Over the course of my years of camping and backpacking, I’ve heard many reasons why people shy away from hammock camping as a reliable alternative to the traditional tent. To this very day, many people still scoff at the idea of hammocking instead of tenting. However, this mindset is gradually changing, with more and more people making the switch to our tree-swinging community, either permanently or on occasion.
Here’s a list of a few very common statements that people often voice (paraphrased in popular terms):
“How do you sleep like that, doesn’t it hurt your back?”
“That’s way too cold for me! There’s cold air blowing around you all through the night.”
“I would much rather not risk getting wet and cold at night.”
“I’m afraid of flipping out at night…. I’m clumsy.”
“I can’t sleep in hammocks. It just isn’t comfortable to me.”
Surprising as it sounds, even to myself, I can remember a time in life when I used to agree with many of these! I used to think, “that’s not realistic or feasible.” It wasn’t until trying it out for a few nights that I was then able to grasp the awesome benefits and relaxation encompassed in hammock camping–and even then, it has taken a while to fine-tune things enough that I’m able to sleep every night in the backcountry and frontcountry without a tent.
This is a compilation of tips that I wish that I would have had when beginning to try hammock camping, ones that I hope will benefit you by making your nights more cozy and your sleep more sound!
1. Start Slackless
This is especially a big one for those suffering from back pain or other ailments. When you go to setup your hammock, specifically for sleeping, I would highly recommend starting with your hammock on the tight side–maybe even so tight that it seems like it might be too tight! The biggest reason for this is so that you have even support for your body and avoid being kinked or awkwardly positioned during the night. Start without slack, because your hammock will sag and provide plenty of curve even when it’s super tight at the beginning.
Remember: You’re not taking a twenty minute nap or reading a book for a little while, you are committing your entire night and your general physical well-being that next day to your setup.
2. Keep It Low
Generally, a great rule of thumb for hammock camping is to keep the hammock low to the ground when possible. By doing this, you avoid many of the hassles that many beginning hammockers (pun intended) experience when they first start. There are many benefits that come with having your hammock low to the ground, but the reality is that you may not always be able to hang it low… maybe you are swinging over foliage, brush, or large debris. Maybe you need or want to stay away from wildlife and insects. Maybe something else?
When possible, however, hammocking close to the ground at night provides many benefits! By staying low, I’m able to reach all of my possessions without getting out of bed, allowing me to access clothing, emergency items, personal hygiene products, my headlamp, knives, an alarm-clock device, and many other things that I wouldn’t be able to access even by sleeping in a tent! Keeping your hammock low to the ground may not seem as cool as swinging high, even at chest height, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when you need to get into it late at night after the fire dies, or when mother nature calls in the middle of the night.
Although it is debatable, especially depending on circumstances, I think that a lower hammock also keeps you warmer at night, with foliage and ground contour shielding wind, even from far away. Another general rule of thumb is that the higher your hammock, the colder you will be at night.
3. Plan Ahead and Prepare
I’m not going to lie: hammock camping IS colder than tent camping. It’s a reality of life… kind of like needing to work to earn a living. In a similar way, planning ahead and preparing for the night will make things much easier and seamless when you hit the trees with your hammock setup. By working to prepare and by putting thought into your sleep system, you will ensure that you are plenty warm at night in your hammock.
The big things that are missing when compared to tenting: another person’s (or multiple peoples’) body heat, several air compartments with vestibule and additional tent fabric, and general wind blockage (which we will cover later). Several recommendations for planning ahead and preparing are as follows: consider bringing a hat or buff, eat and hydrate really well before bed, layer properly with synthetic and breathable clothing, and heed these couple of “pro-tips” that may also help you in the trees…
4. Use Your Sleeping Pad
When thinking of your night in a hammock, many things apply to staying warm, but one tip that I’ve learned is to use your sleeping pad as an insulating layer and to give your sleep-system a bit more structure at night. I’ve seen many folks with inflatable or self-inflating pads prefer to have the pads blown up to 50% or 75% to allow the pad to provide maximum comfort and some adaptability. Personally, I prefer a nice Thermarest foam pad, because I’ve found that it provides tons of wind-blockage and warmth, seems maintenance free, is easiest to setup, and fits in my hammocks really well.
Bonus Tip: Start the Night Warm…
Or hot, if you are known to get cold during the night!
Many people are fooled into thinking that since they are warm when they go to bed, that they will stay warm throughout the night. This is not the case. Not only does the air temperature drop significantly, but your body temperature will too! Be sure to plan for this, and be ready for the decreases in temperature. To deal with this eventuality, I intentionally start warm enough to have my sleeping bag unzipped or vented, then proceed to close them during the night or right before I drift off to sleep.
5. Consider Acquiring a Rainfly or Tarp
The thing that really revolutionized hammock camping for me was having a nice rainfly for incredible shelter, increased warmth, and peace of mind when camping with unknowns. With a bomber rainfly, you never have to worry about the weather being too much for you too handle. I’ve had multiple experiences where my hammock and a rainfly has been less affected and more ideal than tents of every kind, due to large amounts of rain and wind. Rainflys are essential to truly weathering any night, and they do a great deal to add warmth, block wind, and keep you dry. With a good rainfly, you can be sure that you never need to flee to your buddy’s tent in the middle of the night to avoid getting soaked to the bone or having your nice down sleeping bag get clumpy.
I’ve reviewed one of the most bomber tarps out there, specifically made for hammocking: the ENO HouseFly. This tarp has been an absolute fortress when it comes to weathering storms, blocking wind, providing privacy, and remaining versatile in every environment. I would highly consider checking out ENO’s rainfly selection, not entirely out of personal bias, but more so for their wide selection and top-notch quality. I’ve also seen a lot of serious hammock campers invest in some nylon tarp fabric and paracord to make their own setup. This could be another option for you.
Although I feel like I could write for ages on how to make hammock camping more comfortable, these are among my top tips for anyone–regardless of experience–that is interested in giving hammock camping a serious try, or improving their existing sleep system. Even though I was once skeptical, hammocking has quickly become my absolute favorite activity when it comes to camping in both the backcountry and frontcountry!
- What other ways have you found to make hammocking, or hammock camping, more comfortable? What “pro-tips” would you give to others?
- This article came as a request on how to make hammock camping more enjoyable… Do you have thoughts on this topic or others that you’d like covered?