Short-term, low-risk outings are ideal for discovering the optimal applications for and extreme limitations of gear, supplies, and skills. If the test succeeds, the lessons can be integrated into longer and riskier itineraries; if the test fails, at least the misery was short-lived and non-consequential.
This past year I used such opportunities — specifically my intro-level 3-day/2-night guided trips — to finally experiment with hammock systems, which had piqued my curiosity while writing The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide because I knew little about them despite their fanatical cult following. When my colleague Alan Dixon first saw my hammock in North Carolina, he immediately saw its potential and committed himself to this experiment, too. Based on his new first-hand experience, he has submitted a three-part series on hammocks:
- Part I: Advantages and disadvantages versus ground systems
- Part II: Types of hammocks, and spec comparisons to ground systems
- Part III: Helpful tips and resources for a virgin hammock camper
By Alan Dixon
Shopping tips: How to assemble a functional hammock system
Buy your hammock from a manufacturer that specializes in backpacking hammocks. Make sure it is designed for nightlong sleeping, not just afternoon napping.
A few light hammock models use smaller dimensions that may confine you. For example, the Grand Trunk Nano-7 Hammock, and the BIAS Weight Weenie Micro 52 Hammock are both only around 50-52 inches wide, versus the 65″ wide of the Warbonnet Blackbird. Shorter and/or narrower hammocks also limit your ability to sleep flatter on a diagonal to the hammock’s center-line.
Some campers pushing into the 175+ lb weight range are fine with lighter hammock body fabrics (e.g. 1.0-1.1 oz nylon). Other campers in the 175+ lb weight range feel that these lighter hammocks do not give enough body support even if they are technically within the hammock’s weight range, and therefore opt for 1.7-1.9 oz or heavier hammock body fabrics.
Buy a tarp with adequate coverage. To sleep warm and dry in a hammock you need to keep wind and rain away from your hammock body. Smaller diamond or asymmetric tarps, e.g. the Hennessey Hyperlite Rainfly, affectionately known by some as a “napkin tarp,” may not provide adequate protection from blowing rain, or from the cooling effects of wind. While a few ounces heavier, a more pragmatic choice may be a larger hammock-specific “hex” tarp. A fairly standard hex size is a 10.5-foot ridgeline with an 8.5-foot width.
Due to the large tarps typically used with hammocks, some campers have opted to go with Spinnaker or Cuben fabric tarps to save weight. Compared to sil-nylon, Cuben fiber weighs half as much, but costs 2-3x as much (about $250-300 for a hammock tarp).
Buy a good under-quilt for your hammock. Its performance will be much superior to a ground pad, even if you have a double-layer hammock to properly control the pad.
The top quilt
Buy a top quilt when you can afford one — they are much more hammock-friendly than conventional mummy bags. In the interim you can use an unzipped mummy spread out like a quilt.
Avoid fussing about exotic suspension systems and hanging hardware. The basic webbing suspension systems supplied by manufacturers like JRB and Warbonnet are excellent — inexpensive, easy to use, and strong. At most, they weigh a few more ounces than more expensive exotic suspension systems.
If you own a gathered end asymmetric hammock, make sure you have drip lines, or place a carabiner on the suspension system near the attachment to the hammock body. Otherwise, water will run down the suspension and into your hammock. Bridge hammocks do not share this problem.
Some major hammock manufacturers and suppliers
- BIAS (“Butt in a Sling”) Hammocks
- Byer Hammocks
- Clark Jungle Hammock
- Crazy Creek Products
- Dream Hammocks
- Eagles Nest Outfitters
- Grand Trunk Outfitters
- Hammock Gear
- Hennessey Hammock
- Jacks ‘R’ Better
- Secac Hammocks
- Tree to Tree Trail Gear
- Trek Light Gear
- Warbonnet Outdoors
Hammock-specific How To resources
The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping, by Derek Hansen, is an excellent and comprehensive book for hammock camping. And the Kindle version is only $3.99.
Hammock Forums is the largest online resource for information on hammocks. Like any large internet forum, its well intended members offer an incredible wealth of information. Also, as with any large internet forum, there is a smidge of less-than-perfect information, plus a couple of folks who are hanging in a different planetary orbit.
Hennessy Hammock also has very good how-to videos.
Dutchware Product’s amusing videos are fun even if you don’t buy his stuff, though he does design some good products too.
Serac Hammocks has an informative beginners guide.
Hammock Camping — The Basics
Derek Hansen, author of The Ultimate Hang, is an advanced hammock camper and excellent illustrator. If you have learned nothing else from this 3-part series, study Derek’s illustration below.
What critical tips for first-timers are missing?
If you are a veteran hammock camper and feel that I missed some important tips — in this post, or one of the first two — for first-time hammock campers, please submit it as a comment, below.