How Do You Camp With A Hammock?

I love camping. It’s a wonderful feeling leaving my normal life behind and heading off into the great unknown. Until now I’ve always used a tent; it’s pretty easy to set up camp with a pop up tent! But, one of my best friends just announced that he’s taking a hammock on our next trip. That left me wondering how do you camp in a hammock?

The simple answer is that a hammock is incredibly light and easy to set up. You literally hang it between two trees and get comfortable.

You need to tie the hammock correctly, have a tarp to protect you from inclement weather and consider how cold it will get at night.

I’ve tried camping in a hammock now and loved it! But there are a few things I’ve learned:

Setting Your Hammock Up Properly

If you’re intending to set up your hammock on a traditional campsite be ready for the stares from other campers!

Your hammock should be secured to two trees using hammock straps. These are very easy to wrap round a tree and will not damage the tree. You can attach them to the end of your hammock with a carabiner or even an S shaped hook. But they must be designed as load bearing.

tree huggers (tree straps)

It is possible to secure the hammock with rope or cord but it is more likely to damage the tree and generally harder to get secure. Please make this a common practice and bring tree straps with you, this will do the tree less harm. In some cities of the US it’s forbidden by law to use rope or even hang a hammock.

Ideally the hammock straps should be eyes-height above the ground; this will ensure the lowest point of the hammock is approximately 2 feet above the ground.

But, if you think there may be wild animals in the vicinity you may want to go a little higher.

The best set up appears to be if you allow between 12 and 16 feet between trees for your hammock set-up. This will depend on the size of your hammock. In general it is best not to have more than 18 inches between the end of your hammock and the tree.

It is also important not to over tighten your hammock; this will make it appear flatter but it will be less comfortable.

The Power Of The Ridgeline

Many people see the purpose of a ridgeline as a place to hang your tarp from. It does provide you with this function but its main purpose is to control the sage of your hammock.

You’ll need to use a load rated cord or rope. It attaches to the hammock straps and goes directly between the two trees; creating a horizontal line above your hammock.

By setting the tension right on this line you’ll lift the tension off the hammock. This will allow you to get the same sag in your hammock every time and it won’t change while you sleep.

Doing this will help to ensure you are comfortable when you sleep. Of course, you can hang a tarp across it to protect you from the elements; if necessary.

A great tip is to use a tarp designed for hammocks; your fly sheet from your tent will not sit properly on your ridgeline.

Dealing With The Chill

If you’re camping in hot sunshine you may not need to worry about the chill. But, even the hottest parts of the world can get cold at night. The ground can suck the heat from your body but you won’t be touching this.

However, a cold wind can surround your body in a hammock and reduce the temperature dramatically.

If you’re thinking of using your hammock in a really cold environment then you’ll need to invest in an under quilt. This hangs just below your hammock allowing a cushion of warm air to form and keep you warm.

It is even possible to get a top quilt or a shelter to encase your entire hammock; helping you deal with the worst of storms.

Using The Right Tarp

As already mentioned the key to staying dry overnight is to use a piece of tarp to hang over your hammock. I use a seperate ridgeline for my tarp. It creates more headroom and allows me to stand up under my tarp. Don’t make my mistake and use your tent fly!

My hammock setup on a canoe trip in Sweden

It creases in all the wrong places and is virtually impossible to stake in position. Use a square or rectangular piece of waterproof tarp and you won’t have an issue.

But, don’t forget to create a lattice of cord through the eyelets of your tarp. You can then secure your fastenings to the lattice and reduce the strain on the tarp.

different tarp setups for hammocking
different tarp setups for hammocking (source: theultimatehang.com)

The Benefits Of A Hammock Over A Tent

Once you’ve tried a hammock you’ll quickly realize that they are actually very easy to camp in. Set up can be completed in a couple of minutes and there are several distinct benefits to a traditional tent:

  • You don’t need a flat area

If you’re in a tent you need to locate a fairly flat spot in order to set your tent up; if you don’t you and everything else in your tent will go to one side.

Your hammock just needs two trees; they don’t have to be the same height or on even ground. This makes it much easier to camp in a hammock.

  • Ease of set up

As described you just need tree straps, fasteners and your hammock. You can then be set up in a few minutes.

Granted it took me longer than this for my first attempt but with a little practice I’ve mastered the process and can do it in less time than it takes to unpack a traditional tent!

You can then add all the accessories you want to make your hammock comfortable.

  • Off the ground

The fact that you are off the ground means you don’t need to carry heavy inflatable beds or other equipment with you. Not only will you get a feeling of being at one with nature you’ll also be better protected from most animals.

You can even add a bug net to keep the mosquitoes and other bugs away.

  • Weight

A hammock weighs nearly nothing; it is certainly considerably lighter than your standard tent. This makes it easier to take off hiking whenever you want.

Camping in a hammock is great fun and extremely practical. But one thing you should note is that to ensure your comfort over night it is best to lay diagonal across the hammock. This will ensure you can lie on your back, side, front and move round overnight.

Conclusion

Hammocking can be daunting for the first time. That’s why you should practice in your garden or a park before you set out to spend the night in the woods.

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