Sleep is often overlooked as a crucial element in survival situations, despite its profound psychological and physical benefits for recovering from stress. Even during a recreational camping trip, a restless night can spoil the enjoyment of the following day’s outdoor activities.
It was a discomforting incident—awakening to find my tent submerged in three inches of water—that prompted a shift in my perspective and introduced me to the wonders of hammock camping.
Since then, I have wholeheartedly embraced this alternative and have enjoyed numerous nights peacefully swaying among the trees. I strongly believe that the most rewarding outdoor experiences occur when spent in a hammock.
Naturally, for beginners, there exists a learning curve to attain the tranquil state of slumber. Thankfully, there are valuable hammock hacks available to ensure a night free from complications and filled with uninterrupted rest.
The Versatility of Hammocks
While hammocks are primarily associated with sleeping in the great outdoors, their practical applications extend far beyond that. Personally, I always keep a hammock in my vehicle, as I never know when it will come in handy. Beyond providing a comfortable sleep during outdoor adventures, hammocks offer versatility in numerous ways.
On many occasions, I have traveled with an ultralight hammock tucked away in my daypack. With a minimalist suspension cord set and lightweight hammock body, I have the flexibility to create a temporary seat or a spot to rest after a long hike. Remarkably inconspicuous, my hammock has never raised any suspicion during airport security checks, and its compact size ensures it never takes up too much space to be left behind.
Hammocks can also serve as a practical solution for gear storage. By utilizing a lightweight hammock, the equipment can be kept off the ground and neatly organized. This becomes particularly beneficial when the risk of losing gear is high, as storing it at a more accessible level and in one central location proves to be an excellent choice.
Furthermore, hammocks hold great appeal for children just as they do for adults. Any parent or guardian knows that keeping children content in outdoor settings can be an ongoing challenge. Fortunately, kids are naturally drawn to hammocks and can spend hours playing in them. It’s important, however, to ensure that the hammocks are hung low enough so that children won’t get injured if they decide to start swinging in them.
One of the remarkable aspects of using a hammock for camping is the freedom to set up in places where traditional camping methods would be impractical. If you browse through online hammock camping forums, you’ll come across captivating photos showcasing truly unique setups. The beauty of hammock camping lies in its independence from the ground. There’s no need to worry about what lies beneath or adhere to strict elevation rules.
Hammocks have been utilized by the military in various terrains, including the jungle and the desert. Soldiers have ingeniously suspended them between armored personnel carriers and other vehicles. Sailors, even in the age of exploration, relied on hammocks in the depths of ships and trans-Atlantic vessels. As the ship swayed, the occupant of the hammock remained centered and undisturbed.
Stacking hammocks on top of one another using the same attachment points is not uncommon. In places where hammock camping is prevalent, you may encounter “bunk bed” setups. Additionally, hammocks can be securely fastened to cracks and crevices in rocks. Climbers have been known to suspend hammocks at great heights, always with a supplemental safety tether attached to their harnesses for added security.
Due to the hammock’s slim profile, a large ground footprint is unnecessary. This means that even in the jungle or swamp, setting up above wet ground poses no issue.
When you initially transition to using a hammock for camping, it’s easy to forget that the usual rules no longer apply. However, once you realize the endless possibilities available to you, you’ll never want to be confined to the ground again.
Use a ground cloth
To make your hammock experience more convenient, consider using a ground cloth. Sitting sideways in the hammock allows for easy shoe removal at night, but standing on a ground cloth, preferably a heavy-duty space blanket, eliminates the need for balancing.
Additionally, the ground cloth can serve as a designated spot for any gear that may accidentally fall out of your pockets while preparing for a night of slumber. Opt for a light-colored ground cloth to make it easier to locate dropped items. Ensure that the ground cloth doesn’t extend beyond your tarp to prevent water from channeling down onto your gear.
Improvise drip rings
Although hammocks are generally waterproof when paired with a quality tarp, the webbing attachment to the tree can be vulnerable to water seepage. To mitigate this, consider using drip rings. These handy devices divert water away from the hammock and allow it to drop to the ground, ensuring a dry and comfortable experience. You can tie pieces of paracord or webbing into the hanging straps to guide water away from the hammock body.
The comfort of your hammock largely depends on how it is hung. An uneven hang can cause you to slide towards your head or feet, leading to discomfort. Ensuring the right height is crucial as well. If your feet are positioned too high, blood circulation may be compromised, resulting in cold feet. Conversely, if your head is positioned too high, it can cause discomfort in your neck.
Most experienced hammock campers recommend aiming for a 30-degree angle between the hammock’s strap and the ground. If you find that the next daisy chain loop creates too much or too little of a change, a simple twist of the cordage around the tree can provide the necessary fine adjustment.
Your tarp serves not only as protection from rain but also as a valuable tool for collecting water at your campsite. When arranged in a diamond pattern, with the points of the diamond extending to the sides of the hammock body, you can angle them downward to create a funnel-like effect. This configuration allows water to be directed into a water bottle, pan, or bucket. It also acts as a convenient “camp tap” when you need to rinse off your mess kit or toothbrush while seeking shelter from the rain. Although the collected water may contain pollen or small particles, it is generally safe to drink.
Insulating the underside of a hammock is a challenge for any hammock camper. The insulation of a sleeping bag gets compressed, leaving your backside vulnerable to the wind’s chilling effects. The solution lies in using an under quilt, which attaches to the outside of the hammock and extends the usability of your hammock throughout the year.
Under quilts are incredibly valuable and worth their weight in gold. By providing an extra layer of insulation, they create a warm cocoon within the hammock, eliminating cold spots that a sleeping pad alone cannot address.
Throughout the night, a hammock can sometimes develop a pronounced “V” shape if the suspension straps have excessive stretch. To ensure a restful night’s sleep and wake up in the same position you fell asleep, it’s best to use static suspension straps that do not stretch over time.
Some hammock campers opt for rock-climbing daisy chain anchors with multiple loops, providing a non-stretch, customizable fit to the tree. After setting up your hammock, take a moment to sit in it and observe how it hangs. You may want to make strap adjustments after they have settled into their optimal position.
Trees, like living organisms, go through natural processes such as breathing and transpiration. In the morning, smaller diameter trees may have a slight lean due to the dew they carry. As the sunlight dries the leaves and the trees regain their upright posture, your hammock may stretch accordingly. Be cautious not to configure your sleeping arrangement in a way that will shift throughout the day. Speaking from experience, it’s essential to consider the potential movement of trees when setting up your hammock to avoid unexpected shifts.
Learn to sleep diagonally
Unless your hammock is equipped with spreader bars, the fabric tends to fold onto itself, resembling a large taco shape. This folding can be uncomfortable, especially for larger sleepers, as it pushes the shoulders forward. The best solution is to lie diagonally in the hammock, slightly off parallel. By positioning one shoulder blade and the legs to stretch the material open, you can avoid waking up with a stiff neck. Sleeping pads that are cut in a “mummy” shape fit better inside hammocks, but wide, rectangular pads can help spread the material apart, providing more room for movement.
Quick Exit Strategy
Unlike tents, hammocks require more deliberate steps to enter and exit. To help locate the zipper on your mosquito netting quickly, you can attach a brightly colored piece of paracord to the zipper pull. Ensure that the zipper is within easy reach from any location in the hammock, avoiding situations where it is out of reach or hard to grab when you need to exit promptly. Additionally, while sleeping, consider wearing your flashlight or headlamp looped around your neck or wrist for easy access.
Use toothpaste with your hammock
Yes, toothpaste can serve a purpose beyond oral hygiene. In tropical environments, it can be used as a deterrent for ants and other crawling insects from making their way down the suspension straps. Whether it’s the fluoride, minty scent, or the texture of the toothpaste, it doesn’t matter. Simply smear it on your straps, and you can sleep peacefully, knowing that you have created a barrier between yourself and any potential biters.
A tarp can be suspended in various ways to provide protection from the elements. Depending on your situation, you can set it up as an “A” frame for warmth, a diamond shape for improved visibility, or a lean-to if there’s a prevailing wind in one direction. Whenever possible, it’s advisable to use paracord to create a ridgeline that the tarp can lay over, rather than relying on a single grommet point. This will result in a stronger shelter with a lower chance of failure. Experiment with your equipment to discover which tarp configuration works best for you.
Properly setting up a hammock shelter eliminates concerns about mosquitoes. The main cause of mosquito bites is sleeping directly against the mosquito netting or having minimal distance between your skin and the hammock material. To prevent mosquito bites, ensure that you don’t roll off your sleeping pad, as ankles are a prime target for these pesky insects.
If you are using your hammock as a standalone shelter, you can treat it with permethrin for protection from below, and use a headnet and gloves to guard against mosquitoes from above. Avoid spraying insect repellents with high concentrations of deet directly on the hammock body, as deet can degrade the nylon and weaken the fabric.
Snap-Links for Overhead Storage
In a hammock, finding your flashlight in the middle of the night can be a challenge. Many hammocks feature an internal line running the length of the body, which makes it convenient to attach accessories overhead. Snap-links and carabiners are excellent tools for this purpose, allowing you to hang a small bag with all your essential everyday carry (EDC) items within easy reach.
In cold weather, the most effective solution is to lower your hammock closer to the ground. Configure the tarp into an “A” frame or seal it off as much as possible. This technique locks out cold air, transforming the hammock into a suspended tent. Add additional insulation, such as a Mylar blanket to reflect heat, and wear a hat and gloves to ward off drafts.
Having knowledge of various knots is essential to tackle challenging situations while setting up your hammock. Murphy’s Law often dictates that the perfect alignment of trees will be elusive when you’re ready to hang your hammock. Using a Prusik knot, I’ve successfully attached my hammock to slippery steel poles and square support beams inside buildings. In rocky terrains, I’ve employed knots to secure my hammock in cracks. When faced with a large gap between trees, I’ve extended my suspension ropes by doubling over ample lengths of paracord 550 and tying a sheet bend knot.
Customize Your Setup
The market offers a wide range of hammock camping systems, and many components are interchangeable. You can mix and match components from different systems to create a custom setup that suits your preferences. For example, you can use the tarp from one system, the hammock body from another, and the mosquito netting from a third system. This flexibility allows you to create a comfortable and personalized introduction to hammock camping.
Transitioning Back to Civilization
If you spend a significant amount of time in a hammock during extended trips into the wilderness, consider setting it up in your home or garage when you return. Your regular bed may feel unfamiliar, and it may take some time to readjust to your normal sleep routine—or you may find yourself never wanting to go back to sleeping on the ground again.
Hammock camping offers a multitude of advantages and possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts. From providing a comfortable and elevated sleeping experience to offering versatility in various settings, hammocks have proven to be a valuable asset for adventurers. With the right knowledge and some handy hammock hacks, such as using underquilts, mastering knot tying, and implementing mosquito protection measures, hammock campers can overcome challenges and enjoy their outdoor experiences to the fullest.
Hammocks offer a unique sense of freedom and adaptability, allowing campers to set up their sleeping arrangements in unconventional locations that would be inaccessible or uncomfortable for traditional tents. The ability to sleep diagonally and utilize hammock hacks like ground cloths and drip rings not only enhances comfort but also adds an element of ingenuity to the camping experience.
Moreover, hammock camping encourages a deeper connection with nature, enabling individuals to appreciate their surroundings and enjoy a restful night’s sleep while suspended among the trees. The peaceful sway and gentle rocking motion, achieved through clever hammock hacks, provide a soothing experience that enhances relaxation and rejuvenation.
While there may be a learning curve and some adjustments to be made when transitioning to hammock camping, the benefits far outweigh the initial challenges. By embracing the versatility, comfort, and unique experiences offered by hammocks, outdoor enthusiasts can embark on unforgettable adventures while enjoying the beauty of the natural world. So, don’t forget to explore and experiment with different hammock hacks to make the most out of your camping trips.
So, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced camper, consider adding a hammock to your gear arsenal and embark on a journey of exploration and tranquility. Let the hammock be your refuge, your companion in nature, and your gateway to unforgettable outdoor experiences. Happy hammock camping, and may your hammock hacks always bring comfort and convenience on your adventures!
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