The Truth About Hammock Camping: Claim #3 – Hammocks are quick and easy to set up

Is a hammock faster and easier to set up than, say, a backpacking tent? Some claim you can set up a hammock tent in under a minute, but there are “pop-up” tents that erect even faster, so which is really the true speed demon?

Claim #3: Hammocks are easy and quick to set up.

The Truth Is: Hammocks can be quick to set up, but so too can backpacking tents, especially when you’re familiar with the process. Hammocks can also be very difficult to set up and most come with a learning curve: how high should you tie the straps? How far apart should the anchors be set? How tight should the hammock stretch? How do you keep the tarp taut? For those just transitioning to hammocks, the first few tries may take a lot longer than expected.

Illustration: Hammock camping 101.

The main shelter for a hammock is a tarp, and tarps come in a variety of designs requiring different pitching options. Simpler tarps are faster and easier to pitch, while larger tarps can take several minutes to configure, especially since there is no set shape. Backpacking tents, on the other hand, pitch the same way every time (or at least they should; I’ve had Boy Scouts who mixed up poles and rain flys resulting in a mess of a tent).

On a clear night, you can forgo the tarp altogether and just hang the hammock, perhaps tipping the scales in favor of the hammock. That is, of course, unless the tent camper decides to just “bivy it” and skip the tent entirely.

At the end of the day, don’t pick a hammock (or a tent) just because one side claims to pitch faster than the other. With either a tent or hammock, practice helps with proficiency, so when you have a skilled hammock hanger next to a skilled tent pitcher—both who have fine-tuned their kit—the results may be a stand-off.

The Solutions

1. Practice! And don’t give up after the first time. Hammock camping is essentially tarp camping, with a soft, cozy loft hung underneath. When I received my first hammock, a Hennessy Expedition, I didn’t have a clue on how to tie the figure-8 lashing, even after studying images and watching videos. What worked for me was a personal demonstration. Thankfully a friend, who was a veteran hanger, “showed me the ropes.” After a few practice tries, I had it mastered, but the lashing was still cumbersome and if I had to adjust my hang (which happens often), untying the lash only made the process slower and tedious.

Your speed will increase as you practice. Hennessy claims some Boy Scouts set up his hammock with the figure-8 lashing in 38 seconds! Practice in your back yard or local park before heading out in the field. Be sure you know how each component works and whether you can set up in the dark or when conditions aren’t ideal.

2. Upgrade your suspension system. Switching to a faster1 suspension system can turn minutes into seconds. Faster doesn’t always mean better, but when it’s raining or cold, getting things set up quickly does have its advantages.

short-loop-on-end-of-hammock

A lot of hammocks come stock with a loop of rope that gathers up each end of the hammock and provides an attachment point. This is my preferred way to set up all of my hammocks as a baseline2. With a short loop on the end of the hammock, you have an easy attachment point that works well with a climbing carabiner and some daisy-chained tree straps. With these straps and carabiners, set-up requires no knots or lashings and is dead-simple to understand.

You can also attach the famed whoopie sling to the continuous loop and use toggles with a Marlinespike Hitch, cinch buckles, and even descender rings. Others favor one long strap that extends from the hammock, around the tree, and then back through some metal tri-glides. Any option can be quick once you master it.

3. Pack for speed. I pack my tarp, hammock, and suspension system separately. My tarp and hammock are stowed at the top of my pack for easy access, and apart from my insulation and clothing that is stored in a waterproof bag in case I have to open my pack when it’s raining. If my tarp is already wet, I store it in an outside pocket. Packing these items separately seems counterintuitive for speed, but it’s how I’ve tuned my methods that works for me. Keeping items separated also keeps wet items away from dry ones.

I also pack my backpack in order of when I need it: first to go in is last to come out. The tarp is last to pack so it ends up on the top of my gear, followed by my hammock. I keep my suspension (e.g., tree straps and other hardware or cordage) packed separate from my hammock, usually in an outside pocket. The main reason is to keep the straps away from my hammock as the straps often pick up gummy tree sap or get soaked when in the rain, and I don’t want my hammock to get “infected.” Keeping the straps in an outside pocket also lets me access them quickly when it’s time to hang.

Hammocks can be packed in double-sided stuff sacks that can decrease pitching times by allowing both ends of the hammock to be accessed easily. The Hennessy Snake Skin sacks are also a popular item for speed packing, but they can be a little unwieldy once detached from the anchor points.

4. Simplify. One of my favorite quotes is from Leonardo: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. To me, hammocks are the epitome of simplicity, yet some hammock kits are a more complicated jumble of excess guy lines, netting, and other baggage that could slow you down. My favorite hammocks tend to be the simple gathered-end variety with minimal bells and whistles. Not only are they lighter, they are also simpler and quicker to pitch. With an à la carte hammock, I eliminate components if I don’t need them (e.g., a separate bug net or weather shield). If speed is your ultimate goal, look for simple set-ups, or take time to trim off or stow the components you don’t really need or use.

A diamond tarp requires only two guy lines, where a hex tarp uses four. Some hammock tarps require six or more, yet don’t provide any more coverage. A diamond tarp is a good compromise between good coverage and easy set-up verses an asym tarp.


Do you have other speed tips for hammocks? Post a comment!


  1. “Faster” suspension is a relative term and goes back to Solution #1: practice. That which we use most we use best. There are numerous methods to suspend a hammock and what works best for one will be shunned by another. Just stick with what works best for you.
  2. I often “upgrade” to a continuous loop made of strong, yet lightweight dyneema cord (e.g., 7/64 Amsteel Blue

  9 comments for “The Truth About Hammock Camping: Claim #3 – Hammocks are quick and easy to set up

  1. Jerry
    February 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I have a larger bag that I keep all of my hammock gear in, Each item is in a seperate bag. I know this does create a bit of extra weight, but in the end, the large sack is laid on the ground for my feet when I get up to dress or visit nature in the middle of the night. Then everything is stowed in the same bag for easy retreval for setup.

    • Derek
      February 15, 2013 at 10:35 am

      That reminds me of the Lazy Slug Tube by Wilderness Logics. It’s a great idea if you want to keep your insulation and hammock together; it’s certainly a quick way to pack and deploy.

  2. Bean
    February 15, 2013 at 10:02 am

    I use Snakeskins on both the Hammock and Tarp. The Hammock lives in my Sack and the Tarp on the outside. I think a sil nylon stuff sack to put the snakeskinned hammock in would be good and it would help control it in the sack. I could also use it as a mat for dressing on.
    For me this is my favorite quick method to hand the hammock is using Whoopies and Dutch hooks, I’m not sure its the fastest but its my favorite.

  3. February 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Great points. I approach my setup in pretty much the exact same way (continous loops at the end with a Whoopie Hook setup. Each item (hammock, tarp, suspension) in separate bags.

    I agree that setup/takedown time isn’t a huge difference in my experience. I have two main benefits personally.
    1) Everything’s off the ground, so I don’t have to brush dirt off the bottom of my tent. That process was perhaps the most painful (other than putting away my pad) of the whole takedown ritual. SUPER glad to be done with that.
    2. Most common backpacking tents (only a few exceptions) don’t allow you to set up the rain fly first, allowing water to get into your tent. Some have mastered going fast enough/balancing things enough to not have it be a big issue, but with a Hammock/tarp there is 0 concern. Put tarp up first. Stay nice and dry under tarp to set up the rest.

    • Derek
      February 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks Brian. I also agree 100% with the benefits of hammock camping. It’s really what keeps me hanging!

  4. Jeff
    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I have Just recently made my first Hammock and used it on a boy scout camping trip. what I used for my suspension was one of the pre made tree wraps that you can buy at REI in addition to one of the Pre made Mountain climbing web loops that you can also purchase at REI and finally a cheap mountain climbing caribeener. With this being my first time both making and hammock camping and my larger size I felt more comfortable using something that had been weight tested. Loved the hammock camping!

    • Derek
      October 31, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Very good idea on the suspension lines and webbing.

  5. Jeremiah
    March 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    What attracted me to hammocking originally was the speed to break camp, not necessarily setup.
    One major advantage I’ve exploited is the ability to camp on steep inclines. I do a lot of river canoeing and often go for miles before finding a place flat enough for a tarp.
    But the biggest advantage: If I’m in a time crunch to get out of Dodge, I twirl the hammock, tarp, and net together and wrap it around my pack or my chest – and dry it out when I find the next campsite.

    • Derek
      March 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Ironically, I’m often spending more time setting up than taking down too, though for me I’m often testing different or new gear options, so I’m fiddling. However, I agree that breaking camp quickly is a benefit. I’ve been especially encouraged with the tarp-attached-to-hammock system that I’ve mastered with the Hennessy models, which allows me to set-up and take down tarp and hammock as a single unit, while also keeping the hammock dry and protected.

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