Synergism is the joint action of discrete elements in which the total effect is greater than the sum of their effects when acting independently. In systems it is the “Holy Grail” of value added. It is the peace of mind that benefit value exceeds the sum of costs. In simpler terms, multiple use items are highly desirable to the ultra-light backpacker. So how do we apply that principle to hammock camping and why would we want to?

The why is easy.

  • Hammocks provide comfort; far exceeding thin pads, Therm-A-Rests, sleeping bags, tarps and tents.
  • Hammocks are lighter; far lighter than most tarp, tent, and sleep system combinations.
  • Hammocks are drier; far above the ground water of any less than ideal, or poorly selected, sites.
  • Hammocks sites are more numerous; far more numerous than tent sites. And ecologically speaking,
  • Hammock camping is lower impact; far lower than the repetitive tenting use on a few good sites.

The how is more difficult.

First, consider the hammock drawbacks. They sleep cold. Getting in and out of sleeping bags is awkward, at best. Pads must be wider, thus they are often bulkier and heavier. Pads don’t stay under you, especially if you move around. Accompanying flies and tarps are often minimal.

The hammock bottom creates a plane that separates the top and bottom spheres of this shelter. In the simplest of hammocks this can sometimes be overcome by wrapping a permeable bag over the entire hammock. The Speer Pea Pod and Crazy Creek Crib/Ponderosa combination use this approach. The resulting pod is heavier and bulkier than smaller bags and quilts and still requires a light blanket or quilt on the inside due to the relatively large interior space to be warmed. The Crib/ponderosa approach is like a hanging bivi, very claustrophobic.

A alternative way to solve the two sphere shelter problem is to use a system of two quilts. Not only do quilts work extremely well, quilts provide much more flexibility and are lighter. A system of two quilts can provide four season comfort to 0-10 degrees for less than four pounds. Because of their inherent flexibility, these same quilts can be used comfortably at 30-40 degrees. Configurations for 60-80, when employing a breathable shell, can approach 1.75 pounds.

Jacks ‘R’ Better, LLC is built around the goal of developing a system that will enable four season hammock camping to be simple, flexible and light. Jacks ‘R’ Better quilts and hiking gear provides that flexible, tailorable system on an affordable, ala carte basis.

Before explaining the quilts value and role in detail, it is important to point out that the two sphere issue affects shelter protection from rain and wind as well. Therefore, the rain tarp and a water resistant or waterproof bottom protector have a role in shelter and comfort as do the tent body and floor. This will be discussed in greater detail later.

Jacks ‘R’ Better has developed an array of multifunctional quilts to handle summer conditions, three season conditions, and winter conditions. The foundation element of the Jacks ‘R’ Better system is the down filled under quilt and the Jacks ‘R’ Better Under Quilt Suspension System. We have models compatible with either bottom entry hammocks, side entry hammocks, and top entry hammocks. The second element and compliment to the under quilt in the JRB system is a second down quilt that serves as a top quilt. All of our standard quilts are simple rectangles of nominally 78×48 inches, most are baffled, and are filled with high quality down insulation. The quilt fabric, 1.1 oz ripstop nylon, has a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) finish. It is not waterproof, but it does handle mist and occasional splash. All have the same attachment loops that enable any of them to perform as under quilts. All have no snag hook and loop and end draw cords that enable the forming of a foot box and shoulder pockets. Therefore, they can all be used as a top quilt, a ground quilt, or in conjunction with a sleeping bag as comfort range extender. Certain models that can be worn as a parka or a serape that provides two to four inches of insulation over the torso and upper legs. Hikers who typically carry multiple layers of insulation find that they can reduce to one insulation layer when packing a JRB wearable quilt. It is important to note that the zipper is eliminated with the JRB quilt approach. Yes, it contributes to the weight savings already mentioned. More importantly, the quilt removes the possibility that a zipper, under pressure from your side or bottom movement, will tear your hammock bottom. This is a real issue for hammocks made of extreme light weight material, do not ignore it! Oh by the way, it is also more comfortable not to lie on the zipper.

JRB summer weight quilts weigh 15-17 ounces depending on the model. They are 1.5 inches thick which corresponds to a temperature range of 40-45 degrees. A set of two summer quilts and a 2 ounce JRB suspension system weigh about 2 pounds.

JRB three season quilts weigh 20-23 ounces depending on the model. They are 2.5 inches thick, which suggests a temperature range of 25-30 degrees. A set of two 3 season quilts and a 2 ounce JRB suspension system weigh about 2 1/2 pounds. It is a simple matter to shift down to the center and achieve 2.5-3 inches of down under your critical bottom. Many people have used these quilts into the 20’s and routinely in the 30’s. These quilts also handle the unseasonably warm night as well. The drawstring closures on the head and foot ends may be left un-cinched, in effect creating an “open window” or two on a summer night. These windows can be opened wide or just cracked as one may need. The most popular three season sleep system combination is the No Sniveller and the Nest.

JRB winter weight quilts weigh 25-28 ounces depending on the model. They are 3.5 inches thick which corresponds to a temperature range of 0-10 degrees. A set of two winter quilts and a 2 ounce JRB suspension system weigh about 3 1/4 pounds.

For colder weather, two quilts can be combined on the bottom. In this manner, summer quilts can be used in the shoulder seasons and three season quilts can be used in the winter. An appropriate sleeping bag can be used for top insulation. Moreover, the bottom temperature range can be extended if one quilt has the down shaken to the center and one is used regular.

What about tarps?

The tarp must be large enough to provide coverage to the hammock surrounded by 2-5 inches of fluffy warm comfort. Ideally this larger coverage should also improve the overall livability of ones camp during bad weather. Minimum tarp size for a great hammock system is 8×8 or 8×10. There are numerous quality 8×10 tarps reasonably available. The uniquely sized 8×8 tarp is adequate, saves weight, and reduces cord requirements to four and stake requirements to two. Because this size is not commonly available we include it as an item in our system. The Jacks ‘R’ Better Square Tarp is nominally 8×8. The ridge is on the diagonal optimizing it for hammock use but still retaining flexibility for general purpose use. Detailed discussion of tarps is available in the tarp article.

All JRB quilts are made of a light weight ripstop nylon with Durable Water Resistant (DWR) treatment. They do not routinely require additional water or wind protection. However, when additional weather protection is required, we introduced the Weather Shield, a waterproof, breathable bottom protector and range extender to seal the system from the bottom. This is a stand alone splash shield and windproof barrier for hot summer use, read 60-80 degree range. The current model, The Weather Shield Type 2 (WS2), weighs approximately 7 oz and packs to a 2x4x7 size. When used with a Jacks ‘R’ Better quilt it provides a water proof barrier and additional wind protection. It provides an additional layer for warmth retention. And it adds 5-10 degrees to the range of which ever combination it is added too.

There are a lot of ways to make a hammock work. We think the system developed and described above is the leader. We lend our names and our quest for better hammock solutions to our business. We truly believe in and that, Jacks ‘R’ Better!