How to Hammock Camp

If you’ve ever noticed a fellow camper suspended between two trees, don’t dismiss their setup as just some leisurely swing in the breeze.

Camping with a hammock has a cozy and comfortable upside once you get the, er, hang of it. Though it might seem at first glance like the realm of the obsessed ultralight backpacker, there are often good reasons to leave your trusty tent at home and head for the trees. One of the biggest benefits: A hammock sleep system is light and packable. It also gets you off the ground in wet weather or soggy environments. And if you frequent steep terrain, or anywhere else a patch of flat ground is hard to come by, your campsite options expand dramatically.  

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Where to hang your hammock
  • How to rig a hammock sleeping system
  • How to stay warm, dry, and free from biting bugs

Location, Location

A good night’s sleep starts with scouting out the ideal campsite. Before you leave home, check local regulations to make sure hammock camping is allowed in the area. In the field, Leave No Trace guidelines still apply, such as camping at least 200 feet from water sources. 

Next, find your trees. You want a pair of sturdy, mature trunks spaced to fit your hammock’s suspension system (typically, 10 to 20 feet apart). Steer clear of trees with large dead or broken branches that might fall on you (aka widowmakers) or that have signs wildlife is living in them. Ideally, you’ll be somewhat sheltered from the wind as well.

String it Up

Time to hang your hammock. Make sure you’re using thick straps, never rope, to protect the trees’ bark. Straps should be 1.5 to 2 inches wide. Secure the straps so that they come off the trees at about a 30-degree angle, and the lowest point of the hammock is at least 18 inches off the ground. (This might take a little practice and adjustment to get right.) And don’t hang it taut: You want a little sag in the empty hammock for the most comfortable experience. 

TIP: Hammocks don’t have vestibules to protect your gear. Cover your pack with a waterproof cover or garbage bag before you hit the hay. 

Comfort Secrets

Just like when tent camping, you need protection from three things: cold, precipitation, and bugs. Here’s how to get it.

Staying warm

It’s harder to stay toasty in a hammock. After all, you’re swinging out in the cold, open air, not snuggled against the insulating ground. The most effective defense is an insulated underquilt designed to hang under the hammock. You can also place a sleeping pad or thick wool blanket inside the hammock for extra coziness. Then add your regular sleeping bag or quilt, and you’re ready to snooze.

TIP: Don’t try to sleep exactly in line with your hammock’s midline, or you’ll get squished. Instead, sleep at a slight angle (say, feet to the left of one tree and head to the right of the other) to distribute your weight more evenly and form a flatter sleeping surface. 

Staying dry

A complete hammock sleeping system includes a tarp. Some hammocks come with a specifically designed one, but you can use any tarp large enough to fully shield your cocoon. String a “ridgeline” over the hammock with cord, securing each end to the trees near the suspension straps, and drape the tarp over it to form an A-frame. Stake it out for full protection. The lower you rig it, the more you’ll shield wind and rain. But even in clear weather, remember that a lower tarp will trap more air and also keep you warmer. 

TIP: Sometimes rain will slide down the tree trunks, continue along your hammock straps, and drip into your hammock. If this happens to you, tie a small cord around the straps at each end to serve as a drip line that will divert the drops to the ground.

Thwarting bugs

Even the perfect pitch won’t save you if you have to spend the night awake, swatting mosquitos. Solution: a hammock bug net. Many are designed to fully envelope your hammock with an entry/exit zipper near the middle.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.