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A hammock is a great way to relax or sleep whether in your back garden or the middle of a jungle. The most common type of hammock is the gathered end hammock, which has been around for many centuries. An alternative to this traditional type of hammock is the bridge hammock which features a spreader bar. But, which is better?
A gathered-end hammock is best in most situations, they are simple and compact when put away, they are more easily covered by a tarp and often cheaper too. On the other hand, a bridge hammock offers a flat lay which is ideal for side-sleepers and provides more view of your surroundings.
Neither style is without its flaws. In the rest of this guide, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each type of hammock and help you decide which is best for you.
What is a Gathered End Hammock?
A gathered-end hammock is the simplest type of hammock you can get. It uses a single piece of material that is bunched together at each end to form a banana-like shape. They are usually made from cotton or synthetic material (such as nylon or polyester) and should not have any kind of spreader bar.
Gathered-end is an umbrella term for a broad range of hammocks including Brazilian hammocks, Columbian hammocks, Mayan hammocks, camping hammocks, quilted hammocks, and more.
Pros and Cons of a Gathered End Hammock
Gathered-End Hammock Pros:
Gathered end hammocks are simple, they are essentially a piece of material that’s gathered at each end, as the name suggests.
This is good news if you’re planning to create your own, however, it’s also beneficial to those buying a gathered-end hammock as they tend to be more widely available and there is a broader selection at the budget end of the market.
For example, you can pick up a cheap Brazilian hammock for as little as $30, however, you won’t find a bridge hammock for less than $60.
Because a gathered end hammock is just made of basic material, this means they are very compact when packed away. They are also much lighter with the average camping hammock weighing around 1lb, whereas a typical bridge hammock can be up to 3lbs when accounting for the spreader bars.
If you’re camping outdoors, the hammock itself is only part of the setup, you’ll at least need an underquilt and a tarp.
I find it much easier to get good coverage with a tarp when using a gathered-end hammock. As they don’t have such a wide surface area as the bridge hammock, it’s easier to ensure the tarp covers the hammock and you get more space between the hammock and the tarp.
‘Gathered-end’ encompasses a wide range of hammocks, each of which has a different use case. For example, Brazilian hammocks tend to be made from cotton and perfect for lounging around at home, whereas camping hammocks are made from synthetic materials which makes them very durable and easy to take backpacking or hiking.
One of the best things about a gathered end hammock is that you can use it for sitting around during the day too. If you sit across the width, it will support your back and give you more of an upright position.
Depending upon the weight limit of the hammock, more than one person can sit in it too which is great for lounging around a campsite, in your garden, or wherever you’ve decided to hang it. This is not possible with a bridge hammock.
Gathered-End Hammock Cons:
The nature of a gathered end hammock means that it will wrap up around the sides of your body, this restricts your view much more than a bridge hammock which is much flatter and more open.
Some people who feel claustrophobic when closed in might not enjoy the hammock wrapping around them, especially if using a double hammock by themselves.
Gathered end hammocks are designed for sleeping on your back. In this position, the hammock clings to you and minimizes the pressure points on the body. Whilst it is possible to sleep on your side in a gathered end hammock, this is not the most comfortable position and you will lose a lot of the comfort that comes with a hammock.
What is a Bridge Hammock?
A bridge hammock is a type of spreader bar hammock with wooden or plastic bars at the head and foot of the hammock. However, the spreader bars only attach to the very corners which leave the middle of the hammock to form a curve like a cot.
Whilst a gathered end hammock forms a banana shape across its length, a bridge hammock forms a banana shape across its width.
Pros and Cons of a Bridge Hammock
Bridge Hammock Pros:
Regardless of how you like to sleep, it’s possible in a bridge hammock. Unlike a gathered end hammock which is designed with back sleepers in mind, you can sleep on your back, side, or even belly in a bridge hammock because it’s just like a bed.
With a gathered end hammock, you need to find the perfect position each time, this will be diagonally but the angle can vary from person to person. On the other hand, a bridge hammock just requires you to lie down, no maneuvering to find the optimal lay, it’s simple and consistent every time.
If you’re transitioning from ground sleeping or have no camping experience and are used to your bed, a bridge hammock is a more familiar layout that some folks might find easier to adapt to.
I say ‘some’ people because this was not my personal experience but I do know a few hammockers that would agree. Either way, once you get used to a gathered end it becomes second nature to get in and out of without tipping over.
Due to the use of a spreader bar, a bridge hammock is more open than a gathered end hammock. This gives you a better view of your surroundings and is particularly great when you are camping in an idyllic spot.
Bridge Hammock Cons:
A bridge hammock is bulkier to carry around and generally weighs more than equivalent gathered end hammocks. This is due to the addition of the spreader bars which need to be carried around.
The poles are similar to tent poles that allow them to be collapsed down, although it’s always going to be bulkier than no poles at all.
If you build your own hammock, you can eliminate this problem by doubling up your trekking poles as the spreader bars, however, this presents other difficulties if you want to go on a short day-hike without taking down your hammock.
As a bridge hammock is wider and more open than a gathered end hammock, it can be harder to achieve optimum coverage with a tarp, especially if you have a fairly narrow tarp as most backpackers do.
When setting up your tarp, you’ll want to angle the sides as much as possible to prevent side rain and to keep the wind at bay, this is made more difficult with a bridge hammock.
With bridge hammocks being less popular than gathered end hammocks, there are fewer manufacturers making them. This allows those that do make them to keep charging a premium. Expect to pay at least twice as much for a decent bridge hammock as a gathered end hammock of similar quality.
Is a Gathered-End Hammock Better than a Bridge Hammock?
So, now that I’ve compared every aspect of both hammocks, it’s time to discuss whether a gathered end or bridge hammock is better.
For most situations, a gathered-end hammock is better. As you can see from the above list, the pros far outweigh the cons. They are simpler, more compact, and great for lounging around during the day when you don’t want to lie down in it fully.
There is a learning curve to finding the right lying position and getting in and out properly, but once you’ve used it a few times this will come naturally.
That’s not to say a bridge hammock doesn’t have a place. If you prefer to sleep on your side or like to see more of your surroundings when lying down, then a bridge hammock might be a better choice.
There’s nothing better than actually trying both types for yourself if you have a local outdoors store and seeing if they will let you try them.