The Truth About Hammock Camping: Claim #2 – Hammocks Are Comfortable

It wouldn’t be honest not to admit that I occasionally have a bad hang in a hammock. Some comfort issues are common enough to become regular complaints among avid hangers. So, without further delay, let’s jump into the next claim.

Claim #2: Hammocks are comfortable.

The Truth Is: They are, most of the time. But I would say that hammocks are a kind of learned behavior. Unlike sleeping on a flat bed at home, hammocks have a way of moving, especially if you’re hanging it in different places every night, say on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Differences in hang height, distances between anchor points, and the angle of the hang can all influence the shape and lay of the hammock bed. Hammocks are still new entrants in outdoor recreation, so the learning curve is a little high compared to more “traditional” shelters. Here are the most common complaints regarding hammock comfort:

Hammock Cold Butt Syndrome

 

Cold Butt Syndrome — One of the most common complaints and challenges to a comfortable hammock’s night’s sleep: your backside gets cold when you should be warm. Even with that 20°F (-7°C) rated sleeping bag can’t keep you warm when it’s 40°F (4°C) at night.

Shoulder Squeeze — That nagging problem when the sides of the hammock wrap too tightly around your shoulders causing discomfort through the night.

Calf Pressure — Some hammocks can create a stiff ridge of fabric right in the center line that puts pressure on your legs.

Ankle Strain — In some positions, the hammock will provide a lot of support directly under your feet, putting pressure on your heels and ankles, and can lead to the next discomfort: leg hyperextension.

Leg Hyperextension — When you have great support under your feet, but not under your legs, you’ll feel pain in your knees and legs.

Fear of Falling Out — Some folks worry about staying securely in a hammock all night, especially for those who toss-and-turn a lot.

Motion Sickness — When demonstrating hammocks to a group of friends, one of them got in and immediately complained of getting sick from the swaying. His stay in the hammock was short-lived.

Claustrophobia — That trapped, close feeling you get when the walls are pushing in toward you.

Multiple People In One Hammock — Almost anyone who’s tried to sleep with a companion longer than a 5-minute nap will agree that discomfort level correlates with the number of people in the hammock: more people, more discomfort.

The Solutions

I’ve experienced almost all of these discomforts while hammock camping, yet I still prefer hammocks over sleeping on the ground. Why? Because most of these discomforts can be resolved, though some more easily than others. When hung correctly, hammocks offer superior comfort over a range of conditions. Indeed, overall comfort is the number one reason people stick with hammocks, even if they experience one or more of these problems. Comfort is the main reason people pick hammocks in the first place. At all of my hammock presentations, it only takes moments for investigators to convert once they get a chance to lay in a properly hung hammock. However, therein lies two weaknesses for hammock newcomers: getting a perfect pitch and having a guide nearby to coach them.

Do you need a coach in order to hang a hammock correctly? Of course not. In fact, many camping hammocks today have simplified the process with daisy-chained tree straps, such as the KAMMOK® Python Straps™, or fixed-length ridge lines, which allow you to quickly attach and hang a hammock. I won’t deny that practice helps perfect hammock hanging, and having a mentor can really help. More often than not, the universal solution is proper hanging technique. As I mentioned before, hammocks can be finicky, and for some there is a learning curve that makes it difficult to consistently get a good hang. Here are some quick tips and solutions to the problems stated above.

Cold Butt Syndrome — Whether inside a hammock or sleeping on the ground, you compress the insulation under you. A closed-cell foam pad or self-inflating pad are low-cost solutions to insulate you underneath. Purpose-made under quilts that hang under the hammock ensure fluffy insulation keeps its loft and keeps you warm. Around 70°F (21°C), you’ll start to feel cool beneath you. Depending on the conditions, sometimes a sleeping bag is enough, or maybe a fleece bag liner. I find that when I am warmer underneath me, I stay warmer overall and often need less insulation on top. Fight cold butt syndrome with adequate insulation and don’t rely on a sleeping bag alone.

Shoulder Squeeze — When a hammock is strung too tightly, it pulls the edges tight, creating what I call the “canoe” effect. I literally cringe each time I see this happen because it can cause other problems like a high center of gravity and a tippy hammock. Some people actually don’t mind that tight, snuggly feeling, so your mileage may vary, but hanging a hammock with a nice curve (a.k.a. “deep sag”) is one key to getting a good lay and avoid the “squeeze.”

Hammock, sleep diagonal

Calf Pressure — Like shoulder squeeze, one culprit of calf pressure is the angle of the hang. I usually hang longer, wider hammocks with a deeper sag and narrow hammocks with a tighter pitch (but still with a good sag). When you run out of time or patience to get the perfect sag, one way I eliminate calf pressure is to sleep with my legs crossed. This creates a space for that hammock ridge to run without hitting my calf. Side sleeping also cures the calf pressure problem.

Ankle Strain & Leg Hyperextension — Just like calf pressure, you can relieve this problem with a good sag or by adjusting your sleeping position. However, there are some hammocks on the market that feature “foot boxes” and/or are created with an asymmetric piece of fabric. These hammocks require that you sleep in the same diagonal direction (e.g., head on the left, feet on the right), but the comfort is remarkable. Notable hammocks in this category include the popular Warbonnet Blackbird and the UK Hammock Woodsman X.

Knee pillow for hammock camping

Another way to eliminate this strain is to place a pillow under your knees. Alternatives include a flexible water bottle (e.g., 2.5 L Platypus), extra clothing, or other soft items in a stuff sack.

Fear of Falling Out — This one is easy: hang your hammock with a deep sag! With a lower center of gravity, it is nearly impossible to just “fall out” of a hammock unless you really mean to. Laying on the diagonal also provides high walls that keep you centered in the hammock. I toss and turn sometimes in a hammock when shifting from my back to my side and have yet to involuntarily fall out. However, I also find that the hammock takes away the pressure points that are the cause of most tossing and turning, meaning you’ll thrash around less and sleep more..

Some people fall out before even getting in. I had this happen at a recent hammock demonstration because the person didn’t follow my instruction to sit in the center of the hammock. Consequently, this person leaned back off the edge and fell out. To avoid this “sit-and-fall” problem, make sure you spread the hammock fabric WIDE and sit in the CENTER of the hammock. Swing your legs in and lay on the diagonal. I can’t help irrational fears.

Motion Sickness — I’m one who can get motion sickness while sitting in a motionless car and watching nearby vehicles pass, yet I’ve never been motion sick in a hammock. Motion sickness can be such a problem for some folks that nothing can be done, however, there is medical evidence that the gentle swaying of a hammock is beneficial and contributes to a deeper sleep. Some hammocks have side tie-outs that help prevent swaying, and I’ve also reached out and grabbed the ground to stop the swaying when it was more than I preferred. If you have a serious medical issue with motion, it may be best to avoid hammocks.

Claustrophobia — This is an issue mostly with hammocks with integrated bug netting, or with add-on tube-style netting around the hammock. Sometimes it just takes some getting used to, but if the bug netting is just too close for comfort, I recommend getting a simple gathered-end hammock and use a large bug “tent” when necessary. There are some add-on bug nets that provide lots of room (e.g., Hammock Bliss Sky Tent, and the Grand Trunk Mosquito Net).

During times when bugs aren’t a problem, gathered-end hammocks are wide-open and very roomy. In fact, some people take issue with the openness of hammock shelters. People that are used to enclosed tents sometimes find the wide open view “less protected.” When I first transitioned to hammock camping, I preferred the closed in feeling of my Hennessy Hammock until I got used to the simple tarp tent concept. Now, I prefer having the extra room. In fact, hammocks can offer the most headroom of any tent since you can decide how high or low to pitch your tarp.

Bunk style hammocks

Multiple People In One Hammock — Unless you and your partner can sleep like synchronized swimmers, it can be very difficult to move without disrupting the sleep of your partner. On occasion, my kids have joined me in my hammock when they couldn’t sleep. In these cases I slept horribly while they slept soundly. If you want to be close to your camping parter when you hammock camp, I recommend you find a spot where you can pitch your hammocks side-by-side, in a triangle, or bunk bed style. In some cases you can even share a tarp. There is only one camping hammock on the market that is designed for two people that is even practical: the Clark Jungle Vertex.

Hopefully you never experience any discomfort in your hammock, but if you do, there are solutions that don’t require you to go back to the ground (unless you really, really want to).

Have you experienced any of these issues? What were your solutions? Are there other discomforts you’ve experienced that didn’t make my list?

  62 comments for “The Truth About Hammock Camping: Claim #2 – Hammocks Are Comfortable

  1. May 2, 2012 at 3:33 am

    One of my biggest problems was waking up with cold feet. Basically my feet were pushed up higher then the UQ. Come to find out my body was seeking its center of gravity and with my torso being heavier I would slide down. Solution of course is to hang the foot end higher.

    • May 2, 2012 at 8:35 am

      I, too, have colder feet! I don’t recall where I got this tip from exactly but it works great. When hammock camping, just prior to hitting the sack, boil up some water and fill a hot-water-proof nalgene bottle or similar and make sure it is tightly sealed. Slip this into a large wool sock. Put that down at the bottom of your bag or end of your hammock so you can play footsies with it. This not only keeps my feet warm but on those super cold nights I can make 2 of these and keep one up near my chest to really warm me up. This worked great for me down to negative 10 ish :)

    • May 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

      This is why I always wear warm two layer socks to bed. I would never sleep with socks on at home but in a hammock it’s a must.

      • Derek
        May 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

        I agree. I always bring a pair of “sleeping socks” with me; it really helps with cold feet.

    • Mark B
      February 17, 2014 at 10:04 am

      I’m getting the stiff ridge of fabric in the middle of the hammock even in a Warbonnet Blackbird…now I know I’m doing something wrong, but what? :(

      • Derek
        February 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

        A calf ridge I a blackbird is uncommon. Have you played with the hang angle?

  2. br79
    February 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    a real easy trick for cold butt is to put a space blanket
    (emergency blanket, yea know the silver ones) under yer sleeping
    bag in the hammock. It blocks any cold air from hitting you and
    keeps yer butt heat in.

    • Derek
      February 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Mylar blankets can help, but they do have a few drawbacks. First, they aren’t breathable so moisture will collect that can chill you. Mylar doesn’t stop conductive heat loss, so while evaporative, radiant, and convective are lessened, your heat can still be sapped away. Some have used those car windshield sun shades that are wrapped in Mylar in hammocks. They are a little better because they have some padding. The Hennessy super shelter is based on this product.

      • chokapi
        October 25, 2013 at 9:17 am

        I use those foam-backed windshield blockers with reflective material. They’re light, cheap, and add a bit of insulation as well as reflectivity. The ones I get even have that can be used to attach to the ridgeline. Oh, and they don’t crinkle much.

        • Derek
          October 25, 2013 at 11:16 am

          I used one of those early in my hammock career and I’m now testing one from Hennessy. It’s an interesting option, but prone to condensation. What’s been your experience?

          • tj
            December 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm

            I used the hennessy deep jungle which has the double layer for the windshield reflector on my a t thru hike attemp and it works well but it is prone to condensation. Every time i took it out of my bag it had moisture on it.

          • Derek
            December 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm

            I have the same hammock. Did you use the reflective bubble pad? If so, that is the culprit. That pad doesn’t breathe or allow for air flow so condensation is a problem. In colder temps the dew point varies and condensation issues fluctuate. Their super shelter padding is much better, or an under quilt for warmth.

          • Rob
            November 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

            I still use an Exped airman on top of windshield blocker on top of a foam pad. I use my Marmot Sawtooth as a quilt. Just slept in 25F. Had to sleep in my shorts because I got too hot.

    • Hobo Baggins
      August 20, 2014 at 7:08 am

      I sleep in a kammok. I finally solved the cold butt issue with a more durable version of the space blanket I found on amazon. It’s sort of a lightweight plastic tarp with one side coated in a silver mylar finish, very durable and rectangular, with the width almost identical to the kammok at the middle. I added some extra grommets to match the loop points on the kammok sides and to make a drawstring with shock cord at each end. I also added a few grommets in the center field for added breathability. It is wind proof, water proof and on it’s own with no blanket or anything in the hammock it prevents cold butt at 60 degrees in the wind. For colder weather I add a surplus quilted poncho liner between the mylar and the hammock and sleep in a warm bag. No pad needed.

  3. Saumya
    May 8, 2013 at 5:43 am

    hey. I’m in a design school and I’m doing a project on problems faced while in a hammock. The above information is very useful, but i would like some more. For example: how its difficult for overweight people to get out of hammocks due to the sag. General and simple problems like these. Could you help?

    • Derek
      May 8, 2013 at 10:50 am

      I don’t think it is any more difficult to get in or out of a hammock just based on your weight. If you are doing a scientific study, I’d be interested, but just gathering subjective opinions might not be very useful for a report. If a hammock is hung correctly, at chair height, it will be access. You need a control study where the only variation is occupant weight (if you can control height, that would be important too). Feel free to send me an email if you have specific questions.

    • November 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      Just as long as the hammock is rated for the weight, it’s no problem. I’m 6’8″ and 320lbs. I get a little extra sag that I’ve fixed by either using two trees closer together or supplementing with static climbing robe for further distances.

    • LJ Dellar
      July 8, 2014 at 4:52 am

      Something I have wondered why hammock manufacturers don’t do: The DD hammocks (which I use, being UK based) have a double-layer base between which you can push a sleeping pad. I use an Exped Downmat 7 in mine, but why not make the BASE OF THE HAMMOCK as an inflatable or self-inflating mat from scratch? How simple would that make things?

      • Derek
        July 8, 2014 at 6:22 am

        I’ve thought the same thing. The challenge is huge, however. Construction could involve a fairly complex curved shape with baffles, etc. It would increase manufacturing costs significantly.

  4. Saumya
    May 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you so much Derek!
    I will surely get back to you :)

  5. Don
    June 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    I actually use open cell foam padding and it is comfortable! Just don’t get it wet. Even in the wind, the open cell foam keeps me very warm.

    • toni
      February 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

      put it in a clear plastic bag. then it wont get wet

  6. obewise
    July 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    I had to chuckle at the “Motion Sickness” reason. I’ve been toying with the idea of tying a string to an adjacent tree and keeping the other end with me in the hammock just so I can give it a tug now and then to rock me to sleep. Hammock camping is awesome. I can’t imagine ever going back to being a ground dweller.

    • chokapi
      October 25, 2013 at 9:23 am

      There are places where hanging is just not feasible, legal, or appropriate. I want to scream when I see people hanging on softwoods – and there’s a forest in NJ that is nothing but Pygmy Pines, a rare species. Some idiot posted a picture on hammocksforum showing a hang between a pair of them, as well as some sawed poles to support the porch on his tarp.

      However, I can tent camp, there. And I daresay it would be even more comfy than hanging; it’s sugar sand under six inches of pine needles. Very nice. Usually don’t even need a pad.

      • Derek
        October 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

        No matter what our recreational pursuits, it is important to follow posted guidelines and rules. I’ll admit that hanging on softwoods can be a contentious subject. More research is needed to determine the long-term impact of hanging a hammock from a softwood. A working “rule of thumb” would be to use wider straps and pads on softer woods. The first principle of Leave No Trace is to plan ahead and prepare, so if a trek takes you into a pine forest, for example, plan accordingly. If a hammock is your only shelter, it can be pitched on the ground like a tent. Sleeping on the sugar sand and pine needles sounds cozy!

  7. luke
    August 28, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I am really enjoying my new hammock, it is so comfortable. I also like the option of throwing off the tarp and taking a nap while staring up into the trees, it’s such a peaceful experience. I have 30′ of 1″ uncut webbing that I use as the tree strap and tarp hanger, works out great, I can hang my glasses and headlight from the strap a few feet over my head. I think I need to add a carabiner to the ends of the straps for easier tree mounting, plus a better sleeping bag to stay warmer. My eno double has extra material to allow diagonal sleeping and also to disappear beneath the upturned edges. I also thought about obewise’s idea of a swing string. I want to find or make some sort of hammock sock that is 1/2 solid and 1/2 mesh along the axis to provide either rain cover or bug cover, and to be able to squish it either down at my feet or above my head to deploy when needed. I am using a cheap plastic tarp now and my wife likes to call me a squirrel in a doritos bag when I move around.

  8. Tecti
    September 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks so much for this info! I will be hiking the AT next spring and I am now convinced about doing it hammock-style. Do you have any tips or websites for building your complete hammock? I’d like not to spend more than $100 or so… I saw that the Henessee scout was that price, but if I could make one as good, I’d rather do that!

    • Derek
      September 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      Tecti, you can make a hammock for far less than $100. I’m making hammocks with my scouts next month and we spent about $25 for all the materials (this does not include the tarp). I’ve got some DIY articles here on my blog and I’m planning on posting a few more in the next few weeks, but if you’d like to send me a PM via email, I can send you more details sooner.

      • Jeff
        October 8, 2013 at 8:56 am

        Great article… I have been camping in extreme cold and heat with a hammock (wind, snow, sleet and rain). It makes things a challenge at times, but with a little creativity, it can be extremely comfortable and rewarding on those long hikes.

        A tyvek bivy sack (home made) helps with water proofing, cold drafts and it i$ cheap!
        A down throw carefully tied to the under side of the hammock (becomes a 10 dollar underquilt) is helpful for cold bottom problems.
        A cork, stake and 550 cord fasten to your hammock and then to the ground (both sides) keeps you from excessive rocking.

        • Derek
          October 8, 2013 at 8:58 am

          Thanks for the great tips Jeff! I just made a Tyvek under quilt recently — an easy, fun, practical addition to my hammock portfolio.

        • chokapi
          October 25, 2013 at 9:27 am

          I use those rubber bouncy balls as toggles, and then 550 to shock cord to 550. I’d found that guying to the ground with static line can cause little jars when the wind blows, and can bounce a little when you move. The shock cord acts as, well, a shock absorber.

          • Derek
            October 25, 2013 at 11:27 am

            This is one reason I like using shock cord on my guy lines.

  9. Weston
    December 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    One of the things I have found to be very helpful in sleeping in my hammock is using a sleeping pad. I fold it in half in put it in the sag of the hammock. This helps level it out as well as give myself insulation against the cold.

  10. Roj
    May 18, 2014 at 7:07 am

    So I just got a Hennessey Asym Zip Deluxe because I’m 6’4″/250 Lbs. Rigged it the first day I got it because I was excited – whoo new toy :O) . Thought it was great, decided to sleep in the yard that night. Conditions this weekend are similar when I’ll use it most – in the fall when night temp will get down to 0C. Read up on the subject and put a thermarest inside to combat getting a cold butt – that night I kept sliding off of as I moved and getting very cold butt syndrome. I used an oversize sleeping bag (not sure about it being too big) + a pillow (way too big and comfy) form the house. I had also played with the setup (tighter and was not comfy). Slept for about 5 hours. Second night, swapped big pillow for my small camp one (way better), put in two overlapping thermarests (mistake) and tightened the hammock more (mistake). That night I woke up with cold but syndrome again but this time two thermarests had slipped around so my whole sleeping arrangements were one big bundle of stuff, upside down back to front and in my face. Rearranging my setup inside mainly meant me twanging my nose off the overhead rope and/or grabbing handfuls of fabric to rearrange myself. The extra effort and stuff in my face made me claustrophobic so I stuck my head outside for a while. Fell asleep, woke up cold @ 1am, gave in and came back inside. I think getting in and out of a sleeping bag keeping a thermal barrier in place as you get in will take some practice. Glad I didn’t experience all that in the back country :O)

    • Derek
      May 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      I feel your pain! Thankfully I began hammock camping in the summer in Virginia when nights were warm and cold butt syndrome easier to fix. As temperatures dropped I experienced several nights of what you describe. One tip that may help with a pad is to put the pad inside your sleeping bag. This keeps it from moving around. Claustrophobia can be a problem with a sleeping bag since the hammock hugs you more so more fabric is pulled around you. This is one reason quilt style bags are generally preferred in a hammock. You can do this with a regular bag by keeping it unzipped to the foot box. When I used pads, I cut one in half and tuned it sideways for full shoulder coverage where this hammock touched.

    • Mark
      May 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Three ways to go.

      Persevere with your current set-up

      Keep ya HH and invest in a under-quilt

      Trade in the HH and get a double skin Warbonnet which would accommodate your pads

      One day it will all make sense ;)

      • Roj
        May 19, 2014 at 5:01 am

        Probably didn’t help using a +6 c bag in -2. =:0)

        • Roj
          June 8, 2014 at 5:43 am

          Hi – slept out again last night and had a much better sleep. Didn’t get cold butt as it was warm enough with no pad. Hung the hammock much looser – a bit too droopy judging by the ridge line (shorten it/take up the slack if it’s more comfy?) and was waaay more comfy – slept pretty well. Sleeping bag is hard to manoeuvre in and takes some contortion to get the huge head hood up past my shoulders. Got lots of practice getting out and going for a pee. I am working towards a lightweight camping setup to take backcountry kayaking. :0)

          • Derek
            June 8, 2014 at 10:26 am

            One reason I prefer to use a quilt style sleeping bag (one without a back and a zipper) is that it is far easier to get in and out. I’m glad to hear you were able to get a better sleep with a different sag in the hammock.

    • Hobo Baggins
      August 20, 2014 at 7:19 am

      I used to sleep in a Hennessey with a Thermarest. The sliding pad nearly made me ebay the hammock. The fix was so simple I felt like a fool when it was handed to me. Get a sheet of that rubberized mesh for lining tool drawers or keeping rugs from sliding on hard floors. It’s super cheap and easy to cut to size. Put it under your Thermarest and the slide will stop. If you Thermarest has a sleeve/cover you can even sew the mesh right to it.

      • Roj
        August 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

        Thanks for the tip – im off into the wilderness end of september so ill try it out

  11. Jen C
    May 20, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I camped with a friend last year who used a hammock and I was frequently jealous so i am considering making the switch this season from my tiny “two” person (dubbed the ‘bear burrito”) tent to ‘hanging’. I am totally enjoying the info on your site and have, well.. a ‘girl’ question… Even in my bear burrito I can sit up/lay down change my clothes and such. The hammock just seem a lot less convenient for ‘personal privacy’ needs. Any thoughts / comments?

    • Derek
      May 21, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Not just a “girl” question — we want to provide privacy for our Boy Scouts in the same way. Hammocks can provide a huge amount of space and screening for privacy or very minimal; it all depends on the tarp you use. With large tarps, you can get 360-degree coverage and have stand-up clearance — much better than any backpacking tent. Smaller tarps make it difficult. I’ve changed clothes inside my hammock with a small tarp, but it can be challenging doing the “inch worm” movement :)

  12. July 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Derek-

    thinking hard about making the transition to hammock camping, (been in a tent and ground pad for many years). And those years are catching up to me in the form of 4 bulging disks and moderate stenosis of the spine. I can still hike all day relatively pain free but getting a good nights rest is increasingly difficult. Have looked at the Hennessys, Clarks and the Eno double.

    Would anyone in particular be more suitable for someone with my back issues?

    • Derek
      July 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      All hammocks share a common trait of relieving pressure points. The goal is to get a hammock that is the right size for you. Generally, a longer hammock provides a flatter diagonal lay. Send me an email and we can talk more about your individual needs.

      • July 20, 2014 at 7:06 pm

        Well, here is the outcome-

        have spent 5 nights in my new ENO doublenest and my back has NEVER felt this good! NO morning stiffness or pain, and am sleeping better and longer than I ever did on a bed or my recliner. Wish I tried hammocks earlier, but better late than never. Am using one of my thermarest pads with a light quilt over it under me and a light 3/4 zip sleeping bag over me. Look forward to bedtime every night! Have 4 bulging discs in lower back and stenosis and this is better than my pain meds (which I rarely take lately).

        Now, just have to figure out what I am going to do this winter!

    • LJ Dellar
      July 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

      It depends to some extent on your preferred sleeping position. My DD lets me sleep on my side and, strung slightly tauter, on my front. But I’m 5’7″ not 6′ plus.

  13. RJones
    July 9, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Hello Everyone: I am shopping for my first hammock. I’ve done a lot of reading and researching. I am leaning toward the Lawson Blue Ridge. I like the idea of versatility as sometimes I do camp above the tree line or on a broad summit. I will consider changing this practice if this is not really the best hammock for me. Yeah, I’ll go down to tree line if I have to, to have a great sleep.
    I have not seen comments about deep sag hammocks vs the flat spreader bar type like the Lawson Blue Ridge. If anyone could make comments regarding this, I would appreciate it.
    Thanks

    • Derek
      July 9, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      Welcome Richard! Having a “convertible” hammock is appealing, and there are several hammocks that will do this. Indeed, all hammocks that have sewn-in bug netting work great as ground bivy sacks, although the Lawson with its tent poles makes it easier and a bit more tent-like than most (the DD Jungle Hammock and Clark Jungle Hammock also have tent poles that work this way).

      The Lawson hammock, while it does employ spreader bars, still has a sag. It’s isn’t a “flat” hammock as you might guess. The spreader bars and poles help open up the hammock, but it still sags in the middle a little. Indeed, one of the first things I remember when getting into the Lawson was how “big” it felt inside. Some folks really prefer that open feeling of the Lawson. Plus, that hammock doesn’t hug you like other hammocks do. It is a great hammock and folks love it.

      • RJones
        July 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm

        Thanks for your comments. I still haven’t pulled the trigger on a hammock yet, but it’s constantly on my mind, and I will have one before my next overnight trip. I know once I purchase a hammock, I’ll need to practice setting it up and maybe even spend a few hours in it or even an overnight. Having said that….I don’t have a suitable pair of trees to set it up at home with!! I do have a super large cedar that would have adequate limbs to suspend the hammock from. The anchor ropes would have to hang vertically from each limb for several feet to clear other limbs and to allow the hammock to be low enough for me to get inside. Can you explain any issues with hanging this way? Does your book cover it? What are the other hammocks that are “convertible”? I read that the Lawson is “tent” material, and that other hammocks are parachute material. What’s that about? Do you have a digital copy of your book? I’ve shopped a little on craigslist for one of those free standing hammock stands. Do those work for these types of hammocks? If I find one that’s cheap enough (I don’t want to spend a bunch on this) what should I look for? I saw an old foldable hammock stand for $10. I know I gave you a ton of questions…thanks in advance. I will have a look at your book.
        Richard J

        • Derek
          July 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm

          Nearly all outdoor camping hammocks use nylon or polyester fabrics that are commonly used for making tents. The term “parachute nylon” is used to describe some of the physical characteristics of the fabrics, specifically the crinkly appearance that you see with parachutes. In the industry you’ll hear it called “crinkle taffeta” nylon. You can “convert” any hammock into a ground bivy, but some are easier than others. The Lawson, DD Hammocks, and Clark Jungle Hammocks are all hammocks that use tent poles that make for pretty easy self-standing ground shelters. Always use a ground pad to protect the hammock fabric from holes and abrasion.

          You can get pretty creative on where and how you hang a hammock. If you have one tree that has long, strong limbs, you can hang a hammock on a single branch. When I was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I did this using a single, long branch on a Saltcedar or Tamarisk tree. It was pretty cool.

          Yes, I have a digital copy of my book. You can get it for the Kindle, Nook, and Apple devices.

          Most hammock stands will work with camping hammocks, but the best ones are those designed for Mayan hammocks, such as the Byer of Maine Vario Stand. I wrote an article that shows multiple styles of portable hammock stands that might interest you.

          I hope I answered all your questions :) Let me know if different, and feel free to send me an email.

          • RJones
            July 20, 2014 at 4:00 pm

            thanks once again for excellent reply. Now, I sent a copy of your book to my kindle cloud reader. Thanks !

  14. Steve K
    August 5, 2014 at 4:46 am

    One thing that just hooks me is the fun that ‘tweaking’ a hammock is all by itself. I never felt like playing around with different ‘pitch techniques’ with a tent, because it seems that it is either up or not up. To improve a tent much at all, it involves ditching one and buying another. But with a hammock there are just so many things that can be played around with that can be seemingly insignificant and subtle but can make a huge difference to the comfort, weight, ‘weather proof-ness’ etc. Tarps, suspension, tie-outs, insulation, etc. etc. etc. can all be changed and experimented with, many being very cheap and DIY friendly. This makes hammocking a science in itself and a great reason to get out in the bush regularly – ‘I just have to try out my latest mod in real life’.

  15. Dylan
    August 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Here are some concerns I’m having about switching to a hammock setup. Please do set me straight if I am incorrect with any of these assumptions!

    1.) Some of the hammock “benefits” really seem to offer no advantage over a tent. Ex: Getting away from bugs, snakes, scorpions, etc on the ground. If you’re in a tent, these things can’t get to you anyway and it seems to me like a tent is much easier to tightly seal than most hammock arrangements (close one zipper) and requires less time, energy and components to attain this secure environment.
    2.) A tent provides you with a very large, dry, and STABLE area to do things out of the elements and free of pests regardless of the season. You can easily change clothes, repair gear or craft something needed in camp, play cards with a friend and wait out the rain, etc. You can also bring your pack and any other gear inside and keep it completely dry and free of critters (not just setting it under a fly that only protects from what falls from directly above.
    3.) A hammock can be comfortable to sleep in but seems useless for anything other than maybe reading. It also can’t be shared if another person should need to join you for any reason such as damaged or stolen equipment or for people who bring a their pet camping.
    4.) You need appropriately sized and spaced trees. This seems like an equally foreseeable issue as being unable to find a spot for a small tent due to some rocks or roots and typically an area prone to flooding is easy enough to avoid or find a slightly higher area within.
    5.) In cold weather a hammock does not retain heat or block wind as well as a tent and requires bulky top and bottom insulators in addition to your heavy/bulky sleeping bag.

    At the end of the day, comfort during sleep is a benefit for SOME people while others may say the opposite. While a hammock is an extremely versatile concept, it seems to me like these varying options must be exercised not so much to take advantage of an opportunity where a tent could not serve you well, but simply to function on par with a tent in a given environment or circumstance where a tent would already be inherently functioning well. Please do set me straight here! I would like to try and switch to a hammock if I can justify the change. Sorry for writing this book!

    • Derek
      August 12, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Great comments and observations. At the end of the day, a hammock either works for you, or it doesn’t. The primary reason folks transition to hammocks is that it provides superior comfort over sleeping on the ground (in their experience). As you will read in this series of articles on hammock camping, I explore some of the counterpoints to hammocks — they certainly have their downsides, drawbacks, and tradeoffs.

      In order to be as fair as possible, you need to compare hammocks that are designed for camping and have a more equal footing with a tent. For example, a hammock with a zippered bug net and a protective tarp. I know folks take just about any hammock camping (I know; I’m one of them), but it isn’t really fair to compare an open hammock straight across. Even with a fully-outfitted hammock, the systems have some fundamental differences, but as long as we understand that, we can start to make some comparisons, although not perfect.

      With that said, here are a few points to consider:

      1. A tent can seal you away from critters, so long as you are vigilant about door access, but it isn’t fool-proof. Hammocks with zippered bug nets are arguably just as quick and easy to seal out as a tent, but being suspended above the ground, you run less of a risk of crawling bugs getting inside. This is an experienced-based concern, only validated by experience in a hammock. Having been on the ground and in a hammock, I can say that they both can protect you from critters, but the hammock has some protections that are inherent to being elevated above the ground that the tent does not have.

      2. This, again, depends on the shelter. “Very large” and “dry” are subjective, and in the world of backpacking, the joke is wondering what person is used to determine occupancy in a 2-person shelter, as the space is usually cramped and suitable only for sleeping in very tight accommodations. And while the ground may provide a stable (e.g., non-swinging) platform, there is no promise that in a deluge the impacted ground won’t become a reservoir of water. I’ve been in multiple situations where tents were drowning in water, soaking occupants and equipment alike. Not fun. Yes, tents can provide a cubby for changing clothes, but all the other examples you shared are easily done in a hammock. My scout troop, for example, on our 50-mile backpacking trip last year, set up their hammocks in close quarters (side-by-side or stacked) so they could play cards, talk, and wait out the rain. A single tarp protected multiple hammocks and was far more roomy than any tent, with standing room. Tarps are much more versatile for protecting against the elements and can be pitched to match conditions. Tents, in contrast, are only as good as the rain fly provided. If it’s a single season with a “bikini” top, your chances of getting the sidewalls wet are very high. Tents with full-coverage tarps tend to be hot and muggy with poor ventilation. Take your pick, but tents aren’t all fun and games.

      3. It’s clear from this point that you haven’t done a lot of reading yet on hammocks. First and foremost, people LOVE hammocks because they are comfortable and provide a pressure-point-free sleep all night. I rarely toss and turn in a hammock. I will admit that the comfort is dependent on personal preference on one hand, and pitching the hammock correctly on the other. When done right, the hammock provides a very comfortable, ergonomically flat lay. I read books all the time in my hammocks, but I also sleep in them too. All night in fact. :) There are two-person hammocks available; I used one this summer during Boy Scout camp. But hammocks can be pitched side-by-side or stacked in any combination you want. While there isn’t a perfect comparison between the shelter and sleep systems between hammock camping and tent camping, I often think of hammocks as being a cross between a shelter and a sleeping pad. Let’s say you have a two-person tent where you sleep side-by-side. Unless you are in a family-size tent, the proximity to the other person is usually pretty close. Hammocks can be pitched equally close together, so there is very little you are missing out on. I prefer to have a little more room, and yet I can still be protected under the same tarp if desired.

      Pet’s are great with hammocks. Unless you want to bring your pet in the hammock with you (many do), they can lay underneath you, undisturbed, and perfectly content.

      Your hypothetical situation of offering “room and board” to another camper who lost all their gear is rare indeed. I’m sure it happens, but if that’s your reason for sticking with a tent, all the more power to you :) The one thing a hammock can still provide is shelter from a storm. If the person sharing your shelter has truly lost their gear, are you going to share your sleeping bag with them? :) I would say that the hammock camper is in a better position to offer shelter to a random stranger as that person can be sheltered while you and your gear do too.

      4. Yes, having anchor points in the right proximity is important, but I have rarely been in any location where that has been a problem. It’s a perception, but not reality. Unless you spend most of your camping trips above the tree line, you’ll be fine.

      5. Hammocks in the summer offer superior comfort due to the convective heat loss. But you are correct in assuming that they can be more difficult to stay warm in the winter. But you missed a point about insulation. You don’t need top and bottom insulators AND a sleeping bag. The insulators you are referring to–a top quilt and a bottom quilt–are designed to replace your sleeping bag completely. In fact, a quilt system can actually save you weight and bulk compared with a conventional sleeping bag and pad. Consider that most sleeping bags are less effective because the insulation underneath you gets compressed and is useless (synthetic bags, depending on the fill type, may compress less and provide some insulation). This is the main reason you need a sleeping pad. The pad is hardly suitable for comfort, but plays an essential role in preventing conductive heat loss. Without a pad, even tent sleepers will get cold. Indeed, in the winter, most mountaineering books recommend using both a closed-cell foam pad AND a self-inflating pad to protect you in the winter.

      Imagine a sleeping bag that didn’t get compressed? Where both the top and bottom baffles remained fully lofted? This is the concept behind the top and bottom quilts. What’s happening is the sleeping bag is being effectively cut in half. The bottom half is hung under the hammock where it remains fully lofted. The top portion is draped on top. It’s so effective that hammock campers have camped in sub-freezing temperatures and been perfectly fine. In the deep winter, regardless of what shelter system you use, you will bring more gear, more food, and more insulation than in the summer.

      In terms of blocking the wind or creating a micro-climate, hammocks offer the same degree of protection as a tent. There are “winter” tarps available that provide “floor to ceiling” coverage, 360-degrees. Lightweight winter covers provide smaller micro-climates closer to the occupant that mimics what a tent provides.

      The big difference, of course, is that a hammock is much more modular than a tent. For example, with a stock hammock, I can mix-and-match components to better fit the environment I’m exploring. A winter cover and a larger tarp during the winter are easily exchanged for minimal tarps in the summer. In contrast, a tent is designed as a stand-alone kit. They are sold by a season (e.g. 3-season, 4-season). A 4-season tent is horribly muggy, hot, and hard to vent in the summer, and a 3-season tent may not provide the wind and moisture protection in the winter. You end up spending a lot more buying “single-use” tents than individual and exchangeable components on a hammock.

      You are correct that comfort is only important to some folks. When those folks get a little older, however, I guarantee they will either 1) complain more or 2) stop camping. Most folks I meet who converted to hammocks did so because they still wanted to camp and were tired of complaining about it. Comfort wins over in the long run.

      Another thing to consider is culture. Tents are a relatively “new” concept in outdoor adventures, but they have become quite engrained in our minds as the ultimate in shelter and protection. Prior to stand-alone tents, folks were happy with just a tarp. Culturally, folks in other countries see hammocks as normal and natural, and anything else seems silly. At that point, using a hammock isn’t even really an argument about comfort or convenience, but rather what is the societal norm.

      If you are truly interested in switching to hammock camping, the only way you’ll really know is to try it. This cerebral exercise of bantering back and forth over the pros and cons can only go so far. At the end of the day, you’ll just have to try it. Find a buddy who has a hammock and give it a go. I won’t promise anything. I for one have learned that hammocks can be fickle. Hang them wrong or get the wrong size for your size/weight and you end up like a pretzel. Do it right, and you may never go back. I was converted after just one night. Oh, I’ve had plenty of bad experiences in a hammock, but I kept going back because I consistently have better rest, better REM, and better energy after sleeping in a hammock than I do on the ground.

      • Dylan
        August 13, 2014 at 9:27 am

        Thank you for all the information! You really made some excellent points and I definitely am convinced the Hammock idea is definitely worth a try. I apologize for coming off somewhat negative as well. One thing you said really got me thinking… you mentioned that tent camping is the “new” method of camping. I found that funny because a lot of the reason I have been so skeptical about the hammock idea is because in my mind, HAMMOCKS were the new fad, not the other way around! Looking at a longer and worldwide history, you are absolutely right. There just seems to be a cult following all of the sudden and I was imagining maybe it was based more in trendiness than functionality. The less-than obvious “tent culture” we all grew up in does make it hard to imagine a hammock being functional for anything more than a nap in the yard. I also found your comments on the underquilts/ topquilts and insulation loft vs a pad and bag setup to be excellent points. I’m really interested in cold-weather camping and after clearing up the sleeping-bag/extra gear issue, I can see how the insulated hammock could be a better platform than a tent and sleeping pad. Looking at the ENO type quilts though, I am concerned there would be some cold drafts and air leaks without an additional sleeping bag due to the open seams. Is that the case in your experience or is there a better quilt option? Also, just to be clear, I too put a lot of value on sleep comfort and was actually just suggesting that maybe not everyone would find that a hammock provides a better nights sleep. It does sound though, like those people would be few and far between from what I have read and heard recently.

  16. November 25, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Update-

    have spent MANY restful nights in my Eno since last posting. Even went so far as inserting 2 eyebolts in my large family room to accommodate interior hanging. I use my Python straps with carabineers on the Eno and just unclip it when not in use. Great for watching movies, naps and of course a good nights sleep. My little dog (a Yorkie) has even taken to jumping up on top of me for a nap too. My German Shepard has not quite figured out how to join us (which is a good thing as he is pushing 100lbs!)

    It’s also a big hit when the grandkids come over……they all fight to see which one can play in grandpa’s hammock! Sometimes they just all climb in (3 boys). Might have to get them each one for X-mas!

  17. Bob Legnon
    November 29, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    just bought a ENO deluxe double this thanksgiving for a cross country bicycle ride I’m taking.
    I had been using a Marine corp bivy, whick I like, I cant wait to try my new eno out.
    california to canada and parts north, as far as I know. I really appreciate all of the first hand information.
    you all put my heart much more at ease
    thank you all
    Bob

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