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Everything You Need to Know to Start Hammock Camping

I always get asked out on the trail how I like my hammock, and the answer is, I love it! I I have been backcountry camping pretty much exclusively in a hammock for about 3 years now and I will definitely never go back. I'm actually not even sure if I own a tent anymore. In the past year, pretty much every time a pitch my hammock in a group site somebody comes up to me and asks me how I like hammock camping and then they proceed to ask me a plethora of questions. So below I have outlined some common questions I get about hammock camping, as well as some tips and tricks I have picked up along the way to maximize your hammock camping enjoyment. But, first, let's discuss the pros and cons of hammock camping.

Pros and Cons of Hammock Camping

Here is a quick and dirty list of why I love hammock camping, a lot of these things in themselves would make a person want to switch over, but put them all together, and it kind of starts to feel like a no brainer

  • Easy setup and take down,

  • Lightweight system (PS. if you want to hear more on how I keep my pack light check out my Art of Packing Light for the Backcountry Post),

  • Multi-use - you can use your hammock as a chair or to sleep,

  • Comfort - I slept sooooo much better in my hammock, and,

  • Put your feet up - your feet are somewhat elevated in the hammock, reducing swelling after a long hike, and often adding to a quicker recovery time (this last point was scientifically tested and proven at the School of Quacks 😋).

Putting my feet up after a long hike.

Honestly, the biggest con is just getting used to it. Many of us grew up camping in large conventional tents, so it can take some time getting used to sleeping in small, open, hammock. I think the biggest thing is there is a strange odd and misplaced sense of security you get sleeping inside a tent that you do not get in a hammock. The first couple nights I was always a little nervous, I kept picturing some curious bear playing with my hammock like a kids toy, batting my hammock back and forth watching it swing, while I was still in it. But, if you think that nylon wall your tent provides you will keep you safe against a bear, well your tripping. There is no extra protection against wildlife a tent provides over a hammock and once you get over your misplaced sense of security, you are good to go. Also, along those same lines, there is less privacy, but hopefully you are secluded enough that it doesn't matter. Lastly, it can take a moment to get used to sleeping in a hammock and being comfortable, but that is all about how you set up the hammock and how you lay in it, so more on this below.

My Hammock Sleep System

Now, let's dive into the gear I carry specifically for my hammock sleep system.

  • Eno double nest hammock: I prefer to use the double nest, first there is more room and second when I sleep I like to wrap the top over my body and it makes kind of a cocoon around me, doing this keep me warmer and provides me with that little sense of privacy if I want it, its like the ultimate tiny home! To be honest though, this is the only hammock I have every tried, I've had it for 3 years now and it is holding up great.

My mobile tiny home for the night.

  • Hammock straps secured with carabiner: Now, you can pay extra for fancier straps, and I will admit they are somewhat easier to use. But if your like me, you don't love spending tons of money on expensive camping gear and, let's be honest, most likely at some point you are going to lose them, lol. So I suggest just going with the basic strap that your hammock hopefully comes with, and when you lose it, because let's face it, you inevitably will, instead of buying expensive straps I suggest you buy my super secret, super high tech system..... Wait for it....drumroll please.....ROPE! I know its not fancy or flashy, but it gets the job done just as well, and honestly the hammock straps that cost you $50 bucks probably save you less than a minute of set-up, so save that money for something important like a SPOT device or first aid kit and go with the rope. Also, I like to secure my hammock to the straps with a carabiner so later if I need my rainfly (i.e. tarp) I secure it to the carabiners instead of setting up a whole other rope system. (We will get to my super fancy rainfly in a minute, I know I'm super techy).

Be forewarned hammock camping can be addictive, I have pretty much converted all of my friends at this point!

  • Sleeping mat: Really any sleeping mat will do, but it's imperative that you have one. Without it you will freeze from the draft under your hammock at night, trust me on this one. There are cool sleeping pads made specially for hammock camping, I am thinking of investing in one but for now my normal pad is working fine. If you start to get cold around your shoulders and sides of your body, often I will pack the sides with the excess clothes etc. I have in my pack to provide another layer of insulation. There are all other insulation techniques for the hammock, for instance a lot of people will tie another sleeping back or quilt around the bottom of the hammock to provide extra insulation but I am too lazy to carry the extra pounds

  • Sleeping bag: you will want a slightly warmer sleeping bag. I am interested in trying out the new bags that your sleeping mat straps into, I bet having something to keep the sleeping mat in place under you is fairly handy. Sometimes I will just stuff my sleeping mat into my bag so I don't roll off my mat in the hammock but this only works ok and doesn't work with my colder weather bag.

  • Tarp: 10x10 tarp should do the trick. Now, many people will buy the expensive Eno rainfly, but I would argue that a tarp works just as fine. I secure the tarp in a diamond shape into the carabiners and viola you have a rainfly. If you have the right amount of slack in your hammock your tarp won't be right at your face but still close enough to protect you from the rain. Pro tip, hanging up the tarp can also provide a lot of warmth, I sleep warm though so I prefer not to set it up unless I need to. You can also bring extra straps (i.e. rope) instead of clipping into the carabiners, or bring stakes and secure the sides of the tarp to the ground, but I'm usually lazy and skip this step and the tarp always works just fine for me.

Hanging the hammock

The second question I get asked a lot is, what if there are no trees? But in actuality hammock setup is way easier. The hardest part is finding two trees that are the right size and the correct distance apart. Many people find trees that are too close together or to large to tie the straps around. You want two medium sized trees that are about 15 feet apart, give or take. But I guess in the end you are really just substituting looking for flat, clear ground to pitch your tent vs. two trees a good distance apart.

No shortage of trees here to hang our hammocks up.

When securing to the tree make sure both ends are even, I like to do chest height, that way I am high enough off the ground that my butt won't hit, but not too high that I can't get in and out. Some people like to keep it closer to the ground, in case they fall out or something I guess, but if your falling out of the hammock you've got bigger issues to deal with I think. Finally, when setting up the hammock you want to make sure that there is a little slack in it, about 30 degrees, that way when you sleep at night you can lay comfortably, without your head and feet being way high in the air.

Sleeping in the hammock

It def takes some getting used to sleeping in the hammock. Like I said before, there is an odd feeling of safety you get when you are in the tent. But I would rather substitute being able to sleep under the stars with the fresh breeze over the misplaced sense of security you get from a nylon barrier, plus you get over it pretty quickly.

Nice set-up next along a river bed.

I like to sleep at an angle, that way I am laying more flat, with my feet only slightly elevated. Also, as I said before a sleep mat is absolutely necessary, without it you will freeze. One time my sleeping mat popped and all night I was freezing my butt of because of the wind blowing under the hammock. In the end you are just going to need to play around with it to get the set-up you like. I will admit the first couple times I slept in the hammock it wasn't as comfy because I didn't have my system down, but I was sold pretty quickly with all the extra pounds I lost to my backpack by ditching the tent. Now I sleep like a baby in my hammock, and look forward to being able to coast up in my little cocoon, hang my feet up and doze off with the fresh breeze on my face and the stars shining down on me.

Lovin' my hammock life.

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