Camping has been a major recreational pastime for generations, but the ways we like to camp tend to change frequently. In one decade it’s all about car camping; the next decade everyone seems to obsess over backpacking. The modern camping scene is pleasantly diverse, but we still see trends come and go. One of the latest — and, frankly, best — is the growing popularity of hammocks as full-fledged alternatives to tents.
The biggest lesson to take to heart is that a proper camping hammock bears virtually no resemblance to the nylon fishnet with spreader bars that’s hanging in grandma’s backyard. For reasons that are hard to explain, too many of us are locked into that image of a hammock. The flat knotted hammock with a tendency to flip you out at worst and leave your back looking like a waffle at best is the cheap, uncomfortable futon in comparison to the luxurious sleeping machine that is a modern camping hammock.
Camping hammocks are never made of wide-gauge mesh, so there’s no waffle iron effect. Spreader bars or equivalent features aren’t found on camping hammocks (with a few weird exceptions); climbing into a proper hammock is more like entering a snug sleeping back than balancing on a rotating army cot. Most importantly, camping hammocks are designed for all-night comfort, incorporating the features you need to keep you warm, dry, and safe.
The Crucial Advantage
Hopefully, you picked up the implication in the last few paragraphs that camping hammocks are super-comfy. That’s not the best reason to replace your tent with one, though. The real reason today’s campers are falling in love with this centuries-old sleep system is all about weight and space.
Even the most heavy-duty camping hammocks weigh much less than three pounds. Ultralight versions can clock in at less than ten ounces. (You should bear in mind that these flyweights aren’t designed for comfortable all-season sleeping, though.) Given that they require less material than tents and no bulky poles, hammocks save space as well as weight. Most good hammocks will end up smaller than your favorite Nalgene bottle when you pack them properly.
Is A Camping Hammock Flexible?
Despite their teeny-tiny size when stowed, modern hammocks are amazingly spacious when you deploy them. You can do a lot more than just sleep in there. You can also form a dizzying array of different shelters by arranging and rearranging your integral tarp.
Proper all-night camping hammocks come with two features to make them even more useful. The first is asymmetrical design. This might not sound great the first time you hear it, but it’s exactly what you want. An asymmetrical hammock allows you to sleep diagonally across the hammock. This lets you lie flatter and supports both your head and your feet comfortably. Asymmetrical construction is the secret to the comfiest night of sleep you’ve ever had outside.
Is A Camping Hammock Weathertight?
“Okay,” you’re saying at this point, “I guess I could sneak by with a hammock during the summer. I’d sure hate to be caught out in a fall storm, though!” You do have a point in that hammocks aren’t too comfy in the coldest of weather, but then, neither are tents. The right supplementary gear can keep you just as warm and dry in a hammock as you would be on the ground.
The tarp is your main defense against precipitation. As noted above, it’s super flexible. You can spread it wide in clear weather to give you shade or pull it down close to keep out water when the rain is bucketing down.
Most good camping hammocks either include or can be supplemented with a bug net. This is strongly recommended in most conditions, as a swarm of fliers don’t make welcome companions in your hammock.
Now we finally come to the big one: thermal insulation. How the heck do you stay warm in a hammock? You have a lot of options. Combining a sleeping bag and a hammock is certainly feasible, although you’ll be surprised at the most efficient way to do it: You wrap the bag around yourself outside the hammock instead of inside. A more convenient option is slapping a foam or inflatable pad beneath yourself.
The real hammock camping pros use a two-quilt system. The top quilt operates just like you’d expect, snuggled up on top of you. The real glory is the under quilt, though. This is slung underneath your hammock to block out cold winds and keep your back toasty warm. Because the under quilt is suspended in the air, it’s not compressed in any way. This lets it deliver maximum insulation; you’ll be amazed how warm it keeps you.
Obviously, this article has been more about convincing you of the merit of hammock camping than trying to sell you a specific hammock. If you’re ready to give it a try, make sure you keep educating yourself! You’ll have to make a smart choice when you pick out your first camping hammock. Don’t spend too much on it, though. Once you start using it regularly, you’ll develop some preferences that you can address by buying a top-of-the-line model that delivers all the features you want.