So You Want To Try Hammock Camping
By Derek Hansen, 11 July 2012 — theultimatehang.com
A lot of people come to me asking how to get started with hammock camping. What hammock should they buy? What is the best tarp? What about staying warm? The problem is that there are so many options and variables that coming up with a simple answer is difficult.
Getting the right hammock is like getting a good pair of hiking shoes: you want a great fit but you also want all the right features to match your style of hiking. Are you concerned about weight? All season comfort or just summer escapes? Long-distance hiking or car camping? Getting matched with the right hammock can be the difference between sticking with this new system or abandoning it altogether. And like a pair of shoes, what works for a lot of people may not necessarily work for you. If you can, try a few hammocks out first before you buy.
How big should the hammock be?
I think one of the most important yet most overlooked criteria is size. The number one reason I recommend hammocks is the improved comfort over tent camping. But if the hammock isn’t the right size, that comfort can be compromised. I had a friend buy a
small hammock only to find his 6’4” frame wouldn’t fit completely inside. While any hammock is arguably more comfortable than sleeping on rocky, sloping ground, a bad fitting hammock can increase leg strain, hyperextension, and numbness.
The key to comfort in a hammock is much more about the increased length rather than just increased width. If you are over six feet tall, look for a hammock at least 10 feet long and five feet wide. For folks six feet or shorter, nearly any hammock will suit, so you can look closer at specific features. A hammock that is too wide will just have a lot of excess fabric that flaps in your face.
What about a “double” hammock for two people?
The term “double” is a little disingenuous because it implies occupancy, somewhat like a “two-person” tent, but doesn’t work well in practice. Due to the hammock’s design, both occupants will slide into the center and “snuggle” all night. While I’ve found a few
people who’ve made this work, on the whole it is an uncomfortable experience unless you like compressed “synchronized sleeping.”
“Double,” “Triple,” or “Queen,” and “Super” hammocks are just marketing terms. Be sure to check the dimensions before you buy because one manufacturer’s “Double” might be smaller than another’s “Single.”
What features should I look for?
Some will argue that a “true” camping hammock will come with an integrated bug net and a matching tarp, but all of these features can be added later to suit your style and experience. If it isn’t raining or there are no flying bugs, you can still sleep comfortably all night in a basic hammock.
Nylon and polyester fabrics are the most suitable for the outdoors: they are better at resisting mildew, mold, and sun rot and these fabrics will dry quickly when wet. These fabrics are also lighter and stuff smaller—key features for packing and hauling gear.
TIP: Nylon is stretchy and is a common material in hammocks for increased comfort. Choose polyester if you prefer firmer support.
Hammocks must be strong enough to support human weight, specifically, your weight, including any gear or passengers you may bring inside. The hammock is only as strong as its weakest link, so ensure each element is rated above a safe working load
(straps, rope, and hammock).
Most hammocks come with triple-stitched seams and durable zippers and hardware. Don’t settle for anything less than top quality.
Ensure you use wide webbing straps to protect the trees. Some hammocks are packaged with suitable straps (at least 1” wide). Plan to buy straps if they don’t come standard. Straps make great anchor points around the tree where you can attach the hammock. In some state parks, straps are mandatory. Get in the habit of using straps each time you hang around a tree.
TIP: Avoid nylon webbing straps as they stretch too much. Look for polyester or polypropylene instead.
Some hammocks come with simple S-hooks that can be attached to the webbing straps. Climbing-rated carabiners make excellent and easy clips, but you can also lash and tie ropes directly to the webbing straps
Hammocks with integrated bug netting are convenient, but you can also find aftermarket bug nets that surround a hammock and can provide more room. Larger bug nets are nice for those who feel confined in sewn-in bug netting.
If flying/biting insects are a real problem, having a full-coverage net that surrounds the hammock is optimal, otherwise you’ll need something inside the hammock to protect from bite-throughs from the bottom.
Some hammock models also come with tarps, typically diamond or asymmetric in design. Tarps are an essential item for inclement weather or for shade, but sometimes they aren’t used at all. The nice thing about hammocks is that you’re not stuck with the
rain fly that came packaged with your shelter as tent campers are. If you prefer more coverage, privacy, or protection, simply pick a different tarp.
I like the versatility tarps offer so I often mix-and-match hammocks and tarps to suit my mood or conditions I expect to meet in the outdoors.
TIP: Nearly any tarp will work with a hammock provided it is long enough to cover the ends (allow at least 6-12 inches on each side) and wide enough to cover you when you get in a diagonal position.
A majority of camping hammocks provide negligible insulation. Just like a tent, you’re going to need a pad and sleeping bag to stay warm. On the flip side, hammocks excel in hot and muggy environments due to superior ventilation and convective heat loss.
Any sleeping bag and pad will work in a hammock, but custom “under quilts” that are made to hang under a hammock are somewhat easier, more comfortable, and warmer than pads.
TIP: Cut a blue closed-cell foam pad in half and turn one half sideways to better wrap around your shoulders for better coverage. The other half can cover your lower back and legs.
Tips on prolonging the life of your hammock
One advantage I love about hammocks is that your gear never needs to touch the ground, provided you pack appropriately. Pack your hammock into a stuff sack from the middle so the ends of the hammock are easily accessible. When packing in the field, leave one side attached to the tree; it’s like having a second pair of hands helping you keep the hammock off the ground. Continue to pack from the center until you reach the last attach point and unhook.
When setting up, leave the hammock packed and clip one end before opening the stuff sack. Slowly unveil the hammock as you walk and clip the other end to finish.
Use these same techniques for your tarp to keep your gear away from puncture-prone areas.
Inspect your hammock and suspension system regularly for signs of wear. Replace any element when frayed or torn. Some pin holes in the hammock can be repaired with flexible patches like Tear-Aid type A. Hammocks with larger rips should be retired.
Hand-wash your hammock with a mild soap periodically and let it air dry. Dryers can produce heat that can melt some synthetic fabric.
There’s lots to learn about hammock camping and there are plenty of resources on the web to read and study. Sometimes experience is the best teacher, but don’t suffer too long before checking out these valuable resources:
The Camping Gear Connection would like to thank Derek for sharing this well written and informative article with our readers! Thank you Derek.
Check out Derek’s book “The Ultimate Hang” an illustrated guide to hammock camping, great read for a beginner or even a seasoned hammock camper.