Camping with Hammocks: A Comprehensive Guide
Busting the myths:
Sleeping in a hammock might seem like a crazy idea to some people, and they will usually ask whoever sleeps in a hammock questions like “aren’t you afraid of animals and bugs? Isn’t that bad for your back?”
Sleeping in a hammock does not only feel great, but the benefits outweigh being in a tent.
For thousands of years, hammocks were used as traditional bedding. And recently, modern sleep science is starting to give them some credibility. The indigenous people have long embraced the use of hammocks. And even today, some people grow up sleeping in a hammock every night. After the Europeans discovered hammocks, the Navy shortly replaced their cots with hem. Some sailors can spend months at sea sleeping on nothing but a hammock.
The point here is; if people have been sleeping in hammocks throughout history, then why do many campers still hesitate about sleeping in one?
Most negative ideas about hammocks are probably caused by bad experiences with the typical backyard hammock. Let’s check out the myths about hammocks and give you some useful tips on choosing the right hammock.
When most people imagine hammock, they rarely think about the traditional Latin American hammocks. These heavy canvas hammocks are very uncomfortable, you can’t sleep in one of those for more than one minute without getting a backache. And the use of spreader bars make it even worse; they can disrupt the gravity center of your hammock, thus causing the weight to be unevenly distributed. These hammocks can have unbalanced shaking, and they can quickly flip you over with one wrong move. Spreader bars can also prevent a low-point collection of your weight, which makes them very uncomfortable, also because of their unnatural weight distribution and uneven tension on ropes. Due to this negative experience with rope hammocks, most people tend to think that all hammocks are dangerous and are just as uncomfortable as rope hammocks.
But this doesn’t mean that all spreader bars are bad. Some manufacturers have designed camping hammocks with spreader bars that are better positioned. Known as bridge hammocks; they are different from the rope hammocks. A typical backyard hammock spreads the entire hammock fabric. But bridge hammocks only spread a part of the material open. This can reduce the unnatural center of gravity, making them more comfortable.
Hammocks are better than tents.
Although tents are great, they do have their own set of downsides. Without a large inflatable mattress or any soft surface, most people would be extremely uncomfortable because they can’t just sleep on the ground. It can also be quite time-consuming to find a good spot for tents in some areas, as they should be placed on flat surfaces and away from rain runoffs. Setting up a tent can also prove to be a pain because some people just hate having to set up a tent with all these poles. And the main reason for camping is enjoying the great majestic outdoors, but tents confine you within their walls.
Hammocks, on the other hand, are much more comfortable to sleep in, as they are hanged in the air not put on the ground. All you need to do to setup a hammock is just two trees, you don’t need to be aware of rain runoffs and scouting for flat surfaces. They are not a load in your backpack, hammocks are much lighter than tents. And unlike most rumors, you can buy some accessories that will protect you from the elements just like a tent does, while enjoying the outdoors and nature instead of being trapped between four walls.
Hammocks have some downsides of their own too. They are meant for one person only, they don’t offer much privacy when it rains your gear and backpack will have nowhere to be protected, and no trees means not hammocking.
Hanging your Indigenous air bed
The first rule of hanging your hammock is: don’t hang it up tightly. It may appear as if you hang it up tightly, it will be spread like a bed when you sleep in it. That is not true because of many of reasons; when your weight is put on a tightly hung hammock, it pulls the hammock down which causes it to enclose its top; putting you in a cocoon. Then the walls of the hammock will actually keep squeezing your shoulders; forcing you to stay still. When the top of the hammock encloses you, they will obstruct your line of sight – they will basically cover your face. And this tightly hanged hammock can easily be damaged and damage the trees it is hanged on because tight hanging can increase the tension substantially.
You should loosen your hammock a bit. This will stretch the hammock out, and it will enable you to use the full width of it. To flatten the hammock, you should sleep diagonally at about 30 degrees away from being a human perpendicular line on the hammock. This will tighten up the center of the hammock and keep the sides a bit loose. By doing so; you will make the hammock take the most comfortable shape to cope with the curve of your back while keeping your feet and neck slightly higher. This also prevents pressure points from forming on the hammock; giving you, even more, comfort.
To conclude; when you’re hanging your hammock, you should find the perfect mixture of the following factors:
- Hammock ridgeline length
- Distance between the two trees or objects that you will hang your hammock on
- The hammock’s height
- The attachment points’ height
You should also consider the amount of force that will be applied to your suspension and anchor points. This amount of force is not only determined by your weight but also it is determined by the same factors on the list above, add to them the angle between the tree and the cord. To say this in a shorter way, the forces on the anchor point and suspension are directly related to how much you pull your hammock tighter. “The ultimate hang” website has a very useful calculator to determine how much of these factors you should use with your hammock, and if it is safe. You can check it out here: http://theultimatehang.com/hammock-hang-calculator.html
Another significant advantage of sleeping in that position is that if your hammock is well-designed, you can forget about the scary monster called “flipping over.” You even sleep on your side and move freely without the slightest fear of being flipped over. This is because when you roll over to the sides of the hammock, it actually becomes slightly higher, which makes it harder to move away from the edges and you can forget about falling.
Get your own!
When choosing your hammock, you should keep certain things in mind like:
- Don’t pick a hammock that looks like a fishing net. This hammock’s ropes will make you very uncomfortable, leave marks on your skin, and they will apply pressure on your veins to the point that they could mess your blood circulation.
- Choose hammocks that you can stay on them for extended periods of time without getting uncomfortable. Hammocks are not supposed to feel comfortable for one minute, they were originally made for sleeping overnight.
- Your hammock should like the ones you see used in Latin America. They are made of soft fabric, and usually, they are just one solid piece of woven string.
- When you go shopping for a hammock, you must consider choosing something that is strong, durable, lightweight, and breathable.
- Again, spreader bars are a true nightmare. They only make the hammock flatter and more visually appealing to lure in first-time hammock sleepers. As we explained before, they can easily flip you over and do much more harm than their only good side of looking nice.
- Don’t let the low prices fool you. It is common knowledge that everything that is cheap is cheap for a reason. Most cheap hammocks cost so little because they are made from poor quality materials. They can easily be worn out or torn with little to no use. Their suspension ropes and tools are not really perfectly safe either.
Fight the elements:
Among the things that make people also afraid of sleeping in a hammock in the wilderness is the fact that it could get chilly. In winter, a hammock by itself doesn’t offer you much warmth. Hammocks are made of breathable fabric, which is great to allow the summer breezes to touch your back, but it also allows the arctic winds to freeze your backside.
Sleeping bags are not a bad choice, they will cover your top and keep it warm, but most of sleeping bags are designed for sleeping on the ground. This means that they won’t do your backside much good. A better approach is using inflatable and foam pads.
Choosing the ones that fit inside sleeping bags is a perfect choice. You won’t struggle with staying on top of the pad, and it will be much easier to move freely. Some hammocks are designed to pin the pads down in their place, which is a great feature considering you can move the pad from underneath you when you move.
A small problem can sometimes arise from using sleeping pads on hammocks because they can prove to be a bit narrow for your shoulders. When your setup has some slack, it can put some pressure on your shoulders, decreasing the insulation and making your shoulders colder. Some pads are specifically designed to prevent this from happening; they have “wings” that add extra insulation to your arms and shoulders. If you don’t want a winged sleeping pad, you can put some of your clothes on your sides to give yourself more insulation and warmth.
Check this out: Hammock Camping in the Winter
The ultimate choice regarding insulation when hammocking, is using two quilts. When you sleep on top of one quilt and use the other one as a blanket, you form what resembles like a sleeping bag but with much more freedom to move and a way better insulation. The problem with using two quilts is that they cost too much. Synthetic quilts are cheaper, but they do not compress as much as the more expensive ones, and they are also heavier to carry around. Remember that using quilts is exclusive for hammocks, they are useless if you decide to sleep on the ground. In that case, only a sleeping pad will do you good.
Other than cold, two other things are related to winter. Rain and snow. You shouldn’t be scared of rain to the point that you decide you won’t go hammocking. All you need is just a rainfly with your equipment, just in case. Any rainfly can protect your hammock from the weather, but some of them are actually specifically designed for hammocking.
This is because they are designed to be hanged on top of a hammock. They can be set up by making a ridgeline just above your hammock, then you can drape the tarp over that ridgeline and tie them together. They get pulled down by guylines from both sides to pin them down. Silnylon tarps are ideal for hammocking, but they cost much more than blue plastic tarps. But you should also keep in mind that blue plastic tarps are much heavier, and they may not be suitable for carrying around too much.
Something just bit me!
Now that we’re done with winter hammocking problems let’s take a look at summer’s worst issue; Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can be very troublesome and annoying in any form of open air camping. Hammocks can leave you completely vulnerable to mosquitoes and other biting bugs. But you don’t need to worry because bug nets exist, and some of them are specifically designed for hammocks.
These bug nets are made to cover all of the hammock’s sides in a 360-degree manner with a zipper to allow you to go inside and outside freely. They can be easily set up by stringing hammocks through their two open ends, then the open ends are tightened when the hammock is inside, and finally the net can be attached to a ridgeline on top of the net with loops in it.
To avoid the disturbance of mosquitoes, even more, you should not camp near their hotspots like stagnant water because they breed there. Don’t be fooled by the beauty of a crystal-clear lake, mosquitoes love them even more than you do.
If you just like the spot too much, some hammocks are already equipped with mosquito nets that can prevent them from getting you. But some bugs are just too persistent to the point that they will actually bite you through the fabric. To avoid this, you can use double layered hammocks which no bug can get through.
Although hammocking is great, all types of camping are not entirely safe. You can avoid the dangers of hammocking and camping in general by following this list:
- Don’t wear cotton clothes. Cotton does not expel moisture, it retains it. Wearing cotton in a rainy weather can be very uncomfortable, because once cotton gets wet, it is incredibly hard to dry out, and that moisture will absorb the heat from your skin, leaving you shivering in the cold.
- Wearing jeans in freezing weather is not a great choice at all. Jeans can actually freeze solid by icing up in cold temperatures. You wouldn’t like the feeling of waking up in your hammock only to find that your legs are trapped inside two hollow ice poles.
- Take first aid kits with you, just in case. But don’t take an entire pharmacy in your backpack, just enough first-aid items for you and your group. The most essential items are moleskin, medical tape, sterile gauze, Benadryl, ibuprofen, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointments.
- If there is a thunderstorm, get into forests and stay away from higher grounds. “Lightning only strikes metallic pointy things” is a myth. Lightning can be seen striking down trees all the time, and trees don’t have pointy metallic objects. Lightning actually chooses any isolated, tall objects. And even if it did not strike a person directly, and if that person is close enough to the strike point, the ground current can be conducted to that person, and it can be just as deadly. So, go into forests, avoid high grounds, and try moving away from thunderstorms as far as you can.
- If you’re not highly experienced in hammocking and camping, do not neglect equipment just to go lightweight. Even the most experienced campers can regret leaving some of their equipment behind when the need for that equipment arises. Light hiking and camping should be gradually increasing with the growth of experience.
- You will put your feet in hell if you go camping wearing brand new shoes. We all know how new shoes can be stiff to the point that they can actually cut your feet and bleed them. And that is just when doing frequent everyday walks, imagine walking tens of miles (which is natural when camping) wearing new shoes.
- Never ever ignore the weather forecast. You would not like the situation of going camping just to find yourself in the middle of a snowstorm in winter, or under scorching, skin-burning sun in summer.
- Check the integrity of your hammock. Do not sleep on a hammock that is worn out, and do not hang it on defected suspension. Although it can be funny to watch someone’s hammock tear and they trip over, it can also be quite dangerous in the wilderness. Falling and hitting your head on a rock or falling on a sharp object can be quite hazardous.
- Do not hang your hammock on thin or weak trees. Make sure you always choose sturdy trees with thick trunks. Do not hang it on dead trees no matter how strong they may look because dead trees’ wood is often weak. Saplings will bend under your weight, avoid them too.
- Don’t let the bed bugs bite you. Seriously, don’t. The wilderness is home for some very dangerous bugs and arachnids, such as the widowmaker spiders which can actually kill you. If those bite you in camping sites, you are probably far away from the nearest medical center. Always check for those little critters before you sleep on your hammock or in your tent.
- Don’t camp under sections of dead branches, especially in the winter. Adding your weight to the weight of snow accumulating on dead branches can easily make those thick pieces of wood fall on you, and you could be injured.
- Remember that hanging your hammock 2 feet above the ground is just as comfortable as hanging it 1000 feet. There is no need to hang it up high because you will also be risking injury in the very unlikely case should you fall.
- If you love the wilderness, show it. You should follow a set of rules made by the Leave No Trace organization. They are a set of rules that are made to help protect nature from bad camping effects. Some of them are: leave what you find, minimize campfire effects, dispose of waste properly, and respect the wildlife – which brings us to our next point.
- Don’t mess with animals, no matter how cute or peaceful they may look. Wild animals are not the same thing as your pet cat or dog, some of them will attack you if you show the slightest sign of danger to them.
- Don’t hang your hammock using paracords. Your weight will cause them to dig into the tree’s bark, causing significant damage.
The Beginners Guide to Hammock Camping
So, what was that all about, again?
This guide was made to be as comprehensive as possible regarding camping in general, and hammocking in particular. You should now have a pretty nice idea about buying and hanging your hammock correctly and how to go hammocking in different weather conditions from the bug-filled summers to the freezing winters. This guide is mainly aimed at showing you why the things that are commonly said or thought about hammocks are nothing but false myths. You also have a general camping-safety guide to avoid endangering yourself, others, or the wilderness.