Hammocks. They're a bit like sex. At first you're not quite sure what's going on but eventually you'll have it figured out and you'll be able to get it up and done in a jiffy.
So it was that I took to the DD Frontline Hammock to give it a damn good thrashing. Last time I used a hammock would have been in Belize on JW training and my memories of hammocks then were one of hassle, strife, discomfort, sudden drops and occasional tears.
Not so with the DDFH.
As I looked through the packaging and bits and bobs that had arrived, I found a typed note attached inside which gave a warning reference the mosquito net which we'll look at later and a comment that it might be worth while looking at their website for the set-up instructions.
I would like to have thought that basic instructions would be provided as no doubt some purchasers of the DDFH would be first time hammock users who might not have online access. Yes, granted, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what to do, but still, a basic A4 sheet with simple instructions wouldn't go amiss. It's also a good way to prevent injury when they do get the setup wrong and fall on their arrse when it collapses.
Anyway, first impressions of the stuff sack it comes were non-committal. A decent enough sack of good proportions with a pull-cord at the top to close it off but it's not a compression sack and it doesn’t feel particularly robust.
Then you get the hammock itself out and you think, "Give it a month, tops." It just feels so damn fragile. As it comes with a mosquito net attached it obviously is more fragile than a straightforward issue hammock as there are more seams, more places to rip, so on so forth. However, that's the price you pay for luxuries. The luxury in this case is the pre-mentioned mossie net.
The first thing that happened upon getting the DDFH out of the stuff sack was that the mossie net promptly got caught on some sharp and spiky ground foliage. Now if I'd kept tugging at it, I'm pretty sure it would've ripped, so I stopped to extract it as delicately as I could. This is a failing of any mossie net though; it has holes, things get caught in holes, small holes become bigger holes. So due care is required when setting up the DDFH as would be with any other bit of similar kit.
It was in the setting up of the DDFH that it began to shine through that this could be a winner. The cord at either end used to tie the DDFH up is thick and robust which whilst it's prone to fraying and snagging is thick enough that unlike an issue hammock you won’t have any problems untying the bugger. With an issue hammock once the cord gets wet it's too thin to easily manipulate. It was this frustration that led to tears in Belize as you'd give up trying to untie the drenched cord and simply cut it, meaning by week four you've got about ten inches of cord left at either end.
I purposefully tied the cord as tight as I could and no matter how hard I pulled or tugged I could still relatively easily undo it again, yet it would still hold once I got into the hammock itself.
Once the hammock itself is up you then have to elevate the mossie net by the elastic cord provided which comes in 2x2m which proved no great shakes and the cord is good quality elastic.
The net itself has two loop seams, one at each end, and it's on these main seams you can find your fabric loops to run the cord through. You have to run through both ends to get the net off of your body and I can't help but feel it would have been easier had they simply made one loop seam down the middle to create a tipi effect.
So, hammock up, mossie net up, it was time to climb inside.
The first time is always the worst as you tentatively rest your bum down whilst keeping a beady eye on those end knots, watching the cord slip half an inch down the tree. Then the first foot comes up, the right one solid, ready to support should it all go south. Eventually you've slowly eased yourself in and you've not cracked your backside off the ground.
This is where the warning about the mossie net comes in. Because you've elevated the mossie net separately on separate cord you have to be careful that you don't then put the mossie net under massive strain once you get in the hammock. As the hammock sinks, the mossie net won’t budge if you've given no slack in its cord, so it may even rip right off. It took a few goes to get a nice balance, but once sorted it was happy days.
Inside it's comfortable, spacious, and there are four side pockets provided, two at either end on opposite sides. A nice idea but I feel perhaps bigger pockets would've been a bonus or even a hanging shelf sewn in to the top of the mossie net as found inside the issue mosquito dome tents. Somewhere you can stick your socks to air of a night.
There are loops inside which you can use to hang things from, although it does state 'light gear' so obviously no weight. Very handy to stick your head torch strap through and have a dangling light.
There are four zips, two either side which seal you in. You need to be wary of trying to sit up and reach forward to close / open them as you may take a header out the side as I almost did, but that's just practice. The good thing about a hammock in a combat environment is it may take you minutes to get in but seconds to fall back out!
There is also two layers for the base of the hammock where you can put a foam pad or therma-rest for insulation. The issue therma-rest fits without problem and in warmer climes a summer dos bag would probably do nicely just for extra comfort when it's too hot to actually get inside it.
Overall, there was enough base layer to surround me and come up the sides, so I was able to sink in away from the net and thus hamper any really determined bitey things. It was comfortable, relaxing and solid. Unlike the issue hammock I didn't doubt the stability provided by the DDFH and knew it would hold. The cord thickness is a good reassurance.
There was one piece of kit that got me slightly excited and that was the Hammock Sleeve. This funky bit of kit allows you to basically sheath your hammock in a protective sack whilst it's still tied up. Nifty, eh?
You have to pre-prep but all that's involved is feeding the rope through one end of the sleeve, grab it at the other end and then pull the hammock through. The whole thing shrinks down into the sleeve and you're left with a fully enclosed hammock with only the cords hanging out at either end until you stuff them in too. So you can pack it away like that (it squeezes down fairly small) and if you wanted to set it up from the sleeve you simply pull both ends of cord out at either end, tie them up to the trees you're using and then pull the sleeve back to reveal the hammock.
It really speeds up deployment and take-down time. A massive bonus point for the DDFH.
However, as you may have noticed, it is a hammock we're talking about and so you're open to the elements. What options do DD provide for overhead cover?
They have the DD Tarp which is a 3x3m with no less than 19 attachment points, four guy ropes and four pegs. It's big enough to cover you comfortably in your hammock and as long as your poncho craft is high you should be able to easily mitigate the risk of water reaching you underneath. The pegs bend easily and so you need to be careful with that, I could bend them by using mong strength alone, so they're not great.
The cord provided is of the same construct as the hammock cord and again solid and reassuring but prone to fraying. It's in one massive length though so you'd no doubt end up cutting it into lengths. Although I'd potentially rather use it for the fall-line (Where you run a line several times back and forth directly above your hammock. The intent is that if something decides to drop out of the trees it'll hit the taught line and bounce away from your fragile, slumbering body.) .
Overall then? For what it costs, it's a good bit of kit, it feels fragile but I believe it would take a fair bit of abuse. I tried to bite through it to see if it was squaddie proof and all I achieved was a sore tooth. It does have a mossie net but in the UK would it be a big sell? I believe DD do a camping hammock which is fully enclosed. Possibly a better option. For theatre though it would be a winner as we know how much we love our hammocks as opposed to all that rock and sand crap.
Six year update: This hammock was a great little thing, but obviously of limited use. It came with me to Kenya and the Falklands (but there's no trees?) and it worked well in both environments. For the Falklands, I was on Range Safety so I actually slung it up across the back of the bedford and would have naps in between runs. It failed once, which was my own fault as I hadn't tied it up properly. I had the joy of swinging from my hammock in Kenya whilst everyone else was screaming and trying to deal with a sudden Scorpion infestation in the tent - hah!
It's been used in the UK as well on various camping trips, but the main tarp vanished some time ago, so it's inclement weather only. Overall, another time proven product that's worth the money.