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 Benedryl 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 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 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. Hennessy has since introduced a side zipper opening, which most people prefer.
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 use to but the Hennessy’s are cut so 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 Hennessy 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. All you have to do is to stake out the fly and your hammock is fully set up. Snakeskins greatly expedite set up and tear down, particularly in the rain, and can greatly help in keeping the rest of your gear dry.
Originally written 2008. Revised 2021.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on SectionHiker.com, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!
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