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One tree, two hammocks

It’s much easier to find one good tree than two correctly spaced, especially in the American west. And where there are no trees at all, often a vehicle can support one side of a hammock. We design our hammock stands to exploit these facts to the fullest, offering Tensa Solo and Trekking Treez singly instead of in pairs. This assures better portability and economy than any other stands we know. Even Tensa4, that doesn’t come in a single-side variant, can hang two hammocks from a single tree or similar support.

Earlier this summer my son and I hiked part of Mt. Hood’s Timberline Trail. We brought a pair of Trekking Treez, as the glacial stream crossings are much safer with poles than without, to say nothing of the treacherous scramble below McNeil Point. Using a single pole per person is half the weight and expense of two, while Trekking Treez’s strength, much greater than typical trekking poles, inspires plenty of confidence even under full body weight.

When we reached our overnight destination of Elk Cove late in the day, in the tree-sparse high alpine zone, we made use of a single Whitebark Pine to hang both our hammocks, far more quickly and sociably than if we’d needed to find separate pairs of trees. We could have pitched tarps, but the clear skies gave us unforgettable views of the Milky Way and even the Neowise comet.

Later in the season, we traveled to Crater Lake. Smoke from the wildfires had only begun to dim the views, but we found refuge near the headspring of the Rogue River on the western slope of the volcano. Not wanting to leave our river view or bushwhack too much to find four suitable trees clear of underbrush, we split one Tensa4 stand into two halves to hang us both from one tree.

A single stake under the head end apex secures a V-shaped guyline running along the ground to prevent the feet from sliding treeward. The same stake provides an anchor point to prevent the stand tipping for more security; we just hung our packs from the head ends instead. It was useful to have had two extra ball loop connectors than come with the stand to connect the feet to the ground straps, but otherwise we used no additional parts.

We brought the stand along because we planned later to camp at hot springs in the treeless scrub near the Alvord Desert, where we’d hang from the roof rack of our vehicle in a similar manner. Sadly, the wildfire smoke became too oppressive even that much further east, so we ended our trip without photos of that arrangement.

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Hammocks banned in hammock paradise

Hammocks and the tropics go together like tacos and more tacos. Hammocks were born in the tropics. Hammocks on a beach are as ideal, iconic, romantic, and often elusively unrealistic as driving a convertible sports car on a beautiful, empty, twisty country road.

You can’t always get what you want.

The sad truth is that fewer and fewer popular tropical travel destinations accommodate hammocks well or at all, at least close to the water. Either trees are absent, too small, or protected by regulation from the damage that visitors inflict with poor hanging practices. Hanging from shallow-rooted palms or under coconuts can even be deadly. Hammocks are not allowed to be hung from trees in Dry Tortugas National Park, for instance, only a few hundred miles from where Columbus found the Taino people enjoying hamacas as their regular beds.

That’s why customer Matt S. and his girlfriend were “the envy of most of the other campers” with their Tensa4 stand, which happens to pack to carry-on size:

Tensa Outdoor partner Cheryl is a passionate scuba diver and an every-night hammock sleeper. She recently enjoyed a 15-day diving trip in Baja California with her husband. In four of the five places they stayed, both outdoors and in, hanging hammocks would have been impossible without Tensa4, either for lack of hanging points or by regulation. With the stand, she was able to sleep every night as she is accustomed, in unmatched coolness and comfort.

On the return leg, in Joshua Tree National Park, she quickly rigged up a novel hammock chair stand she dubs Tensa3, which is simply 3/4 a Tensa4. When the light is just right, the pyramid focuses the cosmic rays to decalcify her pineal gland, right smack dab in the middle:

Could you use such an arrangement to field dress hunting quarry? Suspend a cauldron over a fire? Frame a lavvu or tipi-style shelter? Prop up … most anything? Of course. Poles predate and surpass the wheel in general usefulness.

But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

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Make your own tensahedron stand

Bushcrafted on the spot, lashed connections. Published here previously, it’s just too beautiful not to re-use.

The idea behind our Tensa4 stand is so simple that inexpensive homemade versions are irresistible. There have been several dozen DIY builds shown online since we showed our prototype in October 2017. They can be hard to find in the ephemeral jumble of social media streams, with their poor search features, and build details are scarce. To help fix this, we present below three builds that seem to us especially good: simple, cheap, and not requiring fancy tools or skills to make.

Dane’s bare bones tensahedron

One of the earliest builds is still startling for low cost, at $21. Poster Daneaustin3 presented it in November 2017:

No stand ridgeline necessary when hammock has one.

In his own words:

3/4″ EMT conduit with 220lbs in it. I used steel cable to hold the conduit together.
4x 3/4 conduit cut to 95″ (fits in my 8′ bed truck) $4.25 ea
4x 1′ steel cable $.36 per foot
4x cable clamps $.63 ea.
Total cost $21

Travis’s segmented fence top rail tensahedron

Hammocks not commonly seen in these here Utah parts.

Travis Hodgson (aka fivefreds), wasn’t the first to use fence top rail instead of EMT, but he did put up some good photos. Top rails are heavy and strong. These come typically 10′ long with one end swaged. Chop the pole in half for easier transport, and you can insert the swaged end into the middle to rejoin, securing with a pin. 10′ is more than long enough, so you might chop 3-10″ further off the sections.

Travis’s pole connectors are super elegant: continuous loops of Amsteel rope pushed through grommeted holes drilled in the pole ends, and then looped over the pole ends to secure.

It’s important to assure that the holes in the poles don’t cut the rope used to connect them. Grommets are a good idea, because steel can be hard to de-burr adequately. The coolest grommets I’ve seen are short pieces of copper tubing inserted through the holes and hand peened smooth:

Hard metal, meet soft metal. Artisanal peening.

Mike’s telescopic EMT conduit clothes line tensahedron

Save on power bills with this elegant laundry desiccation apparatus where permitted by homeowner covenant.

Mike Jones’ build uses two telescoping sizes of conduit to allow the poles to collapse to about half the full length for easier transport. Multiple stops make the poles adjustable length. The joint is near the middle, the weakest part of the pole, but 1″ steel conduit is pretty strong, and the overlap generous to take up much of the slop between EMT sizes.

The adjustable poles get just long enough to tension your tarp.
Round wire locks pin the poles at desired length.
Note how poles needn’t touch each other? Tensegrity design has compression members floating in tensioned lines.

In Mike’s words, edited:

Maximum length of each pole is 9’6″ and collapses down to 5’4″. Materials added up to about $50 provided you already have tools, hammock setup, and some 550 paracord.


  1. Two: 10′ x 3/4″ EMT
  2. Two: 10′ x 1″ EMT
  3. 550 paracord (used to attach the two points that touch the ground together. As well as button knots on a loop, like MeyersTech ties, to run though the 3/8″ holes attaching the poles together.) This will likely be replaced by Amsteel or webbing over time.
  4. One: 1/4″ PEX tubing (I found a 5′ length to buy but I only needed 1.5″ or 2″ per hole in the EMT to create a bushing so the paracord is not cut by the EMT. I had to heat the end of the PEX over a candle to flair it out.)
  5. Various hammock straps and lines to attach the hammock and tarp
  6. Eight: Rubber Leg Tips. I used 3/4″ tips for the 3/4″ tubing but I would likely buy 1″ tips if I make it again. Then I used 1-1/8″ tips for the 1″ tubing. Then I placed 1″ and 1-1/4″ fender washers inside the rubber leg tips so the EMT tubing does not cut through.
  7. Four: 3/8″ x 1-5/8″ Round Wire Locks. These are to secure the telescoping poles at various lengths while in use and in the compact mode for transportation.

I used the 9’6″ set up for my 12′ tarp, and it worked great, but a shorter pole length would also work. If you keep the two poles that touch the ground at 90° to one another, the following table of pole lengths will be a good estimate of ridgeline (hypotenuse) length. There is plenty of wiggle room here, but it gives you a starting point.

Pole Ridgeline
9.5′ 13.4′
9′ 12.7′
8.5′ 12.0′
8′ 11.3′
7.5′ 10.6′
5.5′ 7.8′
Tensa4 is our trademark, Mike! We call other builds tensahedrons (tensegrity+tetrahedron).

Want another EMT version that packs even smaller? See US soldier Kamileon’s build.

Other approaches

In addition to steel, DIY tensahedrons have been made from wood, bamboo, fiberglass, aluminum, and carbon fiber.

The pole material determines the necessary diameter for enough strength. For about 300lbs in the hammock, 3/4″ is adequate for most steel including EMT conduit. 1.5″ is likely enough for aluminum. Wood and bamboo can be very beautiful, but as irregular natural materials, it is important to select carefully: 2 inches is a prudent minimum for clear wood (no knots, straight grain) or structurally sound bamboo.

The poles must be joined at their ends into a diamond shape, with none of the joints having fixed angles, but instead floppy, permitting the poles to assume any angle, and to rotate at least several degrees. We favor rope loop connectors as simple and field serviceable, but various combinations of hardware and even lashing can also work. Avoid using hardware that can put bending moment on the poles when loaded, such as eye bolts protruding from the sides of the poles: poles should be in pure compression, lines in tension.

Joints along the poles can be points of failure, especially near the middle. Best to use either very strong materials, split into an odd number of segments, or both. (Tensa4 poles are divided into 7 segments, with the largest diameter in the middle).

Why are we telling you this?

As a company, our focus is on products offering value beyond what people can easily make for themselves. Why promote cheap alternatives to buying our stuff?

Apart from us doing all the work, burdening nobody with the task of reading long blog posts, the special value of our Tensa4 stand is how we’ve made it pack so small and light: carry-on airline luggage, easy to pack on a bike with a motor or not, in a subcompact car, Cessna 150, kayak, or even a backpack. We realize that this amount of portability isn’t worth the price to everybody, especially large families seldom far from large vehicles, scout troops, extremely cool small national armies, or people who want only a home solution. We can’t compete with your local hardware store for basic poles if you’re willing to contribute labor. We truly love helping people get off the ground with hammocks, especially where they couldn’t without this design.

Meanwhile, we figure the more people embrace the basic design, the more interest may turn to our packable dialed-in version, in 28 segments of custom made telescoping aluminum, keyed and anodized, not available at Home Depot. Quite a few of our customers, in fact, made one or more stands themselves before buying Tensa4.

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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 keep and travel with a separate ground-based system “just in case.” We are 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

Hot on the heels of learning about the Aussie Anchor, I came across this 150 year-old patent, now hanging on my wall:

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 into hammocks above lumpen, filthy, critter-crawling beds, 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.