The Benefits Of Hammock Camping

Most hammockers prefer using a top quilt and an under quilt instead of a sleeping bag and sleeping pad
Most hammockers prefer using a top quilt and an under quilt instead of a sleeping bag and sleeping pad

Sleeping in a hammock has some real advantages over sleeping in a tent once you get used to it. Chief among them is mobility: you can pitch camp just about anywhere below treeline. This is handy if you want to beat the crowds and camp in solitude or if you are between shelters and you need to stop for the evening. A hammock has a very low impact when you pick a stealth camping site since you won’t compress the forest duff in the same way that pitching a tent or tarp will.

Sleeping in a hammock can also be much more comfortable than sleeping on a sleeping pad. That’s why a hammock is always my preferred shelter in certain places like the White Mountains or the AT in New Hampshire, where the ground is as hard as concrete. It can also be far more scenic since you can pitch it between two trees on steep slopes overlooking a fabulous sunset or beside a remote mountain lake in the Adirondacks.

If you get a hammock, it should only take one or two nights for you to get comfortable to sleeping in it. That first night however can be a little disconcerting and you might want to take a sleep aid to help you get drowsy and settle down. I made the mistake of sleeping in a hammock for the first time in very hot weather in Maine near the Kennebec River and felt like I was going to suffocate! However, with a little practice and experience, you will soon learn how to orient your hammock to take advantage of cooling breezes and avoid being hot at night.

My first hammock was an old-school Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Asym Classic (circa 2007) which was a very popular model when hammocks first became popular. To get into it, you’d enter it from below, standing up in a slit that ran down the middle. Once inside, you’d lean back and scooch up inside. The edges of the slit would velcro together under your legs. To get out, you’d press your feet on the velcro seam which would open below you, stand up, and slip under the hammock to get out. After several intermediate makes and models, I’ve settled on the Hammock Gear Wanderlust Hammock Kit which is much more comfortable, spacious, and more versatile.

When you are lying on your back in the hammock, there is mosquito netting above you and along the sides. Running lengthwise down the inside of the hammock is a cord called the ridgeline, which has a little pocket where you can store your glasses or an LED light for easy access during the night. All the rest of your gear is outside of the hammock. After hanging my bear bag, I usually hang my backpack on a nearby tree and cover it with my rain cover in case. If my boots are wet, I hang them from the ridgeline outside my hammock but still under the rain fly.

One of the greatest benefits of a hammock over a tent is shelter from rain, especially heavy rain. I can remember camping in the Catskills with some friends when it rained for days. They struggled with keeping their tents and gear dry each night, while I hung out in my hammock nice and dry above the muck and puddles.

Sleeping is also very comfortable, but in a fairly narrow temperature range between 50 and 75 degrees. Below that you need to bring along more under-insulation like a Jacks R Better down under-quilt or foam padding. Extending the use of your hammock in colder temperatures takes a lot of practice and experimentation, so be prepared for a few cold nights if you try to push the envelope.

If you are a side sleeper, sleeping in a hammock can take some getting used to but the Hammock Gear Wanderlust is long enough cut that you can sleep on your side rather easily. If you sleep on your back you will be in heaven. There is the added benefit that your feet will be above the plain of your body, letting the blood in them drain at night, reducing swelling and fatigue.

Setting up a hammock or taking it down can be very fast if you use Snakeskins. These are nylon tubes that you slide over your hammock when you pack it up. Rather than dismantling the rain fly and the hammock, you roll them together tightly while they are still hanging and slide the Snakeskins over them starting from each tree until they meet in the middle. This forms a long snakey nylon tube which I store in an external side pocket on my pack. When you go to set the hammock up again, all you need to do to tie it off on two trees and slide the snakeskins towards the trees, which will unfurl the hammock and fly. Snakeskins greatly expedite set up and tear down, particularly in the rain, and can greatly help in keeping the rest of your gear dry.

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  1. Great post!

    I've got the Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker Asym, and in my opinion it's the only way to enjoy summer hiking here in Florida. I think we would have more summer hikers if they switched over to a hammock system.

    I've used it all over the southeast, it's great for stealth camping (once by a fantastic waterfall in a North Carolina park) and sets up in just a couple of minutes. Replace the stock tarp with something that will provide a little more coverage, and you've got one great setup.

  2. I agree. You're right about the stock tarp. I use the 8×8 silnylon tarp from over the hammock and standalone when I just carry a tarp.

  3. There are a lot of reasons why I prefer hammocks over tents – such as the summer heat, the bugs, and its more comfortable then being on the ground.

    I live in Texas. And around here, during July and August sometimes the night time temps stay in the lower 90s. That makes sleeping in a tent a hot, sweaty ordeal. If you have 2, 3 or 4 people in a tent, all of that body heat just adds to the misery.

  4. Just spent the first few nights in my new HH Explorer Ultralight (light intermittent drizzle, 50' at night, hammock chilly to touch but fine in my 20' Dick's cheapo synthetic bag without pads or other addons). Love it, I'm a convert now, and I really LOVED my REI HC T2 tent before this, so that says a lot. I agree, getting ground conditions (rocky/thorny/muddy etc) out of the equation changes everything. So far I've not been out in a real marathon downpour, but will probably spring for a larger tarp (a hex in camo). +1 on snakeskins improving setup/takedown; included free if you order direct from the HH website (limited time offer?) Looking at slap-strap-pro or another just-wrap-and-click solution. I recommend the HH Explorer Ultralight for those over 6' and wanting a little more durability while still keeping weight down (39 oz).

  5. I have a big HH Safari. It is excellent.. and big enough to bring my pack inside with me. My one concern is how to stop mosquitos from biting my butt from underneath. I've used a Thermarest (good but takes up too much pack space)..layers of clothing (hmmm).. I have even tried filling up the hammock with grass (very comfortable, but not practical).

    Does anyone have possible solutions ?

  6. Try a space blanket on the outsidec- you just need a very thin extra layer to stop the bugs. Other alternative is to buy another under-layer direct from HH – can't remember what this is called.

  7. Another alternative – spray the hammock with permethrin and let it dry.

    Kills bugs that linger on it too long.

  8. Hi Phil,

    I know you have gone in another direction due to temp range issues but I bought a Jacks R Better Bridge hammock as a my solo shelter.

    I am very happy so far. I will need an underquilt in the fall but that's ok with me.

    As a bonus, I am getting experience setting up a tarp in case I go to ground again.

    I went down into the drainage east of Zeta Pass and had a fantastic site that would not have easily allowed a tent.

    Hammock just seem tailor made for NE summers.

  9. They can be excellent, especially in very rocky areas or ones where you want to sleep on a slope. I'm glad you're enjoying it. You should write a guest review! I know that the Jacks would appreciate it.

  10. I got a sore back in my beyer moskito once, but I was maintaining a position that kept the bugs from biting me through the fabric on the bottom. Earlylite has a good idea with the space blanket, but my favorite part about the hammock is the breeze that can be felt underneath, so I'm probably going to find a way to attach mesh to the bottom.


    genius, hope he patents this and starts production

  12. Sure is nice. The general design of folding all your gear together like that has been done before, but I like the external mesh pocket. I do wonder how the entire system scales to carry 5 days of food, water, and how it handles walking in the rain. But it is an awesome concept and his execution is very nice. I wonder what the BS 1 and 2 looked like. Do you know if he's selling this yet?

  13. No he hasn't.

    Of course you pointed out a possible issue [perhaps writing gear reviews has given you a more critical eye?].

    Weight limit

    Rain cover since a wet pack means a wet hammock at end of the day?

    But for a hike with known good weather and within the load limits of the pack it really is a novel concept.

    • Why not just wrap the hammock in the rain fly (dry side in) rather than worry about a rain cover for the pack. I just leave my down bag right in my HH and roll the whole works up carefully in the fly. Never had anywhere near the wetness problems tents use to cause me and there is definitely no shortage of rain here in Nova Scotia.

  14. The Hennessy Hammock Expedition and Explorer hammocks offer a couple of options with the classic and zip models. You mention the velcro model which is the classic and gives the ability to enter through the bottom. They also have a zip type that can be entered through the side which gives another way to get in and out of the hammock. Good brand that makes a quality hammock. Nice article, good descriptions.

  15. I camped out in my hammock last night. Turns out I can withstand down to about 8 degrees centigrade with no sleeping bag or underquilt.

  16. It can also be far more scenic since you can pitch it between two trees on steep slopes overlooking a fabulous sunset or beside a remote mountain lake in the Adirondacks.

  17. I just recently bought a mesh hammock, received it yesterday — it is great! My thinking is that mesh beats nylon when it is raining: a tarp above my bivy in the hammock insures that I won’t drown. : – )

  18. What’s the best way of tying the hammock up? I find when it sags too much in the middle it causes a lot of back pain for me, and I can’t imagine laying in it for too long!

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