Hammock Camping 101: Your Ultimate Guide To Hammock-Based Adventures

Looking to ditch your tent and head out into the great unknown with your hammock in tow? We go back to the basics by introducing you to all you need to know for a successful hammock adventure.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Interested in switching your tent for a hammock in your next camping adventure but confused about how to get started? You’re not alone.

Going camping in a hammock can be a fun and rewarding activity if you’re prepared. Having the correct gear and the right skill set to ensure that your hammock adventure is safe and fun is essential.

We want you to enjoy yourself on your hammock trips, so we’ve put together this article to get you off on the right foot.

Key Takeaways

  • Gear selection – Make sure you have an appropriate hammock, the right sleeping bag to keep you warm in cold weather, and don’t forget to take a tarp or bug net
  • Know before you go – Learn how to tie a number of different knots and practice your hammock set-up before leaving home
  • Choose wisely – Pick a campsite with plenty of sturdy trees for your hammock
  • Tree hugger – Always remember the importance of LNT when pitching and sleeping in hammocks

Camping In A Hammock: The Basics

Going camping using a hammock rather than a tent is an excellent way to get outside while keeping your pack weight to an absolute minimum. Like any style of camping, however, there are quite a few things you should know before you head out on your first hammock expedition.

In this section, we’ll introduce you to the basics of camping in a hammock so you know what to expect before your first fantastic adventure.

camping hammock with rain fly

Why Camp in a Hammock?

Essentially, this is any sort of outdoor trip where you spend the night in a hammock.

Of course, you’ll come across all sorts of hammock campers during your travels. While some prefer to take their hammocks into the mountains on a more remote trip, others would rather stick to the campground.

As a result, this type of camping is a wonderful option for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels and abilities. At the end of the day, you don’t have to be a professional survivalist to sleep well and enjoy yourself while sleeping in a hammock suspended between two trees.

Key Considerations For Camping With A Hammock

In many ways, camping in a hammock is similar to camping in a tent. But, there are a few key considerations that you ought to keep in mind before you head outside:

  • Comfort: As with all kinds of camping, comfort is key when sleeping in a hammock. Even though most people will find that they can find a comfortable sleeping position while hammocking, you might not get it right the first time. As a result, we recommend that you try out a number of sleeping positions until you find the one that’s right for you.
  • Leave No Trace: We’ll discuss this in more detail later in the article, but Leave No Trace (LNT) should be at the forefront of your hammocking decision-making. This often means opting for a different campsite because you’re too close to water or using special straps that are designed to protect trees from damage.
  • Safety: Camping hammocks are designed to suspend you between two trees, which is risky stuff. Therefore, safety should be a top concern throughout your hammocking experience. Always use purpose-built hammock sleep system carabiners and straps to limit your likelihood of injury. Furthermore, hang your sleeping area relatively close to the ground (around 18 to 20” is ideal) to prevent injury if you fall out at night.
hammock setup with half open tarp hammock bug net underquilt

Planning A Hammocking Adventure

If you’re planning your first-ever camping trip in a hammock, you probably have quite a few questions. Up next, we’ll discuss some of the most essential aspects of planning a camping hammock expedition to help you feel confident before you head outside.

Essential Hammock Gear

As with any camping trip, hammocking is an outdoor gear-intensive pursuit. So, below is a gear list featuring the most important hammock essentials that you ought to bring on your next outing:

  • Hammock: A good camping hammock should be light enough to put in your pack, but durable enough to support your weight—take care to check the user weight capacity when buying. You can also find double camping hammocks that are comfortable enough to accommodate two people at a time.
  • Tree Straps: Proper hammock setup requires a set of straps that will serve as attachment points between your hammock and two sturdy trees. Ideally, you’ll use straps that are designed specifically for hammocking as these reduce the likelihood of damaging trees in the process.
  • Carabiners: You’ll need to pack 2 to 4 carabiners to connect your hammock to its straps to form a suspension system. Only aluminum and steel carabiners that are rated for climbing are appropriate for hammocking. When in doubt, call the carabiner manufacturer for specific advice.
  • Sleeping Bag or Quilts: Just like if you were sleeping in a tent, you’ll want a sleeping bag to help you stay warm at night. Thankfully, you can use your regular sleeping bag or quilt while hammocking. Alternatively, you can get a lightweight, hammock-specific sleeping bag.
  • Sleeping Pads: If you tend to get cold at night, you may want to consider a sleeping pad for your adventures. Hammock sleeping pads help insulate you from the cold air below you at night.
  • Underquilt: Just like a hammocking sleeping pad, underquilts insulate you from your surroundings. However, many people prefer to use an underquilt in very cold conditions because they have a better warmth-to-weight ratio.
  • Bug Net: A must for any summertime adventure, a bug net is essential if you want to get some itch-free sleep at night. You can hang your bug net from your ridgeline for a quick and simple bug-free setup, or you can buy a hammock with a built-in mosquito net.
  • Tarp: Another must-have for hammocking, a tarp is critical for keeping you dry in the rain. You can hang a compact tarp from your ridgeline for the perfect waterproof sleeping system.
  • Spare Guyline: You can never go wrong with having too much guyline while hammocking. Spare line and rope are always useful for fine-tuning your suspension system or pitching your tarp. And you can always use your spare line to set up a gear storage system or a clothesline while in camp.
hanging a hammock

Choosing The Right Hammocking Campsite

Choosing a campsite while tent camping is fairly straightforward; you want a relatively flat spot that’s far enough from water and trails to comply with Leave No Trace and local regulations.

Choosing to camp in a hammock, however, means finding your ideal campsite is a bit more complicated. Keep the following practical and safety-based considerations in mind when selecting your sleeping area for the night:

  • An Anchoring System Is A Must: Hammocks, of course, require something to hang from or they just don’t work. So you’ll need to make sure you have some sort of anchoring option at your campsite. This will most likely be a set of two trees, but you could use boulders in a pinch. 

Unfortunately, this means that backpacking expeditions to the high alpine, where there are no trees, aren’t hammocking-friendly.

  • Check Local Regulations: Unfortunately, hammocks aren’t welcome at all campgrounds, especially those in popular national parks, like Joshua Tree. As a result, you’ll need to check in on local regulations before you book a place to stay to ensure that you’re good to go on your adventure. 

We recommend calling your local ranger to clarify any rules or expectations before making plans.

Making The Most Of Your Hammocking Trip

Once you’re out in the mountains, you’ll need to ensure that your adventure goes off without a hitch. Although many tent camping skills are relevant to any outdoor pursuit, here are some hammocking-specific tips to get you started.

hammock straps tied around tree trunk in forest

How To Hang Your Hammock

No hammock-camping outing is complete without a well-hung hammock. The good news is that it is relatively easy to set up your hammock. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

  1. Locate two strong, live trees that can support your weight while you sleep.
  2. Follow the directions on your tree straps to attach them to 2 trees spaced about 10 to 15’ apart. 
  3. Connect both sides of your hammock to this webbing so that it hangs about 18 to 20” above the ground. Make adjustments until you find the best suspension system solution at your campsite.
  4. Pitch your bug net and then your tarp using a ridgeline for suspension. Ideally, both your tarp and mosquito net will fully cover you as you sleep to protect you from the elements and biters.
  5. Sit back, relax, and lay down for the evening to enjoy a superb night’s sleep in the great outdoors.

Essential Hammocking Safety Tips

Since hammock camping involves being suspended above the ground, going hammocking is an inherently risky business. Regardless of your propensity for heights, keep the following safety tips in mind while out and about:

  • Stay Low to the Ground: Hammocks shouldn’t be pitched more than around 18 to 20” above the ground to prevent injury if your system falls.
  • Select Reliable Anchors: You should only pitch hammocks on live, healthy, and strong trees.
  • Choose Your Terrain Wisely: Avoid pitching hammocks above sloping or rocky ground, which can hurt you if you roll out in your sleep. Flat ground that’s mostly covered with dirt, leaves, or pine needles is ideal.
  • Follow Directions: Always follow your hammock’s stated maximum weight capacity. If you’re adventuring with a partner, opt for a model that’s strong enough to accommodate two people.
  • Tie Your Knots Properly: The old “if you don’t know a knot, tie a lot” saying doesn’t really apply with hammocks. In a load-bearing situation like you get with hammocks, an improperly tied knot can lead to serious injury should it fail. 

If anything, it’s better to master one or two knots than to make mistakes because you’re getting a little fancy with your knotwork.

hammock under bridge
Photo by Richard Fergie / CC BY 2.0

Hammock Camping Tips

Going hammocking for the first time can seem like a daunting task. So, we’ve compiled a list of our 5 top tips to help you make the most out of your journey:

1. Start Small

The idea of taking your hammock on a remote backpacking adventure might sound spectacular. However, we’d recommend starting with something a little smaller. That’s because many people go through a bit of a break-in period as they search for a comfortable way to sleep in their hammock.

For example, we’d recommend setting up your hammock in your backyard first, just to test out the system. Then, you could spend the night in your backyard as you figure out the ideal way to lay in a hammock. Doing so is important if you’d like to avoid back discomfort or a poor night’s sleep while in the woods.

When you feel ready, you might consider making your first adventure a campground-based outing. You may also choose to bring a tent on your first overnight, just in case you struggle to catch some Zzzs at night.

2. Make Sure You Know Your Hammock Knots

Let’s face it: Even the simplest hammock suspension system requires knowing quite a few knots. So, you’ll want to be a hammock knot-tying guru before your first backpacking excursion.

Although you certainly don’t need to learn every knot under the sun (we’d be impressed if you did), there are a few that every hammock camper should know for setup purposes. In particular, we recommend learning at least one or two of the following:

  • Bowline
  • Figure 8 on a bight
  • Overhand on a bight
  • Clove hitch
  • Girth hitch
  • Taut line hitch
  • Double fisherman’s knot
  • Water knot
  • Square knot

Now, that may seem like a whole lot of knots to learn. But, it’s good to have a host of different knots in your repertoire to choose from as you set up camp for the night. That way, you can be sure that you have the skills you need to go hammock camp in any environment.

hammock with bug net

3. Always Bring A Bug Net

If you’re going camping in a hammock in the summer, a bug net is absolutely essential. The bugs may not seem bad while you’re hanging around camp in the late afternoon, but by early evening, they’ll be out in full force.

When this happens, you’ll want to hang a bug net above your sleeping area using your ridgeline. Doing so will help ensure that you’re not kept up until the wee hours of the morning by incessant buzzing (and biting) insects. 

Just make sure that your bug net extends all the way to the ground or you’ll potentially be exposed to mosquitoes and midgies as you sleep.

4. Come Prepared With A Sleeping Pad & Underquilt For Cold Weather

While hammock camping is a popular summertime activity, there’s nothing stopping you from camping in cold weather.

However, if you want to sleep comfortably while suspended between two trees in the winter, you’ll need the right gear. In addition to a four-season sleeping bag, we highly recommend packing an underquilt and a sleeping pad if you want to keep warm during the colder months of the year.

Of course, these pieces of gear will add weight to your pack, but they’re well worth it for the extra warmth. That’s because cold air circulation under your hammock can easily give you a chill. So, it’s best to come prepared with the right equipment to help you stay warm, regardless of what the conditions bring.

5. Practice Leave No Trace

As we’ve mentioned, hammocking requires following Leave No Trace guidelines, just like you would on a tent-based expedition.

As with any outdoor getaway, it’s best to place your camp area at least 200 feet from water and trails. Doing so helps limit your impact on the environment and other campers.

Furthermore, a camping hammock puts a lot of pressure on trees, which can inadvertently lead to tree damage and death. The best way to mitigate this problem is to use tree-saver straps while using a camping or backpacking hammock. 

Even if it seems a bit over the top, using special straps or padding under your straps can prevent a tree from getting damaged. In many popular destinations, like national parks, you may even be required to use these special straps to protect fragile ecosystems.

Make The Most Of Your Hammock Adventures!

Whether you’re a first-time hammocker or a seasoned vet, camping out in a hammock is an exceptional experience. We hope that our article helped you become more confident in your abilities before your first outing.

If you found that this guide helped you master the basics of hammocking, let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to share this with your friends so you can all make the most of your future adventures.

Last update on 2023-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Gaby Avatar

Gaby is a professional polar guide, wilderness medicine instructor, and freelance writer with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She splits her time between the northern and southern hemispheres, chasing the midnight sun and helping others get outside to experience some of the world’s most beautiful places.

As an outdoor educator, Gaby is passionate about making the outdoors as accessible as possible for anyone looking to get into the mountains or out on the water. She is a certified Polar Guide, an AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor Course Provider, a NOLS instructor, and an accomplished climbing guide with a penchant for telemark skiing.

When she’s not hanging out with penguins in Antarctica or scouting for polar bears in the Arctic, you can find Gaby backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range or drinking debatably excessive amounts of espresso and reading French existentialism in a quirky café.

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