Most importantly, if you do try spending a night in a hammock and have any issues, don’t give up. We hear from people every day that are ‘instant converts’ – like my own experience, one night in the hammock can be all it takes to proclaim it one of the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had and decide to leave the tent behind for good. But for every one of those experiences there are plenty of people who go through a little bit more of a learning curve and adjustment period. You’ve been sleeping in a bed or on the ground your entire life, unless you’re a rock star sleeper your body and mind may just take a night or two to get used to it.
But my favorite option is hammock underquilt – especially from the guys at Hammock Gear. From a weight to warmth ratio perspective, there’s no beating a down underquilt. I find that the incubator 20 isn’t too warm for autumn nights and is actually rated conservatively. I’ve taken it down into the teens before. But that will also depend from person to person. The one downside to an underquilt is if you get stuck without trees, you can’t use it for bottom insulation. By laying directly on the underquilt on the ground, you compress the down and that takes away any insulation.
We've tested the best contenders and rated their comfort, versatility, durability, protection, weight, and ease of use. We've tested these models over hundreds of hours from chilly alpine nights to hot summer afternoons. We also keep our eyes on the market and test new contenders as they appear, ensuring that you always have the most up-to-date 'mock info at your fingertips.
I poked around my first stop, Cold Spring Shelter, by headlamp. The area by the shelter seemed more hospitable than the wind-fanned ridge designated for overflow camping. Nearby, I found two torso-size poplar trees about a body length apart. The spacing wasn’t ideal, but compared with their neighbors—trees that were dead, spindly, or too far apart—they seemed like the best choice. I tightened a loop of accessory cord around each trunk and clipped the hammock ends to each loop. I laid my sleeping bag out and swung into bed and closed my eyes.
Bonus Tip: Flip the mosquito net hammock upside down so the net is underneath. You can then use the hammock like any regular hammock without the net obscuring your views. Also if you get lazy and don’t want to leave the hammock (as people often do), you can use the now underneath net to store clothes and other light gear. Unfortunately, this tip doesn’t apply for the Hennessy Hammock systems because of their design.
Hammocks do well for practicing Leave No Trace (LNT): With more campsite options, hammock campers can avoid further impacting popular campsites. And since hammocks don’t touch the ground, they have minimal impact. They do not crush or smother plants below them. Note: it’s easy to avoid impacting trees, just use wide tree-straps 1″ to 1.5″. Almost all backpacking hammocks are sold with this type of strap. For more see Leave No Trace.org on Hammock Camping.
Though down quilts are superior in many respects, there are also synthetic versions available. Like sleeping bags, these share the same advantages and disadvantages. Synthetic loft quilts are cheaper than their down counterparts. Unfortunately they are also heavier and do not compress as well. One advantage is that synthetic materials are resistant to the delofting effects of moisture. They keep their insulating properties even when wet. This is not true for down which ends up being completely useless if it absorbs too much water. A synthetic under quilt will cost more than a foam pad, but it can be cheap enough for budget campers. Keep in mind that quilts can only be used with a hammock. If for whatever reason, you end up sleeping on the ground, only a pad will provide your insulation!
Most folks that go the homemade route when they are new don’t have a grasp of what exactly they need and it usually leads to a cold and or wet nights sleep and them not wanting to hammock again which is absolutely what I want to avoid when giving advice. If the homemade gear works well then by all means use it often. I am happy to hear you were able to use what you could find to make a bottom wind break for your hammock and that it kept you toasty warm.
I’m a special forces soldier in the Army and found hammock very useful in jungle environments (a necessity). The amount of bugs, snakes, spiders, chiggers, ticks, rodents, ants and other creepy crawlers that will give you a hard nights rest is limited if you are trying to save weight not taking a tent (the military patrols don’t take tents) but most importantly flash foods from heavy rains wont wash your gear away if you hang it from your hammock rope. I had some buddies in the Philippians that learned that hard lesson. If you don’t take a net, a ThermaCell is a must have.
On the downside, the suspension system is sold separately, upping the price point overall. It's also on the heavy side, making it a tough option to pick for backcountry adventures. It's also disconcertingly easy to tip over. This tipsiness makes for excellent physical comedy but cuts down on the relaxation factor. If you've been dying to try suspended camping, but can't get comfortable sleeping on your back, give the Ridgerunner a try!
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.
CHOOSING STOCK MODELS: All "Stock" Hennessy Hammocks are a complete shelter system including tightly woven fabrics and high quality support ropes, a matching detachable rainfly, a "no see um" mosquito mesh, a gear loft on the ridge line and a stuff sack with set up instructions on the back. Hennessy Hammock also provides complimentary "Tree Hugger" webbing straps to protect the rope and the tender bark of 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:
New to hammock camping and have yet to read your book – but I will! Thus far I’ve obtained everything I need except an underquilt – and I’m trying very hard to get good things at low prices as this is all a test for me now. After all, I might not like it out in the woods. Back to underquilts: they’re not cheap. I’m trying to accomplish the most comfortable summer night’s sleep with possible temps down to 60. I don’t want to try a pad as it seems too much to figit with for comfort. I’m aware blankets/comforters/etc beneath you can compress and lose their insulation benefits. . What recommendations do you have for a budget underquilt? Would a body heat reflective emergency blanket work to lay on? Would the Costco down comforter compress too much beneath me therefore offering very little insulation? Help me stay cheap!
Manufacturers of underquilts usually provide some sort of compression sack, too. They compress into the sack a great deal when storage in a pack is at a premium. They are lightweight, easy to compress, easy to fluff, easy to hang, and provide excellent protection from cold and wind. I like underquilts because they allow me to enjoy the soft feel of the hammock fabric while still providing warmth beneath me. No pads to mess with, no fidgeting or adjusting at night, don't have to worry about compressing the material, etc.
I would also hang my hammock anywhere. I slept in it from the lift tower on top of Bromley. I hung it from the rafters in the new AMC Madison hut. I even stealth camped at the lookout just south of the Summit of North Kinsman. The trees were very short up there and I rigged up 5 to six of them to support me without any problems. The sunset / sunrise from up there was just amazing.
While CCF pads are very light they can be bulky when rolled or folded up. Many hikers and campers use CCF pads on the ground and don't have to worry about punctures commonly associated with inflatable pads or mats. CCF pads are an inexpensive solution and can be multi-purpose. They can also be used in combination with underquilts, sleeping bags, or inflatable pads to increase the level of protection from Mother Nature.
That’s not to say that all spreader bars are bad. Some companies have designed camping hammocks with well positioned spreader bars. They’re known as bridge hammocks. They differ from the rope hammocks in a few important details. Your typical backyard hammock spreads the entire hammock fabric. While bridge hammocks only spread a part of the material open. The picture on the left shows a Warbonnet Ridgerunner hammock with spreader bars. Notice how it keeps a natural sag (we’ll get deeper into this later). This reduces the awkward center of gravity from a backyard spreader bar hammocks.