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How to Sleep Warm in a Camping Hammock

An insulated underquilt can be used to provide bottom insulation for a hammock sleeper in cold weather
An insulated underquilt can be used to provide bottom insulation for a hammock sleeper in cold weather

Staying warm in a hammock in cool weather can be a challenge. While everyone’s metabolism is different, most people begin to feel cool in a hammock when the outside temperature reaches 65-70 degrees. At this point, the addition of bottom insulation is usually required to augment whatever sleeping bag or quilt you use to cover the top of your body in the hammock.

Sleeping Pads

While warmer clothing can help somewhat, one way to stay warm is to insulate the bottom of your hammock with a foam sleeping pad, an insulated inflatable sleeping pad, or an insulated quilt that hangs on the outside of your hammock. Lying on top of insulation inside a hammock, for example, on top of a sleeping bag, doesn’t provide significant insulation for your back and butt because your body weight compresses it, eliminating its ability to retain hot air.

Some hammocks, called double hammocks, have an inner compartment (slung under the fabric layer you lie on) that can hold a foam or inflatable sleeping pad. Both of the backpacking hammocks I own have them. The extra layer forms a pocket which holds the pad in place so it doesn’t shift underneath you at night. If you sweat or perspire during the night, the condensation will pass through the fabric next to you and collect on top of the pad instead. Some people also use reflectix, a building insulation material which has plastic bubbles encased in reflective plastic, but it doesn’t have as high an R-value as a foam or inflatable pad.

Double Layer hammocks have an extra sleeve that will hold a sleeping pad in place
Double Layer hammocks have an extra sleeve that will hold a sleeping pad in place

If you have a single layer hammock, you can also use a foam or inflatable pad inside it, but it’s less comfortable because the foam folds around you or tries to porpoise out of the hammock when you roll over (hilarious.)

In warm weather, I often use small foam torso-sized pad and put it under my butt to prevent COLD BUTT SYNDROME or CBS as it’s known, which is when your butt gets cold at night in a hammock, usually around 4:00 am in the morning (it’s a function of when you last ate a meal.) I also use an inflatable NeoAir XLite sleeping pad or a NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad because they compress well inside my backpack.

Hammock UnderQuilts

When it gets much colder, below 45-50 degrees at night, many hammock campers switch to a down or synthetic underquilt.

Hammock underquilts are hung from the long ends of a hammock and slung underneath, enveloping your back, butt, and the sides of the hammock and insulating them. They’re available in many temperature ratings as well. While they are considerably more expensive than a foam or inflatable sleeping pad, people like them because they’re lightweight and compress well in a backpack and take up less space than other alternatives.

Underquilts are available in a number of lengths. I prefer a full length quilt for colder weather, but some people use a 3/4 length quilt and put a small foam pad under their feet and calves because they don’t require as much insulation. This can save a little pack weight and expense. It really boils down to personal preference.

Warm Clothing

One way to increase your warmth and comfort in a hammock is to dress in warm clothing, perhaps warmer than you’re used to using in a sleeping bag to keep it clean. If you decide to sleep with a top quilt (more on this in a moment), it can help to wear a hat or balaclava over your head at night if you’re cold. Some people also invest in separate insulated hoods, like the Enlightened Equipment Hoodlum, which is a good accessory for a top quilt which can also be used as a cold weather hat. In addition to gloves and insulated booties, 100 or 200 weight fleece long underwear can significantly increase your warmth beyond regular long underwear layers.

Hammock with a solid blaze orange over cover and underquilt
Hammock with a solid blaze orange over cover and underquilt

Top Insulation

Most hammock campers sleep with quilt instead of a sleeping bag because it takes up less space and it’s a lot less frustrating to use in a confined space. That’s not to say that you can’t use a synthetic camping blanket, a wool or fleece blanket, or a sleeping bag. Those are all viable alternatives as long as they’re warm enough.

Quilts are a hoodless, lightweight alternative to sleeping bags, that are also available in many temperature ratings. Most have some sort of foot box and drape over you like a blanket. You can sleep on your back or on your side with them and they’re easier to move when you need to get up and leave your hammock at night.

Wind Protection

Wind protection is increasingly important in cold weather and there are number of ways to prevent it from stripping your heat away. The simplest is to lower your tarp to the ground or to get a tarp that has also doors at the end to create a little cocoon for yourself.

You can also buy a hammock that has an over-cover on it that layers over the top netting to hold in your body heat like a tent. An over-cover can add another 5-10 degrees to your interior comfort, but you don’t really need one unless you try to camp in freezing weather. Alternatively, can also buy a separate winter sock that drapes over your hammock and achieves the same thing.

Closing Remarks

I hope I haven’t scared you off with this survey of the ways to sleep warm in a hammock. It’s really fairly simple in warmer weather and only gets more complicated when things cool down. A blue foam pad or the accordion style Therm-a-rest Zlite pad is more than adequate for moderate temperatures and an old sleeping bag works in a pinch.

One thing is certain, sleeping in a hammock is a very comfortable way to camp and it’s easy to get hooked once you try.

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  1. All those are great, but impractical when backpacking – too much bulk & extra weight vs a tent and sleeping bag. Love my hammock and sleep much better in it, but I am not keen on lugging all the extra insulation around.

    • There’s no such thing as a perfect shelter and sleep system. I’ve tried more than most. Figure out what you need for the terrain and weather you hike in and what you prefer in terms of comfort.

      I used to think cold weather hammock setups were bulkier than a tent and sleeping bag but it’s not as bad as you think, especially if you go the under quilt route instead of a foam pad.

      • I started section hiking the AT at Springer during April of 2014 sleeping on the ground and switched to my hammock after 6 days. The extra 1 lb. I had to carry was worth the better sleep that I got. Not only did I sleep better at night but it was quicker to break camp in the morning using the hammock setup. The hammock, quilts and tarp were no more bulkier than a tent, sleeping bag and pad.

  2. This is a timely subject for me and I hope we have a lot of comments. I am prepping for the AT in 2016. Although I have excellent CF tents to use I prefer to take either my Warbonnet Ridgerunner bridge hammock, or, better yet, my 90 degree hammock. I have spent quite a few nights this winter assessing bottom warmth systems by sleeping in the garage at a temps between 35F to 40F. Both my hammocks have the double sleeve and contrary to what Philip has experienced a pad does not porpoise out of the pad tube with either of my hammocks. This could be because Philip uses a mummy shaped pad (based on the pictures) that do not work well and are not near as pragmatic as a rectangular pad in a hammock. Also, note the Thermarest pads have the tubes perpendicular rather than parallel to the body. A wide Exped Downmat is both warm and does not porpoise out of the pad tube on either of my hammocks. Regular width pads DO NOT work worth a darn, period.

    While experimenting. Using an Underquilt (UQ) is by far the warmest and most compact option. However, me, having a pad for going to ground is a primary factor to consider. A CCF pad alone is not nearly sufficient for even cool weather conditions. Therefore, based on my experimenting, the best options for those who need the flexibility to go to ground (mandatory AT shelters or no trees available): 1) my 3/4 Arrowhead Ridgecreek UQ secured around a 25 inch wide CCF pad with a couple of shock cord ties to the corners of the UQ, 2) my Costco down throw wrapped around a 25 inch wide CCF pad, 3) my Downmat 7 UL Medium Wide pad by itself. I would enjoy hearing other options folks have been successful with. I know of some folks who have augmented their CCF pads with pack frame sheets and clothes,

    Finally, I do not see any way that a hammock system can come close to the light weight, low bulk, and simplicity of my CF tent and pad. Even systems with only a TQ and UQ. BUT for me I prefer to hang because of the other benefits found in a hammock system. Let the flames begin.

    • Maybe I need to reword that – it porpoises (occasionally) if you only have a single layer hammock, not a double layer.

      But you make a great point about bringing some kind of pad on the AT in case you have to go to ground in a shelter. I’ve also been weighing this point myself for my April AT section hike. I’m thinking about bringing a very short inflatable pad (easy to pack) that I can combine with my underquilt if I have to sleep on a wooden shelter floor.

      • The problem with a short inflatable pad is I believe all are only regular width. My experience with regular pads in a hammock, even with a pad sleeve, is they are squirrelly or prone to CBS. I would think this would be even more problematic with a regular sized short inflatable pad. The same is true of short regular width CCF pads. I like having the pad butt up against the edges of the pad sleeve both for stability and for shoulder warm. I have been considering taking a knife to my wide Thermarest Solite in order to have a sufficiently wide and yet “short” pad to use in conjunction with my 3/4 UQ.

      • Thermarest NeoAir Trekker torso length is 25″ wide; there may be others out there, this is just the one I have experience with.

      • Thanks for the info on the NeoAir Trekker being torso length yet 25″ wide! Have you used this in a hammock? I spent the other night with a T-rest Solite (R 2.8) versus the NeoAir Trekker (R 3). Well, I should say I almost spent the night because this was the first night that I bailed due to a severe case of CBS with temps between 35-40F. However, this could very well be an excellent summer option that provided the go to ground (GTG) ability with much more comfort than a CCF. Sigh, it looks like I might have to buy yet ANOTHER pad to experiment with ;-)

      • I own and have used the NeoAir Trekker torso length (25″) pad with my Ridgerunner (double layer) and it works fine. I carry it also in colder weather as backup for an appropriate rated underquilt. I also will be attempting an AT thru-hike this year (2016) and plan to take to NeoAir as backup to the UQ and in times when forced to a shelter. I will use my sit pad under my feet on those nights. For me the comfort and flexibility (no need for flat space) of using a hammock overrides the concern with any extra weight of the insulation needed. Also I feel like if a person buys quality quilts, and uses them for the respective ratings not much else is needed in my opinion to stay warm. It is just a matter of understanding what your equipment is meant to do and testing to give you the confidence that it will perform as you are expecting. I agree with Philip, if properly outfitted – a hammock setup will probably weigh somewhat more, but not a huge difference..

    • MRS Hubba, thermorest and a Mountain hardware Ratio 15 got me through the Andies, elevation had me from glacier (frigid, even for a canadian) to mid jungle and I’d hazard to say if there is such a thing as best all round solution, that’s it.

  3. Hammocker from way-back. Did just fine with my Ridgerest for years but have since moved to Stormcrow’s (Hammockgear.com) TQ and UQ. When things get below freezing I’ll incorporate a Reflectix pad. Just spent a weekend near Wiseman’s view at Linville Gorge and, were it not for a severe wind that started around 4 am, would’ve been just fine. Hoping to purchase a 10 x 12 tarp with doors soon. Yes, there is certainly more volume and with my existing set-up I’m not ultra-light but I’m very comfortable with a 23 – 26 lb baseweight for substantial week long hikes. Should I fulfill my dream of a thru-hike, I’ll look at a lighter hammock/ bag etc. than my existing Hennesey and Osprey set-up. For now? I’m a happy camper!

  4. I’m headed out this weekend for a couple sub-20′ nights at BSF and am bearing the extra weight of my Warbonnet hammock and HammockGear 0′ UQ and 20′ TQ because, seriously, it’s warmer than laying on the insulated pad in the tent! My winter tent sleeping system versus my winter hammock sleeping system differ by only 4 oz. The hammock set-up is a shade bulkier but very worth being warm and comfortable. :) Happy trails, all!

  5. Very thorough article Phillip and my experiences are pretty much the same as yours. I have graduated to a 20 degree under quilt and I LOVE it. The whole system is a little heavier than the lightest tents, pads and sleeping bags but not much. The quality of sleep and comfort makes it all worth it.

  6. If you plan to stay in hammocks and invest in a UQ there’s a good argument to go with a 0 degree UQ first and swap with a pad in warmer summer months. I find that my 0 degree UQs are comfortable up to 60 degree nights with some venting and will take me below 0 with some augmentation from pads and pods. My current favorite is the WB Bridge and the LYNX 0 full Length UQ http://www.warbonnetoutdoors.com. The WBB and 0 UQ does weight in at 2.5lbs rigged but the temp range allows me to pack a 13 oz top quilt down to the mid 30’s. The double layer allows the use of the http://gossamergear.com/thinlight-hammock-pad.html pad (at 3.9 oz) for summer months and tropics. My WBB bridge has been modified with dynaglide bone legs, dynaglide whoopies, dutch double bridge hooks/kevlar tree straps http://www.dutchwaregear.com/ and carbon spreader bars. If I want to go stupid light I take my 11 ft DIY and a 3/4 UQ but the .5-1lb pound savings is hardly worth the comfort. Coupled with a CF tarp the 3 season WBB as described above still comes in at a little over 3 pounds of above ground luxo-comfort sleep system.

  7. All this if very useful to me since I recently purchased a double layer hammock from some blogging section hiker up in New England. My brother in law and I often hike in Arkansas in the autumn and some times there isn’t a level spot sufficient to pitch a tent anywhere in the vicinity, however, the Arkansas mountains are loaded with trees. I’m still working on my hammock system. My sleeping bags are full zip so I can turn them into a top quilt easily. I’m going to experiment with my NeoAir in the sleeve underneath to see how that works for me.

    I have my winter (for this part of the country) tent/sleeping system functioning very well but I do want to hone my hammock skills.

    When I was young, my father had a couple surplus WWII jungle hammocks and my brother and I slept in those for years and never got cold, perhaps because our youthful hyper metabolisms didn’t allow it, we were too ignorant to know of such advanced medical terms as CBS, or the weather just didn’t get cold enough, although we camped pretty much year round. Maybe our WWII surplus down mummy bags had so many chicken feathers in them that they couldn’t compress under us enough to cool us down. I don’t recall being cold in those things but I sure got poked a bunch! They drove me to synthetic bags for many years but I came back around when I found out what REAL down was like.

  8. Great info. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in a tent. Hammocks are they to go.

  9. Great article Phillip.

    I love my hammocks and have used them from 10 to 80 degree nights. Couple thoughts after reading through the above comments:

    – I find my hammock rig pretty easy to adjust when temps are a variable. When night temps start heading south of 45 degrees, I augment with a simple foam pad for my legs (either a GG 1/8″ pad folded in half, over a z rest cut down to 7 sections during cold times)

    – When it is warmer, temps in the hammock can be moderated easily with a underquilt, buy positioning the underquilt to allow some small amount of air can flow through – pulling underquilt up higher than the shoulders. Summer nights on the AT, I’d just the underquilt adjust if I woke up and felt a little chilly.

    – Weight differential across the 10 to 80 degree night time temps mentioned above is only 5 oz. So the hammock/tarp/underquilt/pad goes from 35oz-40oz. Hammocks are pretty flexible. Additionally, using a top quilt, I save additional weight in the pack

    – Another underquilt maker for your list – the 20 deg Warbonnet underquilt. I’ve gotten over 4500 miles out of this quilt and its still going strong.

  10. Unless the weather is extreme, hammocks are the way to go and you can dial in your insulation combo with experience. Better to overshoot at first and have too much insulation than to wake up cold. Been section hiking with a Hennessey and Jacks-R-Better underquilt for 800 miles and have been super comfy. Wear a hat! For me, tenting on the ground is like sleeping on the garage floor.

  11. All hammockers should check out Shug Emery’s videos on YouTube, especially relevant to this article are the ones he has done regarding winter camping. They are both educational and entertaining.

  12. Ditto to watching Shug’s videos you YouTube — search for “shugemery.” . He tells it like it is, and is one of the highest respected longtimers on the hammocking.net forum, a sister forum to Whiteblaze.net. The people on both forums are family-friendly, with no ugly quarreling, ready to help anyone starting out, and everyone else.

  13. Oops..bad typo. The hammock forum is hammockforums.net, not hammocking.

  14. I’m thinking about some winter hikes but I only have one pack. With the addition of more sleeping gear… I think I can make it work. But I am wondering if my 40L bag is enough?

  15. Thanks. You may have done this already… But would you mind listing what you carry on a two nite hike. Temp maybe mid 20a to low 30s? This may not be the place to ask if not I understand.

  16. Another great quilt manufacturer is Loco Libre Gear. George Carr makes some amazing quilts with unique features that sets them apart from the rest. Check them out at, locolibregear.com

  17. All i use for super cold weather is my REI sleeping bag (20degree) my aerohead underquilt (3 season) and a reusable space blanket over my legs and feet. i also add a piece of reflectix insulation that i cut in a rectangle to fit between my underquilt and hammock. believe it or not it makes a huge difference , in shorts , t-shirt , and a beanie hat , i was comfortable when it got down to -12 F on my last trip. and i don’t do cold that easily .

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