The Beginner's Guide To Hammock Camping

Hammocking is one of the best ways to relax and enjoy a beautiful afternoon. 

While hammocking and hammock camping have been around for thousands of years, in the last decade hammock camping has exploded in popularity.

Hammocks have adapted to provide even more comfort and reliable overnight shelter. They now include bug nets, tarps, and all kinds of incredible features to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. 

While hammock camping is not for everyone, there are some real benefits that many people enjoy. Of course, there are also drawbacks to hammock camping that you should be aware of before you give it a try yourself. 

We're going to share in this article what to expect when you give hammock camping a try, what to pack, and how to prepare to have the best experience possible. 

What Is Hammock Camping

Hammock Camping in Fall

Hammock camping is a form of camping that replaces the traditional tent with a hammock specially designed for camping. 

Camping hammocks are typically constructed from ripstop nylon, a lightweight waterproof fabric that is resistant to tears. 

The actual hammock portion will set up like a typical hammock; it will have two straps that wrap around two trees and suspend the hammock off the ground. 

A bug net is essential and always included on a good camping hammock. Bug nets attach to these hammocks in many different ways. Some are built right into the hammock and must be used in order to use the hammock. Others zip on, button on, go around the hammock or attach in other ways. 

Finally, a tarp is suspended over the hammock and bug net. The tarp is used to protect the hammock from rain and sun, and quality tarps can even help block the wind. 

 

 

 

Hammock Camping vs. Tent Camping

Hammock camping in the woods

There are pros and cons to both hammock camping and tent camping. Different people tend to prefer one over the other. 

I've been in groups where some campers swear that hammock camping is the best and only way to go, while others cannot tolerate it and will only camp in their tents. Most fall somewhere in the middle. 

The pros of hammock camping

You're off the ground and out of the water.

If you've ever been tent camping during a substantial rain, you know that rain can find its way into old and cheap tents, especially if you are in an area where runoff flows or water puddles. 

In a hammock, you're suspended above the ground and don't have to deal with water puddling around your tent or running through your tent. 

Many People Sleep Better In A Hammock

Once people discover how to sleep in a hammock properly, they find that they can sleep better than on the ground (or even in a bed). If you struggle to sleep well in a hammock, a sleeping pad helps even the curve out and makes your body’s sleeping angle more familiar. 

You Don't Have To Deal With Uneven Ground.

When you are looking for an area to set up your tent, you typically want to hunt out the evenest ground possible — no rocks, no roots, no hills, nice and flat. Even with a quality sleeping pad, flat terrain is ideal. 

In a hammock, you don't have to worry about even ground. You can use hammocks over rocks, hills, and even water (though I wouldn't recommend it 💦). 

In my experience, I still like to hammock over flat ground if possible. This allows me a spot to set up my stove for cooking, store my gear, and more. 

The Cons of Hammock Camping

It Can Get Cold

Many new hammock campers don't realize that hammock camping can get cold, really cold. When you're in a hammock, you have air flowing under you and over you. The breeze pulls away your body’s heat very quickly. 

However, there are ways to combat this and stay warm. A bottom quilt is a necessity if you plan on camping in colder weather. The quilt goes under you in the hammock and traps your body’s heat while a top quilt does the same for the top of your body. 

You can even add in a sleeping pad which will help insulate your body and a quality sleeping bag rated for the temperatures that you plan on camping in. 

They Can Only Fit 1 Person

Hammock camping is not for couples or families. Hammocks can only comfortably fit one person. If you plan on camping with family or friends, tents quickly become the more practical choice. 

Packing in 4 hammocks for a group of 4 would not be nearly as efficient as packing in a four-person tent. 

There's Not Much, If Any, Weight Savings Over Tents

Yes, camping hammocks are lighter than standard tents at the local Walmart, but if you compare them to their one-person backpacking tent counterparts, tents typically weigh less (or roughly the same). 

A 1 person backpacking tent will typically come in at 2 - 4 lbs. Most camping hammocks will come in at 2 - 5 lbs. 

Once you start comparing two-person tents to two hammocks, tents become the winner. A lightweight two-person tent will weigh between 2.5 - 5 lbs. while two camping hammocks will weigh 4 - 10 lbs. 

You Need Big Trees Perfectly Spaced

Probably the biggest downfall to hammock camping is the need for trees. Not just any trees either. You need a large enough tree to support your weight and not cause any damage to the tree. 

Even in wooded areas, it can often be challenging to find a perfect location to set up your hammock. 

This problem, though, has a solution that I will address next. 

Hammock Camping Without Trees

Samsara - Hammock Camping without Trees

The biggest issue that campers face when looking to set up their camping hammocks is finding two trees that are big enough to support their hammock, spaced the right distance, and in a desirable location. 

I've done lots of hammock camping, and honestly, I've had to set up my hammock in some pretty weird locations to make it work. 

The Samsara is a portable folding camping hammock that combines the best of both tent camping and hammock camping without the need for trees. 

The Samsara has a folding frame with a base that is roughly 2' x 3' and has extended feet that will grip into nearly any surface.  

These feet allow you to set up the Samsara anywhere you would set up a tent, wherever you would set up a hammock, or even in places where neither a tent or a hammock are possible. 

The Samsara comes with a bug net (called the MockSquito Net), an underquilt, a top quilt, a sizeable rainfly tarp, and poles to set up the tarp. The tarp can even be set up in multiple configurations with or without the poles. 

While heavier than both a tent or a hammock, they are working on an ultra-light version due out sometime in the next year. 

For hammock camping without trees, the Samsara is the only real option on the market at the moment. You can read more about hammock camping without trees here. 

 

 

What To Expect Your First Night Hammock Camping

Hammock Camping next to a River

Expect to love it. 

Honestly. 

Unless you're like me and came a bit unprepared and uneducated (which is what I'm trying to help you avoid). 

I can attest to being one of the poor individuals who were under-prepared for my first night of hammock camping. 

First, it was a chilly night, and I had only brought a basic sleeping bag — no underquilt or topquilt. I was borderline shivering all night. I did not realize that the air flowing above and below my body would cool me down significantly more than in a tent. 

To combat this a lower-rated sleeping bag, a bottom quilt, and a top quilt all would have provided me the extra warmth needed. 

A large tarp that extends below the hammock would have also helped block the breeze and kept me warmer. 

Another issue I had was that I had no idea how to sleep in a hammock properly. Seriously. 

You'd think that you climb into the hammock, close your eyes and that's it. But if you want the most comfortable sleep possible, you need to know how to set up and the hammock and how to lay in the hammock to get your body in the best position for sleep. 

I slept at such a lousy curve that my body was uncomfortable and sore all night. But, I could have slept much better. 

Setting Up Your Hammock and Sleeping At The Best Angle

Hammocking in Winter

The first thing you need to know to get a good nights sleep is how to set up your hammock correctly. 

Many people see the large banana curve of a hammock and think there is no way that can be comfortable to sleep in overnight; their back will be way too sore. 

So what do they do? They tighten the hammock as much as possible. But this is a mistake. 

By over-tightening the hammock you make the sides pull up like a cocoon around you and you can cause damage to the trees. On top of this, when you get in, your body still falls to a banana curve. 

You want the hammock to hang with a small banana curve before you get in. This curve will keep the sides from pulling together over your body (trapping you in the middle of the hammock) and allow you to position your body for the best nights sleep. 

When you get into the hammock, you want to place your butt in the middle of the hammock. Then, move your feet off to one side of the hammock and slide your head to the opposite side of the hammock. 

This will position your body at an angle across the hammock and allow you to lay in a flat and extremely comfortable position. 

You are now in not only the healthiest sleeping position according to sleep.org, but you're experiencing the amazing health benefits of the outdoors

With the Samsara camping hammock and the Mock ONE, you don't need to worry about the hanging angle of your hammock. They are already positioned at a perfect hanging angle when you set it up. They will never hang too tight or too low. You also don't have to worry about cocooning in them either since they have a crossbar that spreads the hammock out to a flat, comfortable surface. 

But What If You're A Side Sleeper

If you're a side sleeper (like me) don't fear, you can easily side sleep in a hammock as well. 

If you use the sleeping position I described above; the side position works perfectly. You can even pull your knees up into the fetal position (as 41% of adults tend to do). 

What To Bring Hammock Camping

Hammock with Rainfly Tarp

While you should have a specific camping or backpacking checklist for making sure you bring the proper gear, here are a few hammock camping specific items that you should plan on bringing on your trip. 

Underquilt

As I've stated in this post previously, an underquilt is a massive part of staying warm when hammock camping. Unlike a tent, air will flow under your body, pulling heat away from you. Heat loss will happen even if you are in a sleeping bag already. 

Not a fact, but a personal opinion, is that hammock camping feels about 10 degrees colder on average than tent camping. 

By using an underquilt, you are putting an extra layer of insulation between your underside and the cool air. 

Top Quilt

A top quilt is pretty self-explanatory. An extra layer over the top of your body to use as a blanket in a bed is a welcome addition. 

A Pillow

Many people don't think of bringing a pillow on their hammock camping trips, but for me, this little convenience can make a huge difference during my nights. 

A Rainfly

A rainfly is necessary to keep your hammock protected from the elements. It also provides an excellent shelter during the day to do your cooking under, protect you from the side, and provides a sense of safety. 

A Bug Net

In most camping areas, a bug net is an absolute must. The last thing you want to do is battle the mosquitos or gnats all night.

A quality bug net should be easy to set up and easy to get in and out of without a hassle. 

NOTE: The Samsara comes with an underquilt, top quilt, pillow, rainfly, a bug net, and poles that all work seamlessly together to provide an entirely cohesive experience. 

Sleeping Bag

Even if your hammock has a top quilt and an underquilt, you'll still want a sleeping bag inside of these unless you are in a hot climate. Check out this post for a sleeping bag buyer's guide

Extra Paracord

Extra paracord is a good idea for any camping. Especially hammock camping. The number of uses it has is endless. 

Wool Socks and Base Layers

Wool socks and a wool base layer should be a staple of anyone's camping trips. Wool has the incredible ability to retain heat, even when it is wet. By wearing wool, you are protecting yourself from potentially harmful situations like hypothermia. 

If your socks and base layers are made of cotton and you happen to get stuck in a bad storm, you can quickly find yourself much colder than you hope to be. 

How to choose wool socks.

Don't Damage The Trees (Leave No Trace)

Leave No Trace When Hammock Camping

You can take your hammock and camp in many state and national parks across the country, but due to some well-meaning but uninformed few, hammock restrictions are popping up across the country. 

Thin Hammock Straps Can Damage Tree Bark

Many cheaper hammocks ship with low-quality thin straps or even rope straps. These straps can easily cause damage to the bark of trees that they are used on. 

Most high-end hammocks have already addressed this problem and ship with wide straps that cause no damage to the trees when appropriately used. 

Use The Correct Trees

Another issue facing the hammocking community is uneducated individuals using their hammocks on trees not strong enough to support their weight and thus causing damage to smaller trees. 

When looking for a tree to hang your hammock on, make sure that the diameter of the tree is at least 8". Next, look for healthy leaves on the tree, no dead branches, and no hollow areas. 

Lastly, hang your hammock in the correct species of tree. You want to hang your hammock in a healthy hardwood tree such as used oak, maple, or palm. 

You can hang your hammock in pine trees, but be prepared to have your straps covered in sap and sticky for the rest of their life! 

Portable Folding Hammocks Don't Need Trees.

If you want to make sure not to leave any trace, the Samsara is the best way to go camping without disturbing the forest in any way. 

Tents need areas cleared to set up on, hammocks can potentially harm trees, but the Samsara has a small folding frame that can be set up anywhere without causing any damage. 

Where Can You Go Hammock Camping

Hammock Anywhere

The places you can go hammock camping are nearly limitless.

In many national parks (assuming they allow hammocks), they allow dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is truly camping among the elements - no toilets, no firepits, no conveniences at all. Before you try this type of camping, you want to have plenty of experience and make sure to follow the special rules that dispersed camping requires.

The only thing limiting your hammock camping dreams is if there no are adequate trees to strap to (unless you have the Samsara). 

Now that you're ready to try out hammock camping, check out our picks for the Best Places to go Hammocking in the US.

So get out, make some memories and Make Happy. 

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