Hammock Camping is Fanstatic

7 Reasons Why Hammock Camping is Fantastic – How To Get Started

For much of the US hammock camping is fantastic & arguably the best way to sleep in the backcountry. This is true anywhere with trees—nearly all of the eastern US & much of the Mountain West.  As such, hammocks are a key element of our 9-lb Full Comfort Gear List. In addition, this post contains Our Picks for Some of the Best Backpacking Hammocks.

Lead photo: An ultralight hammock during a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in California. (Self-portrait, George “Tin Man” Andrews of AntiGravityGear)

Note: in observance of National Hammock Day, July 22, REI has all ENO hammocks 25% off for four days (though 7/24). Make sure you also get a set of wide tree straps to protect trees and practice proper Leave No Trace techniques!

 

7 Reasons Why Hammock Camping is Fantastic

  1. A Great Night’s Sleep!
    Most people (with a properly setup, true backpacking hammock) find it far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. As such, they get a better night’s sleep, every night. In contrast, ground sleeping changes (many times for the worst) nearly every night due to sloping ground, bumps, depressions, wet areas, rocks & tree roots. It can be near impossible to find a good area large enough for a tent.
  2. Hammocks Are Way Cooler in the Summer
    A hammock gets you off the ground where there are more breezes. And with a hammock you don’t have to lie on a sweaty sleeping pad. That way your whole backside is free to the cooling night air (with the addition of an under-quilt, you can use the same hammock in quite cold weather).

    Hammock Camping is Fanstatic

    Dutchware Chameleon hammock. Complete bug protection but you still get a cooling effect on your backside, even in hot, humid, and buggy environments. Way preferable to a muggy tent!

  3. Better Campsite Options
    So long as you can find two trees that are 12-15 feet apart, you can setup a hammock without regard to the surface below it, even on rocky tree root riddled ground. That means that with a hammock you often get the option of camping at prettier, more protected, or less buggy campsites. Furthermore, you can avoid the obvious flat campable areas that in many parks have developed into crowded, heavily impacted and not particularly attractive places to spend the night.

    Hammock Camping is Fantastic

    Sunrise hammock camping along the AT. Note that the hammock is directly over a sloping area covered with large rocks that would be un-campable with a tent.

  4. Solitude When You Want It
    Hammocks are a blessing to those that do not desire the crowded social scene at most Appalachian Trail (AT) shelters and other popular camping areas throughout the country. With greater campsite availability, you can get away from habituated camping areas to find peace and quiet.
  5. Easy on the Environment
    Hammocks do well for practicing Leave No Trace (LNT): With more campsite options, hammock campers can avoid further impacting popular campsites. And since hammocks don’t touch the ground, they have minimal impact. They do not crush or smother plants below them. Note: it’s easy to avoid impacting trees, just use wide tree-straps 1″ to 1.5″. Almost all backpacking hammocks are sold with this type of strap. For more see Leave No Trace.org on Hammock Camping.
  6. Hammocks are Lightweight
    Lightweight or ultralight hammock setups (see the Recommended Hammocks I’ve listed below) are as light as the lightest ground camping setups. And far lighter than sleeping in a tent!

7. Finally a Hammock Will Keep you Warm!

It’s a myth that hammocks are cold. Properly setup, a true backpacking hammock (with a good under-quilt) is quite warm. I’ve slept warm and comfortable in a hammock many a cold winter night in the Mid-Atlantic. The main reason for the “sleeping cold” myth is that people unaccustomed to sleeping in a hammock do not use an under-quilt or don’t adjust it properly leaving huge gaps. [Not using an under-quilt with a hammock is equivalent of someone using their sleeping bag directly on the snow without an insulating ground pad and saying that all sleeping bags are cold.]

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down — a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

How to Get Started Hammock Camping

This post is an excerpt from my Three Part Series on Hammock Camping. Reading through this series is a great way to better undestand hammock camping and get started.

Some Great Hammock Choices

In addition, I’ve listed key hammock manufactures and purchasing resources below. I own and like hammocks from all these companies. I know all their owners personally. They produce excellent hammocks that have widespread use and good reputations. Most also offer all the hammock accessories you might need, top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Give them a call if you have questions on how to equip or comment below and I’ll try and answer.

CompanyHammockOzComments
DutchwareChameleon 17.5*Light & Superbly Versatile. Adaptable to every season from humid summer days to winter use. Full review here which also compares it to Hennessy and Warbonnet hammocks. [5 day turnaround time.]
HennessyHyperlight Asym Zip22Tom Hennessy is considered the man responsible for modern backpacking hammocks as we know them & has the patents to prove it. This is their lightest hammock & available at REI.
WarbonnetBlackbird 22A longtime hammock manufacturer. Blackbird is their most popular hammock. A well thought out and functional design. [Only 1 week wait] 20% off sale select items 7/22-7/23
Jacks ‘R’ BetterBear Mountain Bridge Hammock32Another veteran hammock Co. The Jacks ‘R’ Better hammocks use a bridge design that gives a flatter lie than the gathered-end (traditional) hammocks above. [Almost all JRB stuff is off-the-shelf and ready to ship.]
Dutchware11 ft Netless 8.0*Ultralight and only $42! It’s my favorite hammock for little to no bug pressure (much of Spring and Fall). Simple and functional. [Only 1 day turnaround time.]
AntiGravity-GearQuicksilver UL10.4Another inexpensive, light, no nonsense, netless hammock that comes with a very light suspension system.
Hammock GearAll hammock accessoriesn/aGreat supplier of everything else you need for hammocks. Top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Some very light gear and some great values including their $150 Econ +20F down quilt.

* Weights are approximate, and unless noted include MFR’s suspension (cord to hang hammock and wide tree straps to protect trees—important for LNT!). Dutchware Chameleon and Netless hammocks weights are with my own Kevlar tree straps.
approx. 24 oz if you can use your trekking poles as the spreader bars.

Hammock Camping — The Basics

Derek Hansen, author of The Ultimate Hang, is an advanced hammock camper and excellent illustrator. Here’s a quick illustration about the essentials of hammock camping.

hansen-hammock-basics

Cold Weather Hammock Camping

Hammock camping in cold weather can be warm and comfortable. But it requires a good under-quilt (usually down) that is well fitted (no gaps) to the hammock body. While not a difficult skill, beginner hammock campers should test out their winter system on low-risk, short-duration outings first in order to develop their skills and know-how. Note the full-length, under-quilt (green sleeping bag looking thing below the hammock). Photo by Jack Tier of Jacks ‘R’ Better.

Hammock Camping is Fantastic

Alison hammock camping cold weather. And with a solid top cover hammock like this Dutchware Chameleon you can skip the weight and complexity of a tarp. I’ve comfortably slept down to around 10° F in a 3 lb (1.3 kg) hammock setup (hammock, top quilt, under quilt, tarp and suspension). That’s way lighter than most tent, sleeping bag, ground pad setups! [Note: a +20 under-quilt is not in the picture to better show the hammock body details.]

13 replies
  1. Jean-Philippe Bourque
    Jean-Philippe Bourque says:

    Hi I’m looking to get into hammock camping primarily to open my camping opportunities while on trail (east coast: Quebec, NH, VT and NY). I’m looking for a UL setup. Was would be your suspension recommendation? Whoopie slings, AG gear Muletape?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Alex Gipe
    Alex Gipe says:

    Thanks for the info on hammock pads. I am about ready to pull the trigger on a Chameleon Hammock and was wondering if I would notice much difference in the lay between 1.0 and 1.6 Hexon fabric. Also, I see 1.6 comes in argon and Hexon, andy reason to go with one over the other. I am around 160lbs so i could get away fine with 1.0 but was wondering if there is any comfort gain going with a heavier fabric.

    Thanks
    -Alex

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      The main difference 1.0 vs. 1.6 oz, is that the 1.6 oz fabric has a much stiffer, more supportive feel when lie in the hammock. Some people find the 1.0 a bit too stretchy to feel fully supported. I am also 160# and fine with the 1.0 fabric — when I am going super light for daily mileages in the 25 to 30 mile range I take a 1.0 oz hammock. But, when weight is not supercritical I’ll usually grab a 1.4 to 1.6 oz fabric hammock. The firmer 1.6 is more to my liking for full sleep comfort and it is a more durable fabric. So you choice. No bad ones.

      I would go with the Hexon which has a diamond (rip-stop) weave like PolyD and NylonD. It has the softness of the ARGON with more strength and a little more firmness. Enjoy your Chameleon. Warmest, -alan

      Oh, and if you are going double layer I would definitely go 1.0 oz.

      Reply
  3. Alex Gipe
    Alex Gipe says:

    Hey Alan,

    I am just starting to get into hammocking and was wondering if you use any type of thin pad in the hammock? I was thinking this may provide more support for a side sleep like myself. Do you have any recommendations for this.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Alex, I highly recommend using an underquilt. It is warmer* and more comfortable. I am a side-sleeper and am just fine in a normal width 10.5 to 11′ hammock with no tricks or special modifications. If $ is an issue, I would suggest one of the lower cost underquilts like the The $99 Hammock Gear Econ. * On the east coast in the summer when the nighttime temps don’t drop below 70 F you can skip the UQ or pad as you won’t need the insulation under you.

      If you really want to use a pad, then I would suggest getting a 1.1 oz double layer hammock so you can sandwich it between layers. Otherwise your pad will squirm all over possibly even popping out of the hammock while you sleep.

      Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  4. Leslie Green
    Leslie Green says:

    yep — have been looking at Hammock Gear site a lot. Since I haven’t slept my first night out, I’m trying to resist the urge to buy a lot of stuff. So many different options on set up etc. Fun to read about and watch on Youtube. Thanks for your info. You’re site is a go-to for me for many topics.

    Reply
  5. Leslie Green
    Leslie Green says:

    Hi Alan — I was referred to the width/length. Thanks for the response. I’m definitely in the learning curve, so thanks too for the articles

    Looking forward to 2018 — will watch for your trips.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good. Then either a 10.5 foot or 11 foot ~58″ wide hammock. After that, get a good top and underquilt. The Hammock Gear Econs would be a good choice (tell them I sent you). And then a hammock specific tarp, again Hammock Gear would be fine, but there are a number of good hammock tarps. Larger is better altho, I am not a fan of “doors. Silynlon is the best value but DCF (Cuben) is awesome great if you can afford it. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  6. Leslie Green
    Leslie Green says:

    Quick question Alan — do you recommend a single or double sized hammock for one person. Is the single ample enough to sleep diagonally and move around in the night? Is there any benefit to having the larger size?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      HI Leslie!
      I think you are getting double layer confused with “double sized.” Double layer is just that, two layers of fabric under you. They are separated at one end so you can slip a conventional ground pad between them. This keeps your underside insulated without needing to buy a hammock specific underquilt. And it controls the ground pad. If you just place it in the bottom of your hammock is squirms around and pops out. That is, it is rarely under you and almost impossible to control. All that being said a hammock specific underwquilt is really the way to go. And you can get a good one form Hammock Gear (their Econ model) for $150 or less!

      As to actual hammock size wider and or/longer is generally more comfortable. Most unfinished fabrics are limited to around 60″ wide which means that most hammocks are around 58″ wide when finished. This can be a bit short for some folks. That can be a bit narrow for some people in a 10′ length. As such, the trend these days is for an 11 foot hammock. This extra length gives you more room to lie diagonally, which keeps your body flatter which most people find more comfortable.

      My guess is you’d do fine with either a 10.5 foot or 11 foot ~58″ wide hammock. I don’t believe there would be a need to go wider. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  7. Justin
    Justin says:

    Question regarding hammock fabric. I think in one of your articles or comments you mention preferring a pretty thin fabric for your chameleon due to weight considerations, I assume single sheet. For my first hammock I bought a Warbonnet with 2 ply 1.1 fabric, mainly due to worries about mosquitoes biting through the fabric. I’m interested in going lighter though. In your experience are bugs biting through an actual issue? You’ve mentioned taking your chameleon in South American jungles so I figured I’d ask.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Great Q about fabric thickness Justin.

      1. First, fabric thickness has an effect on hammock feel/comfort. 1.1 oz single layer is good for lighter people who don’t mind a bit of stretch. But heavier people may feel more supported/comfortable with 1.4 to 1.6 oz fabric.
      2. Moquitoes can bite through 1.1 oz fabric (altho I find they rarely do). There are some ways to deal with this.
      3. You can sleep with long/sleeve shirt and pants treated with insect repellent. See more on this: Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme/Zika While Hiking. And in the summer when skeeters are out I am usually wearing this type of clothing.
      4. Or, you can treat your hammock (spray or soak) with Permethrin which is what I did for the jungle in South America. Information on the Sawyer Permethrin treatment is in the same article: Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme/Zika While Hiking

      Hope this helps. Happy bug-free hiking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply

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