Photo by Zach Betten on Unsplash
How to Hammock Camp and actually be comfortable
Everybody likes hammocks. Truly everybody. It’s why light, packable hammocks have continually increased in popularity among outdoorsy folk. And you’ve probably thought, whilst stretching out luxuriantly, hanging in your hammock under the shade of a tree with a good book in hand, “I should just sleep in this thing sometime. It’s so comfy.”
The answer is … maybe you should. And, with the right gear and beta, you can. Quite comfortably.
However, if you just hang your hammock and plop into it with no further preparation, you’re going to shiver all night with a cold backside, wake up covered with bug bites, and be precariously exposed to the elements. And, if you’re over the age of 35, your spine will bitterly protest being stuck in an aggressive V-shaped position for eight hours. (Ask us how we know!)
We’re not here to rain on your parade, though. In fact, we have a few helpful tips and hacks that make hammock camping a superb choice for fast, light, and fun camping and trekking. Hammocks and their required accessories are pretty darn packable, plus they elevate you above rocks and vegetation so you don’t need to find a perfect flat spot for a tent. All you need are two super sturdy trees.
Here’s what you need to know:
Add a rainfly draped over a “ridgeline” cord overhead.
If there’s the remotest chance of rain or inclement weather, you’re going to want a rain tarp overhead. The best way to handle this is to string a cord overhead between the trees you’re suspending your hammock from. The cord is commonly called a “ridgeline” and it has all sorts of helpful uses, including being a place you can clip a little headlamp or lantern for reading light, and being a handy spot to clip a little accessory stuff sack with small belongings you want close at hand.
Experiment with what kind of rain tarp will work best. Many ultralight backpacking brands sell minimalist rain tarps that weigh very little and will do the job well, but you need to make sure they have the right loops or tie points to secure your rain tarp in place (and cover you fully).
Bring bug netting you can drape over your cocoon, too.
Unless you’re camping in a place with zero bugs and zero creepy-crawlies (in which case … how did you find such a nirvana?) you’ll need some bug mesh to keep them out. This can easily be draped over your ridgeline cord. If you need 100% sealed-off protection from aggressive beasties, figure out how to rig that ahead of time, either with something specially made to go over a hammock or something you’ve improvised.
Insulate your backside against the cold.
Unless you’re camping in a hot, tropical place, your backside will get quite cold at night. This is because your sleeping bag will compress under your body weight, and all the fluff that would usually keep you insulated can’t do its job. (That’s why you sleep on a pad in a tent, other than the cushy comfort factor.)
There are a few ways to solve this. You can place a slightly deflated camp pad right inside your hammock and let it nestle into the hammock’s shape, or you can cut a closed-cell-foam pad to a good shape to rest in the hammock and insulate your booty. You can also buy a “hammock under-quilt” (yes, a real thing) to hang outside your hammock’s underside and keep the cold out.
A few companies are even making hammock-compatible sleeping bags, which simplifies things even more… these sleeping bags are designed to wrap around the hammock and insulate you from all sides, even underneath the hammock. This would require an investment in another sleeping bag beyond the one you’d already planned on using to hammock camp, so one of the pad options above might be worth trying first.
Bring specially designed hanging systems to protect the trees.
Any experienced hammock-er can tell you that you shouldn’t wrap a regular rope or cord around your trees of choice. You can badly damage their bark, which is a terrible way to treat a tree that is quite literally supporting you.
Make sure to pack and use wide, tree-friendly straps that won’t cut into the bark. (Some places, such as national parks, may even specify how wide they want the straps to be.)
Find just the right angle for reclining.
Play with the tension and length of your hammock hanging straps so you’ll recline at a gentle angle and can still shift around a bit as you sleep. You may want to add a pillow into the mix, and you’ll want to experiment ahead of time to see what will fit into the top of the hammock best (and, even trickier, stay in place through the night).
*UPDATE- We heard from a few users on this but the best response is below; thank you so much for the beta:
I live in the Yucatan, where hammocks rule.
If you watch how people who sleep in hammocks every night do it, you learn NOT to "recline at a gentle angle". You orient your body 30-45 degrees to the direction of the hammock and then lie COMPLETELY FLAT, with every part of your body both relaxed and supported. No pillow necessary, if you do it right. Works for side sleepers and stomach sleepers, too.
Also, for camping, you get a mosquitero hamaca, which has sleeves that go over the cords and walls that drop to the ground so you can get in and out of the hammock without pressure.
Pack everything together at home, and practice setup.
Practice makes perfect, and perfect is what you’re aiming for on the trail. Find the best way to pack your hammock, rainfly, bug mesh, sleeping pad or under-quilt, ridgeline cord, and hammock-hanging cords in one compact sleep kit. Then, practice assembling it all together and fine-tuning any glitches. That way, once you’re out in the great beyond, you can prep for bedtime assured everything is going to work swimmingly.
Now that we’ve given you a DIY overview of the components you’ll need, we should mention that there’s an increasing market for hammock tents or suspension tents (the two terms seem to be near-interchangeable as far as we can tell). These are more spendy, unless you can find them UnNew, but take some of the do-it-yourself work out of the equation by giving you a set of components that seamlessly work together.
In our opinion, though, half the fun comes from customizing your hammock kit and problem-solving to make it perfect for your purposes. Over time, you can tweak it to be lighter, simpler, more streamlined, and more comfy. As always, post and share photos of your adventures—we love seeing how things pan out!
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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