Choosing the Best Camping Hammock
As many weary and stiff campers can attest, it is often difficult to get comfortable when sleeping on the ground – even when you are using the highest-quality sleeping pad. Tree roots, rock, and divots will invariably lurk under your tent, and they’ll likely leave you tossing and turning all night long. But modern campers are increasingly taking a different approach to sleep on the trail: They are turning to camping hammocks to get a good night’s sleep.
What Are Camping Hammocks?
Camping hammocks are essentially traditional hammocks that have been redesigned to make them appropriate for use on the trail. A traditional hammock may work well on your back porch, but it will do nothing but frustrate you if you try to take it with you on your next camping trip. Traditional hammocks are heavy, and they are often difficult to lay in, despite being unnecessarily large. Additionally, these types of hammocks are often made from materials that won’t stand up to life on the trail.
By contrast, camping hammocks are specifically designed for outdoor use during hiking or camping trips. They are generally made of very durable materials, and most are very light (often weighing less than 1 pound). Most hammocks designed for camping also feature straps that make it easy to suspend your hammock from a couple of trees, although others are designed to work with a frame or stand, so you can still enjoy sleeping in a hammock while camping in deserts or above the tree line. Some of the nicer camping hammocks come with a rainfly to keep you dry in wet weather, and some feature a bug screen to keep the mosquitoes and biting flies from biting you all night long.
But perhaps the most valuable design feature most camping hammocks possess is an asymmetrical design. This makes it much easier to lay comfortably in the hammock than it is to lay on a traditional hammock, and you’ll be less likely to tumble out in the middle of the night.
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Reasons to Bring a Camping Hammock on Your Next Trip
Whether you intend to replace your tent with a hammock or you simply want to bring along a hammock for the occasional cat nap, you’ll likely decide to bring your hammock along on every trip after you try it for the first time. Some of the reasons it makes sense to bring a camping hammock on your next trip include:
- You can sleep out under the stars. While “convertible” tents that have mesh roofs can give you a glimpse of the stars, the stars won’t look any brighter or more beautiful than they do while looking up in the city. Instead, to enjoy the stars to their fullest, you’ll want to be able to look up without a layer of mesh between you and the stars.
- You will avoid early morning moisture. Even the best tents often become a bit damp during the wee hours of the morning, as the cool temperatures cause the water from your breath to condense on the sides of the tent. However, when sleeping out on a camping hammock, you won’t have to worry about this.
- Camping hammocks are very light. If you are trying to shed weight every way possible, you’ll often find that swapping your tent for a hammock is a fantastic way to do so. A hammock will weigh less than most tents, and it will take up less space in your pack too.
- Hammocks provide more comfortable accommodations. While a small number of people fail to find hammocks comfortable, most campers and hikers love the fact that a hammock keeps you off the ground and eliminates the need to sleep on the uneven and often hard ground.
- Camping hammocks can keep you cooler in hot weather. Because a hammock holds you up off the ground and allows air to pass beneath you, you’ll stay much cooler in a hammock than you would sleep in a tent. You’ll appreciate this while camping in hot and muggy locations or when trying to take a nap at midday.
Important Camping Hammock Features
Of course, not all camping hammocks are created equally. Some are simply better than others are, and different models work better in some applications than others do. There are no hard-and-fast rules for selecting the best camping hammock, so the best way to pick a camping hammock for your next trip is by considering the following features:
Different manufacturers use different types of materials to construct their hammock, but nylon is one of the most popular choices. Just be sure that the nylon used is thick and strong enough to last for years on the trail. Generally speaking, hammocks at the premium end of the spectrum are made from better materials than cheap hammocks are.
Many hikers and campers consider color to be a relatively minor consideration, but it still deserves some thought. For example, you’ll have a much easier time finding your hammock after going for a hike if it is a bold color. Conversely, if you are trying to keep a low profile while in the wilderness, you’ll want an earth-toned hammock to blend in with the surroundings.
Traditional hammocks and a few hammocks designed for camping are manufactured in what is essentially a rectangular shape. Unfortunately, this symmetrical design makes it difficult to lay comfortably in the hammock. To help address this issue, many camping hammock manufacturers have adopted an asymmetrical design, which is much easier to lay in than their symmetrical counterparts.
Clips and Connecting Hardware
Always look for products that feature the highest quality straps and connecting hardware possible. You don’t want your camping hammock to break free in the middle of the night and send you crashing to the ground. Look for hammocks with thick, durable straps and metal hardware whenever possible.
Sleeping Pad Inserts
Some of the better camping hammocks feature slots in which you can place your sleeping pad. This will help keep the pad in place throughout the night, instead of slipping and sliding all over the place. Don’t forget to consider the shape of your preferred sleeping pad with the shape of the insert (rectangular vs. mummy).
You don’t want to drift off while staring up at the stars only to be awoken a few hours later by a downpour soaking you, your sleeping bag and your hammock. Accordingly, it is always wise to look for camping hammocks that come with a rain fly, even if you try to avoid using it as much as possible.
If you camp in places where bugs are an issue, you’ll be well-served by selecting a hammock that features an included bug screen. This will keep you completely protected from mosquitoes and other biting bugs while you are inside, and it will alleviate the need to bathe yourself in bug spray before going to sleep each night.
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Tips for Using a Camping Hammock
No matter what type of camping hammock you choose, you should embrace the following tips to help you enjoy it as much as possible and get a great night’s sleep.
- Leave a glow stick in your hammock for those late-night bathroom breaks. It can be difficult to find your way in the dark, even when you have a flashlight in hand. But, if you attach a glow stick to one of your hammock straps, you’ll easily find your hammock in the dark.
- Hang your hammock in a hazard-free location. Never hang your hammock near a cliff, beside thorn bushes, over water or in a place that provides poor footing. You don’t want to hop out of the hammock in the middle of the night and injure yourself.
- Take your boots off before climbing in. Your hammock will stay cleaner if you take your hiking boots off before jumping in. You can wear sandals or camp shoes if you like, but keep your mud-caked boots far away from your camping hammock.
- Remove sharp items from your pockets before entering the hammock. You don’t want your multitool ripping your hammock or poking you in the middle of the night, so be sure to empty pockets before laying down.
- Attach your hammock to smaller, smoother trees whenever possible. You don’t want ants and other bugs climbing down your hammock straps, so try to select younger trees with smooth bark, as these are less likely to harbor huge bug populations.
- Always check for dangerous branches above your hammock. Just as you would do when setting up a tent, you need to scan the trees above your hammock to spot any potential hazards. If there are broken or dead branches above, move your hammock somewhere else.
Have you ever used a camping hammock while enjoying the great outdoors? We’d love to hear your experiences and any tips you may have to share with others. Tell us all about them in the comments below.