A Basic Comparison of Available Hammock Types

Updated on June 13, 2017
Hammocks in El Salvador
Hammocks in El Salvador | Source

Hammock Origins

The origin story of the hammock is one that has been evolving for many years. Hammocks and sleeping in hammocks began as a way for jungle dwelling cultures to be off the ground and away from stinging and biting insects as well as away from poisonous snakes. Mayans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans and many other cultures had been sleeping in hammocks for generations, long before the Europeans discovered the Americas.

After Europeans discovered these cultures across the seas, they began to adapt a hammock to meet their own needs. By the 1600s hammocks were being used as beds in the hulls of ships for crew members and passengers alike. Hammocks provided sleeping space for more people than would otherwise have fit. Hammocks also provided the sailors with a stable sleeping place. Before hammocks were introduced to naval ships, sailors were frequently tossed out of their bunks on stormy seas; this was responsible for many deaths and injuries among sailors. Many sailors today still prefer hammocks to a traditional bunk, even on small vessels.


Hammocks work so well for sleeping on a ship for two main reasons. The suspension of the hammock absorbs the movement of the ship, so whether sailing smooth or stormy seas the swing of the hammock feels the same. The second characteristic that makes a hammock great for sleeping on ships is the way the fabric wraps around the person as they lie. This helps to secure a person in the hammock and keep them from falling out.

The in-line hammock was the first type of hammock to be woven and slept in. However, once the hammock began to be adopted for use in ships, a wooden bar was added at one or both ends. This bar usually had a curve to it to maintain its usefulness as a place to sleep in a ship, but the spreader bar helped to hold the hammock slightly open so the sailors could easily get in and out of their beds as they were needed. As time went on, the wooden bar used to hold these hammocks open was also created in a flatter variation to hold a hammock open to its full width.

Relaxing in a Hammock on a Yacht
Relaxing in a Hammock on a Yacht | Source

In-Line Hammocks


The absence of the spreader bar makes identifying an in-line hammock straightforward. The suspension of this style hammock is made up of the ending strands of the hammock being gathered and tied together into a loop at each end of the hammock. Each loop is then tied to a pole, tree or other suspension point. These points are ideally 10 to 15 feet apart, depending on the length of the hammock.

In-line hammocks may be made of several types of materials, usually depending on the type of hammock they are and where that type of hammock originated. Mayan and Nicaraguan hammocks are made of cotton and nylon strings that are woven to form the bed. Nicaraguan hammocks have a more open weave to the netting. Brazilian hammocks are often made of sturdy, brightly colored woven cotton fabric.

Laying lengthwise in an in-line hammock is one option...
Laying lengthwise in an in-line hammock is one option... | Source
Laying width wise keep the hammock bed open
Laying width wise keep the hammock bed open | Source

Advantages and Disadvantages

In-line hammocks are getting more and more recognition in areas you might not normally think of them. They are gaining popularity as tent replacements. Sleeping under the stars as you swing peacefully from a tree just has a certain allure that is hard to resist. There are several kinds of in-line hammocks designed for easier camping and hiking. Hammocks can make a great tent replacement with the right insect and rain nets and a warm under quilt to keep your butt toasty. Tent and other travel hammocks are often made from durable polyester material so they can be folded up to be compact and lightweight making them ideal for traveling.

As you lay in an in-line hammock you will notice that the hammock's edges wrap around you, conforming to your weight and shape. Any weight in the hammock is being pulled downward by gravity, and not being supported by the spreader bar. This makes it hard to tip an in-line hammock over. Many people also choose to lay across the width of the hammock instead of along the length. This eliminates the wrap around effect of the hammock and keeps it more open.

Some people enjoy sleeping on a hammock every night instead of a bed. Hammock sleepers enjoy several health benefits, and it's a trend that is growing each year. Hammocks provide minimal pressure points to help ease joint pain. There are several sleeping positions which offer a variety of other benefits, not the least of which is a better, more comfortable sleeping environment.

Since you cannot have good things without a few bad things, there are some disadvantages to the in-line hammock style. Once you are not laying in them anymore they tend to fold up, this means that if you are lounging wet, the hammock will not dry very well and will have a shorter life expectancy. Another disadvantage is the fact that getting into and out of an in-line hammock is a bit of a practiced art. The spreader bar is not there to hold the hammock open to assist you.

Camping Hammock with Rain Tarp
Camping Hammock with Rain Tarp | Source

In-Line Hammock Pros

  • Versatility to act as a tent or an outdoor seating solution
  • Fabric of hammock wraps up person lounging to add comfort and security
  • Less likely to flip over due to suspension system
  • Greater mobility- they are easier to take with you
  • Make a great bed replacement, offering several health benefits

In-Line Hammock Cons

  • Can take some practice to get in and out of
  • Stays wet longer as the hammock folds together when no one is in it

Quilted Hammock with Spreader Bar by the Lakeshore
Quilted Hammock with Spreader Bar by the Lakeshore | Source

Spreader Bar Hammocks


Spreader bar hammocks are easily spotted by bars at either end of a hammock. These bars are usually made of wood and have drilled out holes through which the strands of the hammock are woven. They serve to hold the hammock open to its full width. This gives the hammock a more open and bed-like appearance. Like most other things, there are specific advantages and disadvantages that come with in-line and spreader bar hammocks.


Advantages & Disadvantages

Spreader bar hammocks are the preferred poolside hammock because they are held open even if no one is in them. This means they dry out faster when wet and can preserve the life of your hammock. They also make for a more comfortable experience if you have a little claustrophobia, the spreader bar holds the hammock open and it will not wrap up around you. Spreader bar hammocks are the ideal hammock for anyone who loves to sunbathe. The spreader bar keeps the hammock open allowing maximum rays to get to you, don't forget your sunscreen though!

As anyone who has ever lounged in a hammock with a spreader bar can attest, the addition of the spreader bar created a less stable environment. One major disadvantage of the spreader bar is it creates an even weight distribution across the surface of the hammock, meaning you must have balance to lounge. Another disadvantage is that the addition of the spreader bar has made this type of hammock slightly less portable than one without a spreader bar. The bar adds weight to the hammock and bulk, a hammock by itself can fold up quickly, but once you add spreader bars, you have two long, unforgiving pieces of wood that are designed to keep the hammock open, not to help it fold up and be moved.

Hammocks are a great spot for family snuggles
Hammocks are a great spot for family snuggles | Source

Spreader Bar Hammock Pros

  • Spreader bars hold the hammock open to provide a more bed like appearance
  • Increased accessibility in and out of the hammock
  • Ideal for pool or lake side hammocks because they are held open and have faster drying times
  • Perfect for anyone who likes to lay in the sun or enjoy the breeze on their face

In-Line Hammock Cons

  • Spreader bar provides even weight distribution, meaning a higher center of gravity and less stability in the hammock
  • Makes hammock less portable as they increase weight and general bulkiness

Which is Better?

Both hammock styles offer several benefits. The answer is really a matter of personal preference. No type of hammock can be good or bad for everyone. There are those who prefer the more bed-like appearance of a spreader bar hammock and have mastered the art of balance. Others prefer the mobility of an in-line hammock and appreciate the greater stability. No matter what kind of hammock you choose, you will enjoy benefits like no pressure points, versatility, comfort, and a wonderful feeling of relaxation.

Which would you prefer?

See results
Hammocks are a great spot to read
Hammocks are a great spot to read | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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