Backpacking Hammock Considerations

Backpacking Hammock
Keeping cozy in a backpacking hammock!

Karja wants to know more about sleeping in a backpacking hammock. She’ll be attending my upcoming Intro to Backpacking event with Hudson Valley Hikers at Harriman State Park. She asks:

Is it a sane and good idea (when trekking through the woods with an abundance of trees) to sleep in a hammock?

Sleeping in a Backpacking Hammock

A lot of people think so. My girlfriend sleeps in a hammock on almost every trip. I use one occasionally, usually when conditions call for it.

I find that a hammock is very comfortable as it rocks me back and forth and gives me a big hug. A hammock makes an especially great shelter when trees are abundant but clear ground space is not. We run into areas in the Catskills and White Mountains where the ground is very sloped or covered with rocks and roots that make tenting impossible.

Another great application for a hammock is “Stealth Camping.” Stealth Camping is the practice of camping in a non-established campsite (within the confines of laws and regulations, of course.) The idea is to leave as little impact as possible so that the stealth site cannot be detected and doesn’t turn into an established site. While tents leave an imprint on the ground, hammocks leave none.

Backpacking Hammocks protect the environment.
Setting up a hammock off the ground minimizes impact to vegetation below.

Bug Protection:

You want to find a hammock with integrated bug netting to keep away the biting insects. A lot of cheap recreational type hammocks don’t offer this and you end up having to add something yourself. Some backpacking hammocks come with bug netting that can be zipped or unzipped on one side, while others have completely removable netting.

Bug netting on a Backpacking Hammock
Netting turns the Warbonnet Blackbird into a bug free sanctuary.

Weather Protection

Most backpackers who use hammocks have one or more tarp that they can use to protect themselves from the weather. All of these tarps are suspended from a ridge-line above the hammock, but they vary in how much coverage they offer. Some options are very light and offer minimum protection in good weather. There are also much heavier options that form a fully enclosed cocoon around the hammock. Most hammockers like to start with something in the middle.

A tarp over a backpacking hammock
Warbonnet’s Edge Tarp provides intermediate level protection for at a reasonable weight.

Staying Warm

When you’re sleeping on the ground, you sleep on top of a pad that provides comfort and insulation. A lot of people think they don’t need this in a hammock. They end up with “cold butt syndrome”. In a hammock, your bottom is literally blowing in the breeze and any heat you generate is blown away. The simple option is to put a lightweight pad inside the hammock to sleep on top of. A more comfortable solution is to hang an “underquilt” on the outside of the hammock. An underquilt is a down or synthetic filled blanket that provides insulation. You should hang your underquilt outside the hammock so that it doesn’t become compressed under your body weight.
Enlightened Equipment Revolt Under Quilt

Protecting the Trees

Look for a suspension system that wraps the trees with webbing instead of a rope. All of the veins that connect a tree’s leaves with its roots run though a thin layer just below the bark. Thin ropes used for bear bags or hammocks can cut into the bark and damage those veins. Severing these veins can kill a tree very quickly. A hammock sleeper needs to be aware of this to follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Recommended Backpacking Hammock Makers: