Tips For Pitch-Perfect Hammock Camping

The humble hammock has been around for thousands of years, and it is still used today in parts of the world as a primary sleeping accommodation. Yet many people I speak with think hammocks are “uncomfortable,” or it will hurt their back,” or  “they’re great for summer lounging only,” or “it’s too easy to fall out.” A lot of these misconceptions come from the modern rope hammocks with their spreader bars and large woven nets. These hammocks are notoriously tippy, due to their high center of gravity and tight pitch. Unfortunately, they’ve given authentic hammocks a bad wrap.

Most camping hammocks are based on the original, authentic Brazilian or Mayan styles of South America with their deep sag, tight weave, and gathered ends.

Here are some quick tips for getting started with hammock camping, including getting that perfect Brazilian hang.

1. Use webbing straps around trees or other anchor points. One to 1.5 in (2.5 to 3.8 cm) polyester or polypropylene webbing straps help disperse the weight and reduce damage to trees or other objects. Polyester and polypropylene are also low-stretch, so you won’t sag during the night (avoid nylon straps, which stretch).

30 degrees for hammock straps1. Angle your hammock suspension (rope) at around 30°. Pitching a hammock too tight between anchor points puts an enormous amount of force on the suspension lines and hammock, leading to potential failure (and discomfort). A tight pitch also raises the center of gravity, making the hammock unsteady. Pitching the hammock at 30° ensures you get a deep sag (tip #2).

2. Get a deep(ish) sag. Like a friendly smile, a hammock should be low in the center and high  near the ends. With a deep sag, it is very difficult to accidentally fall out, thanks to the low center of gravity and high fabric walls. A deep sag allows you to lay on the diagonal (tip #3).

How to sleep and lay in a hammock

3. Lay on the diagonal. A lot of beginners try to sleep in line with the hammock, curving their bodies into a banana shape. I find that this takes a lot of effort, because with a good sag, your feet naturally slide to one side or the other, finding a “pocket” of fabric. By angling your body askew of center, you fall into a ergonomically flat position (it looks a bit like a recumbent bicyclist), where the hammock takes away all the pressure points naturally. The diagonal lay is the key to comfort in a gathered-end hammock.

Hammock Under Quilt Example

4. Insulate underneath. Hammocks are a godsend in hot, muggy areas where the extra air circulation makes outdoor camping tolerable. But as temperatures drop below 70°F (21°C), you’ll start to feel the effects of convective heat loss known as Cold Butt Syndrome (CBS). A sleeping pad (closed-cell foam or self-inflating) works great, and some hangers use them year-round. Purpose-built “under quilts” are another popular option for keeping you warm underneath. For hot summer nights, you may only need a thin blanket to regulate your temperature.

Hammock Bug Net

5. Guard against flying bugs. When flying bugs (mosquitos, moths, midges, biting flies, etc.) are a problem, you’ll want bug netting to protect you. Some camping hammocks have sewn-in netting, but you can purchase after-market netting too. My Hammock Manufacturer List indicates which retailers sell hammock bug netting.

6. Protect yourself from rain. A basic 8×10 tarp is more than adequate to protect you from rain and wind. You can also find models with extra tie-outs for more pitching options. You can pitch tarps in a variety of styles, including a basic diamond configuration, an “A”-frame, or a fully-enclosed shelter with doors on the ends.

  26 comments for “Tips For Pitch-Perfect Hammock Camping

  1. aaron
    September 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Is an 8×10 tarp adequate even for a hammock that measures 10 ft long?

    • Derek
      September 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Yup! Remember that a Brazilian-style hammock is hung with a sag — never flat — so a 10 ft-long (3 m) hammock “shortens” to less than 9 ft (~2.5 m). Also, with an 8×10 ft (2.4×3 m) tarp, you would pitch it on the corners creating an asymmetric coverage. The ridge line on this asym pitch is almost 13 ft (4 m)! This is plenty of coverage for a 10 ft (3 m) Brazilian hammock. http://theultimatehang.com/2012/07/hammock-camping-101/

  2. aaron
    September 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    So you’re saying that an 8×10 will be adequate only if pitched on the corners? Would a 10×10 be excessive?

    • Derek
      September 14, 2012 at 7:21 am

      Instead of pitching a square or rectangular tarp from the corners, you can always pitch it as a square A-frame on the 10 ft (3 m) side. You’ll have less end-to-end coverage depending on the size of the tarp. Each person will have their preference, but anywhere from 6 in (15 cm) to 1 ft (30 cm) over each end of the hammock will provide enough coverage.

      A 10×10 ft (3×3 m) tarp will have a diagonal ridge line length of 14 ft (4.2 m), which is plenty of coverage for any hammock.

  3. Luke
    June 7, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Should the lines be 30 degrees from horizontal before or after entering the hammock?

    • Derek
      June 8, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Before. All hammocks will sag once weight is applied, but this is what you see as the force is being applied.

  4. chokapi
    October 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I have an Adjustable Structural Ridgeline set at 9′, which according to the 85% rule is correct for my hammock. Do I still need to find the 30* angle?

    • Derek
      October 25, 2013 at 11:35 am

      Short answer: yes.

      One of the misconceptions that has sprung from hammocks with structural ridge lines is to pitch the hammock taut between the anchor points since the hammock’s sag is unaffected. This has had catastrophic effect in some cases where ridge lines have snapped under the load. In the real world, it is nearly impossible to hang the hammock perfectly taut as all suspension line will have some stretch, especially when the line is under extreme tensile forces.

      The laws of physics still apply to a hammock with a structural ridge line, so you increase the tension force as you lower the hang angle.

  5. Richie
    March 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Is a 12×12 ta to big? I use eno outside but would like one to cover my handmade bigger ones also.

    • Derek
      March 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      A 12×12 with a diamond pitch would give you a ridge line of 17 feet — very, very large. A 9×9 tarp on a diagonal is closer to 13 feet, which is more reasonable. Most hammock tarps are between 11 and 12 feet ridge lines, so I think you would be okay with a 9×9, unless you want to pitch it as a rectangle, then the 12×12 is better.

      • Richie
        March 29, 2014 at 4:23 pm

        Thanks. That is sort of what I figured. Tough call.

  6. Richie
    March 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Tarp was what I meant. I like the kelty tarps but it’s 9×9 or 12×12

  7. Jazznmylesdad
    April 7, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Hi. This feels like a silly question but here goes: Can I use any tarp with my Grand Trunk Skeeter hammock? I’m eyeing a couple tarps from other manufactures but they seem to imply that they only work with their hammocks? Thanks!

    • Derek
      April 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Think of tarps like accessories: mix and match to your liking. The main consideration is ridge line length, to ensure the hammock is covered end to end. I often use a poncho tarp from GoLite, pitched on the diagonal. After the ridge line length is covered, anywhere from a few inches or a foot in either side (depending in your preference) the next consideration is side coverage. There is a lot of variety there.

  8. Nic
    June 10, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    After reading this article I tried hanging my hammock with sag about a million times and can’t seem to get comfortable. It’s weird because for me hanging my hammock with the least amount of sag possible is the most comfortable way for me to lay (I love it). But anyway, does anyone else like to hang like that. Also would a Kelty 9×9 be a good tarp?

    • Derek
      June 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Nic, what hammock do you have? Some smaller hammocks actually benefit from a much shallower hang. My Grand Trunk Ultralight gets perfect at about 20 degrees. What you’re attempting to do is get a diagonal lay, which improves the flat lay and the ergonomics on your back while eliminating spine and shoulder squeeze. That said, I know that some folks have no problem with a tight pitch and a “canoe” effect. The Speer hammocks were designed to do this. It’s not traditional, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t comfortable for some folks.

      In a nutshell, do what works for you. If you find it is comfortable, stick with it! :)

      • Nic
        June 23, 2014 at 11:42 pm

        I have the grand trunk ultralight. Thanks for the info!

  9. June 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    So, because a hennessy hammock has an internal ridgeline for the bug net, and then the hammock curves beneath that, should you still tie it up at the 30* ? I’ve always pulled the sucker tight but seeing this info I might have it wrong. Still, Tom Hennessy has a video where he pretty much pulls it tight (though maybe not as tight as me). In your experience, should you still sag a hennessy?

    • Derek
      June 12, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      You are correct that the ridge line on the Hennessy maintains an ideal sag for the hammock. That sag is what you get if you didn’t have the ridge line and you pitched it at 30-degrees. The nice thing about the Hennessy, or other models with structural ridge lines, is that you can pitch it tight and the hammock lay isn’t compromised.

      That said, there are other benefits for pitching a Hennessy with a sag on the suspension lines instead of drum tight. First, you reduce the strain on all the components (a nice safety feature) and lower the tensile force against the anchor points. Second, if you connect your tarp directly to the Hennessy Hammock, you can avoid the “limp tarp” effect that happens when you pitch it too tight. A third benefit, which is really tangential, is that you develop skills that work with other hammocks, such as net-less Mayan-style hammocks. A lot of folks who start with a Hennessy end up getting other hammocks for family and friends that are less feature rich, but if they are accustomed to pitching things tight, the end up having problems.

      • June 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm

        Wow! Thanks for the quick response Derek. I’ll try some sag. The question is, given the unique construction of the Hennessy, should I adjust that angle? What would you recommend using to sag it? It always seems to dip quite a bit anyways.

        • June 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

          Ahh. sorry. I just noticed that those are links you posted, and the one link contained a very specific answer to what I just asked. I appreciate it! I’ll be buying your book shortly for sure, as I’d love to delve deeper into the world of hammocks. Been using them for years but I’d like to be better.

  10. Jeff Johnson
    July 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    So I just got a warbonnet blackbird XLC. Brandon mentions that you should hang the foot end of the hammock at least a foot higher than the head end. I noticed that you don’t mention anything about this. Is this recommended for other gathered end hammocks? It seems I lay the way Warbonnet recommends, my head would be closer and a little more center(still off to the side though) to the head end of the hammock while my feet would me much closer to the middle of the hammock and very much off to the side. I guess I’m just curious what you know about this.

    • Derek
      July 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Hanging the foot end higher is a technique for any hammock. It is a comfort tip but it isn’t required. If a level hang works you don’t need to modify. Hanging the foot end higher keeps your torso from sliding toward your feet and can help level your torso more than your feet.

  11. justin
    July 14, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    If not using webbing, what do you suggest for cordage? I use both 1 & 2 person hammocks, so it needs to support a lot of weight, up to 300lbs. I’ve heard mixed thoughts on para. What would you suggest?

    • Derek
      July 20, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      You should always use webbing around a tree for multiple reasons, including protecting the tree bark. Some webbing straps are long enough that they can do double-duty as the adjustable suspension as well, but mostly straps are used to create an easy anchor point where you connect your suspension.

      I would not use paracord unless you weave it. One of my favorite is the Toggle Rope from Ship in a Bottle. One of the most common or popular lines used for suspension is 7/64 inch Amsteel. This stuff is strong as steel for its size and even floats on water. It’s the Holy Grail of hammock suspension. Sheathed Spectra line is also commonly used for hammock suspension.

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