How to hammock camp: What to pack & how to set up

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Tent camping has defaulted as coffee in the morning. A tent is most likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a night shelter in the wilderness.

But, we bet you’ve experienced the relaxing power a humble hammock has. In fact, the growing hammock market shows camping under the stars has become hugely popular among campers. So, why not give hammock camping a try?

Bear with us, and we’ll tell you all about how to hammock camp and share the ins and outs of this camping style.

What is hammock camping?

Simply put, hammock camping is a type of camping where you replace your beloved tent with a hammock and some handy accessories to sleep outdoors overnight.

It’s an excellent option for backpackers, bikepackers, and day hikers, as hammocks don’t take up a lot of space in a bag and are super easy to carry and set up.

Pros of hammock camping

Honestly, we could go on for hours about how great hammock camping is, but let’s try to keep it short. Here are some of the advantages that convinced us to leave our tents at home:

1. Hammocks are lighter and take up less space

Hammocks are one of the lightest sleep systems for camping. The weight of an average hammock is about 16 oz. (0,45 kg), while a three-person tent weighs about 30 lbs (13,60 kg). So, if you’re looking to ditch some weight on your next backpacking trip – a hammock is your way.

how to hammock camp

2. They’re easy and quick to setup

A hammock camping setup doesn’t require a lot of time or effort. In fact, you can do it in less than three minutes with some practice. All you need are two sturdy trees (or any other tough object to tie your hammock to), and you’re good to go.

That’s a quickest to assemble shelter compared to other types of tents.

3. It’s simple to find a hammock spot in any terrain

Hammocks are suitable for any landscape, whether you’re camping in the woods, on a beach, or in the desert (this one might be harder, though). All you need are two anchor points to set it up. Of course, don’t forget to keep camping safety in mind.

4. You can sleep comfortably

Hammocks provide a flat and comfortable sleeping surface. And because you’re not tent camping on the ground, you don’t have to worry about rocks, roots, and other objects poking you during the night.

5. Leave No Trace principle-friendly option

Hammocks have a lower impact on the environment than tents. They don’t require stakes or poles, which means you don’t have to disturb the natural landscape when setting up your camping hammock. This way, you can follow the leave no trace principles much easier.

6. Hammocks keep you cool

Literally, not only they’re cool, but make YOU cool as well! Hammocks keep you cooler if you’re camping in the summer and warmer in the winter. In the summer, a draft of air passes underneath you, keeping you cool and comfortable. And in winter, you can insulate your hammock with a sleeping pad or an underquilt to stay warm.

sleeping in a hammock

7. They keep you dry as well

Hammocks also protect you from the ground, so you don’t have to worry about waking up in a puddle if you’re camping in the rain. And unless it’s heavily raining, it’s unlikely you’ll find your hammock wet in the morning.

Cons of hammock camping

Of course, even if it’s as amazing as we described, hammock camping might pose some challenges for some campers and environments. Here are some things to keep in mind before you decide to ditch your tent for a hammock:

1. Limited space

Hammocks are usually one- or two-person, so you won’t have a lot of space to move around or store your belongings.

What’s more, hammock camping might not be so convenient for big groups of people, as you’ll need a spot with many suitable trees for hammock setup.

double hammocks

2. You need two (or more) trees

Even if it’s flexible for most terrains, finding the right spot in sparse forests might still be challenging and close to impossible in deserts, alpine zones, or other barren climates.

Hammocks require two anchor points to set up, which means you have to find two sturdy trees (or any other sturdy object) close to each other. If you’re planning a camping trip in an area without trees, hammock camping isn’t an option.

3. You might have issues sleeping

If you’re not used to sleeping in a hammock, it might take some time to get used to it. Some people find falling asleep in a hammock difficult because they feel like they’re going to fall off. However, this is usually not an issue once you get used to it.

4. Less privacy

Hammocks don’t offer as much privacy as tent camping, especially when you need to change clothes or relax on your own.

5. They can be too cold (or too hot)

Hammocks aren’t suitable for extreme weather conditions. If it’s too cold, you might be unable to insulate your hammock properly, leading to a very uncomfortable night.

And if it’s too hot, the draft of air passing underneath you might make it difficult to fall asleep.

sleeping pad in a hammock

Hammock camping gear checklist

Now that we talked about all the pros and cons of hammock camping, it’s time to move on to the practical part – what do you need for hammock camping? Here’s a list of essential hammock camping gear:

  • Hammock. Obviously, you can’t go hammocking without a hammock. It’s a focal point of your camp. When choosing the right hammock, comfort is key, so try lying down on a few to compare.

Other essential factors are weight capacity, size, and how easy it is to set up.

  • Suspension system. This is what you use to attach your hammock to the anchor points. Look for a system with wide tree-friendly straps that won’t damage the tree bark (bare ropes are huge NO).

Some hammock tent systems come with protective sleeves dedicated to protecting the tree bark.

  • Sleeping pad. When you lie down on a sleeping pad, the bottom of the bag loses its insulation and gets compressed. You can still use it, though it won’t guarantee maximum comfort.

We suggest using an accessory sleeve to stabilize your pad in a hammock. You can also deflate the air from your sleeping pad a bit to adjust its shape to the hammock.

Some hammock campers use a closed-cell foam pad and cut it off – this doesn’t cost a lot and is an efficient way to resist wind.

  • Insulating underquilt. Underquilt is an insulated quilt geared towards hanging it beneath your hammock. You’ll need this to stay warm (or cool) during the night.

Underquilts are usually lighter and more comfortable than sleeping pads, but they can also be more expensive.

  • Rain tarp. A must-have for any kind of camping, a rain tarp will protect you from the rain and make sure you stay dry during the night.
rain fly

A rain tarp is similar to a rain fly of a tent. Make sure to check if it has enough attachment points to secure the tarp place if you’re not buying one designed explicitly for hammocks.

  • Bug net. Unless you want to share your hammock with a bunch of mosquitoes, we suggest getting a bug net as well. There are ones covering only the top of your hammock, while others fit the entire hammock.
bug net in a hammock

For top-only net, we suggest using a fabric-safe insecticide like permethrin for the bottom of your hammock.

Note that some hammocks come with integrated bug nets, but you can also get them separately.

Extra hammock camping gear to consider

Finally, some things aren’t really a must but can increase your hammock camping comfort level. So if you’re OK with adding some weight to your bag, consider bringing:

  • Pillow. Just like at home, a good pillow can make all the difference when trying to sleep in a hammock.

We suggest getting an inflatable one – they occupy very little space and can be easily adjusted to your needs.

sleeping comfortable in a hammock
  • Ridgeline. You might not need it if you’re using a hammock with an integrated bug net and rain tarp. But if you don’t have one, make sure to bring a ridgeline – it’s an essential piece of gear for hammock camping.

A ridgeline is a cord that runs the length of your hammock and keeps the fabric taut. It also provides a place to hang your gear, like a headlamp or mosquito net.

  • Additional carabiners. The rule of thumb: it’s never too many carabiners. If you have extra, you’ll be able to use them to clip gear onto your ridgeline or add another tree strap to your hammock for increased comfort.
  • Gear bag or stuff sack. You’ll need something to store all your gear in so it doesn’t get lost or damaged. A regular backpack can do the trick, but if you want something specifically designed for this – get a gear bag or stuff sack.

Most of them are equipped with daisy chains and other attachment points to ensure all your gear stays in place.

Bonus tip

Getting out of the warm hammock in the middle of the night might not be very pleasant. So, hang your nighttime must-haves (water, flashlight, phone, whatever you need) on your ridgeline, close to reaching.

We’ve compiled an extensive camping checklist to help you pack everything – from cooking tools to repair gadgets – for your successful camping adventure. Check it out!

How to hammock camp: A to Z

Now that we know what gear you need for hammock camping, it’s time to learn how to do it. Here’s a quick guide on how to hammock camp:

1. Choose the right spot

It’s a good idea to check with land managers if hammocks are allowed and what (if) there are guidelines to set them up. Of course, never forget the Leave No Trace principles – placing your hammock up to 200 feet or more from the water.

When looking for the perfect place to set up your hammock, make sure there are two trees (or other anchor points) about 15-20 feet apart.

The distance between the trees will determine how reclined your hammock will be, so pick wisely. Look for two anchor points farther apart if you want to sleep at an angle.

cold air might be uncomfortable

2. Be a good tree steward

Look for healthy, giant trees – 6 inches in diameter or more – and use hammock straps at least 0.75 inches wide (the more, the better).

Also, necessarily check if there are no nests or other creatures’ homes in your picked trees.

3. Use your geometry skills

A hammock that is too flat or too bent won’t often be comfortable, according to most people. The straps should be angled up at a 30-degree angle toward the tree for the best results. The hammock’s lowest point shouldn’t be more than 18 inches off the ground.

4. Place your sleeping gear

Then, you’ll want to set up your sleeping bag, so it’s compatible with a hammock. Simply unhook one end of the hammock from the straps to accomplish this. Your sleeping bag will most likely slide on over the hammock. Reattach the hammock to the strap afterward.

The sleeping bag or underquilt should be adjusted until it fits perfectly. To test the fit and ensure that the opening for your head is in the proper location, you should get into the hammock. It won’t be difficult, but it’s preferable to do this step before bedtime rather than later.

5. Put on the ridgeline

Don’t make the ridgeline too tight when attaching it to the tree. You shouldn’t put too much weight on it; tying too hard might damage the tree.

You can also put the ridgeline onto your hammock straps, not on the tree – this way, you won’t damage the tree and make the setup easier.

Note: the higher you place the ridgeline, the more you’ll be exposed to wind or rain. The best case scenario would be to tie it 2-3 feet above the hammock.

6. Attach the rain tarp and bug net

Your rain fly or rain tarp should be staked to the ground at a 30-degree angle and attached to the ridgeline. It should be snug enough to withstand severe gusts without being too snug to harm the tree. Over the hammock, the rain tarp should be centered.

Bug net is used last. Follow the instructions that come with it to set it up correctly.

Some extra hammock camping tips

You’re almost set for your hammock camping trip. Just hold on for a second and go through two more hammock camping tips for the most amazing experience.

Leave no trace

We’ve talked about it a lot, but it’s never too much – Leave No Trace principles are the primary rule to practice wherever and however you camp. Real campers should be able to list them if awakened in the middle of the night!

  • Camp at least 200 feet from the water source.
  • Use tree-friendly 2-inch straps at least 0.75 inches (best 1.5 inches) wide.
  • Don’t hang your hammock on dead trees or screw any trees otherwise.
  • Check the land guidelines to make sure hammock camping is allowed.
  • Double-check the ground for sensitive plants – if there are some, DON’T put your hammock there.
  • Clean up after yourself and leave everything as you found it.

Sleep at an angle

We know, it’s not how you usually sleep at home. But in a hammock, sleeping at an angle can actually improve your sleep quality.

Sleeping at an angle keeps your spine straight and takes the pressure off your lower back. How to do it? Put your head slightly to the right while the feet slightly to the left, or vice versa.

You’re set for your next hammock camping adventure

We hope you found this guide helpful and informative. Now that you know how to hammock camp, nothing’s going to stop you from enjoying the outdoors in a new – lightweight, easy, comfortable – way.

Be sure to follow the tips we’ve given – they’ll make your experience even better. And most importantly, have fun!

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