I know you all have thought about it! It looks so relaxing doesn't it? Just chillin’ in a hammock? There’s a little bit that goes into making it happen, but hammock camping is so comfortable and worth it!
The basic components of hammock camping include: the hammock, hanging straps, a bug net (optional but required in the midwest), a tarp (again optional if there’s not going to be any rain), an underquilt and a top quilt. I like to bring a pillow as well as it makes it pretty comfy. I also enjoy using a ridgeline organizer as it allows me to have my light, phone and charger hanging near me!
There are many different types of tarps including flat, hex and winter tarps with doors. A sleeping bag does not work in a hammock as you are laying on the bottom layer of down and compressing it, making the insulation ineffective. You have the option to either use an underquilt or a sleeping pad in your hammock — unless you want to test the cold butt theory (spoiler, it isn’t fun). Like sleeping on the ground, if you don’t have some form of insulation underneath you, you will get cold.
The Pros of Hammock Camping
I admittedly love sleeping in a hammock for a few reasons! The first one is that I bikepack. Hammocks are extremely easy to pack away into different bags as they are easy to separate into different components and are extremely modular. When there isn’t a big compartment to store gear in (like the main body of a backpack), being able to separate the hammock, tarp and quilts are very nice.
This also means that hammocks are customizable. You can pick what elements of a hammock you want to bring along. If you don’t need a bug net, you don’t have to bring one and you can save some weight.
You can also use a hammock as a chair which eliminates the need to bring a backpacking chair — and can make for some pretty spectacular hang out spots!
Another factor, and this is debatable so let me lay out my case, is that hammocks have more usable space! When you use the tarp, you can have a whole little area where you can cook, sit, store gear and generally live.
I also love that when I set my hammock up, I don’t have to worry about where water is pooling and what is underneath me. I can hang out over rock outcroppings, roots, inclines, or anything else you might not want to set up a tent on. I really like not having to think about where I want to camp, and hammocks take a lot of that thought out of the set up.
Additionally, I feel more comfortable in a hammock because I feel like it is harder for animals to get to me especially snakes (which I hate) but that could just be me.
The final benefit is that hammocks provide better sleep than in a tent. The key to this is to sleep diagonally; otherwise, you end up banana boating. When you sleep in a hammock, sleeping at a diagonal angle, the hammock ends up cocooning you and it feels so amazing. Banana boating is not fun and ends up hurting my back.
The Cons of Hammock Camping
The first element of why you wouldn’t want to use a hammock is if you are going with someone else. Hammocks are not the best with two different people sleeping in the same hammock. You end up all over each other and it just is not comfortable for sleeping, unless you are extremely close.
Additionally, if you are in the mountains, there might not be trees for you to hang from. Both of these create challenges to hammock camping.
Finally, the weight savings isn’t much over a tarp-style tent or anything like that. My hammock weighs 2.4 lbs (1082g) and my tarp weighs 13 oz (365g). Given my hammock is not the lightest setup and it is double layered so I can put a sleeping pad underneath the hammock along with an underquilt for extra warmth (thanks Wisconsin). A nice thing is that an underquilt is more packable than a sleeping pad.
You can get tents that are lighter from Garage Grown Gear. Some hammocks weigh around 10-14 ounces (300-400 grams) which is lighter than a tent.
A hammock does not require trekking poles or tent poles, though, so that helps to decrease the weight.
Hammocks as a backcountry sleeping system has both benefits and drawbacks. The important thing is to know what is going to be the best system for you. Hammocks are modular and customizable. They also can be hung almost anywhere without regards to what is underneath. However, they only sleep one person and, depending on your trip and location, there might not be trees to hang from.
My name is Ryan Steger and I’ve worked in the bike industry for 8ish years, and I’ve rode pretty much every type of bike out there. I graduated with my degree in Kinesiology from UW Madison in 2020 and I’m looking forward to sharing my love of bikes and all things outdoors! I’m currently pursuing a nursing degree, which is my journey currently.