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Hang Your Hammock Properly | Avoid Common Mistakes

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Avoid these rookie mistakes. Learn how to properly hang your hammock for maximum comfort!

In the first part of this series, we discussed the growing popularity of hammock camping and the myth that it is automatically more comfortable than tent camping. We now move on the the next misunderstanding:

Hammocks are quick and easy to set up.

Tents have become less complicated over the years. A few color-coded poles and a few stakes and the tent is pitched. Hammocks, on the other hand, will always be a cross between structural engineering and applied geometry. We start with solid anchors at each end to support and correctly distribute the weight of the camper. The good news is that the ground below the hammock is largely immaterial - and can be uneven, rocky, crisscrossed with tree roots, muddy, or a continuous mat of weeds or low brush.

The first requirement is the hardware that attaches the hammock to the trees (or other supports.)

Most hammocks do not include the required “suspension hardware”, and this is OK since opinions vary widely on the best configuration of straps, ropes, buckles, and carabiners. Hammocks are “modular” in that the suspension hardware can be exchanged and upgraded, as is also the case with your tarp, as we will discuss later. You are free to try several options before settling on your favorite.

Wide nylon webbing does not damage the tree and these straps are much simpler to install and detach than ropes. The tree straps next connect to the ends of the hammock. Some systems use a series of sewn loops, known as a "daisy chain". The more popular and infinitely adjustable alternatives use buckles to adjust the length. More expensive systems use a continuously adjustable set of no-stretch ropes for fine-tuning, called “whoopie slings”. Prices range from under $20.00 to over $50.00 per set.

Choose the proper height to hang your hammock for comfort.

Obviously, you want the hammock positioned at a comfortable height. Most people position the center of the empty hammock at waist height. While this might seem too high, the hammock will sag as soon as you sit down. This height allows you to sit sideways in the hammock with your feet on the ground. (This is another reason to minimize the use of ropes in favor of straps which have less stretch. Some ropes are notorious for stretching gradually all night long, until you touch the ground just before daylight!)

If we want the ideal 30-degree angle for the hammock suspension, we will need to find two trees about 15 to 20-feet apart. Any closer and the hanging angle increases resulting in a banana curve. Any farther apart and the angle decreases, requiring more tension and creating a sleeping platform that is too hard.

The attachment point for tree straps is usually about eye level for most campers. With trees that are closer together, you might need to wrap the tree straps around the tree two or three times to take up the excess slack. Multiple wraps are also REQUIRED on smaller diameter trees to ensure that the straps won’t slide downward under your weight. Be extra careful when attaching to posts and smooth bark trees like aspen or birch. For trees spaced farther apart, you will need to raise the mounting point as high as you can reach to keep the hammock from touching the ground. This is further complicated if set up on sloping ground which requires two different attachment heights.

One way to overcome the complexities of distances between trees and the resulting angles is to add a fixed ridgeline to your hammock. Only a few stock hammocks include a ridgeline. A few hammocks include an adjustable ridgeline that you can fine tune. But a paracord ridgeline can be easily added after you have erected your hammock in an ideal setting. Once in place, your hammock will always have the perfect angles resulting from a fixed separation of the ends – regardless of the angle of the suspension straps and the distance between trees. This ridgeline adds a handy way to suspend storage pockets, your flashlight, and keeps bug netting from drooping close to your face.

In ideal situations, you will be able to hang your hammock between two strong trees just the perfect distance apart on level ground.

In the "real world" you are often faced with sloping ground. When surveying the area, try to hang your hammock parallel to the contour of the hill. On a side hill, your hammock might be accessible only on the uphill side, so you will need to use extra caution when entering and exiting. In addition, some hammocks with attached bug netting may have an access zipper only on one side – so it is important to position this entry on the uphill side when hanging the hammock on a slope.

Some scenic campsites may only have two trees down the slope of a hill. In this case, you will need to position the uphill tree suspension low and the downhill suspension high to achieve a level hang for your hammock. You may also face the situation where there is only one suitable tree. Hammock campers have become very inventive when necessary. You can attach your hammock to one tree and your truck or motorcycle. Some people rig a tripod of smaller poles, use canoe paddles or hiking poles.

In every campsite, scan the tree tops for dead trees and branches that could fall on you. You don't want to attach your hammock to a dead tree and has it crash on you when the wind starts blowing in the middle of the night!

Some campers take pride in erecting their hammocks in impossible locations, like creek beds or rock outcroppings. But you will want to find the most boring, flat, and well-wooded locations until you are very comfortable setting up your particular hammock and suspension.

But some campsites just won’t support a hammock, much less multiple hammocks if you are camping in a group.

Sooner or later, you will need to camp where there are NO suitable trees. You may also choose to camp on the ground when faced with terrible storm winds, driving rain or snow.

Worst case, you can just use the hammock as a ground sheet and make a bivouac camp. If you want to pitch the tarp, especially with hammocks that feature attached bug netting, you need something to raise the tarp and bug netting. This could be a canoe or kayak paddle, a driftwood stick, a small sapling tree, trekking pole, or a fence post. If bugs are not a problem, there are dozens of shelters that you can construct with a tarp and a hiking pole.

In the next part of this series, we will discuss Myth #3: Hammocks are always DRIER than tents.

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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