Have you ever gone hammock camping? How does it differ from other camping experiences?
Yes, I have. I've tent-camped in drive-up sites, hike-in sites, and on backpacking trips. I've done those three with hammocks. I think I've probably also done all three with both options on hand, and/or mixing both in one trip. Some of these have been with kids, some solo.
As to the second question, I have a short answer and a long answer.
The short answer: More shivering, less back pain.
The long answer, in several parts:
I. Basic compare/contrast
Hammocks are lighter and usually more comfortable. The tend to afford a bit less privacy, although that's not necessarily the case. It is WAY easier to stay dry in a hammock. So much easier. Amazingly easier. Mind-blowingly easier. It's easier to keep bugs out of a tent, though. I like to pull a soft, light headband over my ears to keep the bugs out.
Some areas are just not good for hammocks. These areas occur in developed campgrounds pretty routinely. If a campsite has only young trees, or is otherwise unsuitable, then you usually just cannot hammock there. Developed campsites always have a place for a tent.
Dispersed or trail-side camping in a wooded area? Hammock-suitable trees are usually much easier to find than a patch of flattish ground. However, I don't really have much experience backpacking, just a couple nights here and there, and am not the best person to address the tent/hammock/neither question specifically in a backpacking context.
Generally, especially when I have the kids with me, my preference is to have both on hand.
II. My setup
My basic setup, which holds stuff for me, two kids, and the occasional tag-along friend, is contained in two large REI duffel bags, and includes sleeping gear, a tarp, my tent with fly & groundsheet, several hammocks (I think the current count is five), and a whole sackful of hammock straps and random extra straps in varying lengths, along with various extra carabiners.
Often, we'll set up the tent and one hammock, use the hammock for lounging and playing by day, and take turns sleeping in the hammock. I don't usually car-camp with kids and not set up the tent. I only have one tarp, and won't clutter up a site with a bunch of tarps, so we have one rain-proof hammock and assorted unprotected hammocks.
III. Staying warm
Staying warm in a hammock can be a challenge. A foam mat, either insulated inflatable or closed-cell is essential. When available, I like to layer in a wool blanket on chilly nights, wrapped around my sleeping bag, because elbows or toes hanging over the edge of the mat will be *cold.*
I don't usually have a wool blanket handy, but I do sleep in wool socks and a long sleeve merino T under a Pendleton wool button-up shirt. If it's cold, I'll sleep in a military surplus wool shirt-jacket I got years ago for a couple bucks. It's warm. Also a merino beanie. It can still get chilly. A hammock is just not as warm as a tent. One of these days I'll get some wool long johns. I used to use a pair of wool baselayer leggings, but that was about fifty pounds and one gender ago.
Now, this may all vary for you. I'm a very restless sleeper and move around a lot. This definitely contributes to my mat shifting around, letting cold air in. I also insist on using a down sleeping bag, because I love the way it feels, but it's so compressible that really a synthetic bag is probably better for hammocking. I'm just stubborn and love the airy warmth of down. And my chilly night have mostly been at altitude. When we're sleeping on the PCT in the shadow of Mount Hood's glaciers, well, that pre-dawn wind is just gonna be cold. If you want to be fancy and like spending money you can get a quilt for under the hammock that will be lovely and toasty. I don't have that kind of money for specialized gear, so I don't have those yet. (If anyone from Eno reads this, please feel free to sponsor my next adventure.)
This next part is pretty individual to me, but may inform others' situations.
I have some spine issues: sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, which cause low back pain and radiating pain/occasional tingling in my left leg; and moderate cervical spine arthritis with a couple mildly herniated discs in my neck. Hammock sleeping makes both of these feel *so* much better-but I always use a pillow. Always. You probably don't need to, but I absolutely cannot get by without some neck support. In a tent I can. Not in a hammock. Because I cannot really side-sleep in the hammock, or use an arm for support, I need a pillow to support the trouble spots in my neck. If I don't have a pillow with me, because I'm traveling light or whatever, I use a folded jacket-and sometimes wake up with a headache.
Very occasionally, my bad leg will be worse than usual in the morning after hammock sleeping. Not sure why. Probably because it's just so comfortable while also being fairly constraining to movement that I don't move as much as usual, which probably leads to nerves getting too compressed.
I don't know if other people have these issues. I would assume some do. I assume there's a ton of individual variation in the area. I also think a hammock is not a great idea for folks with balance issues or physically frail people, unless they have good assistance readily available. A cot or good mat is probably safer for those folks, or maybe even some adaptive solution like a low-to-the-ground hammock that provides some of the extra support of a hammock without as much movement or risk of falling.
Getting in and out can be tricky, especially when it's cold, if you've got multiple layers of bedding. Sometimes kids fall out. Probably sometimes adults fall out. I have fallen out a couple times while trying to get in my bag without messing up how everything was layered, but I'm more or less prepared for it at that point and can catch myself, more or less.
Once, a friend's kid fell out at three am or so, and couldn't get back in. The thud woke me up, and I called out to the kid, but she was embarrassed, and I shrugged it off as a branch or random woods sound. She started sobbing quietly a minute or two later, and I heard her, so I got up and comforted her, fixed her gear back in place, and tucked her back in. It was chilly, and not the kind of thing one generally has to deal with in tent-camping. It is pretty important to ensure there aren't big rocks or pointy branches or another potentially seriously-injurious things below the hammock, as least for kids. For me, I'm more comfortable assuming the risk.
V. Miscellaneous use considerations
I really like hanging an extra carabiner off the end of my hammock for hanging up my shoes and binder (the thing I wear instead of a bra, because I'm transgender). They get wonderfully aired out and are close at hand and dry.
Keep a headlamp handy. Realize that in campgrounds, some people are newbies and/or don't really have a good grasp of campground etiquette, and those folks are much more likely to walk up to you in your hammock than they are to intrude upon your tent. I was once awakened early in the morning by a creepy person walking right up to my hammock and talking at me. That was not comfortable. I shined my headlamp at him rather aggressively, which may have contributed to him backing the heck off.
VI. The limits of your site
You cannot hang a hammock on a Joshua Tree. Or a dead tree. In Camp 4, in Yosemite, you have to pad your hammock straps to prevent damage to the trees. I'm pretty sure that if you're using a large, mature tree, exercise due care and proper straps (as opposed to paracord or similar, which you should never use, because it will injure trees), the trees will be fine, but I'm not going to argue with the Park Service in Yosemite Valley. The gods punish that kind of hubris pretty harshly, I expect.
You can definitely hang one end of a hammock off those big, heavy, concrete NPS picnic tables. You can hang the other end off a sturdy piece of car. Car-seat tethers are good-but you have to position the car carefully to ensure you can close the door/trunk and then put a lot of weight on the strap without damaging the car. Your butt will probably drag a bit, mine did. It will still be fine.
A couple kids died a while back when they anchored one end of a hammock to a brick column. Don't do that, ever. Don't use dead trees or dying trees. Fire damaged trees might not be a good idea either. Don't use young or thin trees. Be prepared to sleep in the ground if there aren't appropriate trees available.
VII. Anecdotes, because this is still too short of an answer, clearly
Last summer, I took my daughter on her first backpacking trip. She hesitated to agree to backpack with me for a long time, because she is not a minimalist and doesn't love long hikes, but she was ready, and finally asked.
Because we live in Portland where midsummer rain is not common and un-forecasted midsummer rain is pretty rare, and because I didn't fancy carrying gear for two plus a tent, we went on a two-night trip and brought ultralight backpacking hammocks instead of the tent. It was a beautiful trip, on the PCT on Mount Hood. A little chilly. Very light pack, despite bringing along some heavier snacks, extra water, and assorted other things to make it kid-friendly. I did bring a tarp so that if it rained, she could be comfortable and I could avoid hypothermia by sleeping on the ground under the tarp & hammock. Of course, it didn't rain.
Last spring, I drove down to Northern California to run the Avenue of the Giants half-marathon and visit with a friend who was running the marathon. Did I mention I have neck and back issues? Of course, I left late and drove eight hours, got the area at around 3 am and slept in the back of my station wagon until waking up at 6 to get to race parking and get ready to run. Then I ran 13.1 miles. I was TIRED. And I HURT. I drove up to a really nice campground near Gasquet, CA, right near the Oregon border, and hung my hammock. It was April, I think, but it was also that strangely warm night-coolness that seems to happen in the drier parts of northern California. That was quite possibly the best nights' sleep I ever had.
Setting up for hammock camping when a tarp isn't needed can take under five minutes, from pulling up to the spot to climbing into the sleeping bag, and that was really about all the energy I had left when I pulled into that campsite.
When I worked in Houston for five months last winter, I got tired of the expense of hotels and the lack of privacy of AirBnB rooms, and I started camping at the Lake Houston Wilderness Park, half an hour-ish north of the city. I hammocked a lot and I tented a lot. My first several stays were in December and January, and it was wet and in the low forties by morning. I started out in the tent. But as January turned to February, it warmed up and the campground got busier, my quick-drying spot on a bit of high ground was steadily booked, and I often couldn't book the same site for the full five nights each week they were open. One night I set up the tent because torrential rains were forecast. My tent was no match for the rain. I was fine, because the rainfly is good and I had a couple layered sleeping mats under my bag, but there was a LOT of water on the floor. I switched to the hammock.
There are few things quite like heaven on earth than coming "home" to a dark campsite after a long days' work, climbing into a hammock, and feeling the cloud-like lightness and dream-like warmth of a down sleeping bag while swaying in the storm-breeze and listening to hard, warm, drenching spring rain bouncing off one's tarp.
Perfectly dry, perfectly warm, in the midst of a semi-tropical spring downpour. The spot I was in was so much less than optimal; there was basically a creek running under my hammock. It was beautiful.
A couple times they had no car sites available, so I took a "backcountry" site. This wasn't so much actual backcountry as two miles down a pretty decent trail, across a couple of pipelines, and into a really quiet, really human-free (midweek, anyway) series of campsites. I had no backpack with me other than my computer bag and a small daypack, so again, I took the hammock.
At one point, I found myself with assorted valuables, including a laptop, and rudimentary cooking gear and food, water, sleeping gear, and a hammock and straps, in a duffel bag I was wearing like a backpack, after finishing my 14-hour workday as a contract attorney, while hiking two and a half miles through dense East Texas woods and across bayous while having the world's strange phone conference with my kid's teacher back in Portland. My life has occasionally been unusual.
But I slept on the hammock that night, and got up early the next morning in a light rain, adjusted the carabiners a bit higher up on the hammock straps so it was tucked waaay high up tight into the tarp, tucked the sleeping gear in close to the center, and trekked out to my Jeep by 6, so I could get to the office before traffic hit. When I got "home" that night, after a long day in the office of watching rain pelt down, I found my gear perfectly dry and warm, and had a great night.
If you ever plan to live two miles down a trail in a subtropical woods while commuting thirty miles into a metropolis to work 85–95 hours a week at a temp job because you've been laid off for being transgender and really want to get a bunch of money in the bank so you can go home to your children, I STRONGLY recommend a hammock and tarp. And at least two sets of hammock straps, one regular, one extra long. Tree size is hard to predict.
On another temp gig, to Los Angeles, I had some basic camping gear with me because Houston had taught me to do that and because I'm frankly obsessed with camping. The gig wrapped up early and I took a two-night roadtrip to Joshua Tree, King's Canyon, Sequoia, and Pismo Beach.
Hotel rooms in DTLA are not cheap, and my gig didn't pay all that well, so I was mostly planning to stay in a cheap hostel-style AirBnB in Skidrow, and schlepping most of my stuff with me to the office, to avoid theft. I also had a LOT of clothes with me, because civilized office job when smelling like camp isn't ok and not a lot of laundry options and a two week gig. My point being, there wasn't a lot of room in my one small suitcase for anything but a dozen polo shirts, a couple t-shirts, a spare pair of pants and some running gear. Have I mentioned I own an ultralight backpacking hammock?
Turns out I do. So in some cases, the difference between tent camping and hammock camping is a hammock can allow one to go camping when it would otherwise not be feasible. I had my sleeping bag too, and a tarp, and a water bottle stuffed full of hammock straps, and a z-fold lite mat. I slept in Joshua Tree and King's Canyon, and they were wonderful. So wonderful.
VIII. Gear options
To wrap up, I've mentioned various hammock/strap/tarp options in passing. Here's some more on those.
I like my Eno Sub-7. It's the ultralight hammock I keep referring to. It's discontinued, and it got mixed reviews. I find it supremely comfortable. More capacious options like the Eno Doublenest, are more luxurious, but you're supposed to sleep in them on a diagonal, and I'm terrible at getting myself into that position. I tend to feel like I'm drowning at the bottom of those big hammocks. My kids love them. Personal taste, I guess, that or some people actually know how to get into that weird diagonal position I have yet to master.
Straps are important. I live in the PNW, where a lot of the trees are just incomprehensibly huge. So I carry ALL THE STRAPS. Extra-long straps, regular straps, cheapie straps that came with a cheap hammock, some slackline straps I got from the climbing section at REI, with a couple loops tied in them for connecting up to the pre-sewn hammock straps.
Carabiners are really important. Make sure they are closed before climbing in. I once didn't, or maybe it was a kid, I don't know. But a carabiner wasn't closed, it had gotten caught on the strap. Deformed the carabiner all to heck. Didn't dump anyone on the ground, but only because I caught it in time. Hammocks generally come with carabiners, and they're fine. Just make sure they close. When you lose some or want extras for hanging gear, get real, climbing-quality carabiners, not keychain-type carabiners.
IX. Ok, I think I'm done now. Sorry, I just really like hammocks and camping, and didn't have much else I needed to get done tonight.
Have you ever gone hammock camping? How does it differ from other camping experiences?
Actually, no I haven't gone hammock camping.
My camping experiences are as follows:
- Hiked the Tongariro Alpine crossing with my husband - we bivouacked on the top of the mountain. Once the clouds cleared the view was stunning:
- Camped with friends at Kaiteriteri, South Island http://www.experiencekaiteriteri...
- Camped with children at Hot Water beach, Coromandel Peninsula - boiling water runs underneath the beach. You dig a hole and sit in hot waters alternating with a dip in the sea
To name a few...
Thanks for the A2A
Hammock camping offers several advantages beyond being very light in total gear load. The first is that if you find a hammock comfortable you will sleep very well in a camping hammock because you are not subjected to any ground surface irregularities. The second is that your setup is very quick and simple, but of course you will need two trees at an appropriate distance from each other. The major down side is the lack of a dry flat surface to cook on if it is raining since there is no vestibule. Secondly gear stowage is awkward, and nearly impossible to secure it dry in a wind/rain storm unless you haul it inside.
Hammock camping is super fun. 10/10 would recommend.
One thing to know however-you get pretty hot. I would recommend unzipping your sleeping bag for the first part of the night, at least halfway down.
Otherwise you will be real sweaty when you wake up!
Also, when tying the hammock up, make sure to cushion the ropes on the trees, so you don't damage the bark. I use a rag or old shirt between the rope and tree usually.
Thanks for reading!
I often carry a hammock when camping and always have one in my car. To me its so common I can't really say that its any different than tent camping except I'm in a hammock between some trees instead of in a tent when I go to sleep. otherwise nothing is any different. Even when I am tent camping I usually hang a hammock. Heading to the park for a picnic, I pull out the hammock or several. Kids love to play on them.
I have definitely tried sleeping and camping in a hammock. Unfortunately, my back and posture don't work well with the curved sleeping surface. For me, it was like sleeping inside of a banana peel. I much prefer a firm, flat surface to sleep on, whether that's on an air mattress on the ground or in my bed at home.
The other problem I've had with hammocks is at the majority of State Parks and National Parks I camp at, they prohibit attaching anything to trees, which includes hammocks. That rules them out.
When the weather allows it, it's fantastic. Less weight to carry and way more comfortable in my opinion. Of course, unless you have a screen, bugs could be an issue so you do need to be more diligent with bug spray. Also, if you're relying on trees for your set up, that can limit your options for where you set up camp. Other than that, there's not much difference to sleeping in a tent, from my experience.