Single Layer vs Double Layer Backpacking Hammocks

Difference between single layer and double layer hammocks

Many backpacking-style hammocks come in double-layer or single-layer models. How do you decide which hammock to get and what are the consequences of choosing one type over the other?

Double Layer Hammocks

A double layer hammock is so-called because the part you lie on has two layers of fabric. The two layers form a pocket that can be used to hold a foam or an inflatable sleeping pad. The pocket helps hold the insulation in place and gets it out of the living compartment where it can be clumsy to deal with. The second layer of fabric also makes the hammock stronger, so it can hold a heavier person than a single layer hammock.

The double layer hammock has an internal sleeve which can hold a foam or inflatable pad for more back insulation.
A double layer hammock has an internal sleeve that can hold a foam or inflatable pad for more back insulation.

A chief benefit of using a double layer hammock is that you can use inexpensive insulation like closed-cell foam or inflatable sleeping pads with it. Chances are you already own some of these, like a Therm-a-Rest Z-lite pad, a blue foam pad, or an inflatable sleep pad. As it gets colder, you can layer several of these pads in the hammock’s pad pocket for more insulation or use a pad/underquilt combination.

Single Layer Hammocks

In a single layer hammock, there’s only one layer of fabric underneath you. While this makes the hammock lighter weight, it also means that there isn’t a separate pocket to hold additional sleep insulation. While you can try to lie on top of a pad in a single layer hammock, most people find it very frustrating to position properly (since you’re lying on the pad you’re trying to reposition.) The pad may move around and has to be realigned every time you get up at night to pee.

Most single layer hammock users use an underquilt instead, which hangs underneath your hammock to trap your body heat and keep you warm at night. But underquilts are a lot more expensive to use as hammock insulation than foam or insulated pads. You may also want to buy several underquilt that are rated for different temperatures ranges (for example: 0-20 degrees and 40-70 degrees.)

Most of the hammock underquilts available today are made by small manufacturers including Hammock Gear, UGQ, or Enlightened Equipment. Mass-market manufacturers such as ENO, Kammok, and others have also started selling underquilts, but prices remain relatively high.

While underquilts are very comfortable once you dial in your hammock suspension system and they’re highly compressible for packing in a backpack, buying a single layer hammock can be a much more expensive proposition than buying a double layer hammock and using less expensive bottom insulation with it.

While full length quilts are desireable for sleeping in winter conditions, you can save money by using a 3/4 or 2/3 length underquilt in warmer weather.
While full-length quilts are desirable for sleeping in winter conditions, you can save money by using a 3/4 or 2/3 length underquilt in warmer weather.

How to Choose Between Them: Advice

  • If gear weight is your primary concern and cost is less important, get a single layer hammock and a 40 degree underquilt. You can decide whether you want an additional 0 or 20 degree, cold weather underquilt later.
  • If you want to save money, consider getting a 40 degree synthetic insulated underquilt instead of one insulated with duck or goose down. The weight difference between the two is less significant than with a colder weather underquilt, while synthetic underquilts are significantly less expensive and take less time to manufacture. You can also save money by buying a 3/4 underquilt, instead of a full-length model.
  • If the added cost of an underquilt is uncomfortable and gear weight is less of an issue, go with a double layer hammock. Sleeping on a foam pad inside the pad pocket is still quite comfortable and it’s easy to add or reduce the degree of warmth they provide by adding, mixing, and matching pads to meet your comfort needs, affordably.
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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

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13 comments

  1. A backpacking buddy of mine puts a foam pad inside his under-quilt on his single-layer hammock (between the hammock and the under-quilt) to improve the insulation and to have the pad to sit on in a cold camp. Does that make sense to you? Or, would having the pad suspended by the under-quilt prevent it from insulating the sleeper’s backside? Thanks.

    • Not really. I suspect he isn’t getting the loft he wants out of the quilt since the foam is reflecting his body heat back at him instead of being held by the UQ and it’s also compressing the underside of the quilt’s insulation.

  2. You failed to mention one of the most important points about single versus double layer hammocks, the lay. Generally speaking, a single layer hammock will have more sag than a double layer (my stats are 6’1″, 210lbs). Take for example, a double layer Warbonnet Blackbird XLC versus a single layer Dreamhammock Darien. The version of the XLC I own has a 40d outer layer and a 20d inner, while the Darien is 1.6 HyperD (I think it 40 denier). In any case, if you lay in each hammock you will find a much different experience. The XLC feels firm with good back support and a flatter lay while the Darien is “cushy” with the hammock having a pronounced sag (you can tell this by the distance between you and the ridgeline). Most people, myself included, would feel that the Darien is more comfortable. That being said, I prefer sleeping in the XLC since it provides better support. IMHO, these factors are most important to somebody considering a hammock purchase.

    • I agree the lay is one of the more important factors when choosing a single vs double. I have a bout 9 different hammocks ranging from single layer 1.6 to double layer 2.4. I’m a bigger guy at 6’1 260 and while most single layer 1.6 hammocks support up to 350 pounds, the comfort starts to decline after about 220 pounds. The reason is stretch. The more stretch, the more sag and the more sag the more you sink into the hammock. This is bad for me as it causes shoulder squeeze. Heavier weight fabrics provide a firmer lay with less stretch which in turn provides a flatter lay with no squeeze. A double layer hammock provides more support and creates a flatter lay… And it’s not about just being a big person either. I know some sub-200 pound folks who prefer double layer hammocks for the firm lay. Everyone is built differently and everyone has their own flavor.

  3. Another thing to consider is using a pad for insulation in the hammock is the flexibility of using it to sleep on the ground or in a shelter. I usually use my tarp and pad in ground mode but have ocasionally used them witth my single layer hammock, and I can confirm that it is not easy keeping the sleeping pad in place. I never considered the 2 layer would work better for this purpose.

    • One problem with using a pad is cold shoulders and thighs. Since the pad does not come up far enough on the hammock, there is virtually no insulation on your sides (your top quilt or sleeping bag cover this but they are being compressed by the hammock fabric). This is the reason most people transition to an underquilt.

    • It works much better, but you still need to reposition it a bit when you get back in.

  4. I’m 5’11” and 190lbs. I have a single and a double layer Blackbird XLC, and have been sleeping in one or the other for about six years now. I use a Thermarest XTherm or their closed-cell model. I sleep more comfortably in the double layer, but ironically I have stopped using my pad inside the layer. There should be stitching in there somehow to narrow the pocket and keep the pad from sliding up along side of me, because when it does this inside it’s pocket, it is very difficult to slide it back down without exiting to do so. I’ve struggled with this problem all along, in the single or double.layer hammock. Last weekend I went out and hung beside the Jeep, so I brought both pads. Not using the pocket, I laid the inflatable on top of the closed cell, and that seemed to be stable throughout the night. For me, a sliding pad in the night has been a real problem, alas, I still use a hammock for all the benefits of site location and comfort.

  5. Hammock Bliss Sky Bed woks great with pad, lay is flat and always in place. Price is reasonable. Suspension needs to be replaced. The Sky Bed doesn’t get much review, but I have found it comparable to WB and others.

  6. I love my single layer hammock and use underquilts. I made my own underquilts. Inexpensive and works great.

  7. The argument totally missing here for a double bottom hammock is the mosquito-proofness. Yes I am from Exped and that was a driving motivation to make double floor hammocks. Personally I had experienced mainly when travelling by canoe in the Equatorian jungle how important that is. In a single bottom hammock moskquitos easily pierce through… sure enough also a mosquitonetting is needed in such conditions (also against leeches, ants etc). But also in the Canadian north we experienced heavy mosquito attacks so again a double bottom hammock is badly needed.

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