken at the famous and now decrepit Oaxaca Trailer Park. Dusk had fallen and the streetlight shadows were stealing through the dusty pines. A solitary camper arrived, on foot. We had previously been the only campers in the park, so, after the expected “Buenas noches” we watched him curiously. In minutes, he was cozy in a hammock with a rain fly.

The next morning I invited our new neighbor over for coffee. He turned out to be an elderly southern gentleman who had been coming to Mexico every winter for 50 years. He was distinctly charming and managed to blow my mind with his  traveling coffee technology. The amazing life-changing coffee device opened my mind to his unorthodox acrylic cloth hammock. Obviously this guy was not some dilettante. Even though I had always turned up my nose at any hammock not woven of cotton thread, the idea of a hammock with built-in rain and bug protection was awfully cool.

When we got home, I got my hands on a copy of The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping by Derek Hansen. Apparently hammock camping is a thing. I mean, obviously it’s a thing, but there are actually forums where hammock geeks hang out and discuss, I don’t know, knots or something. There is a hammock vernacular. This is culture.

I tend to be the sort of person who likes to be mildly informed about many topics, which means I also tend to not be the sort of person who hangs around on forums geeking out about minutiae. So I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way through The Ultimate Hang.

As it turns out, The Ultimate Hange is clearly written, interesting, and moves at a good clip. The author’s overall  philosophy seems very in keeping with our philosophy here at The People’s Guide to Mexico: a camper/traveler should be respectful and low impact. To that end, Hansen outlines his own gospel of hammock hanging, which involves wrapping trees in non-stretching polyester webbing straps (called anchors) in order to prevent damage to the tree.

With sections on “how to hang a hammock when there’s no trees in sight,” this book is clearly aimed at hikers, but it contains plenty of useful information for lazier campers as well: how to hang a tarp over your hammock, how to stay warm and bug free, sleeping postures for ultimate comfort, how to make your own camping hammock, and, yes, knotting techniques. The author’s own cartoon illustrations and diagrams make the text easy to follow, and all jargon is explained. I was pretty blown away by the range of lightweight hammock technology currently available. I won’t be turning in my Yucatecan matrimonial anytime soon, but I’m definitely pulling out this book next time I plan a trip involving hiking, and I’m seriously considering leaving the tent at home on my upcoming trip south.

Speaking of thread hammocks, “The Ultimate Hang” doesn’t have much to say on the subject. But hey, you have The People’s Guide for that.

 

2 Responses to “Book Review: The Ultimate Hang”

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  1. Derek Hansen says:

    Felisa,

    Thanks for the great review. I should tell you that my all-time favorite hammock is my authentic, hand-woven Mayan. Of course, it’s a little too big and heavy for camping, but it’s great at home. I’m working on a major update to my book where I’m including a lot more on making hammocks, including a Mayan style. You can see the basic instructions here:

    > http://theultimatehang.com/2013/07/weaving-a-mayan-hammock/‎

  2. churpa says:

    De nada! I’m not sure I care to contemplate what a Mayan-style hammock made by yours truly would look like! But I’d love to hear about your process if you pull it off. I’m getting a 404 error message from that link. Can you repost?