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Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii

That’s Navajo for Valley of the Rocks, or Monument Valley. Sited within the Navajo Nation, there’s no image more iconic or clichéd for the US desert Southwest. The first written account of the place is from a US Army officer in 1859, who found it “as desolate and repulsive-looking a country as can be imagined,” citing the lack of tree cover. No place for a couple of Norwegian hammocks, surely.

The Mitten and Merrick Buttes, yeah, behind the weird hammocks. Photos by AZsteelman.
Amok Draumr transverse hammocks pining for the fjords. Tensa4 on the right; DIY tensahedron on the left.
Sunrise after what must have been a sublime night of stargazing.

Hammock camping in the US is much more popular east of the Mississippi than west. The humidity of eastern summers makes tents miserable, while hammocks are famously cool without bottom insulation. Then of course, there are lots of trees too. Out west, the most common reaction among tent campers to the idea of hammock camping is “that’s fine if you have trees.” Many who have discovered the comfort of hammocks as bedding maintain and travel with a separate ground-based system “just in case.” Tensa Outdoor is putting an end to this.

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Tensa Solo in photos

Tensa Solo with Dream Hammock Darien, jealous Helinox chair, and Honda CB500X, not included with Tensa Solo, on either Mars or Oregon’s Alvord Desert in fire season. Photo by Cliff Volpe.

Our Tensa Solo hammock stand hasn’t gotten as much attention as Tensa4. It may be less striking, but Solo is the ticket when you need a much lighter, more compact solution than Tensa4. It’s cheaper, too! Solo’s relative obscurity stems partly from our prior lack of many good photos of it in use, pictures being worth a thousand words. Now that we’ve gotten a fair number out into the world, customers are starting to post great stuff:

Notice tarp extension, extending the … tarp
Bikepacker’s dream. Yes, that’s a Surly Troll with B+M dynamo lighting system, Ergon GP3 Biokork grips, Brooks Cambium C17 Carved saddle, Schwalbe Big Apples, and Alfine internal gearhub holding up the head end, not that we notice this sort of thing.
Even this earlier version of Tensa Solo is far superior to ACME hammock stands. Saguaro is not for hanging. Dream Hammock Darien. Photo by Cliff Volpe.

Which should you choose, Tensa4 or Tensa Solo? It comes down to reliability versus portability. Tensa4 is extremely reliable, able to be set up indoors or out, but at 10-13 pounds, it’s not suitable for backpacking. Tensa Solo at only 2.3lbs (1.04kg) per side is pack friendly, but you must be able to set down strong anchors, two per side, making it less reliable in uncertain ground conditions. It’s still very likely to work in most places, but that last lacking measure of confidence can loom large when you depend on a hammock for rest and shelter.

You don’t have to choose: you can convert one Tensa4 into four Solos with our Conversion kits, so you can have both at far less than the cost of buying separately.

Tensa Solo anchoring tips

If you suspect that the ground you’ll be trying to pitch in is extremely hard or rocky, you may want to use heavier metal hammer-in nails instead of the Orange Screws we include, which work best wherever they can be driven in. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other generally, but of suitability for specific conditions. More tips:

  • Tie to the base of a firmly rooted woody shrub or exposed rock feature, with or without the Orange Screw reinforcing.
  • Excavate any very loose soil until you uncover firmer, and drive the anchor into that.
  • Hit a big rock, root, treasure chest? Excavate enough opposite the hammock side either to tie to the object itself if massive, or to drive the anchor in behind it.
  • Check your anchors between nights, repositioning if they seem loose, especially if there’s been rain.
  • Anchors driven further away from the stand, with longer guylines, tend to hold better than those positioned close, soil conditions being the same.
  • Heavier users, or those facing exceptionally loose or soft muddy ground devoid of reinforcing roots: more anchors. We include only 2 per pole, but more work. Pass the guyline through the anchor heads in a manner that equalizes the load on them.
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Tensa Indoor?

Most people looking for portable hammock stands are interested in camping. But why limit it? All the recent advances in hammock camping comfort and popularity have more people embracing hammocks as full-time beds, as people in the American tropics have for centuries.

Hanging hammocks indoors requires more expertise, commitment, or permission than many people can bring to the task. Placing wall hooks is clean and simple in some cases, but difficult, dangerous, or impossible in others. Meanwhile, stands suitable for indoor use tend either to have huge footprints, or else put their supports far too low or close to support full-size sleeping hammocks far enough off the floor for ease of entry, sitting, and exit.

If a stand’s hanging points aren’t at least about 72 inches high and 132 inches apart (6′, 11′; 1.8M, 3.3M), it’s just too small for a compelling adult bed replacement. That’s just about every one available cheap on Amazon, at Walmart, etc. It’s almost as if they think hammocks are just for lounging!

Our Tensa4 stand fits in the footprint of a twin bed with room left over, the high ends being wider. Apart from its portability packed, this means it deploys where no other stand we know of will. Shown in the photo is a 12′ Colombian cotton hammock with underquilt for Oregon’s cool climate, hung properly with foot end higher than head for flattest lay, another detail most stands don’t accommodate.

It’s far more comfortable than any mattress costing several times as much as stand and hammock together. Unlike a mattress, it’s free of organohalogen flame retardants, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds, and doesn’t contribute to the problem of about 20 million of them annually clogging up landfills after they become too disgusting. That’s right: a hammock can be cleansed of mites, mildew, and bodily fluid stains, unlike even the lumpiest vegan organic cotton futon. But mainly, the sleep is heavenly. Experience and science align.

Tensa Outdoor will continue to advance the best stands for camping, while sidestepping toward the ultimately more meaningful goal of packaging a compelling mattress alternative, for the third of your life you spend in bed.

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Origin of the Tensa4 hammock stand

Origins would be more correct.

When I set out to make a portable hammock stand, my first goal was to improve upon the portability of an existing, proven design. That effort failed. In attempt to recover losses having bought expensive carbon fiber poles for the failed prototype, I tinkered for months with alternative designs until stumbling upon what worked, far better than I had hoped.

As soon as I showed anybody the design, all told me to keep it under wraps until I applied for a patent. I did that in a provisional filing, enjoying the little ego stroke that comes from giving the government money to file away a formal statement of how clever you think you’ve been. The lawyers said it was well-written, even, for a non-lawyer. I told myself at the time that I was trying to wrap the idea in a protective container so some entrepreneur could safely buy and manufacture it. I didn’t think I would be involved directly in anything so quixotic as a hammock stand company.

Soon came to my attention a 2011 photograph published on the Hennessy Hammock web site’s Letters page showing a pair of remarkably similar structures on an airfield:

I set out to find the person responsible for this, using the aircraft’s markings to look up the registration. Pilot Leonard Jensen designed and built those two, enjoying them briefly before stashing away with no further action. I admit I felt a pang of disappointment that the photo had been published, since the prior existence of so similar a design put a big hole in the side of my provisional patent claims. Leonard shared more detailed photos of his creation recently, built for the ages in heavy aircraft aluminum:

Meanwhile, Cheryl and I teamed up to evolve my expensive, fragile (but really light) prototype into a viable product. Known as Raftingtigger on Hammock Forums for energy levels reminiscent of A.A. Milne’s Tigger, Cheryl was already busy making and selling hammock stands of her own design, so there was nothing too momentous about taking on a new design, just a lot of fun collaborating on the details. Our confidence buoyed by the enthusiastic reception of what I dubbed the “tensahedron” design in Hammock Forums, (now with over 150,000 views and over 1000 comments in the largest thread alone), we formed Tensa Outdoor, and we’ve been busier than expected ever since.

Thunda down unda

Just this week, another bomb dropped in the origin story. Not only weren’t we the first, neither was Leonard. Earlier still there was a whole product line built around essentially the same concept, a stunning example of convergent evolution. From the crypt of dead websites, circa 2007-2012, the Wayback Machine, comes The Aussie Anchor, available in six fantastic colours:

It’s slightly terrifying that the company shuttered, of course. It’s like finding the dessicated corpse of the twin sibling you never knew you had in an attic crawlspace. Are we next? Cockiness is no asset. While I can rattle off half a dozen ways our realization is better, it’s also more expensive. I prefer to think the Aussie Anchor was merely ahead of its time. I have more than once been involved in commercial endeavors where this was the case, a pioneer laboring in fields that, a decade or more later, afford others more success. Hammocking has come a long way in popularity since, with crucial developments like underquilts, more generous cuts, structural ridgelines and so on becoming common, raising the waterline for all.

It can’t have helped that shipping their less-compact product outside of Australia was no less costly than it is for us today to ship into Australia, while Australia’s entire population is roughly 60% that of California alone. At a time when hammocks seldom seemed serious alternatives to other sleeping arrangements, worthy of similar outlays, the product was priced well below ours. Knowing what it costs to make such things, I suppose profits were insufficient to carry on, let alone grow. Inventor Joe Askey-Doran of Tasmania: if you’re reading this, drop us a line please!

Massachusetts, 8 August 1876

Been there, done that:

Plunder gratefully

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, a harvest festival overlaid with colonial narratives about moments of peace between indigenous people and those who received asylum on this continent. I digress, but do read about Tisquantum, who helped the Pilgrims even after he escaped slavery from those same Pilgrims’ countrymen years earlier.

Hammocks were the bedding of the Taino people Columbus encountered, and of the tribes Amerigo Vespucci met all along the northeast South American coast, where hammocks remain normal bedding to this day. These people were conceived, born, bred, wed, healed and buried in their hammocks. Pressed for gold, the friendly Taino instead gave Columbus their most elegant technology, hamacas. In 500 years of obliviousness to the gift, the colonizer culture still thinks $1000 slabs of petrochemical foam offer the ultimate in sleeping comfort, while hammocks (ignorantly complicated with tippy spreader bars to look more like European beds) are regarded as summertime lawn furniture for the indolent rich.

Post-genocide, we can never know how many generations before Columbus’s encounter the people had risen above lumpen, filthy, critter-crawling beds in hammocks, all the ways how and to what geographic extent, but in the Caribbean they were hung from posts in their houses, not just to trees. Did they have stands? If three people from hammock-naive cultures conceived of this simple 4-pole design independently within little more than a decade, what could people who made hammocks their lifetime beds invent over centuries?

At a stone complex estimated to have housed 200 people, the Puerco Pueblo ruins in eastern Arizona, abandoned over a century before Columbus, are petroglyphs of mysterious meaning. One guess is that we are seeing looms. I see ancient alien hammock stand technology transfer.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Sneak peek: tarp extensions for Tensa4

A persistent criticism of our Tensa4 stand is that, while it does accommodate most tarps, it doesn’t accommodate them well enough. Specifically, while tarps up to 11′ fit well, longer tarps require some ingenuity to tension properly. Regardless of tarp length, the height of the tarp is low. Low tarps still afford more crouching space than 2-3 person tents, and are warmer, but don’t allow standing headroom.

Some customers have taken to packing stand-alone tarp support poles in address of this, which seems to us more than a gentle nudge to do better. We have been steadily at work on addressing this. We’re now in late production prototyping of the tarp extensions shown in use with a 12′ hex tarp in the photos below. We hope to have this shipping early 2019. Yes, it will be fully retro-fittable to previous product. If it proves popular enough, we may bundle it with the stand by default.

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Bushcraft

Simon of Tier Gear Tasmania posted this stunning capture by M. Coss of a bushcrafted tensahedron hammock stand under a massive chalcedony overhang, amid giant tree ferns, in front of a marsupial tiger’s cave lair.

Tensa4 offers a degree of portability beyond what people can easily make for themselves, but portability isn’t always important. We love that the basic design is at once non-obvious and simplicity itself, within reach of anybody with a machete, some rope, and a few minutes. Of course, leave-no-trace camping ethics preclude chopping down poles on site, just as they may preclude hanging from delicate trees. In this case, the culled vegetation was the invasive weed Large Leaf Privet.

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Hammock vs. tent

This fun video is making the rounds. OK, it might not be completely fair:

Hammocks are easy to love, but it’s a rare hammock camper who’s never had trouble finding just the right trees in just the right place. It’s this uncertainty that compels many hammockers to keep a tent in reserve, and discourages many tenters from even getting started with hammocks, especially outside of heavily wooded regions. We aim to change this.

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Boundary Waters

Customer JSBar shared some photos of our kayak-friendly Tensa4 hammock stand in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Too good not to share!

Yes, plenty of trees around, but the stand lets you pick your spot, even moving it easily to suit wind, sun, or viewpoint conditions. JS noted the welcome absence of sway from the high winds in the trees.

Tensa4’s low-tension anchoring requirements let it work in shallow soil over bedrock. Even a big rock is often enough.

Also works without a tarp. Otherwise you might confuse it with a tent on stilts.
Prêt-à-portage
Porch mode with a paddle
Nice to be off the ground. Winter cometh. Thanks to the recent invention of the underquilt, the ancient, elegant sleeping technology of the Taino and other Native Americans of the tropics now works even in arctic zones.