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 a 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 a 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, you 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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13 comments

  1. That’s a good introduction to the basics of staying warm in a hammock, one I’d hope more prospective hammock campers would read. While the learning curve is probably greater for hammocks than tents and the fiddle factor is quite high, the rewards of suspended sleep make it worthwhile for a lot of us.

    One other good source of quilts, top and bottom, is Arrowhead Equipment. They use synthetic, not down, so weight and packability take a small hit, but they’re an excellent value and Paul, who runs the place, provides outstanding advice and customer service. I’ve had their Jarbidge three quarter length underquilt for several years and love it.

  2. I was lucky enough to receive a Warbonnet Ridgerunner bridge hammock for Christmas and haven’t been able to take it out on the trail but have been fiddling with it at local parks and in my backyard.. I set it up in my backyard on a sunny, but cold day in the low 30’s and used my Klymit Static V pad with my Western Mountaineering 20 degree bag. I wanted to see how warm it would be, but also the practicality of using a pad/bag combo. I must say it was quite comfy and warm (I fell asleep), but I could see where it could be a pain to shift around in the sleeping bag not to mention concerns about the zipper possibly tearing the hammock. Needless to say my next investment will be a top quilt and then an under quilt to follow suit.

    • Really, get a wind sock if you plan to camp in shoulder seasons or winter. Indispensable.
      https://sectionhiker.com/dutchware-vented-hammock-sock/
      or from some other vendor

      • What Philip said. If I’m going to in conditions close to 20F I’ll frequently bring my hammock sock. It’s lighter than bringing my 0F quilts and adds 15F easily. It also does a great job of blocking wind from my underquilt.

        I’ve only used it once but one night in the Olympic National Forest it turned what would have been a pretty chilly night into a snug warm sleep. I had 20F quilts and the temp dropped to 20F with wind and light rain. The sock was awesome (though it did make the o dark thirty plant watering activity a bit more complicated than usual).

  3. I’ve consistently slept warm using a tapered blue closed cell pad in a single layer hammock with temps in the 20s. With the right taper, porpoising isn’t much of a problem.

    • I have a Klymit V that I’m going to insert into a Slumberjack sleeping bag liner. It fits perfectly and it should help keep it from porpoising. That, along with my Kelty 20 degree down bag should keep me toasty. I’ll try bringing the fly down to the top of the hammock as well. As always, thanks for the informative article, Philip. :)

  4. Great article and comments, thanks! I may try to use a hammock sock.

  5. Kristin Simmon-Lowman

    Does a sleeping pad add extra value (warmth) if using a underquilt, top quilt and a wind sock? Looking to possibly be in the teens at night.

    • A sleeping pad prevents heat loss, but doesn’t make you warm or retain heat. An underquilt does make you warm by trapping warm air heated by your body and retaining it. Subtle difference, but I’m convinced that the two are not additive. I’d go to ground or get a warmer underquilt. Personally, I’ve never had tremendous luck combining the two. I now have a 20 degree and a 0 degree underquilt.

  6. Is it really necessary for an under quilt or sleeping bag if you’re backpacking in 60 deg or above places. Outside of the comfort that will be missed, wanting to know if the body loss heat works in 500 ft elevation 60 deg wooded forest hike. Opinions please.

    • If you’re in a hammock, you definitely want some kind of bottom insulation. While you can try stacking foam pads, I’d recommend getting 40 degree, 3/4 size synthetic-insulated underquilt which will pack up better and is still reasonably affordable.

      I wouldn’t recommend a sleeping bag though. You’ll want a quilt (like a blanket). Again, nothing fancy.

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