Premium Bridges- What makes you so durn special?
That’s a fair point. To define things a bit- regardless of who builds them- adding upgrades in features, materials or construction is a good way to figure standard vs premium. In this case we’re talking about the defining features of the ‘suspension bridge’ hammock; the spreaders, the cables, and the deck. More importantly what those design choices mean to you.
After all, there is rarely a ‘best’ anything. Most of it is just marketing really. Nobody worth buying from uses bad materials, so that’s not really the make-or-break factor. If price is what makes it best, guess you’ve got me there. Simplicity? Nothing simpler than a gathered end hammock or even (gasp) sleeping on the ground. One stop shop? Warbonnet offers a bridge, tarp, under quilt, top quilt and even sells a beer koozie. Versatility? Dutch will sell you a Banyon with an infinite number of top covers, add ons, and titanium gee-haws to hang it. Holds more than 250lbs? Gathered ends can do it, but other bridges simply don’t. Ultralight? Now there’s a more’n fair debate to be had there.
Now that you mention it, I even hear it told that Just Bill can build a simpler, lighter bridge for less money than he charges fer these so-called premium bridges. In fact; I even seen it written down someplace that Just Bill will tell you to buy or try them others before you even consider buying something from him. So what’s the point of paying big bucks fer premium then?
End Bar vs Recessed Bar- Tower Placement
Let’s start with the obvious. Bridges use a spreader bar, but not all bridges put the spreader bar in the same place. MOST bridge hammocks use an end bar configuration. It is simpler, cheaper, and easier to build. It also makes a bugnet easier to incorporate. Here’s an End Bar Bridge (Just a Bridge Prototype); the spreader bars are placed at the ‘end’ of the fabric or bedspace of the hammock.
To the best of my knowledge; the only recessed bar bridges you can purchase are from Town’s End. You may find a DIY minded person willing to make you a variation of Grizz’s Ariel or get lucky enough to have VW make you a PBH… but other than a skilled MYOG friend yer stuck with me. Here’s a Recessed Bar Bridge (Happy Medium); the spreader bars are recessed (within) the bedspace of the hammock which also extends beyond the spreader bars and up the cables running along the edges.
Is it really better to recess? It’s different. You get much more ‘bridge’, but you have to deal with the spreaders being ‘in the bridge’ with you. It can address some common issues like shoulder squeeze, heel pinch, lack of sleep positions, edge bite, as well as some aches and pains. Now if you don’t have any of those issues with an end bar bridge; then why solve them? So most of the discussion comes down to personal preferences, problems, and the size of the user.
One clear winner not much for debate is bed length. At some point with an end bar- if you make it too long- it will narrow too much in the center to make it usable. As a result; most folks around 6 feet tall will start to find that a standard end bar bridge gets tight with 6’3” being a common limit unless you’re willing to curl up in a side sleep position.
Now this handsome fella in the picture is only 5’10” tall for your visual reference. Town’s End premium bridges feature something nobody else has- adjustable ends. As you can see even with one end closed there is a full 8’ of useable length in the bedspace of the bridges. This is true of all the Premium bridges in our lineup. This doesn’t just mean that you need to be 7’3”. It does mean that you have space. Options. Possibilities. You can slide up or down to get in just the right spot. You can put an arm over your head when you side sleep. You can superman on your belly.
You can spread out your gear a little, even stash a pack in one end. So what’s the rub in this sweet tub? Well, you have the spreader bars in your bed. Over your head. BY YOUR FACE! This can freak people out a bit. 99.9% of folks find that after a dozen nights in the bridge… you get used to it. Most employ the extra bed length to slide down a bit and keep their heads clear of the bar during this warmup phase. Would it be better if they were not there? Sure. But then you’re back to an end bar. Life: an endless series of compromises until we die.
Really- it’s not that bad. It does take some getting used to. You do need to pay attention just a little. But there is more space there than it seems and with rare exception- most find that the advantages of this type of bridge outweigh the disadvantages. So since you can buy end bar bridges from other folks… yer ol Pal Just Bill is going to keep building these bridges this way since you can’t get them any other place.
Rolled webbing edge vs Amsteel in Channel- them pesky cables.
Here’s where things can get a bit technical, as we’re talking nerdy details of construction. A rolled webbing edge is basically what it sounds like; you put a piece of webbing on the edge of the fabric and roll the fabric around it. You put in some stitches to hold it there and yer done. Simple, clean, fast. As you might have surmised by now- I don’t build them- though I have before.
What you see here might look a bit strange. Here’s a video to explain it better. It’s okay, I’ll wait. But long story short- this is the Amsteel part of ’Amsteel in Channel’ construction. The yellow up top is the Adjustable Ridgeline (also a premium feature in our book). It is ’structural’ and meant to be part of the system. You’ll see the Signature ’red head/blue balls’ system in the cords outside the spreaders. Between the spreaders you’ll see a yellow cord that will be hidden completely in the final bridge. When you attach the spreaders each night before bed- they will directly interact with this Amsteel (detail).
In short- what you’re seeing is structure. Towers and cables before the decking is added. To that I will build structural channels of fabric, attach those to the bridge body, and then slide that completed ‘deck’ over the Amsteel. After all; in a real suspension bridge that’s the way they are built- structure then deck. No matter where you are laying, your weight is gathered up into these cables of Amsteel and transferred up to your anchor points. Over the river and back to dry land while you drift off to slumber.
All right, sorry. That’s some poetic marketing BS there at the end but you get the point. If you’re a 75lb kiddo or a 375lb big guy- you lay on the fabric however you want, wherever you want and it transfers to the hidden structure.
One more? Rolled web edges; It’s a bit like rolling your drapes around your curtain rod right before you attach it to the wall. We don’t do that though do we? Nah- we put a pocket or channel in the drape and slide it over the rod. That way we can open the drapes, let the fabric slide along the structure. We get flexibility rather than rigidity. The proverbial Oak versus the Willow.
So what does that mean for you? Maybe not much. If you’re someone who tends to fall asleep and stay put… maybe no big deal. If you lay down in a rolled webbing edge bridge and it happens to hit you ‘just right’ then who cares? Complexity, extra parts, specialized knowledge- all adds up to more costs- and really it’s just waste if you don’t need it. So if a rolled webbing edge is good enough for you… good enough for me.
But if you’ve tried one of those and it didn’t work… if you flip and flop, slide and glide, switch and twitch… well I find that having the dynamic movement that sliding a channel over a cable tends to make a big difference. If you have some injuries or unique body contours you may find the extra support where you need it is a further advantage of dynamic movement. If you’re not ‘one size fits most’…
Long Span Suspension Bridges are meant to be flexible while doing a big job. Subjected to wind, weather and to moving traffic. To a semi-truck rumbling along as a motorcycle passes a sight-seeing Motorhome… as a lowly thru-hiker quietly walks along the edge. Concrete cracks, steel beams shear, grating twists… but when combined with a few slip joints and two strong flexible cables; everything tends to balance out and do the job it was meant to do.
Ultimately to me… the best bridge is a balanced bridge. There’s a lot of ways to cross a river- A jump, a swing, a downed tree. A swim, a boat or a ferry. Jack’s way, Brandon’s way, Dutch’s way, Grizz’s way, My way. A single beam, a wood trestle, a precast concrete plank, and dozens of other increasingly complicated structural solutions. They are all special in their own way, the right design for the right job.
Now fair to say that it may just be my own preferences speaking, but when you’ve got a bit more difficult job to do; I think a few premium features are required to accomplish that goal.