Ultimate Guide to Hammock Camping (And Why It’s Better Than Tent Camping!)

Ultimate Guide to Hammock Camping

One of the quickest growing trends in the outdoor industry as of the last decade has been hammock camping. Hammock camping has become increasingly popular for several reasons.

  • Hammocks are reasonably inexpensive.
  • Hammocks can be carried just about anywhere due to their lightweight design.
  • Hammocks can be used practically anywhere there are trees, making it idea to take on a backpacking trip.
  • They are incredibly comfortable to sleep in compared to sleeping on the ground.
  • Hammocks also help prevent you from dealing with the creepy crawlies that skirt around the ground at night.

If you’ve been considering hammock camping, but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, you will learn:

  1. How to pick the best hammock for you.
  2. Which accessories you need in order to get the full enjoyment out of your hammock.
  3. How to select the best spot to set up your hammock for the night.
  4. How to set your hammock up for maximum comfort.
  5. Where the best places to go hammock camping are.

After you have read this guide, you will have all the knowledge to confidently purchase your first hammock for camping (if you haven’t done that already) and go confidently into the backcountry!

Hammock Buying Guide

Hammock Buying Guide

When you first decide to go buy a hammock, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. The size, style, weight, brand, color, etc. will all be things that you need to think about when selecting your first hammock. To help you figure some of these things out, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of factors to consider when buying a hammock for the first time.

Size

Hammocks come in a couple variations of sizes. The two main ones to choose from are going to be single and double hammocks.

Single hammocks are going to be the smaller size variety. If you are a smaller person and you don’t want to get lost in the material of the double sized hammock, this is going to be your best option. Single sized hammocks have an average width of about 4 to 5 feet. What is nice about these types of hammocks is that the smaller size means that you’ll save yourself some weight. This is especially important if you are a backpacker and plan on taking your hammock into the backcountry. If you’re a car camper, this isn’t as important of a feature, but still helpful to know that your hammock will weigh less than a double.

In terms of weight limits, single sized hammocks will carry between 300 and 400 pounds, depending on the brand. Keep in mind that this weight rating is in total. If you are a bigger camper and you’re concerned about your weight being close to the weight limit of the hammock at a single, you may want to consider purchasing a double for the added weight limit capacity. In order to find exactly how much weight you’ll be carrying into your hammock, be sure to weigh yourself with all of the gear that you intend to take into your hammock at night. This includes sleeping bags, sleeping pads, under quilts, mosquito netting, and any clothing you want to wear into bed. 

If you are a bigger camper and you need the additional weight capacity, a double sized hammock is going to be the right choice for you. Double hammocks have added material to make their widths a tad bit larger than singles at 5 to 6 feet in width compared to the singles’ 4-5 feet. This added material will allow you to roll around as much as you like without having to worry too much about falling out. 

Extra space is an additional benefit of a double sized hammock, as those who tend to be restless sleepers can rest assured that they will be held securely in their hammock all night long. 

Another reason why you may want to consider buying a double sized hammock is that you want to have extra room inside of your hammock for extra warming gear. This might include a rather large sleeping bag that you may take along with you on a winter hammock camping trip (yes, you can absolutely camp in a hammock during the winter!).

Style

Hammock EssentialsNow that you have decided on which hammock size you’re going to go with based on your weight, your sleeping habits, and your insulation needs, you need to think about what style of hammock you want to purchase.

This is going to depend on the environments that you visit more than anything. 

For more tropical environments where bugs are a major concern, you’ll want to purchase a hammock that comes with a netting that is pre sewn onto the hammock. The netting will serve the same purpose as the mesh on a tent body, which will help keep the bugs off of you. 

If you plan on hammock camping in an area that sees consistent rainfall, you may want to consider buying a hammock tent. One of the coolest things that has been developed over the last few years is the hammock tent. You get the added benefit of sleeping inside of a hammock, which keeps your body off of the hard ground to be combined with the rain combating power of the tent. Some may argue that you can use a tarp to keep dry instead of buying a hammock tent. While this is a decent way at keeping light downpours off of you, if you’re expecting to deal with heavy rains and strong winds a hammock tent will keep you much dryer than simply using a tarp.

Weight

Hammocks come in a large variety of weight as well. Depending on the style of camping that you intend to do, you’ll want to keep weight in mind.

For backpackers, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. For that reason, backpackers tend to want to reduce their pack weight as much as possible to keep from dealing with sore backs, legs, and feet from hours of hiking on trail. To that end, if you want to use your hammock for primarily backpacking, you’ll want to go with either a single or an ultralight weight hammock.

Ultralight hammocks can weigh as little as 5.2oz, making them incredibly light. That compared to the 24oz. that the average single size hammock weighs is a considerable difference. But in both cases, using a hammock to camp with instead of a tent is going to shave a ton of weight off of your base weight for your pack load out, making hammocks a great option for backpackers.

Car campers don’t need to worry too terribly much about how much their hammocks weigh. In fact, car campers can bring along western style hammocks that have the bar spreaders at both ends to make the hammock more comfortable due to the fact that it’ll act like a giant hanging cot. You’ll be able to sway back and forth without feeling like you’re sinking down into the middle of the hammock in blissful comfort. 

Brand

There has been an explosion of hammock brands over the last several years as more and more people have begun to buy hammocks. For that reason, it’s important to be brand aware to ensure that you’re buying from a reputable brand that has a history of highly popular and functional hammocks for campers. Be sure to check out the following brands as you shop for your next hammock:

  • ENO
  • Kammock
  • Hennessy Hammock
  • Exped 

While you can definitely try out a highly reviewed brand that isn’t included on this list, be sure to at least take a couple of test runs with that hammock before venturing off into the backcountry. 

ENO, Kammock, Hennessy Hammock, and Exped are all excellent brands for hammock campers to choose from as they have created millions of hammocks that have delighted campers for years.  

Due to how sturdy and popular these brands are, it’s understandable that the hammocks that they sell can be a bit pricy. For that reason, see about borrowing a friend’s hammock to sleep in overnight somewhere a couple of times before you decide to take the plunge and buy a premium hammock from one of these brands. You’ll get a good understanding of whether or not hammock camping is for you before you drop a bunch of money on a hammock that you’ll never end up using!

Color

Last but certainly not least in your hammock shopping experience is color. Color is an important factor for a couple of reasons. 

If you want to camp in such a way that your camp won’t be easily seen by others, a camo-colored hammock might be the right choice for you. There are several different patterns on the market that you can choose from, so be careful to choose a pattern than most resembles the environment that you are going to be camping in for maximum effect.

For those who want to be seen, hammocks come in a variety of colors and designs. Choose the color that best suits your personality and preferences! You really can’t go wrong with any of the colors offered by hammock manufactures.

Hammock Essentials

Hammock Essentials

Now that you have figured out your most important piece of gear for hammock camping, it’s time to learn about the other essential pieces of gear you need to bring with you on a hammock camping trip. There are essential pieces of gear that you need regardless of the environment and pieces of gear that are going to be optional, depending on where you go and at what time of year you go.

Required gear includes:

A suspension system

Suspension systems are made up of a couple of key pieces of gear. The first and most important is webbing. Suspension systems that are made out of webbing are going to give you the most security when hanging your hammock as opposed to other methods of hanging a hammock.

The reason why webbing systems are the best for hanging a hammock is that they provide a wide surface area that comes in contact with the tree. The surface area evenly distributes your weight when you’re laying down in your hammock, which reduces the chances of friction causing the suspension to get cut.

In addition to the reduced risk of having your suspension system snapping due to friction, webbing systems also are less dynamic than rope or paracord suspension systems. This means that you’ll end up sinking much less when you lay down in your hammock compared to if you used rope or paracord. Rope and paracord are designed to give a bit when they are loaded up, which makes them less than ideal for using as a suspension system when compared to a webbing suspension system.

Webbing suspension systems are also much more environmentally friendly as they don’t put stress on tree trunks the same way that rope or paracord will. 

After your webbing, you need to consider the hardware that you’ll use for hanging your hammock to your suspension system. Most hammocks come with carabiners that can be used to attach each end of the hammock to your suspension system. These carabiners will work out ok in the beginning, but you may want to upgrade them to a more secure carabiner.

Locking carabiners are the best choice when considering how you’ll attach your hammock to the webbing. In most hammocks, the carabiners that come with them aren’t locking. This is great if you need to quickly attach your carabiner to something, as the carabiner gate opens when pressed upon and closes with a spring. However, if you don’t have a locking carabiner, that gate that is keeping you attached to the webbing can accidentally get opened and detach from the webbing. If you’re laying down inside of your hammock when this happens, the results can be unpleasant to say the least!

By using a locking carabiner, you give yourself the peace of mind that you’ll be able to fall asleep knowing that the carabiner will stay closed no matter what. Locking carabiners work by a movable lock that is on the gate of the carabiner. When you are ready to lock your carabiner, simply twist it all the way up to the top of the gate. Test that your carabiner has locked by trying to open the gate. If you did your job right, the carabiner won’t open!

To unlock the carabiner, simply twist in the opposite direction until you are able to open the carabiner. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your hammock won’t drop in the middle of the night!

A tarp

Tarp On HammockOne of the main differences between hammock camping and tent camping is that in tents, they generally come with a rainfly. Rainflies help keep you dry when you’re inside of your tent and rain starts to fall. Hammocks have wide open tops and don’t come with rainflies, which makes it necessary to bring along a tarp to help provide protection from the rain.

While tarps aren’t a requirement on every trip (such as camping out in a desert region where rain is super unlikely to happen) it’s still recommended to take one along just in case you do experience rain. The old adage of “it’s better to have it and not need it, than it is to need it and not have it” rings true here. One of the worst things that can happen to campers is getting drenched in an unexpected night shower!

Tarps are relatively inexpensive and will vary in weight based on the material that they are made out of. If you shop at a big box store or home improvement store, you’ll be able to find tarps that will help keep you dry from the rain, but they will be pretty heavy and bulky. 

The best thing to do when shopping for a tarp to take with you for hammock camping is to check out one of the brands mentioned above in hammocks for a tarp that would suit the hammock you bought. Those brands once again are:

  • ENO
  • Kammock
  • Hennessy Hammock
  • Exped 

Each one of these brands has specially designed tarps that will match your hammock perfectly. You’ll want to pay special attention to the length of the tarp here. Aim to get a tarp that gives you at least 1 to 2 feet of space at the head and foot of your hammock. This way, you’ll be completely covered by your tarp should the weather turn south. 

A ridgeline

The next thing that you’ll need to bring along for hammock camping is a ridgeline. Ridgelines are used to provide structure to the tarp and create a shape that encourages rain to slide off of the tarp instead of pool on top of it. 

A really good material to use for ridgelines is paracord. Paracord is excellent for making ridgelines as it can be tightened down really snug, which will help prevent water from pooling on top of your tarp.

Paracord is also incredibly light weight and versatile. If you’re in an emergency situation or your hammock gets damaged and you can’t use it, paracord can be used to create an emergency shelter like a lean-to or an A-frame. 

In addition to creating ridgelines and emergency shelters, paracord can be used for catching fish, creating a snare to catch small game animals, and a multitude of other uses. It truly is a versatile tool.

A sleeping bag

Regardless of the time of year or location, a sleeping bag is a must have item for hammock camping. Don’t be fooled by the fact that you’ll be wrapped up in nylon! Most hammocks are not insulated with down or synthetic fill material, which means that they are not going to keep you warm at night! Hypothermia can set in at temperatures that dip below 50°F, so it’s not just a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of safety!

You have many different options for sleeping bags to choose from. For hammock camping, the best material to look for that fills your sleeping bag is synthetic material.

Synthetic fill material is best for hammock camping over down material for a couple of reasons. As mentioned earlier, you have much less shelter from the rain when hammock camping compared to tent camping. When synthetic material gets wet, it still retains some of its warming properties, while down material loses its ability to keep you warm in the affected area completely. 

In addition to the benefits of staying warm when wet, synthetic bags also are better at keeping you warm when compressed. The area that you’ll be compressing is the bottom of the bag, as your body will be laying on top of it and gravity will be pulling you down. With down-filled sleeping bags, when the down can fluff up, it doesn’t provide any warmth. Synthetic material will lose a lot of its heating qualities when compressed, but it will be warmer than a down bag. 

This is mostly for summer camping when you don’t need an under quilt. If you’re looking for what to bring when the temperatures get colder than 40°F at night, be sure to keep reading about down quilts below!

Optional gear includes:

Bugnet HammockA bug net

Bug nets are great because they provide protection from all sorts of bugs. Most bug nets are made out of no-see-um mesh, which is the same type of mesh that tent bodies are made out of. 

If you’re camping during the summer or in a particularly buggy area, a bug net is well worth the investment!

An under quilt

Under quilts are one of the most amazing pieces of gear because they solve the problem of compressing the bottoms of sleeping bags. As mentioned earlier, a major problem that hammock campers face is smooshing their sleeping bag fill material down when they lay on it. The under quilt solves this problem by wrapping a sleeping bag like quilt underneath the hammock to keep all of your heat close to your body!

Under quilts, like sleeping bags, are made out of two different fill materials: down and synthetic. Remember that while down is much warmer per ounce than synthetic materials, it loses its heating capabilities when it gets wet, so plan accordingly based on where you’re going!

A sleeping pad

If you’re hammock camping in the winter and temperatures are going to get below freezing, you’ll want all the help you can get at keeping warm. Sleeping pads are used during tent camping to counteract the compression effect on the bottoms of sleeping bags. The same sort of help can be given in hammock camping as well!

Sleeping pads block out the cold from reaching your body because they have dead space that captures the cold air, keeping it from zapping your body of warmth. When used in combination with an under quilt and sleeping bag, the sleeping pad can create a toasty sleeping environment that will be sure to keep you warm all through the coldest of nights.

Spot Selection for Hammocks

Spot Selection for Hammocks

Now that you have gathered all of your necessities for hammock camping, it’s time to get out there and camp! But before you decide to throw your hammock in any old spot, be sure to keep an eye out for the following things when you are setting up camp.

Tree diameter

One of the most critical parts of selecting a spot is to find an area where there are plenty of trees nearby that have a diameter of 6” or more. You want to avoid using trees with smaller diameters, as that could potentially damage the tree and even kill it! 

Avoid hanging your hammock from branches that are less than 6” in diameter or from any tree that appears to be dead or have dead branches in it as well.

Distance between trees

In terms of distance between trees, you want to find 2 trees that are at least 10 to no more than 15 feet apart. This will help you put enough tension in your hammock, which will help you sleep in a more natural and comfortable position rather than get squished into a folded banana position!

If you’re car camping and you can’t find a pair of trees that are at least 6” in diameter and 10-15’ apart from each other, you can try to fasten one end of your hammock to your vehicle. You can attach your hammock around the foot of a roof rack but be careful with this! Vehicle roof racks can support a lot of weight on top of them, but they aren’t typically designed to hold a load from the foot, so try to be as gentle and careful getting in and out of your hammock as you can, so as to reduce the risk of breaking your roof rack as much as possible.

Potential danger

When selecting a spot for hanging up your hammock, you’ll want to approach it much like wolves approach finding a spot to sleep for the night. What does that mean? Well, essentially what picking camp like a wolf means is that you spend a little bit of time circling a potential campsite before you set up.

Wolves have evolved in the woods and have dealt with the danger of dead trees and dead tree branches for their entire existence. For that reason, wolves developed the habit of circling around to check for potential threats before laying down. Strangely enough, they passed that habit onto dogs as well! Pay attention to how your dog lays down and notice what they do!

By circling an area before you set up camp, you’re allowing yourself to open your eyes to things that could potentially hurt you. Look up as you circle for dead branches that are either still attached to the tree or that have broken away from the tree but are still suspended by other live branches. These can be extremely dangerous because all it would take to knock either hazard out of the tree would be a particularly strong gust of wind. If that happened in the middle of the night and you were peacefully sleeping underneath, you may never wake up again if it falls on you!

If you notice a dead branch or hanging dead branch (also known as a snag) where you had originally intended to camp, move on to find a different spot. Even the most beautiful spot in the world isn’t worth the risk of being crushed by a dead branch in the middle of the night!

How to Setup a Hammock

How to Setup a Hammock

You’ve come so far! You’ve got your hammock and all of the essential accessories for it and you’ve learned about how to find the best spot. It’s now time to learn how to set up your hammock to camp in!

  • Start by extending one of your webbing all the way out and wrapping it around a tree.
  • Stick the end of the webbing that you intend to attach your hammock to through one of the loops in the webbing that will give you enough length to stretch the other side of your hammock to the next tree (keep in mind that this will take a little while at first to figure out. That’s ok! Take your time to set it up right and your back will thank you for it).
  • After one end has been secured to a tree, repeat the process on the other tree. 
  • To check that you have successfully hung your hammock, simply make a few mathematical estimations.
    1. The bottom of your hammock should be at least 18” off the ground when you are sitting in it.
    2. Each end of your hammock should make an angle with the trees of about 30°.
  • If your hammock doesn’t meet those checks, simply undo one end at a time and adjust it until you get it right. 

After you’ve set up your hammock, it’s time to set up your ridgeline and tarp!

  • With your paracord, tie a figure 8 or overhand knot on one of the anchors that you’ve attached your hammock to.
  • The other end will get stretched to the opposite side anchor and looped through.
  • Once you have all the cord looped through the second anchor, begin tying a trucker’s hitch.
    1. You can tie a truckers hitch by starting with the side of the cord that doesn’t have the working end on it.
    2. Make a small loop with that side and twist it at least 3 times, retaining the loop at the end.
    3. After that, you’ll make a small bite of rope below the loop you just made.
    4. Feed the bite through the loop and pull the paracord above and below that bit to secure it inside of the loop.
    5. Now, with the working end of the rope, you’ll feed it through the bite you just made and use it to help you put tension on the ridgeline.
  • Pull the working end until you have created the desired tightness out of your ridgeline.
  • Finish your ridgeline by tying a simple hitch around your truckers hitch with the working end.
  • With the ridgeline now secured, drape your tarp over top of the ridgeline.
  • Make sure that your tarp has some guy lines attached to the gromets on the outside of the tarp and secure those to the ground with stakes.

And just like that, you’ve successfully set up a basic hammock camp!

Must Visit Hammock Destinations

Must Visit Hammock Destinations

Hammock camping is one of the easiest ways to get deep into the backcountry due to how light they are. When you bring the right accessories, you can pretty much camp anywhere you’d like! Be sure to make a plan to visit at least 1 of these must visit hammock camping destinations.

Rudy’s Flat

Located near Bountiful, UT, Rudy’s Flat is a gorgeous spot to backpack to and bring along your hammock to camp in. The hike will start in Mueller Park and take adventurers on a 7.5-mile round trip hike. Be sure to bring extra water on this one as there are very limited water sources to refill on!

Glacier National Park

For those with an appetite for spectacular views and a desire to see grizzly bears, elk, and moose, be sure to make a trip to Glacier National Park. Hammock camping can be enjoyed in one of the 1,000 campsites inside the park or in the backcountry! Be sure to stop by the visitor center and grab a backcountry permit before you do though. While getting your permit, you’ll be able to talk with the park rangers about where the best spot to go is and where they’ve seen recent wildlife activity!

Be sure to bring your under quilt on this one. Glacier National Park can get awfully cold at night, even during the summertime!

San Jacinto Wilderness

Located near Idyllwild, CA is one of the most impressive mountains in the San Gabriel range. Standing at over 10,000 ft. tall, Mt. San Jacinto towers over the desert valleys that surround it on both sides. Mt. San Jacinto is also bordered by a high ridgeline that is home to the Pacific Crest Trail, which is one of the National Scenic Trails that makes up the triple crown of hiking!

Grab your hammock and ascend one of the trails leaving Idyllwild to Saddle Junction. A great trail to take is Devil’s Slide. It has several switch backs along the way, which helps make going up the 2,000’ to the top of the junction not seem too terribly arduous. 

Pick a set of lodgepole pine trees to set your hammock up between. See about getting a great view of the valleys below! Either Idyllwild to the west or Palm Springs to the east. 

Centennial Trail

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Centennial Trail stretches a little over 100 miles and links together Butte Bear State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south. If you want a fairly simple trail to through hike, this is a great start! 

Wildlife and wildflowers abound on this gorgeous trail. Keep an eye out for Mount Rushmore as you make your way along the trail, as you’ll pass within a mile of it!

And when it’s time to sleep for the night, you’ll be delighted by the selection of large lodgepole pines to hang your hammock from. If you’re going in the summer, be sure to bring along a bug net, because the mosquitos can get pretty greedy at night!

Spring Valley Reservoir

If you’re ever in the town of Moscow, ID, be sure to take a 30-minute drive due east through the town of Troy to get to Spring Valley Reservoir. There are plenty of spectacular camping spots for hammocks in that area. 

You’ll walk along old logging roads as you make your way through dense fern and pine forests. Go for as long as you like in practically any direction! Be sure to bring a map and compass along though, so you can find your way back to your vehicle when you’re done.

Be extra sure to have a good tarp on this trip. Idaho is a part of the Pacific Northwest and often sees the same weather that Seattle, WA does, but only 8 hours later. That means prepare for rain!

Final Thoughts

Hammock Camping benefits

Hammock camping is easily one of the most comfortable ways to go camping. You’re suspended above the ground, which supports your back much better than while sleeping on the ground inside of a tent. 

Hammocks are relatively less expensive than tents and are much lighter too, making them extremely popular among backpackers and car campers alike. You can camp in a hammock in just about any environment when you bring the right accessories for it. And setting up your hammock is a simple procedure!

Now get out there and visit one of the fantastic destinations to hammock camp in! Where will you go first?

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