Hammock Camping: A Beginner’s Guide
Suspended high between two trees, swaying with the wind, breathing in the fresh air: hammock camping is freedom at its finest.
Like many others, I’ve always felt the most at home in the great outdoors. If I am not spending my weekend camping, you can find me hiking with my hammock. There is nothing better than swinging from your cozy cocoon after finding a secluded scenic viewpoint on a beautiful trail. If you’ve always wanted to give hammock camping a try but aren’t sure where to start, you’re in the right place. Here’s everything you need to know!
I got into backcountry camping a few years back, but I wanted to find something a little more versatile and adventurous than tent camping but still cost-effective. The answer? Hammocks! They’re lightweight (even lighter than tents!) and you can set up camp in almost any terrain, given there are at least two trees to tie up to. You don’t need to worry about rocks, roots, flat ground, or runoff. It seemed almost too good to be true.
Questions I’ll Answer in this Post:
- What is backcountry camping?
- What are the pros of hammock camping?
- What are the cons of hammock camping?
- What makes a good hammock campsite?
- How do I find the perfect trees?
- What are the best hammocks for hammock camping?
- What straps should I get for hammock camping?
- What do I pack?
Before we get into the juicy details of hammock camping it’s important to know the foundation of what backcountry camping entails.
What is Backcountry Camping?
Also known as boon-docking, crown land, or off-grid camping, if you’re backcountry camping, you’ve likely hiked in or paddled to an unmaintained campsite on public land. This type of camping has no facilities (like water spigots, bathrooms, showers, trash cans, etc.), so you’ll have to pack in and pack out everything you might need. Since you do not have access to a car and are unable to drive to your site, pack weight matters. You’ll need to carefully curate a packing list that has everything you need and nothing more.
Pros of Hammock Camping:
- Hammocks are super lightweight and compact compared to tents! Who doesn’t want a lighter load and more pack space?
- They’re super versatile. Roots, rocks, and water? No problem. Being suspended between two trees means you no longer have to find dry, flat ground to camp on. You could sleep over a river if you really wanted to! As long as you have two trees to swing between you can literally set up anywhere.
- They’re cool. If you’re camping in hotter places, you’ll love the thin layer of fabric between you and the fresh air.
Cons of Hammock Camping:
- Some may find it uncomfortable sleeping suspended in the air. If you’re a big tosser and turner and switch positions often throughout the night, hammock camping might feel a little confining and restrictive.
- You need trees. If you frequent the desert or high-altitude areas where strong and sturdy trees are less common, it could prove difficult to find a spot to set up for the night.
- It can be cold. Hammocks aren’t as insulating as tents and require warmer gear to have a warm night’s sleep.
Finding Your Hammock Campsite: How to Pick the Perfect Trees
There are plenty of awesome apps to find campsites! Check out this article for more.
- Check with land management to ensure hammock camping is allowed.
- Find strong and healthy (meaning no dead branches) trees that will support your weight and will hold up in any storm. If you push on the tree and it sways even slightly, move on, it’s not worth the risk.The last thing you want is to be caught in a bad storm swinging between two unstable trees.
- Find two trees that are about 12’-15’ apart, or that offer roughly 2’-4’ of space between the trees and the hammock. The more space the better. A perfectly hung hammock hangs about 18” off the ground with the straps at a 30-degree angle to the ground.
- Look UP! Are there dead branches above you? Is the tree out of the wind? These are all important questions to take into consideration. Getting jolted awake by a rogue tree branch is SO not fun.
- Look for sensitive plant life and signs of wildlife and try to set up in areas with little-to-no vegetation that could get trampled. Also make sure there are no hazards like insect nests or poisonous plants.
- It’s recommended to set up your hammock at least 200’ from any water source. This protects fragile ecosystems and will protect you from the wind!
- Never set up your hammock over a path: human or animal.
Curating Your Hammock System
If you have a hammock, net, and tarp, you’re golden. There are two types of hammocks I’d recommend for hammock camping–I’ll go into them more below!
The Best Hammocks for Camping
I purchased a three-piece hammock set from Nakie and I’m in LOVE. Not only does Nakie offer a lifetime warranty (which means we’ll never need to purchase a new hammock again) but they’re also the world’s first hammock to be made using 100% recycled materials–each hammock is made out of 37 plastic bottles and can impressively hold up to 600 pounds! Did I mention they also plant four trees for every item purchased? Win, win, win.
Three-piece hammocks are totally customizable–if the stars are out, remove the tarp for some quality stargazing. Maybe the bugs aren’t bad so you feel like sleeping without your net. Remove it and you’re good to go!
All-in-one hammocks have their netting and tarps attached. I’m big on multi-use and like having the option to use my hammock as a “regular” hammock on day trips, or taking off the tarp to see the stars, so these all-in-one’s aren’t really for me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great! It’s totally up to you, your adventure style, and your preferences.
Always use tree-saver straps to minimize tree damage. Leave No Trace recommends using straps that are between 0.75″-1.5″ wide. There are different lengths, strengths, and strap weights, so it’s important to choose the one that’s right for your and your adventure style.
- Daisy chain suspension systems are the most user-friendly. They feature a series of 15 or more sewn loops per strap, which makes adjusting them super easy.
- Whoopie slings are great for backpackers because of their lightweight design. They’re about half the weight of a typical daisy chain suspension system.
- Buckle suspension systems: If daisy chain and whoopie slings had a baby, this would be it. Buckle suspensions use a buckle to make adjustments and lock in your hang angle. They’re a little heavier than whoopie slings but easier to use.
- Warbonnet Outdoors Becket Straps have one loop at each end. They couldn’t be easier–all you have to do is wrap the rope round the tree and slip the end through the loop.
If you purchase non-adjustable straps I found it helpful to bring a couple extra carabiners which gives me a little extra length if needed. All you need to do is attach a carabiner on the end of your strap and connect it to the hammock carabiner.
Never wrap straps around branches–the trunk of the tree.
Pro Tip: Double check to make sure your straps are not twisted around the trunk. Straps work based on tension and if it is twisted you may slide down when you try to get into your hammock.
Insulation is Everything
Depending on the temperature and type of environment you’re in, your sleeping bag may not be enough to keep you warm. Even if you are camping on a hot summer day, temperatures can drop as soon as the sun dips behind the horizon.
In a tent, you have the ground to insulate your back side, but in a hammock? All you’ve got is a skinny piece of fabric between you and the cold air.
Squeeze an insulated sleeping pad between you and your hammock for an extra layer of protection against the wind and other elements.
What to Pack for a Hammock Camping Trip
In addition to the 10 Essential for Every Adventure, here are a few additional items I always bring on a hammock camping trip.
- Hammock + straps
- Bug net
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Stove + propane: The MSR Pocket Rocket is an awesome lightweight option for backcountry camping.
- Pots, pans, and dishes
- Water filtration system: There are plenty of options here like purifying tablets, life straws, gravity filters, or you could boil your own water. Find the best option for your adventure style!
- Waterproof matches
- Bear spray
- First aid kit: Pick up a pre-made one from an outfitters store or make your own!
- Biodegradable dish soap: Always wash your dishes at least 200’ away from any water source.
- Bear bag or canister: Check the park website to see what bear proof containers are approved in the areas you’ll be visiting. When stashing your bear proof canister, find a safe spot at least 30’ away from your campsite. Remember, bears can climb trees so your bear bag will need to be hung on a high branch at least 15ft above the ground and 10ft away from the tree trunk.
- Clothes: Bring layers to be prepared for anything!
- Food: I highly recommend bringing dehydrated meals.
Remember, not all types of hammocks are created equally so it is important to do your research and find a hammock that is designed for sleeping. Once you’ve found your hammock, you’ll get to experience one of the most comfortable sleeps of your life. It may even give your bed a run for your money.
Author: Outdoorsy Gals contributor Emily Lauter
Emily is an avid traveler with a passion for the great outdoors. When she’s not traveling the world, she’s hiking and camping in the Canadian wilderness. Emily has a deep passion for the environment and enjoys teaching others about the local flora and fauna. She’s most at home in nature, which led her to spending countless hours perched between the trees in my hammock reading, camping, and taking some of the best naps of her life.