As for damaging trees. Hammocks are actually some of the lowest impact hiking systems out there. Instead of grooming a flat spot or compacting earth, a hammock keeps you above all that. Tree bark can be protected by either flat straps similar to Hennessy Hammock Tree Huggers, or by using a rope system that uses multiple wraps to distribute the load that keeps the rope from digging into the trees.
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:
I think what gets tricky here is the difference between a catenary angle and a straight line angle. When you measure the angle you want the hammock in a straight line. I usually put a small item in my hammock to tighten up the line without weighing it down too much. It’s a little more art than science. The calculator and thumb-finger methods are starting points but don’t take into account fabric type and stretch with all the components, all of which affect the final angle, which is what we are estimating. If you find the hang angle is too slack, tighten it up. Fiddle a little until you find the right hang angle for your hammock.
Sleeping in a hammock has some real advantages over sleeping in a tent once you get used to it. Chief among them is mobility: you can pitch camp just about anywhere below treeline. This is handy if you want to beat the crowds and camp in solitude or if you are between shelters and you need to stop for the evening. A hammock has very low impact when you pick a stealth camping site, since you won't compress the forest duff in the same way that pitching a tent or tarp will.
About going to ground when necessary … many hikers have spent nights with a tarp system on the ground already – going to ground with a hammock set up is very similar. Especially if you use a non-integrated bugnet. I use the 9.5 oz bugnet from Wilderness Logics when hanging my simple/lightweight gathered end hammock. When I have to go to ground, this bugnet is my full enclosure with zipper, I don’t even use the hammock at all on the ground (no need to risk abrasions). Any hammock tarp should work fine tightly pitched closer to the ground than normal using 2 trekking poles or sticks instead of tree trunks. My 1.1 oz cryo ground sheet goes inside the bugnet with my cc pad under me and quilt(s) on top (you can use both top and under quilts for extra warmth in this setup if necessary). For a close comparison, zpacks.com tarp tents actually use a mesh floor by default to save weight, and Joe recommends the ground sheet on top of the mesh to keep any running water under the groundsheet.
For the seasoned hammock camper, the ultimate form of insulation comes from an under quilt-top quilt combo. Under quilts provide an insulating layer beneath your hammock that you hang on the outer layer. Since the under quilt is on the outside, it can expand and provide a ton of insulating surface area. And it won’t compress when you lay in your hammock. The camper then uses the top quilt as a blanket while the under quilt keeps his bottom warm. When used together, a top quilt and under quilt function like a sleeping bag around the whole hammock. The only downside is the high price tag attached to purchasing a top quilt and an under quilt.
Having a hammock is not just great for relaxing and getting a great night’s sleep. The bright colors and large fabric makes the hammock a perfect item to have in the worst case scenario. If you ever find yourself lost, the eye-catching colors of a hammock can be an excellent flag to signal rescue crews. The large surface area allows the hammock to catch the wind and let’s you fly a bright, visible flag.
2. Keeping it simple. Especially on HF there seems a atmosphere of tinkering and complicating the set up of a hammock. Like buying a Harley and then tricking it out. A lot of what people do over there is the flavor of the month with continuous ridge-lines, Sling-shot tie outs, multi-pocket gear organizers, pad extenders, etc. If you want to keep it light and make it work if you have to go to ground or get to stay in the trees, simple is better. And simple can be lighter too. You don’t have to have all the bells and whistles to have a great hammock.
The best part about a lightweight hammock is that it’s an incredible addition to your camping gear even if you don’t sleep in it. With our lightest hammock weighing only 14oz and packing down into a pouch smaller than your Nalgene bottle, you can easily bring it in addition to your tent and enjoy all the benefits the hammock offers without needing to commit to leaving your tent behind.