Hammock camping: Everything you need to know to get started

Shel hammock shelter
Nate Edwards/BYU

In recent years, hammock camping has become one of the more popular trends in the outdoor industry, going from a fairly small subset of backpackers and campers to a full-fledged movement. As a result, gear manufacturers have introduced a growing number of options for those looking to ditch their tents in favor of sleeping suspended above the ground instead. If you’ve been considering joining this movement yourself, we have some tips to help you get started, including our picks for the best beginner-friendly hammock camping gear currently available.

Why choose a hammock over a tent?

The traditional tent has been a staple of camping for decades and remains a viable option for those looking to get a good night’s sleep in the backcountry. So why would anyone leave their tent behind in favor of a hammock instead? For starters, hammocks tend to be smaller and lighter, not to mention faster and easier to set up. A hammock doesn’t require the camper to find a flat piece of ground that is perfectly cleared of rocks, branches, or other items either. All you need are a couple of trees and the right gear to hold your hammock securely in place, lending it a versatility that a tent doesn’t always have. And since you aren’t sleeping on the hard ground, many people find them to be much more comfortable too.

ultimate hammock camping guide hennessy

What about bugs, wind, and rain?

One of the reasons campers love their tents so much is that they do an excellent job of keeping insects at bay while also protecting us from the wind and rain. The addition of mosquito netting and a rainfly gives the modern camping hammock the same capabilities however, without adding much in the way of weight and bulk. Once the hammock is secured in place, the mosquito netting and rainfly are hung above it a bit higher in the tree, providing shelter that is a lot like having a full tent suspended in the air. In fact, some camping hammocks are full systems that include these features and more, but a simple insect net and tarp will suffice.

Nemo Cloudview Hammock best outdoor gear

How do I stay warm?

A sleeping bag remains one of the best ways to stay warm while camping, whether you’re sleeping in a tent or hammock. The big difference is that with nothing but open air beneath you, things can get a bit chillier while hanging amongst the trees. As usual, if you’re using a sleeping bag you’ll want one that is rated for use in the temperatures that you’ll be experiencing while camping, with a lighter bag preferred in warmer weather and a heavier bag for use when the mercury starts to drop.

When spending the night in a tent, a sleeping pad serves as a buffer between you and the cold ground, providing a bit of extra warmth as a result. Sleeping pads aren’t quite as common amongst hammock campers, although Klymit’s Hammock V and Insulated Hammock V are both designed specifically with hammock campers in mind. These pads have built-in “wings” along the sides that help to keep the user warm while also blocking the wind, ensuring a better nights sleep when things get breezy.

Alternatively, many hammock campers choose to leave the traditional sleeping bag behind and carry top and under quilts instead. These lightweight blankets are made from the same materials as a sleeping bag, but are designed to be more versatile and less restrictive. An under quilt is secured to the bottom of the hammock, providing both warmth and comfort to the camper. Meanwhile a top quilt works in conjunction with the under quilt to create a warm and cosy sleep system that keeps cold air out while allowing the user to move about more freely.  These quilts have the added advantage of being highly compressible, taking up less room in a backpack than a sleeping bag without compromising performance.

glamping sea to summit ultralight hammock

What should I look for in a camping hammock?

Just like the rest of our outdoor gear, modern camping hammocks are lightweight, extremely durable, and surprisingly technical. They tend to be made from extremely strong nylon fabrics and are built to work in conjunction with aluminum carabiners and polyfilament webbing straps, which have been engineered to leave no trace on the trees. The hammocks come in a variety of lengths and widths, they’re made to compress down to a surprisingly small size, and some even support two people.

Unlike the hammock you have in your backyard, which is mainly meant for lounging, a camping hammock is designed for sleeping. They are built to cradle your body, allowing you to sleep comfortably. Most are plenty long, although if you’re especially tall, you may have to look for a model that offers some extra space. Generally speaking, you want a hammock that is a minimum of two feet longer than your height in order to get a proper fit.

Be sure to check the maximum supported weight on a hammock as well. Most models are strong enough to hold anywhere from 300 to 400 pounds, but if you dip into the ultralight category that number can come down significantly. Plus, you have to remember that isn’t just your bodyweight that you need to factor in, as you’re likely to have a sleeping bag (or quilts), smartphone, headlamp, and other items in the hammock with you too. Those things may not seem all that heavy, but extra ounces can add up quick and its always better to have plenty of cushion just in case.

rei quarter dome air hammock stock featured

So What Should I Buy?

In addition to purchasing a hammock, you’ll also need a suspension system (aka straps) to attach it to a tree, plus carabiners to hold everything in place. At some point, you’ll probably also want add a rain fly and insect netting, particularly if you’re going to be doing any serious backcountry camping. These days there are plenty of options to choose from for each of those items, but we have some suggestions for which ones to consider. Below, you’ll find our picks for the best options for hammock campers.

One Person Hammock – Kammock Roo Single ($69)

ultimate hammock camping guide kammock roo single

The Kammock Roo Single is pretty much the perfect one-person hammock for beginners. It weighs just 10 ounces, supports up to 400 pounds of weight, and packs down to an incredibly small size for stashing in your backpack. The fact that it costs just $69 doesn’t hurt either, making it a good investment for those just dipping their toe in the hammock camping waters.

Buy one now from:

REI Kammock

Two Person Hammock – ENO DoubleNest ($70)

Eno DoubleNest Hammock

If you’re looking to share your hammock with someone else, you’ll definitely want one specifically built for two. The ENO DoubleNest is the model of choice for many thanks to its spacious interior, ability to support up to 400 pounds, and all-around comfort. At just 1.2 pounds, it isn’t especially heavy either, making it easy to carry with you on just about any outdoor adventure.

Buy one now from:

REI Campsaver

Hammock Straps – Hummingbird Ultralight Tree Straps ($30)

ultimate hammock camping guide hummingbird straps

When purchasing straps for use with your hammock you’ll want to look for ones that are strong enough to support your weight but won’t cause any damage to the trees that you’re wrapping them around. They get bonus points if they happen to be lightweight too. That describes the Hummingbird Ultralight Tree Straps to a tee. At just 1.55 ounces they are incredibly light, yet can still support up to 400 pounds of weight. On top of that, when packed away, the two straps are roughly the size of a candy bar, which means they don’t take up a lot of space in your bag either.

Buy them now from:

Amazon Hummingbird

Carabiners – Rallt 10 KN ($10)

ultimate hammock camping guide rallt carabiners

Most hammocks will ship with carabiners designed specifically to be used with that particular model, but if you find you have to replace one of your original models, Rallt has you covered. These aluminum carabiners feature wire gates that are very easy to use and were made specifically with hammock campers in mind. They feature a 10 kilonewton rating, which is enough to safely hold about 2,248 pounds. That’s not bad for a tool that is just 3.15 inches in length and only weights .7 ounces itself.

Buy a set of two from:

Amazon

Rainfly – ENO ProFly ($80)

ultimate hammock camping guide eno profly

Many hammock campers go the DYI route and simply use a basic plastic tarp as their rainfly. But if you’re looking for something that was made specifically for use with a hammock, then its tough to top the ENO ProFly. At 22 ounces it isn’t especially heavy and its six anchor points help to keep it securely in place, even during a heavy downpour. The ProFly’s durable nylon ripstop fabrics allow it to shrug off general wear and tear, ensuring that it will be a useful piece of gear for many years to come.

Buy them now from:

Amazon ENO

Mosquito Netting – Chill Gorilla Bug Net ($37)

ultimate hammock camping guide chill gorilla insect netting

If you’re going to sleep in a hammock you’re also going to need an adequate defense against biting insects. That’s why most hammock campers carry mosquito netting of some kind with them on their backcountry excursions. One of the best options is the Chill Gorilla Bug Net, which is designed to work with any hammock and offers protection in the form of a very fine, lightweight netting that keeps the insects out and a steady breeze flowing in.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Under Quilt – ENO Vulcan Underquilt ($175)

ultimate hammock camping guide eno vulcan underquilt

As mentioned, an under quilt is one of the best ways to stay warm in a hammock without the constraints that come with sleeping bag. The ENO Vulcan Underquilt offers a lot of a bang for the buck by using PrimaLoft insulation, water-resistant fabrics, and a design that makes it compatible with pretty much every hammock on the market. The Vulcan is so warm in fact it can be used for four-season outings, making it a good choice in the winter too.

Buy one now from:

REI Amazon

Top Quilt – Hammock Gear Burrow 20 Quilt ($259)

ultimate hammock camping guide gear burrow topquilt

A good under quilt is a great place to start, but you’ll also want the right top quilt too. The Burrow 20 from Hammock Gear is one of the best available at the moment for hammock campers because it is lightweight, highly compressible, and uses goose down insulation to keep you warm in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also easy to get in and out of and does away with the traditional mummy-bag hood to help reduce feelings of claustrophobia.

Buy one from: 

Hammock Gear

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