Like tarp shelters, hammocks have been rising in popularity as a cooler, lighter alternative to tents. And no, we’re not talking about those woven things you see on tropical beaches when you go on vacation. These camping hammocks are usually made from synthetic material, easily packable and weigh close to nothing. Many outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who want to go minimalist, have been ditching their tents in favor of hammocks.
The question is, are they worth the switch?
Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of hammock camping and see if it’s the best fit for you.
Pros and Cons of Hammock Camping
Here’s a good plot twist: the main reason why outdoorsmen have been gravitating towards hammocks is actually not the weight; it’s the comfort.
While the hammocks themselves weigh much lighter and are less bulkier than tents, they also require additional gear like sleeping bags, underquilts, tarps plus tree huggers and cordage. All in all, the entire hammock setup will weigh close to ground setups, so weight savings, ultimately, don’t count as much if you consider the whole system.
What really sets hammocks apart is the fact that they allow you to camp off the cold and oftentimes damp ground. For some, it was like a revelation. The fact that there were no more nights spent on the hard, unforgiving ground was game-changing. When set up properly, hammocks allow for really comfy nights that are not hard on your back at all.
Being suspended off the ground also meant that you didn’t have to worry about creepy-crawlies. Many hammocks also come with mosquito nets and rain flies to protect you from bugs and the weather, if need be.
Perhaps the major drawback of using a hammock sleeping system is that they are not as warm as tents. Tents, having walls on each side, trap heat and insulate better. Hammocks are great during the warmer months, where ventilation is the key concern, but you might need a quality under quilt, top quilt and a really warm sleeping bag if you decide to use hammocks in the winter.
Hammock Camping 101: Things To Consider
Switching from tent to hammock is a huge leap. There are a couple of things to look into, and you might want to consider these factors first before jumping ship:
Types of Camping Hammocks
First, you need to know what type of hammock would best suit your needs. Hammocks come in all shapes and sizes, but they can be narrowed down into these three types:
- Parachute hammocks – arguably the most common type of hammock in the market, parachute hammocks are made from nylon material and are quite strong and light. These are the best types of hammocks when you’re just starting out. Perhaps the only downside is that they usually don’t come with accessories and other extras.
- Ultralight hammocks – if you don’t mind paying premium to shed some ounces from your pack, then ultralight is the way to go. As the name suggests, ultralight hammocks weigh close to nothing. They’re not the comfiest or warmest, but they do offer significant weight savings.
- Expedition hammocks – these are for hardcore hammock campers. Expedition hammocks are bigger, built for constant use and abuse. This means they are considerably heavier, too. Expedition hammocks usually come with the whole shebang: mosquito nets, rain flies and the like. If you wish to upgrade from your regular hammock system, an expedition hammock is the one for you.
Aside from that, hammocks can be further classified depending on their style:
Gathered-end hammocks are bunched up at the ends and are usually asymmetric. Since they’re light, quite roomy and cheap, gathered-end hammocks are popular among hammock enthusiasts. They’re also great for people who love to sleep on their back.
The other type is the bridge hammock. Unlike gathered-end hammocks, the fabric is held up by spreader bars at the end, giving the hammock a more tubular shape than the gathered-end variety. This means more space to sleep on your back, side or front. They’re a bit larger and tend to cost more.
Accessories and Additional Gear
Like what we mentioned before, a hammock alone isn’t sufficient, especially when you want to be warm and free from insect bites. Additional gear and accessories like underquilts, sleeping bags and mosquito nets are usually needed for insulation and additional protection from wind and insects.
Where To Set Up Your Hammock
One of the perks of hammock camping is that it introduces you to places you otherwise can’t camp in when using tents. This means you have to shift a little when it comes to choosing your campsite. Instead of looking for the nicest, flattest area to pitch your tent, prepare to look for the best pair of trees to tie your hammock to.
Choose sturdy trees that can handle your weight. Make sure that the trees you’re using for camp are in fact alive, not standing dead ones. While you’re at it, check overhead and make sure that there are no widowmakers that could potentially crush you. As for finding the perfect hang, it greatly depends on the person’s build and preference. Usually, four paces between two trees does the trick for most folks, but here’s a comprehensive infographic and calculator if you really want the numbers.
Incorporating a drip stick is also a nice touch to add to keep moisture away from your hammock. You can whittle a stick to do this job, just like the video above, or use a carabiner, which works fine, too.
Suspension Systems and A Set of Badass Knot-Tying Skills
The right suspension system, paired with sharp knot-tying skills make an excellent hammock camping experience. Most hammocks come with their own webbing straps or tree huggers that hold up the hammock while minimizing damage to the tree trunks. Others prefer cordage made from Dyneema or whoopie slings for a lighter, sturdier set-up.
Whichever system you’re using, make sure that your knots are tight. These knots make sure that your hammock and tarp don’t blow away, even when you’re camping in inclement weather, just like the video above. The bowline and taut-line hitch work great for most systems, but knowing a prusik knot won’t hurt either. Check out this article if you need to brush up on your knot-tying skills.
Warmth is one of the biggest issues in hammock camping. Tents, being enclosed shelters, are relatively warmer than hammocks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hang while on a winter camping trip, either. In fact, the video above shows that you can set up a hammock camp in the winter just fine.
When hammock camping it’s important to have the right accessories to be warm and stay warm. Underquilts go under your hammock and protect your back from wind and heat loss. Over quilts or top quilts do the same job from above. And then there’s your sleeping bag: make sure that its temperature rating suits your environment. Add in a fire and a couple of techniques to stay warm and you are good to go.
Common Mistakes in Hammock Camping
And last but not the least, you have to watch out for the three most common mistakes people make when hammock camping: lying down the wrong way, setting the hammock up incorrectly and suffering from the dreaded cold butt syndrome. All of these issues can easily be avoided by using a few simple tricks, as shown on the video above.
Hammocks are a nice and comfy alternative to tents. Pair one with a sturdy 9x9 tarp and you’ll have one cozy campsite. Unlike tents, hammocks don’t need pegs or poles, so they’re less bulky and easier to set up.The hammocks themselves weigh significantly less than a tent system as well.
Perhaps the best part about hammock camping is that it allows you to sleep above the hard, lumpy ground. This is great, especially if you’re an advocate of the “Leave No Trace” policy. When used properly, it’s got a lesser environmental impact while letting you sleep soundly at night. Aside from that, it lets you explore other campsites and gives you a chance to truly sleep under the stars. If you’re keen on a new outdoor adventure or simply want something other than a tent, then hammock camping might just be the thing for you.
Let us know about your hammock camping experiences on the comments below! Until then, happy camping!