Anyone can camp in a tent, right? In this post, you'll learn how to go camping with a hammock. This ultimate guide covers everything you need to plan and have a successful camping trip with a hammock.
Ultimate Guide to Camping With a Hammock
You might want to sit down – because what you're about to read just might blow your mind.
You know that thing you’ve been taking with you on camping trips since you can remember? It’s got poles and nylon and it has a bunch of zips, strings? Well, I know this might come as a shock, but a tent is not the only way to camp.
This guide is divided into 8 sections:
- 10 reasons hammocks are better than tents (jump to section)
- How to set up a hammock (10 things) (jump to section)
- How to sleep in a hammock (jump to section)
- Responsible hammock camping (jump to section)
- Who hammock camping isn't for (jump to section)
- How to choose a hammock for camping (jump to section)
- The best camping hammocks (jump to section)
- How to pack for hammock camping (jump to section)
I know that in your head, camping and tents go together like Oreos and milk, and that you’ve probably been camping in a tent since you were young. But there is a growing group of camping converts out there doing it differently. You might have noticed them at campsites before; they’re the ones that look considerably better slept and aren’t hobbling around nursing various aches and pains like the rest of camp.
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Traditional hammocks originated all the way back to the Taino people in the West Indies who used the bark of the hamack tree to weave bed platforms which they would attach between trees. They did this to escape the bites and stings of snakes and ants on the jungle ground, and to stay cool and dry.
Hammock in Spanish is “hamaca” which was borrowed from Taino and Arawak word “hamaka”.
This word is based on the hamack tree – whose bark provided the material of the first hammocks. Later, the sisal (agave) plant became the material of choice because of availability.
The hammock rose in popularity when it was discovered by sailors in the 16th century. They could be easily installed, many could be fit into a small space and the suspended beds were much safer and less likely to result in a fall in the night as they moved with the boat. They also reduced sea sickness.
It’s a big change in mindset, but people are now camping in hammocks. You might be thinking, but won’t I fall out in the middle of the night? The answer is, in all likelihood no. The problem is, folks, we’ve been brainwashed. The traditional hammock was taken hostage in the western world and “improved” with “spreader bars”, those things that make the hammock remain open and flat so it is supposedly easier to rest in and perhaps nicer to look at. However this was at the expense of functionality, and the hammock became a literal balancing act.
The traditional hammock used for camping has no spreader bars and it is not made of rope, so you don’t end up looking like a human waffle. If it is pitched correctly and has the correct accessories, I guarantee you can have a peaceful, comfortable night’s sleep with no falling out, no back ache and no waking up in a tent sauna!
Planning a campfire? Check out 6 Ways to Start a Campfire
10 Reasons Hammocks are Better Than Tents
1. Less gear
Hammock camping is definitely not about minimalism, although granted it is a lot easier than a tent and you can carry a lot less. If you are hiking for a number of days, you will find the gear you need for hammock camping decreases considerably compared to tent camping.
Hammock camping is fantastic because you can accessorise your hammock depending on where you are camping and what the weather is like. If it is warm and the bugs are out, you can bring your hammock and a mosquito net; if it’s raining, you can bring your hammock and a tarpaulin, if it’s snowing, you can bring the hammock, a heavy duty tarpaulin, a pad and winter sleeping bag.
2. Set up and pack up quickly
Although it is true that as a seasoned camper, you can get very skilled at tent set up and packing, a hammock is that much easier and taking the ground factor out can mean that the variables you have to consider are nearly nil. You will find that once you get the hang of pitching your hammock, the whole process is much simpler and shorter than pitching a tent.
As long as you can find two appropriate trees, you can set up in exactly the same way and will have the same restful sleep every night.
3. Actually get a good night’s sleep
If you give hammock camping a go, you will realize that it is not only easier than putting up and taking down a tent, but it is also much more comfortable! Millions of people around the world sleep in hammocks every night, particularly in South and Central America.
And once you know how to sleep properly in a hammock, you may experience for the first time returning from camping feeling refreshed, rather than craving a proper night’s sleep.
When sleeping in a tent, the quality of your sleep beyond the quality of your gear is related to the area of ground you choose to set your tent up on. You may find a piece of ground free from rocks or twigs, but the compromise might be that it is on a slight slope. It is very rare to find a piece of land completely perfect for sleeping on. With a hammock you never have to worry about this at all because you are sleeping in the air!
Thinking about going camping this winter? Check out these winter hammock camping tips.
4. A hammock is more than a place to sleep
A hammock provides you with a place to lounge, meaning there is no requirement to pack a camping chair of any kind. You can set it up right by the campfire and spend time sitting, swinging and lounging during the day, and then use it to sleep in during the night.
Children often love hammocks at campsites and use them as swings, reading nooks, or secret sharing zones.
5. A hammock is good for your health
Hammocks have been shown to provide health benefits that traditional sleeping does not offer. These benefits include:
Four Reasons Hammock Sleeping is Good For Your Health
- Improved blood circulation (as your head is raised slightly)
- Stress reduction (because of the rocking motion)
- Better focus (the swaying triggers your pre-frontal cortex which improves your ability to focus)
- Helps muscle aches (due to zero pressure points)
6. More campsite options!
With the ability to set up anywhere between two weight bearing trees, this suddenly opens up your campsite options! In the busy summer months when you might be trekking and appear at a busy campsite in the early evening, you might be accustomed to searching for an appropriate ground space because all the good spots are taken.
With a hammock, your campsite options are almost limitless as long as there are trees. This also helps if you are someone who craves…
With the option to set up almost anywhere, you can leave to the outer edges of a campsite and avoid the hustle and bustle of busy camping season!
8. LNT (Leave No Trace)
If you like to practice LNT and avoid leaving an impact on the environment around you when you camp, a hammock is an ideal way to practice this. Because you are suspended above the ground, you will not crush or damage any vegetation while you sleep; another reason to sleep easy!
9. Access to water
With the option of setting up almost anywhere, you can set up camp near to natural water sources even if the terrain around them is unsuitable for normal tent camping. This makes it easier to access water and means that you can listen to the babbling brook as you drift off to sleep.
10. More all weather
Hammocks can easily be set up when the ground is totally water logged. Although tents do have waterproofing, when things get very wet you often wake up cold and damp.
With the correct set up, you can remain snug and dry in your hammock no matter the weather. With the use of a tarp and an underquilt, you can stay dry and avoid heat loss in colder weather.
More reading: 97+ Cool Camping Gadgets and Gear
How to Set Up a Hammock (10 Things)
- Strap well and strap right: Make sure you do it right, and make sure you do it well. If your straps and webbing are not connected securely to the trees, you will fall down, and this will hurt! The easiest way to strap is to purchase some tree straps if they do not come with your hammock anyway. A further benefit of tree straps is that they will avoid damaging the trees.
- Lack of trees: This is one major issue, but if you have your car, your roof rack can provide a perfect second “tree” if needed.
- Webbing straps: When choosing your webbing straps, try to avoid nylon as this will stretch and sag during the night. Choose polyester and polypropylene.
- Angle of suspension: Your suspension should be at about a 30 degree angle from ground level to avoid too much pressure on the straps and to ensure the best “hang”
- Look for a deep sag: A hammock should be high at the ends and low in the middle. This will ensure it is near to impossible to accidentally fall out.
- The height is important: Keep the bottom of the hammock at about chair height. You do not need to pitch it very high, the straps should be no more than 6-12ft from the ground.
- Distance between trees: Choose trees that are approximately 12 to 15ft apart, or 6 steps.
- Raise your foot end higher: If you can raise your foot end 8-10 inches higher than the other end, this will avoid your heavier torso end from slipping into the middle of the hammock. This will make for a more comfortable night’s sleep.
- Tie a drip line to your suspension: This is to avoid dew or rain water running down onto your hammock and making it wet.
- Correctly position your tarp: Once your hammock is in place, tie the ridge line of your tarp at the same position on the tree as your hammock straps. Your hammock will come down slightly when you sit in it but your tarp will stay as it is. Ensure that the ridge line is secure and straight and not sagging. Once this is done, place your tarp over the ridgeline and then secure the ends of the tarp to the ground with stakes.
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And if it might rain, here are some tips to help you stay dry.
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How to Sleep in a Hammock
If you’ve done all the right prep, made sure you have the correct gear, and have pitched the hammock well, then you’ve gone a long way to ensuring yourself a comfortable night. However, hammock camping, while definitely comfortable, is definitely a learned behavior and is obviously different from sleeping on a flatbed as most of us do every night.
It’s important to understand how you can avoid common issues and complaints in order to ensure you get the best possible night’s sleep.
- Don’t hang the hammock too tight: Many beginners think this is an obvious way to lie flatter, but this is not true. The hammock will only tighten around you even more and make diagonal sleeping difficult/impossible.
- Sleep on the diagonal: This will avoid “shoulder squeeze” as well as sleeping in a curved shape like a human banana, which will lead to back pain. Try and imagine yourself lying at a 30 degree angle from each side of the hammock.
- Tossing and turning is encouraged: You don’t need to lie like a corpse in one position. When you are first starting in a hammock, and are suitably diagonal, try out different positions to see what is most comfortable.
Responsible Hammock Camping
Whenever you are hammock camping, ensure that you camp responsibly!
- Always make sure you read local camping regulations. Just because there are lots more camping location options open to you as a hammock camper doesn’t mean that you are allowed to use them!
- Always use tree straps. This prevents unnecessary damage to the trees.
- Inspect your site before you leave to ensure that you leave no trace.
- Take your hammock down every time you leave camp.
Who Hammock Camping Isn’t For
There are obviously some disadvantages to hammock camping and some circumstances that will not suit hammock camping.
In my experience, it is not possible to comfortably sleep with a dog in a hammock. You may be able to accustom a smaller dog to sleeping with you, perhaps on you, or in a storage area of your hammock, but the likelihood is that they may want or have to sleep on the ground. If you are not comfortable with such an arrangement, then hammock camping may not be for you.
The same will apply to young children. If you are travelling with a young baby, you probably don’t want to share a hammock with them and risk them getting caught underneath you or in the hammock material. Same applies to young children; you might be better getting a family tent and knowing that everyone is together and safe and babies are in travel cots.
And finally, you'll need a level of physical ability to setup and enter/exit the hammock.
How to Choose a Hammock for Camping
1. Hammock Width
How wide your hammock should be will depend on whether you’re sleeping solo or with someone else. If you are sleeping solo, it might be best to keep things as narrow as possible; keep in mind that the wider it is, the more it will wrap around you which can bring on feelings of claustrophobia if this is the kind of thing that gets to you. As a guide, hammocks widths can vary from 4-8.5 feet.
2. Hammock Length
Length is not so much a concern unless you are incredibly tall, in which case, opt for a model longer than 8 feet.
3. Hammock weight capacity
Obviously the weight capacity of the hammock should depend on your weight and the weight of anyone else you intend to have in your hammock! Generally most hammocks are fairly generous in the weight capacity department but it’s worth checking before you purchase.
4. Hammock weight
The weight of the hammock will depend on the material used, which tends to vary on the hammock type; whether it is designed to be lightweight, or durable, or more for comfort, and whether it is for short or longer term use. Closely related is the volume of the packed hammock. Some features (built-in mosquito nets) and materials (cotton/canvas) add significant bulk to a packed down hammock.
5. Hammock attachment points
Look for a hammock with many attachment points as this allows flexibility in use of your suspension system depending on where you are setting up your hammock and the type and size of the trees you are using.
6. Types of Hammocks
- Parachute models: These are hammocks made out of parachute nylon. Generally, they’re great for lounging in, and sleeping for a single person or a double person depending on their size. They generally come with integrated suspension systems which makes them a great starter hammock as they are easy to set up and take down. The parachute nylon they are made from is comfortable, soft, durable and has a slight stretch. One downside is that the material is slippery which some people do not like as they slip out of position in the night.
- Ultralight models: These hammocks may sacrifice some comfort and durability of the open models for light weight and small size. These hammocks are for the trekker who wants to go extremely light weight and they will be perfect for certain circumstances, like trekking the Appalachian Trail. Hikers love lightweight gear. They are less user friendly and so for someone just starting out in the hammock world they may be harder to get the hang of.
- Expedition models: These hammocks are designed for more extreme conditions, and for longer trips where you will be spending extended periods of time in your hammock. They often have rain flys/tarps or mosquito nets as standard, they have many added comforts like integrated storage space and are easy to accessorize. They are definitely more comfortable than their counterparts but are also heavier and more expensive.
Read more: 13 Thru Hiking Tips for Beginners
The Best Camping Hammocks
Here are the best hammocks for camping for each category.
Best for couples- Trek Light Gear Double Hammock
The breathable, durable parachute fabric is especially important when you are sharing space with another person. This is Trek Light Gear’s best selling hammock. It can be used by couples, families for lounging together, or just for someone who wants a bit more space (or weight capacity) in their hammock!
Trek Light Gear boasts that this hammock compresses to the size of a grapefruit and comes with a “Lifetime Warranty & Happiness Guarantee”.
The big sell here is the fabric, it is so soft! So if you want to travel in luxury, purchase this hammock that folds out to the size of a queen size bed and can easily fit two people lounging in comfort, although Kammock recommends it sleeps one best. There is also a lifetime warranty on this bad boy!
While the fabric is luxurious, it also carries less weight per square inch than any other hammock fabric and so it comes as light as it possibly can for its size and quality finish. It boasts climbing quality suspension and comes in a variety of colours that are fade resistant.
Budget- Winner Outfitters Double Camping Hammock
This hammock is suitable for single or double capacity, and wins the budget category for it’s very reasonable price balanced with quality. It will hold a generous 500lbs of weight meaning it’s a good option for someone wanting to trying out a hammock for the first time with your camping crew… you might want to take it along with you as well as your tent and try it during the day as a seat for you and the rest of the gang.
Another crazy bonus? If you don’t like this hammock, they will refund your money and let you keep the hammock! Who can argue with that?!
The minimal trekker- Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock
This is a great option if you are looking to pack light for a reasonable price, it might be a good starter hammock too.
The expedition trekker- Hennessy Hammock Expedition Series
This hammock is described as a “complete, engineered shelter system for one price”. Hennessy promotes “Leave No Trace” and provides webbing straps to assist with this. It comes with built in mosquito netting, a detachable rain fly, support ropes and webbing straps.
Small, thoughtful details like a sliding gear loft and glove hooks reflect the first hand experience of this small family company. This hammock also has an ingenious bottom entry option for situations where you are being followed by a hoard of mosquitos! The hammock is designed with an asymmetric shape for comfort and to support back and knees.
Although the Hennessey is more on the expensive side, it combines comfort, quality, durability and uses its innovative asymmetric shape to ensure that you don’t have some of the usual issues you might experience with the traditional hammock and means that you can sleep in a flatter more natural position more easily. It also provides the option of entering below or sideways depending on the situation.
Ultimately, there are hundreds of hammocks on the market and each will provide different benefits depending on your particular camping needs and sleeping preferences.
Looking for more? Check out our review post: 12 Best Camping Hammocks (Budget to Premium)
Camping With a Hammock: How to Pack
All that being said, hammock camping success is all about what you pack and how well you pitch. In the summer, you may be able to go very light with just your hammock, if you are guaranteed dry, hot weather. In the winter, you will need to accessorise!
How to pack: In comparison to tent camping, you will find that you will be cooler in the night than in a tent due to the air passing over and under you, so take this into consideration when packing. Even in the warmer months, you will need a sleeping bag and may need a more insulated one than you are used to.
You will always need to take the following items on your camping trip no matter the conditions:
A good quality hammock – we will talk more about your choice of hammock and what to consider, but obviously, you will need to ensure that you always bring it on your camping trips.
It is important you choose straps that will be easy for you to adjust and set up, and make sure they are long enough to accommodate bigger trees, or areas where trees are sparse and wider apart.
You will need to take the following items depending on the weather and conditions you anticipate during your trip, as well as personal preference.
The sleeping bag should be appropriate to the season and take into consideration that you will be cooler in a hammock than in a tent. Some people recommend mummy shaped sleeping bags for hammocks to avoid edges and corners poking you in the face in the middle of the night.
However some people get around this by using a rectangular sleeping pad with a rectangular sleeping bag. The rectangular pad provides some structure to the hammock.
Overquilt and Underquilt
Another option or addition if it is very cold and/or as an alternative to the sleeping bag is an overquilt and an underquilt. If the weather is looking to be cold, you could consider these instead of or in addition to a sleeping back. You do not want to be caught with a cooler night than anticipated and have cold air running past your nether regions all night. Trust me, it is no fun!
The difference between these and a sleeping bag is that they will insulate you more effectively. Because they attach around the sides of the hammock, you body weight does not impact on the insulation by compacting it. With a sleeping bag, areas where you have compacted it will provide less insulation and so you may find that areas of your body become chilled in a way that they have not in a tent. This is because of the air flow around you while you are in a hammock.
for many this is a given all year round for comfort as standard. However, you may choose to only introduce this in cooler weather as an insulation and protection from “Cold Butt Syndrome” (CBS). It is recommended to get a mumming shaped sleeping pad, but you can also get hammock specific sleeping pads with wings.
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One sure fire way to guarantee yourself a broken night’s sleep is to leave yourself vulnerable to buzzing, biting creatures all through the night.
Want extra protection against biting bugs? Check out the Campers Guide to Essential Oil Bug Repellent.
A tarp is a great protection from wind, rain and snow, and also allows a bit of privacy. There are a variety of fantastic, lightweight and hardy tarps on the market so plenty of options to choose from. Types of tarp include:
- Asymmetrical: these are designed for hammock camping, but not so much for cold weather. These will provide the most minimal of cover and will be the most lightweight and easy to set up.
- Hexagonal: these provide slightly more cover than the asymmetrical due to their shape, and that they meet the ground at four points rather than two. They will only take slightly longer to set up and are slightly heavier.
- Rectangular: these are traditional tarps that you may find in many a garage across the world providing shelter for some garden machine or other. They are heavy, noisy and not designed for hammock camping specifically, but on the bright side they are widely available, cheap and can generally be staked to the ground.
- Tent tarps: If you are facing freezing temperatures and still venturing out in your hammock then these tent tarps are a great option. They essentially convert the space around your hammock into a tent and will reduce the air flow around you that may otherwise cause you to feel very chilly in the night. The downside is that they take considerable time to set up and take down, but you will be toasty warm as a result.
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Some people prefer to have some neck support while sleeping in a hammock while others don’t. On your first go it’s probably worth taking an inflatable neck pillow so you can try out both ways and see which you prefer.
It might be worth bringing a small foot mat so that when you step out of your hammock you have something to step on rather than the forest floor, but it depends how minimal you want to be!
Sandals/slip on shoes
Can help to have some basic slip on shoes for when you wake up for a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Want something that will double as slippers and waterproof hikers? See our Trail Guide to Dry and Healthy Feet.
Not sold on camping with a hammock? No worries. Here's our guide to the best family camping tents.
Are you planning your first trip camping with a hammock? Have a question or tip to share? Join me in the comments!