I love to hang. I started hanging 2 or 3 years ago and I got spoiled. I don’t like sleeping on the ground any more. The HAT group suggests going places on our backpacking trips and my first thought is to how many trees there will be, and if I can sling a hammock.
Hammock camping has lots of benefits:
- It is easy on the back and hips – no pressure points.
- It is good for the environment – you don’t compact the ground like a tent.
- A good set up can be light, compact and easy to stow in a backpack
- It’s customizable. You take the pieces that you need for that trip and that work for you.
- You can camp in terrain where it is hard to set up a tent. Lots of rocks and slopes? – no problem.
The down sides are:
- You have to have trees or poles.
- Many state parks and camp grounds count these as a tent and price accordingly.
- It is hard to put a group of hangers in a single space; you have to spread out in the area.
What you will need to get started:
- A hammock ($20 to $40). There are lots of sizes and styles so that you can find one that fits your body shape. Hammocks come in double, single and trek size. I have a trek-sized Grand Trunk ultralight hammock that packs down into the size of a softball. It takes a little balance because it doesn’t come up far on the sides. I use a single for car camping.
- Tree straps ($25). 1 to 2 inch straps that wrap around and protect the bark on the tree. A regular rope could cut into the tree and harm it.
- Additional rope or whoopee slings, and strong, light carabineers to adjust how your hammock sits between the trees.
- A mosquito net. Some hammocks come with one built in ($70). Or you can purchase ones that hang around your hammock like a big bag ($40 to $60). Or buy an expedition mosquito net and cut it down to your needs. ($15)
- A light-weight tarp. At least 10 feet ridgeline (end to end on the hammock) and at least 8 feet wide. ($70 to $100)
- Light-weight stakes. These are no included when you purchase the tarp.
- I also recommend using light-reflective cord for your lines.
- A sleeping pad. This goes in the bottom of the hammock to help keep your backside warm. ($40 to $100).
- Splash guard. I made one out of Tyvek that pulls up at either end with a draw string around the bottom of my hammock. I can also use it to put things in easy reach like a gear sling.
- A gear sling. ENO has started selling these at $30. But it is really easy to make your own.
- A gear line. I hang a line above my hammock with small carabiners and hang my headlamp and other goodies on it.
- A small tarp to step out on to keep your socks clean. I have a 3 x 3 piece of Tyvek.
- A snake sleeve. ($20) This covers and stows your tarp in a long sleeve so that it is easy to set up first. Connect the tarp to two trees and then pull back the sleeve and stake out. No more flapping in the breeze while you get it tied off!
Keeping warm in the hammock
On a summer night, a hammock is more comfortable that a tent because you can get a breeze over and under you. But even in mild temperatures, that breeze underneath can get quite cool.
When you lay on your sleeping bag, you compress the filling that is supposed to keep you warm. You need a sleeping pad in the hammock to provide that barrier between you and the cooler air. A z-pack works great and is super light weight and fairly inexpensive at $40. But the z-pack is a little bulky. If you can afford a self-inflating (or manually inflating) mattress that would be best.
The edges of the hammock where your body connects at the sides can also get cool and you get cold spots. I am a side sleeper so my knees and backside are the cold points. I use my extra clothing tucked down in those areas to provide insulation. The bonus is that when I wake up in the morning, my clothes are nice and warm!
If you have the extra dollars, an underquilt is a cushy alternative to a sleeping pad and clothes stuffing. A nice one will cost about $300 or more depending on how much length you need. An underquilt will let you hang in temperatures below freezing, something I find hard to do with just a sleeping pad.
Need to put more people into less space? Try hanging hammocks like bunks. I haven’t tried this yet, but you can hang two people on the same (sturdy) trees. One faces one way and the other goes the other way. One person has to hang pretty low to the ground and the other person has to be tall enough to reach the higher hammock. The higher hammock gets to have the tarp in close to her face while the bottom hammock has the upper hammock.
I believe that you will need a wider tarp – closer to 12 feet. And since the ends are more exposed, a real squall could be a problem with blowing wind.
I think I would also want to use a splash guard on the lower hammock in really rainy weather.