Hammock Camping for Beginners

Introduction

Traditionally, the go-to equipment for outdoor campers is a tent. It meets the basic needs of campers, is reliable and time-tested. But there is another piece of gear that is just as good or maybe even better: a hammock.

In this guide to hammock camping, you will be able to learn the following: how hammock camping can be a better option than tent camping; how to set up your camping hammock; some essential tips that can help make your camping experience easier and more enjoyable, and; some frequently asked questions campers ask that may answer some of your own.

Hammock Camping vs. Tent Camping

Tent camping is an established outdoor activity, but it isn’t all about positives and has some drawbacks of its own. Hammock camping is not only a great alternative, but it also solves some of those drawbacks and offers more pluses of its own.

Pros

Setting up

Unlike with tents, you won’t need several pieces of equipment like stakes or poles to set up. All you need are your hammock, two sturdy trees, and a sound suspension system, and you’re ready to go.

Location

When hiking out with a tent, you have to look for flat ground to set up. The terrain must also not be rocky or sloped. With a hammock, you can set up almost anywhere there are two trees or posts around. And since a hammock naturally suspends in the air, whatever the ground is like will not affect how your hammock is set up.

Comfort

With a tent, you are in direct contact with the ground. That means you have to deal with how hard it is or how cold it will feel during the night. But with a hammock, you’ll have no such concerns. Being suspended in the air, you could even feel like you’re floating.

A tent also has walls, and they can feel confining. Having walls can also make it feel more humid on an already hot day. With a hammock, you’re out in the open air and free to feel the wind blowing through you.

Weight

A tent comes with a lot of equipment by itself, and those don’t include necessities like a good place to lie down (you will usually have to get a sleeping bag). When you combine all these, the gear you will have to carry around will probably feel a little heavy.

A hammock, on the other hand, has less gear that comes with it. And because it is by its nature already a bed, that is one less item to bring, leaving you with lightweight materials to carry on your camping trip.

Of course, none of this will matter if you have a vehicle with you and you can just drive to your camp location. But for backpackers, being able to travel lightly is a huge plus.

man in a hammock hanging between trees in the forest

Cost

Because a tent naturally has more gear included with it than a hammock, it tends to be more expensive than a hammock. For those on a budget, a hammock would be the better option.

Better sleep experience

One of the good points of hammock camping is that it offers a better sleep experience. Because it is hanging in the air, you won’t have to worry about being uncomfortable on the solid, hard ground. Sleeping in a hammock is not only easy on the back; it can also help in relaxing muscles and in alleviating sore joints.

You not only feel more relaxed in a hammock compared to a tent, but you have a deeper sleep at night, making you feel more refreshed when you wake up.

Connection with the nature

A tent has walls on all sides, making it an enclosed space. As such, you are not able to fully view the nature around you.

A hammock, on the other hand, is not walled in. In a hammock, you can turn and look around you. Because of its openness, you also have a great view of the sky, whether day or night.

To be able to visually take in all of the nature around you adds much value to your camping experience, and being more exposed to nature is probably the main reason you go on a camping trip in the first place.

Cons

Location

You wouldn’t be able to set up your hammock if there aren’t any trees or posts around to attach it to. A tent, on the other hand, can be set up even in barren areas.

Insulation

A tent tends to provide more warmth because its four borders keep heat in and chilly winds out. Hammocks don’t have walls and don’t usually come with insulation, so they have little to offer with protection from the cold.

Space

Tents have much more space to offer compared to hammocks. Hammocks also provide much less mobility and don’t really have much area to store gear.

Coverage

Hammocks don’t usually come with a cover, unlike tents that already have coverage on all sides. A separate tarp may have to be acquired to protect against the elements. A bug net may also be something to consider since hammocks don’t have their own walls.

Number of users it can cater to

Unlike tents, hammocks are generally built for one person only. You can’t really share it comfortably with one more person, let alone two or more people.

person lying on red hammock

Hammock Camping Setup

Part Function
Suspension A component that allows your hammock to suspend in the air by attaching it to trees or posts
Rainfly Material suspended over your hammock; used to cover and protect it from wind and rain
Ridgeline Piece of cord that runs along the length of the hammock; can be used for hanging rainfly, bug net, other small accessories
Quilts (Underquilt and Top quilt) Gives you the extra insulation you need during cold conditions
Bug net Covers your hammock and prevents bugs from entering it

Suspension

The suspension system is an essential component of your hammock setup; it allows your hammock to hang in the air. The main elements of a suspension system are the straps attached to the trunk, the connection points at the hammock ends, and the rope or strap connecting the former two components.

Tree straps and webbing

Usually, you would use a rope to tie around trees for suspending your hammock.  Ropes are relatively cheap and have a lot of uses, but they have many caveats when it comes to hammock camping. It can be complicated tying knots with rope, and once you’ve tied a knot, it can be more challenging to untie them; this makes it burdensome to adjust your hammock when you want to. Ropes also stretch under tension, so depending on how heavy you weigh, your hammock might sag after some time.

The use of ropes can also be harmful to trees as they can a) rub against the barks, causing scratches or worse damage, or b) exert too much pressure on the trunks, which can cause stunted growth and/or reproduction in the long term.

Tree straps or webbing straps can help minimize damage to trees and make your hammock setup much easier. Webbing straps are made of strong, inflexible material that is wrapped around tree trunks to help prevent damage.

Tree straps come in different forms, but there are two types in general: continuous and non-continuous. They are non-continuous if they require a different set of straps or rope to attach to the hammock connection points. They are continuous if they continue until the end of the connection point of the hammock. The following are some commonly used tree straps:

Whoopie sling

A whoopee sling is non-continuous and is attached to both the webbing and the hammock endpoints. What makes a whoopee sling more advantageous than your regular rope is its adjustability. It has an adjustable loop you can easily move up or down to get that perfect sag and height.

Daisy Chain Webbing Strap

Daisy chain webbing straps are continuous, so they act like tree webbings and connect to the hammock simultaneously. A daisy chain strap incorporates several loops, wherein a carabiner is used to clip one of the hammock endpoints to one of the loops depending on desired height and angle. The adjustment comes in larger increments than the whoopie sling. It is also more expensive, but it is still much more convenient and easy to use than rope.

Rainfly

Because hammock camping is an outdoor activity, the elements play an essential role. Rainy and strong wind conditions can be a problem without proper protection. A rainfly or rain tarp is the most fitting solution for those problems. Rain tarps are usually made of waterproof material, are sturdy, typically lightweight, and, depending on the size, can have a large coverage (usually 11 x 9 ft).

Rain tarps are specially made for camping hammocks and can cover not only the hammock itself but even the area on the ground where you might put your gear at. You can hang your rainfly on the hammock ridgeline if there is one, although it might move along with the hammock when you move. You could also set up a separate ridgeline for the tarp, which is probably the better layout option.

 

Ridgeline

A structural ridgeline or simply ridgeline is a strong, thin piece of rope that runs along the hammock’s length. It is mainly used to help prevent stretching your hammock after being tied to trees: the ridgeline absorbs the pulling forces between the trees or posts instead of the hammock.

You can use the ridgeline for hanging a rain tarp or a bug net or other small accessories. You can also use it to adjust the shape of the hammock by controlling the sag and how tight it is, which can help get your desired hang for your hammock. It is an optional piece of equipment to bring, although some hammocks come with one already.

Bug Net

Depending on which season you are hammock camping in, you may need a bug net. Insects such as mosquitoes can be very annoying to deal with when you’re supposed to be out relaxing or when you’re about to go to sleep. A bug net can help with those concerns.

Some hammocks come with bug nets, but you can also get a separate one if yours doesn’t include one. You can hang it over the ridgeline of your hammock. The bug net covers the top of the hammock, but if you choose to, you can get one that extends to the bottom of your hammock for complete coverage all around.

blue and white boat on brown sand near body of water during daytime

 

Quilts

During cold nights or weather, having proper insulation is essential. Sometimes a sleeping bag is not enough, and because hammocks don’t really have much in the way of warmth themselves, you will have to acquire another insulation. Two pieces of equipment that offer such insulation are an underquilt and a top quilt.

You may have blankets, a sleeping bag, or extra layers of clothing to keep you warm, but a problem comes with those; the front part of your body gets most of the benefits, while your back portion doesn’t get as much. An underquilt helps with that as it is hung under the hammock, trapping heat underneath keeping your back warm. And if you want extra warmth on top, you can use a top quilt.

Tips and Tricks

Camping preparations

Here are some camping tips and tricks that can help better prepare you for your hammock camping experience:

Research the camping location you plan to go to, especially for weather conditions.

Always research the area you plan to go camping in before setting out. You will want to know if there are even any trees in the area to hang your hammock. You don’t want to arrive at a barren landscape and not be able to put your hammock to use.

Also, check the forecasts for the day and/or following days, taking particular note of potential harsh weather conditions. Because your hammock doesn’t usually come with gear to protect from the elements, you don’t want to be caught unprepared. Bring a rain tarp and extra insulation (underquilt and top quilt) as needed, or you can even bring them regardless if they’re not too much of a burden. Better to be safe than sorry.

Practice your hammock setup.

You would generally want to set up your camping hammock right away once you arrive at your camping location. But you may find yourself having trouble setting up if it’s your first time, which can take away valuable time you can use to explore the area or relax instead.

Try practicing at home or anywhere available that has two posts. Practicing can bring down your setup time, which can be very useful for setting up right away because of unexpected rain, for example. Practicing not only gets you acquainted with the different parts of your hammock but can also help you get your ideal height and angle. You won’t have to waste time experimenting in the field; you can get into your hammock straightaway.

Survey the area for a suitable place to set up your hammock.

When you get to your camp location, you will want to survey the area for trees to hang your hammock. Ideal trees are those that are thick and strong and can support your weight. Don’t attach your hammock to dead trees or ones that look like they might fall any time soon. Also, watch out for dead branches as they could fall on you or be blown towards you by strong winds.

As important as finding suitable trees or posts are, it is also equally important to look for areas where you can appreciate the outdoors. A hiking trail or a relatively open space would be good, and a spot with a beautiful view would be better. Also, consider factors such as the amount of sun and shade you will be getting so that you can be as comfortable as possible when you finally lay in the hammock.

Set up as soon as you can.

It is always better to set up everything first before doing anything else. You don’t want to be caught unawares by a sudden change in weather, for example. You also don’t want to set up when it’s already getting dark as it would be much more difficult to see what goes where.

Setting up early also eliminates most of the hassle and leaves you with more time to enjoy hiking or other activities you may have been planning on doing.

Hide your food/Keep your food properly.

If you arrived at the camp in a vehicle, you could keep your food in it for protection. But for a regular backpacker, you can hang them up in high trees with some cord. You can also bring a food locker or bear locker with you where you can store your food.

Also, make sure to dispose of your leftovers properly as these can also attract animals. Doing so also helps keep the environment clean.

Useful accessories you can pack in your bag.

Carabiners

Carabiners are very useful for attaching or hanging items to either your hammock or tarp ridgeline. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a few extra just in case you lose some.

Rope or Paracord

You can never have too much cord as it has many uses, such as securing gear or hanging items like rain tarps and bug nets.

Stakes

Some rain tarps don’t come with stakes, so if yours is one of them, you’ll have to bring your own. These are important for securing your tarp to the ground and keeping it a sturdy shelter.

Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pads give you extra insulation. They don’t trap as much heat as quilts, so depending on the weather, if it is not too cold, a sleeping pad can provide just the right amount of warmth for you.

Pillow

You can never have too much comfort, and a pillow can give you that extra comfort you need for sleeping in your hammock at night.

What to consider when choosing a first hammock

An excellent hammock camping experience starts with a good hammock. Here are some factors to consider when getting your first hammock:

Weight

Lightweight camping hammocks are the ideal way to go, especially for backpackers. Hammocks generally weigh between 450 to 2300 grams, so you would want to go with one that isn’t heavier than 1,400 grams. There are also hammocks available that can weigh less than 450 grams if you want to go ultralight.

Dimensions

You want to make sure that your hammock is in a size that fits you comfortably; this will depend mostly on your height. Most hammocks have 8 x 4 feet dimensions, so the length should generally be comfortable for most people. But if you are a 6-footer, for example, you’ll want to get a longer hammock as 1 foot on each end won’t be enough space for you. A good length for a hammock would be 4-5 feet, added to your height.

As for the width, it mostly depends on your preference. If you are comfortable enough with sleeping in a modest space, regular hammock widths should do fine. If you would like more room to move around, there are double hammocks that are also available.

Capacity

Hammocks usually have a maximum amount of strain they can endure before tearing. Most can carry between 135-180 kilograms of weight. Make sure to take note of the weight capacity of your hammock before putting heavy items in it.

Suspension System

A good suspension system is an essential consideration for a hammock. It must be something you are comfortable dealing with and should have high adjustability. Try testing different types to see which fits you, be it a whoopie sling or a daisy chain webbing strap, or a different kind.

woman on hammock near to river

FAQs

How far apart do trees need to be for hanging hammock?

A reasonable distance would be between 10 to 15 feet. This amount of stretch would give you enough height and tension for your hammock.

How do you set up a camping hammock?

There are 2-3 quick steps in setting up camping hammocks:

Firstly, find two trees for your hammock to attach to. Make sure to check that they are sturdy and can support your weight.

Secondly, attach your suspension system to the trees. Loop it around the tree and into one of the loops on the strap. If it is a continuous type, then all you’re left to do is adjust the loop to your desired height and sag.

If your strap is non-continuous, your last step is to attach your hammock to the suspension system; you can do this simply by using a carabiner to clip it to the hammock connection points. Adjust the loop to your desired height and angle, and you’re finally set.

Do you need a tarp for hammock camping?

You can never be too prepared for sudden changes in the weather, which can cause discomfort to your otherwise relaxing day. If you want to avoid taking this risk, a tarp is something you’ll want to bring with you on your hammock camping.

Is laying in a hammock bad for your back?

Laying on a hammock can actually relieve pressure from not only your back but also your shoulders, buttocks, and other joints and muscles. And because of the curved and relatively narrow shape of a hammock, it helps keep your spine in place, keeping it from other kinds of positions that may cause back pain.

What angle should you hang a hammock?

A good angle to hang a hammock would be around 30 degrees. You get a nice sag, and your hammock doesn’t get pulled too tight, which could otherwise strain your suspension system. You can also have a relatively comfortable sleeping position in your hammock at this angle.

white tent on green grass field during daytime

How can I make my hammock more comfortable?

One tip to make laying in a hammock more comfortable is to sleep in a diagonal position, around 30-45 degrees; this gives you a flatter lay and spreads out your body weight more. You can utilize more of the hammock space also so you can stretch around more.

Another way to make your hammock more comfortable is to add insulation. During a chilly night, insulation like quilts and a sleeping pad can make you feel warm and cozy in your hammock.

How tight should hammocks be?

Angling your hammock at around 30 degrees can help you determine a good enough tension for your hammock straps. But how tight a hammock should be can also depend on how firm or flat you want the hammock to be; the tighter it is, the flatter your hammock gets. For a deeper sag instead, you will want to give the suspension straps more slack.

How do you set up a rainfly?

When laying out a rainfly, the first thing to do is to set up a ridgeline first, whether it be a hammock ridgeline or tarp line. You can then hang your tarp over that line. Finally, secure your rainfly to the ground with stakes. If anticipating rainy weather, you will want the tarp covers to be tied closer to the hammock for more protection. But if you’re simply enjoying a sunny day, you can stake your rainfly farther to the sides of the hammock.

Do I need a bug net for my hammock?

Depending on the location and the season, you may or may not need to get a bug net. But if you don’t like the mention of bugs, then it is recommended that you get one. They are lightweight and easy to carry around with if your hammock doesn’t already come with one.

Is it OK to sleep in a hammock while camping?

Sleeping in a hammock can be one of the most comfortable feelings you can have while camping. Your body can feel very relaxed in a hammock, and before you know it, you’re already in a deep sleep.

Is camping in a hammock safe?

Camping in a hammock is as safe as camping in a tent. A common fear with hammocks is the possibility of falling out. Falling out doesn’t usually happen as your hammock would have to be pulled very tight such that it almost has a flat and unstable configuration. The easy solution to this is creating a deep sag for the hammock. In that way, no matter how much you move around, the high walls of the hammock will keep you from falling out.

Where do you put your pack when hammock camping?

You can put your pack and other accessories directly underneath your hammock if there is enough space in between. You can also put your pack to the sides of your hammock or anywhere within your rainfly if you have one set up.

Are hammocks good for backpacking?

Hammocks are especially great for backpacking if you’re after something you can relax in that is lightweight, easy to carry around, and easy to set up. And with the right accessory equipment, you can turn your hammock into something you can’t leave home without.

What to look for in a backpacking hammock?

Before anything else, a hammock should be able to fit you to feel comfortable. Therefore, the most important things to look for in a backpacking hammock are its weight and size. Another factor that is just as important to look at is the suspension system that goes with the hammock. It is one of its most essential components: a suitable suspension system is highly adjustable.

What do I need to know about hammock camping?

What you need to know about hammock camping is that it is a fun, relaxing outdoor activity that anyone can do and is really easy to start!

Conclusion

Hammock camping has a lot of positives, like the comfort and openness it offers; you can quickly solve a lot of the cons with proper research of the camp area. A camping hammock has a relatively easy setup, and with practice, can make the process much faster. Also, bringing in other gear, such as a rainfly and quilts, can help bring you more comfort, which can make your trip even more worthwhile.

Hammock camping is a very exciting activity that anyone can start doing. And with the right preparations, hammock camping can absolutely be a great experience.