A good night’s sleep is vital on any trek. Backpacking hammocks promise a convenient way to rest up, but can they really offer the same comfort as your trusty tent? Many beginner backpackers and campers may wonder if backpacking hammocks are comfortable at all.
Backpacking hammocks can be incredibly comfortable. When used correctly, they provide better lumbar support than sleeping on the ground. Hammocks help stimulate blood circulation, and their gentle rocking motion can even improve sleep quality. However, backpacking hammocks aren’t for everyone.
There’s a lot more to learn about hammocks before you make the switch. While they can be perfect for some, they definitely aren’t for everyone. It’s important to consider your destination and personal preferences. Below, we go through everything you need to know about backpacking hammocks.
Is A Hammock Good For Backpacking?
A hammock can be a great option for backpacking. Not only do they act as a comprehensive shelter all on their own, but they’re also a comfortable and lightweight tool with multiple uses on the trail. While a backpacking hammock may not be for everyone, they can be a perfect option for some.
A Sturdy Haven For Backpackers
A hammock is an entirely different animal to a tent. It hangs between two points of contact instead of sitting on the earth, and it rarely includes stakes that attach to the ground. This means it floats freely, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get blown away.
Backpacking hammocks are incredibly durable and strong. If you pick a good hammock, you won’t ever have to worry about it falling down or ripping apart at the seams. Hammocks can be made with the same weatherproof material as your favorite tent. They’re strong enough to withstand any storm, and flexible enough not to break under pressure.
All The Features You Love
A good backpacking hammock doesn’t make you compromise. You’ll find that many of these shelters come with all sorts of added features for comfort, support, and durability. This includes a rainfly, mosquito netting, and stuff sacks for storage. Many hammocks even come with gear pouches, so you can stow things like your flashlight and cell phone above you as you sleep.
Just like with a tent, you can also accessorize your hammock to suit your preferences. Popular hammock accessories include an underquilt for cold weather, which can greatly increase comfort by keeping you warm on those frosty nights. You can even get additional gear for cold-weather hammock camping, like separate snow tarps.
Pitch Your Shelter Easily
While there is a definite learning curve to setting up a hammock, it’s pretty painless once you get accustomed to it. The most difficult aspect is finding two contact points, but hiking through a forest provides its fair share of opportunities, namely, the trees.
The exact way you set up your hammock will vary by the brand, and you should always follow the instructions. However, most are similar. You’ll need to attach the straps around two appropriately spaced contact points, then clip on your carabiners and use the hammock’s guy lines to adjust the hang and spacing.
Sometimes, that’s all you need to do. Other times, you’ll need to set up a rainfly separately or adjust the hammock further. Either way, you don’t need to clear an area on the ground. You won’t have to deal with any stakes and poles, which simplifies everything a great deal. The entire process can take as little as two minutes.
Setting up a hammock becomes muscle memory over time and can be done quickly and efficiently no matter where you are. On a long backpacking journey, this is a huge plus. Hikers are usually heavily focused on their mileage. Shaving time from camp set-up can help you accomplish more during the day, so you make it further.
Save On Weight And Volume
A backpacking hammock doesn’t use stakes or poles. It relies entirely on tough fabrics and strong steel carabiners to attach to its contact points and hold structure. As it lacks an internal framework, it’s a lot more compact than a tent. You can stuff a hammock into a tiny stuff-sack and toss it into your backpack, leaving you a ton of room for other necessities.
A backpacking hammock doesn’t require as much material so it could weigh a lot less than a tent. This can save you a lot of back pain in the long run, and it’s one of the main reasons hammocks have become so popular in recent years.
If you want to go even lighter, you can even get an ultralight hammock. These are a bit pricier but can weigh as little as a pound. Ultralight hammocks are usually more compact as well. Some compress down to the size of a can of coke.
A Versatile Recreational Tool
A hammock is a great shelter, but it isn’t just a shelter. It can serve a litany of other purposes as well. This makes it great for backpacking, but it’s also good for having around the house or while you are out car camping. Firstly, most hammocks can double as chairs when hung low to the ground.
You can set your hammock up early and sit on it comfortably as you cook on a camp stove, or just hang it up in the backyard when you’re short on chairs at a barbecue. You can also use it to store all your equipment if you want to take a daytrip from your campsite. Even if you don’t sleep in it, a hammock can be a comfortable way to relax during the daytime or take a short nap.
A Cost-Effective Shelter
A hammock won’t necessarily be cheaper than a tent, but it usually won’t be more expensive either. Just like any piece of equipment, the price tag will depend on the quality of the product and what you expect to get out of it. It’s important to remember that, unlike tents, many hammocks aren’t sold as a package deal, and this means you might need to buy everything separately.
Still, many hammocks made by trusted manufacturers, like Hennessey Hammock, can come as an all-inclusive deal. These are usually more expensive, but they’re often worth the cost. For wintertime hammock camping, the price can go up even more. Thicker materials are needed to craft a 4-season shelter, and you may need to buy extra insulation separately.
There is some evidence that a hammock might last longer than a tent. As it hangs above the ground, you won’t be subjecting it to the regular wear and tear that a tent bottom must undergo. It’s less likely to be torn or scratched, which can extend its lifetime, giving you more bang for your outdoor buck.
A Word On Double Hammocks
What if you aren’t going solo? There’s a hammock for that, too! Nowadays, you can buy hammocks of all shapes and sizes. Many of these are made for two people, and some claim to fit up to three. But do they really hold up?
In my personal experience, double hammocks don’t work as well as a single hammock. Hammocks cradle you in your sleep. Their unique structure lets users nestle in the middle of them, which can cause a big problem if there are multiple people using the hammock. They can get squished together uncomfortably, ending up in a less-than-ideal sleeping situation.
Furthermore, we all sleep differently. A hammock is designed to mold to your shape and suit your exact sleeping style. Some people may want to hang lower, while others want less curvature in their spines. It’s highly unlikely that two people will want to sleep the exact same way, so a hammock will always leave one person a bit less satisfied.
Are Camping Hammocks Comfortable To Sleep In?
Camping hammocks are quite comfortable to sleep in. You need to use them correctly for the best sleep. For the most personalized experience, you’ll need to adjust them to your liking. But even though they may take some getting used to, hammocks have several key benefits when it comes to comfort.
If you’re going to be using a hammock, you’ll need to scope out a suitable pair of trees to hang your shelter. While many hikers consider this to be a bother, there’s a definite plus side. It means you don’t have to worry about sleeping on the ground. The earth can make a comfortable bed sometimes, but not all the time.
It could be wet after rain, boggy because of the natural conditions, or hard as a rock because it actually is a rock. Sometimes, conditions even change as you sleep. When it starts to rain, what was once a pleasant hollow becomes a flood zone. You could wake up with a river running through your tent. When you have a hammock, you don’t need to worry about finding the perfect ground.
You won’t need to clear a piece of ground to set your tent on. You won’t need to scrape rocks and other debris off the site, which saves time as well as enhancing comfort. Furthermore, it’s much easier to practice leave-no-trace in a hammock. You won’t be disturbing anything when you set up, so it’s easy to leave without making any impact on the environment.
Sleeping in a hammock is different to sleeping in a bed and may not be comfortable immediately. However, you’ll soon see the benefits as you continue sleeping this way. Hammocks provide a zero-pressure-point sleep system, meaning they spread the weight evenly across your body and don’t put pressure on any one part.
Due to its shape, a hammock supports your spine much better than a mattress. It follows your body’s natural curve, alleviating much of the pressure you experience when sleeping on the ground. A hammock also elevates your head, neck, and feet. This can help stimulate blood flow to the correct areas of your body.
Hammocks help keep blood from pooling and causing pressure in unwanted areas, like your head. To get even more support in your hammock, try rolling up some of your clothes and placing them under your knees. This will help your lower back press firmly into the hammock, reducing spinal tension even further and giving you some sweet relief after your strenuous hike.
When you’re backpacking, things tend to get sore. Carrying all that weight around can wreak havoc on your joints and tendons. Muscles can get strained, pulled, or simply start to ache after a few days on the trail. There isn’t much you can do to prevent this, but a hammock could help you alleviate some of the pain at the end of the day.
Since it provides such good support, sleeping in a hammock can aid the healing process after a difficult bout of physical exertion. According to some hammock fans, it can also help you sleep more peacefully. This increased rest time can be very valuable for your recovery. If you want to truly relax at the end of the day instead of just passing out, a hammock could be the best choice.
Comfort In Motion
A hammock will swing slightly as a result of any movement. Many of us shift around during the night as we struggle to get comfortable in bed, so a hammock tends to rock us as we fall into slumber. While some people find this to be very irritating, many people can actually benefit from the rocking motion.
The gentle movements of hammock may make us fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Since bringing along a hammock rather than a tent could improve the quality and length of your sleep, it’s a no-brainer for adventurous hikers wanting to get a leg up on rest during a backpacking trip.
Hammocks usually do not have insulation built-in to the bottom of them. They hang in the air, and you can usually feel a nice cool breeze enveloping you on a warm summer evening. This means they’re much more comfortable in the hot summer months, and as they have a natural draft they won’t get as hot as a tent.
In the winter, this isn’t so great. A hammock can get much colder than a tent because it lacks an insulating footprint and hangs far from the ground. The temperature outside is something you need to consider before choosing your shelter, as it will impact your comfort level throughout the journey.
3 Tips To Stay Comfortable In A Hammock
1. Angle Hammocks At 30 Degrees
As you hang your hammock, keep in mind that the distance in between the two points of contact isn’t that important. Hammocks come with adjustable straps which give you a lot of freedom when hanging them. Even if the trees are quite far apart, you’ll be able to adjust the straps to hang your hammock at an appropriate angle.
The angle itself is much more important, as this will directly impact your comfort level. Try and aim for a downward angle of about 30 degrees. This allows a good sag to set in in the middle of the hammock. It might seem counterintuitive, but having this flexibility is actually key for good sleeping results and general comfort.
Without any sag, the hammock gets pulled taut around you. The fabric can rub against your shoulders and pull your body inward, which gets really uncomfortable. This is a recipe for disaster, as it causes tight shoulders and back pain. When you sag your hammock, it becomes much roomier. There’s more flexibility as well, so you won’t fall out of it.
2. Lie Diagonally Across The Hammock
Lying diagonally across a hammock is one of the most important things you can do for success. Many people don’t know it but lying in the middle of a hammock’s crease causes your spine to flex inward too much. This can cause back pain and a lot of discomfort. If you sleep like this, you’ll be ditching the hammock fast.
Lying diagonally is the only good way to sleep in a hammock. If you angled your hammock-lines downward sufficiently, you’ll have lots of room to spread out. You’ll lie almost flat, with only a slight elevation of the head and feet.
3. Hang Your Feet Higher
If you hang your hammock correctly and lay at a proper diagonal, your weight will be spread evenly across the fabric. This is exactly what you want, but it comes with one issue: your torso will always be heavier. For some people, this can cause them to slide down the fabric towards their own feet.
By elevating the side of the hammock where your feet will rest, you eliminate this issue. Just hang that side five or six inches higher, and you won’t slide down. Your feet will have a natural resting place to stop their movement, and you’ll be comfy and cozy all night long.
When To Avoid Backpacking Hammocks
Now that you know all about the benefits of backpacking hammocks, you might be gearing up to go out and buy the first hammock you see. However, it’s important to point out that backpacking hammocks are not ideal for every situation.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence citing the health benefits of hammocks, but there is very little actual scientific research to back it up. Consider this, and don’t be disappointed if a hammock doesn’t provide you with the best sleep. They don’t work for everyone, and it’s important to get to know yourself and your personal backpacking style before you get one.
Is A Hammock Right For You?
Even though hammocks come with a lot of perks, they aren’t beneficial for every single person. Everyone’s body is different. Just because your friends say that hammock camping is the bees’ knees, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be amazing for you. You might just not be comfortable in a hammock.
If you have any sort of chronic back pain, a hammock may not be the best choice. For many, sleeping on a hammock can make pre-existing problems even worse. If you have a pinched nerve, scoliosis, or a back injury, it’s vital to consult a doctor before using a hammock on your trip.
Additionally, a hammock takes practice to use correctly. If you are unable to or unwilling to put in the time and effort to learn how to use your hammock the right way, it’s highly likely you won’t have a good experience. In that case, you’ll want to stick with your tent.
Are The Conditions Right For A Hammock?
You’ll need at least two contact points to hang a hammock correctly. Most people have no issues with finding trees to hang hammocks from. Many parks even have dedicated hammock hooks for afternoon relaxers looking to nap beneath the sun.
However, some trails don’t have trees at all. Desert hikers could be out of luck among sagebrush and sand. Likewise, a snowy mountain peak or other high elevation means trees can get scarce. If you’ll be unable to hang your hammock along the trail because there aren’t any trees, take a tent instead.
Furthermore, examine your comfort factor. Hammocks don’t offer the same level of warmth as a tent will, because they have a thinner and uninsulated bottom. You may have to bring additional materials for insulation during cold weather. If that’s too much extra weight, a hammock will be more trouble than its worth.
Finally, think about how many people you’ll have with you. If everyone is bringing their own separate shelter, it doesn’t matter. But if you’re going to be sharing with a buddy, it’s better to leave your hammock at home. Double hammocks can be finnicky, and a tent will be much better for sleeping multiple people.
Pros And Cons Of Backpacking Hammocks
Pros Of Backpacking Hammocks
- Compact and lightweight
- Comfortable sleep
- Consistent sleep conditions
- Better for the environment
- Easy to set up
- Protects you from ground conditions
- Aids in rest and recovery
Cons Of Backpacking Hammocks
- Cannot set up in all types of terrain
- Can exacerbate pre-existing back conditions
- Does not work well for multiple people
- Not well-insulated on the bottom
- Not comfortable for everyone
- Does not come with all necessary accessories
Are Tents Or Hammocks Better For Backpacking?
It’s hard to determine whether tents or hammocks are better for backpacking, as the choice is really down to the individual. The truth is that in some instances a hammock can be much better than a tent. In other cases, the tent will be the superior choice.
It’s largely down to personal preference and trail conditions. Assuming that you enjoy sleeping in a hammock and are hiking in hammock-friendly conditions, I would have to say a swinging shelter is the better option. Backpacking trips are heavily focused on speed and endurance. The ability to set up camp quickly goes a long way, as does having a lighter and more compact shelter.
Furthermore, comfort and consistency matter a lot. When you can rely on the same type of rest day in and day out, it eliminates a lot of the stress of backpacking. Finding an adequate campsite won’t be top of your mind, and you’ll be free to focus on more important things.
A backpacking hammock can be a very comfortable option when conditions allow for it. As long as you hang your hammock the right way, you’ll have a great experience on the trail. While backpacking hammocks aren’t for everyone, they can provide a very comfortable and healthy sleep.