Hammock Camping Tips for Beginners

Hammock camping can be very daunting if you’re just branching into it. Finding the right hammock, learning how to hang it properly, finding all the gear your need, learning proper hanging methods, and you’re not even out in the field yet! We get it, there’s a lot of information to absorb. But don’t worry! We’ve got you covered, and we’ve compiled this comprehensive list of tips and tricks for a seamless hammock camping experience. From general tips, to getting the best sleep you’ve ever had, all the way to proper safety; look no further for your hammock camping information!

Hammock Camping Tips and Tricks

Let’s dive straight in with some general hammock camping tips to get you started. We’ll start big with a few different hammock designs, hanging methods/straps, and then narrowing down to specific add-ons and options.

Types of Hammocks

Once you’ve made the leap and decided that hammock camping is for you, and you should check out our general hammock camping article if you’re still on the fence, then the next step is to select a hammock.

You’ll immediately notice that there are two overarching designs on the market. The gathered-end and bridge models. The gathered-end version is your classic hammock design where the ends of the hammock are gathered into a single bunch, from which the connecting straps extend and head to your anchor points.

The bridge design instead keeps the ends separate, and properly spaced with a rigid bar. This results in a trough-like shape, think a cylinder cut in half, that is suspended between the two anchor points.

As you might expect, the bridge design is generally a little heavier (since you need that cross-bar or a trekking pole). The bridge can also feel a little bit more restrictive as that cylindrical shape permanent and you can’t reshape or spread out the hammock.

bridge hammock
bridge hammock

The gathered-end design, on the other hand, is generally lighter and allows for some shifting and reshaping during setup and once inside. This design is therefore the more popular of the designs. Our advice is to at least try out both types before making your purchase, and see which one is the most comfortable for you.

gathered end hammock
gathered end hammock

Proper Anchoring and Anchor Angle

A pivotal aspect to any successful hammocking endeavor is proper anchoring, both in the anchor components and where you apply this anchor.

Firstly, make sure you have proper tree wraps or slings to wrap around the tree! Simply throwing lengths of rope or cord around the tree can significantly damage it, and is in fact illegal in some locations.

Once you have the proper anchoring material, it’s time to sling up your hammock! The distance between your anchor points (trees) will vary, but the one constant that you should aim for is to get your suspension straps at a 30º angle. We know this may seem like a lot of sag in your hammock, but trust us, it’s much more comfortable!

how to measure a hammock angle
how to measure a hammock angle

The widely accepted trick to get you in the ballpark of 30º is refreshingly easy, no protractors required. Make a right angle with your thumb and index finger (like you’re making an imaginary gun), orient so the index finger is parallel with the ground and the thumb in pointing upwards. Now bring the top of your thumb up until it touches the bottom of your suspension strap. Ideally, the suspension strap will also just touch the tip of the index finger when you do this. If it’s well above the index finger, you may need to loosen the straps a little; and if they’re below the index finger, tighten them up.

Ridgeline and Suspension Strap Utilization

Along with setting up your standard hammock for the night, a crucial piece of equipment that is indispensable for a successful night is the ridgeline. Simply put, the ridgeline is a taut piece of cord or rope that runs from your gethered ends straight over the top of your hammock. Remember that your hammock has a sag to it, whereas the ridgeline does not, they should therefore not touch.

Now there are several methods for hanging/securing a ridgeline, which we will not get into at this stage, but take a look at our Power of the Ridgeline section for a very informative video.

how to measure a hammock angle
A blue hammock with a yellow ridgeline

Seriously folks, there is so much that the ridgeline offers you. It helps maintain the proper sag in your hammock for a comfortable night’s sleep. It also is a very handy tool for hanging an organizer or extra pocket to help store your gear nearby and keep it easily accessible. Take our word for it, learn a quick and straightforward ridgeline set up, and boost your hammock camping to the pro level!

While we’re on the topic of organizing gear and keeping it accessible, also consider utilizing your hammock suspension straps to hang additional gear. You can get your pack up and off the ground, or simply hang wet/sweaty clothing to dry. But remember, these items should be hung lower than your drip line, which brings us to our next topic.

Drip Line

A lifesaver addition to your hammock setup is including a dripline on all straps leading to your hammock. When you set up your tarp/weather protection (more information on this later), your hammock will be protected from any rainfall.

Your anchoring straps, however, are still exposed to the elements, and will get wet if any rain heads your way. When this happens, the drops of water on the anchoring straps will dribble downwards, following the angle of your hammock, right towards where you are sleeping. Even with a tarp cover, you can still wake up with a wet hammock and sleeping bag, which will not make you a happy camper!

Luckily the fix to prevent this is simplicity itself. Find a piece of string, thin cord, or even a shoelace, and tie it with a tight knot to your suspension line slightly above your hammock (but still within your tarp coverage). Allow the free end of the drip line dangle below the knot, and that’s it! As water runs down the suspension strap, it will hit the drip line, soak it, and be redirected downward along its free end, instead of running straight into your hammock. Check this Youtube video for more information.

Tarp Setup

The tarp is essentially the piece of equipment, along with the knowledge to use it, that divides serious hammock campers from the also-rans.

Properly set-up, it will protect you from rain, heavy winds, falling gifts from birds, and tree debris.

You will need to run a new ridgeline above your hammock. This is called the tarp ridgeline. I use two tautline hitches on each end. You probably only need one, but it’s easier to remember only one knot than two of them. Once you have tied the ridgeline, you can throw your tarp over the ridgeline. Now you need the tarp to be tensioned. We are going to accomplish that with two prusik knots on each end of the ridgeline. Put the end of your tarp trough the prusik knot and use a toggle (can be a stick) to keep it in place. Now slide the prusik knots as far as you can to tighten the tarp over your hammock. More info

Check out the incredibly useful tarp graphic from an earlier post to see a few suggestions on how to orient your tarp.

Remember to keep your tarp nice and tight when you stake it! This will enable the rain water to flow properly, and keep it from rustling and whipping in the wind which could keep you up all night.

Mosquito netting

There are nearly unlimited hammock brands and variations to pick from. Apart from the usual considerations that matter to you (size, color, pockets, etc.), we highly recommend you find a hammock with built-in mosquito netting.

This is absolutely pivotal to comfortably enjoy the great outdoors, so don’t overlook it while shopping around for your hammock!

How to sleep better in a hammock

Angle and Sleeping Diagonally

As we mentioned above, aim for that sweet spot 30º when you’re first branching into hammock camping. Counterintuitive as it is, this will in fact help you find a more stable and flat surface for sleeping than the usual banana shape that we’re so used to.

The trick to finding this sweet spot is simple, turn diagonally! Laying straight down the middle of the hammock will undoubtedly be too curved to sleep properly, but as soon as you move your legs to the left and your torso/head to the right (or visa-versa) you should immediately find that the hammock evens out and is much flatter.

hammock diagonal lay
hammock diagonal lay

This is actually how most hammocks are designed to be used, and we guarantee you’ll see the difference! Remember that the 30º angle is just a ballpark, you can always play with that value to see what works best for you.

Insulation

One of the main problems most folks see with hammock camping is the chill. Being suspended above the ground can get very chilly very quickly if you’re not prepared! Fear not, there are several handy methods to stay nice and cozy all night.

One method is to bring along a standard sleeping pad that you would also use in a tent (foam or inflating can work). Nestling this into your hammock beneath you can help limit heat loss overnight.

If it’s chilly enough where even a sleeping pad won’t work, we definitely recommend getting an under-quilt for your hammock. This thick quilt fastens to your hammock and essentially cups your hammock from the bottom to create a nice warm air pocket.

Top Quilts

Even if you’ve include some excellent insulation for the underside, you still have to bundle up on top for a comfortable sleep. Remember, you quickly start to lose heat when suspended in the air (except in very warm conditions), so it’s best to be prepared with a warm top quilt!

You should therefore research the area where you’re hiking, and know what the lows at night are projected to be. Shop for a top quilt according to these forecasts, and remember, the temperature rating on quilts is the temperature where you can be in that bag, and not wake up a corpse. It’ll keep you alive at that temperature, but not comfortable.

For example, if it’s projected to get down to 35 degrees at night, don’t get a sleeping bag rated to 30 as you’ll be freezing at night without a lot of extra clothes! Instead go for a heavier sleeping bag with a better temperature rating to stay nice and warm.

Speaking of sleeping clothes, consider getting some comfortable wool pants and shirts to sleep in. They have exceptional temperature regulating properties, and will help keep you comfortable. If you don’t have this, simply pack some warm and comfortable clothes for sleeping if you need them.

When it get’s really cold you can use a bottle of warm/hot water and place it with you inside the hammock. Place it near your feet or near a thick blood vain (between legs or in neck). The hot water bottle will warm up your blood.

Hammock Safety Tips

No Stacking Hammocks

We agree, it is really cool to get the stacked hammock effect, and it keeps your group nice and close to each other. But there’s a line between keeping your group close and dangerously close, and this hanging method crosses that line.

stacking hammocks
Don’t be stupid

Put simply, the straps for the top hammock could fail, or the person could fall out, and now they have a dangerously high fall PLUS they’ll hit the person in the bottom hammock too. So let’s play it safe and keep the hammocks separate.

Proper Height

Like we said above, it’s no good to accidentally fall from your hammock. But if that happens, it’s best to make sure you’re not too far off the ground. Aim to have your body suspended just a few feet, perhaps three, off the ground.

This will make impact a little less catastrophic if the worst does happen, but it also makes it much easier to get in and out of the hammock when you’re tired and groggy.

No food

Standard camping rules as apply to the hammock! When out in the wilderness, especially areas where bears frequent, you should avoid having any food in your hammock. We know, we love late night snacks too, but the smell from any type of food can taint your hammock just enough to attract animals during the night or while you’re away.

Take it from us, you don’t want to wake up one night to a bear sniffing your foot, so properly store all your food!

Not Over Water or Other Dangers

Although rare, falls and failures can happen. Therefore never sling your hammock over something you wouldn’t want to potentially fall on. Be on the lookout for rocks, thick root clusters, and steep inclines that could make you tumble to who knows where.

Also, although it can be tempting, please avoid slinging your hammock over water. Just in case your fall or, in the much more likely scenario, you get up while you’re still tired and groggy and forget what’s directly under you.

Hammock Setup Location

Now that you’ve got your hammock, let’s figure out just where you should be looking to hang it. As you certainly already know, you’re looking for a pair of healthy trees in most cases. The ideal distance between these tries will depend on how long your hammock and sling straps are, but in all cases you must be certain that the trees are alive and healthy! Dead trees are notoriously unstable, and can snap or break at any time without warning. So give them a wide berth.

Although hammocks have a reputation for allowing you to sleep anywhere, your go-to spot should be similar to any camping spot. Flat, clear or rocks or debris, and not near any other potential hazards. Always err on the conservative side when it comes to picking a spot, as a safe and secure hammock site is what we’re aiming for!

There you have it! Several key tips and tricks to make your first hammock camping adventure a success. From hanging your hammock, to your tarp, to your sleeping arrangements, we’ve covered everything you need to get on the trail!

Have fun and stay safe, eh?

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