The smallest things can make the biggest differences when you’re out in the field for long periods of time. After years of being a ground dweller in tents, I was ready to take to the trees and finally develop my hammock kit.
Since I got confirmation that I’d be going on this trip, I’ve spent hundreds of hours combing through hammock camping resources and making DIY modifications to my gear. Camping hammocks and accessories are largely driven by cottage industries and an active community of people trying, testing, and developing their own tools to get “the perfect hang”. There’s a wealth of knowledge on the Internet for people interested in getting into hammock camping.
Why choose a hammock over a tent?
- They’re cooler in warmer temperatures
- They can be lighter in weight and take up less pack space than a tent setup
- They can be cheaper than a tent setup
- You don’t have to worry about finding flat or debris-free ground
- You don’t have to worry about flooding
- No condensation issues commonly experienced in tents
Common hammock misconceptions:
- You can’t lay flat – you can by laying diagonally!
- You can’t sleep on your side – you can with asymmetrical designs!
- They make you motion sick – once you’re in, you’re not moving unless you want to
- It’s hard to find the right trees – this is rarely a problem and, in the worst case scenario, you can pitch a hammock on the ground as a bivvy
A basic hammock set-up consists of the following:
- Camping hammock, with a built-in bugnet
- Tarp, guylines, and stakes
- Bottom insulation (sleeping pad or under-quilt)
- Top insulation (sleeping bag or top-quilt)
Camping hammocks are generally much longer (11-13 feet) than the standard ENO relaxing hammocks you see at the beach. This length is important in creating the diagonal flat laying position desired. Warbonnet Outdoors and Hennessy make excellent camping hammocks and were used by a few members during our trip. There are a few different suspension methods, but the most common is a simple cinch buckle with webbing looped around the tree and clipped to itself with a carabiner (see upper right of the photo below). It’s important that you use webbing of at least 3”, as thinner lines and webbing can cause damage by digging into trees and are actually not allowed in most national and state parks.
The tarp you use for rain protection should be longer than the hammock you’re sleeping in. The simplest diamond shaped tarps, like the Kelty Noah 9’, are great for all but the most severe weather. I use a tarp by Warbonnet called the SuperFly, which is cut to provide doors that protect from heavy downpours and also provides privacy. Basically, the setup becomes a floating tent!
A unique consideration in hammocks over tents is insulation. Hammocks are great for use in warm climates (particularly hot, muggy, tropical locations) because air flowing under you keeps you breezy and cool. However, most people suffer from what is known as “Cold Butt Syndrome” (CBS) in temperatures under 75F if they are not using bottom insulation. This bottom insulation could be as simple as a sleeping pad put in the hammock, but those can slip around and negate the natural comfort of having the hammock yield to your body shape. I prefer using an under-quilt, which is a rectangular quilt that hangs flush under the hammock. It’s important that this be under the hammock, because if you compressed it between yourself and the hammock then the quilt would lose its insulation properties and you’d get CBS.
For top insulation, I use a down top-quilt with a cinch footbox at one end. Sleeping bags can also be used as top insulation, however, note that it’s easier to use them as a blanket rather than climbing into them (difficult to do while laying in a hammock). On the warmer nights of our trip, I found that I didn’t need the topquilt as the underquilt provided the only warmth I needed to be comfortable.
My last luxury item was a little pillow, though I probably didn’t need it because the hammock gave my head and neck great support.
That’s the basic setup, but the real fun comes in tweaking your gear to match your kind of camping. After a week spent in the hammock, I won’t go to ground willingly again!
Here are some great resources if you are interested in getting your hammock setup together:
- Shug’s Hammock How-to for Noobs videos – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB8752777861C2AA8
- Hammock Forums – http://hammockforums.com/
- Hammock camping subreddit – http://www.reddit.com/r/hammockcamping/
- Hammock subreddit – http://www.reddit.com/r/Hammocks/