Hammock Camping À La Carte – Hammock Comparison Chart
Where hammocks really shine (outside of their comfort, of course) is their modularity. Nearly every component is upgradeable or can be exchanged for other options. You can pick-and-choose and mix-and-match pieces to create your own “perfect” system. Want a roomier bug net? Lighter suspension system? How about a bigger (or smaller) rain fly? Hammocks make it happen. In some ways, hammocks are a gear junkies dream (and a wallet’s curse): there is literally no end to hammock accessories. Compare that to a tent—ever try to modify a tent fly, upgrade the poles with a lighter set, swap the sidewalls for more or less bug netting, enlarging the tent space from one person to three person, or increase the footprint? You might as well buy a different tent1.
The vast majority of hammocks sold and used for outdoor recreation are the ubiquitous “parachute nylon” style with colorful fabric and gathered-ends. All it takes is some bug netting and a tarp to make these hammocks viable 3-season camping shelters. However, putting together a hammock shelter à la carte can be a daunting prospect because there are are simply WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS and twice as many opinions on which is the “best” choice. The truth is, there is no single “perfect” hammock camping kit that I could prescribe for everyone—it all depends on what you want and need.
Tip #1: When going to the hammock à la carte menu, know what you’re looking for.
But what if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Start with an inventory on how you intend to use the hammock. Are you primarily a car camper? Backpacker? Are you on a budget? Are you looking for the lightest, most packable options? Do you expect to hammock camp year round, or only in three seasons (spring, summer, and fall)?
In helping you narrow your choices, this maxim holds true 98%2 of the time:
Inexpensive • High-Quality • Lightweight: Pick two.
- Can’t spend a lot but want light gear? It’s probably not durable.
- If you want something durable but lightweight, it’s probably space-age, and therefore expensive.
- What about a durable yet inexpensive? It’s probably heavy. And bulky.
If you shop around, you are likely to find great deals that maximize on all three, but for some people, one or two of these considerations is most important. For example, if you mainly car camp then lightweight gear probably doesn’t matter. A thru-hiker, in contrast, is probably looking for the lightest gear that won’t break the bank (and will last the whole trip—can’t we wish for all three?)
Tip #2: Try before you buy. One benefit of brick-and-mortar gear retailers is the ability to walk in and try something out. A few hammock camping accessories like bug nets and tarps can be found in these stores. Hammocks, on the other hand, are not as common nor are they regularly “set-up” to try out. If you are looking at upgrading or supplementing your kit, a great option is to attend a Group Hang with fellow hangers. HammockForums.net regularly displays posts for upcoming Group Hangs where you’ll find a wide-variety of hammocks (and other gear) on display and opportunities to try them out.
Tip #3: Rummage sales. If funds are low but you still want to upgrade or expand your hammock repertoire, there are a lot of à la carte options available either on eBay or on the HammockForums.net marketplace. This is a great way to find gently used and new gear for sale, or to post hammock gear you no longer need3.
Tip #4: Do-it-Yourself. A lot of hammock gear can be made if you have some basic sewing skills. A gathered-end hammock is a wonderful beginner project. xollox on HammockForums.net has collected a pretty comprehensive list of hammock-related DIY projects. Making gear is a great way to minimize costs, learn a new skill, or just tinker around.
Tip #5: Be prepared to pay for quality. I suppose this is more of a reminder than a tip. High-quality gear is often expensive. A lot of people complain about the high cost of a down-filled under quilt, for example, without realizing the cost breakdown of materials or the labor-intensive processes. In my own experience, paying for well-made gear is worth it in the long run since it often performs better and lasts longer, among other qualities.
As I indicated earlier, there are literally thousands of ways to assemble a gear list so it helps to lay some ground rules. First off, for my lists, all the gear is commercially available. Second, I’ve limited myself to explore three examples that suit a variety of interests or skill levels: an entry-level list, a low-cost list, and a lightweight list. Finally, these lists reflect a snapshot in time when I made these lists. In other words, the gear featured represent my personal recommendations based on my own experiences, not paid listings or to promote one brand over another. I expect to expand or extend this list in the future as things change or my testing dictates.
Entry Level (or KISS)
Just getting started? This list is all about ease-of-use, which is great for the beginner, or someone who doesn’t want to hassle about knots, slings, or straps. This list favors simplicity over other factors for 3-season camping.[table “3” not found /]
Winter Camping for the Entry Level Hanger? Get a bigger tarp or learn to pitch your current tarp in new and amazing ways to cut off the wind or weather. You could get rid of the bug net, although it does help add some protection from wind and heat loss. Try a pad extender, like the ENO Hot Spot, and add multiple pads, or invest in a quality under quilt.
In this list, I’ve put together a kit that focuses on cost savings above other considerations. Shopping around the internet is a great way to find deals. Low cost doesn’t necessarily mean low quality, but it can mean higher weight or bulk.[table “2” not found /]
When you’re looking for light gear, expect to pay a premium for space-age materials that provide weight savings. Some lightweight gear isn’t as durable, but for gram-counting hikers, this is a small price to pay.[table “4” not found /]
- I’m really showing my bias here, aren’t I? To be fair, hammock camping is not much different than tarp camping in terms of mix-and-match options. But that’s tarps, not tents. Very few tents are modular. ↩
- I totally made the percentage up, but I’m sure it’s up there. ↩
- Make sure to check the forum rules on posting items for sale ↩