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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.]
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.
- Part I: Advantages and disadvantages versus ground systems
- Part II: Types of hammocks, and spec comparisons to ground systems
- Part III: Helpful tips and resources for a virgin hammock camper
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.
|Dutchware||Chameleon||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.]|
|Hennessy||Hyperlight Asym Zip||22||Tom 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.|
|Warbonnet||Blackbird||22||A 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’ Better||Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock||32†||Another 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.]|
|Dutchware||11 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-Gear||Quicksilver UL||10.4||Another inexpensive, light, no nonsense, netless hammock that comes with a very light suspension system.|
|Hammock Gear||All hammock accessories||n/a||Great 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.