Are hammocks really that amazing? I thought it would be interesting to do a series and play devil’s advocate by punching through some of the more popular claims about hammocks as they relate to camping. After all, I’ve had my fair share of misery in a hammock: cold butt syndrome, shoulder squeeze, mosquito bites, leg hyperextension, and more. Through it all, however, I keep going back to hammocks as my primary overnight outdoor accommodations, so while I’ll be brutally honest about the downsides of hammock camping, I’ll share my own solutions.

Tentsile Hammock

This prototype hammock tent from Tentsile is a beast at 40 lbs (18 kg)—not something you want to carry far.

Claim #1: Hammocks are lighter than tents.

The Truth Is: A simple, gathered-end hammock can indeed be light, but to be compared with a tent, you’ve got to add a bug net and a protective rain fly. Hammocks also require adequate suspension and tree-saving straps. The ounces really add up, especially considering that most hammocks are designed for only one occupant. All-in-one, purpose-made camping hammocks can be some of the heaviest camping kits available, rivaling three-person tents (the 3-person Tentsile hammock, pictured above, is a whopping 40 lbs/18 kg!). If you routinely share a tent with a partner, you can almost divide the weight (tent, poles, rain fly, ground sheet, stakes, etc.) equally between you, which further reduces the pack weight of the shelter.

Here are some of the heaviest kits (hammocks with bug net, tarp, and suspension):

Honorable mention: New Tribe Treeboat Hammock - 5.4125 lbs (2.45 kg), and that’s only the hammock and tarp, no bug netting.

The Solutions

Shop around. I’ve collected a thorough list of hammock manufacturers (am I missing any? Let me know!) to help make the process easier. There are hammocks in nearly every weight range, just like tents. Hennessy, for example, also sells hammock kits that are only 1.9 lbs (860 g).

Mix and match components. If you’re looking for something lightweight, I recommend putting together your own kit. You could assemble a hammock kit for only 13 oz (367 g)! In my opinion, this is one advantage hammocks have over tents: modular components. You can shave ounces with a smaller tarp, or if you have the money, purchase a full-size, 6.5 oz tarp made of space-age Cuben Fiber (complete with doors!). Pick up a separate bug net that can be removed when bugs aren’t a problem. Lightweight yet as-strong-as-steel Dyneema can be made into ounce-cutting Whoopie Sling suspension lines, replacing heavier cordage on stock hammock kits. You get the idea.

Know what you want (and need). Most hammock users will tell you that comfort is the number one criteria for choosing a hammock (see Claim #2), and will argue that weight is less of an issue when you know you are going to get a good sleep at the end of the day. Also consider that not everyone is backpacking or thru-hiking the AT either. A lot of hammocks are used by weekend campers who “plop-and-drop” from a vehicle, so weight isn’t a problem.

When I’m backpacking and counting grams, I pick a lightweight hammock like the Grand Trunk Ultralight (about 10 oz/283 g) with Whoopie Sling suspension. Bugs typically aren’t a problem in northern Arizona where I live, but when they are, I like the HUG bug net, which I can easily make for less than 3 oz (85 g). For a tarp, I like the 7 oz (198 g) GoLite Poncho Tarp, which makes a great multi-use asymmetric rain fly, similar to the popular stock Hennessy tarps. All told, my shelter hovers around 20 oz (567 g), which is pretty lightweight, even by ultralight tent standards.