Getting out with my hammock is fun. Sure there are moments when you wonder why you’re doing it but the majority of the time it’s a truly liberating experience. Better still is the fact that I still find it exciting every time I unroll my hammock.
But, every so often you have to push yourself a little harder. When my friend suggested that we do the Appalachian trail I had to say yes; it was after all a new experience!
But then I started to wonder, can you hammock camp the Appalachian trail? I really didn’t want to be back on the ground in a tent.
Fortunately the answer is simple; you can!
But, there are a few things that you need to be aware of in order to complete this challenge.
Know The Distance of the AT
The Appalachian trail is 2,190 miles (3500 km); it will take you between 5 and 7 months to complete. It runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and cuts across 14 states. It’s worth noting that the highest point on this trail is just 6,643 feet (2000 m); you shouldn’t need your arctic gear.
But you should also be aware that most hikers start the trail in March or the first half of April. This can make the starting point pretty busy!
How to Prepare Yourself for the AT
If you’re going to do the whole walk then you need to be physically and mentally prepared, it’s a challenge to get up every day and hike; even when you have the ease of setting up a hammock instead of a tent.
Sometimes you’ll need to carry 7 days or more worth of food to ensure you can comfortably make it between resupply points. Check out this interactive map for more information about the AT.
You also need to choose your hammock. Ideally this should be an easy decision; it’s the one you’ve been using for your regular trips and if you’re new to the hammock then it’s a good idea to get a few nights of practice in before you attempt this mammoth trail.
Hammock Camping the AT
The important question is whether it is possible to hammock camp along the way.
The great news is that it is possible for huge sections of the trail. In fact many areas have trees which are perfect for hammock camping and very little good ground for tents.
Of course, there are a few places where it is difficult to find anything that will support your hammock. These include:
- The Smokies
In the Smokies you need to reserve a place to sleep. This means that you’ll be at a shelter every night. If the shelter is full it is possible to camp next to it and still use your hammock; it is even possible to use your hammock inside some of the shelters.
The principle behind the shelters is to minimize the impact of hikers on the mountains. You’ll need to make sure you have a sleeping pad with you; in case you’re confined to the floor.
There are several fantastic outlooks along the route but these areas frequently have no trees or other substitutes to secure your hammock to. This again means you’ll be on the floor. You can separate yourself from the group for one night to find some trees and come back in the morning.
- The Odd Location
It’s not possible to detail every step of the journey from memory. The only times my friend and I had to hit the ground was when we were in the Smokies, the occasional outlook and when we found ourselves in a field. Perhaps if we had continued walking we would have found a few trees but this sums up the Appalachian trail.
There are times when you simply need to stop hiking and this could be in an area without trees. In general these areas are few and far between but it does happen.
Being Prepared For Going to Ground
If you can’t hang your hammock then you’re going to find yourself sleeping on the ground. You could still use a local storm shelter. However it is possible, although certainly not as comfortable; to ground camp.
You’ll need to use your tarp to create a tent like structure and put your bag liner or pocket tarp on the floor to protect your underquilt from the ground. It’s not as comfortable and you may struggle to stay warm but we did it for a total of 7 nights on the entire trail.
Check out this video from shug on how to setup a hammock on the ground.
Considering the benefits of hammock camping and the pleasure of being in the trees this was a small price to pay for 6 months of hiking through some truly fantastic scenery.
Whether you’re hanging in the trees or on the ground you need to make sure that you’re carrying a suitable bug net. I have encountered many bugs on the trail but they stayed outside of my hammock.
It is important to note that as you move through the Appalachian trail you’ll stop at plenty of campsites on the way which are full of other hikers. These hikers may struggle to find a spot for their tents but there will always be trees at the sites. You may not be in the middle of the action but you will have a spot to camp and you’ll probably be set up far quicker than your ground camping friends.
The best advice I can offer if you’re going to do the Appalachian trail is to take your hammock. You won’t wake up stiff and you can stay dry enough, warm enough and almost always find a spot to hang.
But, test your gear before you go; that way you’ll take just what you need and can spend your days enjoying the walk and the company. There really is no experience like hiking the Appalachian trail with your hammock.
The one downside with hammock camping is privacy. If you want to be alone for a while or need to change clothes, depending on your setup you won’t have the privacy a tent offers. If you don’t mind this, then go ahead!
Tips to Make Your Time on the AT better
You’ll need to incorporate a ridgeline into your hammock. This will give you the comfort you need to survive months of walking. Of course you can also hang essentials from it while you rest.
A top quilt is a good idea as well as your under quilt. These are lighter than your traditional sleeping bag and will keep you much warmer for the same weight.
There are very few sections of the Appalachian Trail where you’ll be forced to use either a shelter or go to ground. For the most part it’s best to find your own spot and set up a little distance from the shelters. You’re close enough for the company but won’t be disturbed by the snoring or other noise of other people.
It is worth noting that the wind shelters are generally only 3 sided; you’ll probably get better protection from the wind in your hammock.
The Roan Highlands is generally considered to be the best part of this trail as it has fantastic open views and rolling hills. Fortunately it’s only 10 miles long as you won’t find many trees on this little piece.
You can easily hop off the trail at Baxter State Park to stroll up Katahdin; it will only add 20 miles to your journey and you’ll feel great!
The 100 mile wilderness in Maine is a massive and stunning woodland; the bonus is you can stop and camp anywhere!
One of the toughest sections is the White Mountains. The terrain is rocky and the camping rules strict. Add to this the steep climbing and the fact that you’ll actually b above the tree line and you’ll find this the most difficult section to hammock camp in. This is also where you’re most likely to experience the best and worst weather! Stealth camping is not allowed during this part of the trail.
Northern Pennsylvania is very rocky and you’ll struggle to find water at points during this stage of the trail. But you shouldn’t have a problem hanging your hammock.
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Read another post on this website about hammock camping the PCT