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The Ultimate Guide to Hammock Camping the Right Way

Camping is an age old tradition in my family. Back when I was a kid, we would go 2-3 times a month in the summer.

And I LOVED it. I loved every second of camping; the bonfires, getting dirty, exploring the wilderness it was all amazing to me.

One of the more unique aspects of our family camping trips was how we slept. It wasn’t in tents. We all slept in individual hammocks.

Now, you may be thinking that is lonely, downright scary even, but you would be wrong on both counts. Sleeping in a hammock is one of the coolest things you can do while camping. Plus, if you go high enough in the trees nothing can really touch you.

And while you are safely nestled among the birds you can stare at the stars glistening above you. It’s truly surreal.

The Invention of Hammocks

Hammocks have a long history, beginning as far back as one thousand years ago.

The Mayans were possibly the first people to use hammocks as a means to sleep above the ground, away from slithering reptiles and crawling insects. During 19th century Britain, prisons utilized hammocks as a way of making room for more inmates.

Nowadays, they’re mainly used for comfort and relaxation.

Why a Choose a Hammock?

If your family, like so many, consider sleeping on the cold, hard ground a good time, you’re in good company. There’s nothing like being outdoors, with nature, sleeping under the stars.

Like most, you probably grew up camping with a tent. If you haven’t tried hammock camping, you’re missing out, and here’s why:

Better Sleep

According to Sean McCance, MD, “sleeping in a hammock can actually help you fall asleep faster and give you “better” rest, eliminating tossing and turning.” McCane goes on to compare sleeping in a hammock like a baby being rocked. He explains how Switzerland researchers discovered that the gentle rocking increases sleep-related oscillations in the brain called “sleep spindles.”

Back Pain

A properly hung, well-supported hammock reduces back aches, which reduces tossing and turning, leading to more restful nights.

Deeper Concentration

The deeper, more restful sleep hammocks provide leads to better focus and concentration during waking hours.

Comfort

If the above reasons aren’t enough, try out a hammock because they’re just ridiculously comfortable.

Types of Camping Hammocks

Before purchasing a hammock it’s useful to research at least a few of the various styles.

Gathered end: One of the easiest and quickest hammocks to set up, and takes up very little room under a tarp. They’re comfortable and great if you like to sleep in a diagonal position, and there’s tons of information online for DIY gathered end hammocks, which make them some of the most affordable.

Types of Camping Hammocks Part 1...Gathered End

The Gathered End of Hammock Camping

Bridge Hammock: These hammocks are similar to cots. The bed fabric is spread out and attached to a head bar and foot bar. They’re comfortable, but not quite as stable as other hammocks.

90-Degree Hammock: Named for their unique design, which allows you to lie in a 90-degree angle, these hammocks provide superior comfort.

Types of Camping Hammocks Part 2... Bridge and 90º

Tips for Hammock Camping

Which is best?

That really depends on preference. To help you out, here are some of the top rated camping hammocks for 2016:

Clark NX 270 Four Seasons

The Clark NX-270 Four-Season Camping Hammock: Receiving five out of a possible five stars from Amazon reviewers, this hammock features full no-see-um netting, a breathable weather shield for water protection, six pockets that hang underneath for storage and act as insulation, and a roomy interior. It’s a great year-round hammock and holds up well during bad weather, but, at $479, it doesn’t come cheap.

Grand Trunk Parachute

The Grand Trunk Double Parachute: This nylon parachute hammock, with carabiners, gets another five-star rating. It’s a bit more competitive price wise, at  just over $57, but doesn’t offer all the features of the NX-270. It’s durable and high-strength (holds up to 400lbs), and mildew resistant, making it a solid choice in rainy weather.

DoubleNest

Eagles Nest Outfitters- DoubleNest Hammock: Another fine hammock, worthy of its five-star rating. Costing around $70, this one also fits your budget a bit easier. It safely holds up to 400lbs, it’s lightweight and portable (making it a great choice for hikers), and won’t wear out easily after multiple uses. If you want all the bells and whistles, though, the NX-270 is still the way to go.

Kammock Roo

The Kammock Roo: The World’s Best Hammock.” Not as loved by Amazon reviewers, but definitely liked, receiving 4.5 stars. It’s more expensive than numbers 2 and 3 on our list, but not by much. This hammock is comfortable, strong and lightweight and prices start around $99. Its resistant, tear-free features make it a good choice for more adventurous campers.

Best Way to Hang a Hammock

Simple Hammock Hanging || Rap Rings

How to Secure a Hammock Safely with Repel Rings

Hammock camping means a camper loses two key pieces of bulky equipment: a tent and a sleeping pad. What you pack instead are a hammock, waterproof tarp and, if necessary, a mosquito net. String up your hammock with a mosquito net strung up about 12″ higher and a tarp rain fly a few inches above that. Draw the tarp taut into a tent shape and stake securely. Not only is sleeping above ground much more comfortable, but campers are also safely above moist dirt conditions and crawling insects. Packing hammock sleeping gear saves space that can be filled with other equipment and provisions or a camper can simply enjoy hiking lighter. Setting up a hammock sleeping area is an easy, fast, one-camper job.

All The Accouterments: There are the fine details of stringing a hammock that can vary with geography, climate, comfort or the occasional mishap. When you need to improvise or improve, try these useful hacks:

No Grommet, No Problem: If the grommet you need to use in your tarp is broken, no problem. Find a rock about the size of your fist. Next, get a piece of twine, or rope, about 12-18″ long with loops tied into both ends. Wrap the tarp over the top of the rock. Wrap one end of your tie around the tarp below the rock by slipping one loop through the other and pulling tight, securing the rock in the tarp near the broken grommet. Stretch out the remaining length of the tie and stake through the loop at the end.

Warming The Backside: There is no doubt that a camper’s backside can feel the chill when hammock camping in cold weather. To stay toasty warm and reduce packing bulk and weight, use a reflective blanket rather than a sleeping pad. These are popular with marathon runners and first responders. As a lightweight, completely flexible heat shield, it is easy to wrap a reflective blanket completely around you or around your sleeping bag. Many tarps feature a reflective side so even the underside of your rain fly should provide warmth-enhancing reflective properties. If not, use a reflective blanket for your rain fly in place of a tarp to be even toastier.

Cutting The Condensation: Hammock camping, especially if using reflective blankets for insulation, will produce condensation just like a tent. To stay warm, a camper also needs to stay dry. Since you can’t stop breathing as you sleep, you will have to reduce condensation other ways. Start by sleeping in a proper base layer of clothing that will wick away the moisture, keeping you snug and dry throughout the night.

Skeleton Swag: The swag of a hammock is not designed to be ergonomically friendly to the human skeleton. Campers may feel a shoulder crunch or a hyper-extension of the knees. If you know the right way to sleep in hammocks, you will sleep much more comfortably than on the hard ground. To avoid a shoulder crunch don’t string up your hammock too taut. Allow for a nice, curvy, swag. Preventing knee hyper-extension is easy. Hammock novices may think they are supposed to sleep with head and feet directly at opposing ends of the hammock. Big surprise here, novices! Sleep diagonally! If a diagonal position doesn’t provide enough relief, simply roll up a towel or some clothes and place under your knees. Or, purchase a hammock that has the solution built into its design with a feature like a “foot box.”

Five Indispensable Hammock Accessories

Camping hammocks are a great alternative to tents, but if you take one out into the wild as-is, you might end up having a bad time. Depending on the environment you’re going to be camping in, there are a few important accessories you should consider before heading out the door.

1) Underquilt

Though you’re not making contact with the ground when you’re in a hammock, you still face the same issue of your sleeping bag compressing under you and allowing ambient cooling to give you a frigid bottom. The underquilt is the hammock substitute for a sleeping pad. It uses the same sort of insulation, but in a more flexible form to act as a liner for the hammock bottom.

If you are planning on carrying a small piece of foam to sit on and want to go as light as possible, you can get away with a shorter underquilt designed solely to insulate your torso, and then slip the foam in to insulate your lower body.

2) Rain Tarp

Conceptually, the rain tarp for a camping hammock is really no different than the rain fly for a tent. You string it up above the hammock along a central ridge line and stake the ends to the ground with guylines, giving you protection even from the rain that is blowing in from the side.

Tarps come in varying lengths, and naturally, a longer tarp grants greater protection, but it also means more carrying weight and less ventilation. In all cases, the tarp should fully cover your hammock, however. If even a small part of your hammock is exposed, moisture will collect and seep further down into it. For this reason, it’s also important that your tarp lines have some manner of water wick that will redirect dripping water to the ground. If they don’t come with this, it’s easy to make one with some string.

3) Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad is an alternative to an underquilt for under-body insulation that can also add an extra layer of comfort. These pads are usually made of closed-cell foam, and pads designed specifically for hammocks will have small “wings” meant to keep them from sliding around on you.

The only downside here is that the interaction between the pad and the hammock can be finicky, and the wrong type of pad for a particular hammock may make the sleeping experience less comfortable. That, and the closed-cell foam has no ventilation whatsoever, so it may prove to be too stuffy in warm and humid environments.

4) Hammock Stand

No trees? No problem! Hammock stands are available that are modular and portable, allowing you to set up on a beach or in the middle of a desert if you so desire. Once assembled, they sit in a rough “U” shape. The portable stands for camping are made of metal, and it’s also possible to purchase hammocks that are built right into a folding stand.

The main downside is that they are heavy, usually weighing over 50 lbs. for a model that can adequately support an adult’s body weight plus some gear, so they are much better for packing out in a vehicle to bring to a site than for hiking with a backpack. You should also realistically expect a hammock stand suitable for camping to cost at least $100, and not all stands are compatible with all hammocks.

5) Bug Net

One of the main issues with hammock camping is a lack of protection from flying insects. Thus, the bug net. These nets are made to be wrapped around the hammock like a cocoon, giving you complete protection from mosquitos and other flying irritants no matter how small. Camping models weigh no more than a pound when packed in a stuff sack.

High-End Hammocks

If you are a serious hammock camper, you may be willing to spend more than twenty bucks or so for an outdoor sleep space. For campers who have graduated past the newbie phase and are full-fledged, hardcore hammock enthusiasts, here are some of the best high-end hammocks worth every nickel, penny and dime.

Tailgater’s Hammock: Do you like a good tailgate party? With Hammaka’s Trailer Hitch Stand and Cradle Chairs you can take the party to a whole new level. The great thing about a tailgate hammock chair is that you don’t even have to own a vehicle with a tailgate. Whether you drive an open bed truck, an SUV or a sedan, it makes no difference. All you need is to have a trailer hitch installed to use a tailgater hammock. Even cooler, it’s a hammock system designed for two. That means you can camp with your bestie and no one will be fighting over the best seat in the house, er, camp.

Some of the positive notes mentioned in Amazon reviews:

  • Even Better Than Expected
  • 100 times nicer than what was shown
  • Assembled everything in less than 15 min
  • Good construction and well packaged
  • Sits comfortably

Some of the complaints on Amazon reviews:

  • Not configured for Jeep
  • Bulky
  • Weight limit

NOTE: There had been some previous customer complaints about Hammaka’s pin system on this product. The manufacturer did respond positively with a new design. With regard, then, to any complaints, these issues may very well be resolved with new, upcoming versions of this Hammaka product.

Hennessy Jungle Safari Zip

If you need a hammock that can bear a load of 350 pounds, couples or the hefty hiker need this hammock. The deeper and wider aspect of this hammock is designed specifically for the comfort of a big and tall man or snuggling couples. However, its design goes far beyond managing a heavy-duty load.  It also features a double layer of 40D nylon for sturdier mosquito resistance, hence the Hennessy name “Jungle Safari Zip“. Temperatures can even get cool in the tropics which is why it is designed for use with Hennessy’s extra-large radiant reflector pad. The detachable, double-wide rain fly has a side entrance with a reinforced zipper system. That means campers can enjoy using this hammock sleeping system for a very long time. The extras that come standard with the Jungle Safari Zip: attached mosquito netting, support ropes, stuff sack, and two 42” long webbing straps that protect tree bark. Campers get a heavy-duty hammock system that still packs amazingly light. The entire package weighs less than 5 pounds.

Some of the positive notes mentioned in Amazon reviews:

  • Excellent first experience
  • High quality materials and workmanship
  • Quite comfortable
  • Stayed dry during rainstorm
  • Set-up took very little time
  • “I am a large man and this feels like I still have room to grow”

Some of the complaints on Amazon reviews: Well, there simply were none!

Trinity Eternity Hammock

Priced in the thousands, this has got to be the most luxurious hammock system available. But is it worth it? Is this sheltered hammock system portable enough to enjoy on the trail, at the beach or camping at a festival? The hand-quilted Phifertex fabric is stain resistant and washable. It also dries quickly. Hardware construction is of stainless steel with gazebo supports of beautifully crafted teak wood. Hammock thread is UV resistant, adding life to a three hammock system designed for enjoying the outdoors 24/7. It can hold up to 440 pounds and the canopy height is adjustable. Included is a netted shade that creates a mosquito-proof enclosure. For the ultimate in luxury, the hammock shelter comes with the standard accessory of a teak wood side table. The gazebo-style shelter covers an area that is nearly a perfect 10 foot cube. The entire system is also sustainably designed.

Some of the positive notes mentioned in customer testimonials on the manufacturer’s website:

  • Incredible quality
  • Big winds but no worries
  • Loved the mission to support women in Cambodia and Thailand
  • A piece of art
  • Relax and socialize at the same time

There are no negative reviews to be found on this high-end hammock product. Considering that it is the 2013 winner of Hospitality Design Expo & Conference’s Innovation Award for Outdoor Furniture, that comes as no surprise. But I wouldn’t expect this gazebo hammock system to be considered “portable”, although you could try it if you like!

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