Camping with a hammock can seem like a crazy idea at first. Especially since the majority of us associate hammocks with either relaxing on the beach at some exotic destination. Or worse, falling out of a hammock and injuring yourself. Hammock camping for beginners can be a bit of a learning curve, but fortunately, you get to learn from my mistakes.
Hammock camping can be a serious addiction. Someone who suffers from hammock addiction will often disappear for days on end. When they return they will look well rested and quite often will have a smile on their face. What started off as a fun hobby usually ends with a closet full of hammocks, or even sleeping full time in a hammock.
Continue reading at your own discretion
- Why You Should Start Camping with a Hammock
- Buying Your First Hammock
- How to Set Up Your Hammock
- Sleeping in a Hammock
- Hammock Camping Skills
Why you Should Start Camping with a Hammock
Most do not start out camping with a hammock. Pretty much all of us started out as ground dwelling tent campers. So why did I, and so many others make the switch to hammocks?
Have you slept in a tent before? Did you wake up nice and early because the ground was so uncomfortable you would rather face the daunting task of getting out of bed? When camping do you often dream of getting back home and curling up into your nice comfortable memory foam mattress?
If you answered yes to any or all of those questions (Don’t lie to yourself, I know you did) Then you know why people switch over to hammocks.
Advantages of Camping with a Hammock
There are numerous advantages to sleeping in a hammock.
- A more comfortable sleep. I know, I know, this can be very subjective, but Let’s go over a few facts.
- When laying on the ground, sleeping pad or even your own bed, the surface is applying pressure to your body. After a while this pressure starts to become uncomfortable so we roll over to relieve the pressure. The process then repeats itself.
- No matter how good our sleeping pad is, or how well we choose a camping spot, There always seems to be a rock or tree root whose purpose is to keep us awake at night.
- Sleeping in a hammock is like sleeping on air. Well, I guess it is technically sleeping on air.
- More places to camp. With a hammock you open up a whole world of possibilities. You are no longer limited to flat, solid ground. No more nightmares about tree roots and rocks keeping you up at night.
- More Versatile. Are hammocks just for sleeping? Of course not. In addition to being your home in the trees, a hammock can also be a chair, shelter from the rain. It can also be used as a tent!
- Easier to stay dry. Did a Tropical storm roll in out of nowhere and turn your camping spot into a lake? No need to worry, you will be several feet above the ground.
Why Some People get Turned off by Hammock Camping
- Too exposed. Many campers get turned off by hammocks because they feel too exposed. When you are sleeping in a hammock, there is nothing separating you from the outdoors besides a bug net. For me this is one of the best reasons to start hammock camping! After all, that is why I enjoy camping. I want to get closer to the outdoors.
- Lack of privacy. This is a big one for many. Hammock campers do not have the luxury of having being surround by 4 walls. While this is true, there are several ways to deal with it.
- There are many tarps available that cover a large area around your hammock. If positioned correctly, the most anyone will see is your feet.
- When you are camping with a hammock, you have a lot more freedom to decide where you camp. It is always possible to camp away from everyone else for more privacy
- Too cold. When a lot of first time hammock campers try it for the first time, they are unprepared. They struggle to realize that hammock camping is very different to camping in a tent. It requires a special way to keep warm, which will be discussed below.
- Uncomfortable. Sleeping in a hammock is definitely a skill. Most beginner hammocker’s imagine themselves sleeping in a banana shape. While true, there is a simple technique that will fix this problem.
- What if there are no trees? I am going to let you in on a little secret. Unless you are walking in the desert, there are trees pretty much everywhere. I have never had a problem finding trees to camp in. I have however, had to camp in places that didn’t allow hammocks. The great thing about hammocks is that they also make great bivy sacs. I will describe below what to do if you can’t find a place to hang.
Are there any concerns you have about sleeping in a hammock? Let me know in the comment section and I will try my best to address them.
Buying Your First Hammock
Before we start camping with a hammock, we are going to need to actually buy a hammock. With hammocks gaining popularity, we are now living in a wonderful world of hammock possibilities. A quick google search of hammocks will quickly leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Hammock
- Size. There are going to be two factors you need to worry about. The length of the hammock and the width. The width of the hammock is usually advertised as a 1 person or 2 person hammock.In terms of length, you are going to want a hammock that is at least 4 ft longer than your height. If you are 6 ft tall you are going to want a hammock at least 10 ft long.As a rule of thumb, the larger the hammock is, the more comfortable it is going to be. However, it comes at a cost of extra weight. So if you plan on backpacking with one, try and get one that is the right size.
- Ridgeline. Is a cord that runs between each end of the hammock. Some hammocks like Hennessy Hammocks, have them pre-installed. Others like ENO need to get one attached. It can be easily done with some 550 paracord. It is also used to hang the bug net.
- Suspension system. This is the part of the hammock that you will use to tie the hammock to the tree.
- Rainfly. You can purchase a specialty hammock rainfly, or you can use a tarp. This is probably the most customizable piece of the hammock camping system. You can easily find a rainfly to suit your needs.
- Bug nets. If your hammock doesn’t have one built in, you will need to get one.
Types of Hammocks
Gathered End Hammocks
This is the most simple kind of camping hammock. These are usually inexpensive and lightweight. They are not usually sold with all the required gear for hammock camping. Chances are you will also have to buy a tarp, bug net and suspension system.
This means that your hammock is completely customizable!
These hammocks have a spreader bar on each end, which makes the hammock flatter and more comfortable to lay in. However, they do weigh a bit more due to the fact there is a spreader bar included.
Fully Integrated Camping Hammocks
These are the specially designed hammocks whose sole purpose is to get out into the wilderness. They usually come with an integrated bug net, and an inbuilt suspension system. Depending on the brand, tree straps and a tarp may be included already.
Integrated camping hammocks can come as a gathered end or as a bridge hammock.
This is probably the most complicated and most confusing part of hammock camping for beginners. Every person you ask will have their own favorite method. From hooks, to carabiners, to custom homemade gadgets, there is no shortage of hanging methods to choose from.
Let’s start with something everyone is going to need. Webbing Straps! These are straps that will wrap around a tree, and then you will tie the hammock to the tree. Also called tree straps, webbing or tree huggers.
Webbing straps are important for two reasons.
- They protect the tree from damage. If you tie the rope straight to the tree, the rope is going to rub against the tree bark and leave a mark. This is the main reason why a lot of parks ban the use of hammocks.
- They protect your rope. This has to do with the reason above. If the rope is rubbing against the tree, then the rope is also getting damaged.
Now that we know about webbing, Let’s look at 3 different suspensions systems that are popular.
Daisy Chain Tree straps.
This is a really straight forward suspension system. Basically the tree strap is made up of several loops (What is called a daisy chain). You tie the strap around the tree, and attach the hammock using a carabiner. That simple. The only disadvantage is that the straps weigh a lot.
It may seem complicated at first, but they are really easy to use. The whoopie sling is just an adjustable rope. It comes with two loops at each end. One will attach to the hammock, and the other to the tree strap. Then there is a cord you can pull in that will adjust the tension.
Rope and Webbing
If you are like me and bought a dedicated camping hammock. Then chances are it came with a rope built into the hammock. Or maybe you bought a rope that you have to attach to your hammock first before hanging it from the tree. This method can be a bit more technical as you might need to learn a few knots or lashings.
How to set up your hammock
Now that we have chosen a hammock to escape into the blissfulness of the camping gods, let’s talk about how we can set up a hammock properly. Otherwise, you might be wondering what I’ve been going on about and dust out the old tent from the closet.
Step 1: Finding the Perfect Trees
Picking an ideal location might seem tricky at first, but it won’t be long until you become a master at it. Even when I am not camping I find myself constantly assessing trees in the area to decide if any are hammock worthy.
There are several characteristics I look for in trees.
- Distance between trees. People can get really technical about this, but you don’t need to be. As long as the trees are further apart than the length of your hammock, and within distance of your suspension system, it is a good distance.
- Diameter of tree. Needs to be wide enough so the tree won’t move, and not so big that you can’t wrap your webbing straps around the trunk. If it is a large tree, sometimes I will hang the hammock from a tree branch.
- Widow makers. Nick name given to anything above your hammock that can eventually fall down and hit you. When setting up your hammock, look for any dead branches that might fall down. See example below.
Step 2: Attach Webbing Straps to Tree
There 2 different ways to do this depending on you suspension system.
Each end of the straps will have a loop on it. Wrap the strap around tree. Pass one end of the strap through the loop in the other end. If you are using a daisy chain tree strap, then you will have to put the daisy chain end through the other end.
Or you can just wrap the strap around the tree once (or a few times depending on the size of the straps) and tie the rope through both ends.
I really don’t know if there is any advantage to either method but I just threw out a couple options.
You should try to place the webbing at about eye height. Depending on the tree it might be higher or lower. I wouldn’t worry too much about this, you will get a sense of how high to hang with some experience.
Step 3: Attach Hammock to Tree Straps
When attaching the hammock, we are aiming to have the hammock sit at about chair height. This will make it easier to get in and out of the hammock.
You also don’t want to hang the hammock too tightly. Doing so will create a cocoon effect, where the sides of the hammock wrap around your body and squeeze your shoulders together.
Let’s look back at the 3 hammock suspension systems and how we can set each one up.
- Daisy Chain. You hammock should either come with a carabiner, or a loop where you can attach the carabiner.
- Whoopie sling. The whoopie sling has two loops to it. A fixed end, and an adjustable end. Attach the fixed end to the hammock, and the adjustable end to the tree straps. Then adjust the tension to get the hammock just right.
- Rope. Everyone you talk to is going to have their favourite knot to use. I prefer to use a simple figure-8 lashing. It is quick, easy to undo, and most importantly, it is not going to come undone. Check out Tom Hennessy’s video to see how the lashing is done.
Step 4: Attaching a Ridgeline and Bug Net.
If your hammock came with an integrated ridge line and bug net then feel free to skip this part.
Just like everything else in this guide, there are a million and one ways to hang a ridge line as well. The ridge line is attached between the two ends of the hammock. The same plane where you hung attached the hammock to the suspension system.
What you will need:
- 550 paracord about the same length as your hammock.
- The ability to tie a bow line knot and a taut-line hitch.
Attaching the ridgeline.
- Attach the paracord to one end of the hammock using a bowline knot.
- At the other end, tie a taut-line hitch. This is a sliding knot that can be used to adjust the tension of the ridgeline.
- Adjust the tension on the ridgeline. It doesn’t need to be too tight. Just tight enough that it isn’t sagging.
The best part about this setup is that one you set it up, you leave it attached to the hammock.
All that is left is to attach the bug net to the ridgeline. How you attach the bug net really depends on the bug net. So I am just going to bug out of this one and let you learn how to attach the bug net from the bug net manufacturer.
Your hammock is almost ready to go, just need to protect it from the outdoors!
Turning your Hammock into a Super Shelter: Adding a Rainfly.
Now that your hammock is set up, and has adequate protection from the creepy crawlies, you just need to protect yourself from precipitation.
There are many different shapes your rain fly can take. Square, Diamond, Hexagonal. Whatever the shape, there is always going to be a ridgeline. Along the sides of the hammock there are going to be guylines, which are used to tie the sides of the hammock down.
- Find the ridgeline of the rainfly. We are going to attach the ridgeline to the same trees as the hammock.
- Use a taut line hitch (or other knot) to attach the rainfly to the trees.
- For the guylines, you can either attach them to trees or bushes nearby, or you can use some tent stakes. I also use the taut line hitch. In case you haven’t noticed I like to adjust things.
Even if you are not expecting any rain overnight, I still recommend setting up the rain fly. Why? Because birds live in trees. And what do birds do in trees? They poop everywhere. And that is not how you want to wake up in the morning.
Sleeping in a Hammock
Time to get starting on the good stuff. After all, learning how to sleep in a hammock is why you are all reading this right?
I’ve had some of my best night sleeps in my hammock, but I have also had some of the worst. There is definitely an art to sleeping in a hammock. Hopefully anyone reading this won’t make the same mistakes I did.
Let’s start with the basics. You are in your hammock and now what? How do I lay down? How do I stay warm?
Biggest Problem Faced in Hammock Camping for Beginners
So I just need a sleeping bag to keep warm? Wrong! Turns out that staying warm is a bit of a science. Here is a brief explanation of how an insulation system works.
You are hot! No really, your body is hot! Your body burns fuel (a.k.a food) to produce body heat. This heat then heats up the air around it. Now normally the hot air gets blown away, or is quickly cooled by other colder air. When we add an insulation system something else happens.
When we use a sleeping bag, it traps the air inside. So when our body warms the air, it stays trapped in the sleeping bag and keeps us warm at night.
This can cause a problem in hammocks unfortunately. When we lie down it compresses the sleeping bag underneath us and pushes out all the air. All of a sudden there is no trapped air for our body to heat. That -40 degree sleeping bag you brought on a cool summer’s night? Completely useless. The hammock community has called this Cold Butt Syndrome.
But CJ, I have camped many times in a tent and haven’t gotten cold but syndrome. Do I not also compress the sleeping bag when I sleep on the ground?
Yes. But when you sleep on the ground I bet you are sleeping on a sleeping pad? Ground dwellers use a sleeping pad to combat cold butt syndrome. If you doubt me, then try sleeping on the ground without a pad. I guarantee it is going to be cold.
How to Stay Warm in a Hammock?
Since your body is going to compress a sleeping bag, we need to break down hammock insulation into two categories. Top insulation, and bottom insulation.
There a couple of popular options to consider.
- Sleeping bags. Many people still use sleeping bags in a hammock. Chances are if you go camping you already have one. There is a downside however, and that it can be challenging to get into the sleeping bag.
- Top Quilt, This is probably the most popular option. A top quilt is basically a sleeping bad, but it doesn’t come with a bottom. So it acts like a blanket instead of a sleeping bag. This option is popular with thru-hikers as it is a great option to cut down weight. After all, the underside of a sleeping bag is useless.
- Blankets. This option is more for car camping as blankets can get quite heavy and bulky.
There are two main options when it comes to keeping the underside of the hammock warm.
- Underquilts are just like a sleeping bag, except they go on the outside of your hammock. Since they are on the outside, your body doesn’t compress the underquilt, and it retains its insulating properties. Underquilts are considered the ultimate hammock insulation. Unfortunately this means that they are also expensive.
- Sleeping pads can still be used in a hammock.They are a cheaper option than underquilts and chances are you already have one. If you are using a sleeping bag, try and get a sleeping pad that can fit into your bag. This make it easier to get in, and it will also make it easier to stay on the sleeping pad.
Hammock Camping Skills
Getting into your Sleeping Bag
The first few times I used a sleeping bag, it was a struggle. It was a delicate art of putting my feet in, pulling the sleeping bag up a bit, putting my feet in a little bit more. Honestly I don’t know how I didn’t see the solution earlier.
It is so much easier if you just open the bag, crawl in, adjust it so it covers your whole body, and then zip it up. I don’t know if that was obvious to other hangers, but it took me a while to figure that one out.
The other to make it easier is to put the sleeping pad inside the bag. This is only an option if you are using a sleeping pad.
The last option is to simply unzip the bag and use it as a quilt. This is the easiest way, but I did find that it was a bit drafty, as cold air was able to come up from underneath, so this may not be the best option.
Hammock Camping Without Trees
This is a huge concern for most people, but it just comes down to preparedness. Research where you are going and find out if there will be spots to hang from. When I went on the Berg Lake Trail, I knew that hammocks wouldn’t be allowed because it was against the park rules. So I had to bring something extra.
If you absolutely find yourself in an area where you can’t hang from, then you can set up your rainfly as a tent. All you need are two trekking poles.
First you need to connect the rainfly to the poles. My rainfly has a D ring, so I simply place the over the bottom end of the pole. You tie the lines from the rainfly out and try and balance both trekking poles.
It is actually impressive how well this works. Both ends of the rainfly act to balance any forces out. So if I pull the rainfly one way, the other side is going to resist and keep it upright. Tie the side guy lines like you normally would and you are left with a very sturdy structure.
Did you know that your hammock also acts like a bivy bag? You can tie the ridgeline of one end, or both ends (depending on the hammock one might be better than the other) to the trekking poles and viola! You have a bug proof and rain proof shelter.
Don’t Head Out on the Trail Just Yet…
There is a lot of information in this guide. But that is because there is a lot to learn. And the place to learn is not out in the wilderness, where if you can’t figure out how to set the hammock up you are in a lot of trouble.
The best place to practice is in your backyard, or even a nearby park. Practise all the knots you will need. Practise setting up the rainfly. Even practise setting up on the ground. Not sure how well your insulation will work? Spend a night in the backyard, or even car camping somewhere. The point is to test out everything before you head out somewhere.
If your first night in a hammock isn’t how you thought it would be, don’t give up! Camping in a hammock is a learned skill. It takes a few times to get it right, but I guarantee the results are worth it.
I hope you enjoyed my hammock camping for beginners guide. If you have any questions, or feel there is something I should address in this guide, feel free to ask me in the comments section.