Hammock Camping 101: The Beginner’s Guide

Hammock camping started to really gain some tread as some hikers and backpackers decided to ditch the traditional all-but-the-kitchen-sink backpack for a trimmed-down version that lessens the load and travels faster.

Hammock Camping Tips

Why Hammock Camping?

Hammocks manufactured for camping are extremely light and compact when compared to even an ultralight tent.

Further, they prove more comfy than sleeping a few hours inside a poncho or in a bivvy (listen up, you through-hikers).

They can even be used when car camping to save space you would rather jam with all your home amenities, if that is the kind of camper you are.

For all their utility, you should be aware of the challenges inherent to hammock camping, especially if you are just starting out as a hammock camper.

Used in the correct situations and in the right way, a hammock can be your dream replacement for the clunky, old tent.

First, Choose the Right Hammock

Hammock Design

Camping hammocks should feature a design and elements that present the following:

  • easy entry and exit
  • a functional bug screen
  • a rain fly unless you carry a makeshift one from home
  • high-quality ties that are easy to wrap, secure and adjust to various distances between anchoring points.

All hammocks by nature maintain a pod-like design, a shape slightly like a leaf. The ones crafted for camping (made of rain-resilient material) don’t greatly differ in design. Some may be wider than others. Indeed, some are made for lubby-dubby pairs. They will usually range from less than 2 pounds to as many a 4 pounds in pack weight.

Choose the size and design that best fits your height or physique while keeping in mind that any hammock will not allow you to flip from one side of your body as easily as in a tent; beware, restless sleepers.

Hammock Camping Guide for Beginners

The lighter and more nubile you are, the more you can wiggle around in a camping hammock. Most of these hammocks range from slightly more than four feet long to as many as eight feet. Depending on whether it’s meant for two or one, the camping hammock sleeps somewhere between 200-500 pounds of camper(s).

Default to brands with at least a 10-year history of manufacturing hammocks for camping if you can’t find expertise from outdoor retail staff or reviews.

Suspension Straps

Make sure your brand-new hammock includes its own suspension straps. Good ones include webbed straps such as those found on backpacks, slings that resemble those for climbing or straps of nylon rope.

Suspension straps at each end work fine, but some hammocks now come with suspension straps on the sides. Keep in mind, the more suspension straps, the more natural anchors you need to find with the correct distance from the hammock (details about anchoring come later in this article).

The straps will be equipped with equally rugged ends that tie or wrap around the tree or other vertical, natural feature.

Material

A camping hammock should be made of strong, durable material. Look for one made of multiply stitched nylon of 70-denier or greater.

Because of the rise in their popularity, hammocks of inferior material are entering the market. A strong nylon stitch remains light to carry, resilient to weathering and supportive enough to accommodate several seasons of comfy snoozes.

Find a hammock with strong velcro sealing on the bottom in order to hold your weight while offering an easy entry and exit. A zipper or similar proves difficult for the mere absence of elbow room in a hammock. Trying to exit or enter from the top can rival a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin routine.

Rain Flies & Bug Screens

The easiest to set up camping hammocks feature built-in rain flies and bug screens that zip or use velcro to seal you away from insects. Finding auxiliary rain flies or insect screens can prove clunky when setting up at your campsite.

Camping Hammock Setup: Know your destination’s terrain

Now comes the most challenging part of hammock camping: the terrain. Because hammocks require enough space between anchors to stretch its suspension straps, you must find terrain with trees or post-like structures strong enough to support your weight.

Dense forest proves difficult because trees usually grow very close together. High alpine may not provide enough trees or even tall enough ones. The desert requires a little oasis or sparse stand of trees.

Usually varied terrain offers the best bet, beyond a car camp where trees on the perimeter and inside the campsite often offer just the right distance.

A site or area previously visited or seen in photographs leaves the camper more comfortable when toting a hammock. If car camping, you can bring a tent as a backup shelter, but not if you backpack. Why carry two different kinds of shelters on your back when it just adds weight and takes up pack space?

How to set up your Camping Hammock

Most often, you will need two trees or vertical anchors of roughly 15-30 feet apart. The suspension lines’ length and adjustability of length determines the space required between the two anchoring points.

Note that anything less stout than tree trunks of 4-5 inches in diameter at the very least do not suffice for proper support and tautness. Therefore, bring-along poles don’t cut the muster unless you car-top or trailer extremely heavy ones into a car camp.

Again, gain a good scouting report on your terrain before even thinking of using a hammock. If your recon fails you somehow and trees of sufficient size or distance can’t be found, don’t panic. Use your hammock, bivvy style, on the ground if you must.

Practice the Setup at Home Before Heading Out

Because of the nuances of distance between anchors, how long your suspension straps stretch and how to anchor them on a tree or post, you best do what you do with new tents: practice setup at home and diligently follow the instruction manual that comes with the product.

Lay your new hammock on the ground in the backyard if you have trees of varying distances between each other. Then start to experiment.

If your backyard lacks trees, find a nearby park. Discover how long or short the suspension straps can extend and how to securely wrap or tie the anchor ends to the trees.

Then, hop in and out a few times to get used to entering and exiting at various distances from the ground. The anchor ties can be located at different heights on the tree trunks during your tryouts.

Practicing at home will save a lot of fumbling and perhaps a painful if not injurious fall.

Know a Hammock’s Limitations

Camping need not be an exercise in masochism, whether you are a through-hiker or someone aspiring to be a Grizzly Adams, John Muir or Reinhold Messner.

The hammock snoozing you might be used to in the backyard or on the deck during a breezy summer day will not be so carefree once you set it up in the wilderness.

Hammock Camping Tricks

1) Best in moderate temps

For one, night temperatures can plummet in high country and at the edges of the spring or fall seasons. Your body is somewhat like a highway bridge in a hammock. When weather becomes icy cold, bridges are first to develop black ice or sheer ice on their paved surfaces. Your suspended buttocks and other parts of the body become equally exposed to this degree of chill.

Because of a hammock’s confinements, you can’t move your limbs around as much as in a tent to get the blood, thus body heat, circulating. You’re nearly still as ice in a hammock. That said, a small down quilt under butt and a down jacket around your upper torso can mitigate the chill enough to at least get some sleep.

Conversely, extremely warm summer nights can also lend discomfort in the tight surroundings of a hammock. If you don’t mind the lack of protection from bugs, your only resort comes down to spreading your hammock out as ground cover and sleeping on the terra firma to beat the heat.

2) Vulnerabilities

A decent-sized limb fall in a windstorm can contribute to a greater sense of vulnerability in a hammock. The end result of such a fall might not be much different in a tent, except that its pole structure might better deter some limbs, depending on their sizes.

These somewhat minor differences in vulnerabilities between tent and hammock—including visits of night creatures on four legs—might result in the difference between a sound sleep free of anxiety and an extreme lack of sleep.

3) It’s only for sleeping

Another disadvantage to hammocks lies in the fact they are made only for repose and nothing else.

You can’t sit up in them as you can in a tent or a camp seat. You can’t get dressed or undressed inside them as you can in a tent (unless you are as dextrous as a worm). You can’t play cards inside of it or chat with camp mates out of the rain. You can’t even eat or drink hot chocolate inside of it.

You might possibly be able to read a book if you wear a headlamp, at least if you can read with pages nearly pasted to your eyelids.

Hammock Camping Limitations

Neither can you store your extra items or amenities inside a hammock: shoes that need drying, a battery powered camp light, a camera or its tripod. However, as an alternative, you can attach carabiners to your suspension lines in order to hang some light items off the ground.

In short, the definition of shelter changes to the very short end of the word’s meaning when confined to a hammock. You must be able to trade off some luxuries of a tent for the pragmatism, light weight—and perhaps novelty—of a hammock.

Most certainly, a hammock is easier to take down and roll up than a tent. Again, it’s about speed. In this case, speed of getting back into the vehicle and on the road home.

Also interesting: How to make coffee while camping

Hammock Camping FAQs

Find more information about Hammock Camping at this hammocking community.

About the author

Chris Berger

Outdoor expert, avid hiker and camper in his late 30s. He also enjoys plenty of watersports activities. Enough of the third person talk :-) Me and my team have done extensive research for each article and can guarantee it will save you time and effort to find exactly what you need. I only recommend products I would recommend to my mom and closest friends.