“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—a hammock is likely the best sleep system.”
This is part of a three part series
- 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
Shopping tips: How to assemble a functional hammock system
Buy your hammock from a manufacturer that specializes in backpacking hammocks. Make sure it is designed for nightlong sleeping, not just afternoon napping.
A few light hammock models use smaller dimensions that may confine you. For example, the Grand Trunk Nano-7 Hammock, and the BIAS Weight Weenie Micro 52 Hammock are both only around 50-52 inches wide, versus the 65″ wide of the Warbonnet Blackbird. Shorter and/or narrower hammocks also limit your ability to sleep flatter on a diagonal to the hammock’s center-line.
Some campers pushing into the 175+ lb weight range are fine with lighter hammock body fabrics (e.g. 1.0-1.1 oz nylon). Other campers in the 175+ lb weight range feel that these lighter hammocks do not give enough body support even if they are technically within the hammock’s weight range, and therefore opt for 1.7-1.9 oz or heavier hammock body fabrics.
Buy a tarp with adequate coverage. To sleep warm and dry in a hammock you need to keep wind and rain away from your hammock body. Smaller diamond or asymmetric tarps, e.g. the Hennessey Hyperlite Rainfly, affectionately known by some as a “napkin tarp,” may not provide adequate protection from blowing rain, or from the cooling effects of wind. While a few ounces heavier, a more pragmatic choice may be a larger hammock-specific “hex” tarp. A fairly standard hex size is a 10.5-foot ridgeline with an 8.5-foot width.
Due to the large tarps typically used with hammocks, some campers have opted to go with Spinnaker or Cuben fabric tarps to save weight. Compared to sil-nylon, Cuben fiber weighs half as much, but costs 2-3x as much (about $250-300 for a hammock tarp).
Buy a good under-quilt for your hammock. Its performance will be much superior to a ground pad, even if you have a double-layer hammock to properly control the pad.
The top quilt
Buy a top quilt when you can afford one — they are much more hammock-friendly than conventional mummy bags. In the interim you can use an unzipped mummy spread out like a quilt.
Avoid fussing about exotic suspension systems and hanging hardware. The basic webbing suspension systems supplied by manufacturers like JRB and Warbonnet are excellent — inexpensive, easy to use, and strong. At most, they weigh a few more ounces than more expensive exotic suspension systems.
If you own a gathered end asymmetric hammock, make sure you have drip lines, or place a carabiner on the suspension system near the attachment to the hammock body. Otherwise, water will run down the suspension and into your hammock. Bridge hammocks do not share this problem.
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]|
|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 littel 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-specific How To resources
The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping, by Derek Hansen, is an excellent and comprehensive book for hammock camping. And the Kindle version is only $3.99.
Hammock Forums is the largest online resource for information on hammocks. Like any large internet forum, its well intended members offer an incredible wealth of information. Also, as with any large internet forum, there is a smidge of less-than-perfect information, plus a couple of folks who are hanging in a different planetary orbit.
Hennessy Hammock also has very good how-to videos.
Dutchware Product’s amusing videos are fun even if you don’t buy his stuff, though he does design some good products too.
Hammock Camping — The Basics
Derek Hansen, author of The Ultimate Hang, is an advanced hammock camper and excellent illustrator. If you have learned nothing else from this 3-part series, study Derek’s illustration below.
What critical tips for first-timers are missing?
If you are a veteran hammock camper and feel that I missed some important tips — in this post, or one of the first two — for first-time hammock campers, please submit it as a comment, below.