The only time I've ever slept in a hammock was after 10 tequilas on a beach in Thailand. My good friend Ray though is well versed in wild hammock camping. We have done a number of cycle trips together where every night he looks for trees and I look for flat land. Sometimes we actually camp together. Ray has kindly agreed to write about his experiences camping wild in a hammock on a cycle trip.
Me, Ray and Mt Fuji
I love camping in my hammock. It’s a Hennessy hammock and they claim to have started off the hammock revolution. I don’t know whether I would call it a revolution but I do think it’s good. I found out about them from a colleague who does not sleep well on a hard floor and I liked the convenience and easy set up. Having tried it, I haven’t looked back but it’s not for everyone. Although a few friends have been introduced to the idea since I have been using this set up, not all are converts. I put together some of the advantages and drawbacks as I see them.
My hammock weighs in around 1.6 kg together with the rainfly and stuff sack. I have added a couple of tent pegs and two karabiners as a hack to make it even easier to set up rather than using the straps that come with it. Although these days you can get some very lightweight tents, I don’t use a mat when using a hammock which means it probably saves on weight overall.
Pitching my hammock by a lake in Japan
When I camp in a tent I use a ¾ length Therm-a-rest for the same reasons that are outlined by James in his post on packing light, it saves on weight. You might choose to have a slightly thicker and longer mat. However, unless you have a fully inflating blow up bed along with an electric pump, the mat is not really about comfort but a practical consideration of insulating your body from the floor.You certainly wouldn’t want to swap it for your bed at home. I would consider using a hammock instead of my bed. Perhaps that says something about my bed, but a hammock is very comfortable. No need for a mat or pillow and as long as you have a good sleeping bag, you can sleep out looking at the stars whilst protected from any insects that might be around.
On those hot and humid nights, it feels much better to be out in the air rather than in the tent and when it’s cooler you can simply wrap up warm and still enjoy the crisp air.
Of course, the temperature does have to be in the right range although you can also add insulation to the hammocks for winter conditions. I have never had to do this, but with the right hammock and accessories you can use a hammock in the Arctic!
I usually look for trees but anything will do
The hammock is convenient and simple to put up so that you can use as a chair to relax whilst on a break at some point during the day. The rain cover is also useful to provide shelter whilst cooking if it’s raining.
When space is a premium, it’s good to have items which reduce down. The hammock packs into a “snake skin” which can also be helpful when packing it in a bag as it will fit into a variety of shapes if required.
In order to make the most of the hammock it requires trees or at least some upright posts. Anything will do. I have been known to make use of goal posts, lamp posts and fence posts. They aren’t always easy to find and it may take some effort. When camping with a partner, it may mean you have to split up if you can’t find the ideal environment. However, there are some pretty good hacks to make the hammock into a make-shift tent. It is not the best tent, though, and a specifically designed tent should be better.
The hammock is designed to be used lying down and it’s not easy to get in and get changed, for example. You can’t cook inside as you might do within the porch of a tent.
Single Person use
Whereas with tents you can share the load and all get in at the end of the day, you are definitely on your own with a hammock. I suppose you could get in two small people if you were really desperate to do so. There are sizes suitable for a weight of up to 136kg.
In summary, I think it depends on where exactly you intend on camping. Out on the Mongolian steppe or cycling across a desert, a hammock will not do you much good. If you know that you are going to be in the mountains above the tree line for the entire time, it’s probably better to use a tent. If you are camping on your own in any other circumstances, I think it’s worth taking a hammock just as it’s so much more comfortable and convenient.