So you’ve heard about hammock camping, but maybe you have no idea how to hang a hammock.
Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for.
Today we’ll show you just what hanging a hammock entails. You’ll learn:
Ropes, chains, bolts, carabiners, straps, knots — all of them make an appearance in hammock hanging practices.
But for camping, you can break it down into 3 main methods:
Rope gets special recognition for being the original system for hanging a hammock.
Long before camping companies got into the hammock game, there was rope.
It’s lightweight, multifunctional and very packable.
Honestly, we don’t know many hikers/backpackers/campers who don’t always bring along some of the braided stuff.
We’ll show you the exact methods later in this article.
Here’s a quick overview of how rope is used:
It’s a straightforward method and works well. But there’s one thing hammock users started to notice.
And it wasn’t good.
If you’ve arrived at the point of wanting to camp in a hammock, chances are you’re a pretty big fan of nature.
The thought of a forest full of dead tree stumps probably brings a little tear to your eye.
So it was disheartening for campers when they realized that they were hurting the trees they used to support their hammocks.
While we won’t make you sit through a whole lesson on tree parts (though here’s a nice primer if you’re interested) it’s important to know the outer bark of a tree protects it and the inner bark of a tree is the conduit through which the tree moves food.
Once the outer bark is removed, the inner bark is easily damaged and the tree’s ability to feed itself is greatly reduced.
The shape of rope and the way rope grips onto a tree can damage the bark.
Hammock campers noticed when they removed their rope suspension systems, the tree bark had been stripped away.
So now you’re wondering:
“How do I hammock camp without ruining nature?”
This sounds like something Spiderman shoots from his wrists. But actually it’s something you’re already familiar with.
Webbing is the name given to woven straps — like tie downs for your truck bed or the material for your seat belt. In this article, we’ll use the words webbing and straps interchangeably.
If you really want to know lots more about webbing, Wikipedia has you covered.
One reason. Much less harm to trees.
The flat straps grip the tree in a way that doesn’t strip the bark. And they’re just as easy to use as rope.
Again, we’ll teach you the step-by-step later in the post but for now, you’ll notice the basics are similar:
Now, these are the instructions if you’re just using a very basic length of webbing.
Now that outdoor companies are keen on the hammock camping market, they’ve come out with straps built specifically for hammock suspension.
These new straps come with built-in primary loop (the one you pass the strap through to attach it to the tree) plus multiple loops on the other end that let you easily adjust where you attach your carabiner.
These strap systems let you hook not just on trees but around boulders or other bits of nature. Which is nice because sometimes nature doesn’t cooperate with perfectly spaced trees.
Bringing us to our next point...
Part of what we love about the wilderness is...it’s wild.
So we get stunning landscapes of random beauty. But emphasis on random.
So you find a perfect spot to camp — a view, shade, solitude, an excellent log for sitting, but wait.
Where are the trees you need to hang your bed?
Or what if you want to hammock camp somewhere without trees altogether?
There is a solution.
You’re probably picturing one of those huge backyard rope hammocks made for sipping ice tea and reading novels. You’re wondering:
“How am I going to take that camping?”
Simple answer: you’re not.
Most hammock stands for camping pack down to the size of a small golf bag and weigh under 20 pounds.
This isn’t the method you use for backpacking. But for car camping or a visit to the lake, the stand method lets you enjoy your hammock without much in the way of set up.
By now you want to know:
“How exactly do I suspend my hammock?”
Here you’ll learn about tree spacing and suspension heights to get an ideal hang. These are the same for rope and webbing hammock hangs.
So what does an ideal hang look like?
The hammock should be centered between the two trees.
The length of strap or rope between the hammock ends and the tree should be equal on both sides.
Your hammock should hang with a slight curve when you’re not in it.
A good rule of thumb is that the distance between the two ends of the hammock should be about a foot less than the length of the hammock.
So if your hammock is 10 feet, the distance between the two ends should be about 9 feet when hung.
To get an ideal hang, the first step is finding the proper trees.
If the trees are too small, you’ll bend them with your weight.
If the trees are too far apart, your suspension system may not reach, or your hammock will be too taught, which results in the dreaded burrito effect. (Just picture the hammock as the tortilla and you are the ingredients stuffed inside.)
So what’s the right tree width?
That’s a very variable size.
Of course you can always go bigger, just not so big that you can’t hug the tree and touch your fingers together.
This is a good rule of thumb when picking the distance you want your trees to be.
Take the length of your hammock, usually between 9 and 14 feet long and add 4-6 feet.
That’s how far apart your trees should be. Of course, there are always options.
When trees are closer together, you need to raise the hanging point on the tree.
Otherwise you’ll find your rear end on the forest floor. If that’s what you want, this article is unnecessary.
Just lie on the ground and call it a night.
Technically, the trees you use could be 40 feet apart.
As long as your straps are long enough, strong enough and your trees are thick.
But since you’re probably not carrying around industrial sized ropes and straps, let’s stick with trees that are spaced apart no more than the length of your hammock plus 8 feet.
For trees that are in the ideal “hammock plus 5” range, your hang height - that’s the height at which you wrap your strap or rope around the tree - is generally going to be around 4 feet from the ground.
Here’s a very handy calculator from Derek Hanson.
When you plug your tree distance into it, you will get your hang height.
He’s also developed an app so you can use his calculator on your smartphone at your campsite.
We’ve already gone into the reasons why rope suspension systems have fallen out of favor.
But in the event that rope is all you have access to — say your webbing got left behind, or was hauled off by industrious racoons — it’s good to know the rope method.
Fold the length of rope exactly in half, creating a loop at one end.
Stand in front of your first tree. Imagine your hammock already set up. Stand so your imaginary hammock rope is going right through your chest. At around 4 feet up the tree, hold the loop against the tree.
With your free arm, reach around the tree to grab the loose ends of the rope. Pull them around and insert the ends through the loop. Pull snug but not tight.
Wrap the rope around the tree, going in the opposite direction. As you wrap, tuck and twist the rope ends into the rope that is already wrapped around the tree. This helps to keep the rope from slipping.
Bring the loose ends back through the loop created in step one. Pull the rope as tight as possible. Pull straight out, not down.
Bring one end of your rope through the carabiner. Bring the other end from the opposite direction.
Tie the two ends together using several overhand knots. That’s the knot you use to tie your shoes, before you make bows.
Tighten as much as possible. If you’re not clear on an overhand knot, here’s a good video from YouTube.
Clip the carabiners onto the rings of your hammock.
Repeat steps 1-7 for the other tree.
In an ideal world, you would now be focusing on the marshmallow to chocolate ratio for your s’mores.
But sometimes things take more work.
In the event that you get in your hammock and you’re too low, too high or the hammock is too saggy or too taught, adjustments will be necessary.
There’s just no magic trick to this one. You need to:
If that sounds a little labor intensive to you, there’s a helpful tool out there, designed to help hammock campers adjust their hammocks with ease.
This is a looped and threaded piece of cording that goes between your hammock and your rope or strap.
Once installed, a pull on the “tail” will adjust the height of your hammock.
No untying/retying necessary.
The main drawbacks to a whoopie sling are the need for extra carabiners and the added equipment cost and weight.
Once you become adept at judging your needed hang heights, suspension lengths and sit heights, you’ll find you’re making far fewer adjustments and may find the whoopie sling unnecessary.
By now we’ve tipped our hand and know, this is what we recommend for hammock suspension.
Lightweight, packable and tree-friendly.
Before you go buying yourself any webbing out there, it’s good to know what’s what.
Webbing is available in 3 materials:
This is the cheapest of the 3 but it stretches easily and doesn’t hold up to wear and tear or exposure to the elements.
For these reasons, we don’t recommend it.
A little pricier but more rugged, nylon lasts longer and can handle the elements.
Over time, however, nylon will stretch.
So your first night using it might be perfect, but your 3rd night might end up rubbing your bottom on dirt.
This is a bit more expensive but it doesn’t stretch.
This is the type of stuff seatbelts are made out of. And it’s the material we recommend.
The longer the strap, the more options you have in tree choice. But longer means heavier and more unwieldy.
In general you’d be safe getting 2 lengths of strap around 10 feet long each.
Webbing also comes in different widths. One inch thick is fine.
Now, the steps.
Fold over the strap about one foot from the end. Tie your doubled strap in an overhand loop knot and tighten.
You now have a loop at the end of your strap. The loop only needs to be a few inches in diameter.
Attach the unlooped end of your strap to your carabiner by using a special knot called a clove hitch knot.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well this carabiner hitch knot video on YouTube is worth about a million.
Stand in front of your first tree.
Imagine your hammock already set up.
Stand so your imaginary hammock strap is going right through your chest. At around 4 feet up the tree, hold the looped end of your strap against the tree with one hand.
With your free arm, wrap the carabiner end of the strap around the tree. Make sure you keep the strap flat against the bark. This helps the strap to grip and protects the tree.
Bring the carabiner through the loop and pull through until the strap is tight and the loop is more or less flush against the tree.
Wrap the strap around the tree, going in the opposite direction as your first wrap.
Keep the strap pulled taught and make sure the strap is flat against the tree.
Continue wrapping around the tree until just a few feet or strap remain.
How much strap you need to leave depends on your tree distance.
Tuck the carabiner end of the strap under one or more of the wraps (doesn’t matter which one) and pull it tight.
Repeat steps 1-7 for the other tree.
Attach the carabiners to your hammock’s rings or loops.
Adjustments for strap suspension is a little different than for rope.
Instead of having to untie everything, as with rope, you can simply unwind a few wraps around the tree to get a longer strap. Wrap it a couple more times to shorten your strap.
A whoopie sling also works with straps.
We talked about them in the rope suspension section.
Want even more instruction? Just Jeff has great ideas.
We wish we could give you a detailed step-by-step here. But honestly, setup of your hammock stands depends entirely on the particular hammock stand you have.
Just remember, a stand is the type of hammock suspension you want when weight and equipment size isn’t an issue.
Read more safety tips from the Scouts here.
Is there anything here that we forgot to mention?
Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to hammock suspension?
Any new gadgets out there that will make hammock camping even more awesome?
Tell us in the comments below.
And meanwhile... Happy hang time!
This post was last updated on December 16th, 2017 at 10:33 pm
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.
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