Comparison of hammock camping vs tent camping, how to setup a hammock, and practical hammock tips.
Updated: October 1st, 2020
Photo by @danamazing
Hammocks bring comfort to the backyard, so it is not surprising that they often find their way to the campground, too. They are lightweight and portable, making them a cinch to throw into the trunk of your car. And when appropriately hung, a camping hammock can be as comfortable as your bed at night.
Now, we are not talking about the poolside net hammocks that you use for a quick nap. We are talking about the roomy nylon parachute hammocks that you hang from a tree. We explore what goes into a quality camping hammock and some tips on how to use them.
✅ Comfort (maybe): For many, hammocks provide a welcome respite from the hard, cold ground and clammy condensation of a tent. Some people absolutely love the casual vibe of hanging in the lounge position. This is HEAVILY dependent on the individual though. Some people hate not being able to truly lay flat and stretch out their backs at night.
✅ Weight: Because there are no poles or heavy rain flys to lug around, hammocks are usually lighter and more portable than a tent.
✅ Cost: Hammocks tend to be less expensive than tents at least when you are comparing the same quality of design and materials.
✅ Location: You can hover in peace above unlevel ground - like on the side of a steep mountain with no flat tent space. This goes for soggy marsh ground, rocky ground, etc as well.
❌ Setup: Finding trees, setting up your suspension system, ridgeline, tarp - there are more moving parts with hammocks that can prolong setup time compared to a tent.
❌ Warmth: While tents are comfortable in four seasons, hammocks are best for warm and clear nights when you can lay down in the hammock and watch the stars go by. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can try to protect yourself with a tarp and underquilt, but they do not provide the warmth and protection you get from being inside a tent.
❌ Space: Hammocks also provide little to no storage space. You should be able to store most of your gear below you and your tarp. However, without a tarp, you have to bring your gear into the hammock with you which can be very annoying. Also, there's very little area to HANG out in (pun intended) or sit up in during bad weather. Being forced to lay down all the time also makes it difficult to change clothes.
❌ Location: You HAVE to have trees. Might sound easy peasy for us East coasters. However, this can be very frustrating finding trees out west on high ridge lines, deserts, etc. Hanging a hammock requires two sturdy trees that are 10 to 15 feet apart. They need to be at least 4-inches or larger in diameter and should not be near any 'widowmaker' trees that are ready to fall.
A hammock is more than just a piece of fabric you hang between two trees. It can be broken down into three main components - the suspension system that holds up the hammock, the ridgeline that runs above the hammock and the fabric of the hammock itself. All three parts play an essential role in the comfort and durability of a hammock.
|A. Suspension||System used to attach the hammock to the trees.|
|B. Ridgelines||One or several lines running above the hammock. Used to suspend a tarp and/ or a bug net.|
|C. Bug Net*||A bug-proof mesh that envelops the hammock. Usually sold separately.|
|D. Tarp*||Hung above the hammock, it shields you from wind, rain and snow.|
|E. Quilts*||Hung under the hammock to act like an external blanket.|
Suspension System: Keep it simple and adjustable
The suspension system holds up the hammock and is one of the most critical parts of a hammock sleep system. The best suspension systems are adjustable, allowing you to tweak the hammock after you have suspended on nearby trees. Whoopie slings and daisy chain straps are the two most common adjustable suspension systems you will encounter.
ROPE (Basic): The most basic suspension system you'll see is a rope that you tie to a tree with a knot. Though inexpensive and easy to find in a store, a piece of rope is not the best suspension system. They are 'fixed' and can be very frustrating tying and untying them to find them optimal length and tension. Rope can stretch under tension. That beautiful hammock you just hung may have you sitting on the ground when you climb into it. Rope also tends to be smaller and can damage the bark of the tree. In some campgrounds, the use of a rope is even banned because of the damage it could cause.
WEBBING: Instead of rope, most people use a piece of non-stretch webbing, usually 1-inch or wider, to attach their hammock to a tree. This wider webbing is less likely to damage a tree bark and is often required at many campgrounds and state parks. A straight piece of webbing is affordable, but it can be complicated to use. When you hang a hammock with webbing, you need to use a knot like a Marlin-Spike-Toggle or a carabiner to attach the webbing to the tree. Then you need to modify each end of the hammock so it has either d-rings or a whoopie sling that will connect to the webbing.
WHOOPIE SLING: A whoopie sling is a rope designed with an adjustable loop. One part of the whoopie sling attaches to the end of your hammock, and the other end attaches to the webbing strap on a tree. You can purchase a whoopie sling online or learn how to make one yourself using amsteel. Once you have a whoopie sling on each side of the hammock, you can easily slide the loops to adjust the hammock to the right height and angle. To learn more, check out our Guide to Whoopie Slings.
DAISY CHAIN STRAPS: Daisy chain straps, like the Eno Atlas, use a single webbing strap with a series of loops that serve as attachment points for the hammock. Using a carabiner, you clip the hammock to the loop that provides the optimal height. If you misjudge the height, you can unclip the carabiner and quickly move up or down a loop to dial in the most comfortable hang. These are one of the most manageable suspension systems to use, but they can be cumbersome and more expensive than a simple piece of webbing or a whoopie sling.
Webbing (left) vs. Daisy chain straps (right)
Ridgeline: For Suspending a Bug Net, Tarp and/or Wet Clothes
The ridgeline is a small piece of cordage that connects both ends of the hammock. It runs head to foot across the top of the hammock. Some hammocks include an integrated ridgeline, while others require you to supply your ridgeline. Most people construct a ridgeline using a piece of paracord or amsteel. The ridgeline is mainly used to suspend a tarp or a bug net over the hammock, but it has other purposes, too. In some hammocks, the ridgeline can be adjusted to change the shape of the hammock, allowing you to sleep at a specific angle. It also is a convenient spot to hang small bags for storage while you sleep.
Ridgelines are used for attaching a bug net and/or a tarp over your hammock.
Bug Net: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
In cold weather, you shouldn't need a bug net. However, when the bugs are out in full force during the spring, a bug net is a must-have. A bug-proof mesh is standard issue for tents, but that is not the case for hammocks. Thankfully, it is easy to add a bug net to a hammock system after the fact. You can make your own bug net or purchase a bug net that'll fit your hammock. Just like a tarp, a bug net attaches to the ridgeline and drops down along the side of your hammock. Just make sure there are no gaps at the ends, or you will spend more time swatting than sleeping in your hammock.
A bug net hanging from a ridgeline over an ENO hammock.
Tarp: IN Case of RAIN, Snow or Wind
A tarp is definitely recommended for a hammock. No matter how remote the possibility, you'll want to have a tarp nearby that you can string up above the hammock to protect you from the wind, rain, and snow. Tarps are designed to cover the hammock from head to foot and provide a small dry area around the hammock. The tarp usually rests against the ridgeline and can be staked out close to the hammock for maximum protection or away from the hammock when you want some room to breathe. Most tarps are secured to the ground using stakes and guylines which are usually included with the tarp itself. We show you how to setup a tarp in this post (the "diamond" configuration is the most popular shelter style for hammocks).
Quilts: A must-have for WINTER HAMMOCKING
You can just sleep in a hammock with your sleeping bag wrapped around you. The pressure of laying on your sleeping bag will compress the bag and diminish its ability to keep you warm. Most experienced hammock sleepers have that story of how their back froze the first night they slept in a hammock. To avoid compressing your sleeping bag, hammock sleepers need to use an underquilt which rests on the outside of the hammock. The underquilts trap the warm air around your back while you sleep, keeping you warm from dusk to dawn. On a freezing night, the underquilt can be paired with a top quilt to provide top and bottom warmth much like a sleeping bag. We've reviewed our favorite hammock underquilts in this post.
Sleeping Pad: Can be useful in the Winter (OR JUST FOR EXTra Comfort)
When the weather gets cold, you'll need some extra layers to help you stay warm while you sleep. Unlike tent camping, it is difficult to use a sleeping pad underneath you in a hammock. The sleeping pad often slides out in the middle of the night, and its boxy design often makes the hammock uncomfortable for sleeping. Some sleeping pad manufacturers make sleeping pads specifically for hammocks, but they can be expensive and only add a limited amount of warmth to your sleep system. Once you get into the colder temperatures (below 50-degrees), then you'll want to skip the sleeping pad and switch to an underquilt. If you don't own a sleeping pad yet, here are our 10 favorite ultralight models.
Most of the accessories you need for a hammock are designed to make your life easier. You can throw in a small inflatable pillow for comfort. There are specialty clips that replace the knots and make hanging a hammock even easier. There are even glow-in-the-dark guylines, so you don't trip over your hammock set up in the middle of the night.
1. How to lay in a hammock for optimal comfort: Climbing in and laying down like a banana is not the best way to sleep in a hammock. Too much curve in the spine for some. For a flatter lay, you want to get into the hammock and angle yourself about 30 to 45-degrees from the center, so you are sleeping diagonally. You'll get better support on your back and sleep more soundly overnight. Stick to one person in a hammock. It may sound romantic to get a hammock built for two, but it won't be an enjoyable experience when your elbow is in your partners face, and your knee is in their back.
2. Always anticipate the weather: You are more exposed in a hammock than a tent, so it is imperative that you prepare for the weather. Use an underquilt, a top quilt or both as needed. Don't hesitate to use a tarp to protect from the rain, wind, or snow.
3. Choose your trees wisely: Hammocks are relatively safe for sleeping, but you do need to think about where you hang your hammock. First, you need to pick two stable trees that'll hold your weight without bending, generally about 12 feet apart.
Watch out for widowmakers (dead trees that can fall) and stay away from the tallest trees, especially if there is a threat of lightning in the forecast. Once you pick your trees, make sure there are no rocks or logs underneath your hammock. It doesn't happen often, but if your hammock were to come crashing to the ground, you want a spot with a soft landing. You might also want a nice spot to rest your gear on.
4. Double protect from the bugs: Hang the bug net so it is off your face and exposed areas. The netting prevents the bugs from getting inside the hammock, but they still can bite through it if your skin is right there. You can also treat your hammock with permethrin, a repellent that is quite effective against ticks. Just like you treat your boots or tents with permethrin, you also can treat your hammock with the repellent.
Some hammocks come with a built-in bug net.
5. Bear safety also applies while hammocking: Treat a hammock just like a tent when it comes to bears. Don't keep your food or strong smelling items in your hammock. Use bear hooks, bear lockers, or hang your food in a tree when camping in an area known to have bears.
6. Bring a few extra carabiners along: It's always a good idea to have a few carabiners kicking around when you are hammock camping. These handy climbing clips are used to attach the hammock to the suspensions system, hang stuff from a ridgeline, and more. Even if your hammock comes with some carabiners, it's always good to have a few extra as you never know when you may lose one or have one break when you least expect it.
Weight: Under 3 LBS
Not every hammock is made the same. When choosing a hammock, you need to make sure the hammock is light enough to justify bringing it along. If the hammock weighs more than 3 lbs, then you better off going with a tent.
Length: Approx. 10-11 feet long x 5 feet wide
Size is another essential feature, especially if you are tall. The absolute minimum size hammock you want to bring camping is 8.5 feet by 4-feet wide. Unless you are petite or a child, you won't be comfortable in a hammock this small. Most people would do well with a 10- or 11-foot hammock that is 5 -feet wide. If you are taller than 6-feet, then add a 1/2 inch of length to the hammock for each inch of height.
Width: Single vs Double widths
Hammocks also are available in single and double widths, in theroy, for one or two people. Single width hammocks are narrow, which makes it challenging to sleep sideways. You run out of fabric before you can fully stretch out your legs. They are suitable for only one person. Double hammocks theoretically may fit two people, but it is difficult, if not impossible, for two people to sleep comfortably in a hammock. Most people prefer double hammocks because the extra width makes it easier to sleep diagonally.
Maximum Weight Capacity: Your body Weight, but not only
Most hammocks have a maximum weight capacity that they can hold. When looking at the weight range, don't look at just your weight. Factor in your gear, your dog, and any other items you may want to stow in the hammock during an emergency. Give yourself a 25-pound buffer and don't overload the hammock. Fabric that is overstretched may tear, and you could find yourself on the ground unexpectedly in the middle of the night.
Materials: Nylon vs. Polyester
Ripstop Nylon is the material of choice for most hammocks because it is lightweight and breathable. Nylon is available in different weights called denier - a thicker 70-denier hammock will be more durable than a lightweight 20-denier hammock. Some nylon hammocks will have a DWR treatment on the outside to protect from rain, but this is something you could add yourself. Polyester also is used in hammocks, but less frequently than nylon. Polyester tends to be less stretchy than nylon so you will have a firmer sleep surface.
Suspension: Adjustable is Key
Keep the suspension system as simple as possible, but make sure it is adjustable. You'll want that ability to quickly adjust your hang especially when it is cold, windy or rainy. The less, the better when it comes to moving parts and pieces that you could lose. Straps with loops like the Eno Atlas are convenient, but not everyone likes them. Some people prefer D-rings or whoopie slings because you can adjust them in small increments.
Read Next: Best Ultralight Hammock Tents
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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