Last Summer, on an extended camping road trip, I met up halfway with my daughter and her friend. While my hammock has seen plenty of use, these young women have gone all the way and usually sleep in theirs all night when they go camping or backpacking. Here’s what I learned about the fine art of hammock sleeping, including avoiding CBS!
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Deep in the woods (OK, it was in a campground, but that’s not as dramatic), hikers returned from their journey to find dark cocoons hanging in the trees at the adjacent campsite.
Wariness battling with intrigue, the intrigue was on the winning side and they slowly and cautiously started to approach.
Oh, no, something was emerging from the cocoons! Relief — it was just a couple of young women.
“What is all that?” the campers asked. Apparently, they had never witnessed hammock camping in action before.
There are people — like my daughter and friend who were the cocoon-ees mentioned in the story here — who regularly sleep in their hammocks in the woods.
On an extended camping road trip last Summer, they were happy to oblige me with a quick “Hammock Camping 101,” though, unfortunately, I couldn’t get them to give me a video tutorial.
Asked what they liked about hammock camping, my daughter said that she would rather sleep in a hammock, sometimes, than a bed. Her friend seconded the vote for comfort. Really?
Another reason they cited was portability: hammocking gear was very “squishable” and easy to transport if you’re backpacking.
While that sounds right, my experience forces me to question this a bit. Our trip would start as a solo adventure, and my hammock campers would meet me halfway. So, in the beginning, I was handed off two large Ikea bags of stuff to bring along. Usually, I like Ikea bags for everything, from kayaking gear to household trips. But these particular ones threatened to become a blob monster taking over the back of my Outback, and which forced me to spend part of the first leg of my trip taming it. A large part of this blob seemed to be hammocking gear.
So, What Do You Need for Hammock Camping?
So what do you need for hammock camping? I’m talking here about the actual sleeping part of the arrangement, instead of a tent. The other camping gear stays the same. Keep your flashlight or headlamp in that hammock with you!
Let’s start with the obvious. To go hammock camping, you need a hammock. What kind? If you’re considering hammock camping, you likely already have a suitable hammock or have at least seen them at your local sporting good store.
Eagle Nest Outfitters — ENO — is, perhaps, the best-known manufacturer of hammocks and hammocking gear. I can personally attest that their equipment is quality. I particularly like my Doublenest hammock (view on Backcountry.) Even though my Doublenest has only been a nest for one, I appreciate the extra fabric that I can wrap around me if I need to get into a little cocoon.
Other brands that come to mind that make suitable camping hammocks, but that I haven’t tried personally. Bear Butt (love the name), Wise Owl Outfitters, and Kammok. I think my daughter’s underquilt may be of the Bear Butt variety.
To strap your hammock up, you need a pair of straps. Choose wide “leave no trace” straps designed to prevent or at least minimize any damage to trees. The straps have loops. You just bring the end around the tree trunk, though a loop. Then you attach one of the loops at the other end to the carabiner of your hammock.
Attach the strap to the tree at the right height so that your butt has clearance, but you can still get safely in and out. The straps, generally, should be at about a 30-degree angle from the ground. But my daughter advises that everyone’s preferences for hammock tension are a bit different, and counsels me: “You just need to find your hang.”
During my first stint at laying in an ENO hammock, I found that even on a pleasantly warm Summer evening, there was an underdraft.
What I experienced, my hammock campers tell me, is the dreaded CBS. Not the television network, just to be clear. I experienced Cold Butt Syndrome, which is prevented by the banana.
If found that this “banana” they mentioned is the underquilt; a somewhat banana-shaped quilt designed to go around and under your hammock, thus preventing CBS. ENO has two: the higher-priced Vulcan and the Ember; many other brands make them as well.
A Sleeping Bag
It goes without saying, but lest someone decides that I’m assuming the underquilt is enough, it’s not. You need your cozy, snug sleeping bag, too. As always, choose one that has a rating sufficient for the environment you want to camp in.
A Bug Net
Especially if you’re camping in the summer, you’ll want to keep out the bugs. An insect net designed for hammocks has lines that go between the trees. Then the net wraps around the hammock, and the hooks attach to the lines.
If you’re going to be hammocking where there’s any chance of rain, you’ll want to set up a tarp. Easy to set up tarps made especially for hammock camping are available. ENO’s Profly rain tarp is a good pick, but other ones work just fine as well.
Things to Consider When Planning a Hammock Camping Trip
Hammock camping might seem like something you can do spontaneously. However,I found that a successful trip warrants some careful planning. Here are some things to consider. These apply to times that you are planning on hammock camping in a campground rather than in the backcountry.
Will there be good trees for hammocking?
Scenario: you’ve planned your trip, you’re excited about sleeping in the trees. You arrive at your campground and…no trees. Or, little, spindly things that would not hold up your hammock. You haven’t brought your tent. Now what?
This scenario played out on our camping road trip, except for the second part. I had my rooftop tent on top of the car and had brought another small tent just in case.
Be careful when you make your camping reservations. Many online campground reservation sites will have photos of the available campsites, but these photos can be misleading. The picture of our campsite said (to us, not literally) “hammocking heaven,” only to find that what looked like good trees in the photo weren’t substantial enough. You may want to call the campground or ask other people who have been there and know the place.
Does the park allow hammocking?
Many campgrounds are banning hammocks, over concerns about damaging fragile trees. Companies like ENO sell wide “leave no trace” straps that are supposed to be tree-friendly. I found, on our journey, that plenty of places didn’t allow hammocking; both public and private campgrounds.
It’s something to take into careful consideration if you’re planning a hammock camping adventure. Particularly important if you won’t have another shelter available.
If you’ll be car camping and want to be prepared or won’t have access to trees, there’s an alternative. You could bring a hammock stand. I’m the proud owner of an ENO Nomad. It’s is terrific, both for the backyard and beach. However, I, unfortunately, left it at home on our road trip. Sometimes you need to make hard decisions about how much stuff you’ll take along. It would have been great to be able to relax in my hammock in the Redwoods. Alas, the ranger’s suggestion, “Maybe you can rig up your hammock between your car and the bear bin” was unfeasible.
However, using a hammock stand for hammock camping might come with some downsides. Some of the bug nets designed for regular hammock camping might be difficult to use here. ENO makes (for now) a shelter system explicitly designed for their Nomad hammock stand. But, I wonder if I wouldn’t just want to use a regular tent in that case.
Be courteous…and safe
The imperative to be polite goes for hammocking in general (for everything, actually), not just sleeping in a hammock. Be nice about where you put your hammock. Don’t hang it across someone else’s pathway. Don’t get mad because there’s an exuberant and noisy family next to you if you’ve chosen to take your hammock nap in a pubic park. Hanging it at the edge of a tall cliff with a beautiful view of the water might get you a lot of Instagram “likes,” but is that worth the risk?
And have you checked out the trees that you’ll be using for hammocking? Make sure they’re substantial enough to carry your weight, that there’s no disease or bark damage that you might magnify by strapping your hammock to them, and that you’re using the wide straps designed to be tree-friendly.
Any hammock camping problems?
Aside from the aforementioned CBS, my hammock campers haven’t had too many issues with hammock camping. One hilarious (in retrospect) night saw them fretting over peeing arrangements due to fear of urine-loving mountain goats sneaking up and bopping them in the butt. Fortunately, the feared mountain goats never appeared, but the possibility of them did cause some loss of sleep.
So, again, why should I hammock camp?
Watching my hammock campers set up their hammocks, and just now looking over all the gear, I had to ask myself the question, “why?” And the answer I came up with for myself is comfort.
To me, laying in a hammock is 100% more comfortable than lying on a cot. However, it would not be as easy of a contest if it were between setting up a hammock for sleeping or pulling out my rooftop tent.
I have a regular tent as well that I can set up (I believe) as fast as they can their hammock system.
But, still, there’s just that — something –– about hanging around in the trees.
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