A hammock tent has been my preferred outdoor accommodation for over 20 years. Why? Two reasons… a comfortable sleep, and a dry sleep. Let me explain why and give you some of the plusses and minuses.
I’ve never enjoyed sleeping on the hard ground, even with a sleeping mat under me. Perhaps my joints are a little “bony” and need more cushioning. Whatever the reason, I can manage in a conventional tent, but I find that I sleep much better in a hammock.
Many people think sleeping in a hammock means that your back is bent like a banana. This would be true if you slept with your body aligned with the length of the hammock, but most are intended to be used with the body at an angle to the hammock. By sleeping at an angle (about 30 degrees off the center line), you are almost completely flat. There is no “banana” feel to the sleeping position, and I find it very comfortable on my back. I can even sleep on my side if I choose, but usually find sleeping on my back the most comfortable. In a normal bed, I never sleep on my back… but in my hammock, I enjoy that position.
You might worry about getting “seasick” in a hammock… set your mind at ease! Hammocks are stabilized by bungee cord pullouts that eliminate any ‘sway’, even in strong winds.
What about getting cold underneath? There are several solutions to this. Some people use a conventional camping mat under their sleeping bag inside the hammock. Personally, I find these too narrow, and they can move around under you in the night. A better solution is to replace your sleeping bag with two parts… an under quilt and a top quilt. The under quilt is suspended snugly below the hammock. Here, your weight does not compress the insulation. I have an under quilt rated to -6C that I have used from -6C to +25C. It serves me well for all temperatures.
You can use a standard sleeping bag inside the hammock, or just a “top quilt” typically this uses materials like a sleeping bag, but is open like a quilted blanket except for a “footbox” to keep your tootsies toasty. Using a top quilt vs a sleeping bag saves weight and bulk, but the combination of top plus bottom quilt will be a bit more weight than just an equivalently rated sleeping bag.
OK. But why do I say a hammock offers a dry sleep?
Some years back, I did a 10-day kayak trip around the B.C. Gulf Islands. I’d recently started using my first hammock tent, so that’s what I took with me for camping on the islands. Being in coastal B.C., there was of course a lot of rain while on my trip. For several days in a row, it was raining 24 hrs a day. I made camp in the rain, slept in the rain, and broke camp in the rain. With a ground tent, I would be packing a wet tent every night, and I would expect everything in my tent to get quite damp after several days. With my hammock tent, the first step in making camp was to set up the rain tarp that goes above the tent. Then the hammock is strung under the tarp. To break camp, the hammock gets stowed first, then the tarp. The hammock tent never touched the wet ground and was never exposed to the rain. My bedding and I stayed nicely dry despite all the rain.
I had a similar experience using the hammock on the Appalachian Trail. There, even if there was room in the shelter on a rainy evening, I would sleep in the hammock… it was dry and so much more comfortable than sleeping in the shelter!
If the weather is good, I sometimes set up my hammock without the tarp. Then I can lay back and see the stars with nothing but the bug screen in between. (If bugs are not a problem, I can zip that open and tie it off to the side for an even better view!),
Sounds ideal doesn’t it? Well, to keep a sense of balance, there are some downsides.
There’s not a lot of space. Your gear & shoes stay outside (often under the hammock to stay dry). So it’s a bit more exposed. And privacy…. Changing clothes inside a hammock can be done, but you’ll feel a bit like a contortionist. The tarp gives you good privacy while you’re in the hammock, but with the tarp off there’s very little. And if you change clothes outside the hammock…. Well, you’re on display.
Hammock camping systems (tarp + tent + sleeping insulation) are light but will generally weigh slightly more (10%?) than an equivalent ultralight tenting system. However, setup is usually faster than for a tent.
While you don’t need to worry about finding dry flat ground (I’ve slept on 40 degree slopes), you do need to find two trees… and not just any two trees; trees that are between 15 and 25 feet apart, and don’t have any large dead branches 30 ft above your precious head. (I did recently buy a gizmo that is a hiking pole that can be converted to a guyed pole to hold up one end of the hammock… with this I only need one tree! But these gizmos are not that common.) If one day you are stuck needing to make camp where there are no trees, it is possible to set the hammock up on the ground, propping the ends up with sticks or standard hiking poles to keep the mesh off your face. However, this will likely be neither comfortable nor dry in the rain.
And finally, during a thunderstorm, being tied to two tall wooden lightning rods doesn’t usually feel like a good idea. When choosing my trees, I definitely try to avoid the tallest trees in the vicinity and prefer not to hang out in my hammock during a storm. I’ll confess though, if a thunderstorm rolls through in the night, I usually just cross my fingers and hope to see the morning!
All things considered, my hammock will continue to be my “go-to” accommodation, unless I am travelling where I know trees will not be available.
Submitted by Phil Vallance