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Everything You Need to Know About Hammock Suspension Systems

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:

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    The 3 main suspension systems that most people use to hang hammocks
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    Which of those 3 we think is the best - and why
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    How to use these suspension systems
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    How to stay safe and respect your surroundings

The Big 3 Hammock Suspension Systems

Tree strap for a hammock.
Let’s get right to it, shall we? There are about as many ways to hang a hammock as there are trees in a forest.

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
  • Webbing
  • Stand

Rope

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:

  1. Fold the rope in half
  2. Pass the looped end around a tree
  3. Pull the loose ends through the loop
  4. Wrap and tuck the loose ends around the tree
  5. Attach a carabiner
  6. Repeat 1-5 on the second tree
  7. Attach your hammock

It’s a straightforward method and works well. But there’s one thing hammock users started to notice.

And it wasn’t good.

Leave No Trace

Hammock strap.

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.

Anatomy Of A Tree

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.

Rope Scars

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?

Webbing

Webbing for a hammock.

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.

Why Webbing Is Better Than Rope

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:

  1. Tie a loop at one end of your strap
  2. Pass the looped end around a tree
  3. Put the loose end through the loop
  4. Attach a carabiner to the end
  5. Wrap the strap (keeping it flat) around the tree.
  6. Tuck the carabiner end under one wrap
  7. Repeat 1-6 on the second tree
  8. Attach your hammock

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.

An Even Better Webbing

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...

No Perfectly Spaced Trees

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.

Trees for a hammock.

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.

Hammock Stands

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.

Hammock Stands Made For Portability

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?”

How To Suspend A Hammock Using Rope Or Webbing

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?

How a hammock should hang

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.

How a hammock should hang.

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.

Tree size and spacing

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?

An Average Adult Thigh

That’s a very variable size.

Karlie Kloss and Tom Brady have two very different sets of thighs. But you get the idea. Let’s just say that a Kloss tree is on the smaller end of what you want and the Brady tree is amply sized.

Of course you can always go bigger, just not so big that you can’t hug the tree and touch your fingers together.

Your Hammock Plus 5

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.

Tightly Spaced Trees

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.

Long Distance Trees

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.

Hang height

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.

Hang height for a hammock.

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.

How To Suspend A Hammock With Rope

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.

Step 1 - fold the rope

Fold the length of rope exactly in half, creating a loop at one end.

Step 2 - face your tree

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.

Step 3 - hug your 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.

Step 4 - wrap and tuck

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.

Step 5 - through the first loop

Bring the loose ends back through the loop created in step one. Pull the rope as tight as possible. Pull straight out, not down.

Step 6 - tie

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.

Step 7 - ATTACH

Clip the carabiners onto the rings of your hammock.

Step 8 - Repeat

Repeat steps 1-7 for the other tree.

The End?

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.

Adjusting the hammock.

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.

Making Adjustments To Your Rope Suspension

There’s just no magic trick to this one. You need to:

  1. Untie the carabiner
  2. Move it up or down the rope
  3. Re-tie the carabiner
  4. Attach and test your hammock
  5. Repeat as necessary

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.

Whoopie Sling

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.  

How To Suspend A Hammock With Webbing

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:

Polypropylene

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.

Nylon

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.

Polyester

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.

How Long Should A Strap Be?

Length of a hammock strap.

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.

Step 1 - make a loop

Fold over the strap about one foot from the end. Tie your doubled strap in an overhand loop knot and tighten.

Overhand loop knot?

You now have a loop at the end of your strap. The loop only needs to be a few inches in diameter.

Step 2 - attach the carabiner

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.

Step 3 - face your tree

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.

Step 4 - hug your tree

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.

Step 5 - loop

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.

Step 6 - wrap

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.

Step 7 - tuck

Tuck the carabiner end of the strap under one or more of the wraps (doesn’t matter which one) and pull it tight.

Step 8 - repeat

Repeat steps 1-7 for the other tree.

Step 9 - hang

Attach the carabiners to your hammock’s rings or loops.

Adjusting

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.

How To Set Up A Hammock With A Stand

Hammock with a stand.

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.

Things To Look Out For With Hammock Suspension

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    Webbing straps come in flat and tubular shapes. Make sure to get flat webbing. It locks all knots tighter and tubular straps can bite into the bark causing damage to the tree.
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    When tying knots in webbing or ropes, always leave at least six inches of loose strap/rope hanging out of the knot. This acts as your early warning system. If you notice the loose end getting shorter, your knot is slipping. Retie before using the hammock.
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    While webbing is much gentler to trees, it’s not completely harmless. Hanging on the same trees repeatedly can damage the tree over time. If you’re staying an extended period of time on the same site, try to change up the trees you’re using.

Safety Concerns

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    Don’t hang your hammock too high off the ground. The ideal height is about a foot and a half, or chair height. While rolling out of a hammock isn’t really an issue, an improperly tied knot can easily drop you on the ground. Make sure the fall is short.
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    Don't leave strap or rope ends hanging on the ground. They can become trip hazards. Once the hammock is in the proper position, tie any loose ends back around the hanging strap.
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    When you get in your hammock, if the trees noticeably bend towards you, it’s time to pick different trees.
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    Check all rope/strap knots before getting in your hammock.
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    Only use straps and ropes that are designed to carry considerable weight. Remember that the tension on the ropes are more than just how much you weigh — up to 2.5 times.
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    Get carabiners rated at least 500 pounds, just to be safe.

Read more safety tips from the Scouts here.

What Are Your Thoughts?

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

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.

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