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Part 2: Hammock Camping Myths and Common Mistakes

Updated: 4 days ago

Avoid these rookie mistakes. Make all your hammock camping adventures more comfortable!

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:

Myth #2: 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 geometry. You need very solid anchors at each end to support and correctly distribute the weight of the camper. This is good news since 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.

However, there are two constants: First, webbing straps are used to connect to the tree. These wide straps do not damage the tree and are much simpler to install and detach than ropes. Second, the tree straps need to make a connection to the ends of the hammock. The simplest system is the "Daisy Chain" with multiple loops every few inches which connect to carabiners at the ends of the hammock. Other tree straps may use buckles or tension clamps 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.

The attachment point to the tree is another variable. Obviously, you want the hammock positioned at a comfortable height. Most people position the center of the hammock at just below 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 13 to 15-feet apart. Any closer and the hanging angle increases. Any farther apart and the angle decreases, requiring that we adjust the mounting height. The starting point is 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 up to 20-feet 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, but this is easily added. After you have erected your hammock in an ideal setting, simply tie in a length of paracord between the two ends. Then the 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.

All of the above are the types of mental calculations that you must do as you survey your potential campsite. You only need two trees, but need to calculate the distance between the trees, the tree diameters, and any adjustments needed for sloping sites.* Look around for dead trees and branches that could fall. You might have multiple mounting options at the best campsites. Some campsites just won’t support a hammock, much less multiple hammocks if you are backpacking or canoeing in a group. Some parties will pack a tent for these occasions or take turns camping on the ground under the tarp.

An advantage of hammocks is that they can be suspended above uneven ground not suitable for tents, such as sloping lakeshores. You can have a great, scenic hammock site where no one else has ever camped before (including “stealth camping”.) But this also means that 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 safely when setting up on a slope. 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.

*Technically, you can get by with ONE tree and another support. Hammock campers have become very inventive when necessary. You can attach your hammock to one tree and your truck or motorcycle. Hammocks are used around the world on boats of all types. Some people love the sleep they achieve in their hammocks so much that they install permanent mounting points INSIDE their bedrooms or on sleeping porches. Some van dwellers also use hammocks as their beds, freeing up precious floor space during the day. There are now self-supporting hammock stands for camping where there are NO trees!

This is also a good time to discuss intentionally pitching your hammock on the ground. It may be necessary to pitch your hammock as a ground tent when suitable hanging options don’t exist. Especially with hammocks that feature attached bug netting, you still 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 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.

Visit The Great Out There for continued gear reviews and how-to articles on camping. Please also follow The Great Out There on Facebook and Instagram.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this document are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, The Great Out There will earn an affiliate commission if you click on the link and finalize a purchase.

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