Updated: Aug 10
Avoid these rookie hammock camping mistakes. Make all your hammock camping adventures more comfortable!
Hammock camping is increasing in popularity. Hammocks are featured in glamorous photos in the most exotic locations. Hammock owners love to share the idyllic views of sunsets and mountains. But with the popularity of hammocks, and the tens of thousands of novice owners, the result has been thousands of dissatisfied campers.
I bought my first hammock 50 years ago. It was a poly mesh contraption about 8-feet long. I lasted about two hours before I gave up – cold, stiff, and thoroughly disgusted with the entire concept. Fast forward to today, I am a much more experienced hammock camper – and bikepacker, backpacker, ADV motorcycle rider, canoe tripper, kayak camper, van traveler, and overlander. Along the way, I have learned from my hammock camping mistakes. Follow along as I address some of the myths that lure in unsuspecting hammock campers – and the information you need to enjoy each and every night in your hammock.
Myth #1: Hammocks are more comfortable than tents.
Sleeping suspended in the air seems like it would eliminate the chance of discomfort from sleeping on the cold, hard ground. But sleeping suspended in the air comes with its own set of problems. There is a short learning curve to “getting the hang” of hammock camping.
First, you need to understand that there is a correct way to hang the hammock for camping. This is not the same as lounging in a hammock on the beach, reading a book, and sipping on a cocktail. You can take the cheapest hammock and lounge in it for an hour or two. But it takes a different size, shape, and construction to produce a comfortable SLEEPING hammock.
If you are only lounging, you can hang a short hammock at a steep angle to provide back support. You can buy lounging "porch" hammocks from 6 to 8-feet long. But if you are sleeping in the hammock, you will want a longer hammock suspended at a shallow angle. Don’t be misled that your hammock bed should be horizontal and stretched like a tight rope. These flat hammocks are not designed for a comfortable, full night’s sleeping.
The most common camping hammocks are now 10-feet long by 5-feet wide. (Avoid the least expensive camping hammocks that are only 9-feet long. If you are a large person, check out 11 or 12-foot long hammocks.) The ends are gathered to create the oval shape of the finished hammock. The hammock must be attached to suspension straps at each end. The recommended set-up for the hammock suspension starts at a 30-degree angle. Consult the drawing below to learn that this configuration requires two mounting points (trees, posts, rocks, vehicles, etc.) at least 12-feet apart, and up to 20-feet apart.
Just because the hammock forms a nice sweeping arc doesn’t mean that you should lay straight down the center line - like a banana! The middle of the hammock has loose fabric which allows you to sleep diagonally to the centerline, thus finding a flat section that supports you evenly from head to toe. You might favor being angled on the left or right, but you won’t spend any time sleeping while lying down the centerline of the hammock.
As mentioned above, most people under 6 feet tall will find that they enjoy the lay of a 10-foot hammock. However, if you are over 6-feet tall, you might prefer an 11 or 12-foot model. Likewise, standard hammocks are typically about 5-feet wide. “Double” hammocks are available which are slightly wider and will be a better choice if you are also wider than average. (To be honest, I don’t know anyone who actually sleeps double in a hammock - other than a small child. However, some campers like to share their hammock with a pet! When shopping for your hammock, please note the manufacturer’s weight limitations.)
The comfort of sleeping in a hammock is the result of the soft fabric surrounding you. Most campers do not use any kind of pad or mattress in the hammock. The quality of the fabric is often what separates the more expensive custom hammocks from the least expensive, generic models. Some ripstop nylon, for example, is stiff to the touch. Heavy fabric is designed for large, flat surfaces, not the curves of a hammock and doesn’t make for a comfy lay. More expensive, lighter fabrics have a silky feel. For this reason, the most expensive hammocks are also the lightest and somewhat less durable.
Finally, we can’t discuss hammock mistakes without discussing protection from insects.
It is a rarity to find yourself camping in a location and conditions without bugs – especially at dusk and dawn. I have enjoyed bug-free bliss on a few occasions, but I have also endured many open tarps and nights sleeping “under the stars” that required me to burrow down in my sleeping bag to escape the little bloodsuckers. If you are relying on a hammock for comfortable sleeping outside of your van, motorhome, or overlanding rig on sweltering nights you need to be prepared to ward off biting and nuisance insects.
Thankfully, most hammock brands now include models with an attached canopy of mosquito netting. There are many variations, with some opening on both sides, others that are completely removable, some that are self-supporting and others that require a ridgeline or additional support cords. But all these options offer protection from swarming insects.
In the case of attached netting, most hammocks can simply be flipped over, and the netting allowed to hang unused below your hammock bed when not needed. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it! There are also bug nets that can be added to your bare hammock, creating a netting envelope that completely encases your hammock.
Please also checkout the article that covers protection from insects - strategies and products that have been proven effective.
In the next part of this series, we will discuss Myth #2: Hammocks are Quick and Easy to set up.
Has this report only fueled your interest in hammock camping? Are you ready to make hammock camping a lifestyle? Hungry for MORE information? Then I recommend the “encyclopedia” of hammocks, The Ultimate Hang 2, by Derek Hansen. The NEW, completely re-written second edition includes hammock FAQs and basics for new hangers and an expanded advanced section for veterans. There is a DIY section to get you started making your own hammock gear. The Ultimate Hang 2 covers everything from suspension systems, hammock stands, staying dry, warm, and bug free, along with setting up hammocks indoors.
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