How To Choose The Best Camping Hammock | Outdoorser.com
Menu

How To Choose The Best Camping Hammock

You’ve decided to try hammock camping but want a little more information about what your options are.

Well, here’re the good news:

Your camping hammock options are nearly endless.

Here’re the bad news:

Your camping hammock options are n​early endless.

Several hammocks one above another.

In this post, we’ll teach you what you need to know to make a confident, informed choice when it comes time to buying your hammock setup.

You’ll learn:

  • check
    The different types of hammocks
  • check
    How to pick a hammock for your needs
  • check
    How to hang a hammock perfectly
  • check
    How to sleep in a hammock
  • check
    Safety tips

Soon you’ll find that endless possibilities are a great thing. As long as you know what to look for.

A Brief Introduction To Hammocks

Maybe you’ve noticed hammock camping is really gaining in popularity among serious campers these days.

There’s a reason for that.

Using a hammock ups your camping game in a number of ways: 

  • arrow-right
    Portability
  • arrow-right
    Wider campsite options
  • arrow-right
    Comfort
  • arrow-right
    Awesomness

Portability

The serious backpacking set is really pushing up the popularity of hammock camping.

Generally hammocks are less cumbersome and lighter than even the smallest tent.

Packed hammock.

Most hammocks don't have poles. In fact they don’t really have any rigid parts (aside from the carabiners) and that makes them extremely well suited to being stuffed in a backpack where space is always at a premium.

More space = more food is how we see it.

Even tent campers turn to hammocks to extend their adventures. After setting up a good base camp, some tent campers strike out on overnight hikes deeper into the wilds, bringing along a camping hammock to sleep in before the return hike.

Wider campsite options

Basically anywhere you find two trees, you’ve found your basecamp.

No more searching for a level spot.

No more hammering tent pegs into hard ground.

No more settling in for a good night’s sleep only to find a rock poking into your shoulder blades.

Which leads us to our next point. Some people may be surprised to learn that sleeping in a hammock offers…

Comfort

Not only will you be free from rocks in the spine, you’ll be free from all the pokey, hard, unyielding things that camping grounds offer.

You won’t have to carry a sleeping pad (but you can), because what you’ll be sleeping on is pretty much as soft as you can get. Air.

But you want to know:

Can I sleep on my side?

What about my stomach?

Stomach and side sleepers rejoice. You can hammock camp!

We’ll get into exactly how to do it later in the article. For now, just know that it’s all about the angle. And that angle is diagonal.

Awesomeness

Picture a guy setting up camp with a tent.

FIrst he wanders in search of a suitable spot. Then he’s unpacking poles and footprints, hammering tent pegs, crawling around on his knees. When he’s done, he sleeps about an inch from the cold hard ground.

Then picture you.

Woman in a hammock.

You find two trees that look about right. Unfurl your hammock, slip your suspension around the tree, hook up and spend the rest of the night sleeping suspended in the air, comfortable and free.

Note: we love tent camping and actually find nothing wrong with it in the least. We’re just really excited about hammocks right now.

If you are too, read on.

What Are The Different Types Of Hammocks?

While there are about half as many hammocks as there are trees in a forest (which is good, because you need two trees to hang) most hammocks fall into two categories gathered end and bridge, with a newcomer to the mix.  

First we have…

Gathered end hammocks

A gathered end hammock (GE) is also sometimes called  “Brazilian” style.

If you picture a colorful hammock on a beach, slung between two palm trees, this is probably the style you picture.

The fabric in gathered end hammocks is, well, gathered at the ends. There is no spreader bar or other mechanism to hold open the hammock, you do that part with your body.  

GEs are the one of the most stable of the options out there.

When hung correctly, there is very little chance of getting tipped out of your hammock, even if you’re a log-in-a-river type of sleeper.

This is the classic camping hammock.

Most aftermarket accessories are made for GE hammocks. It’s a tried and true design that works well for most people who want to get a good night’s hang out in the woods.

Asym GE

Within gathered end hammocks there is a version known as asymmetric or asym.

These are mostly made by Hennessy Hammocks and, while the hammock itself is not asymmetric, the hammock features tie outs that pull your hammock into an asymmetrical shape, giving you a place for your head and feet.

The drawback here is your sleep position is dictated by the hammock.

But it can make you feel like you’ve got a bit more room in the head and foot area. You might also feel that you’re lying a bit flatter. Though a relatively flat lie can be achieved in standard GE hammock just as easily.

Types Of Gathered End Hammocks

The right material matters.

16th century Spanish sailors used thick heavy canvas for their on-board beds while sailing the high seas. And we can assure you, if this was still the standard issue hammock material, no one would be using them.

Modern hammocks are more portable, more packable and much more pleasant to sleep in.  

While technically you could make a hammock out of just about anything, a few fabrics tend to feature in most camping hammocks.

Parachute nylon hammocks

“Great!” you think, “If I find myself in a sticky situation on an airplane, I’ll just use my hammock!”

Better not.

Parachute nylon hammock.

While it sure looks like the stuff paratroopers use, parachute nylon is the name fabric manufacturers give to a type of crinkle taffeta used mainly in sleeping bags and camping hammocks.

Most consumer grade hammocks are made out of this stuff.  

The upside to parachute nylon is it’s waterproof, mold-resistant, and pretty durable.

Drawbacks are in its lack of breathability and the amount of stretch.

Why Does Strech Matter?

Let’s say you’ve got the perfect hang going.

Right pitch, a good hang angle, your suspension system and fly is all set up (Don’t worry, we’ll go over all this stuff in a minute).

What you don’t want at this point is anything to change too much.

With parachute nylon, sometimes you’ll find that your perfect hang has drooped and is now a perfect slouch. The more times you get in it and the more time you spend in it, the more distended you’ll find your setup.

In severe cases, you might find you’re dragging on the forest floor, or at the very least you’ll find yourself in a V-shape with your head and feet far above your middle.

Not great.

So we move on to:

Ultralight Hammocks

Ultralight hammock.

Ultralights come in a variety of fabrics, but most manufacturers tend to use a diamond ripstop nylon or polyester.

These are super durable fabrics, called “rip-stop” because the weave stops any rips that develop from developing further. They’re also extremely (or ultra) light.

It’s Not Just About The Fabric

Ultralight hammocks are great for another reason, and we’ll bet you can guess what it is.

That’s right. They are light.

Sometimes even under a pound for a single person hammock. That, friends, is pretty good weight for a good night’s sleep.

Really good ultralights come with their own straps and carabiners, making them easier to set up than systems you buy piecemeal.

Ultralight hammocks tend to be very simple, which makes sense since every bell and whistle you add on is another whistle and bell you have to shoulder in your pack.

Simple additions, like a waterproof pouch adds very little weight and is pretty nice to have.

Ideal Hammock For Ideal Conditions

For most campers, an ultralight hammock will provide all the convenience, packability and comfort you need.

Which is why it’s the style we think works best.

​​​​There are, however, situations where a little more heft is called for.

Which is why there are:

Expedition hammocks

Expecting rain on your camp?

Going where the bugs will eat you alive?

Planning on a particularly long trip?

What about extreme cold?

Expedition hammock.

If any of these are on your adventure menu, you might be better off going with an expedition.

Also called jungle hammocks, these type of GE hammocks are the full kit.

Rain? Bugs? Extra storage? The expedition hammocks can handle all of that. Of course you can guess what gets sacrificed when you add accessories.

Yup, more weight.

Like Flying Tents

Expedition hammocks include rain tarps, bug nets, extra storage and some even come with insertable insulation pads.

You can think of these as full, one-man tents that hang from trees.

You’ll enjoy every feature and add on once you’ve set it up. But you might not enjoy carrying around the extra weight.

Another drawback to the expedition or jungle hammocks is the more complicated setup.

After you go through the motions of setting up the hammock itself, you will then move to setting up the rain tarp, bug net and whichever other features you’ve opted for.

While the features of expedition hammocks definitely come in handy when you need them, they may not be fully necessary on every trip.

Spreader bar hammocks

These are commonly known in the backpacking world as “bridge” hammocks.

As opposed to a gathered end, these use a bar at either end to spread out the hammock.

The main advantage of bridge hammocks is a flatter lying position, with minimal effort.

Later when we talk about the best position for lying in a hammock, we aren’t talking about bridge hammocks.

The “sweet spot” position in a bridge is pretty much the only position.

Of course the main drawback is the added carry weight of the spreader bars. Some people aren’t too crazy about the tunnel like shape, making one feel like the ingredients in a taco.

90º hammocks

Man in a 90º hammock.

New to the hammock game are 90º hammocks.

Here the suspension is attached to the sides of the hammock instead of the ends.

It’s an especially stable configuration, though the learning curve is a bit higher on setup and getting into the hammock can take some effort.

Only a handful of manufacturers make 90º and it’s too soon to tell if this type will remain a steady player in the camping hammock arena.

How To Choose Your Perfect Hammock

Now that you’ve got a little background on the types of hammocks out there, we’ll go over which types are best for which purpose so you can home in on the right one for you.

The casual hang

In general, parachute nylon GE hammocks are the most common and usually the least expensive.

This is the perfect hammock for a casual hang in the backyard or even a hammock that you bring along with you when you tent camp.

They make great alternatives to camp chairs and are absolutely ideal for a midday camp nap.  

If you’re going to rely solely on your hammock for sleeping when out in the wilderness, it might be a good idea to go with something a bit more engineered.

The rugged adventurer

Expedition hammocks lie on the other end of the spectrum.

This is for the serious adventurer who is saying fare thee well to civilization for a bit.

​​​​Expedition hammocks come equipped to handle whatever surprises nature throws at it, while keeping you relatively comfortable and dry.

Most bridge hammocks come with many of the extra features you’ll find on expedition hammocks, including rain flys and bug netting. Some will come with extra storage pockets and sleeping pad inserts for extra comfort.

A cool feature of certain bridge hammocks is the ability to use trekking poles as your spreader bars. So, sure, you have an extra things to carry but those extra things actually help you on your hike.

The happy camper

Somewhere in between comes your typical camper. Not Robinson Crusoe extreme, but you’re not just a tourist either.

Two people in ultralight hammock.

For the typical camper out there, an ultralight hammock will probably work best.

Go for one with specialized straps (made from no-stretch polyester) and you’ll save yourself some time on setup so you can get to the good part — hanging out, enjoying nature, cooking beans over an open flame.  

Early adopter camper

If you must have the new thing, the interesting thing, the new-fangled thing, you’ll probably be into the high-tech lines and uniqueness of the 90º hammocks.

There’s something to be said for trying new things, if nobody ever did that, we’d all still be sending telegrams instead of texts (though it’s interesting how closely the two are related).  

Choose Your Variables

After you know the general type of hammock you want, there are other factors to consider.

Hammocks come in different sizes, use different suspension systems, and have varying options for keeping you warm, dry and safe.

Here’s a quick rundown of the choices out there.

Dimensions

GE hammocks come in 2 basic “sizes,” singles and doubles.

We say “sizes” because each manufacturer has its own definition of what dimensions constitute a single and which measurements a double entails.

Generally, for a gathered end hammock, a single is somewhere in the 4 to 5 foot range for width. A double goes anywhere from 6 to 8 feet wide.

Keep in mind that a double hammock means two people can comfortably relax in the hammock together, but for a good night’s sleep, each camper should have their own hammock.

Lengthwise, gathered end hammocks generally run from around 9 feet all the way to 11 feet in length.

What Width And Length Is Right For You?

In general, a you want a hammock wide enough and long enough so you can comfortably lie on the diagonal.

While a 9’x4’ hammock might feel too short for a 5’8” person, a wider hammock of the same length might be perfectly comfortable. However, going too wide can make you feel overly enclosed once you’re in it and claustrophobia might hit.

This, unfortunately, is one of those times where we have to say, “it depends.”

Certainly if you’re a taller individual, go for a longer size.

The shorter camper can take chances on a shorter hammock. Widthwise, consider whether you want to gaze at nature with a friend or if you’ll only ever be in it by yourself.

Suspension systems

Hanging your hammock is probably the most important part of the hammock equation. Otherwise you’ve just got an expensive piece of fabric on the ground. 

Suspension system for a hammock.

There are a few different systems for hanging your hammock, which can generally be split into 3 categories:

  • Webbing/Rope
  • Kit Hammocks
  • Tree Straps

Webbing/Rope

While used in basically the same way, webbing and rope vary in one major respect: one does damage to the trees you hang from and one does not.

The nature of rope and the way it grips trees causes the bark to be stripped away, exposing the inner bark and compromising the health of the tree.

In some cases, killing it.

Flat (not tubular) webbing causes no such harm and is obviously a better method.

Webbing is a length of woven polyester strap, ideally with no stretch to it, that you wrap around a tree in series of wraps and knots and then attach with a carabiner to your hammock.

We show you step-by step how to hang a hammock using webbing in another post. But the basics are this:

  • angle-double-right
    Find two trees spaced at least 5 feet farther apart than the length of your hammock
  • angle-double-right
    Lash your webbing to the first tree
  • angle-double-right
    Attach one end of your hammock
  • angle-double-right
    Repeat for your second tree

One accessory that can significantly help in getting the perfect hang when using webbing is the whoopie sling.

It’s an adjustable piece of rope that goes between your hammock and the webbing.

Here’s a video showing how to use a whoopie sling with your hammock.

Hammock Kits

Some hammocks come with everything you need to hang your hammock.

This generally includes straps, carabiners or other hooks, ridgeline and other lines as needed (such as cords for rain flys or bug netting).  

These kits tend to be easier to use than plain webbing since there are usually fewer knots to tie — the included straps have carabiner loops at regular intervals for adjusting to find that perfect hang (which we’ll talk about in an upcoming section).

Ultralight hammocks that come with their own straps usually use straps that are tough but extremely light.

Lightweight carabiners, most commonly aluminum, are included too.

Generally a kit hammock costs a bit more than an à la carte hammock, but you might like the ease of installation and the lighter carry weight.

Tree Straps

Tree strap for a hammock.

Similar to the straps that come with hammocks in kits, tree straps are designed specifically for hanging hammocks from trees.

These also feature regularly spaced loops for tree wrapping and attaching your carabiner.

If you’re considering a hammock that doesn’t come with it’s own straps, you might like the convenience tree straps offer.

Ridgeline

That’s the top of the mountain! The thing you’re hiking towards, yes? Well, maybe. But in this case we’re talking about the distance between the two ends of your hammock.

That’s easy. If you’ve got a 9 foot hammock, your ridgeline is 9 feet.

Not exactly.

On a GE hammock, the ridgeline is measured from one end of your hammock to the other end when hung. There will always be a slight curve to the hang of your hammock so the distance between the endpoints will be shorter than your hammock length.

Ideally you want your ridgeline to be about 1 foot shorter than your hammock.

This will give you just the right amount of sag for an ideal diagonal lie.

Handy Hang Helper

While the ridgeline began as a imaginary line, it’s become a physical feature of many hammocks.

A structural or integrated ridgeline is basically a length of cord attached to either end of your hammock. It is exactly as long as the ideal ridgeline for your particular hammock so it makes sure that, when pulled taught, your hammock hangs neither too slack nor too tight.

This gives you a perfect sag no matter how far apart your trees are and no matter at what angle your straps hang.  

Tarp Support

Tarp support.

A ridgeline can also be a line of cord or strap that runs above the hammock without being attached to the hammock.

This line serves to hold up a rain fly, tarp or bug netting.

The attached ridgeline, mentioned above, also serves this tarp-holding purpose. Double duty in camp equipment is something we’re very fond of.

A tarp or rain fly helps keep you dry in bad weather. Here’s what’ll keep you warm:

Insulation

Tent camping is often very much about the sleeping bag.

In hammock camping, most sleeping bags will do you no good.

For one, you need to move around to find that perfect lie in your hammock. Most sleeping bags rated 20º are mummy style bags that allow little leg movement. Definitely a hindrance in hammocks.

The second reason sleeping bags are no-goes in hammocks is that your underside will become quite cold.

When you sleep on a sleeping bag, you compress the fibers underneath you. In a tent you have your sleeping pad, or the earth itself radiating your heat back to you. In a hammock all that’s beneath your compressed bag is a thin layer of hammock fabric and then air.

You’ll lose heat underneath you all night and probably wake up shivering.

So then. What do you use?

Topquilts and underquilts

Topquilts are lightweight tapered blankets with a pocket at the bottom for your feet and a button or strap at the top to secure it around your neck and shoulders.

It’s similar to a sleeping bag without the zipper confining you.

Once you find the perfect position, simply cover yourself with the topquilt.  Some come with carabiners or hooks that attach the blanket to the hammock so there’s no worry about it falling out in the night.

Underquilts are made of the same material but they attach to the outside, underneath your hammock.

Since you’re not compressing it, the quilted blanket can radiate heat back to you and keeps the cold air from getting to your backside.

Some hammocks come with pockets that you can slide the underquilt into. These are most commonly found on expedition hammocks.

Other Accessories

Let’s be honest.

Camping is mostly about getting away from it all and communing with nature, but also?

It’s about all the cool toys you get to try out and play with.

Finding just the right go-withs and accessories for your hammock is part of the fun. Here are a few we like:

Ridgeline bags

These are bags that attach to the ridgeline. Keep stuff you want quick access to right there above you.

Bug nets

Sleep tight. Don’t let the bugs bite!

This is a lightweight netting that keeps the bugs off. (We mentioned them above as standard issue for expedition hammocks.) 

Bug net on a hammock.

Most bug nets are made from a lightweight netting and hangs from the ridgeline. They usually come together underneath the hammock, sort of like a bag around your entire hammock. Most have a zippered entry.

Rain flys

Most rain flys are a lightweight sort of tarp that also hangs from the ridgeline.

It attaches to trees on either side of the hammock.

They can also be staked to the ground if you can’t find well-positioned trees. You can guess what a rain fly does. Yup, it keeps the rain off.

Sleeping pad

You’ll find both sleeping pads designed for use in hammocks as well as sleeves or other devices that help sleeping pads stay put.

While many people don’t find sleeping pads totally necessary, others like the little bit of added comfort. It’s also a plus that a sleeping pad can help hold open your hammock, making entry a touch easier.

It can also provide insulation.

Drip strips

Rain can sometimes flow down the length of your strap and get into your hammock.

Not fun.

These specially made clips direct water down and away before it ever gets to your sleep pod. Of course you can make your own. Simply tie short bits of rope to your suspension straps.

Now, all the accessories in the world can’t fix an improper hang. So next let’s learn about getting a perfect hang.

It all starts with:

The Perfect Pitch

We go more in-depth on just how to pitch your hammock in our suspension system article. But here’s the basics:

For an ideal hang, you want:

  • info
    Trees that are at least 5 feet farther apart than the length of your hammock
  • info
    Look for trees that are at least as thick as an average adult thigh
  • info
    Only choose healthy trees

The height at which you lash your straps to the tree depends on how far apart your trees are.

If you’ve found trees that are in the hammock plus 5 feet range, your hang height will be about 4 feet from the ground. For trees that are farther apart, you’ll need to lash your straps higher up the tree.

This video gives a good intro to hammock hanging.

When you hang your hammock, you’re aiming for:

The Perfect Hang Angle

Angle for a hammock.

Ideally you want your suspension lines to form a 30º angle with the tree (measuring underneath the lines, not above).

The closer you get to a flat line, say as a 50º angle, the more tension you’re putting on your lines and the more force you’re subjecting the tree to.

This could cause your lines to snap, the tree to break and also makes the hammock itself less stable and more prone to tipping you out of it.

Remember, a hammock, especially one with rain flys or tarps, will have many straps and lines attached. Use extra caution when walking around your hammock to avoid tripping or clotheslining yourself.

Man in a hammock admiring the view.

Hammock camping can be an absolutely ideal way to camp.

Your camping spot selection is wide open, your hammock is endlessly portable, and sleeping in a hammock under the stars can be one of the best night sleep you’ll ever get.

Here are a few parting tips to help you get the most out of hammock camping:

  • check

    Lights. Don’t forget to pack a headlamp. It will become indispensible should you need to get out of your hammock at night. A light that suspends from your ridgeline is a great idea too.

  • check

    Drip lines. We talked about this earlier, but there’s nothing worse than getting soggy so we’ll restate. Avoid water dripping down the length of your suspension straps and into your hammock by tying short pieces of rope to it.

  • check

    Practice practice practice. Don’t set up your hammock for the first time 10 miles away from your car. Head to a park or nearby campground to practice set up. Lie in your hammock a few times before taking it out into the wilds.

  • check

    An uneven hammock is an uncomfortable hammock. Make sure the ends of your hammock are at the same height.

  • check

    Strength in numbers. There are many groups and meetups out there for people who like to hammock camp. There’s just no better way to learn than from someone who’s done it all before. See if there are any hammock camping events in your area and hang out together.

How About You?

Do you have any tips or tricks that could make hammock camping even better?

Any experiences you’d like to share?

We’d love to hear it. Let us know in the comments below.

This post was last updated on December 16th, 2017 at 10:32 pm

About Andre

After spending 5 years testing gear, meeting people and exploring his home state of Colorado with his wife, Andre realized something about the outdoor industry. Mostly, that it was complicated. Andre set out to create no-nonsense gear that was just as easy to use as it was reliable. He recruited a team of wilderness professionals and educators and hit the drawing board. The result was simple gear that you could trust, with specs you understood. Now he’s inspiring others to get out there and explore, by giving them the confidence to trust both themselves and the gear they use.