I’m not a hammock guy. I just want to get that out in the open right off the bat. I tried an Eno hammock for a couple nights during training, and I hated it. I have random levels of back pain for various reasons, and hanging in the Eno made that even worse.
So when Jared suggested I review the Warbonnet Blackbird XLC, I told him those objections and more. “More reason to try this one out! You will have a critical perspective!” he says. So a few weeks later when I am packing up my car on a cross country National Park adventure, the Blackbird XLC is sitting next to my tent in the back.
First, a quick look at the hammock and company. The Blackbird XLC is made by Warbonnet Outdoors, a Colorado Company started in 2008 who believes “There is nothing like relaxing in a hammock.” They manufacture all of their hammocks in the US at their family-owned shop in Evergreen, CO. They offer a few different models, but in the spirit of brevity for this review I am not going to go into them. The hammock we got for testing was a double layer nylon hammock with a bug net, made of two layers of 1.7oz/70D nylon, weighing about two and a half pounds and with a weight capacity of 400 lbs. It retails on the website for $210 plus options, and the version we had used buckles to tighten/loosen the straps. We also received the stuff sack, a Cloudburst tarp, and a down-filled Yeti under-quilt. Each had their own stuff sack.
Before actually leaving on my cross-country adventure, I took the setup to a local canyon known for its excellent fly fishing and had every intention of sleeping in it while my wife slept in our tent. Unfortunately, sleeping outside of established campsites is expressly verboten as the campsite manager quickly pointed out, and there were no trees in the approved areas. F*** it, we’ll do it live.
As a side note, if you are a hammock newbie, I STRONGLY encourage you to watch the videos on the Warbonnet video page. It goes through adjustment of the setup so you can maximize the hammock toe box (more in a minute) and have the right tightness.
Fast forward to the trip, and I slept in the hammock for four nights (much to the chagrin of my wife, who slept in the tent by herself). One night each in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, plus one night at some random lake between Yosemite and Las Vegas. The temperature never got low enough for me to use the under-quilt, but I will speak to that below, and I was fairly impressed with the hammock itself.
Setup: The few times I setup before dusk I was able to hang out in the hammock with no sleeping pad or sleeping bag. Each night after dark I put my Klymit insulated sleeping pad in between the two layers of the hammock for cushioning, threw in my sleeping bag, and put the tarp up. Setup itself was about as easy as it gets: string the hammock up between two trees, adjust tightness, and relax.
When throwing up the tarp I used some extra guy-lines from my tent to stake it to the ground. The buckles on the hammock make initial tightening and loosening pretty easy. Once you sit in it though, it takes a little more effort to break the tension in the buckles for fine adjustment. This is mostly to be expected since my entire bodyweight was just hanging on the same buckles. The tarp came with connections called the Dutchware Hammock Hardware, which I had no idea existed.
It allows you to clip the tarp onto your existing hammock straps and the tension of the hammock weight keeps them in the same place, and this was pretty mindblowing to me. The tarp itself covered far past the actual length of the hammock, and when secured with the guy lines and steaks was pretty secure. It didn’t rain when I used it, but it was solid enough for me to trust going to sleep while it did.Edit: This is not how to use the buckles! Thanks to reader Rick, HERE is a video on the proper use of the buckles, called “Stingers”.
Comfort: This is really what I cared about (see back pain above). One of the reasons I didn’t like the Eno I tried previously was how you are forced to bow at the back with your feet in the air. In the Blackbird, there is a separate Toe Box that hangs down
that (mostly) removes this issue. There is a slight bow, but I had WAY more freedom of motion to favor one side. I don’t know if it is a combination of the sleeping angle supporting your back, or whatever other witchcraft is going on, but when I woke up I didn’t feel the normal camping back pain. You know the kind, where you have been sleeping on a completely flat surface with no support. I couldn’t believe it the first night, which is why I ended up sleeping in it more than I expected. I definitely sleep way better than my wife did, which was apparent every morning. Color me impressed.
Portability: The hammock and accessories in their stuff sacks take up as much room as my two person tent, but at about ¼ of the weight. I don’t have a super ultralight tent, but it isn’t a Walmart special, either (Mountain Hardware Taurine). Since the contents of each sack is just fabric, it is also pretty malleable when jamming it back into your backpack while the stove heats the coffee.
Other: I also feel like I need to mention the “shelf” attached to the side. The design of the hammock results in a flap off to the side of the hammock large enough to put the random stuff you always have inside your tent. For me, that was my kindle, headlamp, and toilet paper for a midnight run if necessary. Not being a hammock guy, I thought this was pretty neat.
Although I didn’t use the under-quilt on my adventure and OPTEMPO being what it is, I was able to test the under-quilt on an AF flight across the pond. I wanted to test its warmth on the tail of the plane by the ramp (for which anyone who has had pleasure of flying the lovely skies courtesy of the AF understands, it is unheated and very cold). To my surprise, the under quilt did an amazing job of keeping me warm. Without getting too in detail, my carry-on didn’t allow a full sleeping bag, but I felt like my backside was being hugged by a feathery cloud. The Yeti under-quilt I had is only 46” long, which covered most of my torso and for a non-giant sized person, this would keep a majority of their body warm and comfortable in the elements. Downside? It’s down-filled, meaning don’t get it wet or your on your own. Combine this with the rain tarp, and I feel like it would be a killer combination for the trail, or really for anywhere you expect to be able to string it up. Since we lose most of our heat through the ground, this is a good alternative to carrying a heavier sleeping bag and mat if you are looking for a lower weight/space option.
Yes, I’m backwards in the picture and the Yeti isn’t on it (yet), but I had to get a picture before everyone passed out from a likely overdose of Ambien.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with the solid construction and well thought out design of the Blackbird XLC, but more important to me, the comfort. The limitation I see is the price point. After my initial hammock experience I was pretty turned off, and would have been hesitant to drop this amount of money on something that completely changes the way I sleep. Luckily, there are lots of reviews out there for these hammocks, and every one is overwhelmingly positive. The common theme, which I would agree with, is that it is definitely worth a shot. I won’t go as far as repeating other comments that it is life changing, but I do not take my experience with no back pain lightly. Don’t be concerned about construction quality or comfort, because they are there. As for cost, people serious about camping spend significantly more money than this for a good tent (I definitely did).
What should be the nail in the coffin for whether or not you decide to get one is my interaction with the company. We worked through Brandon, and to be honest he was pretty awesome. The return policy is pretty easy, so you really have nothing to lose. In the end, if you don’t like it, you can always return it and buy the WAY more expensive tent, but for my individual trips I’m sticking with the hammock.