The hammock is an essential piece of camp furniture. They’re lightweight, ridiculously comfortable, and you can set them up just about anywhere. But more than that, they also make a great overnight shelter for camping. In fact, some people even hammock camp in the dead of winter. With a few modifications and some know-how, the hammock can stand up to just about any conditions.
Let’s get straight to it!
#1 – Hang It Right
Not too surprisingly, there’s a right way and a wrong way to hang a hammock. Hanging it wrong can mean damaging or even killing the tree you’re using, waking up with a crick in your neck, and dragging your butt on the ground once you get in.
The best way to avoid all this is to: first, pick a thicker, healthy-looking tree. Pick your hammock straps carefully – use wide straps that you don’t cut into the tree’s bark. Second, angle your hammock so that it hangs at roughly a 30-degree angle. Too flat or too curved and you won’t be able to get comfortable.
And third, shoot for about an 18” gap between the bottom of your hammock and the ground. This will put you at a good height for getting in and out and won’t leave you scraping the dirt once you’re lying down in it.
#2 – Lay Sideways!
Well, not fully sideways. The most comfortable way to sleep in a hammock is a diagonal position where your feet and head are slightly off-center from the straps. Your body will flatten out, rather than bowing at the waist, and you’ll find yourself as comfy cozy as you’d be at home in bed.
#3 – Use A Sleeping Pad
When overnighting in a hammock, you’ll quickly notice that the part of your body on the bottom gets the coldest. This is because having your body right up against the outer fabric of the hammock doesn’t create any room to trap heat. The solution? Put a thin foam or even an inflatable camping pad under you. You’ll notice a world of difference immediately.
Especially if you’re expecting cold weather, bringing some kind of sleeping pad is a must for hammock camping. The added bonus is that the pad gives some extra rigidity to the bottom of the hammock, making for a better sleeping surface (go figure).
#4 – Bring a Waterproof Tarp
It doesn’t need to be a big, thick, industrial strength one, either. Even just a thin footprint intended for use under a tent can be a lifesaver if there’s any precipitation. The ideal tarp for hammock camping is light, waterproof, and has guy lines that attach to the ground. High end hammock-specific tarps even have doors so you don’t have to duck under them to get in and out.
But more than just waterproofing, the tarp is also essential for staying warm. Having an outer layer of fabric around you will keep you warmer while allowing free circulation of air, so you won’t notice as much condensation as you would inside the rain fly of a tent.
Attach the tarp above your tent straps on either tree (or whatever tension point you’re using) and try to keep the hanging ends from touching you. This is where the guy lines come in handy. This will keep the rain off you and anything you’re storing under you, most likely at least a backpack. One of the main issues of hammock camping is the lack of storage space you’d have in a tent, but this is easily solved with a simple tarp.
#5 – Get a Mosquito Net
Depending on where you’re planning on going hammock camping, this one could be a make or break for your trip. But even if you’re not camping by standing water, adding a bug net to your setup is a great idea.
Some hammocks come with built-in bug nets that zip open. These work well enough, but mosquitoes can still bite through the thin fabric of the hammock itself if your skin is making contact with it anywhere. This can be helped with the use of a sleeping pad, as mentioned above, but it isn’t foolproof.
The best option is to buy a totally separate bug net. These work fairly simply, hanging on a line above the hammock and encasing the entire affair in a bug-proof bubble. If you can spare the cost of adding one to your set up, do it. Not being covered in bug bites for the duration of your trip is a luxury everyone deserves.
#6 – Consider Heating Options
There are several ways of going about insulating when you’re hammock camping. What you’ll probably end up doing your first outing is getting into your sleeping bag inside your hammock. This works well enough, but you may encounter a few issues.
Firstly, insulation works best when it’s as puffy as possible, meaning the part of the bag you’re laying on won’t be doing much in the way of keeping you warm. And secondly, being totally encased in your sleeping bag can make it difficult to get comfortable when you’re in a hammock. It’s easier than you’d think to get tangled up in your bag, and harder than you’d think to get yourself adjusted properly.
Veteran hammock campers tend to go for one of two options. One is a specially designed “top quilt” made with down that’s tailored to fit inside the hammock, staying on top and letting your sleeping pad do its job underneath. This solution works great for warmer nights, or as an addition to the second option – a hammock underquilt.
This option wraps around the underside of your hammock, covering the entire outer surface in either synthetic or down insulation. You’ll be astounded at how warm it gets when you’re set up like a butterfly in a downy cocoon. This works primarily because your body isn’t making contact with any surface, just radiating and efficiently trapping heat. Used with a quilt, this method can be effective for camping well below zero, and is the go-to for some winter campers.
#7 – Think About Wind
If the weather is consistent while you’re setting up, try and pay attention to what the wind is doing. Look for good natural windbreaks like rocks or thick trees to set your hammock up next to. If possible, use the topography of the land to stay down and out of the wind.
The flip side of this is that you should be cautious about what you set your hammock up under. Dead trees, widowmakers, and loose branches are always at risk of coming down, and wind accelerates this process. Minimize risk by finding a spot that’s clear overhead and free of anything that looks like it might tip over on you if you gave it a good push.
#8 – The Hot Water Bottle Trick
Another old trick for fighting the cold is boiling a pot of water just before you go to bed and pouring it into your trusty Nalgene. The BPA-free plastic is heat resistant enough to handle water at a boil, so it won’t melt, and the bottle will act like a big hand warmer. Stow it down by your feet to keep your extremities warm. This trick has doubtlessly saved the skin of more than a few underprepared campers.
#9 – No Trees? Get Creative
There’s always a way, right? With a little creativity, you’d be surprised how little it takes to set up a hammock. Even in the desert, you can make use of large rocks or boulders. If you’re on a climbing trip and happen to have some cams with you, you could easily suspend yourself from a crack in a rock. There are about a million ways to hang a hammock on a car, too. With long enough straps and a little inventive engineering, just about anything is possible.
Hang Out For A While
Making the shift from thinking like a tent camper to thinking like a hammock camper takes some trial and error. It’s a totally different set up with totally different gear. But the benefits are obvious. If you do it right, camping in a hammock will keep you warmer, more comfortable, and lighter weight than you’d ever be in a tent. And now that you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready for your first hammock camping adventure.