Gear Review: Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock
- Model: Blackbird Lightweight Double Layer Hammock
- Brand: Warbonnet Outdoors
- Weight: 1lb 6oz (hammock only) or 1lb 120z (as used with webbing/buckle suspension)
- Dimensions: 101 inch ridgeline length, 63 inch hammock body width
- Capacity: 275lb
- Fabric: 40d Nylon Outer, 20d Nylon Inner
- Cost: $195 w/suspension (cost has gone up since I purchased 4 years ago, when I believe my cost was $165)
Circumstances of Review
The Blackbird Lightweight Double Layer hammock was purchased for and used on two Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempts for a total of approximately 1400 trail miles AND used for 6 months of employment in wilderness therapy. Additionally, I have used this hammock for multiple shorter backpacking trips. The resulting total usage over the course of four years (January 2014 to present) is approximately 225 nights. The warmest conditions this hammock was used in were during July and August on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, with nightly temperatures around 70-75 degrees. The hammock was used in conjunction with a CCF pad for insulation in these conditions. The coldest temperatures this hammock was used in were Jan-March on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and North Carolina, with temps down around 15-20 degrees. The hammock was used in conjunction with a Hammock Gear underquilt in these conditions.
Brilliant Design Features
This was one of the big selling points of this hammock. There are now loads of hammock systems on the market, but few come with a bugnet integrated into the design. The integrated bugnet allows the user to fully zip the hammock around them. This creates an enclosure that provides a safe-haven from biting insects. An integrated bugnet also saves weight over non-integrated styles that zip around the entire hammock.
The asymmetrical design is the key feature that sets this hammock apart from many others on the market. What this means is that on one end of the hammock, there is slightly more fabric to the left of the ridgeline and on the other end there is a footbox area to the right of the ridgeline which allows the user to fully extend in a flat-lay position, just like you would be able to on the ground. This design allows for the diagonal lay required for a comfortable night in a hammock, while eliminating extra fabric (aka weight).
There may be another hammock out there with this feature, but I haven’t seen one yet myself. The Blackbird has the unique feature of a storage “shelf” located near the user’s head. This shelf is actually just a large interior storage pocket. I typically stash my cell phone, socks (the airflow helps them dry out), a water bottle, and/or gloves and extra insulation that may be needed throughout the night in colder weather.
While you can add a structural ridgeline to any old hammock, the Blackbird comes standard with one that is already adjusted to give the average person’s ideal lay. It can be adjusted if it doesn’t quite work for you, but I’ve never had to mess with mine.
In addition to providing structural support for the correct lay (regardless of suspension tension or distance between your trees) the ridgeline also provides hanging storage inside the hammock. I typically hang my headlamp from the ridgeline for ease of access for middle-of-the-night excursions to the privy. It also serves as a convenient location to hang hiking clothes for airing/drying out overnight.
Double-Ended Stuff Sack
The stuff sack that comes with this hammock opens on both ends, which provides the ability to open one end, attach the suspension to a tree, close it, and pull the hammock out of the other end – maintaining tension to keep your hammock from touching the ground. Reverse these steps for packing up, and I credit this design for keeping my hammock looking like new. It never touches the ground, thus never gets muddy or dirty or comes into contact with brambles, briers, or abrasive rocks.
I chose the lightweight double layer option with webbing/buckle suspension. This choice was motivated by a few different factors. The first is that I frequently backpack with quite a large dog. He sleeps in the hammock with me on cold nights. The double layer option provides an extra layer of protection against rips and tears associated with dog toenails. Four years later, there have been no rips or tears. Maybe this was not a legitimate concern, but it made sense at the time. In addition, the double layer adds 50lb of weight capacity, which I needed to support me + my 65lb dog.
The double layer option also provides extra protection against biting insects from the bottom. Again this may not be a legitimate concern considering you will almost exclusively use bottom insulation in some form or another in a hammock. It also provides the unique ability to slide a sleeping pad between two layers of fabric. This eliminates the common problem of sleeping pads sliding around inside the hammock.
The webbing/buckles option is the heavier of the two suspension options. I chose it because of ease of use – at the time of purchase I was a bit suspicious of whoopies. Now, this would probably be a wise upgrade for my sleep system.
For the gram-conscious backpacker, whoopies and the single layer option cuts your total weight down to 1lb, 4oz.
This hammock can be set up almost anywhere there are trees. I have set it up using a rock cliff wall for one side of my suspension, I have set it up in the rafters of barns, and I have set it up on the ground as a bug-bivy in a situation where I was unable to hang.
This hammock is the single most comfortable “bed” I’ve ever slept in, including REAL beds! For weeks after returning home from my most recent thru-hike attempt, I wished that I could set up my hammock to get a good night’s sleep rather than sleep in the king-sized bed that was in my apartment at the time.
Compared to sleeping on the ground, sleeping in a hammock eliminates pressure points that can cause hip and shoulder pain. As a chronic sufferer of hip pain even when sleeping in beds, sleeping in a hammock has allowed me to actually rest while sleeping in the backcountry, compared to tossing and turning all night on the ground. This specific hammock takes comfort to the next level by creating a natural diagonal laying position – an improvement over symmetrical parachute-style hammocks that take a bit of practice to perfect the flat diagonal lay.
I am not by any means well-versed in the area of design, engineering, or construction of hammocks. What I am well-versed in is use of this particular hammock in high-stress, heavy-use environments and I can say that I have been positively mind-blown at the durability and construction of this product. Four years of regular, heavy use have left little to show for it on this hammock. If you saw me pull it out of the stuff sack and set it up, you’d never know I didn’t just purchase it yesterday. The nylon fabric that forms the outer shell of this hammock is rip, scuff, tear, and abrasion free. The mesh mosquito netting, on close inspection, may show slight stretching in some areas but this has not affected performance in any way.
The design elements of this hammock, from the footbox to the shelf to the mosquito netting tie-outs that give it it’s unique “flying blackbird” appearance, are genius. When you set up and sleep in this hammock, you get the feeling that it was designed by people who actually use backpacking gear – they thought up all the things they’d like to have in a backpacking hammock and created it.
Add to this the fact that all of Warbonnet’s gear is American made, produced in Colorado, and I think you’ll agree this is a product worth looking at.
It’s hard to find any cons with this hammock, since I positively love it so much. However, thinking from the perspective of someone who may be comparing this hammock to other hammocking options, I’ll try to come up with a few.
The Warbonnet Blackbird is slightly more expensive than other similar models of hammock. For example, a Hennessy Jungle Explorer, which is the most similar model Hennessy makes to the Blackbird (double layer, integrated zip bugnet) is priced at $259 and includes a bugnet, straps, and a tarp. However, it is also significantly heavier than the Blackbird. Hennessy does make several less expensive, lighter weight models than the Jungle Explorer. This model is the most similar to the Blackbird I use so I chose it for comparison.
At first glance, the Blackbird may seem to be significantly more expensive than more popular/mainstream hammock brands such as ENO. The hammock itself IS significantly more expensive. But when you factor in all the other accessories (ENO singlenest: $60, ENO Helios Suspension: $35, ENO Guardian Bugnet: $60) the price becomes only slightly less, and again, significantly more weight.
Hammock camping in general is not really conducive to co-sleeping. While companies such as ENO and Grand Trunk do market a “double” hammock, I cannot imagine any way for two stinky, sweaty, exhausted adults to comfortably share a hammock. If you are hiking as part of a couple and sleeping next to each other is important to you, a tent is probably the way to go. However, two great friends of mine managed to hike most of the AT as a couple using two Blackbird hammocks and setting up their tarps each night to create a “couple’s cave” so that they shared a “living space” if not a bed space.
There are lighter hammock options in existence than the Blackbird, though not very many. The ENO Sub 6 (a hammock that weighs a remarkable 5.8oz) with Helios Straps and Guardian SL Bugnet weighs in at 1lb 8.5oz. This provides a weight savings of about 4oz from MY setup. However, it is still heavier than the lightest Blackbird option, with a significant sacrifice in comfort. I’ve slept in a Sub 7 and it was a dicey, mostly miserable night. I couldn’t find a Hennessy hammock, even among their Ultralight and Hyperlight models, that weighed less than the Blackbird.
Compared to a tent, the popular Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 weighs in at 1lb 11oz trail weight. The Blackbird with Edge tarp (what I used – there are lighter options) comes in at 2lb 7oz, so it is definitely a bit heavier than the comparable parts of an ultralight tent. However, with some forethought, you could get a full hammock system below 2lb using the lightest Blackbird options plus a lighter tarp.
I don’t think I would change anything about this hammock. Again, I’m not an engineer or design expert. If Warbonnet can figure out a way to reduce weight without sacrificing the design elements that make this hammock stand out from the pack, then go for it. I personally wouldn’t want to lose the shelf or the footbox to save fabric, or the heavy duty double-sided zipper that functions so well, or the strong structural ridgeline that creates a perfect lay every time.
When considering any hammock purchase, you should think about the conditions in which you will be using the hammock. While I think hammock camping is more desirable than sleeping on the ground in most situations (including sub-freezing temps, rain and wind storms, even hail), the fact remains that you must have trees to hammock camp. A hammock is not going to work for a trek in the desert section of the PCT or the high-elevation Colorado Trail.
Exclusively carrying a hammock without any type of sleeping pad limits your sleeping options on long distance treks. You will not comfortably be able to sleep in trail shelters, on the floor of churches or homes of kind trail angels that offer refuge, or on grassy balds. I once stretched my Blackbird between handicap railings on a ramp in a church in Massachusetts to avoid sleeping on the concrete floor of the concession hall without a sleeping pad. However, a hammock, and especially THIS hammock, cannot be beat for comfort and sleep quality in the backcountry.
Tips from a former novice hammock camper:
When I purchased my Blackbird and Edge tarp, I had never actually been backpacking. I had never actually been camping. I did months of research and somehow managed to make the right choice. This has been the best and wisest gear buying decision I ever made, and its the one I made with the least amount of knowledge and experience. That said, after 4 years of hammock camping I’ve learned a few things. I’ll share those here:
- Tarps: The Warbonnet Edge was a solid, moderately inexpensive purchase for my first tarp. At 11oz and $95, it has lasted 4 years and is still going strong. Besides some expected stretching, there are no signs of wear and tear. That said, my next upgrade will be to a lighter, more versatile tarp. If you can afford the splurge, a dyneema tarp with doors will allow greater flexibility for 4-season hammock camping. It also gives more coverage for less weight. I can’t comment on whether or not it will be as durable. (Hey Zpacks, I’d be happy to review one for you if you’d like, wink wink!)
- Single vs Double Layer: Unless you intend to only use a pad for bottom insulation (or not use insulation at all – not recommended), the double layer is an option I’d forego. It adds weight without a whole lot of benefit for someone who is using an underquilt, like I use.
- Suspension: Webbing/Buckles are super easy to use. Whoopies are lighter, though I feel decrease the versatility (they aren’t as long). If you’re really concerned with weight, pick the whoopies. This is an upgrade I may make before my next long trek.
So there you have it: an honest review of my favorite piece of gear. If you are considering a hammock, it is wise to spend some time in one. Like a tent, a hammock system is a considerable investment. Of course, I didn’t do this and it still turned out great for me.
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