How often did you arrive at a campsite only to find it overcrowded and with no flat ground in sight for your tent? Or maybe you wish to travel light and you don’t really want to carry and assemble a tent?
Well, the answer to these problems is simple – camp with a hammock!
This versatile piece of equipment is lightweight, easy to pack and set up, and offers you a very comfortable sleep. We’ve put together an introductory mini guide to help you pick up the most suitable hammock for you.
Hammocks: A brief history
Let me guess: the first image that comes to your mind when you think about hammocks is a beautiful exotic beach, the blue ocean and a delicious fruit cocktail!
If you are not very familiar with them, hammocks are slings made out of fabric or woven rope and are most commonly used for sleeping and resting. The hammocks originate from Central and South America and for the last millennium, they have been used by everyone from sailors to explorers and soldiers.
Nowadays, they are not only a very popular tool for relaxation but also a great practical and efficient bed for camping and backpacking trips.
Why should I pick a hammock instead of a tent?
Hammocks are becoming more popular among backpackers for good reason. If you learn the proper way to set them up, they can transform into a very comfortable bed and take your camping experience to the next level.
1. Superior sleep quality
All in all, you will sleep much better in a hammock than in a tent. You’ll breathe in fresh air, avoid a sore back and the tent’s sauna effect. A good night’s sleep will allow you to properly recover and wake up rested and refreshed which is essential when hiking through the wilderness.
2. Quick setup (with some practice)
Most of the tents take a long time to assemble and can be very frustrating to set up if you don’t find a suitable place. With a little bit of practice, a hammock is easier and quicker to hang up and you will finish in minutes, long before your friends will set up their tents.
Compared to tents, most of the hammocks are lightweight and allow you to reduce the load of your backpack and hike for longer periods of time.
Even with a bug net and a rain fly, the weight you are carrying can be seriously reduced. Hammocks are small, compact, and easy to fold up in their stuff sacks and will take little space in your backpack.
4. Protect the nature
If you want to abide by the Leave No Trace principles, hammocks again are a very good choice. Because they have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment. They won’t stifle any ground vegetation and the impact on the trees is minimal if you use wide tree straps.
Unfortunately, hanging a hammock between a trees is not always possible. Sometimes, the campground might be restricted to specific areas, where there are no any trees. The same stands for the areas with very little or no vegetation. Like in some parts of Olkhon island, in lake Baikal.
As an alternative, you can attach your hammock to a light flexible hammock stand made specifically for hiking, even though the majority of them are quite heavy and bulky and are better suited if you take the car to a camping site or use them in your garden. Other options include deck posts or metal posts with wire rope slings.
If you would like to use a hammock in the comfort of your home, you can set it up by installing metal hooks as wall and ceiling anchors.
So…you’ve decided to buy a hammock? What now?
To pick up the best fit for you, always check the specs before making any purchases.
A width of 1.8 – 2.1 m (6 – 7 feet) can comfortably accommodate the needs of a single person, but you can find hammocks in all sizes ranging from 1.2 to 2.6 meters (4 to 8.5 feet). It all depends on your sleeping habits and how much room you like to have for stretching.
The length is pretty standard, but if you are a tall person then it is advisable to shop for a model that is longer than 8 feet to prevent straining your leg muscles. Hammocks can easily accommodate between 70 and 230 kilos (150 and 500 pounds).
Besides the hammock, you will also need a good suspension system and a pair of carabiners. This includes webbing straps, synthetic tree slings and nylon ropes.
Hammocks can weigh anything from a few hundred grams to a few kilos and this is without even including the bug net, the protective rain fly and the suspension straps. For example, Serac’s ultralight camping hammock weighs as little as 397 grams (14 oz.), while other brands like Lawson Hammocks can be as heavy as 1.92 kilos (4.25 lbs).
In addition, if you are hiking through barren lands, you will need a pack-able hammock stand which will add up a bit of weight. A simple, lightweight solution is the Handy Hammock Stand.
Packing and unpacking a hammock is extremely easy. Most of the hammocks on the market will come with a stuff sack. Simply untie one of the tree straps, neatly fold your hammock and gently stuff it into the sack. At the end of the trip don’t forget to take it out of the stuff sack, air dry it and clean it if needed.
If by any chance it got dirty, the best way to wash a hammock is by hand. Fill in a basin (or your sink) with some cold water and some mild detergent, scrub it with your hands and rinse. Line dry outside.
If you live in a small flat and don’t have this option or you don’t want to wash it by hand, then you can use a washing machine as long as you select a delicate washing cycle. Hang to dry on a clothing rack.
Don’t forget to check the ropes for signs of wear and tear every time you hang your hammock. Ropes are pretty inexpensive so make sure to replace them if needed, otherwise you might find yourself without shelter in the middle of your trip, which can be quite an unpleasant experience.
Camping hammocks are made of resistant, synthetic materials (nylon, polyester, acrylic) and they should last years as long as you take proper care of them.
How do I set up a hammock?
With a little bit of practice, it is fairly easy and quick to set up a hammock.
Before heading out for your next trip, practice hanging up your hammock in your backyard or in a nearby park to get a feeling for the distance you require between the trees, the appropriate cord tension and your preferred sit height.
Here is an excellent visual guide to help you successfully hang up your first hammock.
Basically, you need to find a couple of trees that are 4 – 5 meters apart (approximately 12-15 feet), attach wide straps around the trees and connect them to the hammock rope using carabiners. Ensure that your hammock is 30 – 50 centimeters (12-18 inches) above the ground. Add a rain fly for rain and wind protection and a bug net to avoid any nasty mosquitoes.
Spend a bit of time in your hammock (30 minutes – 1 hour) to see how your body feels and if your muscles get stiff and start hurting.
If you need a bit of help, you can use this calculator (you can choose between metric and English units) to estimate how high you need to install the anchor points to comfortably set up your hammock according to your sleeping and/or sitting preferences.
For maximum comfort, hang your hammock loose, but not too loose. Bring in a pillow – or a stuff sack with some clothes, a blanket and proper clothing for the climate you will be camping in. If the temperatures are low you will probably feel cold underneath your hammock, so buy additional insulation to keep you warm during the chilly nights.
You can pick up from a variety of choices, from thin foam pads to under quilts (with down and synthetic insulation) and fleece blankets. Again, test and see which one is the best option for you so you don’t get cold during a prolonged hike.
Another tip for a flawless sleep is to lay diagonal instead of laying straight down the middle to the hammock. The reason for this is to expand the ‘bed’, create a bit more space for yourself, and prevent stiff shoulders and the pressure of the hammock on your ankles and legs.
How do I stay dry?
To cover up and stay dry, pick up the appropriate tarp, depending on your personal preferences and the weather.
Depending on their shape, tarps can be categorized into rectangular, hexagonal, diamond/square and catenary. During storms and winter time you can use a 4 seasons, full coverage tarp for additional protection against the cold.
Tarps are made from waterproofs materials like silnylon and Cuben fiber and will offer you good protection against rain.
To set it up, tie a ridgeline between 2 trees, lay the tarp over the rope and secure it using cords and tent anchors.
If your ridgeline is the same as your hammock’s suspension, then don’t forget to tie up an additional small piece of string at the edge of your tarp to prevent water from dripping into your hammock.
Which hammock to buy?
Below, we’ve picked up a few of the best hammocks on the market to try on your next backpacking adventure.
- Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock – This is the ideal choice if you have never tried a hammock and you don’t know yet whether you will enjoy sleeping in one or not. Despite the low cost, which might make you question its quality, it is made out of a durable and ultralight polyester material.
- Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock – This is an excellent, strong hammock which supports weights of up to 400lbs. It is very spacious, lightweight and easily portable.
- Warbonnet Blackbird – A little bit on the heavier side, this hammock is probably one of the most comfortable on the market. It has an asymmetrical design to help you sleep flat and it comes in a single or a double layer fabric depending on your choice.
- Independent Wolf Camping Hammocks – A home product that comes from here in Europe – from Latvia. Product of our friends. Simple and lightweight are the words to describe it. Super easy to put up, therefore a potential travel buddy of yours for your next adventure.
Probably the most famous and common category of hammocks are the leisure hammocks. You can hang them in your own house, in the backyard or by the pool side.
They have similar properties to their camping counterpart but are usually made out of a cotton canvas or from a synthetic material like vinyl and acrylic. You can choose to relax in your garden for a few minutes every Sunday afternoon or completely substitute your bed for a hammock.
There are many sleep studies which have showed that hammocks offer a longer, deeper sleep and help people with severe sleep dysfunctions.
Curious? Here is a very comprehensive list of leisure hammocks which you can buy and enjoy around your house.
Hammocks will help you sleep comfortably whether you are taking a quick nap in your garden or sleeping under the stars in the middle of the woods.
Are you ready to give it a try?
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.