Hammock camping has been done for decades but was fairly uncommon up until now.
The trend of hammock camping really took off first in the world of UL (ultralight) backpacking as the ultimate lightweight shelter option.
Now campers and backpackers of all types are ditching their tents for hammocks – and finding that they’ve never slept better.
Many hammock aficionados will be quick to tell newcomers that sleeping in a hammock is incredibly comfortable and the setup process really isn’t any more difficult than a tent.
But first-time hammock campers that don’t take the take to get familiar with their new equipment might end up frustrated and swear off hammock camping for good.
We want everyone interested in hammock camping to get the best experience possible for their first trip, so we’ve gathered 10 important tips for newcomers to put into practice.
By keeping these 10 tips in mind, you’ll be able to make your first hammock trip go smoothly and really understand first-hand why so many outdoor enthusiasts are switching to this unique style of shelter.
Tip 1: Choose a Hammock Designed for Camping
An absolute rule of thumb for hammock camping that will literally make or break your first camping trip is to invest in a high-quality hammock specifically designed for camping.
You might already have a hammock swinging in your backyard, but don’t be fooled into thinking it will perform comfortably – or safely – on the trail.
Hammocks designed for casual summer catnaps aren’t durable enough for hammock camping and are rarely ever comfortable for an full night’s sleep.
When we talk about investing in a high-quality hammock, we don’t mean you need to spend hundreds on the latest model.
Since you’re new to hammock camping, there’s no reason to spend big bucks on a tent until you’re absolutely sure you’ll be stick with it.
You can find quality camping hammocks for extremely reasonable prices right on Amazon.
Two options we really like are the Wise Owl Outfitters Double or Single Camping Hammock and the Winner Outfitters Double Camping Hammock.
Both of these options are priced under $30, with the Winners Outfitters model priced below $20.
In addition to a well-made hammock, you’ll also need to invest in a durable, waterproof tarp for hanging over it. Something like the Chill Gorilla 10’x10′ Rain Fly Tarp Kit is a great choice and retails for under $40.
All together it will cost well under $100 to set yourself up with a quality camping hammock, tarp, and other accessories.
This is incredibly inexpensive compared to the typical price of a new tent!
Tip 2: Invest in an Underquilt
Swaying in a hammock, suspended in the air, is a very peaceful feeling, but it also means that staying warm is a bit trickier.
Since you’ll be elevated in a hammock rather than laying in a sleeping bag on a pad in a tent, you won’t have the natural insulation of solid ground beneath you.
This means you’ll have to take some extra steps to keep warm compared to what you would do with a tent, especially in the winter.
Every seasoned hammock camper will recommend that after purchasing the hammock and shelter gear, newcomers also purchase an underquilt.
An underquilt is an insulted quilt that hangs beneath the hammock and provides a buffer against cold temperature underneath you.
These are specially designed to envelope the hammock and some even come up the sides for added insulation.
Underquilts come in different thicknesses and R-values, similar to tent quilts and down apparel.
They also come in different lengths, including half-length and full-length. Underquilts do cost a bit more since they are essentially large insulated blankets.
This OneTigris Underquilt would be a great first choice and retails for less than $65.
Chances are if you’re experimenting with hammock camping for the first time, you’re likely going during summer or otherwise warm weather.
If that’s the case, you may be able to do away with an underquilt until you’re ready to invest in one.
In a pinch, you can also use a sleeping pad between you and the hammock, though this does take up space and can be uncomfortable or slippery.
Tip 3: Always Pack a Bug Net for Warm-Weather Trips
As mentioned, you’re probably going to go hammock camping for the first time during warm weather. And with warm weather comes the bane of all outdoor enthusiasts – insects.
Whether it’s mosquitoes, tiny flies, or any other form of insect, bugs are not only annoying but they can also leave painful bites, transfer disease, and cause other health issues.
The majority of tents are constructed with some type of bugproof mesh, but hammocks will leave you open to insects if you don’t protect yourself.
Bug nets are an absolute must for camping during any time of the year when bugs are out. There are a few different types of bug nets you can use for hammock camping. Y
ou can purchase a few yeards of mosquito net or No-See-Um mesh and make your own or purchase a large net and drape it over the hammock.
Another option is to purchase a bug net specifically designed for hammocks.
Legit Camping’s Hammock Bug Net is specially designed to completely cover your hammock and even has a zippered door located in the middle for easy in-and-out access.
Tip 4: Practice Hanging Your Hammock Before Your Trip
Always practice hanging your hammock before you actually leave for your trip.
This will test out all your gear and help you get the perfect pitch the first time once you’re out on your camping trip.
You’ll want to use wide webbing straps designed for hammock hanging for around the tree trunks. Select straps made of a low-stretch material, such as polyester, although any strapping designed for hammock camping should be great.
As you attached and adjust your hammock, check the angle of your suspension lines (the lines connecting your hammock to the tree strap).
These lines should be roughly at a 30° angle. When looking at your hammock it should have a deep sag to it. This sag will allow you to lay properly in the hammock and not fall out from it as you move during the night.
We really encourage new hammock campers to sleep out in their hammock at home in their backyard before going on their first trip.
This really gives you a chance to work out the kinks before you’re actually out in the woods.
Tip 5: Learn to Lay in Your Hammock Properly
Hammock campers always praise how comfortable sleeping in a hammock is, but if you try to lay in it straight you might end up with a sore back.
One of the most common complaints of disappointed first-time hammock campers was that they couldn’t sleep well and woke up feeling stiff.
The trick to getting the “sleeping like a baby” rest you hear people talk about is learning how to properly lay in a hammock.
The key to sleeping in a hammock is to lay at a diagonal angle, not straight, with your feet slightly higher than your upperbody.
When you lay straight you end up sleeping with a curve in your back. By laying a diagonal you’re able to keep your back and legs at a comfortable level.
After your first few nights in a hammock you’ll automatically know what angle to lay at to feel most comfortable.
If you do find you’re still having trouble, double-check the pitch of your hammock hang. Too taut and you won’t be able to lay at an angle and too slack will leave your body bent like a banana.
While you’re practicing hanging your hammock (Tip 4), also be sure you hop in and lay down for a bit and experiment with angles.
Eventually, you’ll know exactly how to hang your hammock to give you the best night’s sleep.
Tip 6: Use Mummy-Style Sleeping Bags and Pads
Some hammock campers use camping quilts in place of a sleeping bag, but we find that new hammock campers will probably feel more comfortable with a sleeping bag.
Many dedicated hammock campers find that sleeping bags offer more warmth than quilts, plus there’s the chance you already have a sleeping bag at home that will work.
Rectangular sleeping bags and pads won’t fit well in a hammock.
They’ll take up precious space, making you feel a bit claustrophobic and could even physically prevent you from sleeping at a proper angle. A better option is to use mummy-style sleeping bags and pads.
Mummy sleeping bags will keep you much more comfortable and able to lay at a diagonal like you’ll need to do.
They’ll also take up less space in the hammock while still keeping you every bit as warm.
Sleeping pads also come in mummy shapes, although a rectangular slim cut might work if you already have one at home.
Some hammock campers simply purchase a basic rectangular solid foam sleeping pad and cut it to shape themselves.
Tip 7: Take One or Two Travel Pillows
Some folks can sleep quite peacefully with nothing but a sweater balled up as a makeshift pillow, but to do encourage new hammock campers to bring at least one travel/camping pillow with them on their first few trips.
Camping pillows will make sleeping in a hammock easier to get used to by helping you get into a comfortable sleeping position.
Sleeping diagonally does take practice but many hammock campers find that a pillow does the trick perfectly.
Bringing a small second pillow can also be handy for knee support. Many new hammock campers tend to find that their knees may feel a bit sore as they get used to laying properly in a hammock.
Placing a small pillow under the knees or between them quickly fixes this issue.
You can also use a ball up jacket for this same purpose, in the event you’re already out camping and find your knees are uncomfortable.
Or your dog can be your pillow 🙂
Tip 8: Always Include a Water Break in Your Lines
The suspension systems used with hammocks vary between manufacturers and individuals, but one important little accessory to include is a water break or drip line.
Many hammock suspension systems will have a carabiner or something specific to hammock camping, such as a Dutch Biner.
These will function as a water break, but not as well as a drip line.
A drip line is nothing more than a small piece of line or paracord tied to the hammock’s suspension line, either before or after the carabiner.
This piece of line will probably cost you nothing since you likely already have some type of line around your home or garage that will work. In return, you’ll have proper protection from rain running down into your hammock.
Tip 9: Select Your Hanging Spot Carefully
Since your hammock will be keeping you above the ground, it’s easy to think that choosing a camping site isn’t as important as a tent.
This isn’t correct and you should be just as careful with your choosing your hanging spot as you would with a tent.
Look for an area with flat ground to make leveling easier. You’ll also want to make sure there aren’t any rocks, branches, or potentially harmful objects located under your hammock.
It’s very rare a properly suspended hammock will break, but if it does you don’t want to land on anything that will hurt you.
With that idea in mind, never suspend hammock over one another as you sometimes see in photo ops. This is incredibly dangerous to both hammock occupants in the event the top hammock falls.
Before you finally settle on a spot, look up and examine the trees. Never hang your hammock under dead trees or any live trees with dead tops or branches. If you’ve ever in doubt, choose a different spot.
Tip 10: Position Your Hang Properly to Combat Wind
A properly setup hammock should fare well in the wind, if you position it properly.
If you get to the campsite and find that it’s windy, there are two options – either select a different site or strategically position your hammock as best as possible.
Look for natural features of the landscape around the campsite that you can use as a windbreak, such as a small grove of trees.
Keep the advice in tip 9 in mind when doing so, especially when it comes to making sure the trees in the grove and healthy with no dead limbs overhead.
In addition to looking for a natural windbreak, or if you have no option but to set up camp, then you’ll want to position your hammock with the long side perpendicular to the wind. If you position it parallel the wind will blow up your hammock’s tarp like a ballon and you’ll end up cold.
We also recommend purchasing a good pair of tarp stakes or your tent stakes, if you already have some. These really help keep the sides of your tarp down if you’re expecting wind on your trip.
Are You Ready to Give Hammock Camping a Try?
Hammock camping can seem intimidating at first but in reality, it’s no more complicated than tent camping.
In fact, once you get the hang of hammock camping you’ll find that you’re able to carry less gear and set up your shelter faster than if you were using a tent.
With time you’ll learn exactly how you like to hang your hammock and be able to sleep even more soundly than before.
All of the 10 tips featured above are critical, but we’d like to remind you in closing to remember to always practice hanging your hammock before your first trip, pack warmer clothes than you think you need, and don’t be afraid to take along a tent as an emergency backup.
In no time you’ll be able to grab your hammock and go camping without a second thought, just like you would with your tent.
Have you ever gone hammock camping before and, if so, what was your experience like?
Share your own hammock camping stories and any advice or tips for newcomers in the comment section below!