Hammock Camping – A Beginners Guide

If you have ever been camping, you have probably experienced sleeping in a tent on the unforgiving ground that makes your back hurt after one or two nights. This is the traditional camping experience and one that someone shouldn’t shy away from. But, if you are looking for a more comfortable way to sleep, hammock camping is the way to go. This article is going to outline the basics of how to set up a suspended tent with a hammock and tarp set up, and we are going to go over general basics that are important to know, like whether you need a suspension kit or what to look for in a hammock camping site.

Hammock Camping: The Basics of Finding and Setting Up a Hammock

For those completely new to this, you are going to want to learn the basics first. For instance, when looking for a campsite you are going to want to look for sturdy trees that are 12-15 ft. apart or 3.5-4.5m. You will then want to attach wide webbing straps around these trees so that the bark becomes protected from the hammock. You attach these straps at about 6ft. off the ground which will create your attachment points. Please note that even if you have found trees that are on uneven ground, you should always attach the hammock evenly across the height of the terrain.

Now there are many configurations for attaching a hammock rope to the webbings, but generally, you can either directly attach it, loop it through a toggle, or clip it into a carabiner. It is important that when you attach the rope to the webbings, you do it at a 30-degree angle or as close as you can get it to that. The hammock should sit at 12-18 inches or 46cm above the ground – better known as sitting height. Once you have done this, you can add a tarp over the hammock for rain and wind protection. A basic 8×10 tarp is more than adequate size for a one-person hammock. When attaching the tarp, the tarp line should be tied below the hammock straps so that when the hammock sags from your weight the tarp will still be close to you.

Sleeping in a Suspended Tent!?

Hammock Camping In The Woods
Hammock Camping In The Woods

Although this takes time to learn, here are some tips for sleeping in a hammock comfortably:

  • Sleep at a slight angle so that you recline in the hammock ergonomically.
  • Make sure your hammock has a deep sag in the middle, as this will keep you from falling out!
  • When you sleep on a diagonal, the hammock will take away any pressure points that would normally be there if you were to lay flat in line with the hammock line.

For those who need or want to have a sleeping bag, blanket, or some other kind of insulation in their hammock with them, you are going to quickly learn that buying a sleeping pad, or an under quilt is the best way to go. A sleeping bag will not provide you with enough insulation because the bottom of a hammock is very susceptible to convective heat loss. You are going to want either a closed-cell foam or a self-inflating pad. With regards to falling out, if you sleep on a diagonal, you will not fall out regardless of whether you have an insulated pad or not. If you do have an insulated pad, put it inside the sleeping bag to keep it from twisting all over the place.

Do I use Knots or Hardware for Hammock Hanging?

This is mainly a personal preference, although many outdoor enthusiasts will swear by knots. So when choosing whether you are going to go with knots or hardware you should consider the pros and cons of both. The first question you need to keep in mind is: do you know basic knots that will help you? If the answer is no, then you are definitely going to want to go the hardware route.

Knots don’t add weight, they are versatile, and it is a skill that once learned isn’t something you will easily forget. However, knots can degrade the strength of a rope, they can be difficult to untie, and they become risks if they are not tied correctly.

Hardware, on the other hand, can reduce the amount of slipping happening between materials, it improves the speed and efficiency of quick attachment and detachment, you can adjust your setup easier, and you have mechanical leverage. But, they add a significant amount of weight that you must carry with you. Some gadgets may be too complex and they can break! Not to mention they can also be expensive. If you go the hardware route, you want hardware that is simple to use, easy to understand, has an inherent design, and be reasonably lightweight.

If you do decide to go the knot route, here are essential knots that you should know:

  • Siberian Hitch:  To secure a ridgeline between two trees, for hanging a tarp to cover your hammock, a Siberian Hitch can be very useful.
  • Lark’s Head Knot: Is used to attach suspension lines of hammocks or other lines that use eye-holes. This can be used on your tarps as well!
  • Prusik Knot: Is a simple knot that is great if you need a sliding adjustment. It’s often used with climbing but is very versatile so it can be used in suspended camping.
    Becket Hitch: This is the knot to use when tying up a hammock. It has an easy-to-tie and easy-to-release mechanism and can be adjusted! It allows you to use the end of a hammock, a webbing strap, and the knot to create an easy, no-hardware suspension system.
  • Bowline: This is an all-purpose knot used for self-harnesses, but can be used on the guy lines on tarps.
  • Clove Hitch: If you have a tarp that is made of low-stretch fabrics, use this knot to tie the tarp off.
  • Two-Half Hitch: It’s used to secure a guy line.
  • Taut-line Hitch: Can be used to adjust tarp ridge lines or guy lines.

What Gear Do I Need for Hammock Camping?

If you are just getting started on hammock camping, then you are going to come across thousands of options gear-wise. This is going to be incredibly frustrating if you don’t have someone with you to tell you what you need. This list is going to be for entry-level beginners and it will include the basics of what you will need.

  • Hammock: You are going to want a gathered-end hammock. The main idea here is to find one that you love. Any hammock is fine for entry-level, but it is best to find one that has an appropriate weight range for you, and that doesn’t have excess fabric.
  • Bug Net: You are going to want one that is simple to use and that has a horizontal zip. Ones with horizontal zips will conform nicely with the hammock which makes it easy to use and set up.
  • Tarp: You are going to want a tarp that has only a few tie-outs, usually two works best. If you can find one that has tie-outs that are diamond shape/pitch, then it will make it super easy to set up. If you want more options when pitching your tarp, then going with one that has multiple tie-outs is what you want.
  • Suspension/Hardware: Carabiners is the best thing for entry-level since it is simple to use and has a no-fuss connection. This essentially means that you are unlikely to screw up connecting the hammock to the tree with these!
  • Tree Strap: You can’t really go wrong with these, just pick one that has many loops and a long daisy chain and you are set.
  • Top Insulation: You will want a sleeping bag or a quilt-style bag for top insulation. Basically, any type that lacks zippers is best for hammock sleeping.
  • Bottom Insulation: Get an insulated pad, either a self-inflating one or a closed-cell foam. They basically negate any cold butt syndrome because they reduce the amount of heat loss out of the bottom of the hammock.

Typical Misconceptions of Hammocks: Don’t be Fooled!

First and foremost, hammocks can be lighter than tents but are not always so. There is this huge misconception that hammocks are always lighter than tents but that’s only if you get the lightest of modular components. In reality, if you are always camping with a partner, then buying an all-in-one camping hammock is definitely not going to be lighter than a tent. But what makes hammocks great is that they have modular components which means you can mix and match components to make up a setup that works for you. There are lightweight hammocks out there but keep in mind you will need to attach a bug net and a tarp to your setup.

Second, hammocks are indeed comfortable to sleep in and you will get a way better sleep than what you would in a tent but it takes time to learn how to sleep in one. You will on occasion have a bad night’s sleep in a hammock as you can suffer from shoulder squeeze, cold butt syndrome, ankle strain, and leg hypertension. The best way to get around this is to set the hammock up at home and learn how to move and lay in your hammock.

Finally, most people think hammocks are easy to set up, and in general, they can be but so can a pop-up tent. The thing here is that they do come with a learning curve. You have to know how to attach the straps to the tree, how to make the tarp taut, and how to make a big sag in the hammock. Hammocks become easy to set up after you have had lots of practice with them! If you are still finding that they are not going up as efficiently as you like, it may be because you need to change or update your suspension system.

If you’re looking for a hammock to start with check out the review of the Gnar Hammock here on MustGoCamping. And check back for more hammock camping tips and information!

photo credit: hammock set up in the old-growth forest via photopin (license)

1 thought on “Hammock Camping – A Beginners Guide”

  1. Pingback: How To Hang A Ridgeline | Must Go Camping

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