How to Choose a Camping Hammock
How to Choose the Best Hiking and Camping Hammock for You
So perhaps you’ve heard of the new trend of replacing ground tents with hammocks specially designed for hikers and campers, and you’ve thought about trying it out. These new camping hammocks provide an interesting difference on the experience in the wilderness, and can make for an excellent addition to your gear.
However, navigating the labyrinth of these new products can be a little tricky, given that it’s such a new field for hiking gear. So, to find the best hiking hammock for your needs, you should probably take several things into account, and consider what your priorities are in your camping trips, before you determine which hammock to purchase. First, we’ll consider the advantages of a hammock system.
Increased Field of Suitable Campsites
The first and foremost advantage of hammock camping instead of a ground system is its flexibility. Since the suitability of terrain in regards to setting up a ground system (i.e. stony ground) is not a factor in setting up a hammock, a person using a hammock can choose from a much wider range of locations for setting up camp. This can also be especially useful when campsites are overbooked, as lots of parks these days will allow backpacking further in the park when using hammocks.
There are other factors to be considered in this large advantage. Many people are drawn to the outdoors out of a desire for isolation, or at least feel that large clusters of people engaged in outdoor activity at the same time can take away from the communion with nature. If you have the ability to camp far away from large, manicured campsites, this isn’t as much of a concern, and you have the flexibility of camping far away from others, or continuing to stay in the community campgrounds.
Expanding your field of campsite options also allows a couple of tactical advantages. For those attempting multi-day hikes, as long as the planned area is wooded, you don’t have to spend as much time at the end of the day looking for a suitable location to set down for the night. This can save a lot of time in especially rocky parks. In addition, you can more easily select a camp site close to water sources, which often are not found in terrain with soft ground suitable for ground systems.
Ease of (Repeated) Use
Although it takes a little bit of time to master the art of setting up a hammock camping system, once done, most people find that setting up hammocks is quicker than setting up ground systems. It’s also easier to repeat the same setup night after night, since the many variables of ground features (slope, rockiness, and other abnormalities) are absent in the process of setting up a hammock, which only needs two trees.
Even the best hiking and camping hammock can’t provide everything. It’s important to keep in mind that hammocks are essentially designed as single person shelters. Although there are some products available that try to change that, they are still optimally designed for one person and one person only. Also, although a hammock solves all the issues of dealing with troublesome terrain for a ground shelter, it still requires trees, and not just any trees, but trees that can actually support the weight of the hammock system with you, the camper, in it.
In addition, it’s possible for a hammock system to weigh more than a ground system. Given that there are so many variations in each of these types of systems in terms of design and configuration, it’s actually hard to compare. However, there’s no question that some hammock systems weigh more than some ground systems.
Some campers find issues with the comfort provided by a hammock. It’s especially common for some people to report feeling “squeezed” in by the fabric of the hammock.
Finally, a hammock system requires some extra steps in order to guarantee warmth and protection from the elements.
However, the best hiking hammocks, combined with proper knowledge of how to set them up, will remedy the last few problems, and with some proper preparation and selection, the weight of the system can carefully be trimmed down.
So, What Kinds of Hammocks am I Choosing From?
There are two primary kinds of hammocks suitable for backpackers: Bridge Hammocks, and Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks.
Bridge Hammocks are composed of flat ends reinforced with spreader bars. This results in a different shape in the hang. Instead of the typical “banana” shape that most hammocks rest in, a bridge hammock takes a shape more like an open tube. This allows for a more streamlined set-up that requires fewer adjustments than the alternative offered by Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks. However, a Bridge Hammocks is more likely to result in that squeezing sensation while lying in it. Some designs seek to offset this sensation, however.
Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks
Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks are the most common design for backpackers’ hammocks, and are so-called due to the ends being gathered into a single bunch on either side of the hammock. They have an asymmetric design that lets one lie on a diagonal orientation in relation to the center line of the hammock, which results in a flatter overall sleeping position. Compared to a bridge hammock, they tend to be lighter (due to less equipment supporting the overall shape) and roomier.
Hammock Camping Accessories
There are a few accessories that are absolutely necessary for a hammock camper, primarily a tarp and an under-quilt. The under quilt can be substituted with a ground pad placed inside the fabric of the hammock, but an under-quilt designed specifically for a hammock will provide superior comfort and warmth. A tarp is primarily used to shield you from the elements, and will be absolutely necessary to ensure the enjoyment of your camping trips in the long run.
This is not a complete list, but it’s a good place to get started. Since there’s such a huge variety in hammock designs and the preferences and body shapes of campers, there is no hammock that works perfectly for everyone. The only way to find the best hiking hammock for you is to try them out firsthand. If you’re lucky, perhaps you have a friend or a camping club that has already taken the plunge in the world of hammock camping that will let you try out their gear. It’s important to remember that what works for a 160 lb. person will probably not work for a 200 lb. person, however.
Once you’ve decided on what kind of camping hammock works best for you, you’ll have a lot of manufacturers to choose from, but two of the most trusted names in the business today are Hennessey Hammocks and Warbonnet Outdoors. Check out your local dealers to find the best hiking and camping hammock for you.