By Pete Rogers
A few years ago, my son decided he wanted to go for an overnight camping trip. I am still not sure what spurred this idea, but I jumped at the chance to get him outdoors.
Looking through the equipment we had, we were missing one important piece—we didn’t own a tent small enough to take with us.
Being somewhat frugal, I was not going to buy a tent for what may be a one-time event. But we did each have a hammock. We decided to take these and give them a try to see if they would work.
Did they ever work! They worked so well, we still do not have a tent—and we camp regularly, always choosing a hammock and tarp as our shelter of choice.
Camping in a hammock has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some things to consider if you are going camping in a hammock.
One of the things backpackers hate is trying to find just the right spot to set up camp.
After walking for miles and with daylight fading, it can often be challenging to find a level place with few rocks, roots, or debris to set up your tent and get a good night’s sleep.
Here is where hammocks shine. No more are we looking for level places to sleep. No more searching for soft ground, open areas, etc. Instead, all we need are two trees about fifteen feet apart and we are good to go.
Hammock camping is gaining popularity across the outdoor scene. With a hammock and tarp combination weighing less than two pounds, they are easy to carry, small—and most of all, comfortable.
Light nylon hammocks dominate the market with hammock campers. There are dozens of notable brands of excellent hammocks – ENO, Hennessy, Grand Trunk, ThermaRest and WildHorn to name a few.
Regardless of which brand you choose, get one made for two people. The bigger the better. No one enjoys sleeping in a confined space and a single hammock is confining.
Once you’ve selected your hammock, set your hammock up in your yard ahead of time! Knowing the best distance for trees and how to set up your hammock before you head into the wilderness is essential to sleep comfortably.
If trees are too close, you end up sleeping in a ball. If too far apart, your ropes won’t reach. There is a good balance somewhere between 10-15 feet. Taller people need farther spacing than shorter people. By taking the time to practice, you learn what works for you.
One of the biggest complaints about hammock camping is that hammocks are cold. There is no insulation to stop wind or cold air from surrounding you while you sleep.
To combat this, I use my self-inflating sleeping pad in my hammock. The air and foam act as a good insulator. During warm weather, I lay on top of my sleeping bag.
I am often amazed that hammock campers seem to always be four feet off the ground, but there are no rules that say you have to be that high in the air. A friend of mine who serves in the military shared with me his technique of hammock camping.
“Set up so that when you are in your hammock, you are only about 10 inches off the ground. Then take forest debris, pine boughs, or other material and pile it up under you a foot or so thick until it is touching your hammock when you sleep,” he explains. The debris is excellent insulator for keeping the cold from beneath you. He adds, “It works amazingly well and is easy to do.”
Last is a good cover. Many of the brands mentioned above have hammocks with built in fly and mosquito nets. If camping in areas where mosquitos are present, I would highly recommend a net for comfort. There is nothing in my book worse than hordes of mosquitos swarming while I am sleeping.
A ThermaCell backpacker unit is also good appliance to bring along. It runs for 90 hours on a single butane cooking can and will keep bugs away during the night.
Personally, I prefer to use a tarp rather than the provided fly net over my hammock. The built-in nets can make me feel somewhat claustrophobic, whereas a tarp can be set as far above your hammock as is comfortable for you.
To set the tarp, hang a ridge line of paracord or other rope above your hammock. Secure it to the trees tight with either a taut-line hitch or a Farrimond friction hitch. These two knots are adjustable to make the ridgeline extremely tight so it won’t sag.
In order to make the tarp provide the best protection, hang it corner to corner from the trees. It will look diamond shaped over the hammock. This gives the best protection as it sends water to the ground with little dripping or splashing. To hold the corners opposite the trees, use your hiking poles if needed to support the tarp.
Hammock camping is my preferred method of camping. Since discovering it, I now carry a hammock in my backcountry hunting pack. In the rare case I have to spend the night on a mountain while hunting, I can sleep comfortably and off the ground.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. You may just forgo your tent in favor of a hammock and tarp!