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How to Sleep Warm in a Camping Hammock

How to Sleep Warm in a Hammock 2024

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. The extra layer forms a pocket that 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 instead, a building insulation material that 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 (it’s a function of when you last ate a meal.) I also use an inflatable NeoAir XLite NXT sleeping pad or a NeoAir XTherm NXT 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 hammock 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. 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 several 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 sleep warm and don’t require as much insulation. This can save a little pack weight and expense. But it 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 Torrid Hood, which is a good accessory for a top quilt and can also be used as a cold-weather hat. In addition to gloves and insulated booties, midweight or heavy-weight long underwear can significantly increase your warmth.

Hammock with a solid blaze orange over cover and underquilt
Hammock with a solid blaze orange overcover and under quilt

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 your side with them and they’re easier to move when you need to get up to leave your hammock at night.

Wind Protection

Wind protection is increasingly important in cold weather and there are several 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 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 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 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 instead of a top quilt 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. 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.
      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.

  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.

      • I don’t understand why a pad and an underquilt would not be additive. Both insulate you and prevent heat loss by trapping air pockets warmed by your body. Those air pockets are just encased in an closed-cell foam pad.
        Neither make you warm, since the heat is generated by your body metabolizing food. What am I missing here?

        • I agree. I use my hammocks year round and for years have been bringing two under quilts in the winter months with the assumption they were additive. In fact I have started a few times with one under quilt, only to get up in the middle of the night and add the second one, which made a difference (whether is it psychological or not makes no difference, I went back to sleep warm). In fact, I just got back from a trip yesterday, where the low temps in the early mornings were between 0-5F and my system of layering my under quilts was used and it worked fine. The evening temps were in the low 20’s when I went to bed and I had to get up after about 2 hours and vent the ends for a while because it was too hot. Later I had to get up and cinch up the ends again as the temps were dropping into single digits.

    • 100% yes a pad adds a significant amount of warmth to your hammock. Gathered ends will be more of a PITA, but in the DL RidgeRunner or other bridge hammocks, a CCF pad with a UQ is just as comfortable as stacking UQ’s with zero fiddle factor and the CCF pad is along for the ride anyway, so there is less weight/bulk than there would be if one stacked or used a warmer UQ. I can use my 20* UQ and a CCF pad down to zero instead of packing the heavier/bulkier 0* UQ. The CCF pad makes the hammock feel warm almost immediately. Stacking introduces an additional fiddle factor and getting in and out to make adjustments below 0 is less than ideal.

  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.

  7. I am new to hammock camping and my friends are slowly joining in and loving the results. The reason I tried it was to reduce my load as I’m a walking bionic man from injuries (broke my back, both legs and ankles) and I’m enjoying camping again because of my hammock. I’d wake up in a tent sore from hiking and a crappy sleep. Not anymore!

    I’ll go down to 50 without any kind of pad or quilt, just a sleeping bag (not even high quality) and well adjusted tarp to keep wind out.

    I need an underquilt if I want to try this colder though.

    Bottom line and point of my post: If you have musculoskeletal injuries, hammocks will really change the game for you. My next stop is a trail in Wales with amazing waterfalls within a small area and incredible hikes.

    Love my hammock and got some good info from the article so thank you.

    • I can identify. In the last eight years, I’ve been under general anesthesia 26 times for various procedures on my spine, from day surgeries to a number of multi-day stays in the hospital. I love my hammock!

  8. I use a Warbonnet Blackbird, which is designed for a diagonal lay and has a gear shelf that allows me to stash (too much) stuff in the hammock with me. I have a GoLite 30F mummy bag with a full zip, which becomes my top quilt. I bought a 20F Blackbird Wooki underquilt from some early rising, White Mountains based, peak bagging blogger who occasionally crosses the Pond to hike across Scotland. I did buy a winter sock to augment my cold weather capabilities but have only used it for back yard testing. I’ve got a Zpacks DCF 8′ x 10′ tarp that I usually configure in a diamond–more usable sheltered space and less staking out since two corners are attached to trees.

    The only time I’ve ever been cold in my setup is when the underquilt tether broke–believe me, it didn’t take long to figure out something was wrong! It was an easy fix. On the AT, I think the coldest outside temperature when I’ve been in it was above 20F, however I have tested it in the back yard at 13F and was plenty warm. The biggest problem in the back yard excursion was the dog was so excited to have me sleep out there that she wanted to crawl in with me. Although furry and warm, the last thing you want to share a hammock with is a 120 lb. Great Pyrenees!

    The term “game changer” is WAY overused these days, however the hammock is a game changer for me with my spinal problems. I sleep much better than I do on the ground and I don’t wake up sore.

    I did meet a thru hiker on the AT who wasn’t using an underquilt. She pitched her hammock close to the ground with her sleeping bag under it and draped her tarp over her hammock and staked it all the way to the ground. I tried her method once and couldn’t get it to work for me but she had a system that worked for her. She said there were a few nights she was ‘cool’ but never particularly uncomfortable.

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