As hikers grow in their knowledge and ability they will often transition to overnight trips and the default setting for nearly all of us is tent camping. Tents are the familiar and easy option, and for many of us they hark back to family trips or play as children; it’s just something that we understand and connect with. While tents are the most common camping option for hikers, another alternative that’s slowly gaining acceptance is hammock camping.
Hammocks provide a degree of versatility over and above tents and while they won’t suit all circumstances, they may be a viable option for your outdoor adventures. In this article we look at what’s involved in hammock camping including the pros and cons, the gear basics and basic hammock practice to help you decide if this is an option for you.
While most people will understand what a hammock is, when you ask someone to describe one many will look to the backyard or beach hammocks that we lounge around in rather than the more modern technical hammocks used for camping.
Traditionally hammocks require trees to ‘hang’ them and as hikers this is our best bet. Having said that it’s possible to get creative when using hammocks and use vehicles, built structures or even rocks. At a pinch its even possible if you have the right equipment to turn a hammock into a ground tent although that wouldn’t be my first choice.
Today’s modern camping hammocks have a huge array of different components and accessories to suit just about anyone’s needs. It’s possible to purchase hammock kits, to select individual pieces to build your own set or even to make your own if you’re that way inclined. It’s becoming progressively more popular and you can now find hammock equipment easily online and even in some of the larger outdoor stores.
While hammock camping is nowhere near as popular in Australia as it is in the USA – I have never seen a hammock set up on-trail before in Australia, it is gaining popularity.
Beach or backyard hammock
Hammock camping in a purpose built hiking/camping hammock
Like any form of camping there are advantages and disadvantages to hanging in a tree. The advantages are:
The disadvantages are:
As previously mentioned there is a wide array of hammocks and hammock equipment available on the market both here in Australia and in particular in the USA. When you first start out using a hammock try to use existing equipment such as sleeping mats rather than purchasing an under quilt. Once you know that this is an activity you like and are going to do regularly, then it’s time to spend up on getting the gear that suits you. The following is the minimum you need for three-season hammock camping:
Not essential but worth considering is:
Sea to Summit Hammock Pro Double Hammock
This hammock from Australian company Sea to Summit has plenty of space for larger hikers and will also cope with heavier hikers as well. This hammock is designed to be used as part of a kit with Sea to Summit hammock accessories. Make sure whatever hammock you use will cope with your weight
Sea to Summit Hammock Bug Net
Most of the areas I hike and camp in are prone to mosquitos and other bugs during the warmer months of the year. Consider bug netting as essential!
Sea to Summit Hammock Tarp
Unless you are camping in extremely dry conditions that don’t have any condensation or potential for rain, you need to look at a rain trap of some sort. The above tarp from Sea to Summit is designed for hammocks but again if you already have a tarp at home look at using that
Sea to Summit Cinder Cd1 Quilt. While not a dedicated hammock under quilt, this quilt can be easily adapted to perform this function and does it well.
When you sleep on the ground you need to isolate yourself from the ground which will draw the heat from your body and that’s one of the reasons we use sleeping mats. When you sleep in a hammock, you have air movement over your entire body area. When I first tested out hammocks I set it up with an under quilt first and was very toasty (overly actually) in an air temperature of 17° Celsius. When I removed the under quilt, the temperature dropped noticeably. Using just a sleeping bag in the hammock apart from being a challenge is very ineffective because you get almost no warmth from the part of the sleeping bag that you’re lying on
Sea to Summit Ultra Light Insulated Women’s Sleeping Mat
An alternative to an under quilt is a sleeping matt. If you already own one then use this until you decide you want to purchase an under quilt. The advantage of a sleeping mat is that if you need to sleep on the ground you will greatly appreciate having a sleeping mat. When using a sleeping mat in a hammock, you don’t need to inflate it as much as you would when sleeping on the ground
If you want a challenge, try getting into and out of a fully closed sleeping bag while in a hammock. You don’t need a dedicated quilt like the the two examples above but can use a sleeping bag that opens all the way out if that’s what you have
Equipment is just one half of the equation when it comes to hammock camping. The other half is the practice of hammock camping and they are both equally important. The following are the key things to consider when setting up a hammock:
Hammocks provide a degree of versatility that tents don’t. I usually like to stop walking sometime between 3:00-4:30pm in the afternoon depending on the time of the year but I’ve had several occasions where I’ve had to keep walking well past that time because I was unable to find a suitable patch of ground to pitch a tent. On a number of occasions had I been using a hammock, there would have been plenty of opportunity to stop at my chosen time. This is perhaps the biggest advantage of hammock camping – you can camp on slopes and environments where tents just wouldn’t work.
As mentioned previously I have yet to see a hammock in use anywhere in Australia while I’v been out on trail whereas I’ve seen hundreds of tents in use. Given the steadily increasing availability of a range of hammock equipment available both in store and online, usage is definitely on the rise. From a personal perspective I am never likely to go solely over to hammocks and give tents a miss. But I do see the point of them and as someone who solo hikes, I can definitely see myself adding a hammock kit to my hiking kit.