Summer camping can be hot, sticky, and downright uncomfortable. While tents serve as great protection from the elements, even the most breathable models can turn into full body ovens during the peak of summer. Plus, tents are bulky, heavy, and take time to set up. Why not give hammock camping a try? Allow yourself to be rocked to sleep while taking in the fresh night air beneath a luminous canvas of scattered stars studding the length of the sky above you.
While tents require large, flat areas and adequate soil for holding stakes, hammock camping can be done just about anywhere there are two trees. Lighter weight and more pack space is an additional advantage, one that allows you to pack a host of fun camping accouterments. For fast and light trips in the impending summer heat, the hardest decision you have to make is deciding which hammock is right for you.
Things to consider
The hammock you buy will determine how well (or poorly) you’ll sleep during your time in the outdoors. Most importantly, you need to decide the primary purpose of your hammock. Will you be taking primarily overnight trips in good weather or embarking on weeklong expeditions through the backcountry where the weather’s unpredictable? Hammocks come in many shapes and sizes, so rest assured that time spent researching which hammock is right for you is time well spent.
Types of hammocks
There are three main types of hammocks — parachute nylon hammocks, ultralight hammocks, and expedition hammocks. Parachute nylon hammocks are ideal for everyday camping trips due to the durability of the material and comfortability provided by their slight stretch. These types of hammocks are available in both single and double models, depending on whether you want to sleep alone or with your loved one.
Ultralight hammocks are exactly as the name implies — the lightest options on the market. They are designed to be compact and taken on expeditions where speed is of the essence. The thinner fabric constitutions of these hammock types, however, typically lead to a slight sacrifice in comfort.
Expedition hammocks serve as the complete package, allowing for everything you need to take on a long-distance expedition. These products tend to be made with the highest-end materials for guaranteed durability and resistance to the elements. They usually come with accessories, including an insect net, tree straps, extra guy lines, slings, and a rainfly.
Size and weight
Hammocks come in different shapes and sizes, which are suited for a wide range of people. Selecting the proper width and length of your hammock can make or break a good night’s sleep. Generally, the wider and longer the hammock, the more comfortable it will be but the bigger the size of the hammock, the more it’s going to weigh.
For tall people, hammocks at least 8 feet in length are recommended. Maximum weight capacity recommendations should also always be followed. There are extra-large models on the market for heavier people, along with double styles for those who want to sleep in pairs. That said, overloading a hammock is both detrimental to the lifespan of the product and dangerous.
If you’re opting to leave your tent behind, your hammock must serve as both your shelter from the elements and a comfortable place to lay your head. Even in summer, nights can be cold, especially during inclement weather or unexpected conditions. Insulation is critical, as not all hammocks are created equal. Your options include adding a foam or air pad to your set up, purchasing a double-layered hammock, or utilizing an underquilt.
If you already own a sleeping pad, you can try to situate it in your hammock to use on a cold night or for added comfort. The downside to this is most pads tend to move out from beneath you due to the hammock’s nesting shape as opposed to the flat ground they were designed for. We recommend experimenting at home before heading out on your expedition.
Double-layered hammocks have the advantage of an added compartment utilized for holding your sleeping pad in place. There are definite benefits to these types of hammocks, especially for campers who insist on bringing a pad. They add weight, however, so you need to determine if the quality of comfort is worth the weight sacrifice.
Finally, underquilts can be hung beneath your hammock, serving as a protective layer from the elements without necessitating the addition of a pad. They can run on the expensive side but if you spend multiple nights in your hammock in a row, an underquilt is worth the investment.
There are two primary hammock accessories that are recommended for anything beyond an overnight expedition. An integrated mosquito net is essential in buggy conditions, especially beaches, lowlands, and areas near the water. These are usually lightweight and inexpensive, so it’s better to bring one along rather than be without. After all, a night of getting eaten alive by mosquitos tends to ruin even the best camping trip.
A rainfly is also essential during rainy seasons or in areas that are prone to unforeseeable storm conditions. The best rainflys cover the entire hammock with added room on each side and attach to the ground in order to prevent rain from coming in from the sides.
Most hammocks don’t come with tree straps but they are essential for hanging purposes. Select straps that protect the tree — we recommend those with a minimum width of 0.75 inches, a flat design, and either nylon or polyester construction. An alternate type of suspension system involves the use of whoopie slings, which are more adjustable. This system utilizes a basic loop and knot system that can be tightened to hold a hammock in place.
Bottom line: Straps make for easier setup but whoopie slings are more adjustable under tension.