Camping hammocks are becoming the number one choice among many backpackers for overnight ventures. Frequent campers are also turning to hammocks to get a comfortable night’s rest. There are a few advantages of sleeping in a hammock as opposed to setting up a tent and perhaps a sleeping pad of some sort. Over the years, hammocks have gathered a near cult-like following who swear by them as the best night’s sleep in the wild. Whether you are a mileage driven backpacker or a casual camper looking for a lounging chair we’ve selected some of the best camping hammocks to take a closer look. First we will discuss the concerns and benefits with using a hammock as a sleeping system.
General Thoughts on Hammocks
The most common concern is whether or not you’ll still get a comfortable sleep. Side and stomach sleepers generally are opposed to hammocks because most of them think it is only possible to sleep on your back in them. This is a valid concern. However, a properly hung hammock will allow the user to sleep on their side without discomfort. It will also eliminate a prominent curve, retaining a secure center line for sleeping. Lying about 10-25 degrees off the center enables you to lay flat. This method is used by Central and South Americans who were the ones that invented the hammock.
There are a couple drawbacks to using a hammock. One of the common ailments of hammock sleepers is the “cold butt syndrome.” This describes the effect of heat loss over time when cold air is circulating under the hammock between you and the ground. Losing heat can usually be overcome with enough layers or a foam sleeping pad and/or quilt. The most obvious drawback is that you’re limited to environments that have trees, or something to anchor your supports down to. Unless you have a magic green thumb and can sprout up trees anywhere, there’s no solution to this. Another drawback is setting up or pitching hammocks. Some hammocks are more difficult than others. But there’s no easy shortcut, you’ll have to learn the hammock you pick and get familiar with how it lays. Oftentimes, once you master your hammock, you can set it up much faster than any ground system. Lastly, it’s important to consider if bugs or precipitation are going to be problems wherever you are going. A protective bug net and rain fly can solve these problems, but that’s more to pack and more setup time.
The Benefits of Using a Camping Hammock
There are many benefits of choosing a hammock and we emphasized some of the most important in the following list.
- Comfort. Comfort cannot be highlighted enough. Many avid hammock users will argue that sleeping in a hammock is more comfortable than on a sleeping pad, even the inflatable “sleeping beds.” If you’re a backpacker and you’re used to sleeping on the ground, you can kiss those rocks and roots that gouge your body every time you move goodbye. Unlike with a tent, you won’t end up all the way to one side trying to find the perfectly level spot.
- Multi-Purpose. You can’t transform a tent, it’s always a tent. That is not the case with hammocks. They can serve many purposes. They can be used for lounging, a chair, a loft for gear, or can even be set up to be a tarp or makeshift tent. Depending on which you buy, there are other adaptions that can be performed such as using the hammock as a poncho.
- Rejuvenation. A well set up hammock will support your back, reduce foot swelling, and relax your body. A gentle rocking will help lull you to sleep and reduce muscle tension. By elevating your feet slightly above your body, it will aid in decreasing the swelling that is caused by a hard day of hiking.
- Impact. Hammocks have one of the lowest environmental impacts of any sleeping system available. Instead of having to clear and groom an area for a tent, you are above ground. Trees and their bark can be protected by using flat straps or a rope system that distributes the weight evenly. These methods will prevent the ties from digging into the trees. This allows you to align yourself with the practice known as Leave No Trace (LNT).
- Location. Site selection is only limited to your imagination when it comes to hammocks. All you need to find is a few trees the right distance apart. When selecting one for a tent or tarp, you are limited to areas that are not affected by rocks and roots, unleveled ground, water, and must be large enough to support your structure. You can get really creative and sleep on mountain sides or like this guy and set up above a swamp (insert picture).
- Weight. This pretty much explains itself. Anything that reduces weight is a boon for hikers or even campers looking to cut down on some bulk. The lightest hammock available is one pound, try getting under that with a solo tent. It’s not going to happen. This is not to say they aren’t some pretty heavy hammock kits out there, there are. But the choice is yours to make.
Types of Camping Hammocks
The main two camping hammock designs are the gathered end asymmetric hammock and the bridge hammock. The gathered end hammock is the most common hammock design. Its ends are gathered into a single bunch. The asymmetric shape enables the sleeper to lay diagonally in respect to its centerline. The benefits of the gathered end hammock are that they are lighter weight. In addition, many users feel that they are roomier and have a less constrictive feel to them.
Bridge hammocks are designed to have a flatter lie, the ends are not gathered and the length is reinforced with a spreader bar. These have a tubular shape to them and form more of a square rather than a banana shape. The benefits to the bridge hammock design are that it gives you a flatter surface to sleep on and you’ll probably spend less time adjusting your body to get into a comfortable position. The main drawback is that the spreader bar adds more weight to the kit and some users might find it feels too constrictive. One counterpoint is that many are designed to use a trekking pole as a substitute to the spreader bar.
We will look at a handful of the best in each of these two main categories.
Best Camping Hammocks of 2016
Here is our lists of the best bridge and gathered end hammocks.
Hennessy makes some of the highest quality hammocks on the market for those serious about the outdoors. The Expedition is their most popular model. It is an all-purpose model that can be used for backpacking, camping, kayaking, and motorcycling. It is on the spendy side, but the good news is that Hennessy packs everything into this kit. You get an attached mosquito net, detachable rain fly, support ropes, a stuff sack, and a trusty manual with set up instructions which you will likely be needing your first couple setups. Other cool features include a mesh pocket located on the ridgeline and webbing straps to protect tree bark. The weight limit is 250 lbs and the height limit is about 6 feet. It will fit most individuals but if you’re a gangly person you may want to opt for something else like the DoubleNest.
- Gathered-end style hammock
- Material: oxford nylon and 30D polyester netting
- Packed Weight: 2lbs 12oz (1247g)
- Stuff Sack
Eagle’s Nest is one of the most respected names in hammock kits. The DoubleNest by Eagle’s Nest Outfitters is a fairly large hammock that can fit up to two people. It is a spacious, luxurious relaxation and sleeping pod for a single user. It’s great for lounging at a camp site or even setting it up in your backyard. Thanks to its heavy duty, triple stitched seams it has a maximum capacity of 400 pounds. Backpackers will be happy that it comes with a compression stuff sack which condenses the load down to a backpack friendly size. The only thing we don’t like about this hammock is that it does not come with straps to anchor it to trees or poles so you’ll have to purchase those separately. Of course, Eagle’s Nest offers those as well, and, fortunately, both of them combined are still a pretty good price. They’ve also got a bazillion color options so you can find one that fits your fancy. If you’re looking for a smaller, lighter weight option the SingleNest is a great hammock.
- Gathered-end style hammock
- Fits up to two
- Packed Weight: 1lb 6oz (624g)
- Compression packsack
If you’re opposed to hammock sleeping and/or had a bad experience with one in the past, you may want to try out Lawson’s Blue Ridge. This is a bridge style hammock with a roomy interior. It has been featured in many top magazines as one of the best sleep out there. The collapsible spreader bars keep the hammock sleeping surface flat and wide—no more banana curve. One tester exclaimed “Off the ground, there are no pressure points, so it’s like you’re sleeping on air!” It also doubles as a tent so if you want to pitch it as a solo tent that is an option as well. It has an integrated rainfly that can simply be detached when not needed. The bug netting is no-see-um for a bug bite less sleep. The weight capacity is 250 pounds. The downside is that it’s a bit heavier than most other hammock options and even some solo tent kits.
- Bridge style hammock
- Packed Weight: 4lbs (1814g)
- Material: nylon and polyester
- 1-year warranty
Grand Trunk’s ultralight is a great, lightweight budget option. It only weighs 12 ounces and it can support up to 200 pounds. It dries extremely fast and makes for a quick setup with the included S hooks. It comes with the stuff sack contributing (along with its low weight) to making this great option for long hikes. There are only a couple things we hold against this hammock. Grand Trunk’s design is that it is not nearly as durable as the other options we have talked about, but it does come with a two-year warranty for peace of mind. Other than that, you’re not getting a rainfly or bug netting with this model.
- Gathered end style hammock
- Packed weight: 12oz (340g)
- Stuff Sack
- Material: polyester taffeta
- 2-year warranty