Superior Hammock started with a bad night’s sleep and a heavy pack.
Danny Warnock, a software engineer from Woodbury, enjoyed his backpacking and wilderness canoe outings, but not the quality of rest he was getting in his tent, sleeping (or trying to) on hard ground in bumpy campsites — or the 90 pounds of gear he found himself carrying on a solo paddling trip.
Lugging that much weight in a state of sleep deprivation was no way to enjoy the outdoors, Warnock concluded.
“I realized the heaviest thing I had was my tent, which weighed 6 ½ pounds,” he said. “I was carrying a hammock too, just to hang out in, and it was a lot lighter. I wondered: Can I just sleep in the hammock?”
Warnock found he could. His sleep improved, and he loved cutting pounds. But when he went looking for a rig more suitable to backpacking than his day hammock, which had no bug net or what’s called an underquilt necessary to block the cold, he couldn’t find anything he liked. So, with his mother-in-law teaching him how to sew, he made his own, haunting thrift stores for old winter jackets he used to supply the down feathers he needed for his insulation layer.
At the time, four years ago, Warnock had no intention of stitching together more than just his own hammock. But that just changed — dramatically. During a Kickstarter campaign that ended in mid-November, 111 backers pledged more than $42,000 (almost three times the goal) to buy gear from Warnock’s fledgling company, dubbed Superior Hammock. The merchandise is being made in a small warehouse in an Osseo business park, with the first hammocks scheduled to be delivered to customers before the end of the year. A second crowdfunding effort, through Indiegogo, is now in progress. One Kickstarter package — “a launch special” — is $479 for a hammock, suspension, tarp, ridgeline (used to suspend a tarp), bug net and stuff sack.
Warnock attributes the interest in his product largely to what seems like a contradiction. Conventional wisdom is that hammocks and underquilts should be separate parts sold separately. Warnock’s first hammock, and those he is now selling under the Superior brand, combine the hammock and the underquilt into one piece.
“I just found, from the very beginning, that I really wanted the insulation to be built into the hammock,” he said. “I didn’t want to mess with all the different parts.”
Neither did his tenting friends, who were impressed enough with Warnock’s original creation to suggest he consider making more to sell to them, and others. He figured people could be convinced to abandon their tents if the alterative was less fuss, and Superior Hammock was born.
“I decided there were enough people who have not used a hammock but may be thinking about it,” he said. “I just needed to make my product simpler and less intimidating than some other hammocks. That’s why we sell the whole system. My goal is to get people out of their tents and see how amazing this is. That’s the biggest market opportunity.”
Eric Raum of Denver, Colo., one of Warnock’s Kickstarter backers, falls into that category.
“I’ve stuck with tents in the past just because that’s what I was used to, but I came across this project and it was like turning everything I knew on its head,” he said in a phone interview. “After a long day on the trail, I want to kick back and relax, not fumble in the dark with a bunch of tent poles.”
“An entire sleep system that takes up less room than my tent and is lighter than my ultralight setup by a significant margin? I’m in,” Raum added.
At the same time, Warnock did not want to ignore veteran hammockers, even though he knows many of them pride themselves in putting together their own systems — they do like to mess with all the parts.
“Hammockers are often more the do-it-yourselfers, the tinkerers,” Warnock said. “But I wanted the way our hammock was built to be legitimate to a real hammocker, even if I may come at it from a different angle.” To spread that word, he has reached out to the hammock community, appearing on the popular Hang Your Own Hang podcast and soliciting reviews from hammock-centric websites such as the Ultimate Hang.
“At first, they think they’re not going to like it, they think it’s kind of a gimmick, but they’ve taken to it,” he said. “There is legitimacy among real hammockers.”
Warnock is not the first gearmaker to sell a hammock system, so he said his initial goal, which entrepreneur friends and associates helped him determine, was to make a product that would stand out for its quality, even if that meant the price might be a bit higher than he originally envisioned.
The strategy would work, he believed, as long as people understood what they were getting. Without a background in marketing or production, he decided to hire a company that specializes in launching products to run his Kickstarter campaign, reasoning they could tell his story better than he could.
And lacking sewing skills, Warnock brought in more experienced seamstresses to work with him.
“They really helped me take me this to the next level, making things look really sharp. I just don’t think you’re going to get masses of people behind something that looks like it was made in someone’s garage. I wanted the product to look professional.”
Fulfilling his Kickstarter and Indiegogo orders will keep Warnock busy for some time, but he’s got plenty of ideas about expanding sales to other online sites as well as in brick-and-mortar shops. He also has thoughts for different versions of his hammock system; he believes there may be room for both lighter weight hammocks at a higher price and car camper hammocks that are heavier but less expensive.
“I could see doing this for a long time, as long as I have new ideas,” Warnock said. “Right now, I just want to make the best product I can, and be really responsive to what people are wanting. From the beginning, I was told that if the quality control is good and the customer service is good, and if you maintain it, you can make this a success.”
Warnock’s one regret is that with all the time he’s had to put into his startup, as well as the work at his day job, he hasn’t had the time to sleep outside even once during the past year.
“I love being outdoors and camping,” he said. “I sure hope that changes next year.” But if Superior Hammock takes off the way he is hoping it will, he may just have to wait.
Jeff Moravec is a writer and photographer from Minneapolis. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.