Lazy Day Hammocks

What to look for when buying, and how to get in one without falling out.

Now's the time to plan for those lazy days of horizontal splendor in the grass. Our hammock-buying tips will get you going (and keep you from tipping over).

  • Hammocks come with or without spreader bars. The bars sit at both ends of a hammock and connect the main body, or bed, to the arms -- the string or rope sections you tie to a support. The spreaders are made from hardwood or recycled plastic fibers. Spreaders provide more space to lay on but can be less stable than hammocks without spreaders. A hammock without spreaders can feel cocoonlike as the arms enclose your body.
  • A hammock's bed size is its length and width between the spreader bars. An average bed size is about 52 inches long and 80 inches wide.
  • The number of strings that come through the spreader bars shows how much rope has been used in a hammock. More lines mean more cotton, a tighter weave, a more supportive bed, and a higher price tag.
  • Avoid purchasing a fabric hammock with material wrapped around the spreader bars; this makes the hammock unsteady. The fabric should be knotted to strings that are threaded through the spreaders for a safer swing.
  • To hang a hammock, you need at least 10 to 16 feet of space. If you have less than 10 feet, the slope of the hammock will be too steep, making it uncomfortable to use.
  • Initially a cotton rope hammock is shorter than its advertised bed size. As you use a hammock, it stretches and molds to your body. "It's like a ritual," says Richard McCain, product manager for Algoma Net. "You have to hang it, get in, stretch, then readjust the hanging height, get in, and stretch it again. You have to sculpt it, so it's your hammock, made for your comfort."
  • To clean a fabric hammock, scrub it down with a mild detergent, then rinse it off with a hose.
  • To clean a rope hammock, place it in a bathtub filled with water and a small amount of bleach. Let it soak and then rinse it off inside the tub.
  • In general, you should keep your hammock out of weather's way no matter what its material. If you live in an area where winter is particularly snowy or wet, bring your hammock inside and store it to extend its life.

Rope hammocks, with their au naturel look and feel, are the hammocks of tradition. But rope hammocks are only one of the many styles now available. Whether you want a broad-stripe fabric hammock, a quilted-comfort one, or a rope hammock for two, there's something to satisfy your backyard needs. No matter which type you choose, the hammock should weather well and feel comfortable. Following are the different styles of rope and fabric hammocks:

Rope Hammocks

  • 100-percent-cotton rope hammock. Cotton has a lot of give, so expect a cotton rope hammock to conform to your body when you sink into it. Air passes through the hammock's open weave to cool your body; however, the spaces between the weave cause the rope to leave a grid pattern on your skin, particularly if the spaces are large. Cotton will discolor over time to a darker tan. A cotton hammock should be brought inside when it's not in use to lengthen its life. If it gets wet, let it dry thoroughly, especially before storing it, because it will mold and rot. Price: $120-$150.
  • Polyester or olefin hammock. Once, these hammocks felt as rough as fishing nets, but new manufacturing techniques enable companies to weave a softer, cottonlike polyester. Polyester resists ultraviolet rays and doesn't collect water, so it won't mildew. But it takes on a grayish hue as it ages and can become brittle. Polyester won't conform to your body as much as cotton, but it still leaves crisscross marks. A bonus: Critters prefer gnawing on cotton over polyester. Price: $100-$200.
  • Colored cotton or polyester rope hammock. Before buying a color-rope hammock, ask how the hammock got its color. The fiber should be dyed before it is woven into yarn. If it's colored afterward, the color can bleed into your clothing when you perspire. Price: $140-$170.

Fabric Hammocks

  • Cotton fabric hammock. The best option for coolness and softness, cotton fabric is the most difficult to keep in good condition. The sun fades the pattern and water wears the fabric. Price: $50-$100.
  • Single-layer coated-polyester hammock. Quick-drying and water-resistant, this material is ideal for poolside settings. After a rain you need to flip the hammock to let the captured water run off. Available in a rainbow of colors and designs. Price: $130-$150.
  • Quilted hammock. Made from weather-resistant outdoor fabric, this hammock contains water-resistant foam in its center. One side typically displays a pattern, the other a solid color. Flip it to hide a stain or to change your color scheme. Price: about $200.
  • Note: All prices are approximate retail ranges and vary with size, manufacturer, and retailer.

It's not always easy to position yourself in a hammock. You can tumble in and tumble straight back out again, or you can hop in with the correct form and spend an afternoon in comfort.

Getting into a hammock is not the acrobatic feat people make it out to be. It's simply a matter of staying balanced," says Douglas Orians, vice president of marketing at The Hammock Source.

The best way to approach a hammock is to pull it underneath you, aim your rear end toward the middle of the hammock, then gently sit down. Avoid collapsing onto the hammock or making sudden, jerky movements. Instead, reach back with one hand and grab hold of one side of the hammock, then clasp the other side with your other hand. Slowly move your legs onto the hammock and lie down. Your weight will create a pocket in the hammock that will keep you from flipping out. This is especially true of rope hammocks. "Once you're in, you'll be engulfed like a pea in a pod," says Richard McCain, product manager for Algoma Net.

Once you're horizontal, scoot your body so you lie diagonally in the hammock. "If your body weight is distributed equally, you'll feel more of a cloudlike sensation," says Mark Zickel, co-owner of Omni Swings 'n' Things.

Orians says not to straddle a hammock and plant your bottom in the middle because you won't be properly balanced. You should also resist the temptation to sit on the edge of a hammock and try to lie back because the other side of the hammock will whack you on the head and probably dump you on the ground. "It's just a pure comedy scene when you sit on the edge," Orians says.

Stop children from climbing in feet first. Little shoes and hands can easily become entangled in the loose weave of a rope hammock, which is the quickest way for someone to flip out and eat dirt.


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