How to Build Thru-Hiking Hammock Suspensions for Under Three Ounces
Every time I see a backpacker get their 11-ounce straps out of their pack, it makes my back hurt. There is no reason you should be carrying an 11-ounce hammock suspension 2,189 feet, much less 2,189 miles.
For comparison purposes, the heavy straps—most commonly Atlas by ENO—weigh 11 ounces, are nine feet long, and have a capacity of 400 pounds. They have a retail price of $30.
Here are three options for building your own comparable suspension system for $50 and with a weight penalty of just three ounces.
Option I: Marlin Spike Hitch Suspension
The marlin spike hitch suspension is an extremely popular suspension with hammock folks. I see this suspension on hammocks more often than any other suspension on group hammock camping trips. It consists of a tree strap made from webbing, a toggle, and a whoopie sling. It is an excellent suspension for thru-hiking due to its weight and durability. Here is an excellent overview video of the suspension system.
In order to attach your hammock to a tree, you will need some top-quality webbing. Some companies will lead you to believe you need straps that resemble seat belts salvaged from an old dump truck, but you don’t.
A lightweight option for webbing that already comes as a tree strap is Spider Web 1.5. This webbing is one-inch* wide and weighs in at 1.5 grams (0.05 ounces) per foot. It is advertised with 1,000-pound breaking strength. The suspension will be limited by the whoopie sling weight rating, which is rated at around 320 pounds for 7/64-inch AmSteel.
*Note: Make sure to meet the regulations of the hanging area for strap width. Don’t hang your hammock with ropes on the tree.
In order to attach to the tree simply wrap the open end around the tree, then back through the loop on the other end of the strap.
2. Toggle for webbing
You will need a toggle to attach your webbing to the whoopie sling. This can be anything from titanium toggles to sticks. I carry two extra carbon fiber stakes for this purpose. In order to put the toggle in the webbing, you will need to tie a marlin spike hitch. There is an excellent video on this knot from Shug, linked above.
3. Connector from toggle to hammock suspension (whoopie sling)
An easy, lightweight way to make this connection is with a whoopie sling. You will attach the fixed loop of the whoopie sling directly to the gathered end channel of your hammock by using a lark’s head knot. Then attach the adjustable loop to the knot around the toggle.
Make sure when you attach the adjustable whoopie loop to the toggle that it is on the strap and not on the toggle. Also be sure to put a water break on the whoopie sling. 7/64-inch whoopie slings are rated at 320 pounds, but options for 1/8-inch are available if needed.
This has become my go-to suspension for hammock camping. The longer tree straps help me hang on larger trees than option two allowed me in the past. The coolness factor of this setup sets it above the rest, but it does take awhile to dial in.
Weight: 2.5 ounces with a total
Length: 13 feet
Capacity: 320 pounds
Option IA: DIY / Find Sticks
If you have a sewing machine you can make several of the components in option one to save some cash and get the feeling of accomplishment of making your own gear for your hammock kit. You can buy the webbing and sew a simple box and then sew several zig-zag lines down it.
2. Use a stick for a toggle
If you’re running short on cash or want to save precious grams, you can use locally sourced sticks. I don’t like searching for sticks after dark, so I take the weight penalty to expedite my going-to-sleep time. If you go this route, make sure you have the whoopie sling on the knot, not on the toggle. Cost: Free and you get to look more like a hobo.
3. DIY whoopie sling
Whoopie slings are spliced together from 7/64th AmSteel. The process to make them is very simple. It requires the following:
1.) Large sewing needle. I got mine at Walmart. Cost: $7
2.) 20-foot 7/64 AmSteel Blue of your favorite color (makes one pair). Cost: $5.25 for 25 feet.
3.) One colored bead per whoopie sling. These are also available at Walmart in the craft section. Cost: ~$1 for 100 beads. It also helps to have some video instruction (starts at 15:24).
Option II: Hummingbird Tree Strap Combo
Hummingbird hammocks offer a complete, made in the USA, suspension in their tree strap combo. These tree straps utilize one-inch Dynema webbing for the tree straps attached to whoopie slings made out of Spectra cord for a very light and reliable suspension. In order to use this suspension you must also purchase the button link pieces from Hummingbird for the end channels of your gathered-end hammock. If you don’t choose to purchase this you will need a carabiner to go from your hammock’s continuous loop to the loop on the tree strap combo. (Shown above.)
I have hiked thousands of miles using the tree strap combo sans carabiner. I had to replace them once when I got some dirt in the whoopie and it started to slip slightly. The company was very responsive and helpful with providing a replacement set. Also, I found times when I had to find different trees if the ones I found were too large of a diameter. This is the main reason I mostly use option one or three currently.
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Capacity: 400 pounds
Length: Eight feet, four inches
Option III: Beetle Buckle Suspension
DutchWare has an excellent suspension system for hammockers who don’t want to mess with whoopie slings but still want a lightweight option. The beetle buckle suspension system utilizes two pieces of metal that form a buckle on each end. The webbing moves though the buckle easily when the buckle is at 90 degrees with the webbing. However, when the buckle is in line with the webbing, the buckle is taut on the webbing and holds your hammock suspension tight. The buckle attaches directly to the continuous loop of a hammock and is very easy to adjust.
I used the beetle buckle suspension on the AT for hundreds of miles with excellent results. It sets up fast, and there are fewer steps than setting up the traditional whoopie sling suspension. I use beetle buckles often when car camping.
Two eight-foot spider poly webbing
Two pairs of Beetle Buckles
Weight: 3.4 ounces
Capacity: 250 pounds
Length: Eight feet
These three options will help you lighten your load without sacrificing durability. This one change could save you eight ounces from your base weight for around $50.
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