GETTING THE HANG OF IT; The best way to help busy dads get more down time is to present them with -- ta-da! -- a hammock. We even test-dozed a few

For you, it is officially time to panic. Father's Day is almost here and, for the umpteenth year in a row, you have no clue what to get the big lug.

And the big lug himself is of no help in this matter, of course.


So emotionally numb is he from all the horrible Father's Day gifts he's received in the past - the matching mustard-color tie and pocket square, the ceramic "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug that looks like it was kiln-fired by third-graders during art class, the gag T-shirts that say "Dad: the Walking ATM" - that when you ask what he wants, he gives you that thousand-yard stare and waves a hand wearily in the air and answers: "Whatever."

God, couldn't you just whack him sometimes?


But maybe we can help. Clearly, what every dad needs in this frenzied, go-go-go world is a little rest and relaxation.

And what better way for the big guy to de-stress than in a backyard hammock swaying gently in the evening breeze, a tall glass of ice tea or adult beverage perched happily on his gut, beeper turned off, the Orioles on the radio and not yet in need of their bullpen?

So as a public service for Father's Day, we went out and tested a variety of hammocks in different styles and price ranges.

(This, by the way, was done at considerable personal risk, since it turns out that you can actually kill yourself getting in and out of a hammock. In fact, immediately following two different hammock testings, one at a Sunny's store and the other in front of several alarmed shoppers at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, we were barely able to rise to our feet without the assistance of paramedics. But more on that later.) What follows is a look at some popular hammocks found in area stores, from the least expensive models to the high-end jobs with all the bells and whistles, including what we consider to be the Rolls-Royce of the hammocks we tested:


It's generally thought that hammocks date back at least 1,000 years to Peruvian and Brazilian Indians, who first wove theirs from the bark of the hamack tree and called them hamacas.

This cost the Peruvian and Brazilian Indians next to nothing, and if you still want a hammock at next-to-nothing prices, we found one at Wal-Mart that sold for as little as $8.95.

In the interest of full disclosure, we were afraid to test this model, fearing it might be so flimsy that one end might snap and drive us head-first into the back deck, setting in motion a lifetime of headaches and memory problems.


Instead, we bought a nylon double hammock from Ozark Trail at Wal-Mart that sold for $16.95.

On the box, there was a picture of an attractive young couple in their 20s snuggling in the hammock. But upon unfurling the hammock, we became convinced that two people could fit in it comfortably only if both were recent victims of a sustained famine or, barring that, Keebler Elves.

The hammock itself, once we secured it between two trees - what, you expected a stand, too, at that price? - was not uncomfortable.

And yet there didn't seem to be a great deal of support, either. Within minutes, our sway-backed position induced fears of scoliosis and we were lurching ponderously to our feet, thinking: Maybe we should continue this nap on the couch.

Spend a little more for a hammock, is our considered advice.



Some additional minutiae on hammocks, which I'm sure you'll find fascinating:

Christopher Columbus' crew started using hammocks after they saw natives of the West Indies relaxing in them.

For hundreds of years, if a sailor died at sea, his body was wrapped in his hammock for burial beneath the waves.

At Sunny's, which bills itself as "The Affordable Outdoor Store" with 18 outlets in Baltimore, D.C., Virginia and Delaware, the most popular item sold for Father's Day is the hammock.

Sunny's sells four different models of moderately priced hammocks; so heavily requested are they that two are sold year-round. Steve Bachman, hard goods buyer for the chain, says Sunny's sells around 2,000 hammocks a year

The most popular model, a rope hammock, normally retails for $50 but is on sale for $39.99, with the stand costing an additional $49.99. During a recent visit to the Timonium store, this model was set up on the sidewalk out front, necessitating a tricky test-nap over concrete.


After a less-than-graceful entrance into the hammock followed by a frightening 145-degree lurch to the right in which we came close enough to the concrete to smell it, friendly store manager Bob Bradley shared his secret for safely getting in a hammock.

"What you want to do . . ." Bradley began. This is what I need, I thought. a tip from the master.". . . is back in and center yourself."

That's it?! That's the tip from the master?

"That's pretty much it," Bradley said.

The $50 rope hammock felt fine - sturdy, but with plenty of bounce - as did a $69.99 double-rope hammock, with a stand that went for $79.99.

But we much preferred the larger and wider (82-by-55 inches) Pawley's Island Poolside model, which sells for $99.99 and comes with a non-absorbent vinyl-coated bed and was much more comfortable.


Sunny's also sells something called an Amazon hammock, which is made of nylon-taffeta, costs $20 and is made especially for backpackers, meaning it can be folded up easily and carried in one's knapsack.

But the Amazon was hanging 12 feet in the air from one of the store's steel rafters. And after that incident out on the sidewalk, we had the good sense not to climb up and test this baby, lest we soon end up testing a gurney in the emergency room.

From here, we journeyed down the Jones Falls Expressway to Smith & Hawken in Mount Washington, where we tested its Original Pawley's Island Rope Hammock (on sale for $99, with the stand also $99).

It turns out that Pawley's Island, S.C., is a hotbed of hammock-making; this original rope hammock was created in 1889 on the island by riverboat pilot Joshua John Ward, who needed a cool resting place aboard his riverboat.

It's a wonderful hammock, big enough for two, 13 feet overall and 82 inches between spreaders, lending credence to what the experts had been telling us: You can't go wrong with a Pawley's Island hammock.



On the Web site of a company called Hamacas Hammocks (, a man named David Fairley, who bills himself as a "hammock aficionado," says potential hammock buyers need to ask themselves a host of questions before settling on a purchase, including: "How many people - 1-2-3 ... do you visualize in the hammock at one time? A very important question for the romantic and the naughty buyers!"


After two days of exhaustive testing, it was hard to visualize anyone getting frisky with anyone else in a hammock, mainly due to logistical problems involving space, weight and balance considerations.

But then we drove out to Valley View Farms and tried out its Twin Oaks quilted hammock ($149.99; stand $129.99). It was heaven - by far the most comfortable hammock of all the ones we'd tested, even though while getting out of it, we nearly careened into a nearby patio table. With a thick cushion, reversible sides featuring an acrylic/olefin blend of outdoor fabric, a sturdy polyester rope harness and a weight capacity of 450 pounds, two friendly people could definitely enjoy themselves in this model.

But even the non-amorous would find plenty of room to spread out, and the cushioned bed is easier to maneuver in than a rope frame - for all sorts of creatures. For instance, said assistant manager Jody Hale, "some people want their dogs in there with them."

Valley View also sells a double-sized TwinTex Fabric Hammock ($129.99; stand $129.99) with a mesh design for coolness and draining capability that is incredibly comfortable - even more so when you don't have some slobbering Labrador retriever in your lap.


Top of the line

We found it in Brookstone, in Towson Town Center. It was perched there in the middle of the store, gleaming, beckoning, a shimmering blue ark of solitude and relaxation.

It took our breath away.

A Hatteras rope hammock. Only not just any Hatteras rope hammock. A fully loaded Hatteras rope hammock - with every conceivable option you could dream of.

"They're selling like crazy," said Tom Johnson, assistant store manager, noticing us gawking.

We fell into the hammock. It was like falling onto a cloud. "Close the store," we told Johnson. "We're going to be here for a few days."


Oh, man. Let's tick off what this baby can come with:

Handcrafted cotton rope hammock, 54-by-82-inches, with cherry-stained oak spreaders ($99).

Steel hammock stand with removable wheels ($120).

Thick, reversible polyester hammock pad ($100).

Large-sized, extra-cushiony pillow with non-skid hook-and-loop strips ($40).

Weather resistant, shade-inducing hammock canopy ($140).


Weatherproof cover ($80).

Mosquito netting, 100 percent breathable nylon ($65).

Total cost: a cool $644.

And worth every penny - if you have that kind of iron to drop on a hammock.

The dad who gets this for Father's Day ... well, the rest of us hate him already.