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 quick and easy 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.
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.
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.
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!
- “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. ↩
- I often “upgrade” to a continuous loop made of strong, yet lightweight dyneema cord (e.g., 7/64 Amsteel Blue ↩