Cover photo credit: Sua Vd Westhuizen
The tent icon that often appears on park maps and roadside signs near natural areas needs no introduction: this is where you camp. It’s no accident that the words “tent” and “camping” go together – no questions asked. Contemporary outdoor enthusiasts, however, have access to an unprecedented amount of information and as a result they are considering alternatives to traditional tent camping – alternatives that offer a more immersive nature experience, smaller footprint and less weight to carry on long trips. Some opt to build their own shelter at the site while others might sleep outside. Another option to consider – one that is lightweight without requiring the knowledge and materials to build a shelter or having to find a level stretch of ground – is the hammock.
Hammocks weigh less than tents and take up less space, both in the backpack and at the campsite. As this article notes, “That familiar feeling of ‘I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed’ is almost universal after a camping trip, yet it shouldn’t be that way….How many times have you tossed and turned at night in a tent because of a badly placed rock or tree root that you didn’t realize was there when you set your tent up?” According to the Leave No Trace blog, a hammock can “eliminate much of the impact generally associated with tent camping.” A hammock can also be a valuable asset on a day hike. After long hours and miles on the trail, what could be better than being able to relax by lying down and stretching out at a scenic spot?
The modern hammock has gone through some nifty modifications thanks to the advancements in technology. Campers and hikers in the Los Angeles areas have exposure to a wide variety of conditions, ranging from sub-freezing temperatures at 10,000 feet above sea level to triple digits in the desert. Being aware of the best options and varieties for your outdoor goals can help you save time and money when you are looking to purchase one. When I was buying my first hammock, I was basically sucker punched by the different types available. I thought it was just your typical hanging cocoons but I was completely off the mark with that assumption. As I was a stickler for specific details, I found myself retreating out of the store to do some proper research first, which I will now share.
Camping Hammock Categories
The three main categories of hammocks are Open, Ultralight and Expedition.
Open models are the most common camping hammock. These are your standard boat-shaped hammocks that can support up to two people. Open models come in single and double sizes. However, there are open hammocks that can carry up to three persons. The open model hammock is a generally safe choice for campers. It is usually affordable, lightweight, and sturdy. In terms of reliability, I suggest you take a look at what the ENO hammock brand has to offer. That brand has been my go-to shop when it comes to my camping hammocks.
As you can guess by the name, Ultralight models are a great choice for backpackers who need to pack as light as possible. Ultralight hammocks often weigh less than half a pound, and as this article points out, when you are backpacking, every ounce of weight saved counts. The downside is that ultralight models might not be as durable, although in my experience the Bear Butt brand offers both light weight and durability.
As you can also guess by the name, Expedition models are designed for all weather conditions, available with mosquito nets, rain flies and other accessories that are associated with tents. The downside is that they are heavy and bulky and tend to be more expensive.
Important Factors to Consider When Buying a Hammock
It may seem obvious, but know your hammock’s carrying capacity. The last thing you need is for the hammock to completely rip during your camping trip because you thought it can carry two individuals. Camping hammocks commonly support the weight of 130 to 480 pounds (60kg to 220kg). However, some heavy-duty hammocks like the Bear Butt Hammock can carry up to 880 pounds (400 kg). Keep in mind that the weight capacity refers to “static” weight – if you tend to move around a lot in your sleep, the durability will diminish.
Next, consider the dimensions of the hammock. Too big and you will feel smothered by it; too small and you will feel claustrophobic. Solo campers should be able to fit in a 4-feet wide hammock: couples will want a 7-feet model. For length, 8 feet is a good starting point as it covers the common height of an individual and leaves some room to stretch.
A suspension system sounds like something that belongs on a car, but hammocks have them too. Many hammocks have their own suspension system but you might not know how reliable it is until you use it. That’s why I prefer buying a separate high-quality hammock suspension system. The webbing straps should be nature-friendly so pick one that is an inch wide to make sure it does not damage the tree. You should also be cautious of straps that stretch as you might suddenly find yourself lying on the ground. Here’s a little golden nugget of advice when choosing the best possible suspension system: pick one with a lot of attachment points. A suspension system with a lot of attachment points allows for more flexibility when adjusting.
Insulation is important and the right choice depends on the season and weather. If you will be camping during summer, get a hammock that uses breathable nylon material to make sure you stay cool. I’ve camped during summer using both a tent and a hammock and in my experience hammocks are more comfortable during this season. When camping during the winter season, pick an insulated hammock or bring extra camping gear like sleeping pads, sleeping bags and under quilts. If you will be using the under quilt, remember to place it underneath the exterior of the hammock for optimum heat insulation.
Depending on where and when you are camping, accessories can make your hammock more comfortable and functional. Near water, consider bringing a bug or mosquito net for protection. In the rainy season, bring a tarp or rain fly. Most manufacturers offer these accessories so check what brand you have and look at their catalog to make sure the items are compatible with your hammock.
Now that you are well-versed in camping hammocks here are a couple of recommendations.
Best All Around Budget Camping Hammock – Winner Outfitters Double Camping Hammock
This is one of the top hammocks today. It features 210T Nylon parachute material which makes it durable as well as lightweight. I have been using this for a couple of months now and I recommend this to backpackers who are on a tight budget. This is also a safe camping hammock for beginners.
- Can support up to 500lbs. of weight.
- Setup and takedown can be done in 3 minutes.
- Uses breathable material.
- Comes with a small bag of additional accessories.
Most Durable Budget Camping Hammock – Bear Butt Double Parachute Hammock
The Bear Butt Hammock promotes itself as being the most durable camping hammock around. I use this one when I’m camping with my wife as we can easily fit in this hammock and not worry about it ripping or flipping us over. It uses 75D Nylon Taffeta fabric which is said to hold up to 900lbs. so 500lbs. is a walk in the park. The suspension system is easily adjustable and you can set this hammock up within 20 minutes.
- Extremely durable hammock.
- Affordable price tag.
- Comes in a variety of colors.
- It comes with its own suspension system.
I hope this article has helped educate you about hammocks and helped inspire you to try hammock camping. Feel free to comment or visit my website Blazing Campfire for more information about camping and outdoors.
About the author:
Kevin is an outdoor enthusiast and has been a camper ever since he was a little toddler spending many nights under the start lit sky with his parents. An environmentalist through and through, he has made it his personal mission to educate others on how to make the most out of outdoor activities while also protecting the environment. He currently aims to complete his goal of staying at every campsite possible with his family.